Sunday's Academy Awards will have plenty of suspense: Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor are all toss-ups at this point. Will and I will tackle those and the other major categories Friday, but today, I'm going to look at the lower-profile awards: the tech prizes, short films, etc. They're not any easier to predict, however, with most of the categories having at least two frontrunners. Last year, I nailed an amazing 14 out of 16. I will be even more amazed if I do that well again this year. But, hey, who likes the Oscars when they're boringly predictable?
BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
Your nominees: Big Hero 6, The Boxtrolls, How to Train Your Dragon 2, Song of the Sea, The Tale of the Princess Kaguya
The pick: How to Train Your Dragon 2. First, a moment of silence for The Lego Movie, infamously snubbed in this category. Okay, so with that out of that way, in what's shaping up to be a battle between blockbusters (Big Hero 6 and How to Train Your Dragon 2) and little-seen, critically acclaimed overseas productions (Song of the Sea and The Tale of the Princess Kaguya), it seems wise to pick a studio film. (The Academy tends to favor the big guns in this realm.) Big Hero 6 made more money and came out more recently, but Dragon 2 just won the Golden Globe; if it grabs the Oscar, too, it would only be the second time that a sequel has won Best Animated Feature. (The last time was 2011, when Toy Story 3 beat out, among others, the first How to Train Your Dragon.)
BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
Your nominees: Ida, Leviathan, Tangerines, Timbuktu, Wild Tales
The pick: Ida. It's a cynical (but true) Oscar rule that when making predictions in the Foreign Language and Documentary categories, it's always wise to bet on the movie about the Holocaust. Filmmaker Pawel Pawlikowski's drama about a Polish girl in the 1960s who discovers that she's actually Jewish qualifies, but there's another good reason to pick Ida: It was a surprise art-house hit. A black-and-white film with no stars that opened at the start of summer-movie season, it rode a wave of good word-of-mouth to make almost $4 million in theaters. Those two factors should power Ida to the Oscar win.
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BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
Your nominees: Citizenfour, Finding Vivian Maier, Last Days in Vietnam, The Salt of the Earth, Virunga
The pick: Citizenfour. When evaluating this field, it's important to ignore the movie and focus on the subject matter. Citizenfour, which chronicles the whistle-blowing efforts of Edward Snowden, will give the Academy a chance to voice its disapproval of the NSA's surveillance program. (Best Documentary is sometimes the Oscar equivalent of a politically minded Facebook status update with the most "likes.")
Your nominees: Birdman, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Ida, Mr. Turner, Unbroken
The pick: Birdman. Before last year, Emmanuel Lubezki seemed destined to be one of those master cinematographers with plenty of Oscar nominations—The Tree of Life, Children of Men—but no wins. That changed when he took the Academy Award for Gravity, and now he's going to have a second in a row for his deft work here. (This would be the first back-to-back winner since John Toll did it in the 1990s with Legends of the Fall and Braveheart.) Speaking of excellent cinematographers, let's tip our cap to Unbroken's Roger Deakins: This is the 12th nomination for the Coen brothers' longtime cameraman, and still no wins. Maybe he'll have better luck with his 13th.
BEST FILM EDITING
Your nominees: American Sniper, Boyhood, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Imitation Game, Whiplash
The pick: Boyhood. In the last 40 years, only three Best Picture winners (The Godfather Part II, Annie Hall, and Ordinary People) haven't been nominated for Best Editing. That's worth keeping in mind, considering that Birdman isn't in the running here. (Presumably, voters assumed that movie really was just one take.) This category pits the more dynamic work in American Sniper and Whiplash against the more traditional but challenging process of constructing the tone and flow of Boyhood. In recent years, this prize has gone mostly to thrillers and action movies, but I'm betting the 12-year structure of this one impresses enough of the membership.
BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN
Your nominees: The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Imitation Game, Interstellar, Into the Woods, Mr. Turner
The pick: The Grand Budapest Hotel. Considering that Wes Anderson's film won't win Best Picture or Director, the Academy will probably focus its love on the movie's technical achievements. Fox Searchlight has done a good job of getting the word out about how meticulous the film's production design was: The elaborate hotel was a refurbished, abandoned shopping center, and miniatures were used for some of the exteriors as well as the special effects. It's a beautiful achievement, and voters won't resist honoring it.
BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
Your nominees: Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Guardians of the Galaxy, Interstellar, X-Men: Days of Future Past
The pick: Interstellar. It is awfully tempting to go with Dawn of the Planet of the Apes: The effects wizards at Weta won four prizes for their work on the Lord of the Rings films and King Kong. But considering that Christopher Nolan's 2001-with-a-heart sci-fi drama has five nominations, this may be its most likely win. (Plus, Interstellar's outer-space scenes really are amazing.)
BEST MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING
Your nominees: Foxcatcher, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Guardians of the Galaxy
The pick: The Grand Budapest Hotel. There's a good argument to be made for all three nominees. Foxcatcher transformed not just Steve Carell, but also Channing Tatum; The Grand Budapest Hotel featured great work across the board, perhaps most memorably on Tilda Swinton; and Guardians of the Galaxy is a sea of colorful characters. But my hunch is that Wes Anderson's film, the only Best Picture nominee in the field, will carry the day.
BEST COSTUME DESIGN
Your nominees: The Grand Budapest Hotel, Inherent Vice, Into the Woods, Maleficent, Mr. Turner
The pick: The Grand Budapest Hotel. Four of these five nominees have already won at least one Oscar in this category. (The only person in the group not to receive an Academy Award, Maleficent's Anna B. Sheppard, has been nominated three other times.) In any other year, the fairy-tale look of Into the Woods or Maleficent might be the favorite. But since they may end up splitting that vote between them, I'm leaning toward The Grand Budapest Hotel's Milena Canonero, who has already won Oscars for Barry Lyndon, Chariots of Fire, and Marie Antoinette.
BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
Your nominees: The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Imitation Game, Interstellar, Mr. Turner, The Theory of Everything
The pick: The Theory of Everything. In the last nine years, Alexandre Desplat has been nominated eight times, including twice this year, for The Grand Budapest Hotel and The Imitation Game. He's never won ... and I don't think he's going to win this year, either. As distinctive as his score for Budapest is—which, for Oscar voters, is sometimes more important than how good it is—I think he'll get edged out by a first-time nominee, Jóhann Jóhannsson. Where the score for Budapest is fun and lively, The Theory of Everything's music is sweeping and stirring, and far more emotional. I think voters will respond to it more strongly.
BEST ORIGINAL SONG
Your nominees: "Everything Is Awesome," from The Lego Movie; "Glory," from Selma; "Grateful," from Beyond the Lights; "I'm Not Going to Miss You," from Glen Campbell: I'll Be Me; "Lost Stars," from Begin Again
The pick: "Glory," from Selma. I'm sad that this will probably be Selma's one Oscar win, as it's actually one of the film's weak links. The closing song, written by John Legend and Common, struck me as blandly inspirational, but that's probably why the Academy will go for it.
BEST SOUND EDITING
Your nominees: American Sniper, Birdman, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, Interstellar, Unbroken
The pick: Interstellar. The two movies I think you can eliminate first are The Hobbit and Unbroken. Then, things get a lot harder. American Sniper's battle scenes are dynamic, Birdman's showy sound design incorporates aggressive drums and the cacophony of voices around Riggan, and Interstellar takes us into outer space. In recent years when predicting this category, I've thought, "What movie probably would sound best on a sweet home theater system?" American Sniper is the fashionable frontrunner—and, remember, it's actually made more money than any other movie in this category—but I'm going with Nolan's epic.
BEST SOUND MIXING
Your nominees: American Sniper, Birdman, Interstellar, Unbroken, Whiplash
The pick: Whiplash. Another really tough call. Interstellar was knocked in the press because so much of its dialogue was impossible to hear, but does the Academy care or notice? Whiplash is the slight favorite among Oscar prognosticators, in part because musical-themed movies like Ray, Chicago,and Les Misérables have won recently, but the film (although a Best Picture nominee) would be the lowest-grossing winner in this category in quite some time. American Sniper and Birdman have arguable cases, which I laid out above. (Sorry, I just don't see Unbroken having any shot.) When you don't have a clear-cut choice like Gravity, it's really hard to guess with any amount of certainty. But I'm leaning toward Whiplash and its dynamic, propulsive musical ending.
BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT
Your nominees: Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1, Joanna, Our Curse, The Reaper, White Earth
The pick: Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1. Ellen Goosenberg Kent's film focuses on the counselors who work the phones of the Veterans Crisis Line, which assists returning veterans struggling with depression and PTSD. In a year when American Sniper has become a box-office phenomenon, it's hard to imagine the Academy not being a little more attuned to Crisis Hotline's "support our troops" message.
BEST ANIMATED SHORT
Your nominees: The Bigger Picture, The Dam Keeper, Feast, Me and My Moulton, A Single Life
The pick: Feast. This is, admittedly, the only one of these I've seen—it played before Big Hero 6, telling the story of a romantic relationship from the perspective of the man's dog. Checking out trailers and online clips for the other nominees, though, I can see that it isn't the most innovative of the bunch, but it's got plenty of heart, which might make all the difference.
BEST LIVE ACTION SHORT
Your nominees: Aya, Boogaloo and Graham, Butter Lamp, Parvaneh, The Phone Call
The pick: The Phone Call. It's hardly a foolproof system, but in this field, I tend to go with the movie that has some star power. Filmmaker Mat Kirkby's drama features Sally Hawkins and Jim Broadbent, and in an echo of Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1, it concerns someone connecting with a caller who's in dire straits, contemplating suicide.
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