Well, it’s that time of year again, and I’m having a hard time mustering my usual level of excitement.  I can’t recall a more lackluster bunch of Best Picture nominees, and I’ve watched every Oscar ceremony (with a near-manic intensity) since 1983.  I saw bits and pieces before then, but that year in particular my eleven-year-old self was really pulling for ET to win best picture, and “Eye of the Tiger” from Rocky 3 to win best original song.  Imagine my dismay when both lost.   (“Who is this stupid Gandhi guy?” I muttered to myself as I stormed off to sleep.)

Best Picture – Expanding the roster of Best Picture nominees means that we have eight unexceptional films to choose from, instead of five.  And where is Gone Girl and Nightcrawler?  They were both snubbed in this category, and several others as well.  My personal favorite of the nominees is Selma.  It is a powerful film, with great performances, and couldn’t be more relevant.  Too bad that Paramount dropped the ball in promoting this film, and getting screeners out.  It is a two-film race at this point, and I really think it’s a coin toss between Birdman and Boyhood.  Both are great for technical reasons, but failed to fully engage me on a basic story level.

Will win:  Birdman

Should win:  Selma

Best Director:  I’m going to say that the Academy splits the vote, giving this award to Richard Linklater for Boyhood, while Birdman wins best picture.  If the exact opposite happens I would not be surprised.  Nor would I care.   None of the other nominees stand a chance, and I’m not sure why a couple of them are there at all.

Will win:  Richard Linklater

Should win:  Richard Linklater

Best Actor:  This award seemed to be Michael Keaton’s for the taking, for quite a stretch, but Eddie Redmayne came on strong down the stretch, winning the Actor’s Guild Award, which is a pretty strong predictor for the best actor Oscar winner.  It really could go either way, but I think Redmayne will pull it out.  Keaton is a great actor, and he is overdue for recognition of a great body of work.  But Redmayne is exceptional as Stephen Hawking, and it is not the physical limitations of the character that make him excel.  It was the early scenes, before the disease fully grips his character, that sold me.  Redmayne has such a winning smile as the young Hawking, it is impossible not to like him.

Will win:  Eddie Redmayne

Should win:  Eddie Redmayne

Best Actress:  This award is no contest this year.  Julienne Moore will definitely be taking home the Oscar for her performance.  As is the case with Michael Keaton, Moore is overdue for some appreciation.  She has been nominated four times previously;  the fifth time will be the charm for her.  Rosamund Pike’s performance was fantastic, and unique, but she doesn’t stand a chance. (I was not able to see the Marion Cotillard movie before the awards, unfortunately, and not for lack of trying.)

Will win:  Julianne Moore

Should win:  Julianne Moore

Best Supporting Actor:  In what is by far the biggest lock in the major categories, J.K. Simmons will win this award for sure.  His blistering performance takes the audience to uncomfortable places, and I appreciate the effort he put into the role, even though the character is a narcissistic asshole, and probably a sociopath as well.  At the other end of the acting spectrum is the always great Mark Ruffalo, who with quiet understatement creates a character that we can all love and admire, making his sudden loss all the more palpable.  There is a part of me that thinks he deserves this award, but of course the academy will choose bombast over subtlety.  Oh well, Simmons was great too, and Ruffalo will have an Oscar in his trophy case before his career is over.

Will win:  J.K. Simmons

Should win:  J.K. Simmons

Best Supporting Actress:  You know its a weak year when Patricia Arquette is a lock in an acting category and Meryl Streep is getting nominated for sleepwalking through the part of a witch.  I shouldn’t take cheap shots at Arquette;  her character was believable, and she had a couple of very memorable scenes that really locked this one up for her.  I personally loved Laura Dern in Wild;  her character made a strong impact in what seemed like a few brief minutes of screen time.

Will win:  Patricia Arquette

Should win:  Patricia Arquette

Best Cinematography:  Is Emmanuel Lubezki going to win back-to-back awards in this category, after taking home the Oscar for Gravity last year?  Yep.  Deakins has won before, and done better work.  Ida looks great, but won’t win.  I think there is a slight possibility that Robert Yeoman (The Grand Budapest Hotel) could pull off the upset here, but its a long shot.

Will win:  Emmanuel Lubezki

Should win:  Emmanuel Lubezki

Best Foreign Language Film:  This is usually one of the hardest categories to handicap, and it is particularly hard this year.  First off, where the hell is Sweden’s Force Majeure?  It was one of the best movies of the year, in any language, with universal themes, and deserved a spot here.  See it.  This is a three-picture race.  Leviathan won the Golden Globe, and is one of the best films to come from Russia in years.  Poland’s  Ida features a story that has elements of Jewish extermination in World War II, usually a guaranteed award-winning subject.  Argentina’s Wild Tales is making a late push.  I really love Argentine cinema;  Argentina has produced a dozen really great films in the last couple decades.  And Ricardo Darrin is quite possibly my favorite actor on Earth.  But this film feels slight, compared to the other two frontrunners, and to the near-perfect The Secret in their Eyes, Argentina’s winner in this category in 2009.  And the winner is…let me toss that coin again.

Will win:  Ida

Should win:  Leviathan

Best Adapted Screenplay:  Damien Chazell is the front-runner in this category for Whiplash, even though this screenplay is not adapted in the usual sense.  I won’t go into the arcane rules behind Academy nominations;  look it up if it interests you.   Anthony McCarten’s screenplay for The Theory of Everything is also quite good, but Chazell will probably win.

Will win:  Damien Chazelle

Should win:  Damien Chazelle

Best Original Screenplay:   Birdman or Boyhood could win in this category;  Nightcrawler should but won’t.  I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that Wes Anderson will get some love in this category for Grand Budapest Hotel.  

Will win:  Wes Anderson and Hugo Guiness

Should win:  Dan Gilroy

Best Makeup and Hairstyling:  The makeup in Foxcatcher is subtle but impressive;  Steve Carell looks like another person.  Guardians has some exceptional characters.  I’m going to take the middle ground and give this one to The Grand Budapest Hotel.  

Will win:  Frances Hannon and Mark Coulier

Should win:  Frances Hannon and Mark Coulier

Best Original Score:  Alexandre Desplat is competing against himself in this category, with nominations for The Imitation Game and The Grand Budapest Hotel.  He also has 8 nominations and no wins.  But four of the last six winners in this category have been first-time nominees, and I think that trend will continue.  Iceland’s Johann Johannsson created a fantastic score for The Theory of Everything, and it is not a standard by-the-numbers orchestral score.

Will win:  The Theory of Everything

Should win:  The Theory of Everything

Best Original Song:  The Academy has been consistently getting it right in this category in recent years, and I think that trend will continue.  It has to be “Glory”, a song that is contemporary, heartfelt, and relevant.  “Everything is Awesome”  is fun but slight.

Will win:  Glory

Should win:  Glory

Best Animated Feature:  OK, so we all know The Lego Movie got snubbed.  How to Train Your Dragon 2 already took home the Golden Globe, and is the favorite.  Can Disney’s Big Hero 6 pull off the upset?  Probably not, but it should.

Will win:  How to Train Your Dragon 2

Should win:  Big Hero 6

Best Documentary – Short:  Oh my God, keep your kleenex handy if you are going to watch the documentary shorts this year.  They range from sad to sadder.  Joanna,  which is about a terminally ill woman who wishes to leave a video record for her young son, will probably stay with me the longest.  But  Crisis Hotline:  Veterans Press 1 will probably win.  And it’s hard to argue with that.  People in this country need to know about the number of Iraq and Afghan war vets who are committing suicide, who are having trouble leading anything close to a normal life.

Will win:  Crisis Hotling:  Veterans Press 1

Should win:  Joanna

Best Film Editing:  This is consistently one of the hardest categories to handicap, and this year is no different.  Boyhood is considered the frontrunner; why I don’t know.  And how was Birdman not nominated in this category, when its seemless editing was its most original and striking feature?    Since Birdman was snubbed, I think Whiplash and The Grand Budapest Hotel both had better editing than Boyhood.  I’m going to go out on that limb again and call this one for Whiplash.  But I really have no clue.

Will win:  Whiplash

Should win:  Whiplash

Best Production Design:  I have a feeling that Budapest Hotel could do very well in the technical categories, and I really don’t see any film coming close to it in this category.

Will win:  The Grand Budapest Hotel

Should win:  The Grand Budapest Hotel

Best Animated Short:  Disney’s Feast is by-far the favorite in this category, and will most likely get the win.

Will win:  Feast

Should win:  Feast

Best Live Action Short:   This is a two-film race between Butter Lamp and The Phone Call.  Butter Lamp is visually striking, while The Phone Call is poignant and manages to move from despair to hope in a mere 20 minutes.  It also features Sally Hawkins and Jim Broadbent.  Another coin toss, really.

Will win:  The Phone Call

Should win:  The Phone Call

Best Sound Editing:  Tough to handicap.  I’m going to give this one to American Sniper, although I think Interstellar could easily win as well.

Will win:  American Sniper

Should win:  American Sniper

Best Sound Mixing:   I will be surprised if Whiplash does not win in this category, but once again I think Interstellar could sneak up and win.

Will win:  Whiplash

Should win:  Whiplash

Best Visual Effects:  Guardians of the Galaxy has fantastic effects, but I’m going go give this one to Interstellar.  I really don’t have a feel for this one.

Will win:  Interstellar

Should win:  Interstellar

Best Documentary – Feature:  Citizenfour is far and away the favorite here, and I get that.  And yes it probably will win;  it is engaging, and certainly very relevant.  I’m going to take a walk out on that proverbial limb again, though, and predict that Finding Vivien Maier will pull off the upset in this category.  It does everything that a good documentary film should do:  it introduces a topic about which most viewers know nothing, it explains that topic in an entertaining and engaging manner, and it leaves the viewer with a desire to learn more.  Right up the Academy’s alley in my opinion, and may be enough to override the love for Eric Snowden.

Will win:  Finding Vivien Maier

Should win:  Finding Vivien Maier

Best Costume Design:  The Academy loves period films in this category, but I see this as a two-film race, between Into the Woods and The Grand Budapest Hotel.  And ultimately, I think that Budapest will pull it off.

Will win:  The Grand Budapest Hotel

Should win:  The Grand Budapest Hotel

So to sum up:  there is no clear overriding favorite this year, no film that is going to run away with a bucketful of Oscars.  Grand Budapest Hotel could win the most awards, by doing well in the technical categories.   I love movies, I love the Oscars, but this year I’m just not feeling it.  Pass the nachos.