Jonathan Richards/IN THE DARK




Tradition isn’t what it used to be.

Back in the early years, the Academy

would throw anywhere from 8 to a dozen

movies into the Best Picture category. Which in those days was called Outstanding Picture, which was matched, for the first couple of years, with another top prize, Unique and Artistic Production. The Academy soon dropped that jawbreaker, and in the ‘30s they changed the name of the category to Outstanding Production. The early ‘40s saw a brief switch to Outstanding Motion Picture, quickly supplanted by Best Motion Picture. Since 1962 it’s settled in as Best Picture.

        Starting in 1944, they whittled the nominations down to a standard five, and that number held for 65 years, until in 2009 somebody got the bright idea that a larger field meant more movies could put “Nominated for Best Picture” in their ads, and sell more tickets.

        For a few years this spirit of largesse resulted in ten nominations, then for the next few it dwindled to nine. This year it’s down to eight. By the Academy’s rules, a movie must get at least 5% of the first-place rankings in the nomination process to make the cut. It seems this year’s eight nominees were the only ones to rise to that bar.      


This is a year in which egg will likely wind up on a lot of prognosticating faces. Expertise is shaky and certainty in short supply. But when the dust has cleared, the field of eight narrows down to a few favorites. Despite its boffo box office and late surge, American Sniper probably falls away from the top group, suffering from uneasiness about its subject matter. Harvey Weinstein’s muscle behind The Imitation Game means attention must be paid. But the choice most likely comes down to the killer B’s, Boyhood and Birdman. Both terrific movies, but too many people didn’t like or just didn’t get Birdman. Boyhood won at the BAFTAs, and its bold concept and beautiful execution should prevail.



Could we get another Picture/Director split this year? Why not? It’s a way for Oscar to spread the wealth, and it’s been all the rage in the past few years. Much ink has been spilled lamenting Selma director Ava DuVernay’s absence from this field. A more serious snub to my mind is Mr Turner’s Mike Leigh. Bennett Miller (Foxcatcher) and Morten Tydlum (The Imitation Game) are probably first to the exit. Wes Anderson has a lot of well-earned support for The Grand Budapest Hotel. But Richard Linklater (Boyhood) and Alejandro González Iñárritu (Birdman) will be the last men standing, and if Boyhood wins Picture, look for Iñárritu to hold up the directing statuette. Of course, it could go the other way.

CHOICE: Alejandro González IñárrituPREDICTION: Alejandro González Iñárritu


Benedict Cumberbatch made a lot of magazine covers, but hasn’t gotten much Oscar buzz. Steve Carell showed he was more than a prosthetic shnozz, but he loses by a nose. Could Bradley Cooper’s macho sniper pick off the gold? Not impossible. But the favorites have to be Eddie Redmayne, for his Oscar-bait dream role as Stephen Hawking, and Michael Keaton for his inspired, self-referential incarnation as a former movie superhero trying to re-energize a fading acting career. They’ve been trading wins in the preliminaries, and Redmayne has the momentum. But Birdman is the far better film. CHOICE: Michael KeatonPREDICTION: Eddie Redmayne


Here, thank god, we’re getting onto firmer ground. Easily disposed of (in terms of chances) are Marion Cotillard, a fine actress in a fairly uninteresting movie (Two Days, One Night), Felicity Jones, loyal support in The Theory of Everything, and Rosamund Pike, underappreciated in Gone Girl. The only thing that has Reese Witherspoon (Wild) in the end game is her industry clout. If you have money to spend, spend it on Julianne Moore. It’s her year for her unforgettable Alzheimer’s victim in Still Alice.

CHOICE:  Julianne MoorePREDICTION: Julianne Moore


Another strong field, another strong favorite. Oscar likes to single out a working actor and give him his moment, and this year it’s the veteran J.K. Simmons, who has 148 credits in his IMDB entry, 18 of them in 2014 alone! You could make a case for Edward Norton (Birdman) working up an acceptance speech. The others – Robert Duvall (The Judge), Ethan Hawke (Boyhood), and Mark Ruffalo (Foxcatcher) won’t have to act surprised if they win. Simmons is terrific in Whiplash, and he’s won everything to date this year.

CHOICE: J.K. SimmonsPREDICTION: J. K.Simmons


These acting categories, once you dispose of Best Actor, are where you’ll fatten your Oscar ballot. Laura Dern (Wild) and Kiera Knightley (The Imitation Game) were good. Meryl Streep got her record 19th nomination for Into the Woods, a wonderful screen adaptation of the Sondheim stage musical, and she will watch contentedly from her seat. Emma Stone established some heavy-duty credentials for her work in Birdman, but Patricia Arquette’s dozen years of outstanding work in Boyhood will carry the day.

CHOICE:  Patricia ArquettePREDICTION: Patricia Arquette


Start treading carefully again here. Writing categories are hard to predict, but Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel was a smart, quirky, and much-loved movie that has not seen any return so far in these Oscar predictions, so I’ll give it the nod over Birdman and Boyhood.

CHOICE: Alejandro González Iñárritu, Birdman

PREDICTION: Wes Anderson, The Grand Budapest Hotel


Oh boy. My advice here is to toss the nominees into a hat and pick one out. Don’t bother putting Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice in the hat. The Theory of Everything has momentum coming out of the BAFTAs, and The Imitation Game has been riding some strong support. American Sniper may have to get recognition somewhere, and this could be it. And Whiplash is a gritty, unusual, and powerfully written picture.

CHOICE: Damien Chazelle, Whiplash         PREDICTION: Jason Hall, American Sniper  


Foreign Language is a robust category, with the Russian Leviathan maybe edging out Poland’s Ida. The best Documentary Feature, in cinematic terms, may not be Laura Poitras’s Citizenfour, but it should win on the basis of its powerful subject. Selma will get its moment with a win for Original Song (“Glory”). Animated Feature seems to be headed for How to Train Your Dragon 2, but keep an eye out for the lovely Irish Song of the Sea.


Mr. Turner, what happened? Timothy Spall, say it ain’t so! When Mike Leigh’s picture came out, critics had it down as a shoo-in for the Picture and Actor categories, but Oscar (and BAFTA) thought differently. David Oyelowo’s Martin Luther King did not march as expected to an acting nomination. In Animated Feature, The Lego Movie got some of the year’s best notices, but Oscar didn’t notice. Angelina Jolie’s Unbroken came in with a lot of hype, but broke down.  And Into the Woods got left out in the cold; but if you love musicals, see it anyway.