Los Angeles — Ahead of Sunday's 87th Academy Awards, Associated Press film writers Jake Coyle and Lindsey Bahr share their predictions for a ceremony that could be a nail biter.
Will Win: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's Birdman comes home to roost despite the landmark accomplishment of Boyhood. As a celebration of showbiz, it's the Shakespeare in Love of its time.
Should Win: Boyhood marries film and time in a uniquely powerful way, but it's also worth making a case for Wes Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel, the most relentlessly fun and inventive film of the year.
Should Have Been a Contender: Interstellar. Christopher Nolan's epic is unloved, but it's a glorious sci-fi soup that would have added some big-budget dazzle to the Oscars. I mean, it's got a fourth dimension.
Will Win: While Birdman's formal ambitions and extraordinary ensemble cast are impressive, the earnest 12-year experiment that spawned a compelling film in Boyhood is just too good a narrative to ignore.
Should Win: Boyhood, but not because of dedication. A lot of people toil for years on their dream projects. Boyhood is a great and deeply humane film that celebrates the ordinariness of the everyday and is destined to be a classic.
Should Have Been a Contender: In ten years we'll look back on Interstellar's near-absence from this year's Academy Awards as a grave cinematic injustice. At least Nolan is in good company. 2001: A Space Odyssey was shut out of the best picture race too.
Will Win: In one of the most hotly contested categories of the entire race, it wouldn't be surprising if the academy went with the comparatively elder statesmen Michael Keaton for the comeback performance of a lifetime. Redmayne will get another shot.
Should Win: Keaton. We shouldn't really care about the artistic endeavors of a past his prime megalomaniac, but Keaton was able to make Riggan Thomson at turns sympathetic, wholly unlikable and desperately sad.
Should Have Been a Contender: There are so many great performances that would have warranted a nomination here, including David Oyelowo for his powerful and studied take on Martin Luther King, Jr in Selma and Oscar Isaac's determined entrepreneur in A Most Violent Year.
Will Win: Redmayne. The freckled one appears to be the favourite for his technically impressive performance.
Should Win: Keaton. Redmayne is a talented young actor, but he's a little precious for a physicist. Keaton has been an electric live-wire for decades.
Should Have Been a Contender: The performance of the year was Timothy Spall's J.M.W. Turner in Mr. Turner. If the Oscars were judged on grunting ability (and shouldn't they be?), he'd win in a cakewalk.
Will Win: Julianne Moore, Still Alice. A great actress overdue for an Oscar, although the film is ... forgettable.
Should Win: Marion Cotillard, Two Days, One Night. The French actress deserved nods for both this unadorned performance and for the unfairly overlooked The Immigrant.
Should Have Been a Contender: Tilda Swinton, Only Lovers Left Alive. In Jim Jarmusch's bitingly funny vampire tale, she's captivating just walking down a Tangier street. One of cinema's most exotic creatures.
Will Win: Five-time nominee Moore is long overdue for an Oscar and her nuanced portrayal of an accomplished woman deteriorating at the hands of early onset Alzheimer's in an otherwise mediocre movie is her golden ticket.
Should Win: Moore for any other performance? But if we have to count this year's contenders: Felicity Jones. The Theory of Everything is Jane Hawking's story and Jones' self-possessed take on a woman in an incredibly difficult situation has been upstaged by the flashier performance in the film.
Should Have Been a Contender: Comedian Jenny Slate showed great depth, humor and empathy in the perfectly realised Obvious Child, a film so enjoyable and of its time that older guard institutions probably didn't know what to do with it.
Best Supporting Actor
Will Win: J.K. Simmons' maniacal jazz instructor in Whiplash has been the top choice since the film premiered at Sundance over a year ago.
Should Win: Simmons, and it'll be extremely disappointing if he doesn't lose it at the Oscar orchestra when they try to play him off.
Should Have Been a Contender: Tony Revolori was barely even in the conversation for his magnetic, loyal lobby boy Zero in The Grand Budapest Hotel. Wes Anderson's stylish aesthetic seems to blind people to the fact that there truly compelling and emotional performances beneath the Popsicle-colored environs.
Will Win: Simmons so blows away all other candidates, it's not even close. Get out of his class!
Should Win: Simmons. A career character actor takes a well-deserved bow.
Should Have Been a Contender: Much was rightly made of Jake Gyllenhaal's creepy turn in Nightcrawler, but the film only works if it has the heart of Riz Ahmed's trusty sidekick.
Best Supporting Actress
Will Win: Patricia Arquette is lock for Boyhood.
Should Win: Arquette. The best, most tender scene in Boyhood is when Arquette's character, having raised her kids and watched their "series of milestones" unfold wonders what's next for her. "I just thought there would be more," she laments. It's an unforgettable moment.
Should Have Been a Contender: Every year, countless performances from foreign films go unrewarded, but it feels like a genuine mistake that Agata Kulesza from the Polish film Ida didn't win a nomination. As the bitter, hard-drinking judge Wanda, heavy with Polish history, she's about as good as it gets.
Will Win: Funny that some of us once thought Arquette's deeply felt portrayal of a mother and a woman coming into her own would go unnoticed by Academy. Now, the award's in the bag.
Should Win: Arquette, and we should all be thrilled that a subtle performance in an original film is the undisputed front runner.
Should Have Been a Contender: Relative unknown Katherine Waterston elevated Inherent Vice's Shasta Fay Hepworth from arm-candy in distress to a woman who is at turns fully formed and a bewitching enigma — a tricky balancing act between two opposite ideas. It was a flawless melding of actress and role.
Will Win: The formal ambitions that probably won't be enough to secure a best picture win for Birdman will likely be acknowledged with a best director win for Alejandro González Iñárritu.
Should Win: The scrappy one-week-a-year shooting schedule and lack of a fully realised script might make Richard Linklater easier to overlook in this category, but that would be mistake.
Should Have Been a Contender: Inherent Vice is another one of those movies that is ahead of its time. Paul Thomas Anderson continues to reinvent himself with every picture and this hazy, evocative private eye yarn is both exquisite and underappreciated.
Will Win: Like best picture, this comes down to the showy elan of Inarritu's Birdman against the patient humanism of Linklater. I suspect Birdman takes picture, leaving director to the Texan.
Should Win: It's hard to match the brio of Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel, the culmination of a trio of top-notch releases for the director following Fantastic Mr. Fox and Moonrise Kingdom.
Should Have Been a Contender: Was David Fincher's examination of marriage in Gone Girl too dark for some academy members? Blood baths in beds will do that. What a shame; this was the most conversation-starting movie of the year, a gender warfare time-bomb.
Best Original Screenplay
Will Win: With two co-written screenplay nominations to his name, the Academy has already flirted with Wes Anderson's idiosyncratic dialogue and storytelling, and it looks like they'll finally embrace it with a statue for the mainstream hit The Grand Budapest Hotel, which Anderson co-wrote with Hugo Guinness.
Should Win: Anderson is expert at juxtaposing whimsy with the extremely dark and cynical and the The Grand Budapest Hotel is exemplary of his (and Guinness's) unique talent for creating compelling yet unconventional stories.
Should Have Been a Contender: J.C. Chandor's elegant and controlled A Most Violent Year came and went without much fanfare, but this forgotten gem explores characters, motivations and moral ambiguities with a first-rate story.
Will Win: This is likely the biggest award the academy will bestow on the The Grand Budapest Hotel, which comes in with nine nods yet someone not one for Ralph Fiennes.
Should Win: Anderson deserves it, but a case could also be made for Dan Gilroy's wonderfully wacked out Nightcrawler.
Should Have Been a Contender: The thickly atmospheric A Most Violent Year turned the gangster movie on its head, situating itself not with crooks on the street, but with supposedly straight businessmen.
Best Adapted Screenplay
Will Win: Damien Chazelle's Whiplash (only "adapted" because he first made a Whiplash short) is taught and full of something great scripts have: snappy, quotable lines. It should be to the academy's tempo.
Should Win: Paul Thomas Anderson (Inherent Vice) deserves a medal just for trying to adapt Thomas Pynchon and not losing his mind in the process.
Should Have Been a Contender: How did Gillian Flynn's screenplay for Gone Girl not make it in here? A worldwide bestseller is turned into deliciously pulpy suburban noir: This is what this category is for.
Will Win: Chazelle's pulsating Whiplash, presents a portrait of an artist on the edge of greatness like we've never seen before.
Should Win: Whiplash, even though it's still a little baffling why it's considered an adapted screenplay.
Should Have Been a Contender: Writing a novel and writing a screenplay are two very different skills and Gone Girl author and screenwriter Gillian Flynn somehow mastered both. Her brutal and necessary cuts and modifications helped steer the film to stand-alone greatness.
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