The 87th annual Oscar awards show is being held Sunday, Feb. 22 at 8 p.m., Neil Patrick Harris is the host and, based on his work hosting the Tony Awards, he should be a good one. Harris will perform an original song-and-dance number, "Moving Pictures," that was written by Frozen Oscar-winners Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, and there'll be plenty more singing with John Legend and Common performing their Oscar-nominated song "Glory" from Selma, and Adam Levine and Rita Ora also performing Oscar-nominated songs. There should be some natural, unforced moments — the tearful thank-you speeches, the fumbling presenters, the unscripted f-bombs — to savor throughout the evening as well.
And, oh, yeah, there will be winners and losers. Here's a breakdown of the big six categories, including predictions I'll brag about if I'm right and never mention again if I'm wrong. When it comes to the fun folks in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, as we've seen many times, anything can happen.
The Best Picture race is shaping up much like that of the 2010 campaign, in which The Social Network won most of the early critics' honors, while The King's Speech ran roughshod over the Guild awards and Oscars. This year, Boyhood took many of the early accolades, and Birdman has been coming on strong of late with wins at the award ceremonies of the trifecta of Guilds: Producers, Directors and Screen Actors. And since a handful of guild members are also Oscar voters, we can lean toward Birdman having the edge for Best Picture, even if Boyhood did just win Best Picture at the BAFTA (the British version of the Oscars).
This is a tight race that could go any number of ways, especially considering the strength and quality of the other nominees: The Grand Budapest Hotel is an absolute delight and probably director Wes Anderson's best film; Selma is a triumph of acting and sentiment with a strong message; the expertly made The Imitation Game has two acting nominations; the same can be said for The Theory of Everything; Whiplash is my pick for the Best Picture of 2014, a high-energy crash course in pedagogy and the peril of blind ambition; and American Sniper is a runaway box-office hit that's won the heart of many Americans. It comes down to this: As we've learned in the past, with Shakespeare in Love beating Saving Private Ryan, and even last year with 12 Years a Slave beating Gravity, Academy members vote with their hearts above anything else. And I think Boyhood will win their hearts, so Boyhood will win — even though Whiplash should.
Often Best Picture and Best Director go hand-in-hand, so one would expect Boyhood director Richard Linklater to take home the Oscar. But not so fast: Based on its guild award victories, Birdman can be expected to win a major award — its best shot is for director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu. The gimmick of the film appearing to have been shot in one long take is technically masterful — you can anticipate the film to win Best Cinematography as well — and the story is an apt commentary on industry issues, including the cult of celebrity, disdain for critics, the hardships of artistry and more. Also nominated for Best Directing are Bennett Miller for Foxcatcher, Morten Tyldum for The Imitation Game and Wes Anderson for The Grand Budapest Hotel. When it's all said and done, I'm predicting Inarritu will win even though Tyldum should. I believe The Imitation Game is the best film among the five nominees for Best Directing.
Unlike those categories, the acting slot winners are easier to predict, especially in the supporting categories. For Best Actor in a Supporting Role, J.K. Simmons is rightfully a lock for his turn as the sadistic music teacher who tortures an aspiring drummer played by Miles Teller in Whiplash. Simmons' fiery demeanor, ice-cold stare, deep voice and black attire immediately make his character, Fletcher, a fearsome individual. And with Simmons clearly the person who will win and should win, fellow Supporting Actor nominees Edward Norton for Birdman, Mark Ruffalo for Foxcatcher, Ethan Hawke for Boyhood and Robert Duvall for The Judge are no doubt honored just to be nominated.
The Best Actress in a Supporting Role category also has a clear favorite: Patricia Arquette for Boyhood. Her performance as a single mom who makes poor relationship decisions is one of the emotional highlights of the film, and she's a respected actress who's paid her dues. Arquette is up against Emma Stone in Birdman, Keira Knightley in The Imitation Game, Laura Dern in Wild and Meryl Streep's 19th overall acting nomination, this time for Into the Woods. It's a solid category, but Arquette will and should win.
For Best Actress in a Leading Role, it looks like it's finally Julianne Moore's year. Her phenomenal performance as a linguistics professor with early-onset Alzheimer's in Still Alice is the fifth nomination of her career, and should be her first victory. Moore's transition from a smart alpha woman into someone who can barely remember her children is heartbreaking, and the pinnacle of female performances in 2014. Also nominated for Best Actress are previous winners Reese Witherspoon for Wild and Marion Cotillard for Two Days, One Night, as well as Felicity Jones for The Theory of Everything and Rosamund Pike for Gone Girl. Pike is my personal favorite, but Moore will win — and she should.
And finally, Best Actor in a Leading Role will come down to two: Eddie Redmayne as ALS-afflicted Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything and Michael Keaton as an actor looking to prove himself in Birdman. Both were fantastic, so the question is: Will the Academy go for the more physical performance with Screen Actors Guild winner Redmayne, or the career-best great comeback story from Keaton? This is a tough one to call, and it's not any easier with the strong work of fellow Best Actor nominees Bradley Cooper in American Sniper, Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game and Steve Carell as we've never seen him in Foxcatcher. This will be very close, but Redmayne will win, as well he should.