They Shoot Oscar Prognosticators, Don't They?

Final Predictions for the 87th Annual Academy Awards

By J. Don Birnam

February 21, 2015

Man, Bradley Cooper hogs all the attention.

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It’s all over but the crying, folks. Time to put pen to paper and give our final predictions for the Oscars. The votes have been cast and are being tabulated. The accountants likely know by now who will go home with the gold statuettes and, on Sunday, we too will find out.

Given the early release of some of the contenders this year, this felt like an inordinately long Oscar campaign, and I’ll be more than ready to put it to rest. Regardless of what wins, Boyhood will be seen as a landmark of American cinema in the years to come. Birdman’s fate seems more uncertain, despite its greatness. It does depict a snapshot of what Hollywood is today: an industry beset by anxiety over its over-commercialization. And as a technical achievement, it towers over its competition. Other Oscar stories that will be remembered from this year include the Sony hacks and the scandal they caused, the disappointing awards performance of the highly-anticipated Unbroken, the snubbing of Selma and the controversy it resulted in, and the phenomenal box office success of American Sniper. That was the movies in 2014.

Oft-repeated was also the idea that it was a weak year for movies. I don’t buy it. The movies are out there, you just have to look for them. At least four or five of the Best Picture nominees are great movies, worth several viewings, and many others that the Academy didn’t recognize are as well. And my own favorite movies of the year, Interstellar and Gone Girl, fell short of Oscar glory (as is usually the case). I predict both superb films will be rehabilitated outside the confines of the brutal awards race in years to come.


So, on to final predictions. Last year, all categories seemed locked and there were no surprises. Oscar watchers complained of boredom, but in reality it made our jobs easier. Be careful what you wish for seems appropriate here, because several categories seem to me to be wide open. It’s tricky this year because there is so much love for so many movies, because BAFTA and the guilds are pulling us in opposite direction, and because neither frontrunner feels like a typical Best Picture movie. Both Boyhood and Birdman are way outside the Academy’s comfort zone. But if you want a good score you can just tick off the BAFTA winners or the pundits’ favorites, and you should be OK for the most part. Going out on limbs is where you can really sink.

When in doubt, I on occasion mark down what I think is the objectively deserving winner in the category. Sometimes that helps, but it can be perilous in years when the Academy is just sweeping it for a movie. The prognosticators understand the technical races more than the disaffected old Academy voter, and that can work against us. But because this does not appear to be a “sweep” year, picking the objective best may be advisable. I’ll try to annotate my predictions - some of which have changed since I analyzed the categories - to help you decide whether to agree with me whenever I go out on the limb, or stick to the safer choice.

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