Best Picture

Should win: “Selma.” In a year defined by its racial atrocities, civic unrest and general public dismay, “Selma” perfectly reflects what life was like in America in 2014: unfair and confusing. It’s an outside shot, but this film deserves the big one.

Will win: “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance).” Hollywood is self-obsessed, and any movie that glorifies the artistry and artisanship of acting should be, and will be, a favorite with the Academy comprised of actors-turned-thoughtful-arts-patrons.

Dark horse: “The Grand Budapest Hotel.” No other film in 2014 captured the broad spectrum of human experience as accurately and creatively as this one: from immigration to art, from love to death, coming-of-age to family struggle, war to imperialism and religious occultism. “Grand Budapest” is a masterful recounting of all the things that made the 20th century the most unbearable and the most fascinating yet.

Best Director

Should win: Alejandro González Iñárritu (“Birdman”). Iñárritu demonstrated an unparalleled mastery of cast, crew, vision and story to transcend his limited set piece and achieve an ever-evolving, pure examination on the nature of art and creativity themselves.

Will win: Richard Linklater (“Boyhood”). If he’s not coming away with a Best Picture win, it’ll be a Best Director award for Linklater and his ambitious 12-year project. The Academy splits Best Picture and Best Director wins about 25 percent of the time, so this result wouldn’t be unusual.

Dark horse: Wes Anderson (“The Grand Budapest Hotel”). The ever-eccentric Anderson released his most successful, most accessible film to date. If ever there’s been a shot at the big one for Anderson, it’s now.

Best Actor

Should Win: Michael Keaton (“Birdman”). In a comeback for the ages and the role of a lifetime, Keaton takes on identity and ego, dueling with himself, his actors, his critics, his daughter, the whole damn world. The result is the finest performance of his career and the most dedicated, nuanced performance of the year. This is supposed to be Keaton’s for the taking.

Will Win: Eddie Redmayne (“The Theory of Everything”). It’s the kind of role the Academy eats up, Oscar bait as they say. That’s no insult to Redmayne, though, as he demonstrates real acting chops in his incredibly physical performance as Stephen Hawking. Redmayne won the SAG award for Best Actor last month, a strong indicator of the Academy’s thinking.

Dark horse: Bradley Cooper (“American Sniper”). In another totally immersive role in an overall strong category this year, Cooper brings an intense physicality to embody real-life marine Chris Kyle and finds the heart of darkness in this character that many have overlooked. “American Sniper” made a huge push for the Oscar nominations; don’t be surprised if Cooper manages to pull off this one.

Best Actress

Should win: Rosamund Pike (“Gone Girl”). Pike oozes seductive and creepy, fully capturing the dark, twisted nature of Amy Dunne. In a film occupied by a bunch of despicable people, Pike proves the most despicable, the kind of character we love to hate … and love, sort of.

Will win: Julianne Moore (“Still Alice”). Moore has swept the awards circuit, and there’s little doubt she won’t continue the trend on Oscar night. She’s been nominated for an Academy Award four times before and never won — fifth time’s the charm.

Dark horse: Reese Witherspoon (“Wild”). Witherspoon tops off an impressive year (with roles in “Wild” and “Inherent Vice” and producing “Gone Girl”) with an Academy Award nomination. In a mostly solo performance, Witherspoon captures the pain of a woman wrestling with her demons, desperately trying to overcome her grief. It’s the kind of role that, in any other year, would probably win.

Best Supporting Actor

Should win: J. K. Simmons (“Whiplash”). If any actor were ever more deserving of mainstream recognition than J. K. Simmons, you’d be hard pressed to find them. Simmons’s role in “Whiplash” is the stuff of legend, the kind of character that inspires a thousand copycats and storylines. He’s won just about every award for the role so far (and deservedly so), and it would be no surprise if he wins the Oscar, too.

Will win: J. K. Simmons. (How great is he in those Farmers Insurance commercials, by the way?)

Dark horse: Mark Ruffalo (“Foxcatcher”). It’s similar to the situation with Simmons: the Academy loves to reward actors who’ve reached the spotlight after taking the long way. Ruffalo is a proven, versatile actor with enough credit, respect and grit (he was the glue that held “Foxcatcher” together) to make an unlikely run for the award this year.

Best Supporting Actress

Should win: Emma Stone (“Birdman”). Her role as the disgruntled, disapproving daughter of an ex-famous actor in “Birdman” was subtle in its greatness. She restrained her emotion carefully. She cared about the play even when she shouldn’t have or when she didn’t need to. She had as much patience and faith in her father as anyone could, even despite her lifelong mistreatment on his behalf.

Will win: Patricia Arquette (“Boyhood”). She’s an early favorite in this category, especially with her recent BAFTA, Golden Globe and SAG wins. Though she changed and developed as much as the film’s main focus, Mason Evans Jr., did, she kept a certain constancy about her tenderness and care that made her maternity believable and endearing.

Dark horse: Emma Stone. Arquette likely has this one in her pocket, but Stone’s youth and dramatic potential could be good jumping off points for the Academy.

Best Original Screenplay

Should win: “The Grand Budapest Hotel.” This is Wes Anderson’s most Anderson-y film, which means, essentially, that it’s the cleanest, sturdiest and most inventive one of the bunch. Anyone who thinks to combine Stefan Zweig’s inter-war stories about European Romanticism with the life of an eccentric and effeminate hotel concierge deserves the highest recognition.

Will win: “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance).” I’m going with my gut on this one. If Wes Anderson’s “Moonrise Kingdom” (arguably his best script) lost to “Django Unchained” (no offense) in 2012, then I don’t think “Grand Budapest” can stand up to the Hollywood heavyweight that is “Birdman.” Granted, Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr. & Armando Bo do have a tremendous script, one that speaks to the difficulty in balancing one’s career with one’s familial responsibility.

Dark horse: “Nightcrawler.” This film, in general, was painfully overlooked this year. Its action and development that keeps you entirely on the edge of your seat, delayed by writer Dan Gilroy. With its protagonist who simultaneously terrifies and entices you, with the smartness of its dialogic craftsmanship, desolation and recklessness, “Nightcrawler” is a truly phenomenal story.

Best Adapted Screenplay

Should win: “Whiplash.” For whatever reason, this original screenplay is nominated for a Best Adapted award. Nonetheless, writer-director Damien Chazelle works wonders in treating his sweeping, epic story of the strangest of symbiotic relationship between teacher and student. “Whiplash” depends so much on timing and rhythm that these intangibles can be captured on paper is award-worthy alone.

Will win: “American Sniper.” This will be the one that “American Sniper” walks away with — as a consolation prize.

Dark horse: “Gone Girl.” Can you say write-in?

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