Oscar Face-Offs: Here’s Who We Think Will Win

February 21, 2015 Updated: February 22, 2015

Best Picture

(Fox Searchlight Pictures)Location(s) 	Birdman (Fox Searchlight Pictures) vs. Boyhood: (IFC Films)
Birdman vs. Boyhood. (IFC Films, Fox Searchlight Pictures)

It will come down to two: “Birdman” and “Boyhood.” The latter is a creature of the movies, it’s a great gimmick, it’s historical, it’s never been done before, it’s an instant classic. But it’s low-key.

“Birdman” is high-charged, cutting-edge film-making concerning a perennial favorite Hollywood topic: old-school theater and showbiz. It’s a romance with New York City and Broadway, actors, agents, writers, critics. And it’s got tour de force, virtuoso acting from Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, Emma Stone, and Zach Galifianakis. A sweep.

We pick “Birdman” to win.

Also nominated:
“American Sniper”
“The Grand Budapest Hotel”
“The Imitation Game”
“The Theory of Everything”

Best Director

Iñárritu vs. Linklater (Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for DGA)
Iñárritu vs. Linklater. (Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for DGA)

It’s Alejandro G. Iñárritu versus Richard Linklater—both are cutting-edge. It’s the directing of high-octane performances versus a groundbreaking 12-year commitment. These are two different types of challenges. Iñárritu’s on-set, day-to-day challenges were more difficult than Linklater’s.

Linklater’s challenge with “Boyhood” was sustaining a project over an unprecedentedly extended period of time, juggling ever-shifting cast and crew commitments. His challenge was furthermore coaxing a good performance out of a non-actor, whereas Iñárritu’s challenge with “Birdman” was coaxing even better performances out of the best performers. The latter resulted in a film that is 100 percent engaging throughout, which is this reviewer’s criterion for high-star film ratings.

We pick Iñárritu to win.

Also nominated:
Wes Anderson for “The Grand Budapest Hotel”
Bennett Miller for “Foxcatcher”
Morten Tyldum for “The Imitation Game”

We wish were nominated:
Ava DuVernay for “Selma”

Best Actor

Eddie Redmayne vs. Michael Keaton. (Stuart C. Wilson, Ian Gavan/Getty Images)

Eddie Redmayne plays world-renowned, ALS-ravaged physicist Stephen Hawking in “The Theory of Everything.” Daniel Day-Lewis already won an Oscar for doing the exact same wheelchair and speech-impediment performance in “My Left Foot.” It’s striking how similar they sound at times; Redmayne could almost be accused of flat-out copying Day-Lewis, but of course that’s nonsense. But had Day-Lewis not burned the house down in a similar role and rendered it scorched-earth territory, Redmayne might have had a better shot.

Michael Keaton plays a Hollywood star of former superhero fame (much like Keaton’s very own history as the first Batman) making a Broadway bid for thespian legitimacy. Keaton’s been making us laugh since “Mr. Mom” and “Beetlejuice.” He had the acting chops to transcend his everyman looks, to convince casting directors to forgo a male-model type actor to play Batman.

“Birdman” is Keaton’s acting apogee. He’s runs the gamut, he soars and tumbles emotionally, he’s tragic, he’s hysterical, he trashes his actor vanity and speed-walks through Times Square in his tighty-whities—you can’t beat it.

We pick Michael Keaton to win.

Also nominated:
Steve Carell in “Foxcatcher”
Bradley Cooper in “American Sniper”
Benedict Cumberbatch in “The Imitation Game”

We wish were nominated:
David Oyelowo in “Selma”
Chadwick Boseman in “Get on Up”

Best Supporting Actor

Edward Norton vs. J.K. Simmons (Justin Tallis, Stuart C. Wilson/AFP/Getty Images)
Edward Norton vs. J.K. Simmons (Justin Tallis, Stuart C. Wilson/AFP/Getty Images)

Edward Norton and J.K. Simmons both deliver tour de force performances. But Norton in “Birdman” is recognizably Norton (which always means good), and Simmons in “Whiplash” is transcendent.

Part of the reason for Simmons’s brilliance, is that the “Whiplash” character does some conducting, and J.K. Simmons actually has a college degree in conducting. And composition. So there’s that real-life expertise shining through.

We pick Simmons to win.

Also nominated:
Robert Duvall in “The Judge”
Ethan Hawke in “Boyhood”
Mark Ruffalo in “Foxcatcher”

Best Actress

Julianne Moore vs. Rosamund Pike (Tim P. Whitby, Valerie Macon/Getty Images)
Julianne Moore vs. Rosamund Pike (Tim P. Whitby, Valerie Macon/Getty Images)

Rosamund Pike is quite convincing as a psychopathic Harvard grad-turned-housewife in “Gone Girl.” Her American accent is convincing, as is her box-cutter butchery. The film is rather twisted and dark (almost horror), which may affect Pike’s chances, but then again, so was “Silence of the Lambs” for which Anthony Hopkins won Best Actor in 1992. Otherwise, compared to “Still Alice,” her role called for more fireworks.

As for Julianne Moore, it’s politically her time to be rewarded; she’s got four nominations, no wins. “Still Alice” is about a professor with early-onset Alzheimer’s. Just the vehicle to deliver the gold. Lastly, the Academy tends to reward American actresses over British ones—think “My Cousin Vinny.”

We call it a tie, but expect Moore to win.

Also nominated:
Marion Cotillard in “Two Days, One Night”
Felicity Jones in “The Theory of Everything”
Reese Witherspoon in “Wild”

We wish were nominated:
Jennifer Aniston in “Cake”
Gugu Mbatha-Raw in “Beyond the Lights”

Best Supporting Actress

B. SupportingActress
Arquette vs. Knightley. (Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)

Keira Knightley’s wonderful in “The Imitation Game.” But she has a long career ahead and already has two Oscar nominations under her belt. She makes a powerful advocate for women of science taking their rightful place alongside their male counterparts, but many current ingénues could have aced this role.

Patricia Arquette’s never been nominated for an Oscar, but she’s been around a long time, most notably in “True Romance,” “The Indian Runner,” and “Beyond Rangoon.” “Boyhood” needs to win something for making its historical mark on the film world, and her performance could ease it in that direction.

As Linklater himself said at a press conference in New York, this is a mom role we haven’t seen before—it’s not one-sided. She’s young and in love, sexy, hardworking, frumpy, puts on some weight, cuts her hair, goes back to school—a lot can happen in 12 years.

We pick Arquette to win.

Also nominated:
Laura Dern in “Wild”
Emma Stone in “Birdman”
Meryl Streep in “Into the Woods”

We wish were nominated:
Carmen Ejogo in “Selma”
Adriana Barraza in “Cake”

Follow Mark on Twitter: @FilmCriticEpoch