Oscar predictions for all 24 categories

Playing in a pool or just want to seem savvy? Consult our list of who will triumph at the Oscars this weekend—and who really deserves to win


The Oscars are this Sunday, starting at 7pm ET on ABC. If you're heading out to watch the ceremony with a crowd or tuning in at home, one thing is sure: You're going to want to seem like the smartest person in the room. Let us help. Below are all 24 categories, complete with a prediction, a perfect-world alternative and a third pick that should have been in the running. (Here's a list of all the nominees.) We'll be live-tweeting the entire show this weekend at @TimeOutUSFilm. Follow us for all the snark you can handle.

RECOMMENDED: Full coverage of the Academy Awards

Best Actor

Will win: Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything
When was the last time that so many electrifying performances were snubbed in a single category? David Oyewolo (Selma), Ralph Fiennes (The Grand Budapest Hotel) and Jake Gyllenhaal (Nightcrawler) all failed to make the bracket, and the folks who did never really took off, for the most part. Residual love for Michael Keaton should earn the Birdman star a ton of votes, but his subdued performance won't be enough to distract from the flashiest pick.

Should win: Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything
It’s hard to draw the line between acting and mimicry, and Redmayne’s unbelievably convincing portrayal of Stephen Hawking makes it that much harder.

Should have been nominated: Ben Affleck, Gone Girl
Nick Dunne may not be the most sympathetic protagonist out there, but Affleck makes a meal of his domestic frustrations while also imbuing the role with a delicious meta-cultural slant.

Best Actress

Will win: Julianne Moore, Still Alice
It's an embarrassment that Moore has never won an Oscar yet, so she's due—plus she's swept virtually every year-end prize to date.

Should win: Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl
No female performance was more talked about in 2014 and Pike turned a tricky part into a career breakthrough.

Should have been nominated: Scarlett Johansson, Under the Skin
A huge risk for a celeb of ScarJo's stature, her alien was the beating heart of an adventurous film (which never would have been made without her).


Best Adapted Screenplay

Will win: Graham Moore, The Imitation Game
Moore’s script for the Alan Turing biopic is undeniably gripping and creatively structured, but it’s also the bedrock of a movie that diminishes how its hero was betrayed by the country he saved from destruction.

Should win: Paul Thomas Anderson, Inherent Vice
It’s hard to overstate the degree of difficulty that comes with adapting a Thomas Pynchon novel (there’s a reason that this is the first time anyone has done it), but PTA’s attempt is a marvel—both true to the source material and inventively transformative (Joanna Newsom’s narrator sums up both qualities in one character).

Should have been nominated: Gillian Flynn, Gone Girl
Flynn’s adaptation of her own novel was her first screenwriting gig, and she knocked it out of the park, trimming a wicked beach read into a mercilessly pointed skewering of marriage in the modern world.

Best Animated Feature

Will win: How to Train Your Dragon 2
This is one of those races that a big studio movie can own if it wants to badly enough, and the full-page ad that DreamWorks recently took out in The New York Times suggests that they do.

Should win: The Tale of the Princess Kaguya
One of the revered Studio Ghibli’s finest (and final?) films, Isao Takahata’s charcoal-and-watercolor masterpiece brings an immortal piece of Japanese folklore to life in the most heartbreaking way possible.

Should have been nominated: The Lego Movie
Our civilization may never truly heal from this snub heard around the world.


Best Animated Short

Will win: "Feast"
It's Disney, it's about a Boston terrier, it's adorable. Those assets should make Feast unbeatable.

Should win: "The Dam Keeper"
Significantly, it's the longest of the nominees and thus feels marginally more substantial, even though it involves a pride-wounded piglet and environmental doom.

Should have been nominated: Don Hertzfeldt's couch gag, The Simpsons
Hijacked by the legendary animator, the long-running show briefly visited a nightmarish future of floating heads, catchphrase-spewing and—a lovely touch—Chopin: "Still love you, Ho-mar."

Best Cinematography

Will win: Birdman
The legendary Emmanuel Lubezki (The Tree of Life) is always deserving, and Birdman's winding long-takes—as well as the lighting genius required to keep them intact—will prove too flashy to ignore.

Should win: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Wes Anderson’s usual DP Robert Yeoman delivers some of his greatest work in their latest collaboration, turning a long-lost Europe into a confection that looks so bittersweet you can taste it.

Should have been nominated: Inherent Vice
Thanks to L.A. specialist Robert Elswit (Boogie Nights), you can practically smell the pot and patchouli wafting off of Joaquin Phoenix’s shaggy-haired private eye.


Best Costume Design

Will win: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Even against expected period nominees Mr. Turner and Inherent Vice (not to mention Angelina Jolie's crazy horns in Maleficent), we see Wes Anderson pulling this one off.

Should win: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Anderson's latest, a riot of impeccable uniforms (always with pants legs a touch too short), rides on a surge of nine nominations. This is a race it should handily dominate.

Should have been nominated: A Most Violent Year
The work here was subtle and realistic, two virtues that don't usually gain traction in this category. It was a 1981 that felt utterly persuasive, with room for Jessica Chastain's knockout ice-white trench coat

Best Director

Will win: Richard Linklater, Boyhood
Forget the performances and compositions: This is the category where Linklater will be rewarded for the vision required to conceive of a 12-year project and see it through to its completion.

Should win: Wes Anderson, The Grand Budapest Hotel
Anderson has never been so in command of a film world before, and he’s never told a story that required such clarity and control.

Should have been nominated: Jonathan Glazer, Under the Skin
Suddenly “Kubrickian” doesn’t seem like the worthless shorthand it always has when applied to Glazer.


Best Documentary

Will win: Citizenfour
The Oscar was in the bag as soon as Laura Poitras got Edward Snowden to sit inside that Hong Kong hotel room and say his name to the camera.

Should win: Citizenfour
A historic portrait of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, this was the documentary event of the year, with good cause.

Should have been nominated: The Great Invisible
Margaret Brown’s sobering, elegiac look at the fallout from the Deepwater Horizon explosion doesn’t just unpack a tragedy, it captures the heartbreak of the American South.

Best Documentary Short

Will win: "Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1"
The massive commercial success of American Sniper might translate into greater affection for HBO's brief, intense look at a suicide watch for battle-scarred PTS sufferers.

Should win: "Our Curse"
None of the shorts nominated in this category are embarrassments, and the Polish-made "Our Curse," about a couple grappling with their young son's breathing disease, has the emotional impact of a mini Lorenzo's Oil.

Should have been nominated: "The Lion's Mouth Opens"
We liked Lucy Walker's doc about Huntington's disease, anchored by the presence of Marianna Palka, confronting her genetic disposition with fearlessness.


Best Editing

Will win: Boyhood
Editor Sandra Adair faced an unprecedented challenge for a narrative film, and absolutely nailed it.

Should win: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Sure, most of the editing in a Wes Anderson movie is done before the cameras ever roll, but the clarity with which Barney Pilling cuts between four different time periods—and abruptly hammers you with heartbreak in the film’s final moments—deserves a statuette.

Should have been nominated: Under the Skin
The way Jonathan Glazer’s abstract alien thriller negotiates the slow emergence of a genuine plot is a marvel of cinematic storytelling.

Best Foreign Language Film

Will win: Ida
A harder category to predict than it seems. Equally as worthy as Ida, Andrey Zvyagintsev's biblically tinged Leviathan has the benefit of being slightly more conventional (and perhaps more accessible to AMPAS voters). But ultimately, smart money won't bet against a Holocaust–related drama; Ida is also the highest-grossing entry in this bracket.

Should win: Ida
By turns humorous, affecting and devastating, Pawel Pawlikowski's black-and-white 1960s drama finds a winding way to a complex family estrangement.

Should have been nominated: Force Majeure
It's a crime that Ruben Östlund's pitch-black comedy didn't make the bracket; some speculate that the film's subtle sense of humor wasn't well served by screener discs sent to voters.


Best Live-Action Short

Will win: "The Phone Call"
"Parvaneh" will probably prove too difficult to pronounce for Oscar voters, so the winner defaults to the mawkish but comparatively star-studded "The Phone Call," which fumbles the talents of Sally Hawkins and Jim Broadbent.

Should win: "Parvaneh"
Talkhon Hamzavi’s succinct and affecting portrait of a young Afghan immigrant trying to make sense of things in the Swiss Alps is the strongest contender in a field without any knockouts.

Should have been nominated: "Too Many Cooks"
It takes a lot to make a stew (a pinch of salt and laughter, too).

Best Makeup and Hairstyling

Will win: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Sorry, Steve Carell's schnozz in Foxcatcher: The Grand Budapest Hotel has this one by a nose. The latter movie speaks intimately to a highly selective voting body.

Should win: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Not only did the movie transform Tilda Swinton into a jowly, ancient hotel guest, it features several scenes of studious hair-combing and cologne-spraying.

Should have been nominated: Get on Up
Where's the nod for this extraordinary accomplishment? Young Chadwick Boseman's face was supplanted by a 3-D mask taken from a bust of James Brown, resulting in a realism that lets his performance shine through. Most audiences didn't even realize it.


Best Original Screenplay

Will win: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Wes Anderson's extraordinary script, inspired by the novels of Stefan Zweig and co-written with Hugo Guinness, did a terrific job of breathing politics and wistful life into the director's hermetic universe.

Should win: Nightcrawler
Making his directorial debut after years of writing and script-doctoring, Dan Gilroy used the opportunity to tell a psychotic media story, one that came complete with a half-dozen classic monologues.

Should have been nominated: Love Is Strange
Writer-director Ira Sachs (working with Mauricio Zacharias) expanded his already impressive range, creating an urban tragedy with a poise that could be compared to peak-period Woody Allen.

Best Original Song

Will win: "Glory," Selma
Common and John Legend's perfectly timed Grammy performance pushed voter momentum to a comfortable lead. Selma fans don't have many opportunities to praise their fave—they'll ride this one to the hilt.

Should win: "Everything Is Awesome," The Lego Movie
The lack of a nomination for the film itself stings, and this number entered the zeitgeist in a distinct way.

Should have been nominated: "Hate the Sport," We Are the Best!
A bona-fide punk anthem, the tune was the snotty rallying cry of Lukas Moodysson's trio of Swedish teen-girl rockers.


Best Production Design

Will win: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Usually the most production design wins this award. The good news: Most equals best this year.

Should win: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Wes Anderson's pink-hued triumph was an utterly complete universe—this is a category that he should be dominating, film after film.

Should have been nominated: Snowpiercer
On a speeding train plowing around a frozen, postapocalyptic Earth, the last dregs of humanity survive from compartment to compartment (some of them wildly ornate) in Bong Joon-ho's one-of-a-kind thriller.

Best Score

Will win: The Theory of Everything
Jóhann Jóhannsson is a wonderful musician, but his score for this Stephen Hawking biopic is almost as bland as the film itself. Fortunately for him, the two Alexandre Desplat nominations are likely to cancel each other out and clear a path right up to the podium.

Should win: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Prolific French composer Alexandre Desplat had a banner year in 2014, but while his full-bodied score for The Imitation Game may be the most enjoyable listen of the nominees, his work for Wes Anderson’s latest is utterly transporting.

Should have been nominated: The Double
Discounting the rest of the richly paranoid string pieces that Andrew Hewitt composed for Richard Ayoade’s Dostoyevsky adaptation, the main theme alone should have earned him an Oscar nomination.


Best Sound Editing

Will win: American Sniper
War is really loud.

Should win: Birdman
The film's carefully considered sound is a big reason why all of those Steadicam long takes feel so consistent, and that drum score just melts right into them.

Should have been nominated: Godzilla
Godzilla’s famous roar is majestically reborn in Gareth Edwards’s monstrous reboot, but it might be the insectoid MUTOs flailing around the city that leave the most powerful impression.

Best Sound Mixing

Will win: Whiplash
If enough voters carry J.K. Simmons to the podium (as we believe they will), we also expect them to be marked by the film's hypnotic swirl of cymbal crashes and snare paradiddles.

Should win: Birdman
Frankly, given the incomprehensibility of some of the dialogue in fellow nominees Interstellar and Unbroken, the bar's set pretty low this year. Birdman's long-take panache—and frantic off-camera crewing—clearly required a lot of work to make seamless.

Should have been nominated: Under the Skin
Jonathan Glazer's impeccably crafted sci-fi thinker should have been recognized, if only for creating the muffled, aquarium-like circumstance of living in an alien's brain space.


Best Supporting Actor

Will win: J.K. Simmons, Whiplash
When it comes to the supporting categories, the most flamboyant performance almost always nabs the prize—this year will be no exception.

Should win: Ethan Hawke, Boyhood
This is an exceptionally weak category but Boyhood is practically a documentary of Hawke perfecting his “Richard Linklater character” and it’s a pleasure to watch—plus, he still deserves an Oscar for Before Midnight.

Should have been nominated: The Babadook
The Babadook, bravely playing himself in Jennifer Kent’s masterful horror film, leaves a hell of an impression despite very limited screen time.

Best Supporting Actress

Will win: Patricia Arquette, Boyhood
After winning virtually every award she's been up for, Arquette's already got her name minted on the statuette.

Should win: Patricia Arquette, Boyhood
Arquette's bravely exposed performance, a triumph of motherly affection and compromised life choices, had many thinking the movie should have been called Momhood.

Should have been nominated: Tilda Swinton, Snowpiercer
We love that fact that Laura Dern snuck into this bracket for Wild, but seriously: Meryl Streep again (and for Into the Woods)? Swinton's Thatcherite middle-manager was a brilliantly monstrous creation, worthy of the darkest dreams of Terry Gilliam.


Best Visual Effects

Will win: Interstellar
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes poses a serious threat with its motion-performance magic, but the rest of the contenders—all superhero movies—are totally interchangeable.

Should win: Interstellar
Christopher Nolan’s space odyssey may have had its problems, but convincingly launching viewers through wormholes wasn’t one of them.

Should have been nominated: Bird People
Creating a believable sparrow may not be the sexiest use of special effects, but imbuing that bird with a full range of human emotion (and resting an entire movie on it) is mighty impressive stuff.

Best Picture

Will win: Birdman
There’s real euphoria in seeing Michael Keaton soar again, and Birdman’s narrative about rebirth resonates deeply with Hollywood. Voters won’t have a problem getting behind a movie expressly about artistic integrity (alien as that may be).

Should win: Boyhood
An Oscar win would be a reminder that the best innovations have nothing to do with technology. Boyhood will stand the test of time—in fact, it already has.

Should have been nominated: Gone Girl
Big Hollywood's most stylish and sneaky blockbuster of 2014 deserved a place at the table. David Fincher's ferocious marital satire (an improvement on the novel) is exactly the kind of smart entertainment we say we want from the studios.

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