Oscars’ 24 Final ‘Will Win, Should Win’ Predictions: ‘Birdman,’ ‘Boyhood,’ ‘Budapest’ Top Baffling Year

The signs all point in one direction, but the race still feels like a coin toss

“Birdman” won the guilds, “Boyhood” won the critics awards, “American Sniper” and “Selma” won the headlines, and the Oscar race is delightfully confused and confusing this year.

I’ve seen every nominee in every category, and I’ve puzzled over the tightest races with Oscar voters and Oscar-voter-watchers, and my guess is that “The Grand Budapest Hotel” will win the most Academy Awards and “Boyhood” will come in second, but that “Birdman” will win the big one.

Also read: Why This Year’s Oscar Race Will Go Down to the Wire

But for every certainty this year, there are question marks. DGA, PGA and SAG victories say “Birdman” should have victory locked up, but the lack of an Oscar nomination for editing says it’s not supposed to win. “Boyhood” could be a consensus second or third choice, but will it get enough No. 1 votes to beat its chief rival? “American Sniper” has passionate supporters and is the reason many viewers will be watching, but it could be a divisive film trying to win in a system that penalizes divisiveness.

And throughout the races — in Best Actor, Best Director, Best Foreign Language Film, Best Adapted Screenplay and many more — we find other categories that are almost too close to call.

But it’s my job to call them, so here goes. By the way, I reserve the right to change my mind between now and Sunday, because this is a tough, complicated year.

See photos: Oscars 2015: The Nominees (Photos)

Here’s what I think will win, and how I’d cast my own ballot if I had one.

Birdman

BEST PICTURE
NOMINEES
: “American Sniper,” “Birdman,” “Boyhood,” “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” “The Imitation Game,” “Selma,” “The Theory of Everything,” “Whiplash”

WILL WIN: The Hollywood guilds are the most accurate predictor of the Oscars, and the guilds have gone overwhelmingly for “Birdman.” It won at the Producers Guild and Directors Guild and took the Screen Actors Guild’s ensemble award, as well as picking up four other guild awards. By all rights, it should be an easy pick to win.

But why does it still seem as if “Boyhood” has a chance to steal the victory? And why does it seem as if “American Sniper” has an outside shot, too? Those wins would be unprecedented: Since PGA and the SAG began handing out awards in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, respectively, no movie has won Best Picture without winning at least one of the four major guilds.

But the way the Academy counts votes in the best-picture category, a movie can have fewer No. 1 votes than a rival but still win, if it’s ranked second and third on enough ballots. That is an unlikely but possible path to victory for “Boyhood.”

Still, the evidence of the guild awards makes it impossible for me not to pick “Birdman.”

See video: Wrap Screening Series With Birdman’s Michael Keaton: ‘We Knew We Were Onto Something Risky’ (Video)

SHOULD WIN: Either one of the frontrunners would be a daring, eminently satisfying Best Picture winner — and if I had a vote, I’d agonize over the choice and most likely end up opting for the film that took a 12-year vision to pull off. “Boyhood.”

Ellar Coltrane and Richard Linklater shooting Boyhood

BEST DIRECTOR
NOMINEES
: Wes Anderson, “The Grand Budapest Hotel”; Alejandro G. Inarritu, “Birdman”; Richard Linklater, “Boyhood”; Bennett Miller, “Foxcatcher”; Morten Tyldum, “The Imitation Game”

WILL WIN: Again, it’s between “Birdman” and “Boyhood.” The DGA went with Inarritu, which could give him an edge here. But I still suspect that the decade-plus foresight and concentration will give Richard Linklater a slight edge over the dazzling technical accomplishment of Inarritu.

SHOULD WIN: “Boyhood” and “Birdman” are two of my favorite movies of the year, so it’d be impossible to begrudge either man the award. Richard Linklater, by the narrowest of margins.

Also read: ‘Boyhood’s’ Second Journey: How Richard Linklater’s Little Movie Grew Into a Big Awards Contender

Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything

BEST ACTOR
NOMINEES
: Steve Carell, “Foxcatcher”; Bradley Cooper, “American Sniper”; Benedict Cumberbatch, “The Imitation Game”; Michael Keaton, “Birdman”; Eddie Redmayne, “The Theory of Everything”

WILL WIN: While some think Bradley Cooper has a chance to steal this one, I suspect it’s still a two-man race between Keaton and Redmayne. Both are stunning performances — one a funny, personal portrait of an artist in crisis, the other a daunting physical transformation. The Academy has always loved transformations, so the SAG win tips the scales ever-so-slightly in favor of Eddie Redmayne in what is by far the tightest acting race.

SHOULD WIN: Another coin toss. Today, I’d vote for Eddie Redmayne. Tomorrow, it might be Michael Keaton.

Julianne Moore in Still Alice

BEST ACTRESS
NOMINEES
: Marion Cotillard, “Two Days, One Night”; Felicity Jones, “The Theory of Everything”; Julianne Moore, “Still Alice”; Rosamund Pike, “Gone Girl”; Reese Witherspoon, “Wild”

WILL WIN: She’s an acclaimed actress who has never won an Oscar and hasn’t even been nominated in more than a decade, and Julianne Moore was spectacular as a woman with early-onset Alzheimer’s in “Still Alice.” Even if people don’t love the movie, they love her and will vote for her.

SHOULD WIN: Me too. Julianne Moore.

Also read: Oscars Final Word: What ‘Birdman,’ ‘Boyhood’ and ‘American Sniper’s’ Ads Are Saying

J.K. Simmons in Whiplash

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
NOMINEES
: Robert Duvall, “The Judge”; Ethan Hawke, “Boyhood”; Edward Norton, “Birdman”; Mark Ruffalo, “Foxcatcher”; J.K. Simmons, “Whiplash”

WILL WIN: Duvall has his moments, and Hawke, Ruffalo and Norton more than that. But J.K. Simmons is a well-liked character actor who took the role of a lifetime and knocked it out of the park, and nobody’s going to beat him.

SHOULD WIN: Part of me would want to throw a vote to the more measured performance of Ethan Hawke, but the rest of me goes with the flow: J.K. Simmons.

Patricia Arquette in Boyhood

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
NOMINEES
: Patricia Arquette, “Boyhood”; Laura Dern, “Wild”; Keira Knightley, “The Imitation Game”; Emma Stone, “Birdman”; Meryl Streep, “Into the Woods”

WILL WIN: Patricia Arquette is so riveting in “Boyhood,” and so central to the film, that they could have called it “Motherhood,” and IFC could have campaigned for her in the Best Actress category. In supporting, she’s as much of a lock as Simmons.

SHOULD WIN: As much as I love Emma Stone going toe-to-toe with Michael Keaton in Birdman, Patricia Arquette is the beautiful, wounded, indomitable heart of “Boyhood,” and I wouldn’t vote against her.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
NOMINEES
: Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr. & Armando Bo, “Birdman”; Richard Linklater, “Boyhood”; E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman, “Foxcatcher”; Wes Anderson; Story by Wes Anderson & Hugo Guinness, “The Grand Budapest Hotel”; Dan Gilroy, “Nightcrawler”

WILL WIN: The screenplay categories are where Academy voters like to mix things up, to honor slightly more daring films that aren’t going to win Best Picture — last year, remember, it was Spike Jonze’s “Her” in this category. That could be very good news for Wes Anderson’s “Grand Budapest Hotel,” though it’s hard to imagine that “Boyhood” and “Birdman” won’t have lots of support. Figuring the voters will be a bit quirky again, I’m guessing “The Grand Budapest Hotel.”

See video: Here’s What ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ Looks Like as an Animated Film (Exclusive Video)

SHOULD WIN: For me, structuring a film from little moments over a dozen years in a significant accomplishment: “Boyhood.”

The Imitation Game

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
NOMINEES
: Jason Hall, “American Sniper”; Graham Moore, “The Imitation Game”; Paul Thomas Anderson, “Inherent Vice”; Anthony McCarten, “The Theory of Everything”; Damien Chazelle, “Whiplash”

WILL WIN: The Oscar will likely go to one of the two youngest nominees, Damien Chazelle for “Whiplash” or Graham Moore for “The Imitation Game.” Although they’ve never gone head-to-head because only the Oscars think “Whiplash” was adapted, Moore has won almost all the writing awards he’s been up for. And this is the best chance of a win for “The Imitation Game,” so I give it a very slight edge.

SHOULD WIN: Let’s give this one to the guy, and the film, that came out of nowhere to produce one of the year’s most bracing surprises: “Whiplash.”

Ida

BEST FOREIGN-LANGUAGE FILM
NOMINEES
: “Ida,” Poland; “Leviathan,” Russia; “Tangerines,” Estonia; “Timbuktu,” Mauritania; “Wild Tales,” Argentina

WILL WIN: Under the old category rules, where you had to see all five films in a theater to vote, the crowd-pleasing “Wild Tales” and the monumental “Leviathan” would have had real shots — and the former, which plays like gangbusters in front of an audience, might even be the frontrunner. But seeing them on screeners may work against both films, turning the tide in favor of the elegant, austere “Ida” or the deeply disturbing dark-horse, “Timbuktu.” Although I still wouldn’t count out “Wild Tales,” I’m going with “Ida.”

SHOULD WIN: In a strong and diverse category, the dark majesty of “Leviathan” gets my vote.

BEST DOCUMENTARY
NOMINEES
: “Citizenfour”; “Finding Vivian Maier”; “Last Days in Vietnam”; “The Salt of the Earth”; “Virunga”

WILL WIN: For the last three years, voters in the category have opted for the friendliest, most entertaining and most emotional nominee, which would be good news for “Finding Vivian Maier” or the darker but more moving “Virunga,” which is a potential dark-horse winner. But this is a year in which Laura Poitras’ “Citizenfour” has emerged as the clear non-fiction film of the year, and Academy voters know that.

Also read: ‘Virunga’ Is Netflix Documentary Gem: How Filmmakers Are Trying to Bring Down Big Oil

SHOULD WIN: As potent and timely as “Citizenfour” is, I’d consider the eye-opening “Last Days in Vietnam,” and then give Netflix its first Oscar for the heartbreaking “Virunga.”

How to Train Your Dragon 2

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
NOMINEES
: “Big Hero 6”; “The Boxtrolls”; “How to Train Your Dragon 2”; “Song of the Sea”; “The Tale of the Princess Kaguya”

WILL WIN: The baffling failure of the nominating committee to honor “The Lego Movie” knocked out the film I think would have won, and made “How to Train Your Dragon 2” a favorite over “Big Hero 6.”

SHOULD WIN: For me, it’d be “Big Hero 6” vs. the lovely, hand-drawn Irish tale “Song of the Sea.” And since I’m a sucker for Celtic folklore, “Song of the Sea.”

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
NOMINEES
: “Birdman,” “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” “Ida,” “Mr. Turner,” “Unbroken”

WILL WIN: The brilliant cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki won his first Academy Award last year for “Gravity” after six nominations, a long-overdue prize that has somehow still eluded his even-more-legendary colleague Roger Deakins. Both men are nominated again this year, Lubezki for “Birdman” and Deakins for “Unbroken,” but the continuous-shot style of the former film helped earn Lubezki this year’s award from the American Society of Cinematographers, and it makes him a heavy favorite here. “Birdman.”

SHOULD WIN: “Birdman” is an astonishing technical feat, but so is making the look of the film live up to its subject when that subject is one of the greatest British painters of all time, J.M.W. Turner. I’d vote for “Mr. Turner.”

Also read: Why Can’t the Oscars Be More Like a Political Election?

BEST FILM EDITING
NOMINEES
: “American Sniper,” “Boyhood,” “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” “The Imitation Game,” “Whiplash”

WILL WIN: Stitching 12 years of footage into the seamless story of a life makes Sandra Adair the odds-on favorite for “Boyhood,” despite an Academy penchant for kinetic films that could work in favor of “Sniper” or “Whiplash.” Adair could be upset, but I’m guessing she wins this for “Boyhood.”

SHOULD WIN: The editing is so central to why “Boyhood” works that it would get my vote, too.

Tilda Swinton in The Grand Budapest Hotel

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN
NOMINEES
: “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” “The Imitation Game,” “Interstellar,” “Into the Woods,” “Mr. Turner”

WILL WIN: No Wes Anderson film has ever won in this category — in fact, strangely enough, no Anderson film was ever nominated in the category until “The Grand Budapest Hotel.” But when an elaborate, stylish film is as well-liked as nine Oscar nominations suggest “Budapest” is, this is one of the surest bets of Oscar night: “The Grand Budapest Hotel.”

SHOULD WIN: Just look at it. “The Grand Budapest Hotel.”

BEST COSTUME DESIGN
NOMINEES
: “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” “Inherent Vice,” “Into the Woods,” “Maleficent,” “Mr. Turner”

WILL WIN: About half the time, production design and costume design go to the same film. This is probably one of those times. “The Grand Budapest Hotel.”

SHOULD WIN: Costume designer Sandy Powell, a 10-time nominee and three-time winner for lavish period designs, once griped to me about how the Oscars always ignore more contemporary designs in favor of big fancy gowns and such. In keeping with the spirit of her complaint, I’ll go with the less poofy but pitch-perfect evocation of early-70s, drug-addled SoCal in “Inherent Vice.”

BEST MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING
NOMINEES
: “Foxcatcher,” “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” “Guardians of the Galaxy”

WILL WIN: They could honor “Foxcatcher” for making Steve Carell look unrecognizable, or “Grand Budapest” for making Tilda Swinton look unrecognizable, or “Guardians” for its array of creatures. When in doubt, I think you have to side with the film the overall Academy likes best. “The Grand Budapest Hotel.”

See video: TheWrap Screening Series: Globe-Nominated ‘Foxcatcher’ Star Steve Carell Jokes ‘There Was No Hair and Makeup’ (Video)

SHOULD WIN: I’d go with the makeup job that has to pass muster as a real person and a central character in the film: “Foxcatcher.”

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
NOMINEES
: “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” “The Imitation Game,” “Interstellar,” “Mr. Turner,” “The Theory of Everything”

WILL WIN: History says that composers with two nominations in the category never win, which means that Alexandre Desplat (“The Grand Budapest Hotel” and “The Imitation Game”) should be out of luck, and the lilting “Theory of Everything” or the dramatic “Interstellar” should win. But Oscar voters don’t see the composers’ names on their ballots, and I think they’ll choose the music that evokes its film most clearly: “The Grand Budapest Hotel.”

SHOULD WIN: I love the way Hans Zimmer swings from intimate to grandiose in “Interstellar,” but “The Grand Budapest Hotel” is a playful delight.

Common in Selma

BEST ORIGINAL SONG
NOMINEES
: “Everything Is Awesome” from “The Lego Movie”; “Glory” from “Selma”; “Grateful” from “Beyond the Lights”; “I’m Not Gonna Miss You” from “Glen Campbell … I’ll Be Me”; “Lost Stars” from “Begin Again”

WILL WIN: Back in 2006, Melissa Etheridge won the song Oscar in part because voters who wanted to recognize “An Inconvenient Truth” and weren’t eligible to vote in the doc category could do so by picking her song. This year, John Legend and Common will reap the benefit of being the only nomination for “Selma” besides Best Picture. Voters can salute the film, and pay tribute to the “snubbed” David Oyelowo and Ava DuVernay, by voting for its powerful end-credits song — and that opportunity should be enough for “Glory” to overcome the sentimental choice, Glen Campbell’s “I’m Not Gonna Miss You.”

SHOULD WIN: In a strong category, I’d be torn between the perfectly annoying “Everything Is Awesome” and the anthemic “Lost Stars” – and I’d give it to the latter song for being a versatile and emotional centerpiece fit for a movie whose original title was “Can a Song Save Your Life?”

Also read: Adam Levine Performing Oscar-Nominated ‘Begin Again’ Track at Oscars

BEST SOUND EDITING
NOMINEES
: “American Sniper,” “Birdman,” “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies,” “Interstellar,” “Unbroken”

WILL WIN: This is often a race won by the most energetic nominee, and war movies are among the most reliable genre here. On that front, “American Sniper” has the clear edge over “Unbroken.”

SHOULD WIN: Whatever the problems were with the sound mix of “Interstellar,” its sound editors created a remarkable palette of sound for a journey from corn fields to deep space.

Bradley Cooper in American Sniper

BEST SOUND MIXING
NOMINEES
: “American Sniper,” “Birdman,” “Interstellar,” “Unbroken,” “Whiplash”

WILL WIN: In four of the last five years, one film has won both sound awards. If there’s a split, it would favor “Whiplash” or “Birdman” here, since mixing often goes to movies with a heavy musical element. But here’s guessing that “American Sniper” sweeps the sound awards.

SHOULD WIN: For a sound mix that puts you inside Riggan Thomson’s head as surely as the unconventional shooting style does, “Birdman.”

Interstellar

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
NOMINEES
: “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” “Guardians of the Galaxy,” “Interstellar,” “X-Men: Days of Future Past”

WILL WIN: Before this year, there was a Best Picture nominee in this category for six years in a row, and it won every time. This year’s field doesn’t have one, though “Interstellar” probably came closest, and will probably follow the path of Christopher Nolan’s “Inception” to victory. But don’t rule out the well-liked “Guardians of the Galaxy” or the formidable “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” with its remarkable performance-capture ape characters.

SHOULD WIN: In 2012 “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” should have won (“Hugo” did instead), and in 2015 “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” should, too.

Also read: OscarWrap Special: Christopher Nolan and ‘Interstellar’ Dream Team Talk Sound, Design, Edit

The Dam Keeper

BEST ANIMATED SHORT
NOMINEES
: “The Bigger Picture,” “The Dam Keeper,” “Feast,” “Me and My Moulton,” “A Single Life”

WILL WIN: Top contenders in a very strong category include the personal “Me and My Moulton,” Disney’s touching “Feast” (by far the most-seen nominee) and the painterly “The Bigger Picture.” But “The Dam Keeper” is lovely and emotional, with a scope that somehow feels grander than the competition.

SHOULD WIN: I liked all the nominees quite a bit. But I loved “The Dam Keeper.”

See video: Pixar Vets Talk Trials of Moonlighting on Oscar-Nominated ‘The Dam Keeper’ (Exclusive Video)

BEST LIVE-ACTION SHORT
NOMINEES
: “Aya,” “Bogaloo and Graham,” “Butter Lamp,” “Parvaneh,” “The Phone Call”

WILL WIN: Because it’s so different from everything else in the category, the quicky, minimalist “Butter Lamp” has a real shot. Because it’s the only straight-out comedy, so does “Boogaloo and Graham.” But I suspect that “The Phone Call,” with wrenching performances by Sally Hawkins and an offscreen Jim Broadbent, will affect the most voters.

SHOULD WIN: Ever since we chose it for TheWrap’s ShortList Film Festival last summer, I’ve been a huge fan of “The Phone Call.”

Also read: ‘The Phone Call’ Goes From TheWrap’s ShortList Festival to the Oscars

BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT
NOMINEES
: “Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1,” “Joanna,” “Our Curse,” “The Reaper,” “White Earth”

WILL WIN: In a grim, tough category whose films deal with depression, terminal illness and hardscrabble existence, the two likeliest winners might be “Crisis Hotline,” which at least offers some hope in its chronicle of workers at a phone center for suicidal veterans, and “Joanna,” which brings real grace and loveliness to its story of a young mother dying of cancer. (It was shot by the cinematographer of “Ida.”) Oscar voters in this category like the film that gives them some hope, so “Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1” may have a slight edge.

SHOULD WIN: For the way it imbues what could be a desperately sad story with beauty and humanity, “Joanna” stands out.