If somebody tells you they know what's going to happen at Sunday's Academy Awards, they're lying. At the most competitive Oscar ceremony in recent memory, there is legitimate suspense about up to half of categories—unheard of for an election so closely watched.
That means it's fruitless to give binary predictions that X will win or that Y won't (although that will never stop me from making my own personal predictions). Instead, a probabilistic forecast is the way to go. That's why, every year, I issue Cook Political Report–style "race ratings" for the Oscars—to help guide the picks of those of you who haven't been following the film awards as closely. Here is this year's snapshot of the race.
Best Picture: Tossup
It's Birdman vs. Boyhood. Birdman is the late-charging challenger and won all the major guild awards but failed to nab an important Best Editing nomination; meanwhile, Boyhood still has a strong base of support and won the BAFTA. Odds are practically even.
Best Director: Tossup
Usually the Best Picture winner also wins Best Director, but this year I've seen some Alejandro Iñárritu/Boyhood picks and some Richard Linklater/Birdman picks. Iñárritu's Birdman was more directorially stylistic, but Linklater's Boyhood is a 12-year labor of love.
Best Actor: Leans Eddie Redmayne
Birdman's Michael Keaton started the awards season as the favorite, and many (including me) still believe he could prevail. However, frontrunner status has clearly shifted toward Eddie Redmayne's flashier portrayal of Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything.
Best Actress: Solid Julianne Moore
Still Alice may not have been widely seen, but Moore has this locked up on buzz alone.
Best Supporting Actor: Solid JK Simmons
Simmons has won every conceivable precursor award for his role in Whiplash; he's had this coming since last year's Sundance Film Festival.
Best Supporting Actress: Solid Patricia Arquette
Boyhood's one certain win on the night.
Best Adapted Screenplay: Leans The Imitation Game
Whiplash is a dark horse in this category, but The Imitation Game is in pole position as the most serious Best Picture contender nominated here.
Best Original Screenplay: Leans The Grand Budapest Hotel
Unlike Best Picture, this category is first-past-the-post, which means Birdman and Boyhood could split the vote here. Many think that will clear the path for Wes Anderson to win his first Oscar, but watch out if either Birdman or Boyhood has a particularly strong night.
Best Animated Feature: Likely How to Train Your Dragon 2
Best Foreign Language Film: Likely Ida
Best Documentary Feature: Solid CitizenFour
Best Cinematography: Solid Birdman
Best Costume Design: Likely The Grand Budapest Hotel
Best Film Editing: Likely Boyhood
Best Makeup and Hairstyling: Leans The Grand Budapest Hotel
Best Production Design: Solid The Grand Budapest Hotel
Best Original Score: Leans The Theory of Everything
Best Original Song: Solid "Glory"
Best Sound Editing: Leans American Sniper
Best Sound Mixing: Tossup
Best Visual Effects: Leans Interstellar
Best Documentary Short: Likely Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1
Best Live-Action Short: Likely The Phone Call
Best Animated Short: Likely Feast