As someone who has written a lot of movie reviews in his day, I usually divide the annual list of nominees into three different stacks.
1. Artsy fartsy high concept hoo-ha that I've never even heard of, probably filmed in the dark in some French guy's bathtub with the actors only speaking in consonents. I admit it, there are movies in this year's list that I didn't know existed. I'm pretty sure they never came to our local theater, and I can almost guarantee you I will never have occasion to see them unless it is at gunpoint or by personal invitation from Kiera Knightley. (The Theory of Everything, Whiplash, The Imitation Game, Birdman or The unexpected Virtue of Ignorance.) My loss, I'm sure.
2. Movies actual normal people have heard of and I actually want to see but real life has gotten in the way and now I'm angry that Oscar commentators have gone and told me all the spoilers (American Sniper, Selma). Or movies I wanted to see but now they seem like they were years ago instead of mere months (The Grant Budapest Hotel). Opportunity has left me in its wake, and it would be passe to watch now and even if I did I couldn't talk to anyone about it because they've already forgotten how the movie came out.
3. Movies that may be incredible, but which I lack the attention span to ever actually watch. (i.e. Boyhood, nearly three hours of footage of a kid being filmed from age 5 to 18.)
How do you choose a front-runner here - especially when you've hardly seen any of them? I mean, Boyhood took 12 years' work! Sniper is a direct-hit smash, flicks like Birdman and Budapest have huge, incredible casts. If forced to guess, I'd say Selma has the advantage, not only timed for Martin Luther King Day, but coinciding with a real-life burst of explosive unrest (the cast wore "I Can't Breathe" t-shirts at the premier). Plus, with no actor or actress nominations for this one, the pressure is going to be on to show that Hollywood isn't racist.
I'm not sure how to handicap the nominees for best actor and actress anymore.
It used to be that you had to die a lingering, tragic death in a movie to get the nod - or possibly to be a character who is somehow bravely and long-sufferingly but yet triumphantly disabled in some way.
Then for a while, you just had to be old, so that they want to get a naked britannium dude in your hands while they still can. Now, with the benefit of personal training and perhaps a bit of nip/tuck, actors who are 70 still look 30. I couldn't tell you if Mark Ruffalo is 24 or 52.
So I haven't a clue who wins, but I hope it goes to Bradley Cooper, who had a hell of a job transforming himself into a a military marksman dealing with the internal toll of his deadly task, in American Sniper. It has to be the most important role of the year. I know it came late in the release cycle, but still, Coop is the man.
Eddie Redmayne, who plays Stephen Hawking in "The Theory of Everything," had to play the intellectual both before and after his disability. In any other year, that role would have been prime Oscar material.
Among the ladies, pale and fragile Julianne Moore playing a victim of early-onset Alzheimer's in "Still Alice" may well and deservedly be the front runner, but I'd like to see the thing go to Reese Witherspoon for her portrayal of Cheryl Strayed in the dramatic "Wild," about a woman who escapes personal calmities with an epic hiking adventure. For the romantic comedy queen, it was a risky totally-against-type move.
Bit of a snub for Jennifer Aniston to not get a nomination for "Cake," her best venture into serious film, but she'll get over it as she cases yet another big check.
Speaking of snubs, not even a directing nod for "Gone Girl?"
In the supporting roles, I'd have to guess Patricia Arquette as the struggling divorcee mother in Boyhood, if only because Meryl Streep (Into the Woods) already has a collection of statuettes. I'm going to go with the sentimental pick to upset all the favorites for supporting actor, veteran Robert Duvall (The Judge.)
Even in the animated film category, there's no clear frontrunner. I guess I'd lean to the Disney/Marvel flick "Big Hero 6" for its Asian-American feel; it's the most different of a flock that few here probably watched - Song of the Sea, The Boxtrolls, How to Train Your Dragon 2, and The Tale of Princess Kayuga (who?)
Aside from the wandering acceptance speeches cut off by music, my favorite thing about the Oscars is the obscure industry awards that are virtually meaningless to movie fans.
What?? The Best Sound Mixing in an Animated Short Foreign Film about Vegetables with a Rhyming Title goes to Pierre? What a ripoff! Everybody knows that Gunther is the better sound mixer! His carrots will make you laugh, and cry! I'll never go to a movie again!