MIchael Keaton in Birdman

So here we are – ready to end all of that prognostication, supposition, advocation, and frustration. Oscar discussions that seem to begin earlier and earlier every year all end tomorrow. So let’s talk turkey.

In both the best director and best picture category, it’s really only a two-horse-race.

Bennet Miller holds a neat distinction in the expanded ballot era: He is the first director to get a nomination without his film being nominated. When there were five Best Picture nominations, this would happen all the time, but since 2009 this hasn’t happened. Thanks Bennet – enjoy the parties.

Morten Tyldum made a splendid jump to english features with THE IMITATION GAME, but the film has failed to capture any imagination during the awards season. Besides Original Screenplay, it runs the risk of going home empty-handed, including missing this category.

Wes Anderson is an interesting story since THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL received so many nominations. You would think a director whose film got so much love would be one of the front-runners for Best Director. You’d especially think he’d stand a fighting chance considering the film is such a singular vision. However, Anderson finds himself as the third dog in a two-dog-fight. His best chance for an Oscar lays in the screenplay category.

Best Director comes down to Alejandro González Iñárritu and Richard Linklater.

The former is this year’s DGA winner (a heavy Oscar precursor), who created an extraordinary film that seems to have as many detractors as it does fans. All five of his previous features have found themselves nominated for Oscars, and this finally seems to be “his turn”. The latter created something singular, something ambitious, and has been the brains behind a whole stable of challenging films for over twenty years. No single film generated as much discussion, praise, or love than BOYHOOD, and a Best Directing award could be (and very well should be) the way all of that discussion, praise, and love is finally recognized. However the film has been the subject of a certain amount of ambivalent backlash, and if the same voters who gave BIRDMAN the DGA award, PGA award, and SAG award were going to change their minds about BOYHOOD…you get the feeling the would have by now.

Ryan’s Pick… Alfonso Cuarón hands his friend Alejandro González Iñárritu a trophy tomorrow night.

Best Picture can be divided into a pair of groupings; four films that are contending for the prize, and four more that should just be happy to be there.

There isn’t a snowball’s chance that THE IMITATION GAME, SELMA, THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING or WHIPLASH take this award. All of them could well be awarded in other categories through the night (especially the last two), but none of them have made enough noise during awards season to get the groundswell needed for a Best Picture run.

Which leads us to the four contenders…

THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL’s high nomination count and overall love could carry it to a Best Picture, it would be a surprise for sure – a happy surprise I’d wager – but on a weighted ballot, it remains a possibility.

AMERICAN SNIPER hasn’t been mentioned so far during this awards season, but it’s commercial and cultural impact cannot be denied. It’s that same impact that makes Bradley Cooper an acting contender, and that same impact that has led it to so much commercial success this winter. It may seem like an odd duck, and far too Blue State for The Academy…but remind yourself that these are the same bunch of jokers who thought CRASH would prove they aren’t intolerant. It’s not the likeliest outcome, but believe me – it’s in play.

Like Best Director, this category really comes down to BIRDMAN and BOYHOOD. What’s more – and what makes guessing more complicated – is that the two categories could be split, but split which way? Every argument I gave for Richard Linklater and Alejandro González Iñárritu above applies again here. What you need to ask yourself is which of these two films could find its secondary votes lower. The way the Best Picture vote is tabulated is that the lower ranking films have their ballots reassigned to their second, third, fourth, etc votes as the tabulating goes along until one film has consensus.

For my money, the film that loses under this formula is BOYHOOD – and that’s a shame. Voters could find it “a gimmick”, “too slow”, “too thin”, and slot it down in their bottom four where it won’t pick up as much of the secondary effort it needs to take the prize. Therefore, look for BIRDMAN to carry the day.

Ryan’s Pick… Sometimes a thing is a thing, and BIRDMAN will be the biggest thing tomorrow night.

Whaddaya think folks? Leave comments with your own thoughts on possibilities and predictions of the Best Director and Best Picture races.