Here's a rundown of my reasoning for this month's updates. You can find my full list of predictions here or by clicking the "Academy Awards" tab under the banner at the top of the page.
Fury takes a tumble out of the top ten, thanks to good-but-not-great reviews upon its opening. Don't count this WWII flick out of the race completely, though. It may not contend for any of the Big Eight categories, but it'll surely show up in some of the technicals, especially Sound Mixing and Sound Editing.
Theory of Everything: Felicity Jones (left) and Eddie Redmayne
Meanwhile, Theory of Everything leaps into the "locks" thanks to its steamrolling momentum at the moment. I'm not entirely convinced that it'll hold onto that lead, but at this point it seems like a legitimate contender for a number of top prizes.
Gone Girl and Unbroken each drop a tier, but for different reasons. Gone Girl still feels like a contender, but the mood so far feels closer to that surrounding The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo than it does The Social Network. That is to say, where the latter felt like a sure thing from the get-go, the former was more of a "maybe" throughout the season, with a good chance at earning first-place votes (it likely just missed the cutoff to be the would-be tenth nominee) but also being very off-putting thanks to its darker content. I'm not ready to rule out Gone Girl from this race, but I wouldn't be surprised if it continued to slip throughout the season in favor of "easier" fare.
Unbroken, on the other hand, I just have pre-release jitters about. It seems built to win awards, and the Academy is finicky about those kind of pictures. Sometimes they coast to a nomination (War Horse, 2011; The King's Speech, 2010), and sometimes they fall flat on their face (All the King's Men, 2006; J. Edgar, 2011). Director Angelina Jolie has a lot of goodwill within the Academy, but will that be enough, especially if the film doesn't meet expectations? At this point, it seems like too obvious a choice, and that has me reconsidering it, at least for right now.
I dropped Jessica Chastain (A Most Violent Year) for two reasons. One, Julianne Moore (Still Alice) seems like a much stronger contender at this point, earning a lot of attention for her performance as a woman struggling with early-onset Alzheimer's. Two, between A Most Violent Year, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby, and Miss Julie, I'm thinking there may be some vote-splitting between her many performances this year. Now, being in an absurd number of films didn't hurt her nomination in 2011 for Best Supporting Actress, but there are a few key differences between then and now. The most crucial is that, unlike in 2011 (The Help), none of Chastain's 2014 films are sure-fire Best Picture contenders that will have coattails she can ride to a nomination. Given how competitive Best Actress is shaping up to be, she's going to have to really stand out in a big way, hope her films keep a high profile, and hope that some of her competition falls off. That's a lot of "ifs." She could still pull it off, but as of right now it's looking less and less likely.
Of these five women, I'm the shakiest on Amy Adams (Big Eyes). It looks really good on paper, but I worry that, it being a latter-day Tim Burton film, the film has a lot of potential that could end up squandered. I'm also - and this isn't founded in anything except my own gut feeling - waiting for the other shoe to drop with Adams. If she is nominated for this performance, it will be her sixth nomination in nine years. That seems just a teensy-bit excessive, don't you think? No one else except maybe Streep has that kind of consistency in the Academy's history.
No changes here. This category is competitive, make no mistake, but at this point it seems that Michael Keaton (Birdman), Eddie Redmayne (Theory of Everything), and Steve Carell (Foxcatcher) have their spots locked up. So that leaves two spots, one of which seems very likely to go to Benedict Cumberbatch (The Imitation Game), so let's say that theoretically there's only one spot open for everyone else to fight for.
For the time being, I'm sticking with David Oyelowo (Selma), because on paper it seems like a perfect role for him to really break into the big leagues. I want to believe that Channing Tatum (Foxcatcher) can break in here, making for the first time in 30 years that two actors from the same movie are nominated in this category, but I'm willing to bet that category-fraud will win the day and he'll end up considered "supporting." That spot could go to anyone right now, really. This is one race to keep an eye on.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
With the announcement earlier this month that Emily Blunt would be campaigned as a lead for Into the Woods and Meryl Streep would go to supporting, I've included Streep in this category since, unless the film bombs spectacularly, she seems like a shoo-in. However, it is a little disappointing, in a way, for Blunt to leave this particular race. Her role, the Baker's Wife, is very much a lead, and being strongly anti-category-fraud, I'm glad that she's being campaigned as such. But doing so also lands her in a very competitive category that she will likely struggle to stand out in, and it seems less likely at the moment that she'll finally get her much-deserved first career Oscar nomination this year. I'm still hopeful, of course, but she's in a much stickier situation than she was in the wide-open Supporting Actress race.
Emma Stone in Birdman
Speaking of which: Emma Stone (Birdman) has serious momentum in her favor right now, so she's earned a spot in the predictions. The hard part was figuring out who to drop. It came down to Carmen Ejogo (Selma) and Anna Kendrick (Into the Woods), with Ejogo ultimately falling off if only because so little is known about her performance at this point. I'm not entirely confident in Kendrick, so this could change quickly, but for now she gets to hang out for at least another month.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
This race is just as wide-open as Best Supporting Actress at this point, as only Edward Norton (Birdman) and J.K. Simmons (Whiplash) seem like sure-things. There's a good chance that someone from the Inherent Vice ensemble could grab a nod here - despite earning mixed reviews at its New York Film Festival debut earlier this month, the performances were well-received - but vote-splitting amongst them seems more likely. Could Ethan Hawke sneak in for Boyhood? Can Albert Brooks (A Most Violent Year) succeed this year where he was snubbed in 2011 for Drive? This is a category so wide-open that even Tyler Perry (Gone Girl) looks like a legitimate contender.
I ended up dropping Christoph Waltz (Big Eyes), namely because I was never too confident in him anyway. In his place is "to hell with it" choice Tim Roth (Selma), because I genuinely have no idea otherwise.
It kills me to do so, but I've dropped Angelina Jolie (Unbroken) from this category thanks to those aforementioned jitters about the film. I reserve the right to completely reverse this decision.
In her place is James Marsh, who's Theory of Everything is, again, the hot property of the moment. But this category is still tight: Christopher Nolan (Interstellar), Morten Tyldan (The Imitation Game), Jean-Marc Vallee (Wild), Clint Eastwood (American Sniper), and Jolie all seem like the next tier of contenders, with plenty more behind them. At this point, only Alejandro Gonzalez-Inarritu (Birdman) seems like a sure thing.
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY & BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
In what's starting to become a trend, the Adapted Screenplay category seems to be rather weak in terms of competition this year, while Original Screenplay is going to be a dogfight until the bitter end.
I've finally caved and moved Foxcatcher from Adapted to Original, since that seems to be the way the film is being campaigned. I still think it could swing either way, and if it really wants the nomination, it would be wise to stick to Adapted, because Original is going to be a mess. I dropped Selma to make room for Foxcatcher in the latter category, but at the moment it seems like at least a dozen films are fighting for those five spots, and Birdman is the only one that's even close to a "lock" right now. Expect some major contenders to miss out come nomination morning.
Bradley Cooper in American Sniper
Meanwhile, I've moved Theory of Everything into the empty slot in Adapted, if only because it's got the momentum right now. But American Sniper is sneaking up in an interesting way (now's as good a time as any to discuss this film). It hails from Clint Eastwood, which a decade ago would have been a sign of a true contender but nowadays seems more like a warning. I won't believe it until I've seen it, but if the film can sneak up late in the game a la Million Dollar Baby ten years ago, it may be a real threat in several major categories. Or it could end up going the way of J. Edgar. There's still a long way to go in this race.