Ready for the Academy Awards this Sunday? Need help winning your Oscar pool? ScreenCrush Editor-in-Chief Mike Sampson and Managing Editor Matt Singer are here to help. Or potentially make things worse. Honestly, they’re not great at guessing the winners. But they’re going to try their best anyway.

Matt Singer: Mike, after hundreds of films and literally thousands of months of campaigning, the 2014 Oscar season is finally approaching the finish line. Are you excited for the Academy Awards on Sunday?

Mike Sampson: Well, I’m excited that it’s finally here so we can all stop talking about it and move on with our lives. Does that count?

Matt: I’m going to say yes.

Mike: Then I am definitely excited!

Matt: Any general predictions for the show? Will Neil Patrick Harris sing a song about how he’s seen the audience’s boobs?

Mike: Maybe he’ll do the penis version.

Matt: Provocative.

Mike: But I am looking forward to NPH as host. I think he’s proven this is something he’s really good at. He’s both funny and a good song and dance man, so I hope it’s an entertaining show. But the Oscars are what they are. It’s hard to make this three-and-a-half hour self-congratulatory awards show a real thrill ride.

Matt: This is true. So we’re going to run through our predictions one category at a time. And we should say that these predictions are the result of dozens of seconds of research.

Mike: That’s generous.

Matt: And just to make things interesting, we’re putting a friendly wager on this thing.

Mike: I’m out for blood. Embarrassing blood.

Matt: Yeah this could get ugly. Whoever gets the most predictions correct gets all the pride and the glory. Whoever loses will have to sing a karaoke song of the winner’s choosing, in front of a green screen background of the winner’s choosing.

Mike: I already have some thoughts about where I want to go with this, should I be lucky enough to win. It’s not easy, because you enjoy singing horrible karaoke songs.

Matt: That’s true to a degree, but there are a lot of ways you could go to embarrass me. And we should add that this karaoke performance will be recorded and shared on our YouTube channel. So this is a bet you really do not want to lose.

Mike: I do not want our poor subscribers to suffer the fate of watching me sing. I am motivated not so much by the desire to win, but the fear of losing.

Matt: Exactly. All right, shall we begin?

Mike: Let’s do it.


Best Animated Feature
Big Hero 6
The Boxtrolls
How to Train Your Dragon 2
Song of the Sea
The Tale of the Princess Kaguya  

Mike: This one of the more controversial categories with the noted absence of The LEGO Movie.

Matt: Everything is controversial. Maybe The LEGO Movie will take it with write-in votes.

Mike: Does it work like that? Can I write in John Wick for Best Picture?

Matt: Can and should. Realistically, though, what do you think will win?

Mike: I think at this point it’s How to Train Your Dragon 2. It won the Golden Globe and, probably more important, the Annie Award, which is voted on by actual animators.

Matt: We agree on this one. Historically, little movies do very poorly in this category, so The Tale of Princess Kaguya has very little shot no matter how popular it was with critics. Without a Pixar movie in the race, it seems like it’s How to Train Your Dragon’s prize to lose.

Mike: One day, I would like to see Laika recognized for their stop-motion work, but I don’t think The Boxtrolls is their best effort.

Matt: Right, if they’d had Coraline or ParaNorman this year, they might have had a better shot. Both of those lost to Pixar movies. (Up and Brave, respectively.)

Mike: ParaNorman losing to Brave is unfortunate. To say the least.

Matt: Nah, it all worked out, after the ceremony Brave’s Oscar turned into a bear and wandered off into the woods.

Mike’s Pick: How to Train Your Dragon 2
Matt’s Pick: How to Train Your Dragon 2

The Weinstein Company

Best Adapted Screenplay
American Sniper
The Imitation Game
Inherent Vice
The Theory of Everything

Mike: I think we can both agree that American Sniper must not win.

Matt: An Oscar voter who goes that way must have an ... inherent voice (holds for applause).

Mike: Keep holding.

Matt: Okay so who are you picking instead of American Sniper?

Mike: I don’t see anything particularly exciting about either Imitation Game or Theory of Everything. As much as I loved Inherent Vice, I think Whiplash will ride some momentum from its nominations and take this one. And I would be okay with that. (I note that because I know the Academy is desperately seeking my approval.)

Matt: I would be delighted if Whiplash won, and it would get my vote among this five, but I have a feeling that while you don’t see anything particularly exciting in it, the Academy is going to go with The Imitation Game.

Mike: I didn’t hate the movie, but that script was just so ... blah.

Matt: Since when has that stopped the Academy from voting for something?

Mike: You’re right, that probably seals it. Well, I’m sticking to Whiplash and praying that common sense will prevail.

Matt: When has common sense prevailed at the Oscars? Aaaaaaand scene.

Mike: *throws a bouquet of roses*

Mike’s Pick: Whiplash
Matt’s Pick: The Imitation Game

Fox Searchlight

Best Original Screenplay
The Grand Budapest Hotel

Mike: These are all movies I enjoyed and I think are deserving in their own way. I would not be upset if any of these films won, but I have a feeling Birdman will ride the strong momentum and win this.

Matt: You’re all about momentum. Is someone pushing these movies down a large hill?

Mike: I would like to push some of these movies off a large cliff.

Matt: Ba dum bum.

Mike: But, I do think momentum counts for a lot, especially in a close race like this one.

Matt: Well it may not have been thrown out of an airplane, but I’m going to go with The Grand Budapest Hotel here. Wes Anderson hasn’t gotten any Oscar love to date and I think people are going to want to rectify that. Plus the whole structure of the film, with stories within stories within stories, is flashy in just the kind of way that the Oscars like. The fact that it’s a movie about writers and writing doesn’t hurt either.

Mike: I would say Budapest is a very strong runner-up, for many of the reasons you list. But Birdman is also one of those films about acting and making movies, which is why I think it has resonated with voters so far. All things considered, I’d greatly prefer Budapest too (Birdman is my least favorite of these five films), but as noted earlier, what we want to win isn’t always what does.

Mike’s Pick: Birdman
Matt’s Pick: The Grand Budapest Hotel 

IFC Films

Best Supporting Actress
Patricia Arquette, Boyhood
Laura Dern, Wild
Keira Knightley, The Imitation Game
Emma Stone, Birdman
Meryl Streep, Into the Woods

Matt: Finally! Meryl Streep gets a little attention after decades toiling in obscurity.

Mike: The fresh-faced ingenue. Here’s the rare category where who I think should win matches up nicely with who will win, and that’s Patricia Arquette, who has won pretty much every preliminary award up until this point. I think she might have even won Best Sound Editing at one point.

Matt: She spent 12 years editing the sound! What an achievement! But yeah, no argument here. Patricia Arquette walks away with this one. It was a great performance, full of wonderful subtle moments and big speeches.

Mike: Put that in your pipe and smoke it, Meryl!

Matt: Is there anyone else you could see winning here, or do you think it’s a mortal lock?

Mike: If I had to pick one award that was a stone-cold lock and bet all my money on it (all my tens of dollars), it would be this one. If there were a runner-up though, I’d suspect it’d be Emma Stone, who was great in Birdman.

Matt: I think there’s one category that’s even more locky of a lock, but this one seems pretty solid. And I agree, I’d pick Stone as the potential (but very unlikely) upset.

Mike’s Pick: Patricia Arquette, Boyhood
Matt’s Pick: Patricia Arquette, Boyhood

Sony Pictures Classics

Best Supporting Actor
Robert Duvall, The Judge
Ethan Hawke, Boyhood
Edward Norton, Birdman
Mark Ruffalo, Foxcatcher
J. K. Simmons, Whiplash

Mike: Speaking of locks...

Matt: Yeah, this is the one category that’s even more of a locky lock. Simmons in a rout here. Although it would be kind of great to see someone else win, and then Simmons could explode and throw a cymbal at their head.

Mike: You know how much of a lock it is? He’s openly talking about what will happen if he wins. He’s not even afraid of jinxing it!

Matt: A bold move.

Mike: What’s interesting is that Edward Norton was a consensus choice before a lot of people caught up to Whiplash. But, in a short amount of time, Simmons steamrolled all of them.

Matt: Norton is great! He’s the one part of Birdman I loved without reservation. But Simmons was even better. With the Oscars, it’s not necessarily the best acting, it’s the most acting. Simmons was both; he gave a big performance that was also really rich and compelling. His character demands technical perfection from his students, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a flaw in Simmons’ performance.

Mike: It sticks with people. It’s a character people will still being talking about (and imitating) in a few years. Can’t really say that about Robert Duvall.

Matt: Absolutely. And Simmons managed to make him really despicable but still sympathetic all at once. It was great. If he somehow loses it really will be a travesty.

Mike: I will throw a cymbal at my TV.

Mike’s Pick: J.K. Simmons, Whiplash
Matt’s Pick: J.K. Simmons, Whiplash

Sony Pictures Classics

Best Actress
Marion Cotillard, Two Days, One Night
Felicity Jones, The Theory of Everything
Julianne Moore, Still Alice
Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl
Reese Witherspoon, Wild

Matt: Let me guess your pick: Felicity Jones!

Mike: I do not think she will win.

Matt: You heard him folks, Felicity Jones! Okay who’s your real pick?

Mike: I think it will wind up being Julianne Moore, even though she delivers a great performance in an otherwise forgettable film.

Matt: Yeah we’re in sync on this one too; Moore gets this one as a sort of lifetime achievement award. She’s one of our best actresses, she’s been nominated four times before with zero wins, and without a real frontrunner among her competition, I think she takes it. It sounds callous to say but playing people with illnesses doesn’t hurt your chances at the Oscars either, and Moore has that going for her as well.

Mike: Agreed. Who’s your dark horse candidate should Julianne Moore recuse herself from eligibility?

Matt: Maybe Reese Witherspoon? That was one of my favorite performances of the year, and she really dominates that movie. The whole thing is on her shoulders. And in the spirit of “most, not best” she does do some big stuff; she deals with addiction, she cries a lot, she wanders the desert by herself. The fact that she’s already won an Oscar probably works against her though.

Mike: It’s true, but it’s weird to admit that. Being proven at being good at your job actually works against you. Unless you’re Meryl Streep.

Mike’s Pick: Julianne Moore, Still Alice
Matt’s Pick: Julianne Moore, Still Alice 

Focus Features

Best Actor
Steve Carell, Foxcatcher
Bradley Cooper, American Sniper
Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game
Michael Keaton, Birdman
Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything

Matt: This one’s tougher, and probably the closest race of the ones we’ve discussed. To me, it’s down to the wire between Redmayne and Keaton. Who you got? Is this a momentum pick again?

Mike: No, this time I’m picking with my (fairly sizable) gut. Once upon a time, I told our former colleague Mike Ryan that there was no way Eddie Redmayne would win. I’m ready to eat my words though, because now I do think he will win. Physically, his role is more transformative and more demanding. Like you said earlier, playing a character with an illness, especially one as debilitating as Hawking’s, has a strong degree of difficulty and only helps Redmayne’s chances. Jupiter Ascending be damned!

Matt: Why did you think there was no way he’d win?

Mike: I thought Keaton would win, primarily for the same reason why I think Julianne Moore will win; the legacy vote. I didn’t think Redmayne had enough recognition. Michael Keaton could go out and campaign and schmooze and all that crap. In the end, though, I think the stronger performance will win out. I looked back at recent Best Actor winners and minus Jean Dujardin, all were actors with a capital A.

Matt: Right. It’s too competing Oscar narratives: The Lifetime Achievement Award (Keaton) vs. Playing the Great Man With An Illness (Redmayne). But I’m with you on Redmayne. Again, it’s a case of most not best. Redmayne had an incredible transformation into Stephen Hawking as he slowly succumbs to motor neuron disease. I think some will perceive Keaton was largely playing himself. And it really wasn’t that dynamic of a performance. Mostly he was the guy standing in the center of all the chaos while people like Emma Stone and Edward Norton got big showcase moments.

Mike: The “he/she was just playing themselves” has definitely hurt actors before.

Matt: Redmayne’s performance, on the other hand, was nothing but showcase moments. So I wouldn’t be shocked if Keaton won, but I’m not expecting it.

Mike: I think this is easily the closest race of the acting categories and the only one with any real suspense.

Matt: Agreed. And who knows, if your “momentum” theory is true, Keaton could squeak it out.

Mike’s Pick: Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything
Matt’s Pick: Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything

Fox Searchlight

Best Director
Wes Anderson, The Grand Budapest Hotel
Alejandro González Iñárritu, Birdman
Richard Linklater, Boyhood
Bennett Miller, Foxcatcher
Morten Tyldum, The Imitation Game 

Matt: I’m gonna guess you think Iñárritu wins this one.

Mike: It’s a tough call, because Boyhood and Birdman are in such a tight race, I could see voters giving Best Picture to one and Best Director to another. But what is more impressive? The extended 12-year shoot of Boyhood? Or the technical achievements of Birdman?

Matt: If you ask me it’s Boyhood all the way. That’s why I say Linklater’s going to win.

Mike: And you were right. I’m going with Iñárritu.

Matt: The first time in my life I’ve hated being right!

Mike: He won the DGA, which is a very strong predictor of Oscar success (Ben Affleck notwithstanding). Again, I would like this not to be true, but I feel it will be.

Matt: For my sake, and for the sake of all humanity, I hope you are wrong.

Mike: All of humanity rides on who wins Best Director this year?

Matt: That’s what I heard. An effort on ABC’s part to boost ratings.

Mike: I wasn’t going to even watch before, but now...

Mike’s Pick: Alejandro González Iñárritu, Birdman
Matt’s Pick: Richard Linklater, Boyhood

Fox Searchlight

Best Picture
American Sniper
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
The Theory of Everything

Matt: Another two-movie race, methinks, between Boyhood and Birdman. Is there enough momentum here for Birdman to pull it out?

Mike: I think Birdman will get it. Which kinda makes me sad because I think Boyhood deserves it more. Birdman is just flashier and it has bigger performances and it’s about art and movies and how important those things are. All things I think resonate with Oscar voters. But I don’t think Birdman is even the second (or third) best movie in this list. Like you said earlier though, at the Oscars that doesn’t really matter much.

Matt: You make a pretty persuasive case. Birdman flatters the people who are voting for this award, telling them that they, the artists, are the great, tortured souls of this world. That aligns it with recent winners like The Artist, about a suffering actor who can't find work in the sound era in Hollywood, and Argo, where a fake Hollywood movie literally saves the lives of hostages in Iran.

Mike: Yes, exactly.

Matt: But I’m going to stick with Boyhood here. Birdman can be a polarizing film, so it could wind up at the bottom of a lot of ballots. And even if it’s underplayed, Boyhood is still a pretty big movie, 12 years in the making with the same cast to show the evolution of a family and American life over that time. It's just such a unique achievement. I might be singing “Ice Ice Baby” in front of kitten GIFs as a result, but I’m going with my heart.

Mike: I completely agree with you. (Birdman was, I think, both of our votes for the best movie of the year.) I wish I felt more confident in its chances.

Matt: If it loses, then something need to change about these Oscar races. They’re so long people talk themselves out of liking beloved movies. That’s ridiculous.

Mike: The system also benefits the rich. It’s an aristocracy. Did IFC have the money to sustain this extended of a campaign against Fox Searchlight, which has more resources and experience? The whole damn system is out of order.

Matt: If Birdman does sneak it out, that’s another case of most, not best. But in this case, it’s the most money.

Mike: Well hopefully we’re pleasantly surprised and relieved when they open up the envelope. This is a battle between the pessimist and the optimist.

Matt: May the best man win. And may the worst man sing a terrible song, hopefully of my choosing.

Mike’s Pick: Birdman
Matt’s Pick: Boyhood

The Rest of Our Picks:
Best Animated Short: “The Bigger Picture” (Matt), “Feast” (Mike)
Best Cinematography: Birdman (Matt and Mike)
Best Costume Design: The Grand Budapest Hotel (Matt and Mike)
Best Documentary: Citizenfour (Matt and Mike)
Best Documentary Short: “Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1” (Matt), “White Earth” (Mike)
Best Editing: Whiplash (Matt and Mike)
Best Foreign Language Film: Ida (Matt and Mike)
Best Live Action Short: “Bogaloo and Graham” (Matt and Mike)
Best Makeup and Hairstyling: The Grand Budapest Hotel (Matt and Mike)
Best Original Score: The Grand Budapest Hotel (Matt), The Theory of Everything (Mike)
Best Original Song: “Glory,” Selma (Matt and Mike)
Best Production Design: The Grand Budapest Hotel (Matt and Mike)
Best Sound Editing: American Sniper (Matt), Interstellar (Mike)
Best Sound Mixing: American Sniper (Matt), Whiplash (Mike)
Best Visual Effects: Interstellar (Matt), Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (Mike)

The 87th Academy Awards air Sunday, February 22 at 8:30AM ET on ABC.