Pencils down! Oscar voting has ended, so let's look at the close races…

Posted by · 4:00 pm · February 17th, 2015

It's 5pm on the west coast, meaning it's pencils down for Academy voters. Polls are now closed for the upcoming 87th Oscars, and now, we wait. But in the meantime, let's consider a few of the closer races that could make for some considerable drama on Sunday night.

Best Picture and Best Director
This goes without saying, but “Birdman” and “Boyhood” are still at each other's throats in the final lap. “Birdman” won most of the guilds, “Boyhood” won the BAFTA prize. And predictions run the gamut. Some are calling “Birdman” for both, others are calling “Boyhood” for both. Some predict “Birdman” for Best Picture and “Boyhood” for Best Director, others vice versa. If you're anticipating a split, but you're unsure which way to go, it's probably safer to pick one film for both and cross your fingers.

Best Actor
Yeah, Eddie Redmayne has dominated the circuit, winning the Golden Globe for drama, the Screen Actors Guild Award and the BAFTA prize. But here's the thing: He wasn't competing with “American Sniper's” Bradley Cooper at any of those shows. That means we have a wild card here, and it could play itself out in a number of ways. For starters, Cooper could be a bit of a Ralph Nader in the group, siphoning votes off of Redmayne and allowing for “Birdman's” Michael Keaton to get a second wind. Or he could just as easily be pulling from Keaton. (Frankly, it's probably a bit of both.) What's more, Cooper may have caught a big enough stride as “Sniper” blew up at the box office, rounding up enough votes to spoil it for everyone. Don't go thinking this one's locked up just yet.

Best Writing (Adapted and Original Screenplay)
Like Cooper in Best Actor, “Whiplash” is a wild card in Best Adapted Screenplay. The film has competed in the original category elsewhere all season long, and it has consistently lost to the likes of “Birdman,” “Boyhood” and “The Grand Budapest Hotel.” That's no surprise, really, given that those are the three frontrunners overall, but now Damien Chazelle's popular indie faces softer competition because the Academy deemed it an adapted screenplay instead. As a result, it sort of stands out among Academy favorites in the category as unique. So “The Imitation Game” may feel like a good bet after winning prizes like the USC Scripter Award and the WGA honor, but the fact is it hasn't had to face off against “Whiplash” yet. So we just can't know. Meanwhile, that aforementioned original field still has that trio of frontrunners duking it out. While “The Grand Budapest Hotel” feels right (BAFTA, WGA), it could easily go to one of the two films that seem to be squaring off for Best Picture.

Best Music (Original Score)
“The Theory of Everything” won the Golden Globe.* But “The Grand Budapest Hotel” won the BAFTA prize and a Grammy. “Interstellar” is a wonderful achievement that could pull some votes from people looking to support it. And “The Imitation Game” is more of a spoiler than people might think. Really, only “Mr. Turner” feels like a safe dismissal here.

*If you need something like a stat to help guide your way (I know you're out there), how's this: Only 11 times in the Golden Globes' 70-plus year history has an Oscar-nominated score won the HFPA prize but lost the Oscar. Six of those were in the '60s alone and it's only happened once in the last 24 years. But here, let me complicate it even more. While the BAFTA lineage only goes back to 1968, twice has their choice mitigated the HFPA decision and turned out to be the Academy's pick as well. So, further to the point: It's pretty much a pick 'em.

Best Sound Mixing
On the one hand, it seems like the obvious call to chalk up “American Sniper” for both sound categories. But “Whiplash” won the BAFTA prize and “Birdman” won the Cinema Audio Society award, so support is divided. It's possible the two fields split. It's possible the two go to presumed favorite overall, “Birdman.” It's even possible “Unbroken” finds some love. But while “Sniper” feels like the good bet in Best Sound Editing, the mixing field is the one that could go a different direction.

Best Visual Effects
A conundrum. The visual effects community would obviously see this prize go to “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.” But BAFTA winner “Interstellar” is a prestige film and the one in the category with the most nominations overall. “Guardians of the Galaxy,” meanwhile, is a popular film that people may want to vote for here if nowhere else. It really just depends on how far out onto that limb you want to climb, ultimately.

And frankly, we could probably write about a number of the others for various reasons. But we'll stop there. It's going to be an interesting ceremony, to say the least.

What are you picking in these close categories? Have your say in the comments section below.

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