By Matt Mueller Culture Editor Published Feb 20, 2015 at 9:26 AM

After months of hoopla and think-piecing (and a bomb scare just for extra drama) the Oscars are finally set to go this Sunday. And I suppose that means it's time to get my picks in order. Last year, I went an improbable 22 for 24 (damn you, short film categories!), so the bar is set high for this year – which, considering this is one of the more wide open, drama-filled years we've had in a while, is problematic for me.

Nevertheless, here are my picks for who will win – and who should win – come Sunday night.

Best Picture

Will win: "Birdman"

Should win: "Whiplash"

From the moment the nominations were announced, it was always a race between "Boyhood" and "Birdman," gimmick ("we shot it 12 years!") versus gimmick ("we shot it to look like one take!").

It started with "Boyhood" out in front, winning the Golden Globe, but casually cruising on the momentum all the way from last summer just got too difficult to maintain. Finally, some of the naysayers got traction – it’s not THAT impressive, it’s not THAT unique, etc. – which doesn’t surprise me. "Boyhood" was never a movie that felt like it would play well with a typical Academy voter’s tastes. It’s small and quiet and modest and subtle and many other words that would never describe the Oscars.

"Birdman," on the other hand, is a movie about the importance of art and artists and the industry and the insanity around it, and the Academy likes those (think of "The Artist," "Argo" in just the last few years). It’s self-important, pretentious and doesn’t say nearly as much clever stuff as it thinks it is … so has there ever been a more fitting pick for Best Picture?

Best Actor

Will win: Eddie Redmayne, "The Theory of Everything"

Should win: Eddie Redmayne, "The Theory of Everything"

Of all the major categories, Best Actor is the tightest race of the bunch, with the two front runners both delivering the kind of performances the Academy loves. First, there’s Michael Keaton, nominated for playing a character with more than a bit of a personal connection to Keaton’s own acting career. It’s a comeback story for an actor everybody loves and is due, playing essentially himself on screen with all the emotion that implies.

But, while the Academy eats that kind of thing up, they also love big transformative biopic performances involving historical figures, and Eddie Redmayne did that and more in the otherwise meh "The Theory of Everything." The part that gets everyone’s attention is Redmayne’s physical transformation, managing to pull off Hawking’s famous crumpled posture. The most impressive part is internal, though. Using his eyes and what little movement he has, Redmayne still makes Hawking a fully realized, emotional character, not just an impressing physical impersonation.

There’s a lot of current evidence for Redmayne winning, namely the recent guild awards which have gone in his favor. Plus, when making the pick, my mind keeps flashing to the 2009 Oscars, when an actor making a comeback playing essentially himself (Mickey Rourke) lost to a historical portrayal (Sean Penn in "Milk"). I imagine we see a replay of that on Sunday night, with Redmayne getting the win. And deservedly so – at least amongst this lot, where most of the year’s actual best leading men (Oyelowo, Gyllenhaal, even Phoenix) are nowhere to be found.

Best Actress

Will win: Julianne Moore, "Still Alice"

Should win: Rosamund Pike, "Gone Girl"

Julianne Moore – a very good performance, one both strong and brittle, in a merely good movie – has taken the lead seemingly by default in this annoyingly flimsy category. Considering how small the film is, Cotillard’s nomination for "Two Days, One Night" is her award, while the delightful Felicity Jones does fine work in a poor role. Plus, for many voters, she’s too young to win the prize already. Witherspoon is great in the equally great "Wild," but that movie never gained much traction with Oscar vote.

It’d be my dream to see Pike win for her perfectly feisty and chilly leading turn in "Gone Girl," another movie that sadly slid of Oscar’s radar. She’s a great movie monster – plus, ice queens are hard to pull off; just ask January Jones – but so much so that she’s probably repelled some voters. So my dream will stay simply that. Moore wins. Plus, she’s due.

Best Supporting Actor

Will win: J.K. Simmons, "Whiplash"

Should win: J.K. Simmons, "Whiplash"

While we’re on the topic of movie monsters, J.K. Simmons in "Whiplash" is quickly becoming one for the books. Taking all of his profane yelling that made him a hilarious scene stealer in the likes of "Spider-Man," "Burn After Reading" and "Thank You for Smoking" and marinating it in vinegar, barbed wire and napalm, the long-time character actor created one of the most vicious and mesmerizingly horrific characters of the year. Pretty impressive for the guy behind the voice of the yellow M&M. He’s won pretty much every award so far; he’ll win this one too. Good job.

Best Supporting Actress

Will win: Patricia Arquette, "Boyhood"

Should win: Laura Dern, "Wild"

On to the other major lock of the major awards: Patricia Arquette for "Boyhood." In a night where I see "Birdman" flying away with most of the awards, it seems fitting that the true emotional core of Linklater’s childhood epic – Arquette’s long-struggling mother, rewarded at the end with nothing but a goodbye – would be one of the few to be rewarded. When it comes to struggling-but-strong matriarch performances in 2014, however, my heart goes out to Dern’s role in "Wild." It’s too small a part to really get much voter love (another case where the nomination is the win), but Dern makes every one of the role’s emotions feel huge.

As for the other nominees, Streep’s already won so pass there, and Knightley’s role is too rote so pass there as well. Stone could very well pull the upset (if she does, prepare your speeches, "Birdman" folks), but that’d be a case of Most Acting taking the place of Best Acting.

Best Director

Will win: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, "Birdman"

Should win: Richard Linklater, "Boyhood"

And while we’re on the topic of most versus best, the director category, where we have Inarritu’s Most Directing in a fight with Linklater’s Best Directing. After his Golden Globes win, Linklater seemed to be the frontrunner, but as with most "Boyhood" categories, the buzz has worn off, dimmed by thinkpieces and counterpoints to the ravings.

Simply put, making a movie in 12 years is damn near impossible, and the fact that Linklater not only pulled it off, but did so in such cohesive fashion, creating a unique emotional journey that strikes so many chords both particular and universal, is a monumental feat. A common refrain during this Oscar lead-up has been this notion of "Well, I could’ve done what he did." This is called hindsight bias, and it is the mantra of sore losers. To borrow a phrase from a recent Oscar winner, if you were the inventors of "Boyhood," you’d have invented "Boyhood."

While Linklater and his film have been battling that growing mentality, the path to gold for "Birdman" and Inarritu has been pretty clean and easy. People have been increasingly hard on Linklater’s 12 years gimmick, while Inarritu’s one-take gimmick has been universally lauded – despite its obvious and clunky cuts, and that it doesn’t actually work, and are you getting the impression "Birdman" and I don’t see eye to eye? Anyways, the easy cruise for "Boyhood" got bumpy at just the wrong time. Bad news for Linklater; great news for Inarritu, who would be the second Mexican director in a row to win the prize after Cuaron for "Gravity" last year.

Best Original Screenplay

Will win: "Birdman"

Should win: "Boyhood"

Are we really going to give Best Original Screenplay to a movie whose full title – "Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)" – doesn’t understand how parenthesis work? Is the movie called "Birdman Or"? Why does it even have a longer title? Whatever; I will follow the subtitle’s advice and find the virtue in ignoring it.

Anyways, take everything I said about the Best Director race and apply it here. The one addendum, however, is that I think voters at some point do want to reward "Boyhood" for its impressive over-a-decade process. The problem is this isn’t a simple case like "Gravity" or "Life of Pi" where one can point to the director and visuals for its success. Is it Linklater’s writing process that helped evolve the movie so well year after year? Or is it his direction that kept it on point and focused and coherent over time? There’s just a touch of uncertainty … which opens the door perfectly for "Birdman."

Best Adapted Screenplay

Will win: "The Imitation Game"

Should win: "Whiplash"

If I’m voting with my head, I pick "The Imitation Game," which checks off all the Oscar bait boxes while still compellingly finding the prickly aspects of its main character and his several struggles. If I’m voting with my heart, though, I’m "Whiplash" all the way. It's a dynamite film that’s more complicated than expected and always managed to be a beat ahead of the audience. Any movie that can make setting a folder down the most terrifying thing I’ve seen all year is doing something right.

It’s getting to the point, though, that my heart could actually be persuading my head to vote "Whiplash" too. "The Imitation Game" plays to the same audience and mindset as "The Theory of Everything," so there’s a risk of vote-splitting. Plus, the biopic’s "Honor the man. Honor the film" campaign has really rankled with some folks. People don’t like being told they HAVE TO or SHOULD vote for a certain movie. Add in the late buzz for "Whiplash" and its mild category controversy – a technicality put Damien Chazelle’s screenplay in Adapted rather than Original, which not only put it in an uncharacteristically easier category, but also got people’s attention – and you have a potential surprise.

Lastly, if "American Sniper" is going to pick up any major awards, this would be the place. Considering the controversy and the critical issues with its lack of depth, however, I imagine the big victory for the Chris Kyle story will remain to be what happened over the past three weekends at the box office. Which, in the end, matters more.

Best Animated Feature

Will win: "How to Train your Dragon 2"

Should win: "The Lego Movie" "The Boxtrolls"

In a beautiful and just world, the beloved sugar rush that is "The Lego Movie" would be the easy frontrunner for Best Animated Feature. Sadly, that is not the world we live in. So, save for a late push for one of the two hand-drawn features (which is unlikely considering a vote split between the two), "How to Train Your Dragon 2" is now in the lock position. Does Laika’s delightfully deranged "The Boxtrolls" have a chance? Nope. But I’ll root for it all the same.

Best Foreign Film

Will win: "Ida"

Should win: "Ida"

A foreign film getting nominated for additional Oscars doesn’t always mean it’ll win the foreign film crown. Back in 2006, for instance, "Pan’s Labyrinth" was nominated for, and even won, Best Cinematography, but lost out in Best Foreign Film to "The Lives of Others."

Extra nominations, however, does show a certain amount of respect, and it shows that more people will probably have it on their radar. This is all a good sign for Poland’s "Ida," which is also nominated for cinematography. Deservedly so; it’s a gorgeous movie – one where you’re almost disappointed when a shot is merely beautiful – that tells a very tragic story with a human touch. It’s also the highest grossing of the bunch, another good sign. It’s the most known, most Oscar friendly in terms of subject, most eye-catching and most profitable of the bunch. And, conveniently, the best.

Best Cinematography

Will win: "Birdman"

Should win: "Ida"

As just noted, the black-and-white "Ida" is an absolute visual stunner. It’d also be the first black-and-white film to win the award since "Schindler’s List," and if they didn’t give "The Artist" the award back during its 2012 love fest (instead, "Hugo" won), I can’t imagine this little Polish movie pulling it off.

Plus, it’s up against "Birdman" and cinematographer extraordinaire Emmanuel Lubezki, whose one-take is integrally linked to the movie’s buzz and raves. Even those who don’t think it technically works (hi!) are impressed by its technical bravura and chutzpah. So mark Lubezki down for a second win in a row after his similar one-take magic in "Gravity" last year.

If you’re looking for a true spoiler, though, try Roger Deakins and "Unbroken." The man’s been nominated 12 times with not a single win. The voters might be sentimental and say it’s time for him to claim his long-overdue victory, though it’d be shame to do so for such unremarkable work. The time was two years ago with "Skyfall." Or about five times before then.

Best Editing

Will win: "Boyhood"

Should win: "Whiplash"

It’s secretly a very tight race in the sexy, sexy category of Best Editing. Will it be "Boyhood," which seamlessly weaved 12 years of filming into a story? Will it be "Birdman," which weaved several takes into a seemless(ish) almost full-length one-take? Or will it be "Whiplash," whose perfectly edited finale provided 2015’s best cinematic experience. My vote is for "Boyhood"; it has to win somewhere, right? But "Whiplash," which uses its editing perfectly to set a mood, create character and build incredible tension – might take the cake. Fittingly, it plays at just the right tempo.

Best Production Design

Will win: "The Grand Budapest Hotel"

Should win: "The Grand Budapest Hotel"

Remember how last year "Gravity" won a bunch of technical awards right off the bat? Meet "The Grand Budapest Hotel," this year’s "Gravity." Wes Anderson’s miniature opus might claim a screenplay or director prize if it’s lucky, but it’s major haul will come in the technical categories, rewarding Anderson for his perfectly framed, immaculately dressed movie dollhouse. So it’s a lock here for Best Production Design.

Best Costume Design

Will win: "The Grand Budapest Hotel"

Should win: "The Grand Budapest Hotel"

Though Streep’s sinewy purple witch dress in "Into the Woods" is impressive, it’s a technical award, and "The Grand Budapest Hotel" is nominated. There are seemingly 50 characters in Anderson’s film, and all of them look perfectly dressed and colorfully styled.

Best Makeup

Will win: "The Grand Budapest Hotel"

Should win: "Guardians of the Galaxy"

After becoming the shock hit of 2014 and grossing massive cash (plus whatever it made on Dancing Baby Groot toys, which has to be around Estonia’s GDP) I don’t think "Guardians of the Galaxy" necessarily cares about winning Oscars. Still, I’d love to see it snag an award for its colorful cast of alien characters, winningly brought to life.

But do you know what else had a colorful cast of characters? "The Grand Budapest Hotel." And do you know what had Tilda Swinton under a pile of old person makeup, beehived hair and fake turkey neck? "The Grand Budapest Hotel." Anderson beats aliens this round.

Best Score

Will win: "The Theory of Everything"

Should win: "The Grand Budapest Hotel"

"The Theory of Everything" and its score from the delightfully named Johann Johannsson has taken home most of the awards so far for score, and I expect that to continue Sunday night. I found the score cloying and overdone – especially considering the actual story being told – but it seems to be working for voters, and the movie gives it a big stage to shine in the last big reverse montage.

If I had my way – which I don’t and probably never will, but let a boy dream – "The Grand Budapest Hotel" and Alexandre Desplat’s perfectly whimsical and melancholy score would come away the winner. However, he’s also nominated for "The Imitation Game," which might lead to some vote splitting. With eight nominations and no wins, Desplat’s quickly becoming the Roger Deakins of film scores.

Best Song

Will win: "Glory" from "Selma"

Should win: "Everything is Awesome" from "The Lego Movie"

It’s a tale of two snubs here in Best Song, with "The Lego Movie" – overlooked for Best Animated Feature – up against "Selma" – overlooked, well, almost everywhere. This will be the voters’ lone likely chance to show "Selma" some much deserved love, and I doubt they’ll pass it up. Plus, Common’s speech at the Golden Globes was too strong for the Academy to not want to get in on it. My inner 12-year-old, however, would be delighted if the irony and cotton candy soaked earworm "Everything is Awesome" got the win. Also, in my head, I’m then handing the award to the angsty Batman song from "The Lego Movie."

Best Sound Mixing

Will win: "Whiplash"

Should win: "Whiplash" 

Few actually seem to know what Best Sound Mixing really means – and that includes Academy voters. So I’ll go with the nominee that features a lot of music. Also: I really, really, really like "Whiplash."

Best Sound Editing

Will win: "American Sniper"

Should win: "American Sniper"

Best Sound Editing is just as much of a grab bag, and without "Whiplash" to rely on this time, I’ll go with the movie that had to dub baby sounds over an obviously fake doll. They probably had to edit out some on-set laughter too.

Best Visual Effects

Will win: "Interstellar"

Should win: "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes"

About those sound categories: Were the Oscars trolling everyone by nominating "Interstellar," a movie whose sound design was notoriously ripped for being occasionally inaudible? Considering Bane before and now this, Nolan has a serious problem with his audio department.

As for visuals, though, he’s doing great. "Interstellar" is a visually spectacular film. It was nicknamed by some as "Baby’s First 2001," an insult but, considering the equally grand cosmic vistas, also praise. I see it getting the win here, though the rich ape characters made mostly by computer artists in "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" still deserve applause.

Best Documentary

Will win: "Citizenfour"

Should win: "Citizenfour"

The Edward Snowden doc "Citizenfour" captures history as it’s happening. Few movies get to say that. That’d be good enough, but "Citizenfour" doesn’t coast on its topical subject matter. Instead, it’s a better and more intense thriller than most of Hollywood’s actual thrillers. Plus, it gives the Academy a chance to make a statement about NSA spying and so forth. It gets the win. 

Best Documentary – Short Subject 

Will win: "Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1"

Should win: "Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1"

I move to rename this year's category, "Best Documentary – Sad Subject." Each of the five nominees this year is a festival of depression. "Crisis Hotline," however, has the backing of the likes of HBO, plus it's about an issue – veteran struggles in America – and the Academy always loves to think it's making a statement ("White Earth" is about an issue too, but nobody wants to talk about the economy). Considering the overwhelming audience response to "American Sniper," it seems like an issue on many minds. 

Best Animated Short Film 

Will win: "Feast" 

Should win: "Feast"

Last year, I picked the pre-"Frozen" short "Get A Horse!" under the logic that most voters probably saw that short by default before Disney's smash hit. "Mr. Hublot" ended up winning. Other than it being proven completely wrong last year, I see no reason to change my logic. The pre-"Big Hero 6" short "Feast" – a delightful and clever tale of food and shifting perspectives – gets the win. 

Best Live Action Short Film 

Will win: "The Phone Call"

Should win: "The Phone Call" 

"There are no stars in the other four categories, so people have not heard of them. So congrats on your Oscar, 'The Voorman Problem'!" That's what I said last year in reference to claiming the Martin Freeman-led short the winner. And, of course, it lost. But once again, change is for vending machines, so I'll go with the Sally Hawkins-led "The Phone Call."

Matt Mueller will be live-tweeting the Oscars Sunday night starting at 6 p.m. Follow him on Twitter (@aManAboutFilm) and join in the conversation.

Matt Mueller Culture Editor

As much as it is a gigantic cliché to say that one has always had a passion for film, Matt Mueller has always had a passion for film. Whether it was bringing in the latest movie reviews for his first grade show-and-tell or writing film reviews for the St. Norbert College Times as a high school student, Matt is way too obsessed with movies for his own good.

When he's not writing about the latest blockbuster or talking much too glowingly about "Piranha 3D," Matt can probably be found watching literally any sport (minus cricket) or working at - get this - a local movie theater. Or watching a movie. Yeah, he's probably watching a movie.