02/19/2015 02:49 EST | Updated 04/21/2015 05:59 EDT

Who should win - and who will win - at the 2015 Oscars?

After months of campaigning the race for best picture for 2014, the top prize for the 87th Academy Awards has come down to two unlikely candidates: Boyhood v. Birdman.  One, a laid back cinematic scrapbook compressing 12 years into 166 minutes. The other, a flashy firework of a film about an actor in the midst of a mental breakdown. So as the accountants begin tallying the ballots for this Sunday’s show, here's my best guesses on the results.


Will Win: J.K. Simmons for Whiplash. 

The distinctively bald character actor has had this category in the bag for months for his performance as Fletcher, the jazz instructor who showers his students with saliva and abuse in Whiplash. Sure it’s a one-note symphony of vitriol and rage, but Simmons plays it perfectly.

Should Win: Mark Ruffalo for Foxcatcher

While I’ll be happy to see J.K. Simmons take home the Oscar, Mark Ruffalo's wonderfully low-key turn as wrestler David Shultz in Foxcatcherdeserved more attention.


Will Win: Patricia Arquette. 

As raw as it is real, Boyhood’s Patricia Arquette will take home the Oscar for her role as the long suffering mother. Arquette set the tone for the film right from the first scene telling her daughter to cut out her "horseshit" and continued right up to the tear-your-heart-out scene as she’s packing, when she explodes in tears asking, "Is that all there is?"

Should Win: Happy to see Arquette win, but if by some surprise Laura Dern won for her live wire of a mom in Wild, it would be a wonderful thing.


Will Win:  Eddie Redmayne for The Theory of Everything.

While the industry's love of Michael Keaton has given Eddie a run for his money, this role is Oscar catnip for voters. A handsome young actor taking on a true story of overcoming challenges and the added bonus of a performance where the character's journey is manifest by an extreme physical transformation?  Sorry Keaton, maybe next time.

Should Win:Jake Gyllenhaal for his role as Lou the sycophanticsalesman in Nightcrawler.

Oh wait he wasn’t nominated was he?  (Shakes fist at heavens.)


Will Win: Julianne Moore in Still Alice.  

An amazing performance in an imperfect film, Moore — who is practically Hollywood royalty — will finally take home an Oscar for her role as a linguistics professor struggling with Alzheimer's.  

Should Win: Wild featured something from Reese Witherspoon that frankly I didn’t think she was capable of. A vivid primal scream of a performance as a woman who hiked her way to sanity.


Will and should win:  Richard Linklater for Boyhood.

Boyhood would not have happened if it wasn't for Linklakter, who took a gamble on an inspired idea and found a way to make it work. The film is the essence of Linklater's directing style, a movie that feels like non-fiction but was in fact informed by Linklater’s own boyhood, growing up with divorced parents.


Will Win: Birdman

Should Win: Boyhood 

Here’s where things get messy in what’s become one of the tightest races this year. For a while now the conventional wisdom was that in the face of a weak year Boyhood was a lock for best picture. But since the nominations were announced Birdmanhas been coming on strong winning a number of guild awards. Also, keep in mind the Academy has a soft spot for movies that celebrate the act of filmmaking (remember The Artist?).

While many critics have been clinging to the hope that Academy will reward Boyhood's groundbreaking nature, I have trouble believing the generally conservative members of the Academy will "get" Boyhood and enjoy the slow-paced reflective story for what it is. Faced with the choice of the quiet pleasures of Boyhood and Birdman, the latter a movie overflowing with emotion and visual pyrotechnics, look to see the Birdman swoop in for the win. 

- For more tips on how to win your Oscar pool, check out our interactive ballot. You can see my full list of picks here.  Good luck and enjoy the show.