Three films considered surefire Oscar nominees — "The Lego Movie," "Life Itself" and "Force Majeure" — didn't find favor with the academy in, respectively, the animation, documentary and foreign-language categories. How do those races shake out in their absence? Here's a look at the contenders with more categories coming next week.
"Big Hero 6"
"How to Train Your Dragon 2"
"Song of the Sea"
"The Tale of the Princess Kaguya"
FULL COVERAGE: Oscars 2015
And the winner is: "Big Hero 6." Privately, many competing here had ceded the Oscar to "The Lego Movie" because this category, more often than not, goes to the movie that the most academy members have seen. And because voters' average age is 63, they're typically not inclined to watch more than one or two of the nominees, if that. (Some just ask their grandchildren how they should mark their ballot.) Thanks to its February release date and a ubiquitous presence on Time Warner-owned HBO, a lot of people had caught "The Lego Movie," but the animation branch ignored this smart, funny film for reasons we could never begin to guess. (OK, here's one: By voting for "Song of the Sea" and "Princess Kaguya," animators are again making the statement that hand-drawn animation must be kept alive.)
Figuring that "Sea" and "Kaguya" wind up splitting their constituency and voters find "The Boxtrolls" a bit juvenile, that leaves "Big Hero 6" and "Dragon 2." Helping decide this coin flip is this: Since the British Academy of Film and Television Arts began honoring animated movies in 2006, every film taking the BAFTA prize has gone on to win the Oscar. And this year, "Dragon" didn't even rate a British Academy Film Awards nod. Plus, Baymax toys are everywhere, helping the "Big Hero 6" robot beat the dragon in the battle of awareness.
Unless: DreamWorks Animation Chief Executive Jeffrey Katzenberg works the phone bank, persuading voters to watch and reward his studio's beautiful movie, making it only the second sequel to take this Oscar ("Toy Story 3" won in 2011).
"Finding Vivian Maier"
"Last Days in Vietnam"
"The Salt of the Earth"
And the winner is: "Citizenfour." Since the academy opened up voting in this category to its entire membership, two music-focused docs have won — "Searching for Sugar Man" and "20 Feet From Stardom." They were also the most talked-about titles, good news for Laura Poitras' "Citizenfour," which, though not music-focused, is still a headline-grabbing look at National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden. "Citizenfour" has taken most of the early documentary prizes, but the other four nominated docs are all cinematic, meaningful movies too. It's just doubtful any one of them can grab the support necessary to overcome "Citizenfour's" publicity advantage.
Unless: "Virunga," an investigative look at the rangers trying to protect endangered mountain gorillas in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, picks up additional viewers by virtue of it streaming on Netflix. It's a heart-wrenching thriller, perhaps the best of the five nominated movies. Academy members who have seen it are raving about it. If word of mouth spreads, it could pull off an Oscar-night surprise.
And the winner is: "Ida," Pawel Pawlikowski's compelling, compact drama set in postwar Poland also received an Oscar nomination for its elegant, black-and-white photography. That recognition gives it a slight edge over the Golden Globe-winning Russian entry, "Leviathan," and the gleefully surreal "Wild Tales" from Argentine filmmaker Damián Szifron.
Unless: The equally acclaimed "Leviathan" prevails. Distributor Sony Pictures Classics has pulled off a number of wins in this category, and, in Andrei Zvyagintsev's "Leviathan," which took the screenplay award at Cannes, the studio has another strong contender, a movie that weaves naturalism, allegory and dark humor into a multi-layered masterpiece.