When it comes to proclaiming a performance Oscar-worthy, there is, to use the parlance of J.K. Simmons' exacting music teacher in "Whiplash," no dragging, only rushing.
Two of this year's likely Oscar acting winners — Patricia Arquette for "Boyhood" and Simmons — began their march to the podium more than a year ago when their movies premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. Nearly every "Whiplash" story out of Sundance touted the chances of its veteran character actor to win an Academy Award. Arquette's turn as the mother in "Boyhood" drew raves too, though, at that point, only her director was imagining her name on the trophy.
CHEAT SHEAT: Oscars 2015 nominations
"She should get a ... Oscar," "Boyhood" writer-director Richard Linklater said, slipping in an exuberant expletive, a month before the movie premiered. "She's so good."
And having, like Simmons, won nearly every other award leading up to the big night, Arquette probably will get her due. Who else among the acting nominees might prevail? Predictions:
Steve Carell, "Foxcatcher"
Bradley Cooper, "American Sniper"
Benedict Cumberbatch, "The Imitation Game"
Michael Keaton, "Birdman"
Eddie Redmayne, "The Theory of Everything"
And the winner is: Redmayne's excellent portrayal of Stephen Hawking contains a veritable checklist of Oscar-friendly elements (real person, a man felled by disability, period setting, English accent). He's a charmer too, though a bit young when compared with past winners. Yes, wearing black tie, Redmayne looks like he's heading for the prom, but it's not like he has come out of nowhere. The Brit won a Tony Award four years ago for "Red." Plus, he has been working the circuit more than the other four nominees combined. In a tight race, every photo op helps.
Unless: The likelihood of a Keaton victory here took a hit when Redmayne won the Screen Actors Guild Award. The last 10 SAG Award winners have been called to the stage on Oscar night. That's not to say Keaton can't win. "Birdman" obviously has its fans, and actors can relate to Keaton's self-doubting character, even if they've never donned a suit in a comic-book movie. There's a pool of voters too who see this as a chance to reward the 63-year-old actor for both his career and performance, though this movement has never taken hold the way it has with Julianne Moore — mostly because this is Keaton's first nomination while Moore has been to this dance five times now.
Marion Cotillard, "Two Days, One Night"
Felicity Jones, "The Theory of Everything"
Julianne Moore, "Still Alice"
Rosamund Pike, "Gone Girl"
Reese Witherspoon, "Wild"
And the winner is: With her five nominations and incomparable career, academy members see Moore as overdue — and then some. I've talked to a few who swear she has an Oscar already. "She won for 'Boogie Nights,' right?" "No, Kim Basinger won that year for 'L.A. Confidential.'" "Wait. Kim Basinger has an Oscar but Julianne Moore doesn't?" And so on. Added bonus: She's pretty great in the movie she's nominated for this year.
Unless: Really, it's just like last year with Cate Blanchett in "Blue Jasmine." No one else stands a chance. "Sandra Bullock was one of the saints of last year's awards," Benedict Cumberbatch, himself a just-happy-to-be-nominated person, told me recently. "How many award shows did she have to go to and graciously applaud for Cate Blanchett?"
Robert Duvall, "The Judge"
Ethan Hawke, "Boyhood"
Edward Norton, "Birdman"
Mark Ruffalo, "Foxcatcher"
J.K. Simmons, "Whiplash"
And the winner is: Simmons. The 60-year-old character actor wins for the performance and the perseverance. The award's inevitability doesn't detract from one of the season's great stories.
Unless: There are a lot of voters who are single-tear people who've had chairs hurled at them at some point in their lives.
Patricia Arquette, "Boyhood"
Laura Dern, "Wild"
Keira Knightley, "The Imitation Game"
Emma Stone, "Birdman"
Meryl Streep, "Into the Woods"
And the winner is: Arquette. Oscar consultants working on "Boyhood" called around in the fall, asking if Arquette would be better served — and more accurately placed — if she landed in the lead category. Sure, the movie is called "Boyhood," but that beautiful young man we see gazing into the camera at the end of the movie wouldn't be there if not for the mother who didn't dispute the logic of putting rocks in a pencil sharpener to add to an arrowhead collection. The Los Angeles Film Critics Assn. gave Arquette lead actress and, if she had been nominated in lead, that race would undoubtedly be much more interesting. But you get only so many chances to win an Oscar, and, by going supporting (which is not a stretch), Arquette will likely join the academy's honor roll.
Unless: You know who hasn't won an Oscar in a really long time? Meryl Streep. It has been three years. She's kind of due, don't you think?