Animated feature: All the fuss here has been over the omission of The Lego Movie from this category, and if you read my list of 2014’s best movies, you’ll know where I stand on that. Still, even though I think How to Train Your Dragon 2 was overrated, there isn’t a real stinker in the field. Disney’s muscle will probably carry Big Hero 6 to victory. I’m glad to see The Tale of the Princess Kaguya (an intensely beautiful Japanese film that takes its cue from classical paintings rather than traditional anime) rate a mention here. Besides the monumental omission of The Lego Movie, the Mexican folk art-influenced The Book of Life should have been here.
Documentary feature: They do love their left-wing activists at the documentary branch, so the Oscar probably goes to Laura Poitras’ portrait of Edward Snowden, Citizenfour. I’ve seen only two of the other nominees, so I won’t make a case that any of the others are better. My list of 2014’s best documentaries can tell you about the films that went un-nominated. How the Academy failed to nominate two excellent movies about movies (Jodorowsky’s Dune and Life Itself) mystifies me, and I hate to think that National Gallery’s length might have scared voters away from watching it, because it’s magnificent, all three hours of it.
Original score: Could this be the year that Alexandre Desplat finally wins an Oscar? He has two entries in the field, with The Grand Budapest Hotel being far superior to The Imitation Game, but will they split the vote? I am glad to see Gary Yershon’s unusual score for Mr. Turner recognized, but this is one category where all the best work was left out entirely. The music branch disqualified the scores for Birdman and Whiplash because, I don’t know, they hate percussion? (Actually, it was for using too much outside music, the same reason that stupidly kept Black Swan out of the 2010 race.) Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ score for Gone Girl probably deserved a nod, and Jeff Grace’s synth-heavy music for Cold in July was perfect for that low-budget thriller’s dead-on evocation of 1980s movies. The best score I heard all year was Mica Levi’s music for Under the Skin — whenever I think of that film, I think of the wailing strings that he put underneath the seduction scenes.
Original song: This might be the toughest one to call. John Legend and Common’s hot, angry “Glory” from Selma might ride to victory on voters who feel like the movie it was in got screwed. Then again, the same could be said for the insanely catchy “Everything Is Awesome” from The Lego Movie. (Fun fact: When I attended an advance screening of that film last year, I counted six kids singing that song as they left the theater. Separately, too.) Then there’s “I’m Not Gonna Miss You,” which will take in some nostalgia votes, since it’s essentially Glen Campbell’s epitaph for himself, written for the documentary Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me as the country music legend struggled with Alzheimer’s. “Lost Stars” from Begin Again is probably the best song of the lot, but it doesn’t have a built-in constituency. Then again, with all these other constituencies in play, maybe they’ll cancel one another out. Plenty of good candidates went begging: Two excellent selections from The Fault in Our Stars — Ed Sheeran’s “All of the Stars” and Charli XCX’s “Boom Clap” — were ruled ineligible. The same can’t be said for Lana Del Rey’s typically lush, melancholy title song from Big Eyes. The Oscars also missed a chance to book Lorde for their ceremony by failing to nominate her ominous “Yellow Flicker Beat” from The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part I. Too bad for them. A whole lot of teens would have gladly tuned into the telecast for her alone.