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If predictions hold up for this year’s Academy Awards, Hollywood’s biggest night could be described by two words that begin with "B": "Birdman" and "Boyhood." Of the eight nominees, those two films are expected to battle for Best Picture.
"I would say it’s pretty much a 50/50 tossup," said Dave Karger, chief correspondent for Fandango. "Anyone’s guess is as good as any expert’s guess."
"Boyhood" seemed to be the early favorite after picking up several critics’ choice awards. But "Birdman" recently picked up steam, winning top honors from three important groups: the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), Directors Guild of America and Producers Guild of America.
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"When all three of them have agreed on a movie in the past, only once has that movie failed to win the Best Picture Oscar," said Scott Feinberg, awards columnist for The Hollywood Reporter. "That was 19 years ago. It was 'Apollo 13.'"
But "Boyhood" has also scored big wins, including Best Film at the BAFTAs, the British Academy of Film and Television Arts, which has predicted the past six Oscar winners for Best Picture.
Some analysts believe a very tight race could clear the way for a third film to sneak in and pull off a surprise. "If that were to happen this year, it would probably be ‘American Sniper’ that benefits," Feinberg said. "It got hot just at the right time."
"American Sniper" is the only blockbuster nominated for Best Picture, topping $300 million at the box office, more than the other seven nominees combined.
"People are more likely to watch the Oscars if they’ve seen the films and they like the films and they’re invested in them," said CNBC correspondent Julia Boorstin.
The most competitive acting category is Lead Actor, according to most analysts. Michael Keaton’s comeback role in "Birdman" has picked up several honors, including a Critics Choice Award. But Eddie Redmayne, who portrayed Stephen Hawking in "The Theory of Everything," took home the prestigious SAG Award.
"That was big because SAG has predicted the Best Actor Oscar winner in each of the last ten years,” Feinberg said.
The other acting categories are less competitive. Julianne Moore, a five-time Oscar nominee, is heavily favored to win her first Oscar for "Still Alice." JK Simmons ("Whiplash") and Patricia Arquette ("Boyhood") remain strong frontrunners in the supporting categories.
This year’s Oscars host will be Neil Patrick Harris, who previously hosted the Tonys and Emmys. This will be his first time as ringmaster for the Academy Awards.