By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Sunday evening we find out, during a telecast hosted by Neil Patrick Harris, which movie is to be officially declared the best film of 2014.

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For the sixth year in a row, the best picture category will be the only one with a slate not restricted to five nominees (five is the minimum, ten the maximum), an experiment that seems, so far at least, to be an accepted success in its attempt to offer a more inclusive and — let’s face it — ratings-boosting lineup.

After several years in a row in which there were nine nominees competing for the ceremony’s most impactful golden statuette, this year there are eight.

So which movie will win the Oscar for best picture? And who will go home with the Oscar for best director?

Frankly, most of the nominated movies have only a slim chance of ending up with the Oscar.  But all will benefit commercially from the publicity and prestige attached to the high-profile process of being labeled “elite.”

That goes for Whiplash, the intense and riveting drumming drama from writer-director Damien Chazelle that received five nominations; The Grand Budapest Hotel, director Wes Anderson’s distinctively idiosyncratic Old World comedy that received nine nominations; The Imitation Game, the glowing tribute and period biodrama about the real-life cracking of the Nazis’ “Enigma” code from Norwegian director Morten Tyldum that received eight nominations; The Theory of Everything, the deeply affecting and inspiring romantic biography about physicist Stephen Hawking and Jane Wilde and their triumph over adversity that received five nominations; and Selma, director Ava DuVernay’s resonant and rewarding drama about the 1965 march through Alabama led by civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. that received two nominations.

As for American Sniper, director Clint Eastwood’s gritty and gripping combat drama about real-life sharpshooter Chris Kyle in Iraq that received six nominations, it is so far the most (and some would say the only) commercially successful nominee for best picture.

So, in a wildly improbable but not impossible scenario, it could squeak through and walk off with the Oscar if the two apparent vote-getting leaders were to split the vote.  But that would be a shocker.

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No, this year’s race is between the year’s two most audacious films, Birdman, with nine nominations, and Boyhood, with six.  Each is a unique moviemaking triumph.

Birdman, subtitled “The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance,” is Mexican director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarrito’s unforgettable dramedy about an actor staging and starring in a Broadway play as a way of regaining the spotlight.  Shot as if in one continuous take, this intense, insightful, and intricately layered burst of magical realism takes your breath away over and over again.

And Boyhood, writer-director Richard Linklater’s amazing cinematic experiment that was shot a few days a year for twelve years, chronicles the coming-of-age of a boy and the evolution of his nuclear family as we watch the performers and their characters actually age in this quietly astonishing and authentic capturing of the intersection of real life and reel life.

This one’s a coin flip, and don’t be surprised if the Academy finds a way to reward both films by handing out the best-director Oscar to the maker of the film that doesn’t win the best-picture Oscar.

COULD WIN: Boyhood (Richard Linklater)
SHOULD WIN: Birdman (Alejandro Gonzalez Inarrito)
WILL WIN: Birdman (Alejandro Gonzalez Inarrito)

The 87th Academy Awards show begins at 7pm Sunday, on ABC.
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