10. The Boxtrolls for Best Costume Design
I'm far from the first person to jump on this bandwagon, but how can I resist the idea of these immaculate miniature costumes being recognized? I've stumped for Coraline in Production Design and ParaNorman in Visual Effects, but the outfits of The Boxtrolls are a step above its Laika brethren.
9. Captain America: The Winter Soldier for Best Visual Effects
Marvel movies as a rule don't show up in this category unless they feature an Iron Man suit. And of the two Marvel movies on the bakeoff list, the space adventure Guardians of the Galaxy has a much better shot at the nomination. But I might prefer the slightly less fantastical -- but no less present -- effects work that made Captain America the summer's best action movie.
8. How to Train Your Dragon 2 for Best Sound Editing
The sound branch passed over the first Dragons movie in this category as well, and I'm of the opinion it should have won that year! Even though the dragons are incapable of human speech they have their own animal language, and the sound effects play a huge role in allowing us to buy into their unique form of communication.
7. Whiplash for Best Sound Mixing
It may not be a musical with singing actors and the works, but the incorporation of the music into the sound mix is such a huge part of the experience that is this movie. And not just the music, but even the non-musical sounds that the instruments make! It's just as vital a soundtrack as any bona fide musical to come out this year.
6. Keira Knightley for Best Actress
Speaking of musicals that came out this year, one that seems to keep getting overlooked is John Carney's Begin Again, which features a rich, beautifully naturalistic performance from Keira Knightley as a damaged soul with a talent worth sharing with the world. Her singing is effortless, relaxed, and communicates volumes about what her character is feeling.
5. Wild for Best Film Editing
Jean-Marc Vallee and Martin Pensa earned a hard-won nomination in this category last year for Dallas Buyers Club, and their collage of fragmented flashback images in this one is arguably even more of an accomplishment. Since Wild doesn't have any Best Picture heat (a crying shame, that), they are not likely to repeat, but they deserve it.
4. Ida for Best Cinematography
The ASC and the Academy's own cinematographers branch have always shown a willingness to give foreign titles a look when it comes to assessing the year's best photography (The Grandmaster being the most recent example). I'd be thrilled to see this beautifully framed movie earn the same kind of consideration.
3. Ralph Fiennes for Best Actor
This category is always a bloodbath, boasting more deserving contenders a year than it can possibly accommodate. It's tough to crack the final five no matter who you are, but it's even tougher if your performance is a comedic one. Fiennes makes it look so easy but this kind of role is hard. The fact that he seems so comfortable in this genre after being mostly noted for his dramatic efforts is a testament to his talent.
2. Foxcatcher for Best Production Design
The late 80s may be the most under-recognized period in this category (I'm not even sure if they would consider it old enough to be called "period"). But it's not the period accuracies that catch the eye so much as the the decor, which reveals its own side of the du Pont story in clever detail. A brilliant example of storytelling though design elements.
1. Song of the Sea AND Princess Kaguya for Best Animated Feature
Okay, so I'm being greedy with this one, but I recall a year when two GKIDS films sneaked into this category (remember Chico & Rita and A Cat in Paris?). In a year as weak as this, the animation branch has no excuse for omitting either of these exquisite works of art in favour of something as middling as Big Hero 6. I'm currently staying out on my limb in predicting both. Here's hoping!