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Saturday, January 17, 2015

Hype Starts Here's Top 50 Albums of 2014 (10-1)

10. Transgender Dysphoria Blues---Against Me!
        Who needs subtlety when you've got fire? Transgender Dysphoria Blues is a straight half hour of pure pop-punk rock goodness, an onslaught of Dookie-sized hooks and riffs that rage and delight. The title, as well as much of the album's content, is inspired by lead singer Laura Jane Grace's coming out as transgender in 2012, and the ensuing aftermath. The decision has obviously taken a toll on her, the LP's lyrics consumed with overbearing pessimism ("Even if you're love was unconditional/It still wouldn't be enough to save me"), barrier-marking ("There will always be a difference between me and you"), and perceived abuse from the male eye ("Your tells are so obvious/Shoulders too broad for a girl," "You've got no cunt in your struts/You've got no ass to shake"). The bluntness of her words can be a bit jarring, but that's the point; Grace's perspective on the world is one that's often ignored or deliberately avoided, and TDB gives her a platform to share aspects of her life's trials and tribulations without pulling any punches. You could look at it as brash socio-political stance-making, or simply enjoy the unique nature of her paradigm, but anyway you size it, there's no denying those riffs. Transgender Dysphoria Blues is not content to simply slip into the background; it demands that you to take notice.

9. Zaba---Glass Animals
        Zaba doesn't need explicit lyrics or naughty found sounds to get its point across; give it a whopping 20 seconds, and you'll know exactly what's on Glass Animals' mind. Everything here is hushed and seductive, from vocalist David Bayley's agonizingly patient delivery, down to the tropical-sounding percussion that drives much of the band's 45-minute-long come-on. There's a lot going on here, immediate influences ranging from Trip Hop, R&B, Electronica, Bedroom Pop, and Smooth Jazz, but what's more impressive than the simple inclusion of these many disparate sounds is how Zaba manages to reign them all into one singular identity. They may be the descendants of quite a few forefathers, but on their debut LP, Glass Animals combine their many influences into something strikingly original, and and unnervingly sexy. 
8. Stay Gold---First Aid Kit
        When The Lion's Roar came out in January of 2012, it was easy to think that First Aid Kit was already a fully formed commodity. The Swedish sisters Johanna and Klara Söderberg, respectively aged all of 21 and 18 at the time, had such a strong ear for melody, their twangy hymns both immediate and irrefutable. Stay Gold, however, sees the pair take yet another leap, crafting an album as robust with lovely sounds as it is with expert songwriting. Much of the credit goes to folksy super-producer Mike Mogis, a veteran of their last record who throws the kitchen sink at Stay Gold, adorning the Söderbergs' gloriously simple, intrinsic country ditties with enough strings, horns, percussion, and lesser-known instruments to populate a small nation. It's quite the trick, turning these modest songs into grandstanding, occasionally epic southern-tinged anthems whilst maintaining the core of what made them appealing in the first place. The Söderbergs' harmonies guide us through it all, their voices locking into one another with an unfettered perfection unthinkable to most mere mortals, massaging ear drums with their every golden note. Don't expect them to turn silver anytime soon.
7. St. Vincent---St. Vincent
        Annie Clark has no interest in being the exact artist you want her to be; if you desire to spend time with St. Vincent, you'll have to come to her, not the other way around. While previous Vincent records have made no buts about letting their freak flag fly, her 2014 LP dives furthest down into the deep end, locating both her identifiers and strengths, and doubling down on every last one. St. Vincent sounds huge, nearly every guitar refrain both crunchy and flammable, the percussion pronounced and punchy, the singer/songwriter's vivid, irregular lyrics brought further into the forefront than ever before. As strange as this sounds for a beloved artist now on her fourth album, the record plays like Clark's coming out party, so bold and brazen at every turn, and limitlessly varied in its sound. Digital Witness squeals and barks, Prince Johnny is deliciously weightless, and Bring Me Your Loves loses all semblance of sanity the second you press play... and, for good measure, is followed by a song entitled Psychopath. There's no denying that St. Vincent is a weirdo, but when she commits to following that singularly gonzo muse of her's, the results can be glorious.

6. I Never Learn---Lykke Li
        Need something really up-beat and cheerful to get you through the upcoming week? Then stay the hell away from I Never Learn! Lykke Li, no stranger to self doubt and discrimination, has never been this hard on herself before, the result of what the songstress herself describes as "the biggest break up of (her) life." Expunging the piss and vinegar of her earlier work, I Never Learn is the sound of a broken heart opening up, and spilling its contents out for the whole world to see, each track fearlessly over-the-top, a collection of unapologetic ballads drenched in gorgeous instrumentation and a steady, unshakeable sense of sadness. As powerfully gaudy as it is emotionally unsettling, I Never Learn is a break-up album for the ages, a half-hour long relationship dirge that's probably at home right now decked out in pajamas, and wolfing down ice cream. It's certainly not something you'd want to play on a summer afternoon, but I'll tell you this; every time the rain falls, I think of Lykke.
5. Here and Nowhere Else---Cloud Nothings
        Simply put, no 2014 album does as much damage in a mere half-hour as Here and Nowhere Else, eight straight tracks of punk rock snarl that see no need for stop signs, seat belts, or even speed limits. The band has undergone quite the makeover since 2010, when Cloud Nothings consisted solely of singer/songwriter Dylan Baldi, an expert pop-punker who positively needed drummer Jayson Gerycz's live wire percussion to get where he is now. Much of his foregrounded tunefulness has been abandoned in favor of spit-fire cadences and gritty mania, Just See Fear descending into a pit of grisly violence, Baldi nearly flaying his vocal chords near the end of Pattern Walks. All of this heedless tempo-revving and wanton aggression would lead us nowhere if not for the melodies that Baldi provides in almost covert fashion, he and Gerycz practically at war for band figurehead, the friction of their opposing strengths bringing out the best in thrilling fashion. What you see above is possibly the most ill-fitting album cover of the year; something tells me these guys would lay waste to this small, peaceful little town, leaving nothing behind but ruins and rock.

4. Broke with Expensive Taste---Azealia Banks
        Azealia Banks' debut LP, Broke with Expensive Taste, was released through itunes on November 6th, 2014, over three years after her first single, 212, exploded across the internet, setting her on a course for fame and fortune. Things didn't exactly work out as planned; the elongated lead-up cooled some interest, a silly Twitter beef or two shrunk her fan base, and the wily nature of the album itself ensured that #30 was the highest BwET ever reached on the Billboard Top 200, immediately falling all the way down to #105 in its second week of release. All I have to say is this: you guys are missing out. Banks flow is both swift and razor sharp, cramming words into impossibly tight spaces, rhymes bouncing off of each other with the ferocity and speed of bullets, but anyone who's heard 212 could have probably anticipated that. The real surprise here is the endless variety on hand, no two songs sounding quite alike in the album's lengthy hour-long runtime, resulting in one of those rare discs where the sonic possibilities seem literally limitless, as though anything could happen at any time. While this does lead to some pretty serious WTF?-ery (Nude Beach A-Go-Go), it also results in sudden blasts of sun-soaked pop (Soda), gangster jams tricked out with glitter (Ice Princess), sex-fueled hip-hop hop-scotch (Desperado) club-ready stompers (Heavy Metal and Reflective), and even bilingual, schizophrenic two-parters (Gimmie a Chance). Maybe the world isn't quite ready to embrace such a lewd, confident, wily, and ambitious female as a solo hip hop artist, but one spin of Broke with Expensive Taste, and you'll know that's their loss.
3. Turn Blue---The Black Keys
        If you'd have asked me around this time last year, I'm not sure I'd have even told you I like The Black Keys (seriously, check out the last paragraph of my El Camino review... bitter much?). Not only did Turn Blue completely re-shape my opinion on a band like no single album has since Swing Lo Magellan, it did so in record time, those introductory notes of Weight of Love at once both revelatory and familiar to the two-piece's sound. Everything here is so patient, from the stop-start tempo of psych rock confection Bullet in the Brain, to the groovy sway of the title track. I'm certainly not the only one to notice the change, the majority of critics and fans going the opposite direction, shading Turn Blue as a sleepy, less energetic offering. These charges might be true to the right ears, but to mine, this an enormous step in the right direction, an album that shakes off a good portion of the radio-ready gloss that's been caked onto their sound over the last several years in favor of a deeper, more expansive offering that plays front-to-back with a cohesion that would turn most bands green with envy. Past bangers like Tighten Up and Gold On the Ceiling brought you the goods on first listen, the immediacy of their pleasures arriving and departing like a sugar rush. Turn Blue is a main course by any measure, murky, brooding, and downright enveloping. 
2. They Want My Soul---Spoon
        Between Turn Blue and They Want My Soul, 2014 might have to go down as the year of me eating my words. While I've never possessed any real venom for Spoon, their songs often struck me as either one-note or boringly safe, a pair of charges TWMS erases to such an extent, I wonder if I've been wrong about these guys all along. The eighth album in this band's sneakily prolific career, They Want My Soul is the dictionary definition of 'all-killer, no-filler,' a ten-pack of masterfully constructed alt rock stunners who's only true unifying theme is an extremely lofty level of quality. Sometimes they rock (Rent I Pay, Outlier), sometimes they pine (I Just Don't Understand, New York Kiss), sometimes they swoon (Inside Out, Do You), and sometimes they sway (Rainy Taxi, Let Me Be Mine); the only thing Spoon really fails to do here is write a bad song. It's hard speak in length about They Want My Soul for the very same reason it's difficult to give elongated descriptions of perfectly sunny days, or adorably cute pets; its charms are all right there for you to hear, residing front and center, ready to be indulged in over and over again.
1. Familiars---The Antlers
        "You were simpler, you were lighter/when we thought like we were kids/like a weightless, hate-less animal/beautifully oblivious before you were hid/inside the stranger you grew into/as you learned to disconnect."

        Not everyone truly knows themselves. Scratch that: almost no one truly knows themselves. It's a problem that has obviously been kicking around in the brain of Antlers' figurehead Peter Silberman for quite a while now, the fashion in which the many versions of ourselves wage war inside us, our purest forms sometimes losing the battle. It's a theme that led the band to leave much of their established sonics behind them, creating the very weightless, hate-less animal that Silberman breaths ravishing life into on opener Palace. Familiars likely won't impress anybody on the first go-around; the disc is too languid, too strange, and too of-a-piece with itself to jump out of speakers or head phones right away. It's a grower in a way that very few albums are, its thorny ideas about death, life, self, and singularity revealing themselves slowly, floating around in a crystal-clear pool of resplendent guitars, breezy horns, and Silberman's remarkable, ghostly croon. His voice is one of the most underrated things happening in music today, able stretch out into a painfully beautiful falsetto, contort into something warped and haunting, and bring you to the verge of tears with a single syllable. It paints in vivid colors along the enormous, echoing canvas of Intruders, reaches for the heavens on the aforementioned Palace, and even rocks you to sleep on Surrender. Upon the release of 2011's Burst Apart, I gave up hope for The Antlers ever returning to the dizzying heights of their heart-breaking masterpiece Hospice, but with Familiars, they game the system for the better, returning with an almost unrecognizable sound. Their new-fangled, down-down-down-tempo trappings take you to another world, one soaked in radiant majesty, lorded over by one of the most astounding singers you'll ever hear. Familiars is a journey from captivity to freedom, traversing the many factions and crevices of doubt, fear, and futility found inside all of us, and triumphantly breaking free. What more could you ask from the best album of 2014?

Hype Starts Here's Top 50 Albums of 2014:

Hype Starts Here's Top 100 Songs of 2014:

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Hype Starts Here's Top 100 Songs of 2014 (10-1)

10. Gooey---Glass Animals
        The charms and specific pleasures of Gooey, like most everything Glass Animals does, are hard to put a finger on. After all, how do you explain to someone that a track that name-drops Pooh Bear is the year's sexiest without just playing it for them? From an opening that's so hushed you almost have to stick your earbuds further in to hear it, Gooey slowly adds pillow-soft pieces to its suddenly expansive mix, a myriad of electronic bleeps and bloops that glitter and seduce as they sneakily fill up the room. Band leader Dave Bayley's every word sounds like a secret being whispered in your ear, an unthinkably intimate performance of lyrics that are either complete and utter nonsense, or deeply knotted code describing a wellspring of lust, and just a few ideas on how to exorcise it. A nocturnal tune best suited for behind closed doors, Gooey puts Glass Animals on the map in a way where it's hard to see them falling off anytime soon.
8. *tie* 
An Ocean Between the Waves---The War On Drugs, and 
Red Eyes---The War On Drugs

        I was trying to avoid ties... I swear, I really was. This is one of two you'll find in my top ten, and while the other got clumped together because of my complete inability to rank one above the others, this two-pack of The War On Drugs winners is impossible to break up by virtue of their similarities. The two most caffeinated tracks one an album that, to my mind, could have stood to chug another Red Bull or two, Red Eyes plays out like the radio-ready version of Ocean's epic slow-burn build. A remarkably brisk 5 minutes that probably caused more than a few people to subconsciously lean harder on the gas whenever it graced the airwaves, Eyes is an astonishing Tom Petty banger, fitted with ascending verses and explosive choruses, shouting defiance and mistrust toward a lover who would, "beat it down to get to (lead singer Adam Granduciel's) soul." Ocean is much more interested in lighting up concert halls than Alternative Rock charts, a 7+ minute foray into all manner of six string righteousness, Charlie Hall's speedy, steady drumming locked in at the same tempo all the while, propping up 2014's single greatest rock song. Or is that Red Eyes? I can't decide, so I won't. The moral of the story is this: if you want to write a towering, irrefutable slab of rock 'n' roll, you should probably shout "Whew!" somewhere along the way. 

5. *tie* 
Parade---The Antlers, 
Director---The Antlers, and 
Intruders---The Antlers

          I know, I know, I know, but seriously, could you pick between your children? Leaving just about any song from Familiars off of my top 100 tracks was like pulling teeth, and now you want me to deny two of these three their claim to being the true album highlight? Sorry, folks, I just can't do it; all three just bring such different things to the table. If you're looking to head-bang, The Antlers' 2014 LP has allotted exactly one of its 53+ minutes to your cause, but what a ravishing rock out it is. It occurs at the conclusion on Director, a song that seems to waft weightlessly about in the air until it suddenly comes crashing down like a ton of bricks, with guitars that sing, drums that pound, and symbols that crash as though the world may be ending that very second. It's preceded on the album by Intruders, which takes an extremely different path to glory, wiggling about in its oddly bewitching nighttime sheen as vocalist Peter Silberman lyrics tell a story of inner turmoil through the lens of battling a doppelgänger. Nothing explodes, and the tempo largely refuses to budge, allowing the strife in Silberman's voice to take over, the troubadour engaging in all-out war fare with the unsightly parts of his subconscious. This latent anxiety is nowhere to be found on Parade, a song that might have a few lingering dark thoughts in its expensive brain, but still manages to play out like the very celebration of its title. Its autumnal sway grabs you from the very start, positively dripping with yesteryear romance, but its that horn section, a defining feature throughout the entirety of Familiars, that truly brings us home, blowing regal notes into the air as the song ends in defiant triumph. I'll let you figure out how to rank them against each other, because I just can't do it.

4. Never Catch Me---Flying Lotus feat. Kendrick Lamar
        Flying Lotus and Kendrick Lamar have one primary thing in common; they like to go fast. Sure, Steven Ellison's lightning speed sound world is capable of slowing it down from time to time, and at this point in his career, I'm not sure there's anything Lamar can't do, but what makes Never Catch Me so exhilarating is the manner in which the two artists both challenge and bring out the best in each other. "I can see the darkness in me and it's quite amazing/Life and death is no mystery and I wanna taste it," Lamar declares as the song opens, his lone verse exploring that unknowable place between this world and the next, his ruminations proving just as beautiful and captivating as his flow is mesmerizing. The beat that FlyLow enshrouds him in is a jazzy, lithe little thing... until Thundercat's guitar busts the thing open right as Lamar's verse ends, turning our journey to the afterlife into a whirlwind of gorgeous chaos, pulling you into another dimension. One of the most unique, thoughtful, and celebratory songs about death you're likely to ever hear.
Close Your Eyes (and Count to Fuck)---Run the Jewels feat. Zack De La Rocha

        "We killin' them for freedom cause they tortured us for boredom/And even if some good ones die, fuck it, the Lord'll sort 'em."

        Oh, dear god...

        This pair of lines, uttered by Killer Mike as the MC attempts to incite a prison riot, is among the most brutal lyrics I've ever heard, but Close Your Eyes isn't exactly a song striving for either nuance or fairness. Run The Jewels 2's lead single is the most violent, nasty thing on the year's most violent, nasty album, a raging battle cry against the injustice endlessly perpetrated against the impoverished and incarcerated. The specifics of Mike and El-P's pro-manslaughter epic make the listener more than a little queasy, but the power of their anger, and the truly disgusting real-world events that serve as kindling to its fire, is awe-inspiring, intimidating stuff. One would have to go as far back as Rage Against the Machine to witness this level militant rebellion goading, which is probably why they invited that band's lead singer to close out the track, De La Rocha breathing fire as he spits his verse. It all takes place atop the most savage, exciting hip hop beat of 2014, a barrel of gunpowder set ablaze by the remorseless sentiments of all three rappers. Most rhyme-sayers have become less violent since hip-hop's 90's heyday, but Run the Jewels can't be bothered with the pulling of punches; their ferocity and insolence will be heard, wether you like it or not. 

Collard Greens---Schoolboy Q feat. Kendrick Lamar

        This right here is just party jam goodness, plain and simple, and while this genre usually lacks the gumption or staying power to be one of the year's best, Collards Greens is in some pretty damn rarified air. The track wastes no time in getting the people going, ripping open fleet bass drum and symbol interplay that's punctuated by snare drum pops, a beat that could pry movement out of a statue. That steady chug is the song's beating heart, but the arms, legs, and head of this beast are made up of the MC's who share the track. Quite easily the finest moment of Schoolboy Q's career so far, the outed lothario neglects proper flow in favor of a punchy, bouncy cadence, committing to mindless house party rambunctiousness straight away, opening his first verse by commanding, "Smoke this, drink this/Straight to my liver." A quick word of advice though; if you're really trying to make it to the big time, maybe don't let Kendrick Lamar steal your show right out from under you? He delivers his most memorable guest verse since Control, giving into the gravitational pull of all this gaudy incautiousness with lines like, "I'm famous/I blame this on you," and, "Biiache! This your favorite song." It's relentlessly chest-puffing and sophomoric, and yet somehow sounds just as natural coming out of his mouth as those aforementioned ruminations on the afterlife. The guy is just plain special, and so is this song, 5 minutes of pure indulgence that should be required listening at every game of beer pong or flip cup played nationwide.

Weight of Love---The Black Keys

        In a lot of ways, I kind of feel like The Black Keys have been leading up to this song their whole career, but it was still shocking when, early last May, we finally heard them get there. Auerbach and Carney obviously take much of their inspiration from the musical stylings of yesteryear, but the degree to which they've previously foregrounded their sound has rendered a true trip to the past impossible. To boot, this kind of slow-burn-into-explosion structure has foiled them before, mistaking leaps in volume with a proper sonic journey. Something drastic must have happened between 2011's El Camino and now, because literally none of the accusations listed above could be leveled against Weight of Love, a song that takes its sweet time, grows with swagger and mystery that are impossible to turn away from, and then, when the time is right, explodes like a damn volcano. It's classic rock on a level that would make the canonical greats smile, that thumping bass sneaking around in the background, the echoing, reverberating guitar, those sublimely salty kiss-off lyrics. The boys have unlocked the secret of 'waaait foor iit' rock; crafting choruses that are immersive enough that you not only don't mind waiting for the big finish, but might even prefer the anticipation. This is an Accomplishment with a capital A, the very best song ever produced by America's biggest current rock band.

Hype Starts Here's Top 50 Albums of 2014:

Hype Starts Here's Top 100 Songs of 2014:

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Oscar Predictions 2014: Round 3 (Final Nomination Predictions)

Best Picture:
1. Boyhood (Previous Ranking: 2)
        There's literally nothing against this movie getting in for Picture. Just try and find a scenario where it misses out on the big one. I'll be waiting...
2. Birdman (Previous Ranking: 1)
        Ditto everything above, only for a movie I don't really expect to win Best Picture.
3. The Grand Budapest Hotel (Previous Ranking: 17)
        I can't remember ever being as surprised by a late season groundswell of affection as I am here. Game and Theory have been virtual locks for as long as I can remember, but with SAG, DGA, PGA, WGA, and BAFTA all going nuts over this movie, you'd be silly to think it ranks anywhere below the five spot. For my money, it's even a little higher than that.
4. The Imitation Game (Previous Ranking: 3)
        The only thing that could stop this from happening is a certain type of laziness from the voters who might assume it's a lock, and steer their support toward a less likely film. In other words, this is happening.
5. The Theory of Everything (Previous Ranking: 4)
        I'm so sick of this and Game always being lumped together, but here it is again. Everything you read above applies here as well.
6. American Sniper (Previous Ranking: 19)
        Ug... so this is probably happening. AS has its detractors, but with PGA, WGA, and (somewhat stunningly) DGA behind it, Clint Eastwood's eight-year absence from nomination morning is likely over.
7. Selma (Previous Ranking: 5)
        And to think this might have had a shot at winning the whole thing... Selma has come on ridiculously late, a lack of screeners costing it guild nominations across the board. It was a no-show at PGA, DGA, WGA, SAG, and BAFTA (even typing that was brutal), but the fact that so few had even seen the film seems like a valid excuse, and that 99% on Rotten Tomatoes doesn't exactly hurt either.
8. Gone Girl (Previous Ranking: 9)
        The biggest hit of David Fincher's career also cleaned up at the guilds. The salacious nature of the product gives me pause, but literally NOTHING else does.
9. Nightcrawler (Previous Ranking: Unranked)
        If you'd have told me this could happen a month ago, I would have laughed in your face. After seeing it pop up at PGA, WGA, and SAG, it's a hell of a lot tougher to ignore. Even with its many certifications, it's still tough to ACTUALLY see this one sliding into the big race.
By no means am I confident that we'll have 9 nominees (as of 2012, Oscar nominates anywhere between five and ten films for Best Picture of the year), but seeing as we've literally only seen this exact number every year since the rule change, predicting 9 just feels safe.
10. Whiplash (Previous Ranking: 14)
        But it's so liiittle. Critics love it, the guilds showed Whiplash some love, and J.K. Simmons' position atop the Supporting Actor race means just about ever academy member will be checking this one out. I just can't help but think it's too tiny.
11. Foxcatcher (Previous Ranking: 6)
        Bennett Miller has directed three movies, and his first two both competed for Best Picture. His track record is obviously stainless, and that PGA nod keeps this one alive. Too bad it has next to nothing else going for it.
12. Unbroken (Previous Ranking: 7)
        Sure, critics didn't exactly gush over Unbroken, but audiences did, and Academy members are rumored to side more with the latter group. The whole 'rewarding Angelina Jolie' subplot could also be a factor.
13. A Most Violent Year (Previous Ranking: 10)
        J.C. Chandor's first couple films both competed for Oscars, and Year is said to be his most ambitious yet. Similar to Selma (though on a MUCH more modest level), I'd have more faith if it'd came out a little bit sooner. 
14. Mr. Turner (Previous Ranking: 18)
        98% on Rotten Tomatoes, and you STILL can't convince anybody to come out and see your movie? I'm still imagining Philomena Part 2, wherein the british voting block is powerful enough to force what looks like a goner into the BP race, though with Game and Theory both still on the table, they'll likely find another way to celebrate their countrymen.
15. Into the Woods (Previous Ranking: 8)
        It didn't land with a whole lot of force, but if they want a musical, this is their only choice.
16. Interstellar (Previous Ranking: 12)
        Same as above, only scratch off 'musical,' and replace it with 'big effects-driven blockbuster.'
17. Inherent Vice (Previous Ranking: 15)
        If this didn't have Paul Thomas Anderson's name attached, it wouldn't even sniff the top 20. As is, you have to keep it on your radar incase there's some serious PTA love amongst the Academy.
18. Fury (Previous Ranking: 16)
        If they want war, but don't want Unbroken, the road ends here.
19. Still Alice (Previous Ranking: 13)
        For some of the season's lesser players, getting your movie seen is half the battle. Julianne Moore's frontrunner status in the Best Actress race ensures this one will at least have a chance.
20. Big Eyes (Previous Ranking: Unranked)
        How much do we love Burton, Adams, and period aesthetic?

Best Director:
1. Richard Linklater---Boyhood (Previous Ranking: 2)
        This is the kind of treatment you get when you're film is supposed to win Best Picture.
2. Alejandro González Iñárritu---Birdman (Previous Ranking: 1)
        A previous nominee whom Oscar will be excited to welcome back for this splashy showbiz tale.
3. Wes Anderson---The Grand Budapest Hotel (Previous Ranking: Unranked)
        It's likely finally upon us; Wes Anderson's first appearance in the Best Director race. If they really like Grand Budapest as much as it seems, a huge reason has to be Anderson's loud direction.
4. Morten Tyldum---The Imitation Game (Previous Ranking: 3)
        Tyldum has been hanging on for dear life for what seems like months now, but that DGA nomination should be enough to get it.
5. Clint Eastwood---American Sniper (Previous Ranking: Unranked)
        I hate myself for doing this, but if the DGA has him in their five, I fear the Academy will follow suit.
6. Ava DuVernay---Selma (Previous Ranking: 5)
        I still think she's got an excellent shot, but with Selma getting skunked all through guild season, I'll play it safe, and stick with the DGA's five.
7. James Marsh---The Theory of Everything (Previous Ranking: 4)
        When your film is almost assured to fight for Best Picture, your name stays on this list.
8. David Fincher---Gone Girl (Previous Ranking: 9)
        They certainly love Fincher enough to do this, but do they love Gone Girl?
9. Bennett Miller---Foxcatcher (Previous Ranking: 6)
        Miller has directed two feature films before this one, and they were both Best Picture nominees. They might just really respond to his stuff.
10. Damien Chazelle---Whiplash (Previous Ranking: Unranked)
        Your token 'hip young filmmaker' aspirant, I don't like Whiplash's chances as much as some, and by extension, can't get too bullish about Chazelle.

Best Actor:
1. Michael Keaton---Birdman (Previous Ranking: 1)
        Respected industry veteran who finally got a big juicy roll, and sunk his teeth into it. Keaton is a lock.
2. Eddie Redmayne---The Theory of Everything (Previous Ranking: 2)
        How to get an Oscar nomination; play a legendary genius suffering through physical decay in a movie that's in the hunt for Picture. How could he miss?
3. Benedict Cumberbatch---The Imitation Game (Previous Ranking: 3)
        No physical decay, but otherwise this is pretty much Redmayne 2.0.
4. David Oyelowo---Selma (Previous Ranking: 4)
        I'm awfully tempted to leave him off, but even a SAG snub isn't as powerful as playing Martin Luther frickin' King in a widely beloved film.
5. Jake Gyllenhaal---Nightcrawler (Previous Ranking: Unranked)
        The surprise run of awards season love for Nightcrawler simply wouldn't have happened if not for Gyllenhaal. He's the best part of a movie that's picking up steam, and I think they'll reward him for it.
6. Steve Carell---Foxcatcher (Previous Ranking: 5)
        He got SAG, but if I'm sticking with Oyelowo, I have to drop somebody, and his reported lack of screen time makes him the most likely victim.
7. Ralph Fiennes---The Grand Budapest Hotel (Previous Ranking: 10)
        This feels sooo likely, Fiennes riding in on the Budapest love fest that has been sweeping the guilds. He's been a virtual no-show all precursor season, so we'll keep him down here, but don't sleep on Ralph.
8. Bradley Cooper---American Sniper (Previous Ranking: Unranked)
        Oscar obviously has some fondness for B-Coops, and this would mark his third nomination in as many years. It's a crowded field, but if American Sniper shows up in a big way, watch out.
9. Timothy Spall---Mr. Turner (Previous Ranking: 8)
        This is the 'how much does the British voting block really matter?' slot, plain and simple. If Mr. Turner can shock in picture, then this could happen too.
10. Ellar Coltrane---Boyhood (Previous Ranking: Unranked)
        If I'm taking a flyer on someone, give me the face of the Best Picture frontrunner, giving a performance that's largely incomparable to any other in the history of film.

Best Actress:
1. Julianne Moore---Still Alice (Previous Ranking: 1)
        I expected Still Alice to pick up a little more heat by now, but this is such a dull race that Moore hardly needs her film to be loved. She's one of the most overdue thespians in the industry, here playing a woman suffering from dementia; will someone just hand her the statue already?
2. Rosamund Pike---Gone Girl (Previous Ranking: 4)
        Moore is our only lock here, but if I'm stepping into uncharted territory, I'm doing it with the actress with the meatiest role.
3. Felicity Jones---The Theory of Everything (Previous Ranking: 2)
        It's been common knowledge that she's getting in for so long, one wonders if she could be omitted out of sheer boredom. Still, she's the only actress here from a film likely to compete in other major categories, and Oscar does love his supportive wives.
4. Jennifer Aniston---Cake (Previous Ranking: Unranked)
        You CANNOT tell me that the Academy wouldn't love to see a dolled-up Jen Aniston sauntering around on Oscar sunday. No one even likes her movie, but with a SAG nomination and some weak competition, this could almost get in on concept alone.
5. Resse Witherspoon---Wild (Previous Ranking: 3)
        Why is Reese stuck down here? Because I have specific reasons to like the odds of everyone listed above her, and as a former winner, she's be the easiest omission.
6. Amy Adams---Big Eyes (Previous Ranking: 6)
        She's Amy Adams, Oscar's golden child, recipient of five nominations in the last nine years (including four in the last six). Who cares if no one saw her movie?
7. Emily Blunt---Into the Woods (Previous Ranking: 5)
        Blunt's been an up-and-comer for the last million years. Will a musical do the trick?
8. Hilary Swank---The Homesman (Previous Ranking: 7)
        Word is she's been campaigning like hell, which, sadly, is something that actually matters. With two golden men already in her trophy case at home, there's little question as to how Oscar feels about Swank.
9. Marion Cotillard---Two Days, One Night (Previous Ranking: Unranked)
        Truth be told, this is an eight-horse race. Cotillard gives another lauded performance in a foreign film; how has that worked out for her since La Vie En Rose?
10. Scarlett Johansson---Under the Skin (Previous Ranking: Unranked)
        Pretty much just wishful thinking, but I'll justify my inclusion by arguing that few performances are likely to inspire as passionate a response as this one.

Best Supporting Actor:
1. Edward Norton---Birdman (Previous Ranking: 1)
        Remember, these are nomination predictions. Assuming the five listed below is more or less correct, I'll move Norton down first thing tomorrow, but there is some crazy world where I could see Simmons, Hawke or Ruffalo each missing. No such world exists for Norton; he's in.
2. J.K. Simmons---Whiplash (Previous Ranking: 2)
        Our presumptive frontrunner in the category, Simmons will probably win in the end, but the tiny nature of his film leaves the door slightly ajar for something shocking to happen tomorrow morning.
3. Ethan Hawke---Boyhood (Previous Ranking: 4)
        He gives a touchingly earnest performance in a movie that took 12 years to make, and will probably win Best Picture. This seems pretty safe.
4. Mark Ruffalo---Foxcatcher (Previous Ranking: 3)
        This race is so damn thin this year that, even with Foxcatcher's strength potentially waining as the season goes on, Ruffalo's name NEVER left this list. The top four feel fairly untouchable.
5. Steve Carell---Foxcatcher (Previous Ranking: Unranked)
        All right, time to get crazy. SAG went with Duvall here, as did the Globes, but with an early release, mixed reviews, and a track record of falling short at the last second, I just can't do it. I know Carell is being pushed as a lead actor, but with BAFTA slotting him in the supporting race, we already know for a fact that certain Academy members are willing to vote this way. There's little evidence that such a drastic change-up could happen at the last possible second, but outside of Duvall, this race is dead as a doornail. I'll give it a shot!
6. Robert Duvall---The Judge (Previous Ranking: Unranked)
        See above.
7. Josh Brolin---Inherent Vice (Previous Ranking: 6)
        Time to grasp at straws! Brolin's supposedly the best part of IV, and if there's an unexpected PTA fest tomorrow morning, this could conceivably happen.
8. Christoph Waltz---Big Eyes (Previous Ranking: Unranked)
        He's already a two time winner with only two nominations to his name. This guy is Oscar catnap.
9. Tom Wilkinson---Selma (Previous Ranking: 5)
        In case Selma goes off tomorrow morning.
10. Riz Ahmed---Nightcrawler (Previous Ranking: Unranked)
        In case they REALLY love Nightcrawler.

Best Supporting Actress:
1. Patricia Arquette---Boyhood (Previous Ranking: 1)
        Supportive and ever-suffering single mother played by a respected, overdue actress who spent 12 years working on the biggest film in the contest. Let's bet the house on Arquette.
2. Emma Stone---Birdman (Previous Ranking: 3)
        She's been cited by every precursor known to man, and is a big reason why Birdman takes flight. Why wouldn't she end up on the shortlist?
3. Meryl Streep---Into the Woods (Previous Ranking: 6)
        Dude... it's Meryl Streep. She could get in for eating a sandwich, and here she's singing?!? When Streep wants in, she gets in.
4. Kiera Knightly---The Imitation Game (Previous Ranking: 5)
        I don't feel as good about her as the three listed above, but she's shown up just as often, and appears in a probable Best Picture nominee.
5. Jessica Chastain---A Most Violent Year (Previous Ranking: 2)
        Simple logic would dictate that if they're ignoring Year literally everywhere else, it might not have the juice to get a major nomination. Problem is, they love Chastain, and I have next to no faith in anyone listed below.
6. Rene Russo---Nightcrawler (Previous Ranking: Unranked)
        As with all things Nightcrawler, this is a game of wait and see. That BAFTA nomination sure helps.
7. Naomi Watts---St. Vincent (Previous Ranking: Unranked)
        I would be pretty stunned to see this happen, but I was pretty stunned when I saw her pop up at SAG, so what else is new?
8. Carmen Ejogo---Selma (Previous Ranking: 4)
        I'd love to put the actress who's being praised for her performance as Coretta Scott King a little higher up, but where has she been all season? No love from virtually any of the precursors.
9. Carrie Coon---Gone Girl (Previous Ranking: 9)
        Some say she's the single best part of Gone Girl. There's always at least one left field thespian who hears their name called on nomination morning; why not Coon?
10. Laura Dern---Wild (Previous Ranking: 8)
        We haven't heard much from this camp in a little while, but when in doubt, opt for the actress who plays a loving mother dying of cancer. Man, Oscar has some strange attitudes toward women...

Best Original Screenplay:
1. Alejandro González Iñárritu, Nicolas Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, and Armando Bo---Birdman (Previous Ranking: 1)
2. Richard Linklater---Boyhood (Previous Ranking: 3)
3. Wes Anderson and Hugo Guinness---The Grand Budapest Hotel
4. Paul Webb---Selma (Previous Ranking: 2)
5. Dan Gilroy---Nightcrawler (Previous Ranking: Unranked)
6. Dan Futterman and E. Max Frye---Foxcatcher (Previous Ranking: 4)
7. J.C. Chandor---A Most Violent Year (Previous Ranking: 5)
8. Mike Leigh---Mr. Turner (Previous Ranking: 9)
9. Dan Hageman, Kevin Hageman, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller---The LEGO Movie (Previous Ranking: Unranked)
10. Ira Sachs---Love Is Strange (Previous Ranking: Unranked)

Best Adapted Screenplay:
1. Graham Moore and Andrew Hodges---The Imitation Game (Previous Ranking: 1)
2. Anthony McCarten---The Theory of Everything (Previous Ranking: 2)
3. Jason Hall, Chris Kyle, Scott McEwen, and James Defelice---American Sniper (Previous Ranking: Unranked)
4. Gillian Flynn---Gone Girl (Previous Ranking: 2)
5. Damien Chazelle---Whiplash (Previous Ranking: 6)
6. Joel and Ethan Coen, William Nicholson, and Richard LaGravense---Unbroken (Previous Ranking: 3)
7. Nick Hornby and Cheryl Strayed---Wild (Previous Ranking: 6)
8. James Gunn, Nicole Perlman, Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning---Guardians of the Galaxy (Previous Ranking: Unranked)
9. Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland---Still Alice (Previous Ranking: 5)
10. Paul Thomas Anderson---Inherent Vice (Previous Ranking: 8)

Best Foreign Feature:
1. Ida
2. Leviathan
3. Force Majeure
4. Wild Tales
5. Tangerines

Best Documentary:
1. CitizenFour
2. Life Itself
3. Finding Vivian Maier
4. Virunga
5. Last Days in Vietnam

Best Animated Feature:
1. The LEGO Movie
2. The Boxtrolls
3. Big Hero 6
4. How to Train Your Dragon 2
5. The Book of Life

Best Editing:
1. Douglas Crise and Stephen Mirrione---Birdman
2. Sandra Adair---Boyhood
3. William Goldenberg---The Imitation Game
4. Kirk Baxter---Gone Girl
5. Joel Cox and Gary Roach---American Sniper

Best Cinematography:
1. Emmanuel Lubezki---Birdman
2. Robert Yeoman---The Grand Budapest Hotel
3. Oscar Faura---The Imitation Game
4. Roger Deakins---Unbroken
5. Tom Stern---American Sniper

Best Score:
1. Jóhann Jóhannsson---The Theory of Everything
2. Alexandre Desplat---The Grand Budapest Hotel
3. Alexandre Desplat---The Imitation Game
4. Hans Zimmer---Interstellar
5. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross---Gone Girl

Best Original Song:
1. Everything is Awesome---The LEGO Movie
2. Yellow Flicker Beat---The Hunger Games, Mockingjay: Part 1
3. Glory---Selma
4. Mercy Is---Noah
5. Lost Stars---Begin Again

Best Production Design:
1. Adam Stockhausen---The Grand Budapest Hotel
2. Dennis Gassner---Into the Woods
3. Maria Djurkovic---The Imitation Game
4. John Paul Kelly---The Theory of Everything
5. Nathan Crowley---Interstellar

Best Costume Design:
1. Colleen Atwood---Into the Woods
2. Milena Canonero---The Grand Budapest Hotel
3. Sammy Sheldon Differ---The Imitation Game
4. Anna B. Sheppard and Jane Clive---Maleficent
5. Steven Noble---The Theory of Everything

Best Make-up and Hairstyling:
1. Jan Sewell and Lesley Smith---The Theory of Everything
2. Bill Corso and Dennis Liddiard---Foxcathcer
3. David White---Guardians of the Galaxy

Best Special Effects:
1. Joe Letteri, Ryan Stafford, Matt Kutcher, Dan Lemmon and Hannah Blanchini---Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
2. Paul Franklin, Kevin Elam, Ann Podlozny, Andrew Lockley and Scott Fisher---Interstellar
3. Stephane Ceretti, Susan Pickett, Jonathan Fawkner, Nicolas Aithadi and Paul Corbould---Guardians of the Galaxy
4. Carey Villegas, Barrie Hemsley, Adam Valdez, Kelly Port and Michael Dawson---Maleficent
5. Joe Letteri, David Conley, Eric Saindon, Kevin Sherwood and Steve Ingram---The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies

Best Sound Editing:
1. Interstellar
2. American Sniper
3. Gone Girl
4. Godzilla
5. Unbroken

Best Sound Mixing:
1. Interstellar
2. American Sniper
3. Birdman
4. Into the Woods
5. Godzilla