Best Animated Feature
Big Hero 6
How to Train Your Dragon 2
The LEGO Movie
The Tale of Princess Kaguya
Other Contenders - The Book of Life, Song of the Sea, Rio 2, Henry & Me, Mr. Peabody & Sherman, The Penguins of Madagascar
Commentary - So I think there are four contenders ready to go. Big Hero 6, How to Train Your Dragon 2, and The LEGO Movie are the leaders here, and I suspect it will come down to one of those three. The Boxtrolls has a unique animation approach compared to its contenders and has done well on the circuit. The fifth film in most of these cases has been The Book of Life, which does have a lot of big names behind it, and could easily get in. But we have all seen these animators go out on a limb time and time again, so I think that The Tale of Princess Kaguya, a critical favorite that is gorgeously animated with get a lot of attention from this voting block and slip into that fifth slot. Also watch out for Song of the Sea, if for no other reason than remember how shocked we all were when The Secret of Kells was announced.
Best Foreign Language Film
Force Majeure (Sweden)
Wild Tales (Argentina)
Other Contenders - The Liberator (Venezuela), Tangerines (Estonia), Accused (The Netherlands), Corn Island (Georgia)
Commentary - Ida, Leviathan, and Force Majeure have been splitting most of the Foreign Language prizes across critics groups, meaning they have been seen by a lot of folks, and have a lot of buzz. The Liberator has gotten some buzz, and Tangerines was a surprise Golden Globe nominee. But I think the last two slots are for Wild Tales, which apparently is incredibly entertaining, and Timbuktu, which has gotten a lot of positive press. The problem with this group is that there are almost always surprises, and there are not enough precursors that tell us how this specific group is going to vote. You never know what is going to happen...
Best Documentary Feature
The Case Against 8
Keep On Keepin' On
Other Contenders - Virunga, Last Days in Vietnam, The Salt of the Earth, Tales of the Grim Sleeper, Art and Craft, Finding Vivian Maier, Citizen Koch, Jodorowsky's Dune, The Internet's Own Boy
Commentary - This is a really deep category this year, as it has been for the last couple of years. This is yet another group that does not have a lot of great precursors. The ones you think of like the PGA and the WGA have not been great predictors of the nominees in the past. I do know this, that the race for the win is between CitizenFour and Life Itself, and the winner will be determined by whether voters are in the mood for the feel good one (Life Itself) or the politically topical one (CitizenFour). But the last three slots are tricky. I would love to see Art and Craft and Finding Vivian Maier in the mix, but I just think they are not quite strong enough. Virunga and Last Days in Vietnam are also potent potentials. But I see the music filled Keep On Keepin On, the passionate and brilliant Overnighters, and the prevalent The Case Against 8 making it in instead. Like I said though, this is a category to watch for in terms of surprises, although among the finalists there is not a weak one in the bunch, so really anything can happen.