Will Win - Emmanuel Lubezki "Birdman"
Could Win - Robert Yeoman "The Grand Budapest Hotel"
Should Win - Roger Deakins "Unbroken"
Commentary - Obviously, Emmanuel Lubezki's work in Birdman is the best of the bunch, and I presume that he will easily win the ASC tomorrow night (for the record if something else suddenly wins, I will take a second look here). I don't think that voters care he won last year, and Birdman is also clearly beloved by the industry, including the craft guilds/branches. I would be incredibly surprised if it didn't take at least one technical honor at the Oscars. So who can beat Lubezki? Honestly, of the bunch, it is probably Yeoman for The Grand Budapest Hotel, another film that is beloved among the craft folks, and deservedly so. So who would I choose? Since Lubezki just won last year, and Bradford Young was not among the nominees, the obvious choice to be is Roger Deakins. I know the industry, critics, and actually most fans weren't incredibly fond of Unbroken, but his work is superb. And most importantly, it is a black mark on the Academy's record that this legend is still Oscar-less.
Best Production Design
Will Win - The Grand Budapest Hotel
Could Win - Interstellar or Into the Woods
Should Win - The Grand Budapest Hotel
Commentary - This award, like its costume design counterpart, tends to go for the flashiest of the bunch. So watch out for Into the Woods (Rob Marshall movies do well here. Of the three films he has had nominated here two of them, Memoirs of a Geisha and Chicago have won). And if they are going to go for the Hugo/Avatar film that combines actual art and set direction with digital production design, then Interstellar is also one that could triumph. But the ADG and the BAFTA have spoken, and a flashy, yet wonderfully bold winner will probably emerge in the form of The Grand Budapest Hotel. What I love about this prospect is because not only is it excellent work, but because the production design was so intrinsic to the success of the film, and to the plot and its characters. It is exactly the type of work that the Academy should be honoring.
Best Visual Effects
Will Win - Interstellar
Could Win - Dawn of the Planet of the Apes or Guardians of the Galaxy
Should Win - Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Commentary - For the first time in a long time, this is an actual race to the finish. Usually this one is so locked up come Oscar night there is not even a second place contender that has a shot in hell of upsetting. This year, I see a three-way race that all depends on how the Academy views its contenders. If they want to go with groundbreaking visual effects, then Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is the best of the bunch. But they missed the boat the first time around, and it has no other nominations in any category. Guardians of the Galaxy would be an interesting and worthy choice, and it honors a film that was a huge hit (all three were), a huge surprise hit, and one that has, at least a little, given some life to a genre that has started to overstay its welcome. But I think they will go with option number three. Interstellar also has great work, won the BAFTA, and also has a production design nomination, an award that has gone hand in hand over the last several years (Gravity did not win production design, but it did have a nomination). And while it failed to gain the traction many thought it would, of the bunch it is probably the most prestigious, an argument I hate to make because it shouldn't matter, but we all know that unfortunately it does.