Thursday, October 8, 2015

I Missed 'Sandman' - a collection of fractured memories

First, there was the Mature Readers section in the comic book store when I was a kid.

Frank Miller had recently put the dark in "The Dark Knight," while Alan Moore had been busy deconstructing the entire notion of costumed vigilantes in "Watchmen." Wolverine was removed from the PG-rated action of the X-Men and could now be found gouging out people's eyes in his solo series. Sensing a market for darker fare, DC inaugurated their Vertigo imprint. Comics were no longer "kid stuff." Now they were being made for grown ups.

The Mature Section in my comic book store was not really removed in any practical sense from the kid-friendly comics populating the rest of the store. It was basically one thin, but tall, white shelf (whereas the "safe" books were on wire-frame shelves or display cases).

And even though there was no physical line to be crossed, no territory to be breached, make no mistake about it: I did not look at the mature comics. I was a good kid. There was a dot matrix-printed piece of paper which was laminated -- laminated! -- clearly displaying the word "mature" at the top of that white shelf. I respected the intent of the sign and stayed away.

But there they were, conspicuously visible from anywhere in the store. Flipping through back issues of "The Amazing Spider-Man," I'd see them from the corner of my eye whether I wanted to or not. Those weird, creepy, expressionistic covers, all charcoal and sepia, or paper cutout-style cubism. What the hell was supposed to be happening inside those books? All I could do was wonder.

The early '90s were an exciting time for comic books. This was the period when people who happened to have a copy of Action Comics No. 1 in their basements discovered they could sell it for hundreds of thousands of dollars. Meanwhile, DC took it upon themselves to kill Superman, shining a great big spotlight on not only The Man Of Steel himself but the comic book industry as a whole. Comics had grown up. Everything was bagged and boarded. Buying a comic book was an investment in the future.

Except it wasn't. The Death of Superman was hyped as a collector's dream come true. But DC sold so many copies that it was never going to be worth anything.

I'm glad that when I go into a comic store today, the books aren't sold in bags and boards by default. If you're buying a comic book as an investment, because you think it's going to become valuable, you're being cynical. The only reason anybody should ever buy a comic book is because they want to read it. That is what gives it value.

"I can't breathe in here!" said the comic book.
I was at the radio station and, during some down time, my friend Bobby showed me some of the first pages of "Sandman" that I'd ever seen. He had volume one of the trade paperbacks, "Preludes and Nocturnes."

Out of context, I didn't quite understand what I was looking at. There was a guy in a diner, and he seemed to have some sort of telepathic power over everything happening there. On the TV above the counter, a children's puppet show was airing. The sinister man in the diner seemed to concentrate his telepathic abilities on the puppet show, causing the host to demonstrate the "proper" way to cut your wrists in order to effectively kill yourself rather than just "cry for help."

"Isn't that brilliant?" Bobby asked.

It was brilliant, in that life-affirming way with which teenagers tend to regard suicide: less of an action, more of a circumstance they've managed to avoid for another day, like a car accident. Some years later, when you've got a couple friends with scar tissue and another who met with greater success, you take a bit more pause.

Did I mention that I was a co-host of a college radio show while I was still in high school? That's a whole different conversation, but it happened.

So on another night at the station, Bobby was conspiring to get a team of our friends together to dress as The Endless for Halloween. "The Endless," as elaborated in the pages of "Sandman," were a family of ethereal manifestations of universal forces. They were distinct from the gods, as they didn't require human worship in order to exist.

Did I mention that "Sandman" is some deep business?

I was one of the people Bobby was trying to recruit. I forget which of The Endless he wanted me to be, but I'm sure it wasn't flattering; in high school, I was never offered anything flattering. One time, some friends tried to get me to be the Wife of Bath in a video project for Lit class. This would have involved me putting on a dress and sitting in a bathtub. Come to think of it, maybe they weren't really my friends. Anyway.

The one thing I remember about Bobby's master plan was that he wanted our friend Meg to be Death.

"Why Meg?"

"You still haven't read it, have you?" asked Bobby?

I hadn't.

"It'll make sense when you do."

He was right. I didn't read "Sandman" for another eight or so years after that. But when I finally did... yeah, that was good casting. Meg was totally Death - the skin and hair color, if not the height.

Due to general apathy, the Endless theme-costuming didn't happen. But it was a great idea! Of course, I didn't know how great an idea it was at the time, as I still hadn't read the books.

Death - Exploding goth kids' brains since 1989
Looking back now, I think I've pinpointed the exact year when geek culture took over the mainstream: it was 2007. That was the year your parents finally heard of San Diego Comic-Con, VH1 was airing "The World Series of Pop Culture," and Kevin Smith was using the shiny new medium of podcasting to promote the first-ever "Crazy 4 Cult" exhibit at Gallery 1988 in Los Angeles. Things like that had been bubbling up for years prior, but 2007 is when they really took hold. The following year, the first "Iron Man" movie would hit, and all bets were off after that.

As for me, I was finally reading "Sandman."

Of course it's great! Of course it is. I knew it was going to be, didn't I? What I didn't know was what it was actually about.

It's not really about guys with psychic powers getting children's TV hosts to commit suicide on air. Well, maybe it was originally. The first collected volume is very much gothic horror, with gargoyles and demons and a variety gooey monsters.

But as the series goes on, it becomes so much more than that. "Sandman" progresses into an exploration of the very nature of storytelling itself. Author Neil Gaiman posits the dream state as the original storytelling medium, thereby casting Sandman/Dream/Morpheus/Oneiros/Shaper/many-other-names as the originator of all stories. Every myth, legend, fantasy, history, and work of art known to humanity is fair game, and Gaiman examines them all. "Sandman" is a contemplative exploration of the human compulsion to tell stories about where we come from, where we're going, and how we cope with everything in between.

And I missed it. There it was, the whole time, on the tall, white, Mature Readers shelf. I could have been there at the time, been a part of this magnificent thing as it was unfolding. But I was a good kid. I stayed away.

When they put the cover of "Ramadan" on the projector screens, I clapped really loud, really hard. It was way too much, as it turned out. I guess I probably embarrassed myself.

But really, it was everyone else in the audience who should have been embarrassed. They had applauded so enthusiastically for everything before this. Now, when the moderator finally presented "Ramadan," the crowd was losing its gusto? Screw you guys! "Ramadan" is arguably the best one-off story in the entire run of "Sandman." It's this beautiful, elegiac piece, perfectly paced, with a stunning, bittersweet conclusion. And what do these people do? They give it the weakest applause of the entire panel.

Part of the blame was Vertigo's. They'd spilled the beans via press release a couple weeks before Comic-Con. Neil Gaiman was returning for one more "Sandman" arc! His first in more than 10 years! So now, instead of a pure 25th anniversary retrospective with a surprise announcement at the end, the audience was just waiting for their first look at new pages. Gaiman deserved better.

The final issue of "Sandman: Overture" came out at the end of last month. I was delighted to finally read a Sandman story as it was unfolding in comic book stores.

Comic book stores don't really have Mature Readers sections anymore. You just read what you want to read, whoever you are. It's probably better that way.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

"Gravity Falls" spec

Click here to read.

Here's an original spec script I wrote based on the Disney XD show “Gravity Falls.”

This is NOT a produced episode. I did this as a writing sample, and provide it here for entertainment.

If you're a fan/regular viewer of the series, you'll notice that Ford Pines is completely absent from this story. I wrote this script in early 2015, BEFORE the episode that introduced Ford to the series. As you read, be sure to place everything in that context.


Monday, July 6, 2015

Comic-Con Survival Kit

If there's one thing that devotees of San Diego Comic-Con enjoy talking about (possibly more than the event itself), it's all the tribulations they faced leading up to and during the event.
  • Registration is impossible!
  • I got screwed out of a decent hotel!
  • The lines are so long!
  • My feet are killing me!
  • These nerds smell!
But the thing that almost never comes up in conversation -- the deep, dark secret of Comic-Con -- is what it does to your intestines.

While the downtown San Diego area has plenty of excellent food options, the fact is you'll miss half the con if you're constantly hitting up the Gaslamp for lunch and dinner.

That leaves you with two options: either fill up on the truly awful convention center food (your choice of grease-burger or grease-pizza, called simply "Grizza!"); or pack your own snacks so you can spend more time in Ballroom 20 and less time waiting for a table at the Kansas City Barbeque (as seen in Top Gun!). Packing snacks is obviously the way to go.

Which brings us back to those intestinal issues. If you're not careful you could, shall we say, cause yourself a great deal of distress.

Going into my sixth year of San Diego Comic-Con, I've formulated what I consider to be the perfect balance of supplies that will help you avoid, uh, falling off schedule. Here's the breakdown:
Trail mix and granola. The mistake I made my first year was relying too much on trail mix and granola. They're definitely good to have on hand, but you've got to mix it up a bit.

Fruits and vegetables. Sadly, they're too fragile to drop in a backpack that's going to be tossed around, stepped on and smashed into by the madding crowd. Dehydrated fruits and juiced vegetables are the way to go.

Vitamins. If you read the labels carefully, you discover there's approximately no nutritional value in anything pictured above. Bring vitamins! And since popping those oversized tablets can irritate your already-indignant stomach, I suggest chewables.

Water. Stay hydrated, idiot! Nothing in your body works without that. And if it's fortified with vitamins or electrolytes, you'll be all the better for it.

Okay, that about covers it. Follow my advice and you may just remain upright through Sunday.

See you in San Diego, dorks!

Monday, June 1, 2015

An Elegy for Dirt

The process of animation today is faster, more precise and more efficient than it's ever been before. The reason for that, of course, is computers.
"Shall we make a cartoon?"
I'm not talking about CG animation, with its 3D-modelled characters and environments (as in the Pixar and DreamWorks stuff that's dominated the box office since 1995). I'm talking about the traditional, hand-drawn animation seen almost exclusively on TV these days. That, too, is now done inside computers.

Today's animators draw on touch-sensitive screens, their markings captured as digital information. Color is added the same way. The editing, the sound mixing, etc., is all done using computers. The finished product is rendered as a digital file. It's broadcast as a digital signal. And finally, your digital television decodes and displays it for you. At no point has anything you're seeing been exposed to the Earth's atmosphere.

And it looks amazing! Cartoons have never looked better than they do using modern methods - all pure, flawless, saturated colors in eye-popping HD.
But it's all a little too perfect, isn't it?

Even as a kid, I always liked seeing the seams in the stuff I was watching. Not too much, of course. But the occasional imperfection in a TV show or movie is a good reminder of how amazing it is that we can make moving pictures. In a way, this was the beginning of my film education.

One of the first things I picked up on in cartoons was the difference between an object painted on the background versus an object that was about to start moving. You could tell, say, what door was going to open, or what item was going to fall off a shelf, because it looked slightly different than everything else around it.

The tiniest mismatch of paint color, or the use of different material for foreground cels versus background cels (causing the paint to dry differently), or reduced detail in the object that's going to be animated leads to items standing out visually before they actually start moving.
Which plank is Odie going to break?
Where is Uncle Scrooge going to emerge?

Another thing I noticed as a kid was cel shadows. Have you ever noticed a small drop shadow ghosting the contours of a cartoon character? (Not to be confused with shading and shadows that animators intentionally add for mood, style, or dimensionality.) These shadows occur when a cel is slightly raised above the background. Because of the small scale of animation, these shadows are microscopic in real life but are much more noticeable on your TV screen.
And then, of course, there's just plain dirt. Specks of dust or hair that inadvertently get trapped in between or on top of cels during the animation process. Or sometimes in the gate of film cameras, back when we used film. Not to mention that every once in a while the film itself could get scratched.
Of course, the things I'm describing are things that animators always tried to avoid. And sure, you want to do your best to make your show look as great as possible. But little flaws are bound to get through, and I always enjoyed catching them. It humanized the whole process, helped me appreciate the handcrafted nature of it.

But that's all gone now. And I miss it.

Look, I'm no Luddite. As I said before, cartoons look great now. The technology for making cartoons has to evolve, has to progress. That's the natural course of things, and it's good.

But it's a bit odd that there's literally nothing physical about cartoons anymore. There's nothing that anyone can pick up and hold and examine and appreciate.

As a birthday gift this year, I got a production cel from an episode of "The Simpsons" that's 25 years old! That's as good as gold for someone who's a hardcore fan of classic "Simpsons" episodes, as well as animation as a medium.

Today's 10-year-olds won't be able to collect production cels from "Adventure Time" or "Gravity Falls" 25 years from now, because no such thing exists.

Of course, all is not lost. There will always be concept sketches, production artwork, things like that. As long as spontaneous creativity exists in the world, precious artifacts will continue to be made.

It's just different now. And I really like the way my "Simpsons" cel looks on my wall.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Best. Gift. Ever.

As of my birthday this year, I'm the proud owner of a piece of television history!
This is an animation cel from "The Simpsons'" first-ever "Treehouse of Horrors" segment, "Bad Dream House." The segment was written by John Swartzwelder and directed by Wes Archer.

Click here to see the scene where this cel was used.

If you find yourself not really caring, it's completely understandable. I get it. When all is said and done, the only thing that matters is the finished episode and your enjoyment of it.
But to me, it's almost unbelievable that I can possess this item, this thing that was an important piece of a classic episode of one of my all-time favorite TV shows. This is not a reproduction. An animator drew directly onto this cel. A colorist painted it. A camera took a picture of it -- of this exact thing -- and this is what I saw on TV all the way back when I was 10 years old! And again in reruns. And then again on DVD.

This one little cel -- just one element within one/twenty-fourth of one second of a TV show -- has been a part of my life for 25 years!

That's really cool to me.

A big THANK YOU goes out to Helby and my family for conspiring to get me this.

Click here to view the full episode (requires a cable subscription).

And here's Bart receiving a much less impressive "Itchy & Scratchy" cel:

Monday, April 27, 2015

Hollywood Babylon

It should come as a surprise to no one that I'm somewhat obsessed with TV and movies, and am therefore always up for a good story about Hollywood. I've recently found myself digging into several excellent Hollywood stories -- some factual, some fictional. This is one I highly recommend.

The first time I saw a Kenneth Anger film was early on in film school. When it was over and the lights came up in the screening room, a classmate yelled out from a few rows up: "So is our textbook gonna be 'Hollywood Babylon'?"

"Hollywood Babylon." That title sounded familiar, but I knew nothing about it.

Turns out that's the perfect way to find out about "Hollywood Babylon." Slowly. Vaguely. Talked about in questions rather than statements. Nobody knowing exactly what it's supposed to be, or where it came from, or why. It becomes mythic in your mind.

Kenneth AngerThe legend grew from there. It was a book that Anger had written. It was supposedly deplorable. A scandal rag. A scummy, bottom-feeding, rumor-mongering pile of trash rife with inaccuracies, so why would you even want to read it?

According to lore, it had been banned at one point. So how could you not want to read it?

But probably the biggest reason it commanded my interest was its inaccessibility. I couldn't find it anywhere! For several years, it was the first thing I'd look for in any bookstore I entered. I'd flip through the dusty card catalogues of neglected libraries. I'd check the Harlequin-riddled basement shelves of great-aunts. Where was this thing? Was it even real?

As time went by, it started to fade from my mind. Eventually, I stopped looking for it altogether. It was a dead subject.

All of that changed, however, on a recent re-watching of Wonder Boys. James Leer, the character played by Tobey Maguire, is an aspiring novelist obsessed with classic Hollywood. In one scene, his college professor (Michael Douglas) marvels at all the overdue library books James keeps in his room. Among the stack: "Hollywood Babylon."

The quest for that book came rushing back to my mind, so I decided to give it one last try. Would I finally be able to find it?

Yeah. Real easy. Turns out it's available for sale everywhere now. You can't stop people from trying to sell you that book.

So after 15 years of on-again/off-again hunting, I finally have a copy. And how is it?

Scummy. Bottom-feeding. A rumor-mongering pile of trash. Factually suspect.

And I love it.

Bow, Gilbert, Thomas, Arbuckle
First of all, Anger's writing is a guilty joy - breezy, crisp, biting, catty, and witty; essentially what I'd expect from the guy who made this.

Second... I just plain love this stuff, and I don't know why. I've always loved a good Hollywood story. I've never even seen a single Fatty Arbuckle film (which I could probably change just by going to YouTube right now); but the dude did some wild living, and I don't need to be a fan to want to know all about that.

The fact that much, if not most, if not all of "Hollywood Babylon" is inaccurate doesn't bother me. Even if these stories aren't true, they still represent a certain reality: the real rumors and gossip that the "film colony" (as Anger likes to refer to it) was spreading about itself at the time. That has value. It helps you get a fuller picture of What It Was Like Back Then. Fatty Arbuckle might have been cleared of any wrongdoing; but if you'd been having drinks with Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd while Arbuckle was on trial, this is what they would've told you they'd heard.

I'm very happy to have finally had the chance to read this thing. I only wish that, instead of buying a fresh new print, I could have found an old, crinkled, mildew-splotched copy up in some attic or at a garage sale. I'm thinking I'll fling my copy to the back of the garage and forget about it. To whoever finds it at some unknown point in the future: You're welcome.

Monday, April 20, 2015

You Must Remember This

It should come as a surprise to no one that I'm somewhat obsessed with TV and movies, and am therefore always up for a good story about Hollywood. I've recently found myself digging into several excellent Hollywood stories -- some factual, some fictional. This is one I highly recommend.

Billing itself as an exploration of the secret and/or forgotten histories of Hollywood's first century, "You Must Remember This" is a storytelling podcast featuring familiar characters in unfamiliar circumstances.

Each week (with occasional hiatuses), creator-writer-narrator Karina Longworth delves into the life of a prominent figure from Hollywood's past, bringing to light some of the more obscure aspects of their biographies.

Dispensing with cradle-to-grave narratives, Longworth typically hones in on a few specific years from her subjects' lives, wrapping her stories around definitive relationships or a significant work (Bacall after Bogart; Streisand's "A Star Is Born").

One of the most appealing aspects of this series is the balance between the well-known and the unknown. Take Frank Sinatra, for example. Nearly 20 years after his death, he remains a prominent figure in popular culture. But how many people are aware of his triple album "Trilogy: Past, Present and Future," the last 40 minutes of which find him singing about visiting each of the planets in our solar system? It happened!

Some episodes are one-offs, while others are grouped into thematic miniseries (such as "stars during times of war," which has dominated the podcast for most of this year so far). But each episode tells a self-contained story, making it easy to jump in at any time.

"You Must Remember This" is a priority listen for me; as soon as it downloads, I hit play.

Click here for the official website.

To subscribe on iTunes, click here.

Monday, April 13, 2015

The Fade Out

It should come as a surprise to no one that I'm somewhat obsessed with TV and movies, and am therefore always up for a good story about Hollywood. I've recently found myself digging into several excellent Hollywood stories -- some factual, some fictional. This is one I highly recommend.

My current favorite comic book series, "The Fade Out" comes from all-star comics writer Ed Brubaker (who, among many notable projects, wrote the "Winter Soldier" storyline that 2014's "Captain America" movie was based on) and artist Sean Philips.

Dabbling once again in the noir territory he frequents, Brubaker sets his story in 1948 Los Angeles. Screenwriter Charlie Parish wakes up to discover himself in the middle of an apparent murder scene, the victim being an up-and-coming actress with a role in Charlie's next movie. Fleeing the scene, Charlie becomes guilt-ridden when he realizes the movie studio is portraying it in the media as a suicide. Unable to let it be, Charlie and his alcoholic writing partner get in over their heads as they attempt to uncover the truth.

This series is only five issues in and, if you haven't been reading it already, now is the perfect time to jump in. The first volume containing issues 1 - 4 is out now.

But I'd recommend seeking out the single issues. In addition to the great story being told, each issue is packaged with excellent peripheral material including additional artwork and -- my personal favorite -- a true story from Hollywood's past (such as the Fatty Arbuckle trials, or the Hollywood sign suicide). Even the fan letters are well-curated by Brubaker. Packed with outstanding material, each issue is a great read from cover to cover.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

The Official YDJ 2015 Oscar Ballot

Here's the 2015 Your Daily Joe Oscar ballot. This single sheet includes the complete list of nominees, checkboxes to track the winners, and special notations so you can see how well Your Daily Joe did at predicting the winners.

Click below to view, download (PDF format), and print out the ballot for the Feb. 22 telecast.

Click here to download

A very special thanks goes out to Helby's Hatch for designing this beautiful ballot! Visit Helby's Hatch for more original designs, patterns and crafts.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Best Director / Best Picture Splits

This year, I'm predicting a split between the Best Director and Best Picture Oscar wins. If I'm right, that will be three consecutive years of a Best Director / Best Picture split. Three consecutive years!

If that doesn't sound crazy to you, then you're probably a decade or so younger than me and it was somewhat normal by the time you started watching the Oscars. When I was growing up, not only did this almost never happen, but it was a scenario that just didn't make sense. After all, wouldn't the best movie have to be made by the best director? Doesn't it take the best director to create the best movie?

During my lifetime, the Director / Picture split has happened eight times; and really only six times since I was old enough to pay attention to the Oscars. In 1999, when I was a teenager and only a few years into adopting the persona of "film buff," it was cataclysmic when Spielberg won Best Director for Saving Private Ryan but Best Picture went to Shakespeare in Love.

In the 15 years since, there have been five Director / Picture splits -- fully 1/3 of the time. In the '80s, it only happened twice. In the '70s, once. The '60s, once.

But when you look back before the '60s, you start to notice that this was much more common. In fact, in the '30s -- the first full decade that the Academy Awards existed -- it happened 50% of the time! So I suppose this nothing more than a return to form.

Here's the list of every Best Director / Best Picture split in Oscar history. The years shown are the release years of the movies themselves; they received their awards the following year.

12 Years a Slave won Best Picture
Alfonso Cuaron won Best Director for Gravity

Argo won Best Picture
Ang Lee won Best Director for Life of Pi

Crash won Best Picture
Ang Lee won Best Director for Brokeback Mountain

Chicago won Best Picture
Roman Polanski won Best Director for The Pianist

Gladiator won Best Picture
Steven Soderbergh won Best Director for Traffic

Shakespeare in Love won Best Picture
Steven Spielberg won Best Director for Saving Private Ryan

Driving Miss Daisy won Best Picture
Oliver Stone won Best Director for Born On the Fourth of July

Chariots of Fire won Best Picture
Warren Beatty won Best Director for Reds

The Godfather won Best Picture
Bob Fosse won Best Director for Cabaret

In The Heat of the Night won Best Picture
Mike Nichols won Best Director for The Graduate

Around the World in 80 Days won Best Picture
George Stevens won Best Director for Giant

The Greatest Show on Earth won Best Picture
John Ford won Best Director for The Quiet Man

An American in Paris won Best Picture
George Stevens won Best Director for A Place In the Sun

All The King's Men won Best Picture
Joseph L. Mankiewicz won Best Director for A Letter to Three Wives

Hamlet won Best Picture
John Huston won Best Director for The Treasure of the Sierra Madre

Rebecca won Best Picture
John Ford won Best Director for The Grapes of Wrath

The Life of Emile Zola won Best Picture
Leo McCarey won Best Director for The Awful Truth

The Great Ziegfeld won Best Picture
Frank Capra won Best Director for Mr. Deeds Goes to Town

Mutiny on the Bounty won Best Picture
John Ford won Best Director for The Informer

1931 / 32
Grand Hotel won Best Picture
Frank Borzage won Best Director for Bad Girl

1930 / 31
Cimarron won Best Picture
Norman Taurog won Best Director for Skippy

1928 / 29
The Broadway Melody won Best Picture
Frank Lloyd won Best Director for The Divine Lady

1927 / 28
Wings won Best Picture
COMEDY = Lewis Milestone for Two Arabian Knights
DRAMA = Frank Borzage for 7th Heaven

Thursday, February 5, 2015

2015 Oscar Predictions

Well, I guess I'm officially an old man now. Throughout 2014, my most frequent reaction to the theatrical releases on any given day was, "None of this looks any good." Okay, grandpa, why don't you go ahead and have a seat in this rocking chair?

That sounds nice, actually. Does it have a foot rest?

Yes, my movie attendance was low this year. Probably the lowest since my pre-teen years. But the movies I did see are likely to remain all-time favorites. And to my surprise, they were some of the top nominees for the Oscars this year.

Take The Grand Budapest Hotel, for example. I loved that movie. It's probably in my top three favorite Wes Anderson movies, and was easily one of my favorite movies from last year. Anderson has not typically been recognized by the Academy, nor is March -- when Grand Budapest hit theaters -- a typical month for awards contenders. But here it is, tying with Birdman for most nominations!

And speaking of Birdman, that's far and away my favorite Iñárritu movie, and the kind of movie Michael Keaton fans have been waiting over 15 years to see him in again.

So I've got clear favorites this year. Who will actually win? Let's see if we can guess...

Best Sound Editing
  • American Sniper, Alan Robert Murray and Bub Asman
  • Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), Martín Hernández and Aaron Glascock
  • The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, Brent Burge and Jason Canovas
  • Interstellar, Richard King
  • Unbroken, Becky Sullivan and Andrew DeCristofaro
Best Sound Mixing
  • American Sniper, John Reitz, Gregg Rudloff and Walt Martin
  • Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), Jon Taylor, Frank A. Montaño and Thomas Varga
  • Interstellar, Gary A. Rizzo, Gregg Landaker and Mark Weingarten
  • Unbroken, Jon Taylor, Frank A. Montaño and David Lee
  • Whiplash, Craig Mann, Ben Wilkins and Thomas Curley
What's the difference between these two categories? Think of it like this. Sound editing used to be called sound designing. Just as the costume designer plans the style and gathers the raw material for costumes, the sound designer plans what the movie will sound like and gathers the "raw material" (dialogue, effects, music). Sound mixing is what happens when you imagine the person sitting at that big console, sliding the levels up and down.

Although brainy sci-fi movies like Interstellar have a good track record of winning for sound editing, war movies tend to do even better... especially highly-regarded ones. I think American Sniper will win for Sound Editing.

And while it's possible for Sniper to double up with editing and mixing, I'm predicting Birdman will take the award for Sound Mixing, with it's blending of the drum-based score, v.o. layer of Michael Keaton, transitions between single-take sequences, and dynamic shifts between on-stage and off-stage action.

Best Visual Effects
  • Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Dan DeLeeuw, Russell Earl, Bryan Grill and Dan Sudick
  • Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Joe Letteri, Dan Lemmon, Daniel Barrett and Erik Winquist
  • Guardians of the Galaxy, Stephane Ceretti, Nicolas Aithadi, Jonathan Fawkner and Paul Corbould
  • Interstellar, Paul Franklin, Andrew Lockley, Ian Hunter and Scott Fisher
  • X-Men: Days of Future Past, Richard Stammers, Lou Pecora, Tim Crosbie and Cameron Waldbauer
Three years ago, I lost points in this category for predicting Rise of the Planet of the Apes; Martin Scorsese's Hugo won that year instead. Well, there ain't no Scorsese movie this year. But there is a Christopher Nolan. If you consider Interstellar to be this year's Gravity, then you should bet on that. But my fool-me-twice pick is Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. That effects work really needs to be recognized.

Best Costume Design
  • The Grand Budapest Hotel, Milena Canonero
  • Inherent Vice, Mark Bridges
  • Into the Woods, Colleen Atwood
  • Maleficent, Anna B. Sheppard and Jane Clive
  • Mr. Turner, Jacqueline Durran
This is a tough call. Colleen Atwood is an Academy favorite. Grand Budapest has the momentum of all those nominations. But Mr. Turner, with its down-to-earth period realism (think of recent winners like Anna Karenina and The Artist), is my best guess.

Best Makeup and Hairstyling
  • Foxcatcher, Bill Corso and Dennis Liddiard
  • The Grand Budapest Hotel, Frances Hannon and Mark Coulier
  • Guardians of the Galaxy, Elizabeth Yianni-Georgiou and David White
I'll just come right out and say it: this is definitely the category I'm least qualified to pick. Guardians is probably too high-profile. And while Foxcatcher could win for the facial reconstruction of Steve Carell, I think Grand Budapest will win for its range (high- and low-class society, prisoners, people out in the cold, aging makeup on Tilda Swinton).

Best Live Action Short Film
  • "Aya" Oded Binnun and Mihal Brezis
  • "Boogaloo and Graham" Michael Lennox and Ronan Blaney
  • “Butter Lamp (La Lampe Au Beurre De Yak)” Hu Wei and Julien Féret
  • “Parvaneh” Talkhon Hamzavi and Stefan Eichenberger
  • “The Phone Call” Mat Kirkby and James Lucas
Look, I hate to sound cynical about the whole thing, but death (and suicide in particular) tends to score in this category. Add to that the recognizable cast -- who certainly deliver strong performances -- and "The Phone Call" looks like the probable winner.

Best Animated Short Film
  • “The Bigger Picture” Daisy Jacobs and Christopher Hees
  • “The Dam Keeper” Robert Kondo and Dice Tsutsumi
  • “Feast” Patrick Osborne and Kristina Reed
  • “Me and My Moulton” Torill Kove
  • “A Single Life” Joris Oprins
Disney's "Feast" is the most adorable and emotionally accessible of the group. Its Annie Award win bolsters the likelihood that it will win here. (Just don't make the mistake of saying, "It's Disney, of course it'll win." Disney and Pixar have been overlooked in this category in all but one year this decade.)

Best Film Editing
  • American Sniper, Joel Cox and Gary D. Roach
  • Boyhood, Sandra Adair
  • The Grand Budapest Hotel, Barney Pilling
  • The Imitation Game, William Goldenberg
  • Whiplash, Tom Cross
The time-spanning Boyhood is anchored by its seamless transitions which manage to propel you through time and quickly orient you to where you are.

Best Original Song
  • “Everything Is Awesome” from The Lego Movie, music and lyric by Shawn Patterson
  • “Glory” from Selma, music and lyric by John Stephens and Lonnie Lynn
  • “Grateful” from Beyond the Lights, music and lyric by Diane Warren
  • “I’m Not Gonna Miss You” from Glen Campbell… I’ll Be Me, music and lyric by Glen Campbell and Julian Raymond
  • “Lost Stars” from Begin Again, music and lyric by Gregg Alexander and Danielle Brisebois
I want to say it's a no-brainer for "Everything Is Awesome" to win this award. Then again, I would have said it was a no-brainer for The Lego Movie to win Best Animated Feature, until it didn't get nominated. Still, "Everything Is Awesome" is far and away the biggest original song from any movie in 2014. It's gotta win.

Best Original Score
  • The Grand Budapest Hotel, Alexandre Desplat
  • The Imitation Game, Alexandre Desplat
  • Interstellar, Hans Zimmer
  • Mr. Turner, Gary Yershon
  • The Theory of Everything, Jóhann Jóhannsson
Alexandre Desplat could end up splitting the vote between himself and winning neither. But I'm expecting the score for Grand Budapest Hotel will pull ahead for the victory.

Best Production Design
  • The Grand Budapest Hotel - Production Design: Adam Stockhausen; Set Decoration: Anna Pinnock
  • The Imitation Game - Production Design: Maria Djurkovic; Set Decoration: Tatiana Macdonald
  • Interstellar - Production Design: Nathan Crowley; Set Decoration: Gary Fettis
  • Into the Woods - Production Design: Dennis Gassner; Set Decoration: Anna Pinnock
  • Mr. Turner - Production Design: Suzie Davies; Set Decoration: Charlotte Watts
The whimsical take on the prewar period of Grand Budapest should be irresistible voters.

Best Cinematography
  • Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), Emmanuel Lubezki
  • The Grand Budapest Hotel, Robert Yeoman
  • Ida, Lukasz Zal and Ryszard Lenczewski
  • Mr. Turner, Dick Pope
  • Unbroken, Roger Deakins
Some voters may be turned off by the presumed gimmickry and flashiness of Birdman's one-take conceit. And there's some extremely strong competition in this category, which makes it really difficult to call. (Seriously, each of these movies is beautiful for different reasons, and you should watch them all.) But I think Birdman has the edge.

Best Animated Feature
  • Big Hero 6, Don Hall, Chris Williams and Roy Conli
  • The Boxtrolls, Anthony Stacchi, Graham Annable and Travis Knight
  • How to Train Your Dragon 2, Dean DeBlois and Bonnie Arnold
  • Song of the Sea, Tomm Moore and Paul Young
  • The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, Isao Takahata and Yoshiaki Nishimura
It's still mind-boggling that The Lego Movie wasn't nominated here. In light of that, Dragon 2 has been on a winning streak, and it seems like that's what we should expect on Oscar night.

Best Foreign Language Film
  • Ida, Poland
  • Leviathan, Russia
  • Tangerines, Estonia
  • Timbuktu, Mauritania
  • Wild Tales, Argentina
Ida has all the momentum here, and with few exceptions, that's usually the way you can expect the win to go.

Best Documentary Feature
  • CitizenFour, Laura Poitras, Mathilde Bonnefoy and Dirk Wilutzky
  • Finding Vivian Maier, John Maloof and Charlie Siskel
  • Last Days in Vietnam, Rory Kennedy and Keven McAlester
  • The Salt of the Earth, Wim Wenders, Juliano Ribeiro Salgado and David Rosier
  • Virunga, Orlando von Einsiedel and Joanna Natasegara
CitizenFour -- a documentary about Edward Snowden from the only journalist who had full access to him before and after he went public -- is pretty much the definition of a sure thing.

Best Adapted Screenplay
  • American Sniper, Jason Hall
  • The Imitation Game, Graham Moore
  • Inherent Vice, Paul Thomas Anderson
  • The Theory of Everything, Anthony McCarten
  • Whiplash, Damien Chazelle
There's a strong possibility that Whiplash could win this one, and you might pull ahead in your Oscar pool if you go with that. But with the strong debut and staying power of American Sniper, not to mention the ongoing controversy which is keeping it fresh in everyone's mind, I'm picking it for the win here.

Best Original Screenplay
  • Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr. & Armando Bo
  • Boyhood, Richard Linklater
  • Foxcatcher, E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman
  • The Grand Budapest Hotel, Wes Anderson & Hugo Guinness
  • Nightcrawler, Dan Gilroy
Despite Grand Budapest tying for most nominations this year, I'm not anticipating a best picture win. But I do think that it will win this one as a nod to its overall quality.

Best Supporting Actor
  • Robert Duvall, The Judge
  • Ethan Hawke, Boyhood
  • Edward Norton, Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
  • Mark Ruffalo, Foxcatcher
  • J.K. Simmons, Whiplash
J.K. Simmons all the way. His performance in Whiplash is all anyone has been talking about since the movie's Sundance premiere in January 2014. (Seriously, for the entire year of 2014, not a single person has had a conversation that wasn't about J.K. Simmons in Whiplash.

Best Supporting Actress
  • Patricia Arquette, Boyhood
  • Laura Dern, Wild
  • Keira Knightley, The Imitation Game
  • Emma Stone, Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
  • Meryl Streep, Into the Woods
Likewise, Patricia Arquette is the standout among these nominees. Boyhood is nearly as much about her as it is about the boy.

Best Actor
  • Steve Carell, Foxcatcher
  • Bradley Cooper, American Sniper
  • Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game
  • Michael Keaton, Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
  • Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything
Although Eddie Redmayne won the SAG award for individual achievement, keep in mind that Birdman won for best ensemble. I think the Academy loves Michael Keaton. I think they've been waiting a long time to give him this award; all they needed was the right performance in the right movie. Birdman was it. Keaton will win.

Best Actress
  • Marion Cotillard, Two Days, One Night
  • Felicity Jones, The Theory of Everything
  • Julianne Moore, Still Alice
  • Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl
  • Reese Witherspoon, Wild
It's easy to criticize the Academy for being suckered in by "Oscar bait" material, such as someone suffering a degenerative disease. But Julianne Moore brings humanity and reality to this story of a woman experiencing Alzheimer's disease.

Best Director
  • Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), Alejandro G. Iñárritu
  • Boyhood, Richard Linklater
  • Foxcatcher, Bennett Miller
  • The Grand Budapest Hotel, Wes Anderson
  • The Imitation Game, Morten Tyldum
Boyhood is an impressive achievement, a notion most people would have dismissed as soon as they thought of it. A production spread out over 12 long years during which any number of things could have gone wrong, making the movie impossible to complete. But things didn't go wrong. The movie did get completed. And somehow it turned out great! A successful meditation on growing up and growing old, the way things change and the way they stay the same. The way a decision echoes through time.

And there's one person who gets the credit for not dismissing the notion, but for following it. And for following through on it. And for keeping it on track logically and emotionally over the course of a 12-year start-and-stop production cycle. Richard Linklater will win Best Director.

Best Picture
  • American Sniper, Clint Eastwood, Robert Lorenz, Andrew Lazar, Bradley Cooper and Peter Morgan, Producers
  • Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), Alejandro G. Iñárritu, John Lesher and James W. Skotchdopole, Producers
  • Boyhood, Richard Linklater and Cathleen Sutherland, Producers
  • The Grand Budapest Hotel, Wes Anderson, Scott Rudin, Steven Rales and Jeremy Dawson, Producers
  • The Imitation Game, Nora Grossman, Ido Ostrowsky and Teddy Schwarzman, Producers
  • Selma, Christian Colson, Oprah Winfrey, Dede Gardner and Jeremy Kleiner, Producers
  • The Theory of Everything, Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Lisa Bruce and Anthony McCarten, Producers
  • Whiplash, Jason Blum, Helen Estabrook and David Lancaster, Producers
But will Boyhood win Best Picture? I'm not prepared to take that as a given. It's taken some hits in its second wave of criticism, and I think many Oscar voters will second guess the way they initially felt about it.

Meanwhile, Birdman took its criticism right up front, but endured as a movie that was exhilarating and left people thinking. Personally, I've had numerous debates around the office about Birdman. Number of times we've talked about Boyhood: 0.

Not to bash Boyhood. I thought it was great. And hey, I'm not about to complain about any awards show that has Richard Linklater, Wes Anderson, Michael Keaton, and Laura Dern as nominees. (This '90s boy is jumping for joy on the inside.) But we're not strictly talking about what's great, we're talking about what's going to win. And I think Birdman is going to win.

So that's my take. What are your predictions?

Like millions of others, I'll have asinine comments about the telecast that I'll be posting on Twitter. Be sure to follow me @yourdailyjoe. The 87th Academy Awards ceremony will air on February 22, 2015 at 8:30 eastern/5:30 pacific on ABC.