Sunday's Academy Awards ceremony should actually be pretty exciting, in a Seattle Seahawks vs. New England Patriots kind of way. Like the Super Bowl contenders earlier this month, the two top movies are pretty evenly matched, and the victory won't be decided until the final seconds. The same is true in the Best Actor contest, where Stephen Hawking fights it out with a guy running through Times Square in his underwear. It could go either way.
Perennial Oscar show producers Neil Meron and Craig Zadan have a lot going for them this year. Besides the genuine suspense in the "Birdman" vs. "Boyhood" and Eddie Redmayne vs. Michael Keaton contests, they have awards-show pro Neil Patrick Harris hosting. They have all the "American Sniper" fans encouraged to tune in (don't worry, folks, the Academy won't let your film go home empty-handed; they'll give it at least Best Sound Editing in order to prove that they love America and the troops). And if they're smart, they'll have tyrannical "Whiplash" music teacher J.K. Simmons conducting the orchestra, ready to play off any winner whose rambling speech threatens to further elongate the already overstuffed ceremony.
Whether you're watching the Feb. 22 ABC telecast out of genuine rooting interest in the nominated films, out of fondness for all the glitzy excess, or out of laziness and boredom, here's what Zadan, Meron, Harris, and the Academy are cooking up for you.