A Countdown to the OscarsThe time to unwind has finally arrived. Now we can look back at what made us laugh, what made us cry and what made us wonder why we paid full price for a ticket. The latter of those statements should, hopefully, be invalid, because the Oscars are a time to rejoice at what we loved, not what we didn't. And I believe that this year such a statement would be particularly accurate because I've never seen such a strong group of candidates for Best Picture in my short life as a film lover. But enough wasting time on introduction, because there are eight films I am going to rank in descending order from what I believe is least likely to win to most likely to win the crown jewel of the Academy Awards, and like anyone who has given a speech on the world's biggest stage probably knows: we haven't got all night.

The film that I believe is least likely to win Best Picture out of the eight very worthy candidates is "The Theory of Everything". Although the movie was graceful and well told, it doesn't bear the strength to challenge some of the other films that came out this year. Every year that the Oscars roll around, there will be films that relied heavily on acting and a little less on solid storytelling. It is a tale that we have all heard before, and though this particular type of romance may be new, there is nothing surprising in a period piece about someone as well known as Stephen Hawking. Don't be shocked if Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones both take home awards for their acting in this flick, but the story itself won't have the strength to win an Oscar.

Number seven on my list is "The Grand Budapest Hotel". Personally, I loved the film, but Wes Anderson is more likely to win an award for his screenwriting than he is as producer. Also, the film came out in early 2014, giving it ample time to fade into distant memory for those with ballots. Masterfully shot and originally told, "The Grand Budapest Hotel" is Wes Anderson at his best. Sadly, his best probably won't cut in on Sunday when he sits in the ring with several menacing heavyweights. I would recommend this film to anyone looking for pure entertainment, but I don't envision it as an Oscar baiting piece.

Coming in at number six on my countdown is "The Imitation Game." The film was very similar to "The Theory of Everything" in several ways, but I think the story itself was slightly more interesting and a lot more fun to follow. Everything about "The Imitation Game" was high stakes and I think it was told wonderfully, but I don't think this is the year for period pieces and biopics. There were just too many good original screenplays in 2014 that I find it hard to believe this movie will be able to stand out. In all honesty, there's no reason why this would win and "The Theory of Everything" wouldn't and vice versa. The films are just so damn similar. Next to Michael Keaton in "Birdman", I think Benedict Cumberbatch gave one of the top performances of the year and it was genuinely fun to watch him work.

The next film on my list is "Selma," which was an interesting look at a political figure who hasn't had as much of a presence in film history: Martin Luther King Jr. I enjoyed that the story didn't focus on the obvious things such as his speech in front of the Lincoln Memorial or his premature death. If that had been the focus I think the movie would have been too broad and fell flat on its face. Instead, we were able to peer into the relatively untold story of his march on Selma, Alabama. This made it a much more powerful piece about race and equality during the civil rights movement. But once again, I don't believe this the year for period pieces, which is why "Selma" is in the second half of my list.

Number four is "American Sniper", whose critical reception surprised me a little bit. After "Lone Survivor" was snubbed a nomination last year, I figured that Hollywood might be against the glorification of Navy Seals, but they certainly felt differently about this one as evident by its 6 nominations. Personally, I didn't find the film to be all that political, and I think it really was a good story that needed to be told. But then again, I've grown slightly numb to the annual trend of what seems to be one big "war on terror" movie. "The Hurt Locker," "Zero Dark Thirty," "Lone Survivor," and now this? It seems that the same basic plots are being recycled and there's only so much that can be said of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Next up is "Whiplash," which might be the most critic-friendly movie of the year. It is a great original story about the sheer desire for greatness that was written and directed by newcomer Damien Chazelle. It was so good in fact that Chazelle is already working on a new project, "La La Land", that will star "Whiplash" lead Miles Teller and everyone's favorite: Emma Watson. But the man who really stole the show in this one was J.K. Simmons, who gave a career performance as a viciously over-the-top music teacher. Simmons, in my opinion, is the most viable candidate for Best Supporting Actor and I truly hope he takes home the statue for his work in "Whiplash." Everything about this movie breathes "well-executed Indie" and I'm glad it's getting the recognition it deserves.

At number two is a movie that will most definitely stand the test of time: "Boyhood." I think every so often a movie like this comes along that truly turns the industry on its head. Will "Boyhood" spark a trend that involves using the same actors over long periods of time? Probably not. But it was something that really needed to be done and writer/director Richard Linklater's experiment paid off. It already took home the Golden Globe for Best Drama so don't be at all surprised if "Boyhood" wins Best Picture come Sunday.

And finally, the number one movie on my list is "Birdman." This was one of the best movies I've seen in my lifetime. Everything about the movie screams originality, which is something that can often lack in the movie business. Not only was I blown away by how the film was shot -- in a manner that makes the whole thing look like one take –- but the way in which the movie delved so deeply into human nature was verging on unsettling. Is this what it's really like to be an egomaniac? If I had 15 minutes of fame would I go crazy too? Movies like "Birdman" are the movies that make us think introspectively. If I had to show my children one movie from my generation that embodied phenomenal storytelling it would be this one.

At the end of the day, this could all be a wash and maybe "The Theory of Everything" does win best picture. My guess is as good as anyone's given the surprises we have seen in years past. I can only hope that however the night ends that credit is given where credit is due for each and every candidate. And anyone who has given a speech on the world's biggest stage probably knows: it's an honor just to be considered.

Jack Heyden is a student at the University of Illinois and a contributor to Moviefone's Campus Beat.
categories Movies, Oscars