Lora Kormos

Everything you need to know about the 2015 Oscars and their nominees

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The Academy Awards are here! OK, so I’m probably one of the few people that get a little too excited around award season. While everyone else was preparing themselves for the big game, I was counting down the days until the reigning award show returns. Don’t get me wrong – I enjoyed Left Shark just as much as everyone else during the Super Bowl, but my main event for February is the Academy Awards.

This will be the 87th annual Academy Awards, and it is one of the most prominent award ceremonies. And while the Oscars may not always be in line with the popular choice (I mean, “Maleficent” won the People’s Choice Award for Best Picture and it’s not even nominated for an Oscar), the nominees still get people talking. We can have heated debates over which actor will be victorious and if there will be a dark horse winning this year. Plus, this year’s award show has already seen its fair share of controversy with the snub of some fan favorites, like “The Lego Movie,” and #OscarsSoWhite trending all over social media.

Now, I’m sure you’d love to attend this prestigious night and rub shoulders with Steve Carell and Reese Witherspoon, but unfortunately, some of us regular folks had our invitation lost in the mail. If you were unlucky like me, the least you can do is impress your friends, family, dog, or even the ticket ripper at your local theater with some awesome insider knowledge about film’s big night.

How did the Academy Awards start?

The very first Academy Awards ceremony was held on May 16, 1929 at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel in Los Angeles. The winners were announced three months prior to the ceremony, and the untelevised event had only 270 people in attendance, with a $5 entrance fee. The film “Wings” had taken home the very first honor of Best Picture. The presentation ceremony only lasted 15 minutes. Does anyone else wish they still lasted 15 minutes instead of sitting through some of the grueling 10-minute speeches we need to endure now?

So who’s voting for these films anyway?

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was founded in 1927 as an organization to benefit the film industry. Today, there are more than 6,000 members in the Academy, and is made up of 17 different branches, ranging from actors to directors to visual effects artists to writers. The most recent branch was added in 2013 for casting directors. Membership into the Academy is almost exclusively for those working in the film industry. Invitations can be extended by sponsorship, in which two Academy members sponsor a candidate who seeks admission. Also, all Oscar nominees are automatically granted a coveted invitation to join the Academy.

How does the voting process work?

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences nomination ballots are sent to its current members in late December. Each branch will nominate who they choose in their respective category. For example, actors nominate actors, designers nominate designers. This voting process differs in three categories; Animated Feature Film and Foreign Language Film are voted on by multiple screening committees, and every member, no matter what branch they are in, get to vote for Best Picture.

Once the members are finished voting, they submit their ballots to PricewaterhouseCoopers, an accounting firm. The top nominees are then announced in a live press conference. This year, Chris Pine, J.J. Abrams, director Alfonso Cuaron, and Academy President Cheryl Boone announced the nominees.

After the press conference, the final ballots with the chosen nominees are sent to members to vote. Once all ballots are returned and tallied, only two partners within the accounting firm will know the nominees’ fate until we see it unfold live.

What makes the 2015 Oscars so special?

2015 marks the first year that eight films are fighting it out for the Best Picture honor since the Academy changed the voting process in 2009, making the number of films eligible anywhere between 5 and 10. Since that change has been enacted, nine films had always been nominated. This year, only eight made the cut.

Meryl Streep is considered one of the great actors of our time, and it would seem the Academy agrees. This year, they have nominated Streep for her whopping 19th acting nomination. Her nomination for Best Supporting Actress in “Into the Woods” has made her the most nominated actor, male or female. The next closest would be Jack Nicholson and Katharine Hepburn, who have both been nominated 12 times.

Bradley Cooper’s Best Acting nod for “American Sniper” came as a pretty big surprise. He managed to edge out some favorites like David Oyelowo (“Selma”) and Jake Gyllenhaal (“Nightcrawler”). Because of this, he has earned his third consecutive acting nomination; Cooper was nominated last year for Best Supporting Actor in “American Hustle and Best Actor in 2013 for “Silver Linings Playbook.”

Edward Norton is the only star to be featured in two of this year’s Best Picture nominees, “The Grand Budapest Hotel” and “Birdman.” He also earned a Best Supporting Actor nod for his role in “Birdman.”

Speaking of actors who have been nominated several times, what about the others? Almost half of the acting nominees are Oscar virgins. From the 20 contenders for Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress, Best Actor, and Best Supporting Actor, nine received their first-ever nomination: Felicity Jones and Eddie Redmayne (“The Theory of Everything”), Rosamund Pike (“Gone Girl”), Steve Carell (“Foxcatcher”), Benedict Cumberbatch (“The Imitation Game”), Michael Keaton and Emma Stone (“Birdman”), Patricia Arquette (“Boyhood”), and J.K. Simmons (“Whiplash”).

“Birdman” and “The Grand Budapest Hotel” are tied with the most nominations this year, a total of nine each. It is also both directors Richard Linklater and Wes Anderson’s first Best Picture nomination, with neither winning an Oscar.

At the age of 84, Robert Duvall has become the oldest male acting nominee for his Best Supporting Actor nod for “The Judge.” The previous honor was held by 82-year-old Hal Holbrook when he was nominated in 2007 for “Into the Wild.”

Benedict Cumberbatch and Alan Turing, the man he portrays in “The Imitation Game,” are 17th cousins in real life.

“Selma” is the first theatrically released biopic on Martin Luther King, Jr.

Who is hosting?

This year’s host will be none other than comedian and actor Neil Patrick Harris. This will be Harris’ first year hosting the event. He announced he had scored the gig via Twitter by tweeting a video of himself checking the item off his bucket list.

The hosting gig won’t be unfamiliar territory for him, though. He has already hosted the Tony Awards four times and the Emmy Awards twice. Harris is best known for his roles as child doctor Doogie Howser, womanizer Barney Stinson on “How I Met Your Mother,” and most recently as the mentally unstable magician Chester in “American Horror Story: Freak Show.” It has also been revealed that Harris will open up this year’s show with a musical number penned by the masterminds behind “Frozen.” I’m sure we can expect a song that is super catchy and will get stuck in our heads for at least a week.

What’s so special about this year’s Best Picture nominees?

The Clint Eastwood-directed film “American Sniper” was perhaps one of the more surprising Best Picture nominees this year, and also the only bona fide big screen hit among them. The film pulled in an astounding $90.2 million during its opening weekend in wide release and shattered box office records. The film stars Bradley Cooper as Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, who is credited as being the deadliest sniper in U.S. history during his four tours in the Iraq War.

“Birdman (or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” had Michael Keaton return to the big screen to play a washed-up, middle-aged actor who attempts to reestablish himself as a serious Broadway performer and not the superhero he was known for years ago. The premise almost seems to mimic Keaton’s real life, as he had played Batman and chose to leave when they wanted to take the series in a more not-so-serious way. Considering how “Batman & Robin” came out, it’s safe to say he made a pretty wise move.

“Boyhood” is probably one of the more unique films to have come out in 2014. Director Richard Linklater had filmed the movie over a 12-year period to tell a coming-of-age story about a young boy growing older and navigating through life. Linklater would set aside a few days each year to film several scenes and piece them together into what would be one of this year’s frontrunners for best film. One interesting fact is that the star of “Boyhood,” Ellar Coltrane, wasn’t even born when Linklater released his cult classic “Dazed and Confused” in 1993. Coltrane was born in 1994 and was just 7 years old when the film first started production.

Anyone who is a fan of Wes Anderson films knows that he puts some quirky characters in his movies, and with “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” that statement holds true. The film follows Ralph Fiennes as a hotel concierge and a lobby boy, who becomes his sidekick as they embark on a wild adventure through a lavish European country before the outset of World War II. “The Grand Budapest Hotel” had surprised everyone when it won Best Comedy/Musical at this year’s Golden Globe Awards, so that puts this as a real serious Best Picture contender.

“The Imitation Game” tells the amazingly true story of mathematician Alan Turing, who must crack the German’s secret Enigma code during World War II. One thing that makes the film so engaging is its structure. The film jumps between the time Turning spent at Bletchley Park, his childhood, and the time before his death. The film’s screenwriter did this to paint a better picture of who Turing was and why he did certain things, if you can piece it together, that is.

“Selma” follows Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. (played by David Oyelowo) as he organizes a civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in 1965. This film made a surprise premiere at the AFI Fest in November, which helped skyrocket it to become a contender in the Best Picture category. The film’s subject matter seems to be right up the Academy’s alley. And who knows? Maybe the film’s devout following and its snubs for Best Actor and Director will convince the Academy to make this a Best Picture winner.

“The Theory of Everything” is based off Jane Hawking’s memoir, “Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen.” The Stephen she was referring to was Stephen Hawking. The film follows the story of the scientific icon who was tragically diagnosed with ALS at the age of 21 while he was attending Cambridge University and the struggles he and his first wife go through. To perfect Hawking’s portrayal on the big screen, star Eddie Redmayne spent six months researching all aspects of his life and even spent time with those inflicted by the debilitating disease.

Repeated advice to writers everywhere is to write what you know. When it came to the film “Whiplash,” that’s exactly what director Damien Chazelle did. He examined his own traumatic music school experiences with his high school jazz band instructor and turned it into a Best Picture nominee. The film tells the story of a talented young drummer at a prestigious music school as he struggles under a demanding instructor who accepts nothing but the best from his students.

OK, sounds fun! When can I watch them?

The Academy Awards will air this Sunday, Feb. 22 at 7 p.m. EST on ABC.