Westport News film critic Susan Granger picks the Oscar winners at this year's Academy Awards ceremony Sunday night:

There's been tremendous controversy over the award nominations this year. Early on, it seemed as if Ava DuVernay's "Selma," the civil-rights drama would rival last year's winner, Steve McQueen's "12 Years a Slave." So what happened?

First, timing: Paramount Pictures put its Oscar hopes -- and promotional budget -- behind "Interstellar," which was clearly not the hit they'd hoped for. So the studio released "Selma" too late. There were few screenings before voting deadlines, and DVDs weren't sent to Guild members.

While everyone pays lip service to the idea that movies should be seen on the big screen, the truth is that, during Academy Awards season, most academy members watch DVDs in the comfort of their homes, surrounded by friends and family, particularly over the Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks.

Last year, when writer/director J.C. Chandor was promoting Robert Redford's "All Is Lost," he wanted voters to be compelled to see his survival-at-sea tale on the big screen. Eventually, but too late, he relented because the only thing more important than having a film seen on the big screen is having it seen at all. Without being seen, a film cannot be nominated.

Back to "Selma." Controversy erupted over the depiction of President Lyndon B. Johnson (Tom Wilkinson) as opposing voting rights legislation. Former Johnson aide Joseph A. Califano Jr., a Westport resident, wrote a particularly scathing editorial in the Washington Post about inaccuracies he said he found in the portrayal.

But other films have been historically inaccurate.

(If you're a "Selma" fan, just remember "Citizen Kane" didn't win either. Ava DuVernay and actor David Oyelowo will reunite for a complex murder mystery/love story set against the backdrop of Hurricane Katrina.)

Conventional wisdom is that films released early in the year are forgotten. But that wasn't true of "The Grand Budapest Hotel," released back in March, or "Silence of the Lambs," which had its premiere in Westport in February many years ago.

So what's the story? In my opinion, it was the competition.

Although I would have liked Ava DuVernay to be the first female African-American director nominated for an Academy Award, her helming just wasn't that good. The scene transitions were often awkward, secondary characters ignored and the march over the bridge over-wrought. I don't believe she was judged as a black woman; she was judged as a director in a season that found many other directors doing brilliant work.

Richard Linklater was particularly innovative, making "Boyhood" over a 12-year period, an astoundingly tenacious, logistical achievement. And Wes Anderson's "The Grand Budapest Hotel," a highly sophisticated yet whimsical farce set in a European resort, tied with "Birdman," garnering the most Oscar nominations.

But the most imaginative concept emanated from Alejandro G. Inarritu's "Birdman," a bizarre showbiz fantasy about an aging superhero-film star trying to make a comeback by appearing on Broadway.

What's fascinating is how the story seems to unfold in one continuous, two-hour shot. That's an illusion. It actually consists of many long scenes that are seamlessly edited. Oddly, "Birdman" didn't get an editing nomination. In 1948, 67 years ago, Alfred Hitchcock achieved the same unconventional effect with "Rope."

Acclaimed as Best Picture by the Producers Guild, "Birdman" has a perceived advantage -- for the past seven years, the winner at the Producers Guild has gone on to win the Oscar.

If you're looking for a dark horse in this race, it's Clint Eastwood's "American Sniper," which has already sold more tickets than the other seven nominees combined. A celebration of the gun culture, it's ignited a hot-button Left-Right controversy. The scene that upset me the most was when Chris Kyle playfully pointed a loaded handgun at his wife, telling her to "drop them drawers."

And don't underestimate "The Imitation Game." It's the most conventional of all the contenders, and it has Harvey Weinstein campaigning for it, which means no stone will be left unturned.

Vying for Best Picture, in alphabetical order, are: "American Sniper," "Birdman," "Boyhood," "The Grand Budapest Hotel," "The Imitation Game," "Selma," "The Theory of Everything" and "Whiplash."

- BEST PICTURE, my prediction: "Birdman"

For Best Director, there's Wes Anderson ("The Grand Budapest Hotel"), Alejandro G. Inarritu ("Birdman"), Richard Linklater ("Boyhood"), Bennett Miller ("Foxcatcher") and Morten Tyldum ("The Imitation Game"). Inarritu and Linklater are the favorites, and whoever's name is in the envelope will be a first-time winner

- BEST DIRECTOR, my prediction: Alejandro G. Inarritu

For Best Actress, nominees are Marion Cotillard ("Two Days, One Night"), Felicity Jones ("The Theory of Everything"), Julianne Moore ("Still Alice"), Rosamund Pike ("Gone Girl") and Reese Witherspoon ("Wild").

Having won several critics' awards, along with the SAG trophy, Julianne Moore is the favorite, playing a 50-year-old linguistic professor struggling with early-onset Alzheimer's.

- BEST ACTRESS, my prediction: Julianne Moore

For Best Actor, contenders are Steve Carell ("Foxcatcher), Bradley Cooper ("American Sniper"), Benedict Cumberbatch ("The Imitation Game"), Michael Keaton ("Birdman") and Eddie Redmayne ("The Theory of Everything").

It's between Michael Keaton and Eddie Redmayne, the young Brit who won the coveted SAG trophy, and actors make up the largest voting bloc in the academy. Redmayne should win for his remarkable portrayal of astrophysicist Stephen Hawking, who was stricken with ALS and lost his ability to walk and talk. But 63-year-old Keaton is a sentimental academy favorite; Oscar voters love comebacks so this might be considered a lifetime achievement award.

- BEST ACTOR, my prediction: Michael Keaton

For Best Supporting Actress, choices are Patricia Arquette ("Boyhood"), Keira Knightley ("The Imitation Game"), Emma Stone ("Birdman"), Meryl Streep ("Into the Woods") and Laura Dern ("Wild").

Patricia Arquette comes from a popular film-making family, giving her a distinct advantage, although perennial favorite Meryl Streep has garnered her 19th Academy Award nomination.

- BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS, my prediction: Patricia Arquette

For Best Supporting Actor, nominees are Robert Duvall ("The Judge"), Ethan Hawke ("Boyhood"), Edward Norton ("Birdman"), Mark Ruffalo ("Foxcatcher") and J.K. Simmons ("Whiplash").

- BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR, my prediction: J.K. Simmons

For Best Adapted Screenplay, nominees are Jason Hall ("American Sniper"), Graham Moore ("The Imitation Game"), Paul Thomas Anderson ("Inherent Vice"), Anthony McCarten ("The Theory of Everything") and Damien Chazelle ("Whiplash").

- BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY, my prediction: Graham Moore for "The Imitation Game"

For Best Original Screenplay, nominees are Alejandro G. Inarritu, Alexander Dinelaris Jr. and Armando Bo ("Birdman"), Richard Linklater ("Boyhood"), E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman ("Foxcatcher"), Wes Anderson ("The Grand Budapest Hotel") and Dan Gilroy ("Nightcrawler").

- BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY, my prediction: Wes Anderson for "The Grand Budapest Hotel"

Predictions in other Academy Award Categories:

- BEST ANIMATED: "How to Train Your Dragon 2"

- BEST DOCUMENTARY: "Citizenfour"

- BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE: "Ida" from Poland

- BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY: "Birdman"

- BEST EDITING: "Boyhood"

- BEST VISUAL EFFECTS: "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes"

- BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN: "The Grand Budapest Hotel"

- BEST MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING: "The Grand Budapest Hotel"

- BEST COSTUME DESIGN: "The Grand Budapest Hotel"

- BEST ORIGINAL SONG: "Glory" from "Selma"

- BEST ORIGINAL SCORE: "The Theory of Everything"

- BEST SOUND EDITING: "American Sniper"

- BEST SOUND MIXING: "Birdman"

- BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT SUBJECT: "Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1"

- BEST ANIMATED SHORT FILM: "Feast"

- BEST LIVE-ACTION SHORT FILM: "The Phone Call"

- For more about movies and entertainment news, visit: www.susangranger.com.