Oscars preview: Who will win?

(AP Photo/Matt Sayles/Invision)

(CNN) — Roll out the red carpet, the Oscars are finally here, and this year, the competition is fierce.

After 12 years in production, will “Boyhood” bring home best picture or will “Birdman” soar with its nine nominations? The two critical favorites face off in what one expert calls the tightest Oscars race in a decade.

“I think those two must be so close, a third movie could possibly sneak in here,” said Deadline Hollywood columnist Pete Hammond. “Are you listening ‘American Sniper?’ Three hundred million dollars so far and counting! It’s unprecedented this time of year to see that kind of box office success jump into the Oscar race at the last minute.”

Could late season buzz around “American Sniper” mean Bradley Cooper wins best actor? He’ll have to break into the battle between Michael Keaton and Eddie Redmayne. Both men are already adorned in awards season accolades.

Having swept the season so far, Julianne Moore is the front-runner for best actress, playing a woman with Alzheimer’s in “Still Alice.” Rosamund Pike, Felicity Jones, Marion Cotillard and Reese Witherspoon round out the category.

Strong female performances are getting Academy kudos in the acting categories, but in the ranks of the other nominees, it’s a bit of a boys’ club. “There’s hardly any women nominated in the major categories of writing and directing,” Hammond said. “A black female director, Ava DuVernay, who would have made history had she gotten a directing nomination, didn’t get nominated.”

It’s a year that’s been criticized for a lack of diversity. “It is an all-white lineup I’m afraid,” Hammond said, “and they certainly had an opportunity to nominate people like David Oyelowo for lead actor.”

That’s a disappointment to many in Hollywood, especially after 2014, when “12 Years a Slave” won best picture and Mexican-born Alfonso Cuaron took home best director for “Gravity.”

But despite the diversity criticism, Alejandro Iñárritu, the Mexican director, is favored to take home the directing oscar for “Birdman.”

2015 could just be a year of opportunity seized.

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