This year’s Academy Awards ceremony has already seen its fair share of controversy well before the big night, specifically “Selma” not receiving as many nominations as critics and fans expected. One category the film does find itself competing in happens to be the biggest of the ceremony, but the competition is stout. With films such as “Birdman” and “Boyhood,” it will be a long shot for “Selma” and several other impressive cinematic achievements to take home the most coveted award of the evening.

‘American Sniper’

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The cultural controversy Clint Eastwood’s war drama produced doesn’t have much to do with the film itself. Eastwood was more concerned with the trauma that can weigh on veterans when they return home than acts of heroism. The Hollywood icon brings his sure-handed direction to an engrossing story featuring one of the most lethal snipers in American history, Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper). There’s more to the Kyle than his skill with a rifle. His return home only makes him long for protecting his country and the war heroes still fighting even more. Eastwood’s steady hand and the compelling performance of Cooper have thrown “American Sniper” into the conversation.

MPAA rating: R

Rotten Tomatoes: 72 percent

‘Birdman’

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“Birdman” is a black comedy that literally follows Riggan (Michael Keaton), a washed-up actor who earned his fame from starring in a superhero franchise decades earlier, and documents the days leading up to the premier of his Broadway play. The once iconic movie star must battle with his lingering ego while he attempts to repair his broken relationships, career and inevitably himself. The ambitious nature of director Alejandro G. Inarritu’s technical showcase is paired with a captivating story about the human spirit that’s emotionally gratifying, erratic yet warm, and has a funny side that will sneak up on viewers.

MPAA rating: R

Rotten Tomatoes: 92 percent

‘Boyhood’

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The attention to technical detail is what makes “Boyhood” one of the best dramas the film world has ever seen. It’s a genuine experiment of the human condition. Filmmakers do their best to make a story come to life, but this new dramatic style is the closest Hollywood has come to living cinema. Director Richard Linklater takes 12 years of footage and is able to create a singular narrative through the eyes of an adolescent boy, Mason (Ellar Coltrane), who literally grows up as the film progresses.

MPAA rating: R

Rotten Tomatoes: 98 percent

‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’

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Wes Anderson’s latest endeavor, “The Grand Budapest Hotel” once again displays Anderson’s unique talent for using creative landscape and obscure, yet delightful set design to develop profoundly emotional concepts. “Budapest” bounces through time, but highlights the story of legendary concierge, M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes), and lobby boy, Zero Moustafa (Tony Revolori), who become trusted friends not long after their first encounter. During the battle for a family fortune, Gustave is awarded a priceless Renaissance painting, but not before previous successor, Dmitri (Adrien Brody) states his claim. Gustave then finds himself the key suspect in a murder case, and Inspector Henckels (Edward Norton) is the unfortunate soul who has to chase down Gustave and his trusty sidekick.

MPAA rating: R

Rotten Tomatoes: 92 percent

‘The Imitation Game’

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If film fans don’t know about mathematician Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch), “The Imitation Game” is a great place to start. Turing’s discoveries during the Second World War led to the foundation of the modern computer. The story has been altered for cinematic flare as expected, but a compellingly satisfying biopic nonetheless. Cumberbatch and co-star Keira Knightley lift the profound story to another level with their captivating performances.

MPAA rating: PG-13

Rotten Tomatoes: 90 percent

‘Selma’

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Featuring one of David Oyelowo’s most moving roles, “Selma” aims to inspire and succeeds in dramatic fashion. Oyelowo depicts the life and death of Martin Luther King, Jr. in a film that reminds the world how far away his dream still is in our modern age. One of the most impressive elements of director Ava DuVernay’s masterpiece is the way it portrays the Selma march but highlights major events without going into extensive explanations of the action. The viewer is subtly asked to consider the ideas for themselves. The film intelligently illuminates the events happening today, whether it’s political or cultural.

MPAA rating: PG-13

Rotten Tomatoes: 99 percent

‘The Theory of Everything’

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One part biopic, one part love story, “The Theory of Everything” leans on its two lead actors to carry the film, and they do so with brilliant portrayals of astrophysicist Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) and his wife, fellow Cambridge student Jane Wilde (Felicity Jones). Director James Marsh highlights the story of two brilliant minds and a disease that leaves Hawking crippled but not defeated. Watching Redmayne transform and mimic Hawking’s gradual handicap throughout the film is a marvel, and makes the viewer easily forget there is any acting involved.

MPAA rating: PG-13

Rotten Tomatoes: 80 percent

‘Whiplash’

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“Whiplash” is equally intense as it is exhilarating. Director Damien Chazelle’s second film is well-acted, launching young actor Miles Teller into the Hollywood mainstream and defining J.K. Simmons’ extensive resume. Andrew Neyman (Teller) is a young jazz band drummer with a palpable level of ambition that leads him in a pursuit to be one of the greatest of all time. As he rises in one of the most elite music schools in the country, his ambition soon becomes an obsession, and his abusive teacher, Terence Fletcher (Simmons), uses Neyman to test the limits of the human spirit.

MPAA rating: R

Rotten Tomatoes: 95 percent

Don’t miss Neil Patrick Harris host the 87th Academy Awards ceremony at 6 p.m. central time Feb. 22, 2015.

Prediction: “Birdman”

Who might win: “Boyhood”

Category snub: “Gone Girl”

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