It’s all over but for the opening of 24 envelopes later tonight. The long, winding road to the 87th annual Academy Awards ends in a few hours at the Dolby Theatre and I think host Neil Patrick Harris will have his work cut out for him in warming up this audience.

Pete HammondI have never quite sensed such a palpable air of nervousness among so many of the people behind the nominated films than in talking to so many of them at various events this weekend. That’s because there has not been such uncertainty about so many categories in many years, particularly Best Picture and Best Actor , to name two.   If I never hear the phrase, Birdman/Boyhood  again I will be eternally grateful — it’s enough to give a guy whiplash.

This year’s possible results have all the ingredients to produce a stunner of an outcome that we always hope for (just to shake things up) but almost never get in this transparent era. Too many precursor awards shows generally suck the air out of any possible suspense. Not this year: By my calculations in talking to soooooo many Oscar voters the past few days, the Best Picture picture is murky and ripe for weirdness (I am still guessing it’s Birdman.) But the Actor race is this close between Eddie Redmayne and a surging Michael Keaton. For every Redmayne vote I got a Keaton, and vice versa. Could Bradley Cooper sneak in still? Sure, but not among those I canvassed, but maybe they just aren’t being “brutally honest” with me. Sorry.

birdman-boyhood-sag-nominations-600x450Speaking of Keaton, he made a direct path at the Spirit Awards cocktail hour to film critic Leonard Maltin to tell him the undisputed highlight of this whole season for him was the Santa Barbara Film Festival’s Modern Master tribute show that Maltin hosted for him. Shortly thereafter, Keaton took Best Actor at the Spirits. So did Julianne Moore, Patricia Arquette and J.K. Simmons among others expected to repeat at the Oscars tonight. Just one more (hopefully) heartfelt speech to go, guys.

Waiting for our cars after last night’s e
xceptional “The Night Before” benefit for the Motion Picture and Television Fund, Aaron Paul came up and told me something about Keaton I hadn’t heard this entire season. When I brought up the fact that I loved seeing him in his quirky, totally off-the-wall supporting role in Paul’s March release Need For Speed (a movie NO ONE seemingly has asked Keaton about this year), Paul said in the original script Keaton’s character’s name was Birdman. “Michael told the producers, ‘Uh guys, you might want to change that because I just finished a movie where I play this guy who played a guy named Birdman,” Paul laughed just before his car rolled up. The character’s name was changed to Monarch.

By the way that always-great press-free party that Jeffrey Katzenberg hosts for the Fund once again raised millions, as it does each year.

NEED FOR SPEEDAs Deadline reported several months ago, due to an ongoing boycott because of the Sultan Of Brunei’s (owner of the Beverly Hills Hotel) inhumane laws, the star-studded benefit couldn’t go back to its one and only venue since its inception over a decade ago. What to do? They re
-created the Beverly Hills Hotel and Polo Lounge absolutely brilliantly on a large 20th Century Fox soundstage donated by Jim Gianopulos and the studio. Movie magic at its best and all for a great cause. Oscar weekend doesn’t solely have to be about the race.

But back to that race. Except for the fact that the most indie-centric film of all, Boyhood, lost Best Film at the Spirits to Birdman, that show was predictable but lots of fun thanks to hosts Fred Armisen and Kristen Bell. There was talk about why Best Director winner Richard Linklater was not there to accept (Boyhood co-star Ethan Hawke stood in). Actually, Linklater did turn up later for AMC Networks and IFC’s after-Spirits party at 41 Ocean. Walking into the crowded party he told me he had family obligations. Linklater had a checkered past with the Spirits since his first of an eventual nine nominations for Slacker 23 years ago and until yesterday had never won. This was obviously overdue but he may not have been anxious to rush to the big tent on the beach to lose again.

AMC Networks And IFC Films Spirit Awards After PartyThe speculation about what the Spirits and all the other shows leading up to the Oscars all means has been endless, but unless the winner turns out to be American Sniper I am not sure America will care which indie movie already out on Blu-ray and available for streaming wins tonight. I do. Like I said, it has been a very long season, one that even had a soft start at Cannes where I first popped the “O” question to Steve Carell after seeing him in Foxcatcher. Now here we are nine months later, pregnant with Oscar anticipation. The big “O” is upon us.

Congratulations and good luck to all the nominees. You made it this far. That’s a win in itself. And here’s a final shout-out to some that didn’t quite make it all the way but should have. Here’s to you Jake Gyllenhaal and Rene Russo in Nightcrawler. You both deserve to be sitting front and center at the Dolby. You too, Timothy Spall in Mr. Turner  and Jennifer Aniston in Cake.

In all the “lack of diveristy” discussion there was a lot of talk about how Selma’s David Oyelowo was robbed (he was), but so was the great James Brown that Chadwick Boseman delivered in Get On Up. Here’s to you, Chad. And you too, Kevin Costner in Black Or White. And Ben Affleck, every bit the equal to his nominated co-star Rosamund Pike in Gone Girl. And you, too, Robert Downey Jr., so fine in the underrated The Judge. 

Here’s to the gritty and great war movie, Furyand Rob Marshall for making one of the best movie musicals in eons with Into The Woods. Here’s to David Fincher and Angelina Jolie, who made big hits out of challenging books with Gone Girl and Unbroken, respectively. To J.C. Chandor for A Most Violent Year. To Ava DuVernay, who missed out on becoming the first black woman to get a Best Director Oscar nomination but not for being the first to direct an Oscar-nominated Best Picture.

There are so many others but especially here’s a toast  to you, Elaine Stritch, Roger Ebert and Clark Terry. Even though they are gone, the three extraordinary films detailing their fighting spirit and dedication to who they are and what they did live on. Stritch lived long enough to see her film, Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me, open in theaters. Ebert didn’t live to see his Life Itself win such acclaim and a place on the 15-film Oscar documenatry shortlist.

Keep On Keeping OnThe great jazz trumpeter and educator Clark Terry, the subject of the wonderful shortlisted doc Keep On Keepin’ On almost made it to Oscar night, even though his deserving film didn’t. He died yesterday at age 94. One of the highlights of this season for me has been meeting those he mentored and touched who brought his story to life on the screen.

Actually, Keep On Keepin’ On is something everyone this year, nominated or not, should do  You made it a great year. And so as I often like to quote from my favorite cult movie ever made, 1966’s The Oscar, in a scene just before the big event begins: “You finally made it, Frankie! Oscar Night! And here you sit, on top of a glass mountain called ‘success’. You’re one of the chosen five, and the whole town’s holding its breath to see who won it.”