Sunday, February 22, 2015

Oscar 2015 Predictions

Each year I struggle with the notion of even doing a predictions list. It’s true that the Academy Awards is one of the most predictable awards show out there, mostly due to the fact that it comes at the very end of awards season, after everybody else has already handed out their awards, including some entities that make up the majority of the 6000+ voting membership of the Academy. With the Screen Actor’s Guild, the Producer’s Guild, the Writer’s Guild, the Director’s Guild and the British Academy of Film all posting their favorites of the year in the week’s leading up to the Academy’s award ceremony, it becomes pretty clear who will win what when all is said and done.

The Academy spends a good deal of time trying to fight its own predictability by changing their awards dates and their voting dates, and frequently changing voting rules and even employing such convoluted rules that most of the Academy voting membership don’t necessarily know how it all works; but as long as they insist on being the last of the bunch, this is a problem they will likely never resolve. That being said there are often a couple of surprises to be had here and there. Those who are good at this are good at identifying where the loop holes in the voting rules and good at ignoring some of the trusted patterns. I am not good at this. I pretty much stick with what I’ve seen throughout the awards process. So… what’s the point for me? To go on record with my understanding of the industry, I guess. So, with mere hours to go before the ceremony, here are my two cents, which are probably worth just about that much.

Best Picture.
This is one of two categories that is being touted in the media as a true mystery in the Oscar races this year. It isn’t too much of a mystery as it is being touted as only a two horse race. There have been some outlets looking to fill space by doing write-ups on how some of the dark horses could pull it out. Of course, the British fare “The Imitation Game” and “The Theory of Everything” represent the “safe” choices that Oscar likes to make and have caused surprises in the past, such as “The King’s Speech” stealing the top award from favorite “The Social Network”. Some have cited the Academy’s cryptic voting process as good reason to believe that “The Grand Budapest Hotel” could snatch the award away from the two frontrunners, and if there were a true surprise to be had this evening, this would be the most likely in my mind.

The reality is that this is a two horse race, however. Best picture is between Richard Linklater’s 12-year coming of age project “Boyhood” and Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu’s bold industry-based midlife crisis picture “Birdman”. I’m very happy with this as these were my two favorite films of the year. For a good while, I thought all the toss-up talk was bunk designed to make the Oscars seem more exciting this year. “Boyhood” was the shoe-in for most of the awards season buildup, but “Birdman” has come on strong in the final weeks with the groups mentioned above. Although the actor’s branch makes up the biggest portion of the Academy voters, I don’t think their choice of “Birdman” says much about how the Academy will go, because they were voting for the Best Ensemble Performance, not the Best Picture of the year. However, with a Producer’s Guild win on top of the SAG win, its prospects seem much stronger.

My pick: On any other year in my lifetime I would give it to “Birdman”, but “Boyhood” just struck me as one of the most original, universal, bold and amazing pictures I’ve ever seen. “Boyhood” gets my vote.

Who will win: While I believe it will be a pretty close call, and this one could very well tip many an Oscar pool. I still think the original frontrunner will eek it out and the Oscar will go to “Boyhood”.

Best Actor.
This is the second category that has everyone claiming it is impossible to know who will win it. Once again, it is only a two horse race. Steve Carell, Bradley Cooper and Benedict Cumberbatch can just relax tonight, because we won’t hear their names after the nominees are announced. Cooper and Cumberbatch will most certainly get future chances, hopefully Carell can get himself up there again. But this one is between Michael Keaton for his role as an aging actor famous for a superhero role in his younger days trying to make a comeback with his Broadway debut in “Birdman” and Eddie Redmayne as a young Stephen Hawking trying to make his name in astrophysics while fighting for his life against a debilitating disease in “The Theory of Everything”.

There are two things the Academy loves to see in the movies—films and performances that criticize aspects of their acting and filmmaking professions, and actors playing real life people fighting against debilitating diseases. These two performances have everything going for them. Keaton is well respected and has a career trajectory mirrored by his role backed by the performance of his career. Redmayne is a relative newcomer who has made his mark with a few very powerful performances in remarkable movies. Although it is likely that he will have other chances at an Oscar, Hawking may be the role he was born to play, and he did come home with the SAG award.

My Pick: Despite the fact that I’ve yet to see Redmayne’s Hawking, there is no doubt in my mind that it would still be eclipsed once I do by Keaton’s remarkable vulnerability, determination and humor in “Birdman”. Keaton all the way.

Who will win: Of any category I would like to miss in the Oscar pool, this is the one. However, there isn’t much to argue against the facts of this case. The toss-up debate is completely imagined here because of the SAG win. Unlike the movie category, the voters for the AMPAS are awarding the same thing here as the SAG awards and most of them voted in the SAG awards. Eddie Redmayne will walk away with this statue.

Best Actress. It has been said that this was a weak year in roles for women. I saw some pretty strong female performances, but mostly in movies that were never even considered for an Oscar in any category. From the moment the awards season began this year, pundits have been predicting the Oscar for Julianne Moore for her performance as a language arts professor who is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in “Still Alice”. Some arguments have been made for Marion Cotillard in “Two Days, One Night” for what has been claimed critically as the best female performance of the year. Rosamond Pike has gotten some talk as well for her role in “Gone Girl”, the highest profile movie in this list of nominees. Felicity Jones for “The Theory of Everything” and Reese Witherspoon for “Wild” have pretty much been treated as filler, however.

My pick: Having only seen one of these performances myself, I don’t bring much expertise into this race. From what I’ve heard, Marion Cotillard’s work is by far the best here. But not having seen these movies, I’m forced to go with past works. Cotillard already has a much deserved Oscar for “La vie en Rose”, while Moore has put in some amazing performances over the years and has yet to bring home the Oscar gold. I’d give it to Moore.

Who will win: There’s little mystery about where this Oscar will end up at the end of the night. Julianne Moore will no longer be a bridesmaid.

Best Supporting Actor.
Robert Duvall becomes the oldest actor to ever earn the distinction of this nomination. That’s where his path will end tonight. Perhaps he’ll be able to steal the same distinction from himself in a year or two. I was a huge fan of Ethan Hawke’s work in “Boyhood” and felt he might’ve ended up undervalued, but the Academy noticed him too. It will remain a notice. Mark Ruffalo is said to have the best performance in “Foxcatcher”. Good for him. The amazing thing about “Birdman” is all the amazing performances that surround Keaton’s career performance. Norton’s is at the top of that pile.  And then there’s J.K. Simmons in “Whiplash”. The Academy loves him. Mainstream audiences at large know him if not by name because of all the countless movies he’s enhanced by his presence.

My pick: Although I loved both Norton and Hawke in their respective roles, as a character actor myself I’ve long admired the all too often unsung work of actors like Simmons. J.K .is my guy.

Who will win: The Academy has been waiting for a role like this to award this beloved character actor for a long time. J.K. Simmons will finally get his chance in the spotlight tonight.

Best Supporting Actress.
The fourth acting category and third no-brainer. Emma Stone is part of that amazing “Birdman” cast that got theirs at the SAGs. Laura Dern is a powerful and talented actress that many may have thought quit the game until she showed up with a nod for “Wild”. Keira Knightley plays a bright spot in the boys club that is “The Imitation Game”, but is never called for anything warranting an award. My favorite line from the Golden Globes was how Meryl Streep played a witch in “Into the Woods” who sent the other characters out to gather all the materials she needed to secure herself another nomination. Is there anyone who doesn’t think Patricia Arquette has this one in the bag?

My pick: Not only will Patricia Arquette win this award for her portrayal of a single mother over a 12-year period in the film “Boyhood”, but she would deserve it in a year filled with amazing female performances. She never plays her character as a victim and she expresses one of the truest and saddest emotions about parenting during a powerful monologue that likely every parent experiences at some point in time.

Who will win: Yeah, I know I already told you, but one more reason why the Academy will award Patricia Arquette the statue. She is braver than any other actress in Hollywood to appear in a movie that shows her natural aging progress over the course of twelve years.

Best Director.
I would think an argument could be made that the Director category could hold the potential for a toss-up or even an upset. Richard Linklater has dominated the awards circuit here, but Alejandro Inarritu has bagged a win or two here and there for his astonishing work on “Birdman”. “Birdman” is the more stylized of the two, which makes it easier to see just what the director has accomplished with his efforts. However, Linklater’s work is unprecedented in all of cinema. Just to conceive of a twelve-year filming project takes a director of unequaled vision. Sorry, everybody else, but these two are the only guys in the discussion. In any other year Wes Anderson would most certainly garner some jaw work for his quite visionary “The Grand Budapest Hotel”, but not this time.

My pick: I’d like to give it to both of them. Inarritu has been putting out visionary work for years and “Birdman” is his finest yet. Linklater was a pioneer in the independent film movement and has continued to put out quality work throughout his incredibly prolific career. “Boyhood” is the best of it. Linklater gets my vote here.

Who will win: Although there is certainly a case to be made for Inarritu, with Best Picture in the balance, the Academy will be sure to award “Boyhood” here if only for making cinematic history.

Best Adapted Screenplay.
This category is one of the majors that has kind of flown under the radar this year, with so much attention being paid to the original screenplay productions of “Boyhood” and “Birdman”. I believe “The Imitation Game” has quietly been racking up the awards in this one, although a case could certainly be made for each of the nominees.

My pick: I’d go against all convention here is give it to Paul Thomas Anderson’s screenplay for “Inherent Vice”. This and costume design are the only categories in which Anderson’s rather remarkable stoner noir have been able to nab nominations. The Academy missed some important categories for this film by failing to nominate Joaquin Phoenix for Best Actor, Anderson for Director, or the production as a whole for Best Picture. Of all the adapted screenplays nominated this one was by far the most difficult to adapt to cinema and it’s also the most surprisingly subversive of the bunch.

Who will win: This is where the academy will honor their “safe” British fare. It could go to either “The Imitation Game” or “The Theory of Everything”, but the later will get its due in the Best Actor win and “The Imitation Game” also tackles a third of the Academy’s favorite subjects—living with the secret of homosexuality. Graham Moore wins this for “The Imitation Game”.

Best Original Screenplay.
The original writing category will bring more tension to the Oscar pools this year than any other major category and almost as much as the shorts categories. You’ve got “Birdman”, “Boyhood”, “Foxcatcher”, “The Grand Budapest Hotel” and “Nightcrawler”. These are all amazing screenplays. The fact that they all came in the same year says something about the originality of cinema these days. It ain’t all the same stuff being made over and over again, like everyone says. I think you can dismiss Richard Linklater’s screenplay for “Boyhood” because of the “improvisational” nature of how the movie was filmed. It was hardly improvised, but the mysteriousness of the process here and the fact that the voters need to narrow down their candidates somehow takes this one out of the race. “Foxcatcher” just didn’t catch fire. Not enough enthusiasm to see this one awarded. This leaves three true contenders. “Nightcrawler” was heavily snubbed, missing out on nominations in Picture, Actor, and Supporting Actress that most believe it deserved. The fact that it showed up somewhere is nice, but not enough for the win. That leaves two of the most original screenplays I can remember to duke it out. It’s “Birdman” vs. “The Grand Budapest Hotel.

My pick: Although I adore all the worlds inhabited by the characters of Wes Anderson, I’d have to give it to the screenwriting team behind “Birdman”, who have crafted an amazing portrait of a midlife crisis in such a way that redefines all we know about theater, cinema, actors and insanity.

Who will win: Despite the fact that the Academy loves to award screenplays that ridicule their own business, I believe the general consensus with its membership is that it was about time Wes Anderson was awarded (this is his fourth original screenplay nomination) for being perhaps the most original writer Hollywood has ever experienced. Plus, the awards circuit results support this assessment. “The Grand Budapest Hotel” will receive its grand moment here.

Best Animated Feature.
I’m not sure the discussion of this competition will reveal much about this year’s winner here. The Academy created this category to acknowledge the growing appreciation for animation among American audiences and to give these wonderful works of art a shot when a Best Picture nomination will likely end with the nomination alone for an animated film. It also has taken pride in bringing awareness of the incredible artfulness of the genre by frequently nominating lesser-known features that push the bounds of storytelling through animation. Its first Oscar went to one of those films by renowned animation director Hayao Miyazaki with “Spirited Away”. Since that first Animated Feature Oscar, the award has frequently gone to less ambitious Hollywood fare although more impressive features have been nominated. This year a film that embraced both the Hollywood animated formula and the more artful bending of the “rules” of storytelling—“The Lego Movie” was shockingly snubbed. I do hope that the Academy works to amend some of the issues they seem to have in the nomination and voting process of this category, which 15 years later still seems to be going through some growing pains.

My pick: I would give it to “The Lego Movie”. I would find some way to slip their name into the envelope and I wouldn’t look back. It wouldn’t be looked upon as tampering, but simply righting a universal wrong. Without that option, I would give it to any of the nominees other than “How to Train Your Dragon 2”.

Who will win: “How To Train Your Dragon 2”. It isn’t a bad movie, but it doesn’t come anywhere near to the artistry and depth of the four other nominees.

The rest in alphabetical order.

My pick: “Birdman”, although I hear “Mr. Turner” deserves it.
Who will win: “Birdman”

Costume design.
My pick: “The Grand Budapest Hotel”, although I hear “Mr. Turner” deserves it.
Who will win: “The Grand Budapest Hotel”

Documentary feature.
My pick: “Virunga”. I’ve only seen this one and “Last Days in Vietnam”.
Who will win: “Citizenfour”

Documentary short:
My pick: ???
Who will win: “Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1”. It’s the only one I’ve heard any buzz about and it deals with a particularly topical subject.

Film Editing.
My pick: “Boyhood”.
Who will win: “Whiplash”. It could deserve it as much as “Boyhood”. I haven’t seen it.

Foreign Language Film.
My pick: “Ida”. It’s the only one I’ve seen, but it’s damn good.
Who will win: “Wild Tales”. I would say “Leviathan” based on the buzz and because it would tick off Vladimir Putin, but the Academy often goes with a softer choice in this category.

Make Up and Hairstyling.
My pick: “The Grand Budapest Hotel”.
Who will win: “The Grand Budapest Hotel” for Tilda Swinton’s make up alone, although hairstyling will be a factor here as well.

Original Score.
My pick: “Interstellar”.
Who will win: “The Grand Budapest Hotel”.

Original Song.
My pick: “Glory” from “Selma”. I’m so glad The Lonely Island will be performing at the Oscars, however, because of their contribution to “The Lego Movie”s “Everything Is Awesome”.
Who will win: “Glory” from “Selma”.

Production Design.
My pick: “The Grand Budapest Hotel”.
Who will win: “The Grand Budapest Hotel”.

Short Film (Animated).
My pick: ??? I’ve only seen “Me and My Moulton”.
Who will win: I don’t think it will be the one I’ve seen. Maybe “Feast”, but I don’t really think so. I’ve got nothing to gage this one.

Short Film (Live Action).
My pick: ???
Who will win: “Boogaloo and Graham” is what the buzz says, but if you can get this one and the last one, you win the pool.

Sound Editing.
My pick: “Interstellar”.
Who will win: “Birdman”.

Sound Mixing.
My pick: “Interstellar”.
Who will win: “Birdman”. It could go to “Whiplash”, but Oscar’s tendency toward sweeps says “Birdman”.

Visual Effects.
My pick: “Interstellar”.
Who will win: “Interstellar”.

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