This year’s list is a bit late in coming. I took advantage of being snowed in over the past week to catch up on many of 2014’s Oscar nominees. (Netflix is my new best friend.)
I have seen most – but by no means all – of the nominated films and performances. As with last year, three of the four acting categories are near locks, and the closest race is for Best Picture. (For a somewhat-lengthy examination of my 2013-14 picks, click here…and know that I correctly guessed seven of those eight major category winners.) Better late than never, here are my predictions for tonight’s Neil Patrick Harris-hosted ceremony.
Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
The Theory of Everything
Who Will Win: Birdman
Who Should Win: Birdman
Watch Out For: Boyhood
Comments: For the first year in many, I have no qualms with this list of nominees. All films have earned their place here. Last year saw nine films make the cut instead of eight, and if I could be indulgent, I suppose I wouldn’t mind seeing the fun Marvel Studios outer space romp “Guardians of the Galaxy” squeak in here for the ninth spot. I guess it simply came up short, percentage-wise. I am still not sure I understand how the Academy determines the number of nominees, except to say that it can be as few as five and as many as ten.
There seem to be two clear frontrunners this year, and they both start with the letter “B.” The most original film of the year – and the one with the longest title (if you include the weird parenthetical appendage) – the showbiz-themed indie “Birdman” appears to be vying with Richard Linklater’s 12-years-in-the-making “Boyhood” for the top prize of the night. These films, along with Wes Anderson’s delightful “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” took the most risks, each for different reasons, and any of them would be good, unconventional winners. “Boyhood” has leagues of admirers but I’ll pick “Birdman beloved by Hollywood insiders, to win by a nose (or a “beak”). As it happens, I also think that “Birdman” is the better film, for reasons of ambition and pacing. We will never know how close the vote was, but I’m sure that if we could peek inside the PricewaterhouseCoopers briefcase, we’d see that “very” would be an appropriate word.
Wes Anderson, The Grand Budapest Hotel
Alejandro González Iñárritu, Birdman
Richard Linklater, Boyhood
Bennett Miller, Foxcatcher
Morten Tyldum, The Imitation Game
Who Will Win: Richard Linklater
Who Should Win: Richard Linklater
Watch Out For: Alejandro González Iñárritu
Comments: There is a glaring omission from this list. Ava DuVernay, the helmer of “Selma,” should have been the first African-American female directing nominee. I won’t make allegations of racism; I know that Paramount Pictures released the film late and botched its Oscar campaign. However, “Selma” is an outstanding historical drama, and wouldn’t it have been cool for the film to have made a bit of Oscar history as well?
Having gotten that off my chest, we once again have a two-horse race between “Birdman” and “Boyhood.” If Alejandro González Iñárritu wins for “Birdman,” he’ll be the second Mexican-born director to win, and the second Mexican-born director to win in a row, following Alfonso Cuarón for last year’s real-time sci-fi film “Gravity.” Iñárritu is one of the best filmmakers working today. His films are usually somber ensemble dramas, but this time out he threw everything out there for his meta-fantasy-comedy. He deserves to win…but so does Richard Linklater, who has made experimental films for years, among them the rotoscope-animated “Waking Life” and the “Before Sunrise” trilogy. For “Boyhood,” he dedicated a couple weeks of his life each year for 12 years (!) to tell the tale of young Mason’s coming of age from adolescence to young adulthood. An admirable, Oscar-worthy gamble.
Steve Carell, Foxcatcher
Bradley Cooper, American Sniper
Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game
Michael Keaton, Birdman
Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything
Who Will Win: Eddie Redmayne
Who Should Win: Benedict Cumberbatch
Watch Out For: Michael Keaton
Comments: Tough call. I haven’t seen “Foxcatcher” yet, but I was wowed by Bradley Cooper, Benedict Cumberbatch, Michael Keaton, and Eddie Redmayne in their respective roles. It seems that the British Redmayne has a slight edge as real-life Cambridge astrophysicist Dr. Stephen Hawking, with Michael Keaton nipping at his heels as fallen movie star Riggan Thomson. Watching Redmayne embody Hawking (who is still alive at age 73 despite being given just two years to live following his diagnosis of Lou Gehrig’s disease at age 21) in “The Theory of Everything” is uncanny, to be frank. Some people say that Keaton has the tougher job in “Birdman,” as he plays a fictitious character, and I can see merit in that argument…not to mention that Keaton’s triumph here is the kind of comeback story that Oscar loves. Running a distant third in the race is Cooper, bulked-up and haunting as the real life Chris Kyle in “American Sniper.” Mr. Cooper, your year is coming.
Personally, I would be happy with a win by either Redmayne or Keaton…but even happier if Cumberbatch snuck in here for the win. I just watched “The Imitation Game” last night, and for my money his performance is the most impressive of the four that I’ve seen. As Alan Turing, the supremely bright, incredibly arrogant, and socially awkward Cambridge mathematician who was instrumental in deciphering the Nazi’s ENIGMA codes, Cumberbatch brings all of these character traits to the surface. He is the “It” star of the moment, and I can’t think of a better way to capitalize on that than with a well-deserved Oscar.
Marion Cotillard, Two Days, One Night
Felicity Jones, The Theory of Everything
Julianne Moore, Still Alice
Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl
Reese Witherspoon, Wild
Who Will Win: Julianne Moore
Who Should Win: Julianne Moore
Watch Out For: Rosamund Pike
Comments: For all the fuss over Jennifer Aniston’s snubbing for the film “Cake,” I’ve gotten the impression that this is a particularly weak year for Lead Actress performances. At press time, I have only seen two of the nominated films (“The Theory of Everything” and “Gone Girl”), and although Felicity Jones (as Jane Hawking, wife of Stephen) and Rosamund Pike (as Amy Dunne, the complicated ice princess of the title) are both strong, their work doesn’t resonate as deeply as that of past winners like Cate Blanchett, who won for last year’s “Blue Jasmine.” In “The Theory of Everything,” Jones had as almost as much screen time as co-star Eddie Redmayne, and if she gets the bigger dramatic arc, she also gets the less-showy role. In “Gone Girl,” Pike is terrific, but the movie, though as taut as the novel from which it was adapted, dropped out of mind just a few hours after I saw it. This will hurt her chances.
The consensus throughout the industry is that this is Julianne Moore’s year. This “it’s about time” Academy mindset happens every so often. Moore plays the title character in “Still Alice,” a presumably-devastating story about an Alzheimer’s patient (Moore). Moore has been giving stellar performances for years – she’s literally appeared in dozens and dozens of films, and has been nominated four other times in the past. The fact that she has never won shouldn’t be the main determining factor for handing her a trophy, but she is the odds-on favorite, and her role is the type that regularly wins Oscars. I am okay with that.
Best Supporting Actor
Robert Duvall, The Judge
Ethan Hawke, Boyhood
Edward Norton, Birdman
Mark Ruffalo, Foxcatcher
JK Simmons, Whiplash
Who Will Win: JK Simmons
Who Should Win: JK Simmons
Watch Out For: Edward Norton
Comments: As I wrote earlier, I haven’t seen “Foxcatcher” yet. Also, I refuse to watch “The Judge,” which looks like TV-movie-of-the-week treacle. Therefore, I can’t comment on Mark Ruffalo’s “Foxcatcher” performance, nor on Robert Duvall’s in “The Judge,” except to say that Duvall won for 1983’s “Tender Mercies” and should have won for 1997’s “The Apostle.”
I loved Ethan Hawke, Edward Norton, and JK Simmons in each of their nominated performances. As Mason, Sr. in “Boyhood,” Hawke is the most engaging presence on screen, and the movie is sapped of energy as soon as his character disappears (which is for long periods at a time; it’s really not a very sizable role). As egomaniacal “Method” actor Mike Shiner in “Birdman,” Norton steals his every scene. The fact that Norton is probably the same way in real life makes him no less deserving of his nomination here. And then there’s JK Simmons. In “Whiplash,” he plays Terrence Fletcher, an abusive jazz teacher at a prestigious NYC music conservatory, and he lingers long in your memory. He is the scariest teacher you’ve ever had, he is the meanest school yard bully to ever tease you, he is the hard-driving boss that you hate. He is the clear and deserving frontrunner, a long-time character actor who finally gets the role of a lifetime.
Best Supporting Actress
Patricia Arquette, Boyhood
Laura Dern, Wild
Keira Knightley, The Imitation Game
Emma Stone, Birdman
Meryl Streep, Into the Woods
Who Will Win: Patricia Arquette
Who Should Win: Patricia Arquette
Watch Out For: Emma Stone
Comments: There are at least three good performances in this category, and I have no squabble with any of them. “Boyhood’s” Patricia Arquette plays the always-busy, oft-single mom of the film. “The Imitation Game’s” Keira Knightley plays Joan Clarke, a confident British codebreaker during WWII and an equal in intelligence to her male superior. “Birdman’s” Emma Stone plays Sam, the wide-eyed addict daughter of a has-been Hollywood movie star who hires her as his personal assistant on a new Broadway production. I can’t speak for Laura Dern or Meryl Streep, as I haven’t seen “Wild” or “Into the Woods,” but both women have been earning respect from critics for years – and of course, Streep is a three-time Oscar-winning legend.
That being said, Arquette is a lock to win. She has won every – every – award that she’s been up for this year, and those are unbeatable odds. Her performance in “Boyhood” isn’t particularly showy, and she doesn’t get any big speeches or death scenes. What she is is steady in a movie that she appeared in for one or two weeks a year over 12 consecutive years. Of course her character changes over that span of time; Arquette’s “Mom” continually tries to better herself, putting herself through college and weathering three tumultuous marriages. I wrote above that the scenes featuring co-star Ethan Hawke are my favorites from the movie. They have a lightness of touch that I like. The scenes featuring Arquette are heavier – her character keeps making the wrong romantic choices, and it is devastating to watch. “Boyhood” is really her movie.
Best Original Screenplay
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Who Will Win: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Who Should Win: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Watch Out For: Birdman
Comments: Bold storytelling ideas get the chance to be awarded in this category. The way I see it, we have the year’s two most original films nominated herein, and one of them will win. It could be “Birdman,” about a washed-up movie star (a well-cast Michael Keaton) who attempts to reinvent himself as an artist by writing, directing, and starring in a Broadway play, all the while dealing with blowhard co-stars, set disasters, women problems, and performance anxiety – manifested in the form of fantasy sequences…but I think it will be “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” an ambitious story-within-a-story-within-a-story about a hyperactive hotel concierge (a zany Ralph Fiennes) who must battle a family of heirs to the fortune of a recently deceased widow – a frequent guest at his hotel to whom he serviced in more ways than one. “TGBH,” as many are calling it, is a delirious bit of storytelling that deserves to win here.
Best Adapted Screenplay
The Imitation Game
The Theory of Everything
Who Will Win: Whiplash
Who Should Win: The Imitation Game
Watch Out For: The Imitation Game
Comments: There is another two-horse race in the category of Best Adapted Screenplay. This time, the contenders are not “Birdman” and “Boyhood” but rather “Whiplash” and “The Imitation Game.” The feel-good, thumping tale of a percussion student (Miles Teller) who is both inspired by and terrified by his monstrous music teacher (Oscar nominee JK Simmons), “Whiplash” hasn’t made much money in cinemas but will surely do well on DVD. It is simultaneously surprising and predictable, and is a sort of anti-“Dead Poets Society.” It may very well win. The closest thing to a competitor is “The Imitation Game,” and it is actually the movie screenplay that I think should win. Screenwriter Graham Moore adapted the book “Alan Turing: The Enigma” and turned the script into a jigsaw puzzle, something which would have pleased the real life Turing immensely. “The Imitation Game” is literate, suspenseful, sad, and funny – a roller coaster of a film that has its best chance at an Oscar in this category.
I haven’t seen any of the animated or foreign nominees, but the buzz suggests “How to Train Your Dragon 2” for Best Animated Feature and Poland’s “Ida” for Best Foreign Film. I expect “American Sniper” to take home Oscars in both Sound categories, “Birdman” to win Best Cinematography, “The Theory of Everything” to win for Jóhann Jóhannsson’s score, “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” for Visual Effects, “Selma” for the song “Glory,” and “The Grand Budapest Hotel” for just about every other technical Oscar.
Am I out of my gourd? Leave a comment below…and let it be known that I managed to get these predictions posted in less than eight hours from the start of the Oscar broadcast itself. Phew!