Oscar Preview 2015: Yes, There's A Ceremony

This year we all paid so much attention to who wasn’t nominated – Ava DuVernay, David Oyelowo, Life Itself, even The Lego Movie – that the Oscar ceremony seems like an afterthought. Yet, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences will actually be handing out awards on February 22nd. While many of the winners seem preordained, there may be, for the second straight year, an interesting Best Picture race. So there’s a reason to watch. Or better yet, come to the DC Film Society’s Oscars Party. We will have food, beer, giveaways, a silent auction and much witty banter. Check it out here.

With that shameless plug out of the way, I will try to nail my Oscar predictions. For two straight years I got eight out of nine, so I need to be perfect this time. With that in mind, I once again offer my picks for who deserves to win and who probably will take home the golden statuette:

Roger Deakins – Unbroken
Emmanuel Lubezki – Birdman
Dick Pope – Mr. Turner
Robert D. Yeoman – The Grand Budapest Hotel
Lukasz Zal, Ryszard Lenczewski – Ida

Should win: Deakins
All of the nominees delivered exceptional work, so I’m picking Deakins because this is now his 12th nomination without a win. He shot The Shawshank Redemption, Fargo, Kundun, the True Grit remake and so many visually brilliant movies. Yet even when he’s worked on Best Picture winners A Beautiful Mind and No Country for Old Men, he’s been overlooked. The purist in me says you should not pull for a nominee just because of past history, but I’m ignoring the purist this time.

Will win: Lubezki
Lubezki won last year for pulling off a technically challenging shoot with Gravity. Filming Birdman was arguably even more challenging as everything had to be lit and shifted to accommodate the constantly moving camera. Lubezki was critical in pulling off the illusion that the entire film was done in one take. He just won the BAFTA (British Academy Award) and the American Society of Cinematographers award. Usually the Academy avoids back-to-back Oscars, but the degree of difficulty will win out this time.

Paul Thomas Anderson – Inherent Vice
Damien Chazelle – Whiplash
Jason Hall – American Sniper
Anthony McCarten – The Theory of Everything
Graham Moore – The Imitation Game

Should win: Chazelle
This pick comes with an asterisk, as Chazelle did not really adapt anything for his screenplay. In trying to get Whiplash made, he pared his script down for a short promo film. The Academy ruled that he “adapted” the feature from the short film, which though true by an overly strict interpretation of the rules, doesn’t pass the common sense test. Nonetheless, Chazelle’s screenplay was the most inventive and interesting out of the five. He vividly captured the pressure cooker dynamic between the harsh, demanding teacher, and the ambitious, determined student. Chazelle’s story also asked compelling questions about what it means to be great at something and what lengths people will take to get there.

Will win: Moore
I’m betting that the screenplay awards will serve as consolation prizes this year. The Imitation Game received eight nominations but is not favored to win in most categories. Yet, the story succeeds as a thriller, character study, and a message picture. And that message seems especially relevant and rings true in Hollywood. Moore won the USC Scripter award, which honors both the adaptation and the source material, and the Writers Guild of America (WGA) adapted screenplay award. He’s the logical choice.

Wes Anderson, Hugo Guinness – The Grand Budapest Hotel
E. Max Frye, Dan Futterman – Foxcatcher
Dan Gilroy – Nightcrawler
Alejandro González Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Armando Bo – Birdman
Richard Linklater – Boyhood

Should win: Linklater
For all of the acclaim showered upon Boyhood, Linklater’s screenplay does not get enough credit. Perhaps that’s because Linklater eschewed a traditional narrative and three-act structure. Still, his story, developed gradually over the 12 years he shot the film, had an intrinsic organic feel. It gave you a sense that this was just a boy growing up, and going through what any boy might go through. Linklater gradually modified and shaped his film to fit his actors, and the result was a story much fuller than it may seem.

Will win: Anderson
Even though Birdman and Boyhood are the main Best Picture contenders in this category, neither film has received much notice for its story. Instead, the attention focused more on the performances and the unique way each of the films were made. Wes Anderson received his first nomination for Best Director this year, and has built his reputation as one of the few auteurs who puts a distinct stamp on every film he makes. A win here would be a way to honor that vision, and, again, would be a consolation prize. Spike Jonze won last year for Her under similar circumstances. Anderson just won the WGA original screenplay award, and the Academy will follow suit.

Patricia Arquette – Boyhood
Laura Dern – Wild
Keira Knightley – The Imitation Game
Emma Stone – Birdman
Meryl Streep – Into the Woods

Should win: Arquette
Arquette’s character’s journey served as a parallel, a reflection, of the her son’s in Boyhood. Like so many mothers, her character tried to balance devotion to her family with self-growth. The way Arquette molded and shaped her character changed as the film progresses. Arquette delivered an internalized, subtle performance that gave the film depth and context.

Will win: Arquette
No doubt about this one. Arquette has won every Oscar precursor award, including one from the Screen Actors Guild (SAG). She’s been the favorite from day one, and there’s no reason to expect an upset.

Robert Duvall – The Judge
Ethan Hawke – Boyhood
Edward Norton – Birdman
Mark Ruffalo – Foxcatcher
J.K. Simmons – Whiplash

Should win: Ruffalo
Ruffalo brought warmth and an everyman quality to Foxcatcher. He was both compelling and convincing as Dave Schultz, a decent man trying to do the right thing but caught up in forces beyond his control. One scene in particular stands out. Schultz is interviewed for a documentary on his benefactor John du Pont. He’s supposed to extoll du Pont’s virtues as a coach and mentor. Schultz wants to do this, but knows it’s not the truth. Ruffalo plays the internal conflict so beautifully that you want to jump on screen and rescue him. That scene should be required viewing for aspiring actors. Ruffalo also mastered the wrestling moves and mannerisms you’d expect from a character that won a gold medal in that sport.

Will win: Simmons
Here’s another lock. Like Arquette, Simmons has won every precursor award, including the SAG. He captured the film world’s attention with his force-of-nature turn as a cruel, demeaning music instructor. This will be the 2015 version of Louis Gossett Jr. winning the award more than 30 years ago for playing the drill sergeant in An Officer and A Gentleman.

Marion Cotillard – Two Days, One Night
Felicity Jones – The Theory of Everything
Julianne Moore – Still Alice
Rosamund Pike – Gone Girl
Reese Witherspoon – Wild

Should win: Moore
So much of Still Alice is simply Julianne Moore’s face and that’s more than enough. The camera locks in on her as she illustrates an intelligent, accomplished woman struggling with early-onset Alzheimer’s. There’s an old saying that books are about what people think and feel, while movies are about what people say and do. Moore belies that saying, because she does make Still Alice about what her character thinks and feels. Through small pauses and looks, she brings you into her world so you can understand a woman whose very core is being stripped away. The pride, fear, hurt, and sadness are all there on her face. It’s a full, rich, understated performance, and the best of Moore’s storied career.

Will win: Moore
Moore, for all of her much-deserved acclaim, has never won an Oscar. So this is one of those few times where the “She’s due” factor coincides perfectly with brilliant, deserving work. Moore became the favorite within days of Still Alice premiering in Toronto, and her tidal wave has grown ever since. As with Arquette and Simmons, she’s won all of the awards so far, and that will continue for one more night.

Steve Carrell – Foxcatcher
Bradley Cooper – American Sniper
Benedict Cumberbatch – The Imitation Game
Michael Keaton – Birdman
Eddie Redmayne – The Theory of Everything

Should win: Carrell
This a tough call in a tough category where stellar performances by Oyelowo in Selma and Jake Gyllenhaal in Nightcrawler couldn’t crack the list. All five of the nominees did the work of their careers and any one of them deserves the award. I pick Carrell because he found the soul and humanity in a man who could have been a monster in lesser hands. As warped and deranged as John Dupont is, Carrell makes you feel for him, giving a whole other dimension to the film’s tragic story.

Will win: Redmayne
A few weeks ago, this race seemed to be sown up for Keaton. Hollywood always loves a comeback, and Keaton found just the right vehicle in Birdman. Whether he admits it or not, the parallel between his own career and his character’s is part of what hooks the audience. Keaton won most of the critics’ awards and other early precursors. But Redmayne has come on in recent weeks, winning both the SAG Best Actor and the BAFTA. The physical challenges Redmayne met while playing Stephen Hawking are the type of work the Academy traditionally honors. The fact that he played a real-life hero doesn’t hurt either. This could still go either way, and Keaton winning would not be a surprise, but Redmayne has the momentum now.

Alejandro González Iñárritu – Birdman
Richard Linklater – Boyhood
Bennett Miller – Foxcatcher
Wes Anderson – The Grand Budapest Hotel
Morten Tyldum – The Imitation Game

Should win: Linklater
I can’t even imagine the creativity, resourcefulness, dedication and fortitude needed to shoot a film over 12 years. Linklater not only accomplished this seemingly impossible feat, but by doing so delivered the most authentic coming-of-age film I’ve ever seen. He constantly molded and shaped his film over those 12 years, giving the film the feel of a life unfolding. Linklater also coaxed extraordinary performances from his cast, especially young Ellar Coltrane. He combined a unique vision and cinematic bravery with true craftsmanship.

Will win: Iñárritu
Both Linklater and Iñárritu deservedly got credit for the unique challenges in making each of their films. Like Redmayne in the Best Actor Race, Iñárritu seems to have the late momentum and recently won the Directors Guild of America award. To be fair, Linklater won the BAFTA and many of the early critics’ awards. He has the best story of all the nominees, but that may not be enough. Last year, the Academy honored Iñárritu’s friend Alfonso Cuarón for his technical achievements with Gravity, and it’s easy to see the same thing happening this year.

American Sniper
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
The Theory of Everything

Should win: Boyhood
Richard Linklater and his team justifiably earned praise and admiration for shooting the film over twelve years, something that’s never been done before. In the end though, what matters is less how they made the film than the film they made. Boyhood was the first film I saw to capture growing up not as a single coming-of-age story, but as many small coming-of-age stories. It moved me with its universality, how it captured changes in perspectives, expectations and family dynamics. For all the quality in the eight nominees, it’s Boyhood that stands out as a singular achievement, both in concept and execution.

Will win: Birdman
Speaking of changing dynamics, here’s another race where the momentum has shifted. A few weeks ago entertainment media hailed Boyhood as the front-runner after it received critics’ awards and other early Oscar precursors. Over the past few weeks, Birdman won the Producers Guild of America best picture award, the DGA and the SAG best ensemble prize. Every film in the last 20 years that snagged all three of those later won the Best Picture Oscar. Also, Birdman got nominations in the technical categories, where Boyhood did not. So it appears that Birdman has the edge in at least most of the Academy’s branches. Boyhood may have peaked too early, as it had left theaters by the time the nominations came out, while Birdman was still playing. There’s a chance Selma got a boost from outrage over Ava DuVernay not receiving a Best Director nomination. Argo rose a similar wave to a Best Picture win a couple of years ago, but I don’t see that movement as strong this time. The irony here is that while Boyhood resonated more with ordinary folks like me, Birdman hit closer to home for Academy voters. They may look at an artist’s struggle to be true to himself and stay relevant and immediately empathize. They may also share the film’s critical view of a Hollywood dominated by superhero movies. Add in appreciation for the film’s technical virtuosity, and the support for Birdman has grown too much for any of the other films to overcome.

Adam Spector
February 19, 2015

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