Oscar Preview, Part 1: The Majors

It’s the first half of our annual predictions and gripes roundtable, leading off with the closest race of all.

Last year David led the field, nailing 20 out of 24 predictions. But this year, things aren’t nearly as cut-and-dry. Here’s the FOTS team to help you win your pool!

BEST PICTURE

American Sniper
Birdman
Boyhood
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
Selma
The Theory of Everything
Whiplash

DAVID: How quickly things change. Just a month ago, Boyhood was poised to pull off a wire-to-wire win…then Birdman thrust itself into pole position like Ed Norton running roughshod over the St. James stage, winning the PGA, SAG, and DGA awards. The last film to pull off the guild hat trick (it wasn’t eligible for the WGA) and lose the Oscar was Apollo 13 — and Boyhood, it must be said, is as far from Braveheart as you can possibly get. But there’s still that pesky preferential ballot, which awards consensus, not the most first-place votes. As a result, Sunday night is going to be genuinely thrilling, for nearly anything can happen (Grand Budapest? Selma? WHIPLASH?) — people will even be voting for American Sniper, but who does that siphon votes away from? So as much as I may personally disagree, I’m laying money on Birdman to make it the third Best Picture in four years to basically say: “Show business, right?” I don’t think the Academy will feel that great about this choice a decade from now.

RACHEL: I’m not usually one of those “speak things into existence” people, but I am still holding out hope that — in a year of extraordinary films — the groundbreaking movie actually wins. Birdman has made leaps and bounds lately, nabbing Guild and Critics awards with gusto; Whiplash had the best performances, on the whole; Grand Budapest had the strongest script and production design, obvs; Selma remains one of the best historical films in years. All that being said, I’ve made my feelings quite clear since my cinematic world was rocked at SXSW in March — Boyhood, Boyhood, Boyhood. (Right now, the Vegas odds are 8:13 for Birdman, 13:8 for Boyhood….)

CHASE: This is a pretty easy choice for one reason: no comedy has won best picture since Annie Hall in 1978. Birdman is a complex basket of things, but it certainly plays for laughs (much more so than say American Beauty, which *could* be classified as a dark comedy). That’s a mountain to climb, and I just don’t see Birdman doing it. That paves the way for Boyhood to win.

SEAN: Everything is pointing to a Birdman win and it wouldn’t be a bad win at all. Birdman is a great satirical skewering of the industry with a bizarre auteur vision. Any other year and most of us would be praising the “bold” choice by the Academy. But if Birdman is still in any way relevant in 20 years, then Hollywood as we know it is doomed (and that is not a comment on the film’s quality, but its content). I’m still holding out hope that the Academy will recognize Boyhood‘s landmark achievement. That is a film that will endure and inspire for ages.

BEST DIRECTOR

Alejandro Innaritu, Birdman
Richard Linklater, Boyhood
Bennett Miller, Foxcatcher
Wes Anderson, The Grand Budapest Hotel
Morten Tyldum, The Imitation Game

DAVID: While I can see which way the wind is blowing on Best Picture, that just makes me stick harder to my Richard Linklater pick. What he pulled off with Boyhood was absolutely extraordinary, and I think the Academy will be fine handing him this consolation prize — just like last year’s winner, Alfonso Cuaron. However, Innaritu won the DGA, which points to Oscar gold something like 90% of the time.

RACHEL: The best directors bleed on the screen; they work for every frame. I could definitely see the wounds from Ava DuVernay — whose snubbing was unconscionable — Innaritu, Anderson, Jolie…but none so suffered and gave as much as Richard Linklater. Basically bringing cinema verite to narrative filmmaking, he revolutionized independent film in one movie. What more does the man have to do?

CHASE: Woah, woah. Easy there, Rachel. Linklater did great work, but I see another split between the Director and Picture awards coming – something that’s becoming more the norm each year. Much like the split between Cuaron and 12 Years last year, I see that directing award going to a Mexican director who made a highly technical film: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu.

SEAN: Chase, you’re probably right about a split, but it’s going to be the other way around. Birdman will take picture due to popular support, but Linklater will be recognized for his astounding achievement in directing Boyhood. It’s interesting that these splits are so commonplace now and that is mostly to do with the Best Picture preferential ballot. Honestly, it’s something that I wish would have happened more often in the Academy’s past. Some directorial achievements are just too important to ignore, even if you don’t believe their film is the best of the year.

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BIRDMAN
BEST ACTOR

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

DAVID: Another usurped frontrunner, Keaton, could be in for a rough night. Even if the Academy loves Birdman, do they award him as well for a spectacular performance in a role tailor-made for him? He wants this Oscar badly, and has campaigned hard for it. But to many it seems it’ll be the rare year that the presumed narrative runs out of steam, as all signs (the SAG, in particular) point to Eddie Redmayne for his exceptional physical performance. I’m not entirely convinced, but it’s the safest bet. (Also, I have to complain one more time about the absence of Selma’s David Oyelowo.) We can certainly eliminate Carell and Cumberbatch.

RACHEL: This year is exciting with its unpredictability, no? Though I hope Keaton skips up to the podium on Sunday, Eddie Redmayne hit all the Oscar buttons with his performance in the mundane The Theory of Everything. Even Miles Teller was head and shoulders above Redmayne’s work this year, but I’m not an old, white guy…so I don’t get a vote.

CHASE: The award that will hurt the most. I’ve prepared my soul to hear Eddie Redmayne’s name called on Oscar night for weeks now, but that won’t make it hurt any less. This should be Michael Keaton’s award. Biggest miscarriage of award justice since Sean Penn beat Mickey Rourke.

SEAN: I think it’s been a bit too easy for people to be flippant and dismissive of Redmayne‘s work in The Theory of Everything. Yes, the film may be Oscar bait, but Redmayne gives a beautifully subtle, emotional performance while his physical work and transformation are astonishing. This won’t be an embarrassing win on any level. It may very well be remembered quite fondly years from now. But yes, I am pulling for Keaton just like everyone else. The guy has earned his moment in the sun.

BEST ACTRESS

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

DAVID: The rest of the acting categories have been set in stone for what feels like years, so these three should be easy. Still Alice may have been a maudlin, flawed production, but there’s no denying the power of Julianne Moore‘s performance. She’s been so consistently good for so long, and the stars have finally aligned.

RACHEL: Rosamund Pike’s performance in Gone Girl still keeps me up at night, checking for monsters under my bed; Cotillard gave a career turn in a year of them. I was not as “wild” about Wild as everyone else…so I’ll give my vote to Moore‘s stellar execution of a deeply tragic character in a film that was just…”eh.”

CHASE: I completely agree with you, Rachel. Aside from Keaton, no one made my jaw hit the floor this year like Rosamund Pike. That said, this seems to finally be Julianne Moore’s year. Is it a career award? Maybe, but she’s one of the best we’ve got. She’s due.

SEAN: This award has belonged to Moore ever since Toronto. Yes, it’s totally a career win which I usually despise, but it’s Julianne freaking Moore. Would I have rather seen her win for a performance like Amber Waves in Boogie Nights or Cathy Whitaker in Far From Heaven? Of course, but at least she will finally have that golden naked man sitting on her mantle.

BOYHOOD
BOYHOOD
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

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

DAVID: Norton is a walking firecracker; Hawke (with an assist from Father Time) shows real transformation; Ruffalo is his usual, subtly brilliant self. (Duvall is…also nominated.) But all I can say is this better not be the only award Whiplash wins on Oscar night. I’d still argue that Miles Teller has the much harder role, but J.K. Simmons has an irresistible story: hard-working, “in the trenches” character actor makes good. I can’t wait.

RACHEL: One of the few locks of the night is one of my favorite performances of the year, probably the best: J.K. Simmons. Is it weird that I have the Farmer’s Insurance jingle rattling around in my head, right now?

CHASE: Simmons. Lock. Nothing more to see here.

SEAN: Nothing can stop the Simmons train and it truly is one of the year’s very best performances. But if I had it my way, Ethan Hawke would win this award for his terrific naturalistic performance in Boyhood. It is easily his best collaboration with Linklater and that is saying something when you consider they also created the Before trilogy.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

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

DAVID: It’s already a foregone conclusion that Patricia Arquette will win — the only question whether this will be Team Boyhood‘s biggest prize. (Of course, maybe the Academy has decided they hate Boyhood, and award it to Emma Stone. Stranger things have happened, but perhaps not that strange.)

RACHEL: Speaking of locks, here’s the other one — Patricia Arquette. You can actually hear the moment when she’s awarded — it’s that scene where she basically says, “I just thought there would be more…” If you’re a parent, you get it. If you’re not, you can still see the absolute juxtaposition of truth and filmmaking, and it wears on her face in a way that’s really a triumph in a long career. She’s just that good.

CHASE: Coming this spring! Don’t miss Academy Award winner Patricia Arquette when she stars in…CSI: Cyber? Make sure to stay put during commercial breaks to see fellow Oscar winner J.K. Simmons as a State Farm agent and the voice of the yellow M&M (didn’t know that last one, did you?) The world is a weird place.

SEAN: Patricia Arquette will win and in this line-up she certainly deserves to. This talk of Emma Stone upsetting for Birdman is strange, and if it comes to pass it will be one of the most undeserved wins in Oscar acting history. Stone is fine, but it’s a thinly drawn portrait and she only has one truly great scene. Sometimes that’s all you need, though.

WHIPLASH
WHIPLASH
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

American Sniper
The Imitation Game
Inherent Vice
The Theory of Everything
Whiplash

DAVID: I really, really, really want Whiplash to win; Damien Chazelle’s screenplay writes itself into corners and back out, shucking and diving into a literally show-stopping climax. And thanks to the Academy’s arcane rules about what constitutes an “adaptation,” it’s been shuttled to the easier of the two categories. But I don’t have that much faith in the voters; the Writers Guild Award went to the (flawed) Imitation Game, and I expect this will, too.

RACHEL: Stupid Imitation Game and its stupid Oscar-baiting script. Okay, I actually enjoyed the film, but it’s just…so…run-of-the-mill. I’m going out on a limb and crossing my fingers for a miracle: Whiplash.

CHASE: Who am I to go against the WGA? They said Imitation Game, and I will too. That said, it’s a very paint-by-numbers biopic. I won’t complain too loudly, though. I mean, it could be The Theory of Everything. I’ll just be happy when it isn’t.

SEAN: It’s interesting how The Imitation Game has fallen out of favor over the course of the season. Once a presumed frontrunner in multiple categories, now it will be extremely lucky to even win in screenplay. I think Whiplash will pull it off. The film has many admirers and it could be a surprise winner in more than one category.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

Birdman
Boyhood
Foxcatcher
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Nightcrawler

DAVID: “Academy Award Winner Wes Anderson.” I keep saying it out loud, and it doesn’t get any less wonderful and strange. Grand Budapest Hotel, as we’ll see in tomorrow’s article, is going to end up with quite a haul… but no trophy will be sweeter than this one.

RACHEL: Wes Anderson ‘s dialogue should have its own screenwriting class at USC.

CHASE: Wes Anderson, and it’s about dang time. Believe it or not, it wasn’t very long ago (think pre-American Sniper) that Budapest was the highest-grossing of all of the Best Picture nominees. Anderson’s confectionery is just irresistible.

SEAN: This could  go one of three ways – Boyhood, Birdman, or The Grand Budapest Hotel. I think the Academy will spread the love come Oscar Sunday and here is a great place to honor a film they so clearly adored, The Grand Budapest Hotel. This film could be a juggernaut picking up several crafts awards as well.

SONG OF THE SEA
SONG OF THE SEA
BEST ANIMATED FEATURE

Big Hero 6
The Boxtrolls
How to Train Your Dragon 2
Song of the Sea
The Tale of Princess Kaguya

DAVID: I’m not sure I’ll ever get over the Academy snubbing The LEGO Movie, but I’ve probably said all I should on the subject. I don’t have any clue who will win this now; the smart money is on Dreamworks’s How to Train Your Dragon 2, but be prepared in case one of the smaller, more off-kilter picks (Song of the Sea?) sneaks out a victory.

RACHEL: The Lego Movie No secret that I was extremely disappointed in How to Train Your Dragon 2; however, there is no denying the immensely intricate and profoundly sophisticated animation. Sigh.

CHASE: Count me among those who can’t understand Lego’s lack of nomination. They’ll have to build their own Oscar statue out of little plastic yellow bricks. Sigh again. How to Train Your Dragon 2.

SEAN: Apparently I’m the only one on this site who is absolutely thrilled for How to Train Your Dragon 2. It was one of the best films of the year with some absolutely jaw-dropping animation to boot. It deserves this award.

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE

Citizenfour
Finding Vivian Maier
Last Days in Vietnam
The Salt of the Earth
Virunga

DAVID: With no clear “crowd-pleasing” favorite, a la 20 Feet From Stardom, it’s what amounts to a two-film race between Laura Poitras’s compelling Citizenfour (or “The One About Edward Snowden”) and Virunga (or “The One About Gorillas”) But the more timely Citizenfour has won all the precursors, so pick it with confidence.

RACHEL: I only saw three of these films, and while I thought 20,000 Days on Earth was the best doc of the year, hands down, Citizenfour is a lock, right?

CHASE: Virunga is the only one of these I’ve actually seen, but all the signs point to Citizenfour. I guess I’ll jump on the bandwagon too.

SEAN: This category is all locked up. Citizenfour it is. Though I just have to lament the absence of Life Itself one last time. WHY ACADEMY, WHY?

Part 2, with the technical, crafts, and music awards, here!

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