Donovan's 2015 Oscar PicksSubmitted by ryandonovan at 2015-02-17 01:21:18 EST
Rating: 1.88 on 9 ratings (12 reviews) (Review this item) (V)
DONOVAN’S OSCAR PROGNOSTICATION 2015
I’m looking forward to this year’s Academy Awards, not to see who wins Best Picture or for Neil Patrick Harris’ Broadway-style showmanship, but for a new award: Former Sony Pictures boss Amy Pascal will be handing out the Honorary Bottomless Pit Of Need award. Everyone in Hollywood is nominated. I’m also looking forward to watching the telecast with my 4-year-old son, who actually reminds me of most blonde red-carpet starlets: the same air of entitlement (the demand every 10 minutes is “Do everything for me, and do it now”) and frankly about the same amount of sense (the answer to every question is “I don’t know”).
If you’re looking forward to knowing who’s going to win and who should win, then read on for my 16th annual Oscar predictions.
SHOULD WIN: The Grand Budapest Hotel
WILL WIN: Birdman
GLORIOUSLY OMITTED: St. Vincent
INGLORIOUSLY SNUBBED: Gone Girl, The Lego Movie
Flip a coin. Birdman or Boyhood. I honestly have no idea who’s going to win. Nobody does. The “experts” are generally divided, and the two films have split a lot of the major precursory awards. The tipping factor for me is the fact that Birdman won the Producers Guild Awards (which has matched Best Picture seven years running)… and the fact that I liked Birdman more.
Birdman is a wondrous film… but what is it about? Sure, it’s about a once-famous guy trying to put on a Broadway play. But, what’s it really ABOUT? Coming to terms with mortality? The pursuit of redemption? Analysis of the creation of art? The key to happiness? Extinguishing regret? A man’s descent into madness? A man’s ascent out of madness? The universality and inevitability of existential trauma (a pretty good and appropriately ambiguous catch-all)? All of these? None of these? The film’s seldom-noticed Joseph-Conrad-ish subtitle goes a long way: “The Unexpected Virtue Of Ignorance”. Or maybe the best description is the simplest, the one that star Michael Keaton offered: “a look at human nature”. (But I think we can all agree on what it’s REALLY about: a reminder of why Edward Norton is considered such an asshole.) I guess the array of possibilities is a big part of what makes the film so fantastic – or so maddening, depending on your point of view – and big part of why I think it will win Best Picture. It’s times like these that a small part of me wants M. Night Shyamalan to re-write movie endings so there can be a big reveal explaining everything. “Oh, so Birdman was actually just Bruce Willis all along.”
It’s a little hard to describe how I feel about Boyhood. It’s even harder to evaluate it without bias. It’s almost impossible to ignore all the praise, publicity, awards (and backlash); my judgment is further clouded by the fact that I have three boys myself. But what if I had seen it at a festival, before all the hype and attention? Would I regard it as one of the Best Films of the Year? My biggest struggle is the fact that there is no narrative to speak of; instead, it’s series of disconnected little scenes in the titular boy’s life, each disappearing like a puff of smoke, giving way to the next unrelated vignette – preventing any dramatic tension from building up. And that’s completely purposeful, intending not to draw solid lines, but to paint a portrait on a 12-year-wide canvass – cinematic pointillism, if you will (and if you like mixed metaphors). Linklater has said that life is really the collection of tiny moments in between the big moments, and that is what he wanted to portray. (As the grown boy says in the film, in an awkwardly faux-introspective moment of thematic exposition: “It’s, like, always right now.” Deep. Then again, in that scene, he’s stoned out of his mind.) I get Linklater’s point, and agree with it, but I’m not sure that it makes for a particularly compelling movie. It would be one thing if this was a documentary, and the little moments were completely genuine. But this isn’t, and they aren’t. They may be true to life in nature (at least, if you grow up around underachieving hippie-artistic influences, with multiple alcoholic step-dads, where everybody is baked, in seemingly-consequence-less Texas), but they are not true to life in reality. (And from a practical perspective, I can only imagine the producers who were handing over money annually, reviewing the footage as it was taken: “Four years, and the most interesting thing you’ve got is the kid getting a goddam haircut?!”)
Another thing I struggle with is Boyhood’s style. Linklater interestingly (wisely? foolishly?) presents each scene in a casual-observational, semi-improvisational style, which has become his trademark (see The ‘Before’ Trilogy, Slacker, Dazed And Confused, Waking Life, et al.). He shrugs off showier techniques, eschewing dramatic push-ins, emotional reaction shots, and musical score. On the plus side, he isn’t trying to reel in the audience in an emotionally manipulative way; he’s simply presenting the events as they are. On the other hand, those elements are part of what engrosses the audience and makes them care about the characters. To put it bluntly, if you don’t want to be manipulated, don’t watch movies.
When it comes down to it, in general, I am a big proponent of structure when it comes to film (in fact, my wife would argue, when it comes to EVERYTHING). I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. And I realize that Linklater intentionally breaks every structural rule in order to create a certain kind of movie, to tell a specific type of story, to let the characters breathe, and most of all, to make a point. I respect that immensely, despite what my comments in this article lead you to believe. So I’m trying to reconcile my thirst for structure (and narrative and plot and objective and acts and drama and conflict and payoff and arc) with Linklater’s intentions, and simply determine if he made one of the Best Films of the Year. My personal feeling is, probably not.
So why does Boyhood have such a strong chance to win? Its greatest strength is that every voter who has a child, any age, legitimate or otherwise, can’t help but have a reaction the film. It doesn’t even matter if they are good parents or not. Every parent watching sees their own children in this movie (which elicits a stronger emotion than a film where people see themselves, like Birdman). Rightly or not, this is what voters will respond to, more so than to any time-manipulation stunt/technique. Remember, the Academy members aren’t the 20-something CW crowd without kids, they are the middle-aged-and-older CBS crowd with kids and grandkids. The only thing more potent with this crowd would be a movie about juggling a trophy wife, ex-wives, and mistresses.
If you’ve ever read my annual Oscar predictions article before, you know what a little schoolgirl I am for Wes Anderson. (The line from the Saturday Night Live spoof ‘The Midnight Coterie of Sinister Intruders’ is aimed squarely at me: “The New York Times calls it, ‘You had me at Wes Anderson.’”) So imagine my giddy excitement to see Anderson earn his first (and long overdue) Best Picture and Best Director nominations. Not only that, he managed to haul in a clean sweep of nominations: Directing, Writing, and Best Picture. You can probably guess who I think deserves to win.
American Sniper has become quite the Oscar tidal wave, washing out box office records and creating turbulent water in several categories. Some think it could even have enough late-season momentum to carry it all the way to the podium for Best Picture – a feat director Clint Eastwood is practically known for. Personally, I don’t think it will happen. One, it’s gotten the weakest reviews of all the nominees by far – a paltry 73% by aggregator Rotten Tomatoes. Two, THE FAKE BABY. And three, I think it’s a little, well, boring. Don’t get me wrong, I like it – it’s interesting and visually impressive, captures an intriguing portrayal of modern warfare heroics, and features some extremely intense battle sequences (like the rooftop firefight as the sandstorm rolls in – nearly breathtaking). But – here I go again about structure – it lacks the story arc to bring all the scenes together in a compelling manner. It’s told as a biopic with a series of standalone events, as opposed to a narrative with an objective driving through each scene – so I feel it just sags at every transition. In storytelling, the main character’s objective, and the conflict created by the opposition to that objective, is what creates drama. Pretty simple. That is what propels a story from scene to scene. Each scene sets up the next one, so you are thinking (even if you don’t realize it), “Based on that new piece of dramatic conflict, what happens next?” I don’t get that with American Sniper. I can’t help but compare it to Zero Dark Thirty, a film with a similar theme, that I think was executed in a much more compelling fashion. The big difference is that ZDT has an extremely strong and concrete objective: Get Osama bin Laden. The movie starts with the main character starting her hunt for bin Laden; every scene in the middle is about chasing him; when she gets him, the movie ends. What is the protagonist’s objective in American Sniper? To serve his country as a Navy SEAL? Sure, but he accomplishes that in the first 15 minutes. Fight bad guys? Not really. (There’s an attempt to give a face to the opposition, the shadowy sniper that becomes the main character’s nemesis, but that is fleeting, and never his primary goal.) Get home to his family? No (which the story makes very clear). Protect his fellow countrymen? Arguably yes – that’s the closest I can come – but that’s a pretty vague and reactive objective to carry a two-hour movie, and not enough for me. On the other hand, the film will make over $300 million domestically, and may win the Oscar… so I’m sure Clint would say that MY objective should be to go f--- myself.
I’m proud to say, that for the first time (and probably the last), my son and I agree on one of the best movies of the year: The Lego Movie. An unfortunate snub in multiple categories.
SHOULD WIN: Eddie Redmayne (The Theory Of Everything)
WILL WIN: Eddie Redmayne (The Theory Of Everything)
GLORIOUSLY OMITTED: Bill Murray (St. Vincent)
INGLORIOUSLY SNUBBED: Ralph Fiennes (The Grand Budapest Hotel)
I’ve become the kind of voter that I despise: I recognize that one person was the best, but I want someone else to win. If I actually had a vote, what would I do? I clearly recognize that Eddie Redmayne gave the better performance and is, by definition, the Best Actor. But I would be extremely tempted (along with the vox populi) to vote for Michael Keaton because I’m a much bigger fan of his. And I hate when voters do that. I’d like to think I’d stick to my guns and vote for Redmayne… but wouldn’t it be so much more rewarding to see Keaton up at the podium? This is the kind of race that makes me a little disappointed that they actually have to anoint a winner at all. I almost want to side with the drippy actors (sorry, “artists”) who whine and lament making it a competition. I agree that it’s just a soulless marketing game, that it’s barbaric and unenlightened to crown a king of something so subjective, and that we should celebrate the craft as a whole so that everybody can be a winner. Actually, that’s a lie. Who am I kidding? I like the fact that one person wins… but more than that, I LOVE the fact that everybody else loses.
So in that spirit of ultimate wiki-Darwinism, here’s my decision: Redmayne deserves the Oscar. Keaton is note-perfect in Birdman; nobody could have played the part better. But Redmayne’s virtuoso performance is beyond Oscar winner – it was transcendent. It’s one of those rare performances that you see and immediately know that it’s incomparable; it belongs in a space with an elite few: Marlon Brando in The Godfather, Meryl Streep in Sophie’s Choice, Dustin Hoffman in Rain Main, Daniel Day-Lewis in Lincoln (or frankly anything). You can’t even compare Keaton’s performance to it: The ceiling on Redmayne’s character (which he reached) is simply so much higher than Keaton’s. Simply put, there is no objective justification for Keaton to win the award over Redmayne.
Okay, great, but my vote means nothing. So who will actually win? This will be one of the closest races of the night, nearly impossible to predict. Anybody that purports to have a strong idea of who will win is lying. If you’re in a pool, you might as well pick a name out of a hat. Keaton seemed to have the lead early on (mostly on the merit of his work, partly on sentiment). The assumption was that Keaton’s strongest support would come from his fellow actors – but then Redmayne won the Screen Actors Guild award, it was clear that he had the actors’ vote. And since actors make up most of the Academy voters (and since the SAG is historically one of the most reliable predictors – each of the last 10 years), it’s impossible not to give Redmayne the slight edge.
There has been a lot of hype for a long time around Keaton’s performance. We’ve were hearing about it for so long that I think he’s making a comeback from the backlash from his comeback. Well, I’m here to say that the hype is warranted. The role isn’t flashy; it’s grounded (not literally – I mean, he’s Birdman) and naturalistic, but that doesn’t make it any less remarkable. It’s technically difficult and exceedingly delicate – it’s like walking a balance beam in a hurricane. Keaton proves what a pro he is with his underappreciated experience and legendary timing.
Bradley Cooper. Ugh. So now that he’s been nominated each of the last three years, and is getting the best reviews of his career for American Sniper, do we finally have to consider him a good actor? The first two nominations (for Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle) can be dismissed, because basically everybody except the extras gets nominated in David O. Russell films. But this one’s a little harder to wave off. Straight drama. Different director. No star-studded ensemble. In fact, could he pull off a latecomer upset, like occasionally happens in these races? His film was so late to the game that he missed out on the Screen Actors Guild and Golden Globe nominations, which seemed to nudge him off the Oscar radar. He was considered a bit of a surprise nominee over Ralph Fiennes and Jake Gyllenhaal, but there’s something to be said for peaking at the right time. During “Phase Two” (the post-nomination, pre-vote circuit), his support (like the film’s monster box office) has been swelling. It is conceivable that he could steal this award from Keaton and Redmayne. So, do we finally have to consider him a good actor? In a word: Nope.
Steve Carrell goes to famously great lengths to create his unusual and unexpected character for Foxcatcher. Or does he? Doesn’t it seem oddly familiar? The accent, the schnozz, the dour demeanor, the fatherhood issues, the desperate and ridiculous quest for fame and power – where have we seen those before? Oh yeah: Despicable Me. I keep waiting for Carrell to admit: “You know Gru? I basically just did that again.” Throw in a boppy Pharrell song and they would practically be the same movie.
Benedict Cumberbatch won’t win for The Imitation Game (and I only recently learned that it’s not “CumberPatch”, which to me makes a lot more sense). But he also played Stephen Hawking – in a 2004 TV movie. Doesn’t that count for something? It’s safe to say that Redmayne bears a stronger resemblance in his film. The only better possible choice to play Hawking? Patrick Carney of The Black Keys – have you seen that guy? It’s uncanny.
It pains me to do it, but I’m compelled to give the Gloriously Omitted slot to the legendary Bill Murray. His film, St. Vincent, is ostensibly a comedy, but I think I only laughed three times the entire time – and only once because of Murray. Okay, so then it’s a drama – that’s fine, right? Well, Murray struggles with the drama as well. I can only deduce that the confounding critical praise he’s received is for a single predictable, trite, sugary – yet still touching – climactic scene… but I say he’s just standing on the right mark at the right time. So no points for that. And negative points for his terrible, lazy, grating, occasional Brooklyn (or is it Long Island? Rhode Island? Boston? Chicago?) accent.
I don’t disagree with the arguments for David Oyelowo in Selma, but my overwhelming Ingloriously Snubbed pick is Ralph Fiennes in The Grand Budapest Hotel. A newcomer to director Wes Anderson’s world, all facades of his character fit in perfectly: charming cad, witty hustler, noble bon vivant, devilish imp. He embodies Anderson’s unique sensibilities perfectly (as well as any other player’s in the auteur’s films), yet stands on his own as sui generis. It’s almost astounding to believe that he hasn’t been nominated for an Oscar since The English Patient – that’s 18 years… and counting. Honorable Mention goes to Chris Evans, for the best acting of his life (I realize that’s not saying much) in Snowpiercer.
SHOULD WIN: Julianne Moore (Still Alice)
WILL WIN: Julianne Moore (Still Alice)
GLORIOUSLY OMITTED: Jennifer Aniston (Cake)
INGLORIOUSLY SNUBBED: Kristen Wiig (The Skelton Twins)
In the year’s most lopsided race, Julianne Moore will run away with the award for her role in Still Alice, as a woman with early-onset Alzheimer’s. Moore has been overwhelming critics with her portrayal of the effects of the terrible degenerative disease (albeit one with fringe benefits – I mean, if my daughter was insufferably sulky Kristen Stewart, I’d be praying for memory loss too.) Frankly, it’s a little hard to take this weighty, dramatic movie seriously because I can’t disassociate Moore and onscreen husband Alec Baldwin from their silly, hilarious roles on 30 Rock – I keep expecting Moore to break into the blue-collar Bahston accent. (Come to think of it, re-cast Tina Fey in the role and call it “Still Liz” – two hours of forgetful Liz Lemon constantly surprised by the inane antics of forgotten Tracy, Jenna, and Jack – that would get my Oscar vote.) Moore has no real competition here. Reese Witherspoon (Wild) and Marion Cotillard (Two Days, One Night) have already won (for Walk The Line and La Vie En Rose, respectively). And Felicity Jones and Rosamund Pike are names most people had never heard of six months ago.
The only real threat would have been if Amy Adams had been nominated for Big Eyes. Of all working actresses today (aside from Glenn Close), Moore and Adams are the most-nominated ladies never to have won, with five nominations apiece. Both have careers and resumes befitting Oscar winners – Academy members are just itching to reward both of them. But I think the outcome would have been the same. Moore’s performance speaks for itself, but aside from that, I think on-the-fence voters may have factored in age (ahem, sorry – experience) and longevity… leading to a victory for Moore just about any way you look at it. But crisis has been avoided (thank goodness!), and Moore will be the uncontested victor.
I would be happy to see Gone Girl’s Rosamund Pike win for playing Amy, the wife who’s not quite the sweetheart she seems – because it’s such a terrifyingly amusing (or amusingly terrifying) role. There’s an unnerving yet undeniable allure to a woman who is both that gorgeous and that crazy. A lot of women were stunned by her performance because she played an usually psychotic female character. But frankly, men weren’t that shocked. That’s how men view most women – especially exes: unhinged and ready to exact revenge at any time. While most women left the movie in horrified disbelief, most men left thinking, “Been there.” Men generally live in fear of women, and Pike is a perfect example of why.
Gloriously Omitted goes to Jennifer Aniston, just because I think it’s funny. All of the raves for her performance seem to revolve around the fact that she gained 10 whole pounds and wore very little makeup. So in other words, she looked the way most women look on their very best days. Brava!
Once again, I’m naming Kristen Wiig as my snubbed choice, for The Skeleton Twins. She is, not surprisingly, the best thing about this very “meh” movie. We know she was fantastic in Bridesmaids and Saturday Night Live, but this role is more serious than comedic, and she proves she can pull it off with the best of them. Somehow, she was only recognized by the Critics’ Choice Awards for this film. I want to see her do more drama, but at the same time, that would mean taking her away from comedy, which is her true gift. 2014 showed that one of the funniest women on the planet is also an incredibly talented dramatic actress.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR:
SHOULD WIN: J.K. Simmons (Whiplash)
WILL WIN: J.K. Simmons (Whiplash)
GLORIOUSLY OMITTED: Channing Tatum (Foxcatcher)
INGLORIOUSLY SNUBBED: Jaeden Lieberher (St. Vincent)
Another race that will have a wide margin of victory is Best Supporting Actor. J.K. Simmons has been the wire-to-wire favorite since Whiplash debuted at Sundance last January. After a recent history of playing mild-mannered folk (not including Oz, obviously), audiences have been blown back by his role as an abusive and manipulative (but possibly genius) music teacher. While most moviegoers are thinking, “What a monster!”, I’ve been thinking, “That’s the kind of teacher my four-year old needs.” Could you imagine? You can bet your ass he would eat his vegetables. And potty training would have been a snap. “Were you pooping or were you tinkling?” “I don’t know.” SLAP. “Pooping or tinkling?!” “Tinkling!” “So you do know the difference!”
Edward Norton, playing an actor (meta!) in Birdman, seems to be Simmons’ closest competition – and it’s not that close. Of his three career Oscar nominations (Primal Fear and American History X), I feel like this is the least award-worthy, and I think the voters agree. He plays an irrational, pervy, manipulative, egomaniacal, prima donna, asshole-ish, yet occasionally brilliant thespian – in other words, himself. For all the people who wonder why he has had a falling out with nearly every director he’s worked with, this is basically the personification of why. And, ironically, it’s also the reason why other directors are STILL willing to work with him: that occasional brilliance – the glimmering hope that if you can steer the ship through the tempest, you may find treasure.
I’ve gotta stop being shocked every time Ethan Hawke gets an Oscar nomination. (This one, for playing the divorced dad in Boyhood, is – did I mention I’m shocked? – his fourth!) Hawke pops up in the movie every now and then to spout well-intentioned but overdue and ultimately useless pseudo-philosophy to his biological kids. It feels a lot like his character Jesse from the ‘Before’ Trilogy, if Jesse hadn’t been accidentally successful and instead been more of a badlands drifter with zero sense of responsibility. The fact that he isn’t in the movie very much probably helped his Oscar chances, honestly. It begs a philosophical question that the character himself might proffer: Is less of a bad thing the same as more of a good thing?
These days, I guess growling passes as acting for Robert Duvall. But in his defense, is there anybody better at growling? All in a day’s work, and in an Oscar nomination, for his role as Robert Downey, Jr.’s grumpy father in The Judge. I say they cast him as Downey’s dad again – in Iron Man 4. “Dad, I can fly!” “You’re an idiot.”
The most satisfying thing about Mark Ruffalo’s inclusion in this category (you know, besides rewarding his good acting in Foxcatcher)? He’s the one that took over the role of the Hulk from Norton. (Remember those falling-outs I mentioned earlier?) It’s now Ruffalo, not Norton, who is along for the ride in the Avengers mega-franchise. Will there be any awkwardness between them at the Oscar ceremony? Let’s hope so. The only thing that would make it more intriguing is if they had both dated Pamela Anderson.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS:
SHOULD WIN: Patricia Arquette (Boyhood)
WILL WIN: Patricia Arquette (Boyhood)
GLORIOUSLY OMITTED: Naomi Watts (St. Vincent)
INGLORIOUSLY SNUBBED: Kim Dickens (Gone Girl), Lindsay Duncan (Birdman)
How pissed is Julie Delpy? Delpy has appeared (along with Ethan Hawke) in just about every dramatic movie that Richard Linklater has made – EXCEPT for Boyhood. Instead, Patricia Arquette was cast, and will likely win the Oscar. I’m guessing that’s one vote that Arquette won’t get. It seems that almost all other Academy voters are pulling for Arquette, however – she’s the favorite, winning pretty much every other award. But if there were any strong nominees in the Supporting Actress category, Arquette would be in trouble. It’s a fine performance, but not really deserving of an Oscar in my (judgmental, unforgiving, and authoritative) book. To her credit, much of the performance feels real (even if the words and decisions don’t). And it’s somewhat refreshing that her character often reacts in ways that movie moms almost never do (which actually makes her character harder to like). That aspect is probably what’s impressing voters. I can’t give a strong endorsement, but I also can’t suggest a better choice. This is all bad news for me, since it will cost me money: Years ago, I bet heavily that the first Arquette to win an Oscar would be David. He seemed like such a lock after Scream…
In a stronger year, most of the candidates in this category would probably not have been nominated (I’m looking at you, Emma Stone). Stone plays her role well, and she certainly looks the part of a reluctantly-sober former addict: emaciated frame, dishwater blonde hair, I-don’t-care-but really-I-do outfits, accusatory eyes, artless tattoos, pouty mouth used exclusively for hurtling insults / performing unsavory acts. But I don’t see anything that sets it apart from any of dozens of other supporting performances this year. Keira Knightly may be good in The Imitation Game, but I can’t focus on her performance because I keep thinking that she’s slowly becoming Helena Bonham Carter. Meryl Streep’s nomination for Into The Woods feels wholly unnecessary. What’s she playing for, anyway? She just keeps needlessly adding to her unbreakable record of Oscar nominations (19 and counting – that means that since 1979 she has been nominated MORE THAN HALF of the years). With three statuettes at home, the only goal left is to catch Katherine Hepburn’s record of four acting Oscars, and everybody agrees this is not her year.
My Gloriously Omitted pick is Naomi Watts, a walking calamity of stereotypes in St. Vincent. She was somehow nominated for a SAG award, but for the life of me I can’t figure out why. To sum it up, she plays an aging pregnant Russian stripper with an accent that REAL aging pregnant Russian strippers make fun of.
For my Snubbed choices, I would much rather see recognition for other actresses in smaller roles, namely Kim Dickens in Gone Girl and Lindsay Duncan in Birdman. Dickens brings a subtle slyness to her missing-person detective, giving a fresh take on a role that’s been played out six ways to Sunday. Her shifting poker face and steely relentlessness keep Ben Affleck’s character – and us – on constant edge. Duncan would be a better choice than Stone from Birdman, playing a fictional (but probably realistic) theater critic in a handful of scenes. Her venomous dressing down of Michael Keaton, while hyperbolic, is captivating. And her response to his equally brutal barrage is almost chilling. In the script, her character’s speech probably seems like a toss-off, but her performance transforms it into a turning point for the movie, where the apparent futility of Keaton’s quest becomes palpable. But alas, the role is tiny: she didn’t even get included in the Screen Actors Guild award for Best Cast when Birdman won.
SHOULD WIN: Alejandro González Iñárritu (Birdman)
WILL WIN: Alejandro González Iñárritu (Birdman)
GLORIOUSLY OMITTED: Theodore Melfi (St. Vincent)
INGLORIOUSLY SNUBBED: James Marsh (The Theory Of Everything)
As much as I recognize Wes Anderson’s achievements on The Grand Budapest Hotel and would love to see him win, I would be inclined to give the award to Alejandro González Iñárritu for Birdman. Like with his countryman Alfonso Cuarón and Gravity last year, the technical difficulty alone of Birdman almost merits the award. Call it a novelty if you want, but the effect of his seemingly continuous shot, handheld cinematography, and jerky drum score is a constant feeling of kinetic energy. For those of us unfamiliar with the environment, it captures the backstage spirit of the theater (especially when everything goes to hell) and the protagonist’s state of mind (especially when it goes to hell).
So who will actually win? After splitting all the other awards, it comes down to Iñárritu and Richard Linklater (Boyhood). (Anderson will be a distant third.) Linklater seemed like the early favorite, winning the Golden Globe, but Iñárritu has pulled ahead after winning the Directors Guild award. The Globe voters are not members of the Academy; the DGA members are. So not surprisingly, when there are different winners of the Globe and the DGA, the DGA winner triumphs at the Oscars almost every time. I predict this year will be no different, with Iñárritu victorious. (Incidentally, he’s the only contender with a previous nomination in this category, for Babel.)
Obviously, all the talk around Boyhood is how Linklater filmed the movie for a few days each year over the course of 12 years, and what an astounding feat that is. If you ask me, that’s not impressive, it’s lazy. (Keep in mind, Linklater is from Austin, Texas. A busy day in Austin is putting on clean skivvies and drinking a Shiner.) Wouldn’t we all love an extra DECADE to get our current goals at work accomplished? “I know that we need the implementation done this fiscal year in order to turn a profit, but I’m just going to work on it for one week this year. It should be done in 2025.” I’m guessing he was forced to do it that way because it’s about as much as concentration as he could get out of the kid at one time. Actually, I take the same approach with parenting. That is basically the story of our family portrait sessions: “OH MY GOD, I’ve been trying to get you to sit still and smile for three hours… How about we try again next year?”
Boyhood taking 12 years to make is actually not as astounding as the publicity machine makes it sound. In fact, there are plenty of independent films that take forever to make, not because of “daring” artistic choices, but because the filmmakers only shoot whenever they can scratch together enough nickels to pay people. They save for a while, shoot a couple days, save some more, shoot a little more, etc. – which can take many, many years. So what Linklater achieved is – in the no-budget indie world – simply called “typical filmmaking”. Now, if he had shot Boyhood out of sequence, THEN I would have been impressed.
For the first time since the Best Picture field expanded to more than five nominees in 2010, we have a Best Director nominee whose film didn’t make the Best Picture cut. So don’t bet on Foxcatcher’s Bennett Miller.
While the majority of the raves for The Theory Of Everything rightly belong to Eddie Redmayne, director James Marsh deserves some credit too – therefore earning a spot on my Ingloriously Snubbed list. He really wasn’t on anyone’s Oscar Watch, but he should have been. He does a remarkable job of pulling the viewer into Hawking’s worldview with subtlety instead of gimmicks, deftly using composition and space. Filmmakers (especially those of award-baiting biopics and epics) tend to leverage the filming environments as broadly as possible, with wide, sweeping, expansive shots; Marsh and cinematographer Benoît Delhomme choose to do the opposite. Many of the shots are in unusually small, uncomfortable settings, giving the viewer a sense of claustrophobia and lack of physical freedom. This is particularly effective in the first half of the film, as Hawking’s muscles are failing, and he is having an increasingly hard time coping. Even the corners of the screen become a bit dim, as Hawking’s world essentially shrinks before our eyes. The approach may not make for as impressive an IMAX experience, but it gives the viewer a much better sense of the character’s state of mind. To borrow a line from Hawking’s mentor in the film: “All there is to say is, well done.”
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY:
SHOULD WIN: Wes Anderson, Hugo Guinness (The Grand Budapest Hotel)
WILL WIN: Wes Anderson, Hugo Guinness (The Grand Budapest Hotel)
GLORIOUSLY OMITTED: Craig Johnson, Mark Heyman (The Skeleton Twins)
INGLORIOUSLY SNUBBED: Phil Lord, Christopher Miller (The Lego Movie)
Finally, a category where I think the Academy actually agrees with me about Wes Anderson. This award could go a few different ways, but I think they will most likely give it to Anderson, for his genre-mashing, generations-spanning, whimsical caper-buddy-road-epic-action-drama-comedy, The Grand Budapest Hotel. It would be a crowning that, it will surprise no one, I think is long overdue. But the prize could also easily go to Birdman – also a fantastic choice – particularly if it’s on its way to picking up many of the other biggest awards (in other words, if it wins this, it’s a good bet for Actor, Director, and Picture). Or it could go to Boyhood, but as the races wear on and other awards are handed out, it seems the least likely of the three.
Feeling like an idiot for not understanding the last scene of Birdman? You should. Idiot.
Kidding. Don’t even try to comprehend it. After all, the writers don’t. (Seriously. One of them, Nicolas Giacobone, somewhat alarmingly quipped, “I’m still trying to figure it out.”) How can we be expected to understand it when even the people that wrote it don’t? They had better hope that for the voters, “ambiguous ending” translates to “philosophical enlightenment” and not “pretentious cop-out”. (Incidentally, I have my own rogue theory about the ending, but I don’t want to spoil anything for those who haven’t seen it. I’ll just say that I think the real ending of the story is Michael Keaton’s last appearance on stage.)
Boyhood winning this screenplay award will depend mostly on whether voters buy it as a fully-conceived story, or if they feel the script is more of a by-product of the overall technique that Richard Linklater employs. They also have to buy into the characters, which may be trickier. For me, it’s hard to be invested in the movie when the characters are roundly unlikeable. Or, as my wife put it: “The mom is a fool, the dad is a deadbeat, the daughter is a pill, and the son is a mope.” Going into it, I had assumed that since I have boys, I would get sucked in, and be an emotional wreck throughout, seeing reflections of my sons in every scene. But really, the opposite happened. In every sequence, I can’t help but judge the terribleness of the parenting and the unfamiliar personality of the kid. These people are nothing like my family. Thank god. (But one thing it does get right: Parenting is 90% yelling.)
Perhaps more interesting is who will win the savage Austin-centric rivalry (which probably only exists in my head) between Linklater and Anderson. The two tried-and-true Texans, while both appealing to left-of-center audiences and being endlessly described as “offbeat”, couldn’t be more different. I like to assume that they hate each other’s movies with a passion; that watching the other accept an award really ruffles their (casually unkempt or meticulously arranged) feathers. It makes me smile to think Linklater watches an Anderson scene with intricate production design, lavish costumes, and an elaborate tracking shot across a hotel lobby choreographing a hundred actors, gunplay, and synchronized music, requiring days of setup, and thinks, “Why didn’t you just get Ethan Hawke to smoke a cigarette and ramble about random stuff?” And it brings me true joy to imagine that Anderson views a Linklater scene, which looks like it was shot in 30 seconds, in his friend’s backyard, using props found on the ground and t-shirts from Linklater’s closet, and thinks, “You lazy f---ing bastard.” Please let it be true.
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY:
SHOULD WIN: Anthony McCarten (The Theory of Everything)
WILL WIN: Graham Moore (The Imitation Game)
GLORIOUSLY OMITTED: James Lapine (Into The Woods)
INGLORIOUSLY SNUBBED: Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl)
What makes this category interesting is Whiplash’s surprise move from Original to Adapted Screenplay. (It has been considered “Original” for most other awards, but since it was initially made as a short film, the Academy considers it an adaptation.) This was an already-weak category, and the omission of Gone Girl left it wide open. The general feeling was that pretty much anything in the Original category would have beaten every movie in the Adapted category. And Whiplash may prove that to be true: Considered to have no chance for Original Screenplay, it immediately became one of the favorites for Adapted Screenplay.
But while it will be close, and could go either way, I think the Academy will give the award to The Imitation Game over Whiplash – especially after the victory at the Writers Guild Awards. With The Imitation Game, writer Graham Moore and director Morten Tyldum deserve a lot of credit for taking what is essentially a boring story (smart, stuffy British guys – and a gal – do a lot of math and invent a computer to decode messages) and presenting it like a thriller. Not unlike Lincoln a couple years ago, it’s a war movie that shows none of the war. So how do you make a film interesting where everything happens as conversations behind closed doors and everyone essentially already knows the ending? That’s where dramatic conflict, instead of physical conflict, wisely comes into play – and this film makes tremendous use of it. The script is far from perfect (it has its share of convenient timing and contrivances for the sake of the narrative/timeframe), but its place among the nominees is well-earned.
My preferred choice (by only a hair over The Imitation Game and Whiplash) is The Theory Of Everything. It got a spot here for its refreshing take on a “famous person” biopic: by telling the story through the eyes of Stephen Hawking’s wife, Jane. (It’s an adaptation of her memoir.) Making her character a lead, and incorporating her point of view, struggles, and conflict raises the stakes in what could have been a fairly standard story.
Don’t count out American Sniper. Since the nominations, it has become a behemoth, giving it a real chance to pick up this award. I just think it’s going to run out of steam.
Inherent Vice is not a player in any other race (except Costume Design), so don’t expect anything from it here. Consider it simply another writing token for Academy fave Paul Thomas Anderson. They’ll give him the award at some point, but it will be for a better movie.
I might argue that more interesting than any of these awards is the establishment of two new acting achievements: the Triple Trilogy Club (Sylvester Stallone – for Rocky, Rambo, and Expendables) and the improbable Double Pentalogy Club (Ian McKellen – for X-Men and Lord Of The Rings/Hobbit). Congrats to the founding members.
Finally, a quick prediction for next year: In the Best Live Action Short Film category, watch out for Through the Trees – I hear it’s pretty good.