Oscar Predictions 2015
This year, the Oscars have been a tough sell. The field isn’t that varied (four biopics in one year!) there were some high profile snubs in several categories (like everyone involved with the film Selma…or anyone not white, but I repeat myself) and many of the contenders are just not that great. I was surprised last year by several thoughtful films whose merits were not immediately obvious, but which turned out to be quite thoughtful. This year I saw lots of films that were receiving rave reviews, but left the theater scratching my head.
I’m not sure if the Academy was trying to court controversy with their picks this year. 2014 as a year is looking like a pint of vanilla yogurt: bland and white. Looking back at the year as a whole, Hollywood managed to avoid any diversity as a whole. Justin Simien’s Dear White People was another film addressing uncomfortable racial issues that got snubbed this year, but as an olive branch, the Academy should use that film’s name as the title to this year’s awards. Other films addressing social issues, such as the critically applauded and excellently acted Love is Strange, were completely locked out. Still Alice, which grapples with Alzheimer’s disease was also ignored, except for offering an apology award to Julianne Moore. Whiplash looks at the exciting world of becoming a jazz musician. Great! A musical genre dominated by people of color! This should be a great way to explore a non-mainstream subculture…oh wait, it’s all white people. Well, I guess if you include the important roles of “Trumpeter 1” and “Trumpeter 2,” then there are tons of non-white actors in this film…just none with a big enough part to warrant having a name. Good job, Hollywood! Boy, I hope Iggy Azalea is presenting this year. That would be swell.
The films that were nominated seem like catnip to industry insiders. If you make a biopic, apparently you can just sit back and wait for the Oscar nominations to roll in. Even if your biopic maims the actual story grotesquely. When you’re looking to make a movie that is pretty much a complete cliche, why not give it a veneer of respectability by using real people (just not, you know, their actual stories.) Strip out the ugly parts, ratchet up the action and romance, ignore the actual significance of their life’s work…hell, you’re just trying to make a movie! A Beautiful Mind set the tone for these type of movies, and I hope the Academy stops honoring these paint-by-number films.
The 87th Academy Awards
My head and my heart can’t agree on most of the awards this year. Do I go with the obvious answer or with what I hope will happen? Since the only thing I like more than being righteously indignant is being right, I’m going to give my picks for both who should win, and who will win.
Who should win: Alejandro Inarritu
Birdman’s strengths were it’s acting, pacing, and camera work; all of which lead back to a competent director. The clever use of single-takes helped to keep the film’s plot rolling, and made the interplay between the cast seem alive and meaningful. If you’re trying to capture the flow of a hectic day, this approach is wonderful, and I hope Inarritu is rewarded for all of the things he got right behind the camera.
Who will win: Wes Anderson
I can’t think of any other reason to nominate The Grand Budapest other than to reward Anderson for his often ignored contribution to cinema. I think Budapest doesn’t have a chance in hell at best picture, so Hollywood insiders looking to tip their hat to Wes Anderson will have to throw him the best director. If they give it to Linklatter for Boyhood, I may just turn the goddamn TV off right then and there.
Best Supporting Actor
Who should win: J.K. Simmons
Whiplash only works due to the intense relationship between master and student, and that relationship only works because J.K. Simmons is a dynamo in this film.
Who will win: J.K. Simmons
Unless Birdman sweeps up all the awards (which I can see happening) then I see the Academy recognizing that Simmons makes up 90% of the reason to even talk about Whiplash as a film worthy of an Oscar.
Best Supporting Actress
Ms. Stone punched way above her assumed pay grade in this film, standing toe to toe with Michael Keaton and Ed Norton, demonstrating that she has real talent, and actually stealing quite a few of those scenes from the boys. Now that they’ve killed her out of the Spider Man franchise, hopefully other films take note of her abilities and give her more juicy roles to crush out of the park.
Who will win: Patricia Arquette
Everyone comes back to the penultimate anguished scene in Boyhood, where an emotionally devastated Arquette looks back on her life and decides it was all leading to this moment: her children are all grown, and she is without purpose or meaning anymore. Well, as you may have guessed, I hated this scene too. The performance is pretty janky, with Arquette still unable to feign tears believably, and the litany of life events she rattles off feel like the description of a pretty damn successful time here on Earth. In fact, this litany pretty much embody my gripe with the film: moments that are supposed to be poignant and moving are just vomited up on the screen, and the audience is supposed to do the heavy lifting of actually infusing them with emotion. I can imagine my mother having these thoughts, and it pains my heart. That doesn’t mean Arquette’s dreadful pantomime of that moment is in any way the cause of those emotions.
Who should win: Steve Carell
Did you see Foxcatcher? If you haven’t, just watch the trailer. Steve Carell creates a soul-withering portrayal of sociopathy. His character is almost inhuman, an insect dressed up like a man, starring out at the world with a mixture of covetousness and hate. Steve Carell deserves an Oscar for this performance, and this movie deserved more love from the Academy. I could have seen it getting a best picture nod, and it probably should have gotten Channing Tatum a nod for best supporting actor as well.
Who will win: Michael Keaton
Keaton is at the manic top of his game in Birdman, a brilliant return to form for the actor who has played some incredibly complex and brooding roles. If not for Carell’s amazing turn in Foxcatcher, I would say that it is Keaton’s award to walk away with. If he wins, I’m at peace with it. At least it means I have an even money chance at finally seeing them make Beetlejuice 2.
Still Alice deserved more buzz than it got, and Julianne Moore deserves more wins than she’s got (she’s gotten four nods and no wins under her belt, despite putting up stellar performances in everything she’s in.) I think she’s got this one locked up.
Who will win: Julianne Moore
It would be criminal to award this one any other way. The only other possible choice would be Marion Cotillard, but I think Two Days, One Night just didn’t get enough eyes on it to earn the votes needed.
Best Animated Film
Who should win: Song of the Sea
This wonderful take on the celtic fable of the Selkie has much to love about it. The art style is unconventional and charming, the story is both novel and universal (so many cultures have traditional folk tales about animal spirits taking human form to find love,) and the voice acting is superb. I hope that this film wins, and that the production company behind Song of the Sea and The Secret of Kells keeps making these quirky and endearing folk tale-inspired films.
Who will win: The Tale of the Princess Kaguya
Another folk tale adaptation from Studio Ghibli, this film winning would be the right award for the wrong film. So many amazing films by Hayao Miyazaki and his team have been passed over, this nod (for a relatively unknown film) seems like a peace offering from the Academy, instead of a real award for merit.
Who should win…and will win: Birdman
This award, the capstone of the whole evening, is the most pernicious to predict. What ingredients go into making a great film? It should be mechanically excellent: the performances should be memorable, the camera work should be remarkable, the sound and score need to be harmonious, and the pacing needs to keep the audience immersed. I also think the film needs to be significant, in of itself. It should communicate something profound or important. And the disjunction between mechanical excellence and profundity is what makes this year so damn hard to call.
Last year’s 12 Years a Slave was an easy decision. It had all of mechanics down pat, and was about a culturally important topic. This year, the movies seem to be all either/or. Many of the nominees are technically sound, but are ultimately about trivial things. The films that tackled deep issues tended to be superficial (or downright manipulative.) A movie about important things, done poorly, should not still win a best picture award, no matter how deserving the material was on paper.
So how to score it? Selma was an above average film with a big message. Birdman was an excellent film with a rather more mundane message. I am torn between the two, but I feel that the overall high quality of Inarittu’s work helped to elevate his examination about the nature of art, how it is made and how it is consumed, above the competition. It just was an expertly made film, with little to detract from it. And that is how the 2015 Oscars will be scored: which film gives me the least qualms about its quality. Sigh. Here’s looking forward to the 2016 awards.