Oscar Picks 2015

This is a crossover post from my other blog, where I write brief reviews about all the movies I see (which is a lot – 146 in 2014).

Tomorrow night is Oscar night, a formerly sacrosanct day for us that has waned in significance in recent years due to the out-of-this-world cost of seeing a movie in theatres, the ubiquitousness of films available to watch on demand, and the steep decline IMHO in the overall quality of films with major release these days. Gone are those heady days of Schindler’s List and its contemporaries, when picking a winner was difficult because there was a surfeit of good films to choose from. Now, even with the list of up to 10 nominees, the choice seems like picking the best of a mediocre lot.

The waning has also meant that I rarely see all or even most of the nominees, so my rationale for selection has to include things I’ve read or heard about a film rather than just my own assessment. Still, I’ve seen and heard enough this year to offer the following speculations.

Best picture will go to Birdman (with The Grand Budapest Hotel being the likely alternate). Birdman benefits from being about actors, and so will be both appealing and relatable for the voting community. It was also a great movie – crisp, sharp dialogue, superb cast and performances, and just enough weirdness to allow for analysis of metaphors till the cows come home. GBH might succeed here, if enough folks finally “get” Wes Anderson (I don’t yet…).

Best director will go to Wes Anderson for the audacity and weirdness of his oeuvre to date. Alternate is Richard Linklater, for the audacity and endurance of Boyhood, although from everything I’ve heard about the movie, it sounds a bit like a Jouquin Phoenix-like art-in-life stunt in film form.

Best actor in a leading role will go to Bradley Cooper. I haven’t seen American Sniper yet (perhaps by tomorrow’s big shew I will) but what I have seen and heard tells me that he’s even better than Matthew McConaughey. Alternate would be Michael Keaton but I don’t know that the Academy voters are ready yet for that, and may even see his characters struggle and madness to be too close to home. The Brits might surprise, but as much as I like Benedict Cumberbatch, I think both films would be hampered by their too-intellectual main characters, neither of which presents the “I want to save you” appeal of John Nash in A Beautiful Mind.

Best actress in a leading role will go to Julianne Moore. I would give it to her for making watchable a movie that includes Kristen Stewart, but understand that Julianne was just overall brilliant in a story where the lead female character is the key. Alternate would be Marion Cotillard, a great choice as well.

Best supporting actor must be JK Simmons, who kills it in Whiplash. Ed Norton would be a great alternate, as his turn as the demanding and crazy but also human actor in Birdman was riveting.

Best supporting actress will likely be Patricia Arquette in Boyhood, but I would be impressed to see Emma Stone get it for the daughter-cum-PA to Birdman.

(I always feel a bit bad in wishing a supporting actor Oscar on anyone, as career purgatory can result for the winner (Mira Sorvino, Cuba Gooding Jr., Jennifer Hudson). Or the award can be used to serve as a quasi-lifetime achievement award, to more mature actors turning in a decent, if perhaps small, performance (what I call the Jack Palance effect), which would put some weight behind Robert Duvall‘s position on this year’s ballot.

Best original screenplay will go to GBH, as its originality is its appeal (although I just read that it was “inspired by some previous writings” so I’m surprised it’s here. Alternate would be Birdman, for that cracking dialogue.

Best adapted screenplay will be American Sniper, for bringing a gritty life and story so cleanly to the screen. No real alternate here, so anything will be a surprise to me.

Best foreign language film should go to Timbuktu, with Leviathan as an alternate. I have seen exactly none of these, so these are guesses not choices (aka Wild-Ass Guess, or WAG).

The rest of the list:

Animated feature: How to Train Your Dragon 2 (although I can’t believe there was no better title than that, nor that the fantastic The Lego Movie wasn’t here, because It Was Awesome!).

Sound editing: Birdman.

Sound mixing: American Sniper.

Visual effects : Guardians of the Galaxy. (Which would also have had a lock on best compilation soundtrack if they would ever get around to offering such a category).

Film editng: Whiplash. You can feel the music and the tension through those quick and slow cuts.

Original score: Mr. Turner.

Original song: The Lego Song (Awesome!). For the aforementioned Palance effect, the Glen Campbell song could take this.

Production design (the category formerly known as Art Direction, which included art direction and set decoration – it was likely changed to stop people like me misunderstanding the difference between this and cinematography): GBH, but Into the Woods or Mr. Turner could take this one.

Cinematography: I’d like to see this go to Birdman, where both the closeness of the theatre spaces and the long sweeping scenes of fantasy brought you in to story; I’m especially enamoured of the tracking shots. Mr. Turner is a good but unlikely alternate.

Make-up: Guardians of the Galaxy – aliens over people any time in this one.

Costumes: Malificent, or Into the Woods.

Documentary feature: Citizenfour. Really, it’s the only one anyone will have heard of and may have actually seen.

Documentary short: White Earth (WAG)

Live-action short: Parvenh (WAG)

Animated short: The Dam Keeper (WAG)

Things that should absolutely not happen:

Keira Knightley, Reese Witherspoon or Rosamund Pike winning anything.
– GBH making a clean sweep.
Selma or Foxcatcher winning anything.

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