Thursday, January 15, 2015
Oscar 2015: Nominations and Predictions
January is always a rough month for me. After an entire year of watching stuff and building towards my comprehensive retrospective, the task of starting all over again is daunting and depressing. All of that changes halfway through the month when the Oscar nominations are announced. Suddenly, I have a big list of films to see and review, an entire month’s worth of fascinating, frequently frustrating homework. Fantastic. My life has meaning once again.
I don’t usually agree with the Academy Awards. Nobody does. That’s not the point. The nominated films are decreed the best of the year by the mysterious Movie Illuminati, their decisions wrapped up in politics, personal back-scratching, and perceived social responsibly. We humble movie fans, we filthy casuals, were not meant to understand why one movie is elevated over the others. The designated Film Lords from on-high work in mysterious ways, handing out surprises and snubs. Trying to figure why this happens is fruitless. Instead, let us gamble. We now have a list of movies to pick from. We can now guestimate, extrapolate, and assume about who will be inducted into the Golden Hall of Oscar Winners. The guessing is the fun part, even if I’m inevitably always wrong.
This year, the Academy made a big deal about announcing all the nominations at the crack of dawn today. I was actually up at this point, because I hadn’t gone to bed yet after being up all night, because I like to live dangerously. However, I was under the mistaken assumption that the Academy would be doing the announcement at 5:30 PM, a reasonable time. So I missed Mr. Dick Poop and the hand-wringing over a lack of racial equality. Like every other year, I had to read the nominees on the internet like the creep I am. Oh well. On with the write-up.
The time when the Academy decreed that there would be ten Best Picture nominations is seeming more and more like a distant memory. Over the last three years, the number of Best Picture nominees dwindled to nine. This year, we drop down one further to eight. Who wants to bet that we’ll be back to five by the end of the decade?
Despite being a damn sexy year for cinema in general, 2014 was a perceived weak year for traditional prestige-y Oscar bait. Even with mediocre reviews, “The Theory of Everything,” “American Sniper,” and “The Imitation Game” all gained nominations in the highest category. (It’s interesting to note that “The Imitation Game” was, at one point, the frontrunner for the top award. Now it’s the longest of long-shots. Funny how that worked out.)
This mix-up has allowed a few scrappy indies to sneak in. For a long time, I assumed “Boyhood” would never come out. Surely, a project with a gimmick that far out would fall apart before it got released. Now, this independent film shot gradually over a decade and change with little money and a tiny crew has emerged as the favorite to steal the whole night away. Other independent films that gained surprised nominations are Wes Anderson's delightful “The Grand Budapest Hotel” and “Whiplash.” Even quasi-indie “Birdman” wouldn’t have been a guarantee nomination in a five-film year. Considering Hollywood loves movies about movies, and “Birdman” is one of two films leading the nominations, it’s the probable runner-up to “Boyhood” and could sneak in an unexpected win.
And then there’s the strange case of “Selma.” Despite rapturous reviews, the fact-based drama has been shut-out at many other award shows leading up to the Oscars. Considering “12 Years a Slave” won last year, you’d think race would be on the Academy’s mind more then ever. Despite this, “Selma” pulled together all of two nominations, one of them in this category. Why is this? Because of the film’s perceived historical inaccuracies? That seems unlikely, considering this is the same Academy that showered the factually dubious “Braveheart” with awards. What seems more likely is that Paramount sent the screeners out late, putting all their eggs in the Oscar Basket. The studio obviously forgot that buzz and hype, not quality, is what wins Oscars. “Selma” will not win Best Picture.
I’m half expecting an upset in “Birdman’s” favor but “Boyhood” is still the one to beat.
Why does the Academy love Bradley Cooper so much? He’s not without his charms as an actor and he made a great talking raccoon. But nothing about Cooper’s abilities explains why he has been nominated in three consecutive years. The Academy clearly loved “American Sniper” more then anyone else did. Does he have dirt on somebody? Cooper took the spot that probably belonged to David Oyelowo and, in another far wackier universe, maybe Jake Gyllenhaal.
Eddie Redmayne and Benedict Cumberbatch, those actors with incredibly British names, both played esteemed geniuses. A few months ago, Cumberbatch was the assumed pick for Best Actor. Now, Benedict Longfellow Humperdink Cumberbatch seems unlikely to win. He’ll probably win someday but not this year. Eddie Redmayne was practically guarantee a nod for playing a famous real person that lives with a debilitating disease. The middling reviews “The Theory of Everything” received also guaranteed that he won’t win.
Despite being missing in the Best Picture category, “Foxcatcher” caught five nominations in other various, categories. Of these noms, Steve Carell’s lead role was probably the surest bet. The Academy does love it when primarily comedic actors go for dramatic roles. It seems to be generally agreed that Carell’s performance is the best thing about the controversial thriller. And, hey, he even wore a fake nose. Oscar loves that shit too.
You know what Oscar loves more though? A good come-back story. These days, a role in a superhero movie is likely to launch an actor to major stardom. Things were different in 1989. “Batman” solidified Michael Keaton’s iconic status but made it difficult for him to find other notable roles. Now, 25 years later, Keaton is looking down at a potential Oscar win for satirizing his own career. The stubby, levitating, tightie-whities turn has made Keaton the clear frontrunner for Best Actor.
Michael Keaton for "Birdman." Nobody else has comparable heat.
“Still Alice” went into the Toronto International Film Festival with little hype or anticipation. Even during the end of the year Best-Of round-up, it wasn’t widely listed. However, in the last month, Julianne Moore’s turn as a woman struggling with Alzheimer has picked up award after award and countless more nominations. Moore has been nominated five times prior and has been doing excellent work in many other films for years. Considering the universal acclaim “Still Alice” has won her, 2015 is looking to be her year.
“Gone Girl” was a critical favorite but perhaps the material was still too pulpy for AMPAS. Rosamund Pike’s nomination for Best Actress was the only notice the film received from the Academy. If David Fincher’s latest was more widely nominated, Pike might have a better chance. Right now, her odds are slim.
Felicity Jones’ turn in “The Theory of Everything” was expected to be nominated. Her performance seems to be the best liked thing about that movie. Also expected was Reese Witherspoon in “Wild.” Until Oscar decided it wanted Moore, Witherspoon was the earliest choice for this award. That might be unfair as, by all accounts, “Wild” is far better performance then “Walk the Line,” the movie that got Reese her previous little gold man. I guess Tracy Flick will have to learn to cope with failure again.
Unexpected was the nomination for Marion Cotillard in “Two Days, One Night,” a movie I haven’t even heard of before now. It might seem like Cotillard has been nominated a lot in the last few years but she actually hasn’t been on the Academy’s radar since her surprise win back in 2007. Maybe they wanted to make it up to her for not nominating her for that whale movie she did a while back…
Julianne Moore for “Still Alice.”
There were plenty of notable snubs during today’s morning announcement. Jennifer Aniston campaigned hard for “Cake,” which I still know nothing about, but came up empty. The snub that most surprised me was a complete lockout for “Big Eyes.” Considering she should have won last year for being the only good thing about “American Hustle,” I half-expected Amy Adams to take home the gold for her performances as Margaret Keene. I guess the Academy really, really hates Tim Burton.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR:
The supporting categories are less clear cut then the lead nominations. Robert Duvall’s nomination for “The Judge” is utterly mystifying, considering the movie’s blunt critical dismissal. Edward Norton’s role in “Birdman” seems to be a good example of an actor receiving a nomination just because the movie was widely loved by all the voters. Ethan Hawke, as the Ultimate Cool Dad in “Boyhood,” was an expected nomination and, depending on how much Oscar ends up liking that one, he might still win.
The Channing Tatum Redemption Tour has been rolling for a few years now. His self-aware, surprisingly funny turns in surprisingly funny comedies have made his undignified recent past as an indistinct pretty boy easy to forget. The actor’s growing critical buzz was supposed to climax with a supporting nomination for “Foxcatcher.” Instead, Oscar’s shot juuust missed and they nominated Mark Ruffalo instead. Ruffalo is cool. Cool enough that he was previously nominated in 2011 for “The Kids Are All Right.” His nomination is a clear case of the Academy preferring someone they’re familiar with, someone they already know they like, over taking a chance on scary new talent. Otherwise known as the Jonah Hill Effect.
Anyway, none of that matters because J. K. Simmons is going to rock the shit out of all of them. It’s baffling to me that Simmons, one of the best character actors we have, has never been recognized by AMPAS before. His thundering performance in “Whiplash” has been cleaning up awards all over the country and he seems all-but guaranteed to walk away with the Oscar.
Unless the Academy wants the “Boyhood” parents to go home with matching awards, J.K. Simmons for “Whiplash” will certainly win.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS:
Of the six major categories, Best Supporting Actress is the least buzzed about. Laura Dern for “Wild” and Keira Knightley for “The Imitation Game” received exactly zero fanfare. I’m sure they’re good performances but their nominations practically seem like filler. “Yeah, we liked those movies,” Oscar said. “Nominate some more people from them.” Neither of them will win.
Emma Stone, otherwise known as the Rightful Heir to America’s Sweetheart once everyone realizes Jennifer Lawrence is wildly overrated, snagged a nom for “Birdman.” I like Stone a lot and her performance in “Birdman” is one of the few things critics agreed on. However, this is clearly a stepping stone on a longer path for Stone towards dramatic acclaim. She’ll win an Oscar someday but not this year.
I’ve actually seen “Boyhood” and, though I’ve been a fan of Patricia Arquette for years, I was not blown away by her performance as Mason’s beleaguered mom with lousy taste in men. My opinion doesn’t matter. Arquette was scooped up 17 different Best Supporting Actress awards across multiple shows already. In an overall weak round-up, she seems certain to go home with another one.
Oh yeah, Meryl Streep was nominated again, for that shitty “Into the Woods” movie, because Oscar just can’t fucking help themselves. They have been afflicted with Streep Fever for years now and are clearly disinterested in receiving help for it. Presumably, someone at the Academy has a major crush on Streep and keeps hoping that, if they nominate her enough times, she’ll go out with them. If my connections are right, Meryl is already receiving Oscar buzz for the dump she just left in her hotel bathroom.
Patricia Arquette for “Boyhood.”
For years, Richard Linklater has been that critically beloved, hipster-approved filmmaker that the Academy just didn’t want to hear about. Linklater was obviously too cool for Oscar’s school anyhow, so I doubt he cared. Last year, a writing nomination for “Before Midnight” sneaked in, proving that Oscar has warmed up to Linklater. And now they’ve really warmed up to him. In a year where the expected Oscar bait dropped the ball, Linklater is currently the most buzzed-about choice for Best Director.
But will he win? We all know Wes Anderson should win. Anderson’s meticulously designed, hilarious, touching masterpieces have been kicking at the Academy’s door for years now. And Oscar liked “The Grand Budapest Hotel.” Yet right now, Anderson looks to come in in third place. A clean sweep for “Birdman” is still possible. Which means Alejandro González Iñárritu, and all his unnecessary diacritical marks, could be the night’s big winner.
All of them are more likely to win then Bennett Miller for “Foxcatcher” or Morten Tyldum for “The Imitation Game,” both of whom got nominated because of the wider good-will their films’ received. Who are these guys and, more importantly, why do we care?
Excluding an unforeseen “Birdman” bonanza, Richard Linklater for “Boyhood.”
Even if Iñárritu doesn’t win Best Director, he seems primed to take home a Best Original Screenplay award. “Boyhood” was impressive because of the way it was shot, not because of its writing. Oscar clearly loved Iñárritu’s self-reflective superhero satire and its writing has been especially lauded. It seems primed to win.
Which fucking pisses me off. Wes Anderson’s films always have brilliant scripts and “The Grand Budapest Hotel” is no different. Furthermore, the movie is his ode to storytelling, writing, and authors. It obviously deserves the Best Original Screenplay award. However, the more gimmicky films will force it out. Meanwhile, Dan Gilroy’s “Nightcrawler” sadly waves from the back of the room, remembering when everyone told him it would win back in November.
The Best Adapted Screenplay category is more open-and-shut. Undistinguished Oscar bait like “American Sniper,” “The Imitation Game,” and “The Theory of Everything” have bloated up the category. Yeah, one of them still might win. But this award belongs to the freaks. “Inherent Vice” is probably too divisive to win, especially since the Academy continues to be lukewarm towards Paul Thomas Anderson. Damien Chazelle’s script for “Whiplash,” meanwhile, will have the best luck here. Assuming J.K. Simmons doesn’t punch the other nominees out and take the award for himself, which I fully expect to happen anyway.
“Birdman” and “Whiplash.”
Considering it was left out of Best Animated Feature, “The Lego Movie” should win Best Song for the endlessly catchy “Everything is Awesome.” This, unfortunately, is pretty unlikely. The Academy has liked some weird songs over the years but the electronic pop music/comedy shenanigans of this song probably won’t appeal to the vast majority of Academy voters.
But then again, what do I know? The generic R&B-pop of “Grateful,” from future footnote “Beyond the Lights,” earned a nomination for some reason. The man behind “Once,” which rightfully won Best Song a while ago, brought us “Begin Again” this year. Unfortunately, that film’s “Lost Stars” is saddled with the weaselly, nasal vocals of Adam “I’m Probably a Douchebag” Levine. Surely the understated, heart-breaking “Like a Fool” deserved the nod instead?
Joining the list of random-ass movies to earn Oscar nomination is “Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me,” a documentary about the fading country legend living with Alzheimers. “I’m Not Gonna Miss You” has sappy lyrics, is overproduced, and features the once-powerful Campbell straining to make it through the song. I’m assuming this was a sympathy nomination for Campbell’s family.
The solemn but commanding “Glory” from “Selma” has picked up a few awards already and is poised to win here. I found that song’s lyrics a little too on the noise but there’s no denying its powerfully delivered. If it wins, I’ll just pretend John Legend won to make up for the Academy ignoring “Django Unchained’s” “Who Did That to You” a few years back.
In the score department, Alexandre Desplat is doing double-duty for “The Grand Budapest Hotel’s” varied, creative, jazzy score and “The Imitation Game’s” piano-driven intensity. Desplat is talented, both scores are good, but I’m rooting for the former. I’m hot and cold on Hans Zimmer but his “Interstellar” score smartly ramped up the movie’s suspense. Johann Johannsson’s “Theory of Everything” score is pretty and well-composed but didn’t blow my mind. The ear-splitting woodwind of Gary Yershon’s “Mr. Turner” score probably works fine when paired with the film but is quite irritating as an isolated listen.
OTHER FILM CATEGORIES:
The most vocally contested snub this year was “The Lego Movie” being overlooked for Best Animated Feature. Which is, to be frank, complete and utter bullshit. Critics and audiences alike loved it, the script was smart and hilarious, and the movie was lovely to look at. Did the last minute inclusion of real people make it ineligible or was AMPAS just scared by the toy movie stigma? It’s a two edged sword though, since “The Lego Movie’s” exclusion left room for “The Tale of Princess Kaguya” and “Song of the Sea” to earn deserved nominations. Those movies, pretty as they are to look at, probably won’t win. “The Boxtrolls,” meanwhile, is probably too grotesque for Oscar’s taste as well. So it comes down to “Big Hero 6” and “How to Train Your Dragon 2,” delightful franchise flicks from big studios. I preferred Baymax and company and am rooting for them. The Dreamworks sequel, however, was much more acclaimed and will probably take it.
As always, I’m mostly unfamiliar with all of the Foreign Language Film nomination. I hope to correct this over the upcoming month. “Ida” and “Leviathan” certainly earned their share of critical love though, so it’ll probably be one of them.
“The Lego Movie” lockout wasn’t the biggest shock for me though. “Life Itself,” a stirring powerful documentary about the late Roger Ebert, did not receive a Best Documentary nomination. This truly shocked me. Not just because the movie was great but because, as previously noted, the Academy loves movies about movies. In its place, I suspect the topical “Citizenfour” will likely win this category.
I fully expect “The Grand Budapest Hotel” to whip through the technical awards, winning Best Production Design, Costume Design, Best Editing, and possibly Best Make-up. At the very least, Production Design should be an obvious choice. (And it would be cool if the fantastically painted aliens of “Guardians of the Galaxy” won Best Make-Up.) That film’s odds are less certain in Cinematography, where bigger movies like “Unbroken” or “Mr. Turner” seem surer bets.
“Interstellar’s” mind-blowing visuals make it a shoe-in for Best Visual Effects, even if the beautifully rendered monkeys and monsters of “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” and “Guardians of the Galaxy” will give it stiff competition. Considering it’s a movie all about music and sound, “Whiplash” also seems to be the favorite in Sound Mixing.
Come February 1st, I will set out to review as many Oscar movies as possible, including a few I’ve already seen. Most of the above films are likely to wind up on my watch list. All of this will lead up to February 22nd when I will live-blog the Academy Awards ceremony for the fifth year in a row. That night, we will see how many of my above predictions were correct. We will also see if Neil Patrick Harris’ charisma can carry a bloated, four hour show and see how many angry, drunken epithets I can scream at my television. See you again soon, Film Thoughts Faithfuls.