Saturday, February 21, 2015

2015 Academy Award Predictions

Award shows are ultimately meaningless, but no other one assigns as much prestige to meaninglessness as the Oscars do.  While the Grammys mostly stick to populist affairs and the Emmys remain stuck in the middle of commercially successful and critically acclaimed, the Academy Awards try to give off the impression that they're awarding true "Art."  (Yes, that means we live in a world where Crash is considered "Art.")

Part of that could come from the voting body itself.  Much discussion was had about the demographics of the Academy when the nominations rolled out and they were whiter than a picket fence in St. Petersberg, Missouri.  You see, 94% of the Oscar voters are white, 74% are male, and the average member is 63 years old.  And what are the two things old white dudes love the most?  Taking themselves too seriously and not recognizing people of color.  In all seriousness, I know one of those old white dudes in the Academy, and not only is he a cool guy, he has great taste in films too.  Mostly, though, it seems like the voting body consists of people like this.

For the past few years, I've been making predictions about these awards, because it's fun and the trendy thing to do.  In 2013, I got 21 out of 24 of the categories correct.  Last year, I got 22 out of 24 correct.  Will I get 23 correct this year?  Probably not!  Below I've listed each category, with all of the nominations in said category; along with what I think will win (meaning: my actual prediction), what I want to win, and a brief explanation of both answers.

Best Visual Effects
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Guardians of the Galaxy
X-Men: Days of Future Past

Will win: Interstellar
Should win: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Best Visual Effects is always a fun and interesting category, because it's the only one you'll see packed with summer blockbusters.  All of these films are worthy, but I found the effects work in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes to be the most impressive.  Those movies always leave me cold emotionally, but there's not a single second that I don't buy the performance capture work from Andy Serkis and the rest of the actors playing apes.  A close second in terms of quality would be Interstellar -- another film I didn't necessarily love -- if only for its wormhole sequence, which literally made my jaw drop.  Ultimately, I think that's what the Academy will go for too.

Best Film Editing
American Sniper
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game

Will win: Boyhood
Should win: Boyhood

Often, the award for Best Film Editing doesn't award the "best" editing, but the "most" editing.  This is true for many of the categories, but none more consistently than this one.  That's why Boyhood, a movie that stitched together 12 years of footage, is a lock to win this.  But the award will have its cake and eat it too, because the film with most editing also has the best.  Boyhood deserves to win, not only for the achievement of piecing together that footage, but because some of the cuts in that film are so good, effortlessly conveying the sprawl of time in a split second.

Best Costume Design
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Inherent Vice
Into the Woods
Mr. Turner

Will win: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Should win: The Grand Budapest Hotel

These nominations break down into two broad categories of period (The Grand Budapest Hotel, Inherent Vice, Mr. Turner) and fantasy (Into the Woods, Maleficent), and period pieces have a history of winning more.  So out of the three that fall into that category this year, I'd go with The Grand Budapest Hotel, which not only has the most Oscar goodwill surrounding it, but also features the kind of lavish costuming that gets noticed by the voters.  It also happens to have the best costumes in its category.

Best Makeup and Hairstyling
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Guardians of the Galaxy

Will win: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Should win: Guardians of the Galaxy

I think The Grand Budapest Hotel is going to rake in the technical awards, this being another one of them.  As far as who should win, Foxcatcher has the most distinct individual piece of makeup, Budapest has the best hairstyling, and Guardians of the Galaxy has the best makeup overall.  It's a tough one, but I'd personally pick Guardians as my favorite.

Best Cinematography
Birdman, Emmanuel Lubezki
The Grand Budapest Hotel, Robert Yeoman
Ida, Lukasz Zal and Ryszard Lenczewski
Mr. Turner, Dick Pope
Unbroken, Roger Deakins

Will win: Birdman
Should win: Ida

Legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins has been nominated in this category 12 times, but has never won.  Unfortunately, he probably won't win his first award here for his work on Unbroken.  (And really, wouldn't we want him to win for a more memorable movie anyway?)  It's most likely going to go to Emmanuel Lubezki, since it's easy to see Oscar voters getting distracted by Birdman's fake one-take gimmick.  If so, this will make it the second year in a row that he wins the award -- he won for Gravity last year -- and he's a great cinematographer, so it's hard to be angry about that.  But if I were giving out the award, I'd give it to Ida, for its gorgeous black and white photography and excellent use of deep focus.  Dick Pope's painterly images in Mr. Turner would be a close second.

Best Production Design
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
Into the Woods
Mr. Turner

Will win: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Should win: The Grand Budapest Hotel

Listen, I didn't even like The Grand Budapest Hotel.  In fact, it was one of my least favorite films of 2014.  But even I can't deny that its production design was incredible.  This is Wes Anderson's bread and butter, these meticulous and lavishly crafted sets.  (So much so, that he forgets about things like genuine characters).  I'm sure the Oscar voters will be enamored of this too, but don't sleep on something like Into the Woods or Mr. Turner.  This will be another one of those times where the "will win" and "should win" line up.

Best Sound Mixing
American Sniper

Will win: American Sniper
Should win: Whiplash

People get very confused -- and with good reason -- about the difference between sound mixing and sound editing, so I guess it's necessary to explain.  Sound mixing is about how well the mixing is on the four main audio elements: speech (dialogue, ADR, voice-over, etc.), ambiance, sound effects, and music.  My favorite sound mixing would be Whiplash, which is kind of the easy choice, since it's all about music.  And honestly, I'm so tempted to pick it as my actual prediction to win, but I'm going with American Sniper.  America loves gunshots!

Best Sound Editing
American Sniper
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

Will win: American Sniper
Should win: Interstellar

Sound editing, on the other hand, is all about the sound design of a film.  This award is given to the film with sound effects that are best able to approximate the desired result.  People had some complaints about the mix of Interstellar, but I thought the actual sound effects were incredible.  But remember when I said America loves gunshots?  They have an even better track record in this category.  American Sniper all the way.  It even has "America" in the title.  A more relevant fact to keep in mind: the Sound Editing and Sound Mixing awards have gone to the same film six times in the last nine years.

Best Original Song
"Everything Is Awesome," The Lego Movie
"Glory," Selma
"Grateful," Beyond the Lights
"I'm Not Gonna Miss You," Glen Campbell: I'll Be Me
"Lost Stars," Begin Again

Will win: "Glory," Selma
Should win: "Lost Stars," Begin Again

I quite like "I'm Not Gonna Miss You" and "Glory," both of which gain additional power from the subject matter of the films that inspired them.  But I love "Lost Stars," the best song on the very solid Begin Again soundtrack.  However, I'd be surprised if something other than "Glory" took the award home.  Selma got shafted in so many other categories that the Academy will be looking to give them some kind of consolation prize.  Plus, it's got that perfect mixture of reputable artists (John Legend, Common) and weighty subject matter ("Remember MLK???") that this award usually goes for.

Best Original Score
The Grand Budapest Hotel, Alexandre Desplat
The Imitation Game, Alexandre Desplat
Interstellar, Hans Zimmer
Mr. Turner, Gary Yershon
The Theory of Everything, Johann Johannsson

Will win: The Theory of Everything
Should win: The Imitation Game

This award generally goes to scores that are a little more interesting or challenging (The Social Network, Atonement, Gravity), but this year I think they're going to go with the relatively safe-sounding score for The Theory of Everything.  There's nothing wrong with safe -- the Theory of Everything score is very pleasant.  Really, I don't mind any of these scores.  Interstellar and Mr. Turner are both scores that work much better accompanying their respective films though.  I like the two Alexandre Desplat scores the most, and if I had to choose, my favorite would be The Imitation Game by a hair.  Shame about the actual film though.

Best Animated Short Film
The Bigger Picture
The Dam Keeper
Me and My Moulton
A Single Life

Will win: Feast
Should win: N/A

In the previous two years I had access to screeners for these shorts, but this year I don't, so I've only seen Feast.  Luckily, my tea leaves are telling me that it's going to win too.

Best Live Action Short Film
Boogaloo and Graham
Butter Lamp
The Phone Call

Will win: The Phone Call
Should win: N/A

The live action shorts are usually worse than the animated ones in my previous experiences, so I'm not as bummed about not having seen any of these.  I'll go with The Phone Call, because it has Sally Hawkins in it.

Best Documentary -- Short Subject
Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1
Our Curse
The Reaper (La Parka)
White Earth

Will win: Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1
Should win: N/A

Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1 has a premise that sounds like an Oscar winner.

Best Documentary -- Feature
Finding Vivian Maier
Last Days in Vietnam
The Salt of the Earth

Will win: Citizenfour
Should win: N/A

Looking back at the past few years, it seems like the Academy has opted to award more commercial or crowdpleasing films over experimental or probing ones.  20 Feet From Stardom won over The Act of Killing, Searching For Sugar Man won over The Gatekeepers, Inside Job won over Exit Through the Gift Shop, etc.  Citizenfour isn't exactly crowdpleasing per se, but it's got a mainstream sensibility in both its subject matter and its apparent filmmaking style.  I didn't see any documentaries in 2014 (not even Life Itself), let alone these nominated ones, so I don't feel comfortable saying who should win.

Best Foreign Language Film
Wild Tales

Will win: Ida
Should win: Ida

The only film I've seen on this list is Ida, but all of the others seem very good, and I'm especially excited about the Russian epic, Leviathan.  But I find it hard to imagine that I'd like any of these films more than Ida, the deeply moving Polish film that made my top 10 last year.  The Oscars often make some bizarre choices when it comes to what they leave out of the nominations -- whither Two Days, One Night?  Force Majeure?  We Are the Best? -- so it's hard to predict what they'll pick to win sometimes.  But I feel pretty good about Ida winning it.

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

Will win: How to Train Your Dragon 2
Should win: The Boxtrolls

The Oscars tend to go for the most popular or financially successful film in the category, which eliminates the gorgeous but fairly obscure titles like Tale of the Princess Kaguya and Song of the Sea.  Based on the aforementioned criteria, it would've been a no-brainer to assume The Lego Movie would win -- after all, it did make $468.1 million and received universal acclaim -- but that wasn't even nominated.  It's pretty much a two-horse race between Big Hero 6 and How to Train Your Dragon 2 now.  How to Train Your Dragon 2 made $100 million more than Big Hero 6, so I'm going to predict it will win out.  That's a shame too, because I'd take The Boxtrolls over both of them any day.  It may be Laika's weakest film, but it's still wonderfully crafted, delightfully dark, and quite funny.

Best Adapted Screenplay
American Sniper, Jason Hall
The Imitation Game, Graham Moore
Inherent Vice, Paul Thomas Anderson
The Theory of Everything, Anthony McCarten
Whiplash, Damien Chazelle

Will win: The Imitation Game
Should win: Inherent Vice

If we're talking about the best script in this category, it's a close race between Paul Thomas Anderson's woozy Inherent Vice screenplay and Damien Chazelle's lean Whiplash.  In the end, I'd give the slight edge to Inherent Vice, which staggers from comedy to uneasy tension to mournful nostalgia without breaking a sweat.   Leave it up to the Academy, then, to give it to The Imitation Game, whose script feels like a book report.

Best Original Screenplay
Birdman; Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Nicolas Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris Jr., and Armando Bo
Boyhood, Richard Linklater
Foxcatcher, E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman
The Grand Budapest Hotel, Wes Anderson and Hugo Guinness
Nightcrawler, Dan Gilroy

Will win: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Should win: Boyhood

This is usually my favorite category, because it tends to show love to smaller, auteurist creations.  Say what you will about Wes Anderson, but he's every bit the auteur, and I think this category will continue the trend of rewarding people like him.  I'd like them to consider the extremely underrated script for Boyhood, though.  Richard Linklater makes dialogue feel so effortless and relaxed that it's easy to assume that it's all improvised, which is impressive in and of itself.  Anything but Birdman, whose hollow, self-congratulatory script was the worst part about the film, will do though.

Best Supporting Actress
Patricia Arquette, Boyhood
Laura Dern, Wild
Keira Knightley, The Imitation Game
Emma Stone, Birdman
Meryl Steep, Into the Woods

Will win: Patricia Arquette
Should win: Patricia Arquette

With all due respect to Emma Stone and Keira Knightley -- both of whom were good in their roles -- or Laura Dern and Meryl Streep -- whom I assume were good in their roles -- this is Patricia Arquette's award.  She may be a supporting actor in Boyhood, but she's the heart and soul of that film, and it's great to see the way her performance subtly changes over the course of the 12 years it covers.

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

Will win: J.K. Simmons
Should win: J.K. Simmons

This one is another no-brainer.  Simmons creates such a towering presence as Terrence Fletcher that he feels like the film's main character.  Anybody who has seen the Whiplash will never hear the words "Not my tempo" the same way again -- that's how terrifying and menacing he is.

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

Will win: Julianne Moore
Should win: Marion Cotillard

Marion Cotillard's role as the depressive Sandra Bya in Two Days, One Night, the latest film from The Dardennes, was the best performance of 2014.  But she's also responsible for the second best performance of 2014: her complex, layered turn as Ewa Cybulski in James Gray's terrific The Immigrant.  So even if she's a crazy 9/11 truther, she deserves this award.  Unfortunately, the Academy loves an affliction, which makes Julianne Moore a lock to win for Still Alice, where she plays a woman suffering from early-onset Alzheimer's disease.

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

Will win: Eddie Redmayne
Should win: Eddie Redmayne

This one's a little bit tough to predict.  Will the Academy continue their love of afflictions and go with Eddie Redmayne's insanely physical take on Stephen Hawking?  Or will they honor Keaton, the well-respected veteran?  Once again, I'm lining up with my imagined Academy on this one.  But really, I wouldn't be upset if any of these guys won.

Best Director
Wes Anderson, The Grand Budapest Hotel
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Birdman
Richard Linklater, Boyhood
Bennett Miller, Foxcatcher
Morten Tyldum, The Imitation Game

Will win: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu
Should win: Richard Linklater

Let's take a brief moment to stop and laugh at the fact that Morten Tyldum was nominated for The Imitation Game, a film that looks like it was directed by a paper bag.  He took a spot that could've gone to David Fincher (Gone Girl), Ava Duvernay (Selma), Paul Thomas Anderson (Inherent Vice), or Damian Chazelle (Whiplash).  Thankfully, he's not going to win the award.  That's likely to go to Birdman, whose direction is done in a way that calls attention upon itself.  My personal favorite in this category is Richard Linklater, who's such a terrific naturalist.  Plus, it takes alot of directorial prowess to keep a project like Boyhood together.  But alas, the Birdman flu will be too much for him to overcome.

Best Picture
American Sniper
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
The Theory of Everything

Will win: Birdman
Should win: Boyhood

Here's how I'd rank these movies from best to worst: Boyhood, Whiplash, Selma, (wide gap), The Imitation Game, The Theory of Everything, Birdman, American Sniper, The Grand Budapest Hotel.  (I'd worry about people wanting to beat me up for disliking The Grand Budapest Hotel so much, but let's be honest: most Wes Anderson fans can't throw a punch.)  So obviously I think Boyhood, my number one film of 2014, should win.  And it seemed like it would for a while, but Birdman has gained quite a bit of momentum in the last few weeks.  Plus, the Academy loves to give themselves a pat on the back through their Best Picture choices.  Remember The Artist ("Boy, movies sure are great and always have been!") and Argo ("Staging a fake movie stopped a hostage crisis!")?  They won't be able to resist Birdman, a film that wrestles with what it means to be a capital-A Artist.

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