Sunday, 15 February 2015

Oscar Predictions

This year's Oscar host, Neil Patrick Harris

In one week, the winners of the Academy Awards will be announced and their statuettes distributed. 2014’s theatrical releases will be honoured (and poked fun at, usually in the lightest of sardonic touches), stars will be gazed at and adored, and host Neil Patrick Harris will oversee the single most important event in Hollywood’s calendar. The releases of Avatar and Harry Potter, the Cannes and Venice film festivals, and Clooney’s wedding, though frenziedly anticipated and observed, cannot match Oscar’s remarkable clout and stamina as a cultural phenomenon, nor its influence on both an entire industry and art form. Bar its Peace Prize, the Nobel committee’s activities have long passed from mass consciousness, and the events of the People’s Choice Awards are annually forgotten and dismissed the morning after, when the ringing of high-pitched squeals and shrieks has dispersed.

Granted, when considering Oscar night afterwards, it’s difficult to find any proportion between the hype and the pay-off – particularly in the proceedings themselves. Most presenters – usually a cluster of just-emerging, impossibly gorgeous, (sometimes questionably) talented adolescents – slip or stumble a little in their preamble to the presentation, with their halting interactions with the teleprompter marking for us the inexperienced, the flustered, the short-sighted, and the under-rehearsed. And the winners can hardly salvage it, with their often insubstantial effusions of gratitude and praise. Very few of them ever say very much. In decades past, Oscar winners could be depended upon for letting slip remarks on the state of the nation, or at least the state of cinema, with controversies to muse on for a short while afterward; not the staid, sodden and sometimes very bland show we need to sit through nowadays to understand any of the comments we’ll find the next day on various social sites, usually to do with fashion.

Nevertheless, we watch it, to shout out our displeasure at some picks, to applaud others, and in the hope of some delectable moment of indiscretion or fleeting affecting moment in a rare articulate speech (but more often a wry joke, typically in self-deprecation). And, of course, to see stars doing all that we need them to: unashamedly exude their charisma and other-worldliness, in evening wear, on camera, and with a flash of a smile we can re-play over the following months, in our minds and on YouTube. Moments such as Angelina Jolie thrusting an impressive thigh out of a black slitted dress can temper our discontent at Harvey Weinstein controlling the awards with his middlebrow dramas, and the Academy’s membership growing more and more out of touch.

Angelina Jolie and her leg, at the Oscars in 2012

Just before the 2012 Oscar telecast, the Los Angeles Times published a breakdown of the Academy’s membership, and the results were far from surprising: 77% male, 86% older than fifty, and 94% white. As David Denby wrote, “It’s an elderly, white male club (yielding, however, no more than a handful of votes for Mitt Romney or Rich Santorum); it’s not a group in touch with the savage passion necessary to make a great move.” Their rigid left-wing sensibilities are the reason not only that a Democrat first lady would be asked to present the Best Picture, as Mrs Obama did two years ago, but also why exciting cinematic achievements, like Pulp Fiction and The Social Network, can lose to nice, sweet, sensible and middling productions like Forrest Gump and The King's Speech.

The Oscar-winning, left-baiting Forrest Gump

Oh right, my predictions. That’s what this post is for, after all.

I suppose it’d make the most sense to begin with Best Picture. It’s the Main Prize, and the one, among them all, in which every viewer is interested. The nominees, in case you’ve not memorised them:
Boyhood (reviewed on this blog)
Selma (reviewed on this blog)

For much of the awards season, Boyhood seemed like the front-runner, winning nearly all of the critics’ circles’ awards, the Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture – Drama, and the BAFTA for Best Film. But Birdman won the Producers Guild Award (most of whose voters are probably in the Academy), which was precisely the case (minus the BAFTA win) in 2011, when The Social Network seemed a sure bet, and The King’s Speech swooped in at the PGA and stole the season. Enter the surge of late admiration for Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper, and another very important precursor, the Toronto International Film Festival, where The Imitation Game won the top award, and it makes for a rather uncertain race. Also not to be forgotten is the big Golden Globe win, and considerable number of nominations for Wes Anderson’s glorious The Grand Budapest Hotel.

My Prediction: Boyhood, or (less likely) Birdman, or (very long shots) American Sniper, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Imitation Game
My Choice: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Should Have Been Here: Foxcatcher, Gone GirlMr Turner

Ellar Coltrane in "Boyhood"

Closely linked to the award for Best Picture, is the one for Best Director. In 2013, much was made of how Argo was the first Best Picture winner not to be nominated for Best Director since 1989’s Driving Miss Daisy, the first since 1932’s Grand Hotel. This year marks the first year since the Academy increased the number of Best Picture nominees from five to ten that a director has been nominated when his film wasn’t. That’s Bennett Miller, who directed Foxcatcher. Here are the five nominees (including Miller, for consistency):
Alejandro González Iñárritu, Birdman
Richard Linklater, Boyhood
Bennett Miller, Foxcatcher
Wes Anderson, The Grand Budapest Hotel
Morten Tydlum, The Imitation Game

Again, Boyhood’s Linklater seemed like the frontrunner, until Iñárritu won the top award from the Director’s Guild of America. In over 60 years, there are only seven instances were the winner of the DGA Award did not win the Academy Award. What the Academy has taken to doing in the last few years, though, is splitting Best Picture and Best Director between two strong frontrunners (Saving Private Ryan and Shakespeare in Love, Crash and Brokeback Mountain, Argo and Life of Pi, 12 Years a Slave and Gravity), which seems a possibility this year as well.

My Prediction: Alejandro González Iñárritu, Birdman, or perhaps Richard Linklater, Boyhood
My Choice: Wes Anderson, The Grand Budapest Hotel
Should Have Been Here: Ava DuVernay, Selma; David Fincher, Gone Girl; Mike Leigh, Mr Turner

Directing nominee Wes Anderson

The two categories where, traditionally, viewers have been most familiar with the nominees, if not specifically for their nominated work, are my next two: Best Actor and Best Actress. First, the nominees for Best Actor:
Steve Carell, Foxcatcher
Bradley Cooper, American Sniper
Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game
Michael Keaton, Birdman
Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything

Although Bradley Cooper, along with his film, has been picking up momentum, and Steve Carell and Benedict Cumberbatch have been the most lauded aspect of each of their films, this race has always been between Michael Keaton and Eddie Redmayne. Each won a Golden Globe, Keaton won the Critics Choice Award, and Redmayne won the Guild Award (whose members are probably all in the academy) and the BAFTA, making him the more likely winner.

My Prediction: Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything
My Choice: Michael Keaton, Birdman
Should Have Been Here: Ralph Fiennes, The Grand Budapest Hotel; David Oyelowo, Selma; Timothy Spall, Mr Turner; Ben Affleck, Gone Girl

Eddie Redmayne in "The Theory of Everything"

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

This is not a contest. This is Daniel Day-Lewis in Lincoln or Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight. Critics and awards groups have decided upon Julianne Moore as The Best Actress of the year, even at Cannes, where a different film of hers was in competition. She cannot lose.

My Prediction: Julianne Moore, Still Alice
My Choice: Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl
Should Have Been Here: Emma Stone, Magic in the Moonlight

Julianne Moore in "Still Alice"

Still counted as part of “The Big Five” of the Academy Awards, but not afforded as much interest, are the two writing awards, Best Original Screenplay and Best Adapted Screenplay. The nominees in the first:
The Grand Budapest Hotel

The battle between Birdman and Boyhood for Best Picture and Best Director, here expands to a three-way race with The Grand Budapest Hotel.

My Prediction: The Grand Budapest Hotel, with less likely possibilities Boyhood and Birdman
My Choice: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Should Have Been Here: Mr Turner, Selma

The nominees in the second:
American Sniper
The Imitation Game
The Theory of Everything

There is no frontrunner here. The previous one, Gone Girl, was shunned by Academy voters. The only nominee that can be said not to turn out the winner is Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice.

My Prediction: Whiplash, though American Sniper, The Imitation Game, and The Theory of Everything have a chance
The only two of these nominees I’ve seen are The Imitation Game and Whiplash, whose screenplays I do not admire, and so I abstain from choosing here.
Should Have Been Here: Gone Girl

Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons in "Whiplash"

The two following categories, Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress, like Best Actress, seem pretty sure bets. The male nominees:
Robert Duvall, The Judge
Ethan Hawke, Boyhood
Edward Norton, Birdman
Mark Ruffalo, Foxcatcher
J.K. Simmons, Whiplash

My Prediction: J.K. Simmons, Whiplash
My Choice: Ethan Hawke, Boyhood and Mark Ruffalo, Foxcatcher
Should Have Been Here: Tony Revolori, The Grand Budapest Hotel

The female nominees:
Patricia Arquette, Boyhood
Laura Dern, Wild
Keira Knightley, The Imitation Game
Emma Stone, Birdman
Meryl Streep, Into the Woods

My Prediction: Patricia Arquette, Boyhood
My Choice: Patricia Arquette, Boyhood
Should Have Been Here: Carrie Coon, Gone Girl

For anyone who's read this far, do enter your thoughts in the comments. Do you agree with my predictions? Are your choices wildly different from mine? Do you think the Academy's choices are the dogma of film appreciation for each year?

Patricia Arquette as a forlorn mother in "Boyhood"

Oscar's most pernicious snub this year, "The Lego Movie"

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