Oscars 2015 – Predictions

22 Feb
Whiplash. Photo : Sony Pictures Classics

Whiplash. Photo : Sony Pictures Classics

For the first year in a long time I’ve actually seen enough of this year’s Oscar nominees to have an opinion, and so I’m considering sitting up tonight to watch the awards ceremony (it finishes around 5am UK time, and with an early morning appointment it should be a test of my staying power).

Time is short, so rather than give a full appraisal of the films on offer, I’m going to indulge in a little prediction. Not something I’d normally do, at least in public…

Biopics tend to do well at the Oscars, and no less than four biopics are competing for Best Picture this year. Films in which the lead actors go against type – typically changing physical appearance, or in the case of women in particular, staring in a vehicle which is less than flattering to their usual onscreen appearance – also do well.

There’s some stiff competition this year with Birdman, The Grand Budapest Hotel and Boyhood running too close to call. Birdman‘s cutting satire and knowing playing with Michael Keaton’s on/offscreen persona, plus some stunning visuals should see it do well. Budapest is a near-perfect offering from Wes Anderson, fabulous visuals, fine performances and engaging script. Richard Linklater’s Boyhood deserves praise for the sheer scale of the project – filming the actors over a 12 year period, this is a journey for the entire crew, unparallelled in Hollywood.

My choices for wins are in blue.

Best Picture
American Sniper | Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)Boyhood | The Grand Budapest Hotel | The Imitation Game | Selma | The Theory of Everything | Whiplash

Whiplash is the stand-out best picture of the year. A captivating story, ably directed and performed by a sterling cast. I came out of my viewing of that having run through a gamut of emotions, and suitably elated. But its a small indie picture, and I don’t think the Academy will have the courage to give it its due. Expect either Boyhood or Birdman to take this one, with Birdman‘s satire and quasi-autobiographical vibe likely to pip the post.

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

The biopics are handled well, but Budapest, Birdman and Boyhood all show directorial flair, accomplishment and originality that merits awards. Its hard to call, but I suspect Linklater will be rewarded for his patience, challenging the scale of production. One should also applaud Birdman‘s stylistic camerawork – the bulk of the film looking like one long take; and Wes Anderson’s most inventive and confident picture yet in Budapest.

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

Again one expects the biopics to fare well – inhabiting a real-life person ticks so many boxes. In spite of Redmayne’s woeful turn in Jupiter Ascending, his portrayal of the deterioration of Stephen Hawking is challenging, though not without its critics. Cumberbatch’s take on Alan Turing is a more measured performance, but is perhaps a little too close to his Sherlock Holmes. Michael Keaton had a lot of early nods for Birdman, even though it seems like Keaton is simply playing a version of Keaton. My bet is for Redmayne (probably just ahead of Keaton). However for me, Steve Carell deserves the win. Its a very different role for the comic performer, and he manages to inhabit a very twisted and dark character flawlessly.

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

I haven’t seen Two Days, One Night yet so can’t give a verdict on that. Julianne Moore seems to be getting nods elsewhere for portraying a very gentle descent into illness (rather more subtle than Redmayne’s above). Pike’s psychopathic turn in Gone Girl is a grower, and rather excellent. I suspect though that Witherspoon’s sheer physically arduous turn in Wild (not to mention the apparent lack of make-up) makes it an honest role that is hard not to admire.

Best Supporting Actor
Robert Duvall – The Judge | Ethan Hawke – Boyhood | Edward Norton – Birdman | Mark Ruffalo – FoxcatcherJ.K. Simmons – Whiplash

Duvall, Hawke, Norton and Ruffalo all riff off previous performances, providing competent support. J.K. Simmons steals the show with his sadistic Terence Fletcher in Whiplash. Surely the part of his career, if Simmons doesn’t win then the Academy simply didn’t bother watching their screener discs.

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

I’ve yet to catch Into the Woods, but this is a tough category to call. Knightley didn’t annoy me (a rare thing). Stone was Stone – good, but Stone. My money is either on Dern – simply brilliant – or possibly more likely Arquette. Arquette allows herself to be scrutinised ageing over a decade during Boyhood; in an industry where aging can kill careers such transparency is brave.

Best Original Screenplay
Birdman | Boyhood | Foxcatcher | The Grand Budapest Hotel | Nightcrawler

Nightcrawler winning wouldn’t surprise me. There’s a rather nifty exposition of the voyeuristic news media that is sure to ring true for the academy. For similar reasons Birdman is a strong contender. I’ll confess to my own bias and plug for Wes Anderson and Hugo Guinness’ rich screenplay for The Grand Budapest Hotel.

Best Adapted Screenplay
American Sniper | The Imitation Game | Inherent Vice | The Theory of Everything | Whiplash

Inherent Vice has been rather unfairly overlooked, only getting nods for screenplay and Costume. But its a rich and complex narrative which harkens back to Terry Gilliam’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and a damn sight more arresting than the biopics.
As Whiplash is based on the director’s short film of the same name, it isn’t eligible for Best Original Screenplay. It hits the emotional beats perfectly, provides some of the most quotable put-downs ever committed to film, and manages to avoid becoming a parody of itself. Surely it deserves the double win?

Should be interesting to see how things play out, but I’d be very surprised if Budapest and Whiplash didn’t pick up some additional wins. You can mock me tomorrow when it turns out I’ve got this completely wrong.

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