Thursday, January 15, 2015

2015 Oscar Nominations Predictions (or The Unexpected Virtue of Procrastination)

It's weird. I hate winter, but pretty much all my favorite events of the year happen within its chilly clutches—New Year's, Heath Day (R.I.P.), the Super Bowl, the first round of March Madness... and, of course, perhaps my favorite, the Oscars. Yes, I know they don't really "mean" anything, and, yes, they're a bit pompous and stuffy, and, yes, they rarely pick the "right" movie, but I can't help myself. I love nothing more than to throw on a suit, crack open a bottle of wine, slice a fine cheese, and fill out an Oscar pool entry. But before any of that can happen, we need to know who the nominees are. And if I I'm the kind of guy who tries to predict the winners (I am), you can bet your ass I'm the kind of guy who will try to predict the nominees. So, as is tradition, with the announcement mere hours away, here are my predictions. I went 35/44 last year (which basically anyone who reads two or three Oscar blog posts can do). Let's see if I can do one or two better this year. (Everything is listed in order of likelihood.)

* = haven't seen it
^ = early winner prediction

The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
The Theory of Everything
Gone Girl
Next in line:
American Sniper*
Into the Woods

Comments: The race for the winner seems all but decided at this point—this is Boyhood's year, as it should be—but what films round out the last few nominations should be more interesting than usual. There seems to be a consensus that there could be 10 nominees for the first time since 2010 (when the number of nominees was set at 10). And there's not even a below-average film among the contenders (like Philomena last year). But first, the "locks" (oh, Oscar lingo, how I've missed thee). Boyhood is a no-brainer, as are Birdman and the film that upset it at the Globes, Grand Budapest Hotel. Those three are also among the best (i.e., my favorite) films of the year. Less so two other presumed locks, The Imitation Game and The Theory of Everything. But they're both the kind of hyper-competent (that's a backhanded compliment) awards bait that gets nominations most years and wins in weak years, so they're both in. Whiplash and Selma seem to be the last two sure things—and these powerful, personal films are both two of my favorites of the year as well. That leaves anywhere from, well, zero to three other films to make the cut. Since a film only needs 5% of first place votes at this juncture, that only means a few hundred voters (out of 6,000–7,000) need to have a film at the top of their ballot. I think there will be enough support for a box office and critical hit like Gone Girl as well as the two oddball drama/thrillers, Foxcatcher and Nightcrawler. I just don't see such a late entrant like American Sniper gaining much support (especially considering Clint Eastwood hasn't had a nomination in any category in 7 years, and none in this category in 9). Into the Woods and Unbroken have basically no shot, but they're all that's left in the cupboard.

Wishful thinking: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Snowpiercer, Under the Skin

Richard Linklater – Boyhood^
Alejandro G. Iñárritu – Birdman
Wes Anderson – The Grand Budapest Hotel
Ava DuVerney – Selma
Damiel Chazelle – Whiplash
Next in line:
Morten Tyldum – The Imitation Game
Clint Eastwood – American Sniper*
David Fincher – Gone Girl
Dan Gilroy – Nightcrawler

Comments: Damn, what a tough category to pick. Beyond the first three, it's a crapshoot. Linklater, Iñárritu, and Anderson seem like sure things, with Linklater likely to repeat his win at the Globes last Sunday. All three are worthy. Linklater and Anderson somehow have never been nominated and are more than "due," while the technical achievements of Birdman are vast, for which Iñárritu deserves a lion's share of the credit. Hard to believe his last film was Biutiful. The other two spots are likely between the next four names—DuVerney, Chazelle, Tyldum, and Eastwood. Given the Director's branch has found spots for both younger and minority directors in recent years, I think they can find room for both DuVerney (a minority *and* a woman) and Chazelle (who is all of 29... great, now I feel like a failure) for their vibrant, formally interesting work, rather than nominating the staid, impersonal filmmaking of Tyldum (he's like a Tom Hooper knock-off) and Eastwood (obviously haven't seen Sniper, but Eastwood's workmanlike technique seems out of place given the rest of the contenders). The always-interesting Fincher could swoop in and snag the fifth spot and it wouldn't shock (or disappoint) me, and Gilroy looks like an up-and-coming talent and his movie seems to have a lot of support, so you can't count him out. This is the category I'm the most anxious about, and the results tomorrow could tell us a lot about the current state of the Academy.

Wishful thinking: Jonathan Glazer – Under the Skin, Bong Joon-ho – Snowpiercer

Michael Keaton – Birdman^
Eddie Redmayne – The Theory of Everything
Benedict Cumberbatch – The Imitation Game
David Oyelowo – Selma
Jake Gyllenhaal – Nightcrawler
Next in line:
Bradley Cooper – American Sniper*
Steve Carell – Foxcatcher
Ralph Fiennes – The Grand Budapest Hotel
Timothy Spall – Mr. Turner*

Comments: This is a pretty loaded field, and it probably goes even deeper than this. We'll start, as always, with the "locks," of which there are only two—Keaton and Redmayne. Those two will be battling for the statue over the next few weeks, and I think Keaton's masterful work (and humble, touching Golden Globes acceptance speech) will put him over the top. Redmayne is fine in Theory (and he's certainly come a long way from My Week with Marilyn—god, what an awful movie/performance), but it's the kind of unemotive physical impression that I just can't get behind. Of the rest, Cumberbatch is the closest to a sure thing—he's asked to do a bit more than Redmayne, but I can muster up no better adjective than "fine." But he also seems to be a presumptive lock vulnerable to a lack of top-end support, a la Tom Hanks at this time last year. It wouldn't surprise me to see him fall out of the top five. There are plenty of contenders ready to take his place should he slip. Chief among them is Oyelowo, who combines bombast and tranquility in a surprisingly gregarious take on MLK, Jr. He—and the movie as a whole—has just enough passion and talent to rise above the "awards bait" tag some of his competitors have been slapped with (by me and others). Finally, the last spot (should my previous predictions prove correct) should be between Gyllenhaal, Carell, and Cooper. Cooper has been the recipient of a lot of love from the Academy lately, but I have a hard time seeing him being nominated for the third time in three years. And Carell has the whole "comedian goes serious" thing going for him, but "different" doesn't mean "good"—and I didn't think Carell was particularly good in Foxcatcher. That leaves Gyllenhaal, who managed to channel Travis Bickle and Patrick Bateman, yet somehow made the character his own. That should be enough to get him his first lead Actor nomination. (Fiennes and Spall would be right in the conversation in any other year. But maybe one of them shocks the world in the morning.)

Wishful thinking: Macon Blair – Blue Ruin, Miles Teller – Whiplash

Julianne Moore – Still Alice*^
Reese Witherspoon – Wild
Rosamund Pike – Gone Girl
Jennifer Aniston – Cake*
Felicity Jones – The Theory of Everything
Next in line:
Amy Adams – Big Eyes
Marion Cotillard – Two Days, One Night*

Comments: As is usually (and unfortunately) the case, the field for Best Actress is much more barren than Actor. The top five are your likely nominees, with little potential for a surprise. The consensus seems to be this is Moore's time to finally win a statue, but the movie hasn't come out in Arizona yet, so I can't comment. I actually thought Witherspoon's statue-winning performance in 2009 was less than impressive, but, as happened last year with Sandra Bullock, a future performance wound up validating the award for me. For Bullock, it was The Blind Side and Gravity. For Witherspoon, it was Walk the Line and now Wild. Good movie, great performance. Pike was something to behold in Gone Girl—icy and calculating, like Tilda Swinton or Meryl Streep in their more restrained roles (Michael Clayton or Doubt, say). I have no... doubt we'll be seeing her here again someday. I haven't seen Aniston's film so I can't comment, but I suspect the opportunity to nominate a beloved veteran like her will be too hard for the Actor's branch to pass up. I have the same things to say about Jones as I did about Cumberbatch above—watch out for a shocking snub. If that were to happen, Adams (very good, as always) or Cotillard (one of my favorites, especially in her native language—I'll be seeing her film either way) would stand to benefit.

Wishful thinking: Scarlett Johannson – Under the Skin

J.K. Simmons – Whiplash^
Edward Norton – Birdman
Ethan Hawke – Boyhood
Mark Ruffalo – Foxcatcher
Josh Brolin – Inherent Vice*
Next in line:
Robert Duvall – The Judge*
Tom Wilkinson – Selma
Riz Ahmed – Nightcrawler

Comments: This is another category that should have very little drama come morning. The top four are basically sure things, which leaves one spot up for grabs... but no one really there to grab it. Of the locks, Simmons is the front-runner, and very deservedly so—his was my favorite performance, regardless of gender or category, of the year. I'll have much more to say about it in future posts. Ditto Norton's, which happens to be my second favorite performance of the year. And both Hawke and Ruffalo were wonderful in a movie I adored (Boyhood) and a movie I was very put off by but begrudgingly respect (Foxcatcher). As far as the fifth spot goes, I've seen a lot of pundits saying the Actor's branch will play the veteran card and go in for Duvall, but... well, I'm pretty much not putting him because I don't want to see the movie. It looks like schlock (and the reviews and the box office take seem to back that up), and I'm hoping the Academy is better than that. (They're not.) I'm hoping they can instead find room for Brolin (whose movie I can't *wait* to see), the venerable, talented Wilkinson, or, especially, the quietly excellent Ahmed (he'd be the Barkhad Abdi equivalent this year).

Wishful thinking: Bill Hader – The Skeleton Twins

Patricia Arquette – Boyhood^
Emma Stone – Birdman
Meryl Streep – Into the Woods
Jessica Chastain – A Most Violent Year*
Rene Russo – Nightcrawler
Next in line:
Keira Knightley – The Imitation Game
Laura Dern – Wild

Comments: This category has slightly more intrigue than it seems on the surface. Arquette (your eventual winner) and Stone are locked in, but after that, who knows. (They're both fantastic, by the way, richly internal then cracklingly external in their signature scenes.) It's always a bad idea to bet against Streep, and I'm not gonna do it here. She does Streep-y things, as usual, and gets extra points for singing, I guess. (Not a huge fan of the movie, obviously.) Most prognosticators have Knightley riding the tide of polite applause for her movie to an easy nomination. She's actually one of the best parts of the movie (and a personal favorite of mine), but I'm gonna zig when everyone else has zagged and say she misses the cut in favor of not-quite-star Chastain (it's coming) and a tip of the cap to the hardworking veteran Russo. I'd be happy to be wrong though, as everyone wins when Knightley puts on an evening gown and flashes her stunning smile on the red carpet. (Dern is another respected vet who could sneak into the final spot for a lovely, bittersweet performance.)

Wishful thinking: Carrie Coon – Gone Girl, Melanie Lynskey – Happy Christmas

Richard Linklater – Boyhood
Alejandro González Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr., Armando Bo – Birdman^
Wes Anderson – The Grand Budapest Hotel
Dan Gilroy – Nightcrawler
Mike Leigh – Mr. Turner*
Next in line:
Paul Webb – Selma
E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman – Foxcatcher
J.C. Chandor – A Most Violent Year*

Comment: If there's a theme so far, it's "four locks and a ???" (as it is most years). Linklater, Iñárritu, and Anderson are surefire nominees and are all contenders for the award. This is the first category yet that I'm even a bit unconfident in who the eventual winner will be. (But it won't be that easy, will it, AMPAS?) I'm going with the Birdman boys, fresh off their Globes win, until the SAGs. Gilroy is something less than a lock and something more than a question mark, but I think he's pretty safe. His is also the only wholly original story (other than longshot Chandor's) of the other contenders (all are based on historical events). I think that works in his favor. For the fifth spot, most of the predictions I've perused have it between Selma and Foxcatcher. Both are problematic for behind-the-scenes reasons—authorship (director DuVerney largely rewrote the script) and historical accuracy for Selma and one of the main figures in the movie publicly bashing the script (Mark Schultz) for Foxcatcher. I think that leaves just enough room for an old guy like Leigh to get one last shot at the gold. Critics seem to love Mr. Turner, and I could see the Writer's branch going out on a limb for him. Chandor already has a nomination here and figures to get one for the big chair in the near future. He's probably an also-ran here this year, but I'm very excited to see his film.

Wishful thinking: Jeremy Saulnier – Blue Ruin

Gillian Flynn – Gone Girl^
Graham Moore – The Imitation Game
Anthony McCarten – The Theory of Everything
Damien Chazelle – Whiplash
Nick Hornby – Wild
Next in line:
Paul Thomas Anderson – Inherent Vice*
Jason Hall – American Sniper*

Comments: This is the one category where I have absolutely no idea what will happen. The Imitation Game and The Theory of Everything are the kind of prestige biopics that always get nominated here and figure to receive nominations. I just can't see the voters being able to tell them apart enough to give either one the award. I think Flynn (who adapted her own novel) could come away with a statue if that were to come to pass. All three seem to be safe choices for nominations though. As for the other two spots... Chazelle really belongs in the Original category (as the movie is based on his own short film), and his chances could suffer because of perceived category fraud. But it's a tight script with two very meaty roles, so Chazelle should hear his name called at least here in the morning. (He's also a darkhorse for the statue.) Finally, Hornby's script for Wild is a nice, structurally interesting piece of screenwriting and would be a fine fifth nominee. If not him, then look for either PTA or Hall to nab a nom (for movies I haven't seen). I would think adapting Thomas freaking Pynchon would be a tougher task than adapting a problematic autobiography, but we shall see. (Don't discount the kind of out-of-nowhere nomination that is more common in Original here though.)

Wishful thinking: Gillian Robespierre – Obvious Child

*Movie I'm probably overrating: Nightcrawler
*Movie I'm probably underrating: American Sniper*
*I have very little grasp on the screenwriting categories this year (which is bad for someone with a master's in screenwriting).
*I'll be rooting the most for Whiplash and Selma to do well in the big categories (movies like Boyhood and Birdman don't need much help).
*There's a shocker coming in one of these categories, but I obviously don't know what it is.

A bit longer than usual, but in at right about the same time. Once again, the number to beat is 35/44. We'll find out how I did in a few hours. Before the actual ceremony, you'll get my favorite movies post and, obviously, my final predictions. Until then. Thanks for reading!

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