Monday, February 23, 2015

2015 Oscars: Final Thoughts

And so it ends. After what I felt was one of the most impressive years for film in recent history, after all the analysis, after all the speculation, after all the predictions, the 87th Annual Academy Awards are complete. And here I share my final thoughts on the ceremony. Feel free to read and comment with your own thoughts of how it all went.

I like how in the end it seemed like a montage of Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu just winning a bunch of awards.

I didn't do amazingly in terms of my predictions. I got 16 out of 24, which isn't terrible, but is a step down from how I usually do. But, in fairness to myself, I expected not to do well this year. There were so many unpredictable awards. And so while there was nothing that came entirely out of left field, there were plenty of awards that had me on the edge of my seat. Even though, considering how many other awards it won, Birdman's Best Picture award shouldn't have seemed surprising, I still was wondering if Boyhood would eke out a sentimental win. In my own predictions, I discussed that I was torn over whether Birdman (my favorite film of the year) should win, or if it would be Boyhood (which I think has a broader appeal and makes a stronger case for its own longevity), but ultimately I'm really glad the award went to Birdman. I obviously think it's an incredible film, but more than that, it's a remarkably well-made film. Every component of this film is so beautifully done. I've spoken to a few people who did not like it, but their complaints have always come down to problems with thematic elements. It's impossible to deny how technically incredible this film is--from the cinematography, the score, the use of sound and light and space is just beautiful. Piece by piece, Birdman is not just my favorite film of the year, I believe it truly is the best film of the year. And the Academy honored it rightly.

But it is an unconventional Best Picture winner. It's message is more introspective than momentous, and it feels incredibly experimental and unOscary, and I kind of love that. It's also the first film to win Best Picture without a Best Editing nomination since Ordinary People way back in 1980. I'm not sure what that means, but it's something. That's not the only thing that's momentous. Last year, Alfonso Cuaron became the first Mexican filmmaker to win Best Director. Now, just one year later, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu becomes the second, and bodes well for more international films to gain recognition. It's also why Sean Penn's green card "joke" before presenting the Best Picture film was really in poor taste. That unnecessary comment kind of soured the moment for me.

Here are some other awards that stood out. Ida became the first ever film from Poland to win Best Foreign Language Film, which is great. Composer Alexandre Desplat, who is probably my favorite film scorer working today and always creates quirky and fun scores, won his first ever Oscar for The Grand Budapest Hotel after eight nominations. Whiplash did really well--a relatively low budget film won deserved awards for sound mixing and for editing (the famous nine-minute drum solo at the end of the film was cut together from, reportedly, 23 hours of footage, and yet works as a seamless piece. That's all due to the editing and the sound). A lot of people had been calling the editing award for Boyhood, and while I think Boyhood arguably deserved more than the one Oscar it received, that would have been wrong. Its champions pointed out "They had to edit a movie down from twelve years of footage!" No they didn't. It was not twelve continuous years of footage--it was the same footage as any other film, and while it was certainly put together well, Whiplash was a much more impressive feat. While we're on the subject of sound, American Sniper won the sound editing award which I'm okay with. After the film performed surprisingly well in terms of nominations, and had been gaining momentum due to its impressive box office haul, some had been calling it as a potential upset to win more major awards like Best Actor and Best Picture. Given my less-than-impressed thoughts on the film as a whole, that it took home only one award, and that was for sound editing, is perfectly fine by me. I was also very pleased with Big Hero 6 taking home the award for Best Animated Feature, in a bit of an upset over How to Train Your Dragon 2. I loved that film and it absolutely deserved its win. I was also glad to see The Phone Call triumph in the Best Live Action Short category. Even though I predicted it would win, it was not a sure thing at all, so seeing such a deserving film win was very satisfying. Featuring an amazing performance by Sally Hawkins (who gave one of the best performances of the year--if short films were eligible for acting awards she should have been nominated) it is one of the most emotional 20 minutes I've ever experienced. Which is why it was so funny to see how quirky, aloof, and seemingly unserious the filmmakers were in their acceptance speech.

I was less pleased with Feast's win for Best Animated Short. Of the nominees, it's the one the most people saw since it was before Big Hero 6, and it certainly is cute and I know it has a lot of fans. But, when seen side by side with the other nominees, for me it was pretty clearly the least impressive. The others tell much more complex stories and feature much more impressive and evocative animation. It didn't win because of its quality, it won because it's a Disney film and was the only nominee with brand recognition. Considering that last year, the more deserving film, Mr. Hublot, beat out the Disney nominee everyone expected to win, Get a Horse!, I was sad to see that pattern not repeated this year. Another award I wasn't thrilled about was the win for The Grand Budapest Hotel in the makeup and hairstyling category. A lot of people thought it would win, and yes, the old age makeup on Tilda Swinton was good, but Guardians of the Galaxy certainly achieved a lot more with its makeup on a wide number of characters. In terms of design, execution, and sheer scope, it should have run away with this award hands down, and its failure to do so demonstrates the Oscar's unfortunate aversion to comic book films--even those which were critically acclaimed. But, that being said, no other award really left a bad taste in my mouth. The ones I didn't agree with were not entirely unexpected, and there was no great injustice. If Interstellar had won for sound mixing, for instance, I was ready to swear I'd never watch a movie again, so I'm glad that never happened. Looking over the awards themselves there is very little to complain about.

And the speeches were pretty great. It's common amongst acceptance speeches to mention fellow nominees, and say how they are just as deserving of the award, but I thought Inarritu's directing acceptance speech said this more concisely than any other speech I've ever heard. He didn't just say "you all deserve this," he made the point to say that it is impossible to compare the work of him and the fellow nominees. And it's true. Inarritu's directing in Birdman was absolutely incredible, and he won due to his signature technical achievement, story-weaving, and style. But he lacked the ambition and audacity of Richard Linklater, the sheer distinct vision of Wes Anderson, the emotional intimacy of Bennett Miller, or the high-fastening pants of Morten Tyldum. It's not that they all deserved to win, it's that they all deserved to win for different reasons. And Inarritu expressed that in a way I've never heard in an acceptance speech before. Well done. There were really no speeches that stood out to me in a bad way, as there often are in other years. Acceptance speeches can lead to awkward moments, but everyone was very gracious and charming and wonderful (although, Julianne Moore's seemed a bit rehearsed--I have a feeling she started writing that speech four nominations ago). And it was nice to see an emphasis on social justice. It used to be the trend that Oscar winners would mention a certain cause in their speech, and while that still happens, it's not as common as it used to be. But this time, many worthy causes were championed. Inarritu also implored America to show immigrants more respect during his speech when Birdman won best picture (his third speech of the night). From the winners of Best Documentary Short Subject imploring us to talk about suicide, to Patricia Arquette calling for us to pay more attention to women's rights, it was a politically charged Oscars to be sure. The best speech of the night was, by far, the one given by John Legend and Common when they won for their song "Glory" in the film Selma. It was the frontrunner going into the ceremony, but after the live performance, it would have been criminal for it not to win. It blew the other nominees (and it was a good batch of songs this year) out of the water with its sheer power and importance. The tears-inducing reception it received was a wonderful reminder of how the arts can affect us on such a personal level. It also made me consider Selma as a whole, and what its place in history will be. Many felt it was snubbed by the Oscars, and it was. But, remember, Selma is still a Best Picture nominee. And that is a pretty big deal. You know what other film was a Best Picture nominee but didn't get any nominations in other major categories like acting, directing, or screenwriting? The Wizard of Oz. And that film is doing okay. Who knows how history will judge this current batch of films. Looking through old Best Picture nominees is a fascinating experiment--some films have stood the test of time, and some have not. They may have taken home the same number of awards tonight, but I cannot help but feel that people will be talking about Selma long after they've stopped talking about American Sniper. Sure, it would have been nice for Ava DuVernay to have been the first woman of color nominated for Best Director. And the Academy definitely has some major problems with diversity. But Selma is going to be okay. And, I can't help but mention that Birdman's awards dominance meant that many awards went to Latinos, so the award-winners were surprisingly non-white, all things considered.

Of the acceptance speeches, there was only one that left me a little bit annoyed. And that was Graham Moore's speech after he won the award for Best Adapted Screenplay for The Imitation Game. As many people loved that speech, please hear me out. The speech on its own was fantastic. It was another speech that brought in a political cause, specifically LGBTQ rights. Moore mentioned how, when he was young and depressed, he contemplated suicide because he felt "weird and different" and that he "did not belong." His speech called out to everyone who felt weird or different, and encouraged them to hang on, because one day they might make it where he is. It's a beautiful and important sentiment, and a powerful one. He prefaced all of this by pointing out that Alan Turing, The Imitation Game's subject, never got to stand on such a stage, and he did. Turing was, infamously, unrecognized for his accomplishments and that is forever a stain on our historical record, considering this man's contribution towards winning the war (and, you know, basically inventing the computer), and that the reason he was unrecognized for so long was because he was persecuted for his sexuality is simply despicable. Moore's speech was powerful, and it was timely, and it pointed out how Turing's story related to the present, and why it's important that his story be told, because honoring and remembering Turing can actually save lives. And THAT is why his speech annoyed me: because it did everything that the screenplay for The Imitation Game did not. The film shows how instrumental Turing was in winning the war, yes, but it glosses over his sexuality. We never actually see him engaged in any sexual activity, or any relation with a man whatsoever. The takeaway from the film is that Turing was not recognized for his work during his lifetime, but it never makes it clear just how much his accomplishments were buried SPECIFICALLY because of his sexuality. At the end of Turing's life, his health had deteriorated rapidly due to dangerous medication and treatment he was forced to take to cure him of his homosexuality. This is shown in exactly one scene, and the actual symptoms he demonstrates are much softer than what Turing actually went through. In the film, it seems as if Turing has just come down with a bit of a cold. In reality, it was much worse. His persecution--the very thing that makes Turing so tragic and what makes it especially important that we celebrate his accomplishments now that we are aware of them--is basically glossed over and tampered down. And that is the fault of director Morten Tyldum, that is the fault of the producers, and it is very much the fault of Moore. It's possible that more of this existed in Moore's earlier drafts, I don't know. But regardless, his speech showed the potential of how great The Imitation Game could have been and simply wasn't. I loved Graham Moore's speech. But it reminded me of how absolutely lackluster and disappointing the film that he won the award for truly was.

The other thing that really rubbed me the wrong was was the exclusion of Joan Rivers in the In Memoriam montage. Overall, I liked the montage--the decision to cut out the live sound feed was a great one. It always bothers me when people applaud during this section. Not only does it feel like people are going "Gee, I'm glad HE'S dead," but the loudness of the applause tends to place an uncomfortable imbalance on the weight of those who died. In previous years, the more recognizable names get thunderous applause, but the death of a prolific cinematographer, for example, would not. It always feels like "Yeah, we're honoring those we lost, but these are the people who are REALLY important." And so having the audience's sound cut out during the broadcast pleased me. But to not include Rivers? Shameful. She is a controversial figure, to be sure, but was incredibly influential in the entertainment industry as a whole. Although best known for her stand-up and for her work on television, her wikipedia page credits her with involvement in 27 films (more than some of the other actors nominated, such as Misty Upham, who died tragically young last year) including the fantastic documentary about her life from a few years ago. Anyone who doesn't think Rivers is deserving of respect should watch this film, which certainly does not paint her as a saint, but showcases the truly groundbreaking work she did. More than that, though, Rivers' red carpet presence connected her very personally with the Oscars themselves. Rivers is widely credited with making the red carpet ceremony so popular, and while the red carpet feels increasingly inane year after year, to not honor someone who so significantly impacted the ceremony's telecast is truly baffling. She absolutely deserved mention. Excluding her was a clear slap in the face.

I also didn't love the Sound of Music tribute. I know a lot of people loved it, so again, hear me out. I thought Lady Gaga was great--she admirably left her signature weirdness at home and demonstrated what those who pay attention already know: that she is an incredible singer. When Julie Andrews came out, visibly overcome with emotion, it was a pretty magical moment. So, why did I not love this? Because the entire time I was thinking "This is great, but why am I watching this?!" Considering the ceremony ended after midnight, a random medley of songs from The Sound of Music came completely out of nowhere. Sure, it's a great film, but we don't honor every classic film on its 50th anniversary with a speech, a movie montage, and a rather long musical performance. What was it doing there? The segment itself was great, but this was really not the place.

Last but not least, we have the host. Neil Patrick Harris has, by hosting the Oscars for the first time, seemingly hosted every single awards show ever now. And he proved once again that it's a role he's really good at. He's a man of many talents and infinite affability. It's just hard not to like him (and only he could have made the Witherspoon with-her-spoon joke work). The opening number was strong and a great way to start off the show (although I wish that instead of talking about movies in general, more focus had been paid to the actual nominees that night, which felt very much lost in the shuffle). Harris popped up from time to time and while some of his jokes hit harder than other, many landed really strongly. The writing overall was good, and Harris' performance was great. He had less to do as the ceremony went on, as is often the case, but what he did he did well. That being said, he didn't really make his mark on the ceremony the way last year's host Ellen DeGeneres did. With taking selfies and ordering pizzas, DeGeneres really made the show feel like hers, which Harris didn't. He was very game (loved the Birdman reference where he presented in his underwear) and competent, but not extraordinary. The closest he came to really putting his individuality into the ceremony was with the briefcase containing his predictions. This was, of course, a magic trick, where when he opened the briefcase, he could display detailed predictions about the proceedings (like the Ida director getting played off, only to keep talking, and having to get played off AGAIN). Harris has always been a magic enthusiast, and is a more than competent magician in his own right, and it was clear that this moment was meant to be the big reveal-- a magic trick where the untouched briefcase contained impossible predictions! Versions of this trick have been done before, and always gets a great reaction at magic shows. But...this was not a magic show. We were not an audience who were there to be amazed, we were an audience that wanted to hear who had won awards. So, that Harris' "big reveal" came at the very end of an already too-long ceremony, with just one award left to give out, rather than being amazed, I just felt impatient. About halfway through the ceremony I had predicted that something like this was going to happen, but I was really hoping that all of Harris' predictions which go through everything that happened in the ceremony were going to be in song or rap form. For those who don't know, Harris has closed the Tony's the past few times he has hosted with a song composed throughout the ceremony which goes over everything that happened. If the briefcase had contained lyrics to such a song and Harris had sung it. When he's done that at the Tony's it has always been incredible, and is a signature thing of his which could have been carried over to this ceremony and made the whole thing much more incredible. Instead, it was a nice effort that just kind of fell flat. That being said, it's impossible not to like Harris. His hosting was not as outstanding as it could have been, but it was enjoyable nonetheless. All in all, I left the Oscars feeling happy and contended. This awards ceremony that I love so much--a ceremony that continues to honor achievement in the arts, and which continues to inspire those future Oscar nominees and winners out there, had a really great showing tonight. And I couldn't be more pleased.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Oscar Predictions 2015 Part II

Now that I've discussed the major awards in Part I, it's time to discuss what many view as the sort of second tier awards. Which really isn't fair--these are all pretty incredible achievements and are just as fascinating to consider and be aware of as the major awards. Although, admittedly, I guess I contribute to their second tier status because I have much less to say about all of these. This time, I'm just going to say who I think WILL win, rather than also always choosing who should win and who should be nominated. Or, in the case of sound mixing, who should not have been nominated.

I'm talking about Interstellar. Interstellar shouldn't have been nominated.
Best Animated Feature Film:
Everyone is still reeling from The Lego Movie not being nominated here, and its exclusion here has certainly left the category wide open. The frontrunner by a hair is currently How to Train Your Dragon 2, but this is hardly secure, and either of the two beautifully crafted indie projects Song of the Sea or The Tale of Princess Kaguya might just gather enough votes to pull an upset win. I personally am keeping my fingers crossed for one of my favorite movies of the year, Big Hero 6 to take the crown. And then there is The Boxtrolls the fifth nominee. It's probably good.

""--A.O. Scott, from his review of The Boxtrolls
Will Win: How to Train Your Dragon 2

 Best Foreign Language Film:
This race has two definite frontrunners. At one point, it looked like Ida, from Poland, was the runaway favorite, but in recent months, Russia's entry Leviathan has steadily gained popularity and is now the more likely of the two. Either has a chance, but I'm predicting Leviathan on instinct.
Will Win: Leviathan (Russia)

Best Documentary Feature Film:
The Edward Snowden documentary Citizenfour has been making waves ever since it first premiered and has not lost momentum since. At one point, it faced some competition from the Roger Ebert documentary Life Itself, but with that failing to grab a nomination in a surprise snub, Citizenfour is the far and away favorite.
Will Win: Citizenfour

Best Original Song:
Many months ago, the song "Lost Stars" from the underrated gem Begin Again was once the frontrunner in this category, and it's a really great song. But it has faded from the spotlight and another great song has taken its place as the frontrunner: "Glory" from Selma. Selma's only nomination other than Best Picture, it seems inconceivable that "Glory" will not take home this prize, and it's definitely deserved. "Glory" manages to perfectly tie in the film to present day events--it's a powerful and vibrant song which works both as a song in the context of the film, and as a song in its own right. I can't wait to see it performed during the ceremony. And, it'll be nice for Selma to go home with at least one award given how little attention the Academy paid to it.

But...while I love "Glory" very much, it's actually not my favorite song of this group. That would belong to "I'm Not Gonna Miss You" by Glen Campbell, which comes from a documentary about Campbell, which followed him on his final tour as he battles with the starting effects of Alzheimer's. The song is the last song he'll ever write, and is about his own struggle with this disease. It is heartbreaking, bittersweet, poignant. It's a song that makes you well up when you listen to it. "Glory" is a call to action, but "I'm Not Gonna Miss You" is just as effective as a sweet and emotional heavy ballad. It'll probably be "Glory," but if "I'm Not Gonna Miss You" pulls off a surprise win (which it definitely could) it will certainly be deserved.
Will Win: "Glory" from Selma
Could/Should Win: "I'm Not Gonna Miss You" from Glen Campbell: I'll Be Me

Best Original Score:
Everyone (including me) talks about how the Academy likes to honor those who are overdue. And few are as overdue as the composer Alexandre Desplat, who has been nominated for this award six times before this year. And this year, he is nominated twice, for both The Imitation Game and The Grand Budapest Hotel. Desplat is very likely to win this award, the only question is for which film. And it really is a toss up. I'd give a slight edge to The Grand Budapest Hotel, but we'll see. Of course, the true best score of the year actually belongs to Birdman. Composer Antonio Sanchez's almost entirely percussive score was deemed ineligible for a nomination due to a technicality (read: bullshit) which is a shame because rarely has a score ever so perfectly fit a film. That score is brilliant, and there's really nothing like it. It leaves an impression on you in a way none of the nominated scores do.
Will Win: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Should Have Been Nominated: Birdman 

At Wes Anderson's insistence, the entire score to Grand Budapest was performed by this up-and-coming Portland band.

Best Production Design:
What does "Production Design" mean? It means, basically, the entire look of the film. Production designer oversee the entirety of the art department, and coordinate all of the design aspects. And, of the nominees, the bright and vibrant The Grand Budapest Hotel certainly stands out. Considering how distinct a look Wes Anderson's films always have, the fact that no film of his has ever won this award is pretty shocking--he's overdue. The Grand Budapest Hotel has been his most Oscar-friendly film and, if my predictions are right, it will certainly pay off for Anderson in multiple categories on Sunday.
Will Win: The Grand Budapest Hotel

Best Cinematography:
Birdman is in the running for a lot of awards, but this is the only one it's actually guaranteed to win. Birdman's cinematographer Emanuel Lubezki won last year for his groundbreaking work on Gravity, and is the clear frontrunner to win again this year. Now, everyone knows I love Birdman and I hope it is showered with awards, but...even with as great as the cinematography was...I am kind of rooting for an upset here. My favorite cinematography this year actually came from Mr. Turner. And not just because I want to hear someone (hopefully John Travolta) say cinematographer Dick Pope's name again. The cinematography is beautiful. Some shots of the film look like they were taken right out of a Turner painting. Birdman will win and its cinematography is certainly worthy, I just wish that it was in a different year so that Mr. Turner could be recognized too.

One of the many spectacular shots from the gorgeous Mr. Turner
Will Win: Birdman
Should Win: Mr. Turner

Best Film Editing:
Those who take these awards show prediction things seriously will often talk about the Best Editing category. Because many claim that winning Best Picture and winning Best Editing go hand in hand. I think the connection is much more tenuous. In this article which talks about the connection it says that "of the 61 films that have won Best Picture Oscars since 1952, 32 have won the editing statuette as well." It says this as if that's a high percentage...but it's actually less than 53%. And in the last ten Oscars, only for of the Best Film Editing winners have also won Best Picture. And some editing winners, like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and The Bourne Ultimatum weren't even nominated for Best Picture. so, the connection is not as important to me as it is to some. And I think we're going to see a break in the categories this year too. Of the two films in contention to win Best Picture, Birdman is surprisingly not nominated. And while Boyhood is nominated, this award tends to go to films with a much faster pace which Boyhood definitely lacks. Some are calling this award for Boyhood solely on the basis of its Best Picture frontrunner status, but I just don't see it. I think this award will go to American Sniper or Whiplash. Between the two, I hope it goes to Whiplash. Not just because it's a much better film, but because the editing itself is more impressive. The last scene alone should win this film the Oscar--an impressive ten minute drum solo was edited down from, I believe, 23 hours of footage to make what still looked like a single cohesive performance. And what an exciting performance at that! But, throughout the film, the fact that we believe Miles Teller is a professional drummer is pretty extraordinary, and accomplished almost solidly through editing. Boyhood seems like the odds-on favorite to win, but I just simply don't see it winning over Whiplash in terms of editing.
Will Win: Whiplash

Best Sound Editing:
The frontrunner here is American Sniper. Military films tend to do very well here, so American Sniper definitely seems like the frontrunner. But, there's a chance that Birdman might actually win, especially if the controversy surrounding American Sniper catches up to it and Birdman can ride a goodwill wave to the win. Who really knows, this is kind of an unpredictable category, but for now, the safer bet is American Sniper.
Will Win: American Sniper

Best Sound Mixing:
So, when I posted my reaction to the nominees, I spent a lot of time talking about the sound mixing for Interstellar. And how terrible it is. And...I don't want to go into that right now but let's just say HOLY CRAP THE SOUND MIXING IN INTERSTELLAR SUCKS HOW THE HELL IS IT NOMINATED FOR AN ACADEMY AWARD I'M SO ANGRY!??!?!

So, Interstellar won't win. American Sniper has a chance of winning, but the frontrunner, and the film that SHOULD win is Whiplash. This is a film where sound is front and center. And not just any sound, LOUD sound. Loud sound which is used to actually tell the story. So, sound mixing is crucial--it has to be just present enough. If the drumming is too soft, we won't feel its effect and the stakes won't feel as high. If the drumming is too loud, it gets annoying rather than exciting. Whiplash's sound is balanced perfectly. As much as Interstellar's sound mixing is bad, Whiplash shows how sound mixing should be done.
Will Win: Whiplash

Best Visual Effects:
This is another category that's kind of up in the air. Interstellar is certainly the frontrunner, but Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and Guardians of the Galaxy definitely have a shot here. X-Men: Days of Future Past could make a grab at the win based on that now famous Quicksilver scene alone. The only one I don't see winning is Captain America: The Winter Soldier (although that is a fantastic film overall). Interstellar is the frontrunner, but this category could definitely have an upset. And I'm not just saying that because I hate Interstellar and its shitty sound mixing. I am in the middle of writing a giant blog post outlining why I don't like this movie, so definitely look for that to be posted soon. But, in the meantime, I do grudgingly give it the edge here.

Although, a quick note, while I don't think it would have or should have won this category, I was really hoping that Birdman would get a nomination in this category. Granted, there aren't a lot of visual effects, but there are a few (the giant bird, the fireball, the flying, the moving objects) and all of them are done exceedingly well, and fit seamlessly into the more realism-based world of the film. I was impressed by them, and thought it should have at least gotten some recognition.

Does Interstellar have a giant cyborg bird? That's what I thought.
Will Win: Interstellar
Will Also Win the Miles Purinton for Worst Sound Mixing Ever: Interstellar
Should Have Been Nominated (for Best Visual Effects, not the worst sound mixing thing): Birdman

Costume Design:
The fancy period dress of Mr. Turner is what my gut is telling me here, but so far, the awards seem to be going for The Grand Budapest Hotel. Which would be great. They're bright, colorful, really distinct, and work so perfectly in the world of the film. As beautiful as the costumes in Mr. Turner are, I'd love to see a non-period piece film win this year. So, if everyone's predicting that The Grand Budapest Hotel will win this, I'm more than happy to go along with that.
Will Win: The Grand Budapest Hotel

Tilda Swinton shows off both the costume design AND the makeup and hairstyling for The Grand Budapest Hotel
Best Makeup and Hairstyling:
This one should really be a no-brainer. Steve Carell has a prosthetic nose, and Tilda Swinton has old-age makeup, but...Guardians of the Galaxy is a movie that, by its design, features much more complete and innovative makeups which are used more prominently throughout the entire film. Consider Drax the Destroyer.

For your consideration
Looking at him, you probably think that his skin is created through some computer effect. Nope. Makeup. It's all makeup. That's impressive. And Oscar-worthy.
Will Win: Guardians of the Galaxy

Best Live Action Short Film:
As always, I highly recommend people seek out the nominated short films if they ever get a chance. It's always a really good selection, and these categories can offer some of the absolute best films the year has to offer. This year, of the Live Action shorts, most things I've read online have given the win to a Northern Irish film called Boogaloo and Graham about two brothers and their pet chickens. It's a cute film, but...I can't see it winning. It just doesn't have the same staying power as some of the other films. Last year, everyone seemed to predicting this win for a film called The Voorman Project and I went against the grain and chose a film called Helium based on instinct, and I'm going to do the same thing again this year. It won't be Boogaloo and Graham. It will, and certainly should, be a film called The Phone Call, a really touching and well-executed film starring Sally Hawkins, and co-starring Jim Broadbent in a voice-over performance. Hawkins is simply incredible--her work in this one film is better than most of the acting nominees in the regular categories. And the film itself is great too. I simply can't imagine it not winning.
Will Win: The Phone Call

Sally Hawkins gives a masterful performance in The Phone Call

Best Animated Short Film:

This category is a lot tougher. The five selections are all very strong, and all for different reasons. Frankly, I could see any one of these films winning. Disney's selection, Feast, has the brand recognition, and is a cute sentimental story, but to me is certainly the most lightweight of the offerings and doesn't really stand up in the lineup of nominees. A Dutch short called A Simple Life, is by far the shortest offering, at only two minutes long, but it's really great, and tells all the story it needs to in those two minutes. You want to watch it over and over again, and it definitely has my favorite premise of the five films. But, its length might work against it. Then there's a film called The Dam Keeper which is beautiful and engaging and tells the most complete and conventional story of the five...but is kind of off-kilter and bizarre (as most films with anthropomorphic animals tend to be) and that might work against it with the generally stuffy Academy. Although it's probably my favorite of the five. If I had to guess which way the Academy will go, I'd guess it will either be Me and My Moulton--a film by animator and director Torill Kove, who adopts a documentary feel not unlike in the movie Persepolis to talk about her time growing up in Norway. It's cute, whimsical, and very well-written. But in terms of animation alone, it pales in comparison to The Bigger Picture, whose animation is actually painted full-size on walls. It's fascinating to watch, and its discussion of grand themes like death and family are certainly relatable. If I had to choose one film, my guess is that The Bigger Picture will win, but really, any of the five have a chance.
Will Win: The Bigger Picture

Animator Daisy Jacobs paints one of the stills that make up The Bigger Picture

Best Documentary Short Subject: 
I did not see these. I was going to, but then I read about them. They all sound very good. But they also all sound very, very depressing. Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1 is about the workers at a suicide call center for veterans. White Earth is a movie about how, essentially, the American dream does not exist and how people endanger themselves and their families by taking on dangerous jobs in the oil industry in an attempt to stay above the poverty line. Then there's a film called Joanna about a woman who is diagnosed with cancer and is given three months to live but promises her 5 year-old son she will stay alive as long as she can. If you think that's probably the worst one, then you haven't heard of Our Curse, which is about the parents of an infant who suffers from a rare condition where if the baby falls asleep he dies, so the parents have to be on constant watch in order to ensure their infant does not decide to take a nap and is killed. Lastly, there's a film called The Reaper (La Parka) about a man who works in an animal slaughterhouse which doesn't exactly sound happy but I thought sounded the least immediately depressing...but have since read through reviews that it is the MOST depressing of the lot.

This shot from Our Curse pretty much sums up all of my feelings right now.
I could not see these films in one sitting, I just couldn't do it. I already saw the film Unbroken and don't want to go through another depressing film-viewing experience like that again. So, what will win? I don't know. How about Joanna. That's the one about cancer. That sounds the most Oscary. I guess that's my prediction but really I just don't want to think about this category too much.
Will Win: A really sad movie.
Should Have Been Nominated: A movie about bunnies hopping through a field and eating delicious strawberries and nothing bad happens ever.

And that's every category! What are your thoughts on the nominees and/or on my predictions? Share your own predictions in the comments section, and be sure to watch the Oscars on Sunday, February 22nd!

Oscar Predictions 2015 Part I

 The Oscars are coming up in a few days (Sunday, February 22nd, mark your calendars everyone!!!!) and the question on everybody's mind is "Who will win?" Now, I spent last month outlining my own picks for the best films of the year, and provided my thoughts as soon as the nominations were announced, but now it's time for the real stuff: the actual predictions for who will win the awards. This is actually turning out to be an exciting race--many categories that once seemed set in stone are suddenly up in the air, so I'm actually much less confident in my predictions this year than in years past. If anything, the major prediction I'm going to make is that I'm going to get several of these predictions wrong. So, please don't blame me if you lose thousands of dollars on your Oscar pool. You really shouldn't be betting so much money on something as fickle as the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

As I go into these predictions, I would like to make the disclaimer I always make: my predictions reflect who I think WILL win, not who I think should win (although I'm also going to be talking about who I think should win, so...I shouldn't actually need this disclaimer). Following in the tradition of many critics who can't shut up their own opinions, for all of the major categories, I'll be listing who I think will win, who I think should win, and who I think should have been nominated.

Oh, and because I am ridiculously verbose and have, as always, written way too much, feel free to scroll to the end of my long paragraphs to read the TLDR version of my picks. And now, here is my analysis. Wish me luck.

Best Picture:
Remember earlier when I said "many categories that once seemed set in stone are suddenly up in the air?" Well, this is one of the ones I'm talking about. That's right, for the first time in years, there is no real frontrunner to win Best Picture. Sure, in the past there have been murmurings about a frontrunner being unseated. "Could Gravity beat 12 Years a Slave?" "Will Lincoln defeat Argo?" "Might The Social Network take down The King's Speech?" "Was Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close really nominated? Well that has no chance of winning." But every year, these speculations seem to come more out of a desire to make the race exciting. In actuality, the category of Best Picture has actually been pretty boring in terms of predictions for the past few years, with the winner being the same one which won every award up until that point.

Boyhood was an early frontrunner for Best Picture, but its grasp on the title is starting to loosen.

It looked like history would repeat itself this year. Right out of the gate, Boyhood turned out to be the big awards darling, and it's not hard to see why. Sure, Boyhood may have had its detractors (who surely stand around screaming "There are dozens of us. DOZENS!") but for the most part, it was a universally beloved film, which seemed to strike that magic chord of audience and critical appeal. It would be an unconventional Best Picture winner for sure, but it seemed unbeatable. It gained multiple early awards wins, including the Golden Globe, the BAFTA, and the Critics' Choice.

But then something seemed to shift. The quirky dark comedy Birdman reared its ugly (and brilliant) beak and started to enter the race. It picked up the SAG award for best ensemble, the Producer's Guild award for best picture, and the Director's Guild award for best director. That last one especially is a pretty big deal--the DGA award is usually seen as the best predictor for the Oscar each year, having matched up with the Best Director winner 10 out of 11 years, so director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's win there signifies that he has a good shot at winning best director. And the best director prize almost always matches with best picture. If, say, Inarritu wins best director but Boyhood wins Best Picture, that would mean this was the first time in history that these awards have not matched three years in a row (last year, Alfonso Cuaron won for Gravity and the year before Ang Lee won for Life of Pi). And that just seems like an incredibly unlikely streak. The Producer's Guild award is similarly a good indicator, having correctly matched with the Best Picture winner for the past seven years. These awards are not only big for Birdman, they're also coming later than Boyhood's early awards show dominance, which places the momentum squarely in Birdman's corner. Everywhere I look, people seem to be claiming that Birdman is going to be the Best Picture winner. It has, in fact, become the odds-on frontrunner.

This picture symbolizes Birdman rising to the top of the pack. Get it? Because he's flying.

I should be happy about this. After all, I named it as my favorite film of the year. But, something still feels off. Birdman is definitely my personal favorite film of the year--it is masterful filmmaking and its themes and ideas really resonated with me. But, when I think of what is the actual picture of the year, it's Boyhood hands down. This is a film that will never be replicated--one that did something so completely new and original I feel like it has to be recognized. Both are popular films and both will surely be regarded as masterpieces years from now, but Boyhood is a film that I think has more potential to show up on "Best Films Ever Made" lists. Birdman is my favorite film of the year, but Boyhood makes a stronger case for actually being the best film of the year.

And that's why I think that, despite Birdman's late rise to prominence, this will always be Boyhood's award to lose. It simply has too much broad appeal. So, I'm going against the grain and sticking with Boyhood as the winner for best film of the year. I'll either look like an idiot or a genius come Oscar night. We'll see. No matter what, it will be close, and I can't wait to see which film comes out on top. Honestly, either way I'll be happy.

As for which film should have been nominated, an obvious choice would be the underrated yet brilliant Snowpiercer as, after all, I named it as my second favorite film of the year. But, instead I'm going to go with Foxcatcher because it is simply unbelievable to me that Foxcatcher is not nominated for this award. The Academy recognized it in all the major categories--it received nominations for Best Director, Best Screenplay, and two nominations for acting. How can a movie be one of the best directed, best written, and best acted films of the year and NOT be considered one of the best pictures of the year? That's a major oversight. And the film deserves better.

Will Win: Boyhood
Should Win: Birdman or Boyhood (I CAN'T CHOOSE!)
Should Have Been Nominated: Foxcatcher

Best Director:
As I said in my Best Picture analysis, it is unlikely that Best Picture and Best Director will be awarded to two different films for three years in a row...and yet that's exactly what I think will happen. Once again, it's going to be a close race between Richard Linklater for Boyhood and Inarritu for Birdman, but I think Inarritu definitely has the edge, especially after his DGA win. And while Linklater's work on  Boyhood is impressive, Inarritu's directorial eye is definitely more readily on display in Birdman, and no less ambitious by any means. If Linklater wins, then Boyhood is pretty much guaranteed Best Picture, but I definitely give a leg up to Inarritu for this category. Linklater will have to wait for his next brilliant directing gimmick.

Behind the scenes of filming Birdman
A case could, frankly, be made for four out of the five directors in this category. Morten Tyldum's nomination here is complete bogus, to be honest. I'm sure he's a great guy, and he does a decent job with The Imitation Game, but his directing was competent and unexciting (like the film itself). But Inarritu, Linklater, and their fellow nominees Wes Anderson and Bennett Miller all truly left their mark on their respective films, and that's a joy to see. Not everyone loves Anderson, but there's no denying that he does some really innovative stuff and I think it's surprising that this is his very first directing nomination--he won't win this time, but I can't imagine this nomination will be his last. Miller, meanwhile, was not expected to make this list of nominees. In fact, in my review of Foxcatcher, I specifically cited that I wished Miller was getting more attention on the awards circuit since it seemed like he was being so ignored. Well, I got my wish, and he got a nomination here. I've read more than a few peoples' thoughts that he stole this spot from Ava DuVernay for her work on Selma, but I'd give that dishonor to Tyldum. Miller absolutely deserves this nomination. For the performances he got out of his leads alone, he would deserve his place here. The question of who should win is such a toss-up for I'm going to just default to Birdman and go with Inarritu. His work is extraordinary and it will be great to see such a brilliant director finally get his due.

Bennett Miller takes the chance to squeeze Mark Ruffalo's bicep, while Ruffalo in turn takes the opportunity to squeeze Channing Tatum's bicep.

As for who should be nominated...that's also tough. DuVernay's absence here is certainly the most puzzling. But what about David Fincher, whose work on Gone Girl was ignored along with almost everything else great about that movie. Or unknown directing wunderkind Damien Chazelle for somehow making a movie about jazz drumming one of the most exciting and critically acclaimed films of the year? They all deserve it, but I'm going to with Bong Joon-ho for his work on Snowpiercer. In my world, that movie is nominated for all of the awards, and Joon-ho's eye gave Snowpiercer the incredibly distinct world which really allowed it to stand out from the pack. I thought it was expertly paced and meticulously crafted, so in my world, he would be the one to knock Tyldum out of this race.

Will Win: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu--Birdman
Should Win: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu--Birdman
Should Have Been Nominated: Bong Joon-ho--Snowpiercer

Best Actor:

Eddie Redmayne, one of the frontrunners for Best Actor this year.

As you will soon read, the other three acting categories are pretty much decided at this point, but this category is still a very close race. Much like with Best Picture, the person who was once seen as a frontrunner is now sort of fading into second place as a new frontrunner emerges. The one fading into second place, interestingly, is Birdman star Michael Keaton. He was, and still is, the sentimental favorite. But The Theory of Everything star Eddie Redmayne has won award after award and has emerged as the most likely winner in this category. At the beginning of the awards season, many thought that Redmayne and The Imitation Game star Benedict Cumberbatch would split the vote, but Redmayne has by far emerged as giving the more decorated performance. He's the best bet, but it's still going to be close between him and Keaton. Both have a lot of things going for them that the Oscars love. The Oscars love to recognize those they haven't before, and this is Keaton's first ever nomination despite his prolific career. It's also a comeback--his work as Riggan Thomson has brought him back into the spotlight and people seem thrilled to see him there. It's a career-defining performance, which the Oscars absolutely love. And a factor which no one is talking about is that he's the only one of the nominees playing an original character. The other four characters are all real people, but Riggan Thomson is Keaton's own creation--that might help him stand out from the crowd. But Redmayne has a lot going for him too. He might be competing against others who are portraying real life figures, but his real life figure is probably the most exciting, the most challenging, and certainly the one who is most present in the public eye. And while Redmayne is young and at the start of his career, he's not some nobody, and already has a really impressive resume behind him. While the fact that Birdman is a better film as a whole than The Theory of Everything  might let Keaton pull off an upset, Redmayne is undeniably the favorite. I can't help but think back to 2008, where Sean Penn's portrayal of a historical figure in Milk beat out Mickey Rourke's triumphant comeback in The Wrestler. The same thing is going to happen here. Plus, Redmayne shows a lot of versatility considering that he is also in this year's Jupiter Ascending which proved that he can give both good AND bad performances!

Pictured: a great actor

That being said, of the two, I liked Keaton more. Redmayne is amazing, and is the only thing that made The Theory of Everything  even watchable for me, but...that's exactly the problem. The film's script is so weak that Redmayne frankly has less to work with. Keaton, however, is given a really rich script and mines a lot out of it. Plus, if he doesn't deserve to win for Birdman, he deserves to win for his work with Jimmy Fallon.

David Oyelowo, snubbed for his performance in Selma

As for who should have been nominated, it's tough to look at the current nominees and complain too much. These are all five very strong performances which I liked a lot. But...I'm going to complain anyway because there were definitely better performances. The main snub everyone is talking about here is that of David Oyelowo as Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma. In my writeup on the film I think my opinions on Oyelowo's performance come across much harsher than I meant them to. I said that I never believed Oyelowo was Martin Luther King Jr., and I stand by that statement, but that's because no one can play that role. What Oyelowo does is create his own character and interpretation and he is riveting to watch. Oyelowo deserved a nomination, and many feel his spot was taken by Bradley Cooper this year for American Sniper, whose nomination was certainly a surprise. Cooper gives a strong and thoughtful performance, the best of his career so far, but looking at these performances side by side, there's simply no comparison. As American heroes go, how can Chris Kyle compete with Martin Lutker King Jr.? Then there's Redmayne and Cumberbatch, who each play tortured British geniuses, but while both are good, my favorite depiction of a tortured British genius this year was Timothy Spall in Mr. Turner. He won Best Actor at Cannes and has been up for numerous awards, but for some reason was mostly left out of the Oscar conversation, and that's a shame. Spall doesn't get a chance for a lot of leading roles, and he absolutely rose to the challenge this time, creating a masterful performance that showed tremendous understanding of his subject.

Timothy Spall's brilliant performance as J.M.W. Turner went unrecognized by the Oscars.

Steve Carell is great in Foxcatcher, but I was actually more impressed with Channing Tatum's work in the same film--Carell gives the more extravagant performance, but Tatum's is deceptively complex, and brought a tremendous amount of fragility to his work. He's the heart of the film, and while Foxcatcher is very much an ensemble piece, Tatum is actually the one who stood out, so I'm sad he's the only one of the three leads to have been unrecognized by the academy. Keaton's work is great, and truly acted as the glue that held the ambitious world of Birdman together. But you could say the same about Ralph Fiennes in The Grand Budapest Hotel, who created one of the most well-rounded original characters of the year. But, if I had to choose one single person who should have been in this category, it would easily be Jake Gyllenhaal in Nightcrawler. Holy crap, this is a great performance, and one which really establishes Gyllenhaal and proves what he can do. He should have been nominated, hands down. To be honest, he should be the one winning this award.

This face will haunt your nightmares with his acting talent.

Will Win: Eddie Redmayne as Stephen "The Hawk" Hawking--The Theory of Everything
Should Win: Michael Keaton as Riggan Thomson--Birdman
Should Have Been Nominated: Jake Gyllenhaal as Lou Bloom--Nightcrawler (but also Ralph Fiennes in The Grand Budapest Hotel, David Oyelowo in Selma, Timothy Spall in Mr. Turner, and Channing Tatum in Foxcatcher)

Best Actress:
Finally an award that is not up in the air. It's going to be Julianne Moore for Still Alice. Hands down.  She has previously been nominated four times (including twice in one year) and has never won. And given the Oscar's love of giving awards to people who they consider overdue, it's Moore's time. She could have made a film where she blew her nose and she would win this award.

That being said, she does much more than blow her nose in Still Alice. In her role as a woman going through early-onset Alzheimer's, Moore brings such emotional strength to this film. Her work is poignant, distinct, well-rounded, and incredibly heartfelt while remaining grounded. We can feel Alice as she tries to keep control. In just an expression, we can see whether Alice is present or if her mind has slipped in that moment. I worry that this role, which is SUCH an Oscar-y role, might get written off as a shameless grab for an Oscar, but it's really much more than that. It's an incredible performance and, as much as I'd love to say that the glorious Rosamund Pike should win for Gone Girl, Moore more than deserves this award.

Julianne Moore, a soon-to-be Oscar winner in Still Alice.

As for who should have been nominated, it's a really good lineup. Personally, I think Felicity Jones does good work in The Theory of Everything, but it's nothing that I see as particularly Oscar-worthy. She didn't really leave much of an impression on me. In a world where horror movies got any Oscar recognition at all, Essie Davis' work in The Babadook definitely should have gotten some attention for her gut-wrenching performance as a woman who tries to protect herself and her son from a monster lurking within, but this was never going to happen. Although, that film was certainly a career-maker for Davis, so I wouldn't be surprised to see her get an Oscar nomination in a few years' time. she certainly deserves it. But, the biggest snub in this category was definitely Jennifer Aniston in Cake. She campaigned very hard for a nomination, and I can see why. While the movie itself is not incredible, Aniston really is. Aniston plays Claire--a troubled and unlikable woman who becomes obsessed with the suicide of an acquaintance of hers, all while dealing with her own depression and rapidly deteriorating life. Aniston gives Bennett a very distinct edge--she's not approachable--yet shows a very complete understanding of this character. She's prickly because that armor is all that she's got. She pushes people away because she's afraid of getting close to them. Aniston's performance is funny, abrasive, and bristling, but at its core, it's heartbreaking. In hindsight, her nomination was always going to be a longshot. My disappointment and surprise at her being left off feels like a "what were you thinking" moment. But she really deserved it. If nothing else, her work made me consider her and her talents in a completely new light.

Jennifer Aniston, who deserved a nomination for her work in Cake
Will Win: Julianne Moore as Alice Howland--Still Alice
Should Win: Julianne Moore as Alice Howland--Still Alice
Should Have Been Nominated: Jennifer Aniston as Claire Bennett--Cake

Best Supporting Actor:
J.K. Simmons will win. I don't need to say why, I don't need to explain why, but he will win. Just accept that. It's going to be J.K. Simmons. He has won every award up until now and he will continue to win. Because his performance as a tyrannical jazz teacher is brilliant, and because after seeing Whiplash, Oscar voters are afraid of him and what he might do if he doesn't win. There. Done.

Well, that's settled.
But Simmons' dominance over this awards season, while certainly deserved, does not do justice to how strong this field of nominees is. Edward Norton is Birdman's secret weapon and gives one of the funniest, and one of the most fully-rounded performances of Norton's already prestigious career. Mark Ruffalo is the emotional core of Foxcatcher and provides an unexpected sensitivity to such a fraught and tense film. And Ethan Hawke is the truly standout performance of Boyhood--managing to keep his character consistent, and consistently evolving, over the course of the twelve year shoot. I can't argue with a Simmons win, but if only because he has won everything and I want to give someone else some recognition for a change, my vote would actually go to Hawke. But again, all four of these performances are amazing and are exactly who I would have chosen to be recognized by the Academy.

And then...we have Robert Duvall in The Judge. And this is where the category falls apart because this nomination is just ridiculous. I don't know if anybody reading this saw The Judge but my guess is that you did not because nobody has seen The Judge. Robert Downey Jr. hasn't seen The Judge and he's IN The Judge. And you didn't know that Robert Downey Jr. was in The Judge because you haven't seen The Judge. And yet...if you were to watch The Judge you would think to yourself "Have I seen this movie before?" because it is the most predictable and generic film of all time. Seriously, not a single surprising or interesting thing happens this entire movie. Duvall's okay in it I guess, but he's really just phoning it in. The whole movie is phoning it in. That it is an Oscar-nominated film is, frankly, an insult. So undeserved. So, who would I put in instead? For a long time, I was going to say Riz Ahmed for his underrated work in Nightcrawler, but I'm going to go really left field and say...Chris Pine in Into the Woods. Hear me out. His work as Cinderella's Prince is incredibly goofy and ridiculous...but that's what that role is supposed to be. Into the Woods has an all-star cast, but Pine easily outshines them all, and seems to be the only person involved in the production who really understood what the source material is really about. He steals the film from some real heavy hitters, and while a nomination for him is unconventional, when I consider the supporting performances this year, he keeps coming to my mind as a deserving nominee.

Chris Pine. More like Chris Divine.

Will Win: J.K. Simmons as Terence Fletcher--Whiplash

Should Win: Ethan Hawke as Mason Evans Sr.--Boyhood
Should Have Been Nominated: Chris Pine--Into the Woods

Best Supporting Actress:
This is another category where four of the nominees don't even have to show up because they have no chance. The winner will be Patricia Arquette for her work in Boyhood. She has won, I would estimate, ten gazillion awards already for her work in this movie and they might as well engrave her name in the Oscar right now. She will win.

That being said, I was not impressed with her work. I know, that's blasphemy, since everyone else seems to love her, but...I just don't see it. I think the character is wonderful, but Arquette's performance bothered me. Every performance she gives, she speaks with this sort of drowsy quality that sounds, to me, very stilted and odd. Her performances always strike me as kind of emotionless and detached. Many people who like her work have praised her as being natural, but I don't see it. To me, she just comes across as boring. Personal preference, I know, but I feel that the character of Olivia Evans--who really is fantastic--works on the strength of the writing rather than the strength of Arquette's performance. I longed to see what another actress could have done with the role. Maybe another actress who actually varies the tone of her voice once in a while. I think that with another actress as Olivia, an already strong film would have become even stronger. Compare Arquette's performance with Hawke's. What I love about Hawke's performance is that the character evolves. The Mason Evans Sr. we see at the end of the film is not the same as the one we see at the beginning, and yet he is believable as being the same character. Hawke keeps just enough of the original Mason Sr. intact that we believe that the final product is the man he would have grown into. Olivia, on the other hand, goes through a lot--certainly more than Mason Sr.-- and definitely changes as a character, but...I don't think Arquette's performance evolves at all. I don't see any difference in how she plays Olivia from the first scene than in the last. Olivia has revelations, she has discoveries, she suffers hardships, and she experiences triumphs. Arquette doesn't manage to capture these moments in the way a stronger actress could have.

Patricia Arquette in a performance that everyone loves except for me.

That being said, the other nominees don't really stand out to me either. Laura Dern is a wonderful actress, but as written in the script for Wild, she's not really given much to do, and does her work competently, but not extraordinarily. Meryl Streep got a nomination for being Meryl Streep, and while I love her forever, her performance as The Witch in Into the Woods is far from award-worthy. She's not bad, but this should have been a movie-stealing role, and it just wasn't (the movie-stealing role went to Chris Pine, as I already mentioned). Keira Knightley and Emma Stone both give good performances, but neither really jump out at me. Knightley, like everything in The Imitation Game, is very good but not great. Stone is the best of the bunch and the one I'd most like to see win--her performance as a rebellious teen manages to come across as unpretentious and effortless. She blends into the background when she needs to, and she makes her presence known when she needs to. Unfortunately, she plays third fiddle to Keaton and Norton. But it's a solid fiddle.

Emma Stone in Birdman.

It shouldn't be a surprise, therefore that, like with the Best Actor category, I'd pretty much scrap all of the existing nominees and replace them with a new batch. It's a shame that I find these nominees so unimpressive because there really were an endless number of fantastic supporting female performances this year that nobody talked about. While Mr. Turner got rave reviews for Timothy Spall in the lead role, the film features two incredible performances from supporting actresses--Dorothy Atkinson as his beleaguered housekeeper, and Marion Bailey as Turner's late-in-life love Sophia Booth, an overly-chipper innkeeper who provides a beautiful foil for Spall's gruffness and who really elevated the film for me.

Marion Bailey and Timothy Spall in a cute scene from Mr. Turner

Everyone (including me) gushed about Jake Gyllenhaal in Nightcrawler, but where was the love for his co-star Rene Russo, who turned in a fantastic performance as a news producer forced to work with a psychopath. While Rosamund Pike is deservedly recognized for her work in Gone Girl, she's not the only great actress in that movie. Kim Dickens is great as Detective Rhonda Boney, and Carrie Coon is also a standout for her work as Margo Dunne. Everyone talks about how great Tyler Perry is in the film, and he really is great, but Coon is the one who stole the film for me. I can't understand why people weren't talking about her more.

Carrie Coon's great work in Gone Girl went tragically ignored on the awards circuit

Then there's Kristen Stewart in Still Alice, who gives a tremendous performance as Julianne Moore's daughter. Her performance is quiet, studied, and deeply authentic. Stewart has long been criticized as an actress because people stupidly assume that her work in the Twilight series is indicative of her talent as a whole. It is absolutely not. I wish she had been nominated for Still Alice because she gave one of the best performances of the year, but I also wish she had been nominated so that people would shut up and stop saying that she only acts with one expression. Seriously, watch this film--she is incredibly impressive.

Tilda Swinton's brilliant and bizarre character in Snowpiercer
But, anyone who has talked to me at all knows the one person who I think should have been nominated: Tilda Swinton in Snowpiercer. I already gushed about this performance in my analysis of the film, but seriously...she gave the best performance of the year hands down. In a just world, she would be showered with awards for her work. Watch any scene of Swinton in Snowpiercer and then watch any scene of Arquette in Boyhood back to back. Granted, the roles are about as different as two roles can be, but I think the difference in quality will be pretty clear.

Will Win: Patricia Arquette as Olivia Evans--Boyhood
Should Win: Emma Stone as Sam Thomson--Birdman
Should Have Been Nominated: Tilda Swinton as Mason, Minister of the Train--Snowpiercer (also Marion Bailey in Mr. Turner, Carrie Coon in Gone Girl, Rene Russo in Nightcrawler, and Kristen Stewart in Still Alice)

Best Original Screenplay:
This is another two-horse race and, like all of the other close races thus far, one of the major players is Birdman. The script succeeds on so many levels--it's a great concept, it's ambitious, it's funny, it's sad, it's thought-provoking, it's exciting. Then again, the same can be said about the other contender in this race: The Grand Budapest Hotel. And Grand Budapest definitely has the slight edge this time. This is Wes Anderson's third screenplay nomination (after The Royal Tenenbaums and Moonrise Kingdom) and would be his first win and so he is overdue. Plus, it's fresh off of a Writer's Guild Award win, so it is definitely the frontrunner, even though Birdman could still pull off an upset.

Tom Wilkinson as "The Writer" in The Grand Budapest Hotel

Of the screenplay categories, this is certainly the most competitive of the two, and I think all five nominees are very deserving. In terms of who should be here, an obvious choice is Selma, which is the only best picture nominee not to be nominated for its screenplay. But, the thing about the screenplay categories is that they're often a chance for an unconventional film to get nominated. This year, that film was Nightcrawler, as this is that excellent movie's sole nomination. I'd have loved to have seen some other less recognized films join it here. One that jumps out at me is the Chris Rock project Top Five, which he wrote, directed, and starred in. As such Top Five's voice is entirely unique and earned comparisons to Woody Allen for how well Rock was able to transfer his comedic voice to the screen. Top Five may not have earned Rock a writing nomination, but is he keeps making films like Top Five, he'll get one soon.

Chris Rock and friends in Top Five
 But, if I had to choose a nominee for Best Original Screenplay, I'd go for a small indie sci-fi film called The One I Love. Starring Elisabeth Moss and Mark Duplass, the film kind of came and went, but it featured one of the most original premises I've ever seen. The film as a whole is good, but the screenplay is really great. I don't want to talk about it too much because I don't want to give anything away. But you should watch it. It's on Netflix. It's cool.

This still shot from The One I Love tells you nothing about the movie and that's just how it should be.

Will Win: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Should Win: Birdman
Should Have Been Nominated: The One I Love

Best Adapted Screenplay:
I hate this category. I hate it hate it hate it. That films like American Sniper and The Theory of Everything  can be nominated for Best Picture is not something I'm happy about, but I can see why they were nominated. But, Best Screenplay? These films were both TERRIBLY written and should absolutely not be here. Luckily, I don't think they will win. I also don't think that Paul Thomas Anderson's Inherent Vice has a shot at winning. Beloved by some, I personally thought that Inherent Vice succeeded more as an experiment than as a film as a whole--no one has ever tried to adapt a Thomas Pynchon book before, and this film proved why. It certainly captured Pynchon's tone, and is probably the best adaptation of Pynchon that one could hope for. Unfortunately, that meant it felt kind of muddled and confused, with things that really didn't make sense or hold up (amongst numerous questions I had, why was a relatively minor character acting as the voice-over narrator, who then disappeared for long portions of the film). But, for its ambition alone, it deserves its nomination here.

Josh Brolin has already won the honorary award for flattest top.
But this award will either go to The Imitation Game or Whiplash. The Imitation Game is generally seen as the strongest bet here: it has been an awards darling, but isn't really seen as a likely winner in any of the categories, so if the Academy wants to honor it, this is kind of its only chance to do so. Plus, it won the Writer's Guild Award, so that's a fairly nice feather in its cap as it enters the Oscar race. But, my money is on Whiplash. Now, Whiplash's nomination here is a bit odd, as in every other awards ceremony (including the Writer's Guild) it has been nominated as an Original Screenplay. Due to a really stupid technicality, the Oscars decided to put it in the Adapted category. Basically, writer and director Damien Chazelle, wanted to raise money to finance the film, and since a thriller about jazz drumming is not exactly a recognizable genre, Chazelle shot a single scene of the film to show to potential producers. It happened to be a really good scene, so he entered it as a short film at Sundance where it won awards. Producers signed on to make the film and, voila, now it's nominated for Best Picture. The Academy decided that, even though these are original characters and an original story and the screenplay for the feature film was written BEFORE Chazelle filmed this one scene, this qualified Whiplash as an adapted screenplay (adapted from the short film). The whole thing is stupid and does not fairly represent Whiplash's originality, but it might actually work out in Whiplash's favor. It has by far the best screenplay out of these five. And while The Imitation Game has been racking up writing awards, it hasn't had to compete against Whiplash yet, since Whiplash has been entered as an original screenplay everywhere else. So, going into Oscar night, it's kind of unknown what exactly will happen. One of these two will win, but which one? I'm going with Whiplash. Call it a gut feeling.

Lucky you! You get this picture of J.K. Simmons twice in the same post!
As for who should have been nominated, while I really wish that I could say Guardians of the Galaxy (whose fantastic screenplay was a surprise Writer's Guild nominee) the clear choice is Gone Girl. How Gillian Flynn did not get a nomination for her screenplay is beyond me--it was one of the best written films of the year by far. Gone Girl deserved much more from the Academy than what it got, but its snub in this category is by far the biggest injustice.

Will Win: Whiplash
Should Win: Whiplash
Should Have Been Nominated: Gone Girl

Maybe if Flynn had called the bar in the film something more creative than "The Bar" she'd have been nominated...

Okay, so, I've already written a lot. You probably need a breather. These are the major awards, so...let's take a break. You can read the second part of my predictions here. I promise I won't write quite as much about each of those categories. In the meantime, share your thoughts on these awards in the comments. Who will win? Who should win? Who should have been nominated? What do you think?