The problem with writing about the Oscar race every year is that it gets to the point where there just isn’t a lot to say that hasn’t already been said, and that’s the case this year as well, as there are already so many frontrunners who seem to have no real competition. Fortunately, there are some interesting races that could go either way on Oscar night, which gives me something to write about with less than a week to go.
While we only have eight Oscar nominees for Best Picture this year, this season has been all about Richard Linklater’s Boyhood vs. Alejandro Inarritu’s Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) for months, mainly because those two movies have been receiving unanimous praise, glorious reviews as well as dividing up the precursor awards. But they’re also looking at some real last-minute competition from Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel, which debuted a year ago at the Berlin Film Festival but has been able to stay in the public consciousness thanks to it’s recent debut on HBO.
There is little question that 90% of the Academy have seen all three of these movies at this point, and probably most of the other Best Picture contenders, but those three seem to have the most support. Birdman and The Grand Budapest Hotel also have the most nominations with nine apiece, which shows a diversity of support although Birdman benefits from having three acting nominations to Boyhood’s two and Budapest’s none.
Having support among the Academy’s acting branch is a big deal because it makes up the biggest percentage of voters, and Birdman’s wins at the earlier guilds including the Best Ensemble award from the Screen Actors Guild and top awards from the Producers and Directors Guild seems to make it more of a shoe-in than some might have thought months ago. But then there’s all the critics and the BAFTAs who went with Boyhood and the Golden Globes who picked Linklater as Best Director over Inarritu.
One may be wondering if we might have a third year in a row with a split between Best Picture and Director and that could certainly be the case this year as well. It used to be almost abnormal for the director of Oscar’s Best Picture to not get the accompanying Best Director award from the Academy, but in the last two years, we’ve seen it happen. The last time before that was ten years ago when Ang Lee won an Oscar for Best Director, but his movie Brokeback Mountain lost to Crash. We seem to be in a similar situation where two movies are getting so much attention, they could split and it would make sense that Inarritu would get the directing award since he won the DGA’s honor (similar to last year with his pal Alfonso Cuaron). On the other hand, Boyhood is such a singular vision for director Richard Linklater that it would be a shame for him to not be honored for bringing that vision to the Oscars after 12 years of making the movie. I would hazard a guess that Linklater might beat out Inarritu for Director but the overall love for Birdman could push that to a Best Picture win.
But we also can’t forget how Wes Anderson and The Grand Budapest Hotel can screw things up, because if any Academy voters go with that, it’s going to take votes away from Linklater, Inarritu and their movies, giving one an advantage over the others. (It probably doesn’t make that big a difference, but The Grand Budapest Hotel did beat Birdman at the Golden Globes as well, although we have to remember that those are given out by journalists and not those in the movie industry.)
So I give a slight advantage to Birdman because no movie has won SAG, PGA and DGA awards and not gone on to win Best Picture, but I wouldn’t be remotely surprised if either Boyhood or LInklater beats it in either category. (How’s that for fence sitting?)
That brings us to the Leading Actor race, which has always been a tight race between Birdman’s Michael Keaton and Eddie Redmayne’s portrayal of Professor Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything. They were able to split the Golden Globes between drama and comedy categories, but then Michael Keaton won the Critics Choice award both for lead actor and lead actor in a comedy. More importantly, Eddie Redmayne won the SAG and BAFTA awards and those seem like they’re better precursors that will allow him to win on Oscar night, which would be one way to award the popular The Theory for Everything.
At this point, it’s a foregone conclusion that Julianne Moore, J.K. Simmons and Patricia Arquette will be winning the other three acting categories and there’s very little that can stop them that doesn’t cause an earth-shattering shocker of a surprise. (Personally, I prefer Reese Witherspoon in Wild, but I’m already losing the bet I made backing her so I’m going to lick my wounds and move on.)
That brings us to the Academy’s two Screenplay categories, which are both interesting races in that they really could go any of a number of different directions. Original Screenplay is crazy because those three frontrunners we mentioned? They’re all in the running for screenplay and who knows how the Academy voters will judge between Birdman, The Grand Budapest Hotel and Boyhood, all such different movies with different types of screenwriting.
Wes Anderson is a long-time Academy favorite, having received two previous Oscar nominations for The Royal Tenenbaums and Moonrise Kingdom and receiving a third nomination in this category (and the first for his direction) makes it seem like the Academy is finally ready to award him for his unique filmmaking style. The screenplay for Birdman is absolutely fantastic, it’s really what drives the movie along with its performances and distinctive cinematography, but Linklater’s Boyhood is such a unique and personal experience (and it’s also his third nomination as a writer). This one is going to be between Birdman and The Grand Budapest Hotel (which just won the Writers Guild Award for original screenplay—Birdman wasn’t eligible), If the former wins in this category, then it’s a shoe-in for Best Picture, although I could totally see this one going to Grand Budapest since it’s going to have difficulty in the tougher Best Picture and Director’s races.
Since the three Best Picture favorites are all in the Original category, that makes the Adapted category just as interesting, especially since so many Best Pictures from the past were adapted from other sources. There’s a great deal of love for the two British biopics, The Imitation Game and The Theory of Everything, both strong adaptations although the former is the better screenplay (but only by a hair). There seemed to be a lot of support for the former early in awards season when it was playing festivals, but it lost Adapted Screenplay to Theory at the BAFTAs, but then The Imitation Game just won the WGA award for adapted screenplay so it stands a good chance to win an Oscar as well. (Like Birdman, The Theory of Everything was ineligible). And then there’s the other Best Picture nominees like American Sniper and Whiplash, which have just as much of a chance if voters think they need more support. (Some thought Gone Girl was going to kill in this category but it never got nominated so tough luck, Gillian Flynn!)
There isn’t much to say about the technical races except that there are some interesting heads-up match-ups.
Film editing could go to Boyhood for the impeccable job Sandra Adair did pulling together twelve years of footage, but this is one category where Whiplash really deserves accolades, because Tom Cross did an equally amazing job editing together director Damien Chazelle’s various close-ups to create a fast-paced two-character drama.
Emmanuel Lubezki seems to be setting himself up for his second consecutive win in the Cinematography category thanks to his continuous shots for Birdman—he already won the Cinematographer’s Guild’s top award–although this is one category where The Grand Budapest Hotel has been receiving attention for what Robert Yeoman’s cinematography brings to the look of Anderson’s film. That’s really the only possible spoiler, but I’m still pushing for Lubezki.
The Grand Budapest Hotel does have the strongest chance at taking a number of other awards, including Production Design, Costume Design and Makeup and Hair Styling, all a testament to the work of Wes Anderson’s crew at bringing his vision to the screen. There are possible spoilers like Into the Woods (for the first two) and Guardians of the Galaxy (for the last) since these categories don’t always go to Best Picture nominees, but Budapest received those nominations for a reason.
John Legend and Common’s “Glory” from Selma seems like it has Original Song in the bag, barring surprises, and while Johann Johannsson’s Original Score for The Theory of Everything has been winning earlier awards, one of Alexandre Desplat’s two nominated scores could take this, most notably the one for The Grand Budapest Hotel. It would be a shame if Desplat doesn’t finally get an Oscar despite his two nominations although that score for The Theory of Everything is pretty fantastic.
Does anyone care about the sound editing or mixing categories? The sound work done for Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper has the best chance at being honored in both categories since war movies have often done well here. The Academy also tends to award big effects movies like Interstellar for Sound Editing, so that’s a spoiler in that category, while Birdman or Whiplash could offer competition for Sound Mixing. Birdman just won an award for sound mixing from the Cinema Audio Society, which gives a pretty big clue that it will get Oscar love as well. You can roll the dice on this one, but I’m going with Sniper for Editing and Birdman for Mixing.
I have to admit that I’m pretty bored with the choices in the Foreign Language race this year. I personally love Damián Szifrón’ revenge anthology Wild Tales from Argentina, which uncoincidentally, finally gets its theatrical release on Friday after running the festival gauntlet, but this one seems to be between Pawel Pawilosky’s Ida from Poland and the Russian nominee Leviathan, which have mostly been dividing up all the precursor awards. Ida makes the most sense, having received a cinematography nomination, but Leviathan won the Golden Globe, so that’s a potential spoiler.
To me, the animated and documentary categories are both pretty boring without the inclusion of The LEGO Movie and the Roger Ebert doc Life Itself. At least, this gives a better chance to DreamWorks Animation’s How to Train Your Dragon 2, which would be the second sequel to win in this category following 2010’s Toy Story 3, which beat the original Dragon. There’s a chance of one of the GKIDS movies pulling an upset, but they just don’t have the money being thrown at them that Jeffrey Katzenberg seems to have, which has made his movie quite pervasive. It’s already won six Annie Awards, which makes it the favorite.
As far as documentary, I haven’t seen all the movies, but it seems pretty obvious that Citizenfour will win with the timeliness of its topic and last week’s surprise Q ‘n’ As featuring the elusive Edward Snowden, which can only help the movie get attention at an important time. (Not only that but it will air on HBO the night after the Oscars, which is just brilliant timing.)
I have to admit that I haven’t watched enough of the shorts to comment too much, particularly the documentary shorts, but I have seen some of the “frontrunners” and for Animated Short it’s either between “Feast” or “The Dam Keeper” and for Live Action Short, “The Phone Call” may be the favorite, but personally I preferred “Aya.”
Here are my final picks:
Picture – Birdman
Director – Richard Linklater
Lead Actor – Eddie Redmayne
Lead Actress – Julianne Moore
Supporting Actor – J.K. Simmons
Supporting Actress – Patricia Arquette
Original Screenplay – Birdman
Adapted Screenplay – The Imitation Game
Cinematography – Birdman
Film Editing – Boyhood
Costume Design – The Grand Budapest Hotel
Make-up and Hair – The Grand Budapest Hotel
Production Design – The Grand Budapest Hotel
Score – The Theory of Everything
Song – “Glory” from Selma
Sound Editing – American Sniper
Sound Mixing – Birdman
Visual Effects – Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Animated Feature – How to Train Your Dragon 2
Documentary – Citizenfour
Foreign Film – Ida
Animated Short – “Feast”
Documentary Short – “Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press”
Live Action Short – “The Phone Call”
Let’s face it. There was so much weirdness in the nominations, from The LEGO Movie and Selma getting song nominations but little else, from Marion Cotillard getting nominated for Two Days, One Night, which didn’t even make the shortlist for the Foreign Language category, that we can only assume this is going to be an Oscar night to remember for its shocks and surprises that pretty much will thoroughly ruin everyone’s Oscar office pools … so good luck!
The Oscars air on ABC on Sunday night, February 22.