After all of the shilling, campaigning and hobnobbing throughout award season, it all comes down to this — the show so big, it needs two names. That’s right, it’s Oscar weekend — let the predictions begin. Last year, I predicted 6 out of the top 7 categories correctly, so I have a lot to live up to with this year’s crop, which aren’t quite as easy to predict as they were last year, seeing as how there have been a variety of winners across the various award shows, and this just may be the year that some of the dark horses decide to find their stride at the end of the race. Whatever the outcome, these are my thoughts on the top categories (including links to both full reviews and mini-reviews for the majority of films that I’ve seen) as well a few of my own special awards that don’t belong anywhere near the Academy.
Best Picture (Nominees – American Sniper, Birdman, Boyhood, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Imitation Game, Selma, The Theory of Everything, Whiplash)
Who Will Win: Boyhood
For a long time, Boyhood relied heavily on its gimmick of filming small slice-of-life moments over the course of twelve years to raise its awareness. But as the award season has lingered on, Boyhood has found a strong hold on the top rung of the ladder, continually knocking the rest of its competition from rising above it, so you can expect it to remain there and prove that sometimes a unique perspective can, in fact, live and flourish in the world of cinema.
Who Should Win: Whiplash
My choice for best movie of the year, Whiplash showcased the very best way to make a film. Starting with a very strong script that used every word, action and scene to deliver an intense, rousing finale, the producers utilized every tool in the toolbox, from casting to direction, to bring that story to life with energy and spunk. It may have felt incredibly uneasy at times to watch, but when you truly want something, sometimes it takes someone to push you beyond your limits to find your true self.
Best Actor (Nominees – Steve Carell, Bradley Cooper, Benedict Cumberbatch, Michael Keaton, Eddie Redmayne)
Who Will and Should Win: Eddie Redmayne
Of the five nominees, Michael Keaton is the only person to play a character not based on an actual person (though it can be argued that he was playing a heightened version of himself), so it would be fun to see him win. However, with stiff competition from actors who gave their all to represent real-life innovators, heroes and, in the case of Carell, murderers, he’ll unfortunately be left to try again next year. That leaves four remaining nominees in a battle royal for the gold, though one stands out above all the rest — and that would be Redmayne, who brilliantly portrayed genius astrophysicist Stephen Hawking. Every part of Hawking’s disease-induced disintegration is beautifully captured by Redmayne, who showcases not only Hawking’s strength to keep living despite the affliction, but the torture he went through as his body gave up on him.
Best Actress (Nominees – Marion Cotillard, Felicity Jones, Julianne Moore, Rosamund Pike, Reese Witherspoon)
Who Will Win: Julianne Moore
I can’t speak for a couple of the women in this category, as I have yet to see Two Days, One NIght or Still Alice, but my gut tells me (based on what I’ve read and some of the previous awards) that this will be Julianne Moore’s award to lose.
Who Should Win: Felicity Jones
However, if I were to choose from only those performances I actually saw, I would have to go with Jones. Witherspoon and Pike were both very good in their respective roles, but I didn’t see much of anything I haven’t seen before. Jones, on the other hand, gave Redmayne something strong to play off of, and delivered a very heartfelt performance that also heightened the character’s love for a man that would soon be unable to reciprocate that love in the way she would ultimately need.
Best Supporting Actor (Nominees – Robert Duvall, Ethan Hawke, Edward Norton, Mark Ruffalo, J.K. Simmons)
Who Will and Should Win: J.K. Simmons
There is no doubt that J.K. Simmons will take home the gold in this category. No offense to the rest of the actors, but Simmons is in a league of his own when it comes to the intensity he delivered as a hard-nosed music professor who berates, ridicules, hurts and fiercely provokes his students to the point of blood and tears. Simmons has taken most of the awards (if not all) in this category thus far, and that run will end when he seals the deal with Oscar.
Best Supporting Actress (Nominees – Patricia Arquette, Laura Dern, Keira Knightley, Emma Stone, Meryl Streep)
Who Will Win: Patricia Arquette
From my perspective, this is probably the weakest category of the top group. All of the actresses are deserving of awards, and many of them have been nominated numerous times (I mean, it wouldn’t be the Academy Awards without a nomination for Meryl Streep now would it?). However, based on the films the nominees are up for, there isn’t a clear, strong performance among them, which means that my prediction for Arquette winning the grand prize is based solely on award buzz.
Who Should Win: Emma Stone
If it was based on actual performance, my ballot would be marked with Stone. I’ve never been a fan of Arquette (I never much saw the appeal, though I have enjoyed plenty of stuff she’s been in; Nightmare on Elm Street 3 is my favorite of the series, after all); Streep was good and it was fun to see her play a witch, but compared to everything else, it was a pretty typical performance; and both Dern and Knightley are stuck in low-key roles that add depth to the main character, but not much else. In the end, Stone is the only actress among the group that showed a power that was more than just skin deep.
Best Director (Nominees – Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Richard Linklater, Bennett Miller, Wes Anderson, Morten Tyldum)
Who Will Win: Richard Linklater
Because of his innovative approach to film making, Linklater has proven himself to be a rare breed — a filmmaker who takes risks without compromising his integrity by selling out to the highest bidder when those risks pay off. Though Boyhood may not have the most compelling narrative, and at times the acting wasn’t as strong as it could have been, Linklater deserves the award for not only thinking outside of the box, but for earning the respect of his actors and crew to the point they were willing to carve out time in their schedules for twelve years to make this happen. The film is far from being the most effective coming-of-age story, but it is a slice of life narrative that speaks truth while filming it in the most realistic way possible.
Who Should Win: Alejandro G. Iñárritu
Iñárritu on the other hand, showed great technical skill as well as artistry while creating Birdman. By editing the film with several hidden cuts that make the entire thing feel as if it’s been filmed in one extensive shot (wherein most scenes are actually filmed that way), Iñárritu presents the struggle and the chaos in a very structured, smooth manner. It allows us to be there with these characters as if we were simply part of the production and showcases the talents of the actors in a way that other films hide with editing. To pull this off takes great skill, time and finesse, and Iñárritu makes it seem as if it’s the easiest thing in the world.
Best Animated Feature (Nominees – Big Hero Six, The Boxtrolls, How To Train Your Dragon 2, Song of the Sea, The Tale of the Princess Kaguya)
Who Will Win: Big Hero 6
Since its inception, Pixar and Dreamworks have all but dominated this category. This year, there is no Pixar movie to fend off and Dreamworks’s offering is a sequel (which might hinder it a bit even though it was one of the best animated features of the year), so look for Disney animation to finally take home the prize for Big Hero 6.
Who Should Win: The LEGO Movie
I know, The LEGO Movie isn’t even a nominee, but the Academy was stupid not to include it, especially when they nominated a much inferior film in The Boxtrolls. But, if I had to choose among the nominees, it would be How to Train Your Dragon 2 hands down, as the film had the best story, as well as unique animation that actually aged the characters as if it were a live action sequel. That alone should get them the prize.
Best Drama Ensemble: Birdman
Birdman may not have been the best film overall this year, but when it comes to casting, this team clicked on every level. The emotion displayed individually is only heightened when coupled with one of the other actors, each of whom was in some way a tortured soul looking for a way to escape their lives to fulfill some deeply ingrained desire. Michael Keaton may have been the focus, but without the strength of Edward Norton, Naomi Watts and Emma Stone to support him, the lunacy of his antics may just very well have been an absurd nightmare.
Best Comedy Ensemble: Horrible Bosses 2
I know there’s a lot of people out there who can’t understand why this movie was ever made, however, in my warped view, I actually thought Horrible Bosses 2 was better than the original, and it’s all because of the cast, who return with such ease, their chemistry oozes with charisma. Jason Bateman, Jason Sudekis and Charlie Day deliver every line of banter so smoothly, newcomers Chris Pine and Christof Waltz are given enough room to to ease their way into the zaniness without struggle. And at no time do any of these actors feel superior to anyone else, allowing Kevin Spacey and Jennifer Aniston to once again steal the show in their very limited scenes. Overall, with everyone gelling so graciously together, it just works.
Best Child Performance: Cozi Zuehlsdorff
From what I could tell, there wasn’t a whole lot of outstanding performances from kids last year, but I do have to highlight one performance in particular, and that is Dolphin Tale 2‘s Zuehlsdorff. It’s not that her performance was any better than any other child performance, per se, but rather it’s the growth within her performance that rises above the rest. In the original Dolphin Tale, she was a fun and light distraction from the more dramatic elements of the film. Her chemistry with star Nathan Gamble was good and she did what she needed to do. Here, though, she raises her game exponentially, giving an incredibly detailed performance in an otherwise laid back film where the acting isn’t as important as the the love these characters have for two dolphins that need each other to live, mirroring this loving friendship that knows no bounds.
Best Adult/Child Duo: Jason Bateman & Rohan Chand
There seemed to be quite a few films this year that dealt with the relationships between adults and children, including a father/son relationship in Chef, a step-mother/daughter relationship in Maleficent, and a neighborly friendship in St. Vincent. But it was the quasi-friendship in Bad Words that made you squirm just a little while cheering for this unorthodox pair to get past their need to win and form a lasting friendship. Jason Bateman plays a bitter, middle-aged man in a pursuit to win the national spelling bee championship, but if it wasn’t for Rohan Chand, the entire scenario would just seem weird and off-putting. Together, the two children find a bond with words, and in that bond, help each other become the men they need to be.
Weirdest, Strangest, Most Insane Concept For a Movie: Tusk
On paper it sounds incredibly horrible — a man literally turns another man into a walrus because the mating habits of the walrus are supposedly one of the most pure of all creatures. Yeah, that’ll play well. And I think in any other hands, it would have been the disaster it was doomed to be. But writer/director Kevin Smith somehow found a way to make the whole scenario weirdly compelling. With the help of Justin Long, who plays an utter douchebag turned walrus, Smith creates a film that is so wildly different that you just have to respect the risk he took to make it happen. Is it weird? Absolutely. Is it insane? No doubt. But like a twenty car pile-up on the freeway with dead, bloody bodies thrown every which way, once you get a glimpse, you just can’t turn away.