My Oscar Choices

By on February 20, 2015

Let me go into this saying I have very little confidence in picking winners this year but I want to give the main categories a rundown before the ceremonies.  I originally entitled this article “My Oscar Predictions” but I really don’t stand a snowflake’s chance in hell in trying to predict what’s going to happen Sunday.

Sunset Blvd.One reason these things are hard to call is, because the ballots are not weighted (where people would rank all the selections in a category instead of choosing just one), split votes can result in a winner that really isn’t considered the best in the category.  For instance, in the 1951 contest for Best Actress there were two of the greatest performances ever and neither won.  All About EveGloria Swanson (Billy Wilder’s “Sunset Blvd.”) and Bette Davis (Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s “All About Eve”), both in career-defining roles, essentially cancelled each other out and the Oscar went to Judy Holliday for “Born Yesterday.”  Two legendary performances from two legendary films lost to a good performance from a good film.  (To make things worse for Davis, her “All About Eve” co-star, Ann Baxter, refused to be considered for Best Supporting since she was the title character.  Even within “All About Eve”, the Best Actress votes were split.  It also had two Best Supporting Actress nominees.  Its only acting Oscar ─ of its six wins ─ was George Sanders for Best Supporting Actor.)

I’m trying to be analytical and objective in my choices.  Here goes:

american sniper posterBEST PICTURE

“American Sniper” – Good, provocative, and divisive but not great.  It’s monster box-office grosses are its reward.  I never noticed that the baby wasn’t real.

“Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” – Intense rapid-fire storyline, intimate setting, thoughtful writing, creative directing, phenomenal camerawork, great all-around acting.

“Boyhood” – Without the gimmick of being shot over 11 years, the ordinary storyline and lack of flash should preclude it from winning.  The trance it put us in has subsided and we all can see clearly again.  If it does win, it will join Robert Zemekis’ 1994 “Forrest Gump” and Paul Haggis’ 2004 “Crash” as a “What were they thinking?” Best Picture winner.

Birdman poster“The Grand Budapest Hotel” – The closest thing 2014 had to an epic film in terms of the scope of the story and the production.  An extremely well crafted film in every way with beautiful backdrops and visuals, thrilling moments, charming performances, and a great sense of fun.  It defied Oscar odds by being a contender despite coming out early in the year.  Killer cast and cameos (Feinnes, Abraham, Law, Clooney, Swinton, Keitel, Norton, Wilkinson, Goldblum, Dafoe, Murray, etc.).  Having the voice of Salieri (30 years after “Amadeus”) narrate was a nice touch.

“The Imitation Game” – Heavily reliant on its strong lead performance.  It was enlightening to learn about its fascinating subject but the film making and storytelling, however well done, were very paint-by-numbers (i.e., traditional) in a year when that’s not good enough.

“Selma” – The only nominee I didn’t see and I don’t feel like I missed out on anything.  For one thing, it came out 40 years too late to have the relevance it thinks it has.  I still feel last year’s Best Picture win for “12 Years a Slave” was more about guilt than merit.

Boyhood poster“The Theory of Everything” – see “The Imitation Game”

“Whiplash” – The year’s best ending.  It took several hours after seeing the movie to get the “WOW!” out of my head.  ”Whiplash” was exhilarating to the point I almost burst through my skin even before its climactic scene.  Plus, we got to watch and hear great jazz being played throughout and appreciate the musicianship behind it.  I hate to say anything negative about the film but its myopic scope works against it in this category.

WINNER – “Birdman” or “The Grand Budapest Hotel”

 

BEST ACTOR

Steve Carell/”Foxcatcher” – An unquestionably great job playing an extremely unsettling character against type.  His makeup contributed to the performance at least as much as his actual acting.

The Grand Budapest HotelBradley Cooper/”American Sniper” – The best thing about the movie but his character had very little range.  Another instance where the change in an actor’s physical appearance had a lot to do with the impact of his performance.

Benedict Cumberbatch/”The Imitation Game” – A very intense and nuanced performance of a quirky real-life and historically significant guy.  Watching the performance of Derek Jacobi (a great actor I always enjoy watching) playing the same person in the stark production of BBC TV’s 1996 “Breaking the Code” will give you an appreciation for how much Cumberbatch put into his performance.

Michael Keaton/”Birdman” – An explosive performance of a fictional character that Keaton could relate to and it shows.  No prosthetics or physical transformation; what we see is all (possibly too much) Keaton and all great.

The Imitation Game posterEddie Redmayne/”The Theory of Everything” – My opinion is exactly the same as it was in my review: “My Left Foot 2″ and an obvious Oscar-bait vehicle for Redmayne doing a Steven Hawking impression.  Where’s the creativity?  I hope his chiropractor was able to get his spine back into alignment.

WINNER – Michael Keaton

BEST ACTRESS

Marion Cotillard/”Two Days, One Night” – I should leave this one blank because I didn’t see the movie.  She’s always a strong presence and was brilliant in her Oscar-winning performance in Olivier Dahan’s 2007  ”Le Vie en Rose” except she didn’t actually sing.  I forgot she was in this category until just now.  That’s what happens when you star in a film nobody talks about.

SelmaFelicity Jones/”The Theory of Everything” – The movie was based on her character’s book, so her significance might have been played up.  Even then, I didn’t see anything outstanding in her performance and that’s what this award should be about.

Julianne Moore/”Still Alice” – I don’t like to think there’s such a thing as a “body of work” Oscar but the versatile Moore, consistently great for more than 20 years, is long overdue.  As for the performance itself, she was riveting every second she was on screen in a good movie about a topic that strikes a nerve with almost everyone.  I was going to write a review of the movie but Moore WAS the movie (Alec Baldwin’s typically generous support and Kristen Stewart’s brooding performance aside).

Rosamund Pike/”Gone Girl” – Her generation’s Glenn Close in her generation’s “Fatal Attraction”, she had the most to work with in the category and nailed it.  A role any actor would kill for (NPI) in that the character was both evil and crazy.  I wonder how many weddings were postponed or called off as a result of people seeing the movie.

The theory of everything posterReese Witherspoon/”Wild” – In a movie that’s pretty much what you expect it to be (nice nature backdrops, interactions with a series of characters, a new lease on life), Witherspoon did a good job but she’s filler in the category this year.

WINNER – Julianne Moore

ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

Robert Duvall/”The Judge” – Duvall’s a great actor but the movie’s 47% Rotten Tomatoes score precludes me (and, apparently, everyone else) from ever seeing it.  How many people have told you, “Hey, you gotta see ‘The Judge’”?  Exactly.

Ethan Hawke/”Boyhood” – Like I said in my review, it felt like Hawke was dropped into the movie to overdo all his lines then left to do whatever else he had going on.  He rode the film’s wave into this nomination.  I liked him much more in Linklater’s 2001 “Tape.”

Whiplash posterEdward Norton/”Birdman” – A talented and allegedly temperamental actor perfectly fleshes out the character of a talented and temperamental actor.  And he looked like he had fun doing it.  A good year for Norton, who was also in “The Grand Budapest Hotel.”

Mark Ruffalo/”Foxcatcher” – A consistently good actor and he’s good in the movie but this nomination baffles me.  And I saw the movie twice.  Solid performance with little screen time but nothing special.  I wonder how long it took for him to lose the 30 pounds he gained for the role.

J.K. Simmons/”Whiplash” – Possibly the most sure bet of the night.  Even without taking into account his 148 wide-ranging acting credits dating back to 1986, Simmons owned the year’s most likeable movie like he owns this category.

WINNER – J.K. Simmons

81st Academy Awards¨ Press Kit ImagesACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

Patricia Arquette/”Boyhood” – Any actress that allows the camera to watch her naturally mature over 11 years without being remotely self-conscious is pretty brave.  Her upwardly evolving character was the heart of the movie and you felt for her every step of the way.  She couldn’t have done a better job in what may likely be the defining role of her career.

Laura Dern/”Wild” – I like Dern a lot but she didn’t get enough to do in a movie that wasn’t great.  Go back and watch her in Alexander Payne’s 1996 “Citizen Ruth” and in her Oscar-nominated performance in Martha Coolidge’s 1991 “Ramblin’ Rose.”  I hope she wins at some point but it won’t be this year.

Keira Knightley/”The Imitation Game” – The Felicity Jones of this category.  I felt like I was watching Helena Bonham Carter, Jr. and she was good but the role wasn’t really weighty.  Yes, she’s very pretty but that’s not enough.  Knightley is another actor I think may eventually win an Oscar but it won’t be on Arquette’s watch.

Emma Stone/”Birdman” – Stone is always good and her performance here is no exception.  In a great movie full of very good actors, Stone more than held her own.

Meryl Streep/”Into the Woods” – Middling Rotten Tomatoes and IMDB scores and no word of mouth keep me from seeing this movie.  The problem is we expect perfection every time out from Streep.  Never mind that we get it; that’s not the point.  I think it’s safe to say a great performance was wasted on a not-great movie.

WINNER – Patricia Arquette

ANIMATED FEATURE FILM – “The Lego Movie”, the Producer’s Guild Winner, didn’t get an Oscar nomination.  Where was the disconnect?  I didn’t see any of the nominees.

Ida openingCINEMATOGRAPHY

“Birdman”, “The Grand Budapest Hotel”, “Ida”, “Mr. Turner”, “Unbroken”

The camera work on Poland’s Best Foreign Language nominee “Ida” (right) is so fascinating you really savor the lighting and composition of each scene.  Shot in stark black and white and 1.33 : 1 aspect ratio (like a CRT television screen), it makes even bleak and otherwise unwelcoming backdrops look beautiful.  Many scenes were shot with the camera aimed high, in more than a few instances cutting off the faces of the shot’s subjects,which is pretty bold.  With its leisure pacing, “Ida” gives you no option but to take notice of its cinematography.

the grand budapest hotel high shotI didn’t see “Mr. Turner” or “Unbroken” but, with the other two, it’s the lavish, manicured look of “The Grand Budapest Hotel” (left) vs. the inventive and kinetic work and hard-edged look of “Birdman” (below, right).  I like Wes Anderson’s trademark dolly and symmetry shots, and Robert Yeoman pulled out all the stops with both in TGBH.  ”Birdman”‘s Emmanuel Lubezki won last year for “Gravity” so maybe the Academy will spread the wealth this year.  I’d love to see Roger Deakins (“Unbroken”) win because he’s been so great so many times for so long.

BIRDMAN lightsI think one of the higher profile films will win but it’s the look of “Ida” that will stick with me the most.  If all the voters saw it, which is unlikely, it could win.

WINNER – Robert Yeoman/”The Grand Budapest Hotel”

COSTUME DESIGN

“The Grand Budapest Hotel” is only nominee that’s a Best Picture contender.  It’s costuming was varied and there was a lot of it.

WINNER – “The Grand Budapest Hotel”

Oscar-StatuetteDIRECTING

Alejandro G. Iñárritu/”Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”

Richard Linklater/”Boyhood”

Bennett Miller/’Foxcatcher”

Wes Anderson/”The Grand Budapest Hotel”

Morten Tyldum/”The Imitation Game”

WINNER – Like with Best Picture, it’s a coin flip between Iñárritu and Anderson.  I hope the two films split Director and Picture.  A split vote could give it to Linklater. 

Life ItselfDOCUMENTARY FEATURE

In a category with a history of questionable omissions ─ most notably Steve James’ 1994 “Hoop Dreams”, which many thought could have been a Best Picture contender ─ the year’s most high-profile documentary feature, “Life Itself”, about the life and final days of Roger Ebert, is not a nominee.  The same Steve James directed “Life Itself”, which had one of the year’s highest Rotten Tomato scores.  The only documentary feature I saw this year, it was enlightening, a little too revealing, and a tough watch toward the end.   I learned more than I wanted and it couldn’t finish soon enough for me, which I hate to admit.  Maybe it had the same effect on Academy voters.  Still, its omission is baffling and will loom over whoever wins the category this year.  It’s both appropriate and ironic that Ebert was a huge fan of “Hoop Dreams.”  Both he and Gene Siskel thought it was the best film of 1994.

(I originally left out this category because I didn’t see any of the nominees but I wanted to comment on “Life Itself” and its Oscar omission. DPW)

FILM EDITING

“American Sniper”, “Boyhood”, “The Grand Budapest Hotel”, “The Imitation Game”, “Whiplash”

“The Grand Budapest Hotel” had exponentially more work involved than the other movies but the editing of “Whiplash” had us pinned to our seats.  Another tough call.

WINNER – “The Grand Budapest Hotel”

Ida forestFOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM

Of this category’s nominees, I’ve only seen Pawel Pawlikowski’s Polish entry “Ida” (left), whose beauty is in its simplicity and quiet power.  The story of a young nun who searches out her only living relative to find out her family’s history during the Nazi occupation, “Ida” is engaging and authentic from the start.  It takes its time unfolding, almost to the point of being meditative.  If there was an Oscar for best film with the least amount of dialogue, “Ida” would be a lock.

I can’t call this one but I had to comment on “Ida”, which is a surprising and pleasant break from the year’s big films.

The grand budapest hotel tilda swintonMAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING

“Foxcatcher”, “The Grand Budapest Hotel”, “Guardians of the Galaxy”

The makeup on Tilda Swinton in “The Grand Budapest Hotel” (right) made her unrecognizable but I don’t remember much else about the movie’s makeup.  If “Foxcatcher was a better movie (like “The Hours” was for Oscar-winning Nicole Kidman and its Oscar-winning makeup team), it would be a shoo-in.  What the hell.

foxcatcher steve carell noseWINNER – “Foxcatcher” by a nose (Steve Carell, left)

 

MUSIC – ORIGINAL SCORE

“The Grand Budapest Hotel”, “The Imitation Game”, “Interstellar”, “Mr. Turner”, “The Theory of Everything”

I didn’t see “Mr. Turner” but, of the others, I noticed the music for “The Grand Budapest Hotel” the most and it really dictates how you interpret the scenes.

WINNER – “The Grand Budapest Hotel”

Begin Again posterMUSIC – ORIGINAL SONG

I was going to bypass this category then it occurred to me I could find all the songs on Youtube.  Glory and I’m Not Gonna Miss You are good and play strongly on sentiment.  Everything is Awesome is ADD fun and seems like the theme song for a kids show.  Grateful is the weakest entry.  I like Beyond the Stars enough that I’m going to watch “Begin Again”, which features current Oscar nominees Keira Knightley and Mark Ruffalo.  I give big points to actors that actually sing songs and Knightley does a nice job on a song with a great hook.   I’m concerned guilt will make people vote for Glory as a consolation prize.  Objectively speaking, it’s good but much too self-important.  If it wins, expect an angry acceptance speech.

Here are youtube links to each nominated song.  Take the time to check them out.  Adam Levine does a version of Lost Stars and will likely perform it at the Oscars but I prefer Knightley’s version.  The song makes me think of Aimee Mann’s Wise Up from Paul Thomas Anderson’s 1999 “Magnolia” and Glen Hansard’s Oscar-winning Falling Slowly from John Carney’s 2006 “Once.”1

Everything is Awesome from “The Lego Movie” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=StTqXEQ2l-Y

Glory from “Selma” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HUZOKvYcx_o

Grateful from “Beyond the Lights” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lMxL3_P9eNE

I’m Not Gonna Miss You from “Glen Campbell…I’ll Be Me” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U8TsAh-zYFI

Lost Stars from “Begin Again” (performed by Keira Knightley) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sLTRSakuugs

WINNER – Lost Stars

the-grand-budapest-hotel-wes-anderson-2014

PRODUCTION DESIGN

“The Grand Budapest Hotel”, “The Imitation Game”, “Interstellar”, “Into the Woods”, “Mr. Turner”

This category makes me think of the David O. Selznick quote from “The Making of a Legend: Gone with the Wind”:  “If we can’t get artistry and clarity, let’s forget the artistry!”  “Interstellar” had several important moments where I couldn’t tell exactly what I was looking at.  “The Grand Budapest Hotel” (above) was the showiest and most visually impressive of the two other nominees I’ve seen and it wasn’t shy in its use of color.  I liked the design of Christopher, Alan Turing’s code-breaking precursor to the computer.

WINNER – “The Grand Budapest Hotel”

SOUND EDITING

“American Sniper”, “Birdman”, “The Hobbit:  The Battle of the Five Armies”, “Interstellar”, “Unbroken”

I actually thought about sound editing as I was watching “American Sniper.”  With “Birdman” and “Interstellar”, there was too much going on to focus on it.

WINNER – “American Sniper”

SOUND MIXING

“American Sniper”, “Birdman”, “Interstellar”, “Unbroken”, “Whiplash”

Since we couldn’t understand much of the dialogue, the inclusion of “Interstellar” here doesn’t make sense.  I’m narrowing it down to “Birdman” and “Whiplash.”  The musical instruments sounded warm and full and the car crash sounded authentic in “Whiplash”.  If you had to name a defining sound in the year’s movies, it was the lightest tap of a snare drum.  The silence in between those taps seemed interminable.

WINNER – “Whiplash”

VISUAL EFFECTS (I only saw one of the five nominees.)

WRITING – ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

“American Sniper”, “The Imitation Game”, “Inherent Vice”, “The Theory of Everything”, “Whiplash”

I didn’t see Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Inherent Vice”, so I’m going with my gut here.  The device of having the commander order his guys to take apart Turing’s machine to build tension lowered “The Imitation Game” a notch.  It bothered me that much.  I didn’t hang on every word with the other nominees like I did with “Whiplash”, where I found myself trying to hear off-screen and background dialogue.

WINNER – “Whiplash”

WRITING – ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

“Birdman”, “Boyhood”, “Foxcatcher”, “The Grand Budapest Hotel”, “Nightcrawler”

Compelling as it is, “Foxcatcher” doesn’t have much going on.  “Boyhood” was like sticking your nose in your uninteresting neighbor’s business and is less impressive the more time passes.  “Nightcrawler” was just unlikable.  “Birdman” was dense, intense, and fast-moving and it constantly turned on a time.  “The Grand Budapest Hotel” had the broadest scope, the widest range of scenes, and a lot of dialogue.  Ralph Fiennes should have got a Best Actor nomination, although I don’t know who I’d switch him out with.

WINNER – “The Grand Budapest Hotel”

Hope you enjoy the Oscar broadcast and win your Oscar pool.

DPW

February 21, 2015

1 I can’t mention the songs without including links to them.

The Wise Up scene from “Magnolia”:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gC96_vph-oI 

The Falling Slowly scene from “Once”, just so you remember how great the movie and song are:   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VhN5zX4U7oA

I have to mention this somewhere and I guess this is as good a place as any.   I know there has been a lot of talk about racism in Hollywood, especially in regard to the fact that “Selma”, which probably got a Best Picture nomination by the skin of its teeth and possibly even out of guilt, “only” received two nominations (the other being for song).   When someone doesn’t get a nomination in a category, it’s simply because Academy members ─  VOTING AS INDIVIDUALS ─ found at least five (up to ten in the case of Best Picture) other contenders to be better.  It’s no more complicated than that.

The credits for the “Selma” song go to Common and John Legend.  I know John Legend is popular and respected but I’ve never heard anything from him that says he’s anything but the most logical successor to Bobby Short’s gig at the Cafe Carlyle.  Listen to Short sing then listen to a John Legend song.  I’m not talking about presence, I’m talking about the way they both sing.  Here’s a Short performance on youtube:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PzWrXDzjA7Y

About Dan Walker

As part of an Air Force family, I went to elementary school in Great Falls, MT, junior high in Cheyenne, WY and high school and college in the San Francisco Bay Area, graduating from San Francisco State University with a degree in business. I was fortunate to have worked for great companies in Silicon Valley (Oracle Corp) and Hollywood (Miramax Films). I also lived and worked (primarily in financial services, which has no great companies) for eight years in Manhattan, New York City. I now reside in New York's beautiful Hudson Valley.

3 comments on “My Oscar Choices

  1. A very thoughtful and thorough review – I totally enjoyed reading this.

    John

    • I’m glad you guys liked the article and appreciate the compliments but, as we learned from “Whiplash”, my writing will never get better unless you throw a cymbal or chair at my head.

  2. Jeremy Walker on said:

    Glad I waited after the Oscars to read this. You were almost spot on. This was a very good read.

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