Saturday, February 21, 2015

2014 Oscar Predictions, Preferences, and Updated Reflections

One of Mason's formative experiences in Boyhood came in Winter 2003, when he was five, surfing the iMac, trying to figure out if Daniel Day-Lewis or Jack Nicholson was going to win Best Actor.  He found Nick's Flick Picks and saw that Adrien Brody had a real shot.  Why Sandra Adair couldn't include a one-second insert on my website, I can't quite say; it was the last time I was right about a high-profile, difficult-to-call Oscar race, which surely deserves commemorating.  This year's competitions are so inscrutable at so many high altitudes that I'm worried about Mason and me being able to share another moment like that.  But kid, I'm going to try.

Best Documentary Short, Best Animated Short, and Best Live Action Short
Reader, I haven't seen them. If you knew what February is like for college faculty... I want to believe Crisis Hotline, The Bigger Picture, and The Phone Call have the best shots, based on what friends are telling me, but I'm in no position to predict, much less to prefer.
Winners: Crisis Hotline, Feast, and The Phone Call. Two out of three good calls, without even seeing them! Feast's win for Animated Short augured good things to come for the feature it accompanied in theaters. Meanwhile, Neil Patrick Harris made a pretty crass joke at the seeming expense of the Crisis Hotline co-director... who, making matters worse, had just mentioned her son's suicide, moments before the band played her off and he dinged her for her dress.  This unfortunate beat was somewhat emblematic of a weirdly off-key and disappointing performance from our host.

Best Documentary Feature
Will Win: Virunga
Should Win: Citizenfour (of the two I've seen)
Also Nominated: Finding Vivian Maier, Last Days in Vietnam, The Salt of the Earth
Here I feel more shame, since I usually make a point of seeing these even before they get nominated. Last Days of Vietnam is sitting, rented but unwatched, in my Amazon Video Library. Virunga is sitting on Netflix, to which I admittedly don't belong, but I know friends could've hooked me up.  I realize Citizenfour looks like a prohibitive favorite, but Edward Snowden is at least as divisive a figure as Chris Kyle; even his admirers sometimes gripe, fairly or not, that Citizenfour is too close to raw footage, or that its historical importance outstrips its aesthetic achievement.  I wouldn't be surprised to see any of these win, but I think the braided emotional appeals of Virunga (pro-animal, anti-war) might give it an edge.
Winner: Citizenfour. Okay, it's possible I over-thought this. Of all the races, this is the one whose vote totals I would be most curious to see.

Best Makeup & Hairstyling
Will Win: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Should Win: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Also Nominated: Foxcatcher, Guardians of the Galaxy
Another race where I wouldn't be surprised if every nominee had healthy support, but this still looks like an easy get for Budapest.  Every character has a memorable look, from the most ostentatious (Swinton, Ronan) to the relatively subtle (Abraham, Law), and in this crowd it has BPA (Best Picture Advantage).  The Grand Budapest Hotel could easily win more races than any other movie this year.
Winner: The Grand Budapest Hotel. All of Wes Anderson's colleagues seemed genuinely thrilled to thank him. Wonderfully palpable affection.

Best Visual Effects
Will Win: Interst Dawn of th Interstellar
Should Win: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Also Nominated: Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Guardians of the Galaxy, X-Men: Days of Future Past
Still not confident in choosing Nolan's cosmic Gesamtkunstwerk over the mo-cap cast of Apes and the calico spectacular of Guardians of the Galaxy.  They all have their virtues, and they all have significant demerits from a voter's perspective: Interstellar has fewer showstopper effects than Inception and was seen as a slight under-performer at the box office, based on unfair expectations but also its own pre-release braggadocio; Apes may seem to reprise the prior film's innovations without adding enough to them; and Guardians errs on the side of tackiness, in a genre that's not the Academy's thing.  I'm mostly picking Interstellar on the basis of ersatz BPA; at least it's the kind of film that could have been nominated for Best Picture.  And if they'd really loved Apes, wouldn't they have voted for it over Hugo?  Or are they eager to make it up to this crowd?  Does anyone even remember?  Nice to see some good, ambitious films in this mix, but not a banner year in this race.
Winner: Interstellar. Phew!  (From a prediction standpoint, anyway.)

Best Original Song
Will Win: "Glory"
Should Win: "Lost Stars"
Also Nominated: "Everything Is Awesome," "Grateful," "I'm Not Gonna Miss You"
During my podcast with Nathaniel and Joe, I came out for Glen Campbell's song, based on appeal to older voters and the emotional hook of Campbell's fight against Alzheimer's. Then I heard the cut, which I think isn't quite the corker of feeling or songcraft that it might need to be to win. This lures me back to the conventional prognostication of "Glory," but that still doesn't seem safe to me, either. Is it too much to hope that "Lost Stars," which does the richest, most flexible work for its film, might rise to fill the gap?  Selma (two nominations??), Lego (one nomination??), "Grateful" (Diane Warren's 0-5 heading into tonight), and Glen Campbell (legendary performer slipping away) all have extra-curricular reasons for getting behind them, but "Lost Stars," perhaps alone, makes its case principally on melody, lyric, and composition and on its vital narrative import.
Winner: "Glory," which prompted the most moving performance and the gutsiest, most impressive acceptance speech of the night. Once you got over the iffy, potentially self-serving image of Common crossing a replica of the Pettus Bridge as though he were MLK, everything went right.  The song sounded the best it ever has.  And if you want to help address the deep sociopolitical blights that Common and John Legend so trenchantly laid out in their speech (and if you don't, why on earth don't you...), consider getting informed and donating to the NAACP and its Legal Defense and Education Fund or the National Association of Blacks in Criminal Justice or Cure Violence (formerly known as CeaseFire, and the home of the Interrupters) or the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education or Jack and Jill or A Better Chance or the National Black United Fund or the National Urban League or the United Negro College Fund. Because a politically mobilized Oscar show is a terrible thing to waste.

Best Original Score
Will Win: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Should Win: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Also Nominated: The Imitation Game, Interstellar, Mr. Turner, The Theory of Everything
Leave out Mr. Turner and I imagine the other movies might divide the votes more or less evenly. More than that, I'd be happy to see any of these scores awarded, the Mike Leigh movie included. The Theory of Everything has the most precursor support and its music is showcased prominently in the film's end. But I have a hard time thinking Desplat loses again, even if he cuts into his own vote.  He could take it for Budapest or Imitation Game and I'd just be thrilled he finally has one ... as I would have been if he'd been nominated for his great work this year on Godzilla or Venus in Fur.  Maybe he wrote spiffy music for The Monuments Men, too, but I fear I'll never know.
Winner: The Grand Budapest Hotel. I may have woken my neighbor with my shriek of joy. Even fellow nominees Hans Zimmer and Gary Yershon were beaming for Desplat, Oscared at last.

Best Sound Mixing
Will Win: Whiplash
Should Win: American Sniper, close on its heels
Also Nominated: Birdman, Interstellar, Unbroken
Are you getting tired of me saying, in category after category, that four movies have an earnest shot at victory, and all four would be worthy winners, whether or not I loved the films as a whole?  Birdman made the most exciting choices from a mixing perspective, Interstellar the most divisive, Whiplash the most ostentatious. American Sniper to my mind made the strongest and sturdiest: for example, by making every U.S. military vehicle in Iraq sound like a loud, hulking, invasive presence.  I won't be surprised if it winds up in the winner's circle. But I'm guessing a lot of AMPAS members got their first look at Whiplash during the voting period, and I bet a lot of them are flush with first love.  (The fact that Into the Woods missed out here, where musicals often get an easy bye, suggests to me that voter support may be weak for it in other categories.)
Winner: Whiplash. Given what a great night it became for Birdman, the smaller film's victory feels even more impressive here. All signs indicate that the distributor could have eked even more nominations and possibly even more box-office from this film; its fans are even more zealous than those of the other Best Picture contenders. With AMPAS, it out-performed other Sundance champs like Winter's Bone, Beasts of the Southern Wild, and even Precious (if you're purely tallying trophies). Not to cry over spilled milk. No milk spilled, really. This film, whatever I think of it, is a remarkable success story for its very committed makers.

Best Sound Editing
Will Win: American Sniper
Should Win: American Sniper
Also Nominated: Birdman, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Bloat, Interstellar, Unbroken
Birdman could get even more love here with Whiplash out of the way, but I bet American Sniper, like Letters from Iwo Jima before it, reaps its guaranteed "Thanks for coming" citation here, even if it wins nowhere else.  If you think all bullet sounds are the same, then you've obviously never spent an hour picking between "identical" paint colors or pizza toppings.  The ones in Sniper are short, dull, and quick: a key suggestion that the film isn't besotted with glamorizing its own violence, despite what you may have read.
Winner: American Sniper. And as I predicted, that was all she wrote for that film. It'll have to content itself with being the only non-franchise picture since, what, The Sound of Music to make half a billion dollars.

Best Production Design
Will Win: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Should Win: The Grand Budapest Hotel, but it may as well be Mr. Turner
Also Nominated: The Imitation Game, Interstellar, Into the Woods
I thought Interstellar was a strange nomination here, but then on most of the occasions I tried to drum up enthusiasm for its Visual Effects mention, I realized how much credit really belonged here.  Still, I didn't really buy its thinly imagined planets, or its centrifuge-spaceship-laboratory, or its hokey Great Plains-as-America-as-The World earthbound milieu.  The Imitation Game and Into the Woods feel like half-assed nominations here, the kind of thing voters include almost by default. But the Academy could hardly do better than Budapest or Turner, and since they seem like the two to beat, I'm confident of clapping with gusto.
Winner: The Grand Budapest Hotel. A fully gratifying moment on this film's own deliciously designed terms. Even better since Adam "12 Years a Slave" Stockhausen finally copped a prize.

Best Costume Design
Will Win: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Should Win: Inherent Vice, but it may as well be The Grand Budapest Hotel or Mr. Turner
Also Nominated: Into the Woods, Maleficent
I am only giving Vice the edge within my personal preferences because the characters have to mesh as an ensemble while also clashing in their eccentricities, and this particular period and idiom are so seldom attempted. You could at least say the first about Budapest, which also had to imagine a whole kaleidoscope of imaginary Europes and clearly represents a huge achievement from a costuming angle. Even though Mr. Turner has a fairly cohesive historical milieu to approximate, which might make the scale of its invention seem less, the nuanced and character-specific detail in the garments is still so seductive. As long as Colleen Atwood doesn't win for letting Depp talk her into wolf ears on a top hat, I'm good.  (I wasn't a fan of most of the costumes in Maleficent, either, but I don't feel too nervous on that front.)
Winner: The Grand Budapest Hotel. Milena Canonero, another proud comrade of Wes Anderson, touchingly thanked him for every film they've worked on together, listing them by title. Never have I felt so warm at the mention of The Darjeeling Limited!  Nor will I again.

Best Supporting Actor
Will Win: J.K. Simmons
Should Win: Ethan Hawke
Also Nominated: Robert Duvall, Edward Norton, Mark Ruffalo
I will never understand how Boyhood became the Sideways-style pet of almost every critics' group, yet nobody could find room to salute its best single element. Hawke's performance gives the movie the narrative and emotional tension it could really use: he keeps you guessing if he's a solid or worrisome influence on his kids, and what exactly to make of his second marriage, and whether Olivia ought to be pining for his return. He also sells the film's semi-improvised dialogue better than anyone else, in gem scenes like the one where he pulls the car over and demands that his kids be more forthcoming with him (in ways he refuses to be himself). But not only has Simmons held this race in his ferocious grip for the last two months, but Norton and Ruffalo were consistently the silver and bronze medalists in major critics' societies' balloting. Hawke barely seems desirous of awards-driven attention anyway, so I doubt he minds. But reader, I mind.
Winner: J.K. Simmons. I've already called my dad.

Best Supporting Actress
Will Win: Patricia Arquette
Should Win: Keira Knightley
Also Nominated: Laura Dern, Emma Stone, Meryl Streep
I have Octavia Spencer feelings about Patricia Arquette. I, too, think she seems like a funky, cool, resilient spirit. I, too, am glad to see a trouper-for-decades inherit such a limelight moment. I, too, think she furnishes the film some good moments.  Do I think another actress could have made similar choices, given the same material—maybe even richer ones? Yes. Am I a bit flabbergasted by the unchallenged procession to the dais? Sure. Do I imagine folks would say the same thing back to me about my own favorite in this category, Keira Knightley? Yes. I've heard her role as Joan Clarke and even the performance itself described as "rote." In truth, I don't feel bowled over at Oscar levels by any of these contenders.  I'd have loved to give the Academy Marisa Tomei's phone number (which they should already have), or Emily Blunt's, or Heather Lawless's, or Gaby Hoffmann's, or Agata Kulesza's, or Kristen Stewart's, or Elisabeth Moss's, or Regina Hall's, or Laura Dern's for a different movie. But I was extremely grateful to Keira for livening up The Imitation Game with some of its only moments that didn't suggest actors putting over a scripted scene, in a self-consciously reverent way. She cut through the film's Time-Life earnestness with wit, color, and concision, without seeming flippant about the film's chosen idiom or out of faith with its projects.  And she said that horrible line.  That's supporting actressing, if you ask me.
Winner: Patricia Arquette. Equal pay for equal work, people! I loved the fired-up climax of her speech, especially since it expressed not only Patricia, but the mostly-unvented rage of the character she played, not previously released in any previous speech.  If you care about equal pay for equal work (and if you don't, why on earth don't you?...) or about Arquette's ongoing work in Haiti, please consider donating here or here.  And, at least for the time being, enjoy this corker of a backstage press conference.

Best Animated Feature
Will Win: How to Train Your Dragon 2
Should Win: Big Hero 6, but The Tale of the Princess Kaguya is really sensational
Also Nominated: The Boxtrolls, Song of the Sea
I was so impressed by Kaguya, and frequently moved by it.  I was so moved and delighted by Big Hero 6, and frequently impressed by it.  Hard to call a race like that, but I'll give Hero the edge for the richer reservoir of feeling, for being more economical, for blending visual and cultural idioms in an exciting way, and for furnishing such a nice morning out with my brother and sister-in-law.  (And now I sound like a voter in The Hollywood Reporter.)  As for who will win, Dragon has picked up all the important precursors, including the Globe and a landslide of prizes from the Annie Awards.  As fond as I was of the first How to Train Your Dragon, I just didn't feel transported by the sequel: an impressive producer's feat, but the energy, the politics, and the storytelling rhythms all felt wobbly to me. Given its recent track record, I guess it's in pole position, but the whole, eclectic category is worth checking out.  Even the movies I felt colder toward are unique achievements—and I include the un-nominated Lego Movie, which I liked even less than Dragon 2, but I admire what it was going for and can appreciate the craft involved. Great year for this sometimes scraggly category.
Winner: Big Hero 6!!!. Baymax and I were way into it.

Best Adapted Screenplay
Will Win: The Imitation Game
Should Win: American Sniper or Inherent Vice, for different reasons
Also Nominated: The Theory of Everything, Whiplash
Whiplash is the potential spoiler here, and given that I like the movie almost exactly as much as I like The Imitation Game (which is to say, I dislike them equally), it's amazing how much I'm pulling for Chazelle to win this.  Maybe because the screenplay embodies most of what's fusty, mealy-mouthed, and deceitful about Imitation Game, whereas to my eyes, Chazelle's pummeling direction of Whiplash coarsens what's at least guardedly promising in his script.  I still expect the Turing pic to win.  The upside to all that is that even my favorites are hardly causes célèbres. Sniper has some hoary conceits and some hackneyed dialogue, despite its solid structure, its impressive narrative velocity, and its cunning ways of undermining or at least complicating the canonization of Kyle that seems on the surface like its principal goal. Vice was risky, dense, idiosyncratic, and ambitious in its choice of material.  I just wish I had understood what was happening, or cared.  But I could imagine coming around later.
Winner: The Imitation Game. Moore reached out, sincerely and valuably, to depressed or misfit kids in distress. And I love a year where every Best Picture nominee comes home with something, which hasn't happened since the category expanded. And that's awl I have tuh say about thayut.

Best Original Screenplay
Will Win: Birdman, having previously called this for The Grand Budapest Hotel
Should Win: Birdman
Also Nominated: Boyhood, FoxcatcherNightcrawler
Put the scripts for Foxcatcher and Nightcrawler alongside the bulk of Hollywood screenplays and their nerviest passages and fiercest confrontations with sad, weighty themes feel duly impressive. Place them alongside the kinds of scripts I like to see honored at Oscar time and they feel somewhat high-handed in their aspirations to tragedy, with not much original to say about Class and Media as motors and venues for the soul's corruption. I admire the other three more, even as they all have problems with consistency, both in cadence and in insight.  Birdman dreams up a rich, punchy conceit that illuminates individual and industrial psychology in ways I found revealing and entertaining. Even the beats that seem most "obvious" reveal important layers and, at times, directly opposed readings, courtesy of the multiple layers of narcissism, subjectivity, and psychosis through which the action unfolds.  (Maybe, for instance, the daughter's diatribe and the critic's evisceration seem on-the-nose, but as filtered through the structural conceit that everything we see and hear is routed through Riggan's perspective, we realize with some shock what specific, elaborated, blood-drawing takedowns of himself he has composed and placed into other people's mouths.)  Boyhood's and Budapest's scripts both have bright spots and blatant stumbles.  Birdman's is the only one whose stumbles wind up seeming more interesting the more you think about them, and sometimes like closet virtues.  To me, that's worth rewarding, but I wouldn't feel too snitty about any of this trio winning.
Winner: Birdman. Joe's mood darkened at this point, but he hung in there.  I can only assume that Twitter's crashed and burned. Suffice it to say, I was happy for these guys and still am.

Best Foreign Language Film
Will Win: Ida
Should Win: Timbuktu
Also Nominated: Leviathan, Tangerines, Wild Tales
I have no reason to assume the folks who nominated Timbuktu don't like the same things about it that I do: the intriguingly halting story rhythms, the refusal to foreground emotion over sociology and circumstance, the way of telling a story that feels enigmatic and uncommonly direct at once.  But somehow it feels like just getting the nomination will have to be enough for this gorgeous but tough West African fable. "Gorgeous but tough" sums up Ida and Leviathan pretty well, too.  I've liked Ida twice now; if I have any complaint, it's that the second viewing didn't yield up much that the first hadn't already suggested, in its quiet and rigorous way.  If I have a complaint about Leviathan, it's that the second half didn't yield up much that the first hadn't more or less established. Wild Tales, at least, is all about surprise, and if you're tapped out on one episode, there's another coming, culminating in the final barnburner at the wedding reception.  Voters seeking a Pulp Fiction-y breath of fresh air could easily rally behind this one, though remember that Pulp Fiction itself wasn't their choice in any category but one. I'm not counting Leviathan out, either, but Ida has had the highest profile for nearly a year, and plays to a lot of established Academy tastes without pandering to them.
Winner: Ida. Delighted, surprised director Pawel Pawlikowski managed to be debonair, articulate, funny, and very moving, and staunchly kept talking over the band. It was hardly a long speech, so I'm even gladder he stuck to his guns. An early peak of the telecast.

Best Film Editing
Will Win: Whiplash
Should Win: American Sniper
Also Nominated: Boyhood, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Imitation Game
Weaving together a series of collectively-authored impressions from life, tilting among drama, comedy, and documentary, and making them work as a whole. Shuttling back and forth among backstory and framestory while ratcheting up suspense in the main narrative. Sustaining clarity and humor in a Rube Goldberg narrative with dozens of moving parts, while releasing the sadness beneath it in subtle, concentrated bursts.  Lending tension and psychological interest to a potentially clichéd two-hander, and keeping an eye on the other, quieter characters whom the script keeps pushing to the margins.  Structuring the story of Sergeant York as though it were The Pianist, such that the superficially triumphant figure at its center feels palpably gutted and panicked as the story continues, with some reckoning surely looming on the horizon at home, or in battle, or both. These are five spectacular challenges for a film editor; even if American Sniper is by far my preferred choice in this roster, I tip my hat to the contributions, creativities, and occasional acts of rescue that every editor or team of editors demonstrated in relation to their story material. (Yes, I'm trying to be nice about The Imitation Game, since it's not like William Goldenberg wrote the script. Then again, his repeated cuts to boilerplate WWII stock footage did not allay my concerns that the movie was either terrified of or stupefied by its most specific content, and much too eager to take shape as a generic story of wartime triumph. But wait, I meant to be paying compliments!)
Winner: Whiplash. I should have said before, Damien Chazelle's colleagues are, if anything, even more smitten with him and respectful of him than Wes Anderson's. Lovely to see, especially from relative newcomers.

Best Cinematography
Will Win: Birdman
Should Win: Mr. Turner
Also Nominated: The Grand Budapest Hotel, Ida, Unbroken
As I said on Nathaniel's podcast, an actor that had to perform in three different languages over the course of one film would have a fast-track to a win. As I told my film group in Chicago, a song that had to blend the aesthetics of 30s pop, 60s pop, and 80s pop into a contemporary package that still "played" to modern audiences and carried a consistent, complex melody would win every Grammy in sight. That's sort of what Robert Yeoman achieves working in three different aspect ratios across The Grand Budapest Hotel, without making you feel like you're watching a schizophrenic gallery piece. The theatrical accents of his lighting, both fond and haunted; the almost disconcertingly cool shimmer of silver refrigerating the deep pain in Ida; the deliberately Turner-ish light sources and palettes of Mr. Turner, increasingly ghosted by other aesthetics as the painter's style changes and goes out of fashion... This category brims with major accomplishments, to include as well Birdman's certain-to-win cinematography, even beyond its ingenious camera operating.  That the camera can traverse such different spaces with such distinctive lighting regimens without ever seeming to get stuck under strange shadows or to navigate awkward transitions is an amazing feat. Equally inspired is how Lubezki films episodes like Emma Stone's tirade through that subtly fish-eyed lens, reminding us that this, too, is a scene of heightened reality, even as the script and performance suggest that the whole point of the scene is to emit straight, unvarnished truth, until we finally tilt down to the dead giveaway of the rotating cigarette lighter. Four super accomplishments that are nearly neck-and-neck-and-neck-and-neck in my mind, and four out of five ain't bad, at all.
Winner: Birdman. Often it's awkward when a presenter has a clear loyalty to one of the nominees, especially when they lose. But occasionally it's glorious, as when a beaming Jessica Chastain announced, "Chiiiivo!!!"

Best Actor
Will Win: Eddie Redmayne
Should Win: Bradley Cooper
Also Nominated: Steve Carell, Benedict Cumberbatch, Michael Keaton
Cooper is handily my favorite here, playing the character most riven with contradictions, yet acting with the least fuss.  He has the fewest opportunities to externalize or even verbalize Chris's emotions, frequently signaling rock-bottom moments through simple declarative sentences and precisely gauged shifts in comportment or tone. He's like a walking sarcophagus for his own buried feelings and inarticulate anguish, honest by nature but an Olympic-class deflector of questions and compliments. I could say more, as I could about any of these nominees. Keaton and Carell would be my choices in many years, and Redmayne and Cumberbatch are both splendid assets to their films, reliably making their scripts and stylistic choices more interesting. Redmayne paints a rich and legible emotional life for Hawking; Cumberbatch guarantees that Imitation Game works as a story about how sometimes a real a-hole can be a national hero, even as the script blocks him from exploring other aspects of the character, like his machinic intelligence or his sexual impulses.  I join many others in lamenting that AMPAS's predilection for biopics only seems to get stronger.  That an under-acknowledged pro like Keaton could headline an improbable and money-making Best Picture frontrunner with a Globe-winning dramedic star turn, showing an absolute lack of vanity but also a crucial warmth, in a story that's tempting to read as a warts-and-all gloss on his own biography and star-text, and resurrect his public career after more than a decade out of the spotlight, and still not win, because a Brit played a famous person so convincingly? That's a state of affairs even more surprising than it is sad. But that shouldn't distract us from just how good Redmayne is, and from everything he achieves in Theory beyond mere verisimilitude, and just how thoroughbred this whole stable is.
Winner: Eddie Redmayne. His twitchy, mid-speech conniption of joy was just delicious. Anyone who felt a pang for Michael Keaton hopefully relished the moment when González Iñárritu ceded him the mic at the end of the telecast.

Best Director
Will Win: Richard Linklater
Should Win: Alejandro González Iñárritu
Also Nominated: Wes Anderson, Bennett Miller, Morten Tyldum
Tyldum is this year's Peter Cattaneo, heading quickly, I'd wager, into "Who Was That?" territory. Wes Anderson is the Gus Van Sant, at long last nominated for his biggest moneymaker, though Budapest extends and arguably deepens his trademark rather than veiling or rerouting it as Good Will Hunting did. Miller is the Atom Egoyan, lucky to be here for a heavy-weather drama that moved a lot of people.  Especially after studying some Foxcatcher scenes closely, I appreciate the craft more, but the broad strokes still feel so broad. For a director often maligned for having no authorial fingerprint, he sure applies a thumbscrew to this one, blaring the script's unearned pretensions to Great American Tragedy from the earliest frames and never letting the movie come up for air. I know many people feel that at least as strongly about how González Iñárritu handles Birdman, but to me the style of that one syncs so much more closely with the hubris and hail-mary risktaking that Birdman is about, without locking you into predetermined feelings about the characters.  Birdman wouldn't mean as much, wouldn't ironize and hyperbolize its own themes so brilliantly, if González Iñárritu hadn't choreographed it so ambitiously and executed it so thrillingly.  I guess he's the James Cameron, enraging as many people as he invigorates, but seriously, just you try making this as well as he did.  That leaves Linklater, and even though I was predicting a different outcome just 12 hours ago, I think AMPAS will see Director as the place to honor the personal vision and sustained passion that yielded Boyhood, even if they flock elsewhere for Best Picture (and they might not).  He directs with too light a touch to recall the Hanson of L.A. Confidential. But he is, like Hanson, the friendly gentleman, the insider-outsider, the soft-spoken conduit for cinephilia, and the unambiguous critics' darling.  None of that got Hanson out from beneath Titanic's hull, but I think Linklater might escape the big bird's shadow.
Winner: Alejandro González Iñárritu. I'm thrilled for him. Fine, he's not to everybody's taste. Babel wasn't really my thing, and 21 Grams even less so. But the director of Amores perros would always have an inexhaustible fund of good will in my book, and with Biutiful and Birdman and his segment of 11'09"01, I see a guy who really swings to the fences. When he connects, he really connects. I understand this is exactly what some folks don't like about him, but I appreciated his speech and value his artistry. The three-way hug he shared with Linklater and Miller on the way to the stage was a nice moment.

Best Picture
Will Win: Boyhood or Birdman or Boyhood or Birdman, depending on the minute... okay, Boyhood
Should Win: American Sniper or Selma, depending on the hour
Also Nominated: The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Imitation Game, The Theory of Everything, Whiplash
Any combination of Birdman and Boyhood makes sense to me for the "top two" prizes of Picture and Directing, with the two films splitting, or with either film sweeping.  I've waffled all month. The fact that I'm now sticking with Boyhood has as much to do with the runner-ups as with the too-close-to-call race between the leaders. I think Whiplash and Sniper have probably gained the most ground since the nominations were announced. They strike me as appealing to Birdman fans more than Boyhood partisans, and maybe even splitting the vote on phallic self-assertion and macho neurosis, but their votes wouldn't shift to Birdman until well into the tabulating process, because I'm guessing they've each attracted a healthy stack of #1 placements. The Grand Budapest Hotel (despite its large nomination haul), Selma, and The Theory of Everything seem like the last-place finishers, meaning that ballots listing them at #1 will get reclassified in support of whatever the same voters had at #2. I'd expect strong susceptibilities to Boyhood from any voter whose first hunch was to vote for another American indie auteur who obsesses over pet projects, or another American portrait of life as something much bigger than the individual at its center, or the more soft-spoken and family-driven of the two British imports.  Math seems to favor Boyhood in these scenarios, but so does emotion. Birdman is harshly polarizing, and even people who love it now may have turned on it by 2016. Boyhood elicits more intimate identification and support, just as Million Dollar Baby and The Hurt Locker and The Artist and 12 Years a Slave did, all over more flagrantly "spectacular" competition.  Everyone's expecting a close race that could go either way—but, for the first time since Wendy Davis, I'm standing by the Texan. Meanwhile, I'm still rooting for Selma or Sniper, the movies our media keep describing as diametric opposites. I see instead two gutsy characterizations of paradoxical figures and of the strange, destabilized times that produced them, launching them into noble and ignoble crusades, neither of which Americans have bothered to understand very well.  These movies demand that we look, argue, and learn.
Winner: Birdman, ending my night of 19/24 correct guesses. When my third-favorite contender is as wonderful as this movie is, and then it wins, we're talking about a really great Oscars. I get in lots of snits about movies that many people think I'm criticizing too harshly or taking too personally, including friends and regular readers. I totally get it. I can only say that it makes perfect sense to me that Birdman would be polarizing but am nonetheless flummoxed by the vitriol it inspires among detractors.  If I'm being honest, most "takedowns" I've read seem awfully willing to omit strong implications of the camera's heightened and subjective orientation, or to take for granted that Birdman is besotted with Riggan, or that we're meant to discount the other characters' critiques, or that the film needs to be clearer about the cogency or wretchedness of his play.  None of that washes with me.  Furthermore, I cannot imagine a convincing analysis of Hollywood or of the Oscars where Birdman, of all things, represents the villain.  Movie sites and social media were already flooded with such position-taking even before it pipped the much-beloved Boyhood for these top prizes, which is why I've stayed out of my Twitter timeline and mostly off the web for the past day.  In Valerie Cherish voice, "I don't need to read that!" Sketchy hosting aside, I thought the Oscar show was pretty super this year—spreading the wealth, honoring several films and artists that went out on several limbs, and launching more political statements from the winners than we usually hear, which is part of why Harris's pun-laden and self-regarding schtick felt quickly and increasingly incongruous.  But that's my only real complaint about an evening I really savored. I'm happily preserving that feeling, even if it means reading nobody else's thoughts.  In this, I guess, I'm as self-indulgent and narcissistic as Riggan.  Mostly I just rewatch and rewatch the moment when...

Best Actress
Will Win: Julianne Moore
Should Win: Marion Cotillard
Also Nominated: Felicity Jones, Rosamund Pike, Reese Witherspoon
Of course, we all know on this site that Best Picture and Best Director are not the two biggest prizes. And as much as I'd be likely to "X" the spot next to Marion Cotillard's name on a ballot, I am living for tomorrow to watch Julianne Moore finally become an Oscar winner.  She'd be the second woman in her 50s ever to win in this category, which favors old-timers and ingenues.  She was the leading practitioner of stylized performance for at least ten years of American cinema, but has recently figured out how to occupy the screen with a more casual, quotidian mien and still elicit fascination.  She is seemingly the nicest woman in Hollywood, who won't even admit to Andy Cohen who, among the four actresses who beat her for Oscars, was the most difficult to lose to. (Nicole Kidman, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Hilary Swank, or Kim Basinger... wait, I think I've got this.) And she's a woman taking pains to celebrate the accomplishment of every other artist and, in particular, every other woman who joined forces to make Still Alice, the kind of movie that not only wouldn't get nominated for anything if it weren't for this category, but probably wouldn't get released or even produced if it weren't for this category, giving folks a reason to greenlight it and hope for the best.  This is that best.  A vote for Still Alice (a film I admittedly feel mixed about) is a vote for more stories about "everyday" women to whom 40 now seems young but to whom 60 still sounds old.  I know and love a lot of those women but barely ever meet them in movies.  And a vote for Still Alice is a vote to honor the best un-Oscared actress currently working. Habemus Julianne!!
Winner: Heaven. The elation in the room. The joyful and nearly-tearful euphoria as she faced the audience. The opening joke. The tactful but forward address to her directors' challenging circumstances, and to women and men with Alzheimer's. The closing thought to her family: "Thank you for my life. Thank you for giving me a home." The sight of Julianne Moore with an Oscar. Her Oscar!  Not far from heaven. Not close to heaven. Actual heaven.

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Anonymous Tony said...

THANK YOU for the Heather Lawless mention. Her Goodbye to All That performance easily makes my personal ballot.

Also agreed that Laura Dern's superior 2014 performance came for The Fault in Our Stars.

9:56 AM, February 22, 2015  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

But wait, that's it for Best Actress? No suggestions of who they should've nominated instead, no personal thoughts on the other 4 nominees' performances? Say it ain't so! We want more!

1:01 PM, February 22, 2015  
Anonymous Peter said...

Who would you have nominated in the acting categories? Very curious to here best actress especially since you don't seem particularly taken with this field.

1:11 PM, February 22, 2015  
Anonymous Chloe said...

Lovely thoughts about Julianne, thank you

9:58 PM, February 22, 2015  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

@Tony: Any fan of that performance is a friend of mine!

@Anonymous: All in good time. :)

@Peter: That's coming up, too!

@Chloe: Happy to oblige! Especially in that case. Thanks for the nice compliment.

10:24 PM, February 23, 2015  
Blogger Tim said...

I hope, with all my heart, that you have continued to not read things about the ceremony or the fallout or what have you. Because all I get from this post is the optimism, love, and enthusiasm of a true honest to God cinephile and Oscar fan who has found the best marriage of those two impulses. It is genuinely uplifting to read your thoughts about even the films I know you to have hated the most.

Meanwhile the online response has been just so unrelentingly sour. So please, please don't rush in coming back down to earth.

11:47 PM, February 23, 2015  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

@Tim: Oh, no worries. None. Though this comment was all the incentive I needed to make an exception for you! And I jumped over to The Film Experience earlier today, feeling confident that Nathaniel would post a freestanding valentine to Julianne's win. As, of course, he had. xx

12:28 AM, February 24, 2015  
Blogger Tim said...

I do not entirely exempt myself from the charge of sourness.

12:34 AM, February 24, 2015  
Anonymous BVR said...

I never thought I would cry for someone finally winning an Oscar, but I did. I was so happy for Juli. I know this had been all sewn up since October but I was grabbing on to my seat until her name was finally called. I really couldn't believe it. No other actress has meant so much to me, has inspired me, and moved me quite as much as Moore has with such a rich and diverse range of role. Such a beautiful actor and human being. (I also cried because the holy trinity of "The Hours" is completely Oscared at last).

12:45 AM, February 24, 2015  
Anonymous Laika said...

Thank you for what you wrote about Birdman. The backlash to that film has been out of all proportion. Like you, I would have ranked it around third over all, but it's been rendered such a suspect object (right down to its concealed edits!) that I have trouble remembering the unfiltered enthusiasm I initially had for it. To talk about it is to have to defend it from charges of Hollywood narcissism, self-indulgence, intellectual dishonesty, hating its audience, pretentiousness, perniciousness, etc. Its refreshing to be reminded that it is a genuinely complex (and fun!) object that makes a very poor antagonist in the conflicts it has been dragooned into, and that all the talk doesn't make it otherwise.

7:24 AM, February 24, 2015  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

@Tim: Nor do I! I'm aware of going after the Birdman detractors without being willing to read any more of their pieces. Not a position of perfectly good faith. But you're only further convincing me it's the right way to go at this point. I've heard enough.

@BVR: Amen to all of that. Literally amen. A religious experience.

@Laika: That means even more coming from you, since you are such a reliable voice of level-headed insight, and willing to point out when I'm overstepping. Glad to feel in sync with you on this point. I already consume less Oscar- and movie-related journalism than most Oscar nuts, and I'm wondering if I'll need to pull back even further. I had such a great time this year, and I gather that would have been hard to preserve with a fuller immersion in the discourse. Unexpected virtues of ignorance, etc.

7:56 AM, February 24, 2015  
Anonymous Jonathan said...

Any awards show that provides these two images is A-OK in my book, iffy presenting/massive bloat aside.

And when Big Hero 6 of all things, is the biggest - delightful - surprise of the night, that's certainly a sign of a good ceremony too. Positive spirits, and all that.

I also reeeeeeeally want a Baymax, be it a real one or a plush toy. I imagine I'd get a number of weird looks purchasing one at the Disney Store, though...

9:45 AM, February 24, 2015  
Anonymous zig said...

Nick, your comment about vote totals in Documentary got me thinking about vote totals of Oscar races from decades past. Do you happen to know if those will always be held in secret? I have a vague recall about results being revealed 50 years post-ceremony. But maybe I'm confusing the Nobel lit prize with my curiosity about just how close Hope Emerson might have been way back when...

2:31 PM, February 26, 2015  

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