Oscar Predictions: Final Round - Will Win/Should Win

Birdman should win Best Picture, but will it?
Only a year ago I wrote called the Best Picture race “the closest and most exciting race I’ve seen in years.” Well, if the showdown between 12 Years a Slave and Gravity was intense, then awards junkies need a heavy dose of horse tranquilizers as they wait to see if Boyhood or Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) comes out on top. It’s the one year where I honestly wouldn’t be willing to place money on Best Picture, since this Sunday’s Oscar ceremony ends the most dynamic and unpredictable awards season ever. It’s bound to end on a high note, too, since Boyhood and Birdman are both groundbreaking and audacious feats for independent films. Anyone who complains about either film winning deserves another fifty years of Marvel movies.

It’s been extraordinarily difficult to keep up with Oscars this year. I wasn’t able to see all the nominees (as opposed to everything but a few shorts and a foreign contender last year) and I didn’t even have a chance to do the “Oscar bridesmaids” piece with a shout out to Julianne Moore and annual will-they-ever-wins for nominees Roger Deakins (Unbroken) and Alexandre Desplat (The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Imitation Game). I'll try to catch at least Leviathan or a few more shorts if time permits. But there’s been so much to see and so much to cover that we should just get down to business.


The “Snubs”

Let’s acknowledge this from the outset: I love Selma, I think that Ava DuVernay is enormously talented, and is more worthy than at least two of the nominated directors (Miller and Tyldum) and, while I honestly don't think their is a conscious effort to exclude visible minorities or women from the awards pool, there is an implicit prejudice to her absence. Case in point: Selma's 'snub', in my opinion, largely results from coming to the game way too late for an independent film that needs considerable critical and public support for voters to scramble and see it and the last second; however, Paramount, Selma's distributor, faced a similar scenario with the late-to-the-party Wolf of Wall Street, which, like Selma, simply wasn't complete in time for some of the early voting bodies to see it. (And I honestly that Paramount, which was clearly banking on Interstellar, didn't quite know what they had until Selma screened as an unfinished cut at AFI the same week that Interstellar was off to a shaky start at the box office.) The difference is that Wolf got five nominations because either a) it's the better film or b) voters will run out to see the new Martin Scorsese movie, but they won't exert themselves to see an acclaimed film by a forty-two-year-old black woman. While Selma still has a Best Picture nomination and a likely win for Best Song, it I feel that the film should have received at least one more nomination, for David Oyelowo.

However, the omission of Jake Gyllenhaal is more surprising and notable because he was a larger presence throughout the season since Nightcrawler premiered at TIFF to electric buzz and strong word of mouth, and went on to earn nominations from the Golden Globes, SAG, BAFTA, Critics Choice and more. Gyllenhaal’s absence shows that 2014 was a close and competitive year, but there are bigger snubs amongst the nominees than Selma. Pretty much every acting nominee deserves to be there this year. How does one make a case against any of them?
Where is Wild?
And if we’re talking snubs, then where is Gone Girl? This film should have more representation across the board since it’s a commercial and critical hit—a bold film that was widely seen and hotly debated (for the better)—and it should have earned more nominations (most significantly Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Film Editing, and Best Score) given that it was one of the few major studio hits in competition. Similarly, Wild’s bizarre absence compared to Jean-Marc Vallee’s Dallas Buyers Club is a curious and disappointing reminder that well-made female driven films can find an audience (it made more money than DBC and several Best Picture nominees) but struggle to find favour with the Academy.


Best Picture

The race comes down to a final question: does one judge this contest with the heart or with the head? Birdman, on paper, checks all the key points to make Best Picture history. On one level, Birdman follows the trend that Oscar voters have shown favour to movies about show business in two of the past three years (re: Argo and The Artist). This maverick satire takes aim at the unending bastardization of the industry into superhero movies and comic book flicks, and Birdman firmly emphasizes that film can be art as well as spectacular entertainment. I think most filmmakers and film lovers can see some aspect of themselves in the film, and they’ll appreciate the technical and artistic complexity of the film even if they don’t “get it.” 

Birdman also has the industry on its side more strongly than Boyhood does, with wins from the Producers Guild (which is the only other group to employ the same preferential ballot as the Academy), Directors Guild, Screen Actors Guild, American Society of Cinematographers, Art Directors Guild, and the Cinema Audio Society. Add two Golden Globes and the fact that Birdman wasn’t eligible at the Writers Guild of America awards (which Boyhood lost), and it has all the right ingredients for a logical Best Picture coup. But, here’s the thing: Birdman hasn’t actually won a single major Best Picture prize outside of the Producers Guild award and a few regional critics groups. All the above awards are for its bravura direction, technical work, acting, and writing. Is Birdman therefore the industry favourite in parts or as a whole?
Then there’s Boyhood, which makes the best emotional appeal to voters and filmgoers. Richard Linklater and company committed twelve years to this project, and the evolution of the actors over time works beautifully. It’s more than just a gimmick: it’s a meditation on the fleeting nature of time, how we grow up so fast under our parents’ care, and learn and evolve from one year to the next. Birdman dazzles with its technical force, but the time lapse of Boyhood itself poses a technical feat. As one of the annual Brutally Honest Oscar Voters put to Scott Feinberg in the Hollywood Reporter, “With Boyhood you couldn’t take footage from one period and shove it into the other to cover a mistake. I mean, what a hard movie.” No reshoots on this one, just as every one of Birdman’s ambitious long takes needs to be exact and precise for the whole coup to work.

Boyhood feels like it comes from the heart of American independent cinema: isn’t this exactly the kind of project to which film school kids aspire? Then why hasn’t the industry embraced it as warmly and resoundingly as the critics have? Boyhood boasts major wins from the Golden Globes and the Critics’ Choice Awards, yes, but those voting bodies are writers and reviewers and have zero overlap with the Academy. Logically, the losses for Boyhood at the Producers and Directors Guilds are significant, but there is still the “twelve year thing” and that counts for something.
The Grand Budapest Hotel
I think we can look at Boyhood and Birdman by taking a cue from the 2004 Oscar race in which Sideways was the overwhelming critical favourite and Golden Globe winner, but lost to Million Dollar Baby, which was the underdog of the award season until it punched through the industry gongs on the way to Oscars; similarly, the infamous about face for The Social Network after winning the Globes and Critics Choice and most critical gongs, in favour of guild favourite The King's Speech, is a useful precedent. The new ballot, moreover, probably favours the ’man over the Boy. Birdman seems more likely than Boyhood to amass votes as the Best Picture ballot whittles out the long shots and votes move down the ballot until one film collects fifty percent: it has more support across the Academy and, in keeping with the general feel of the year, it has more wide appeal than Boyhood, which will probably lead the round of #1 votes. (Sorry Theory of Everything, Selma, Whiplash, and American Sniper, you don’t have a chance.) The dark horse, I think, stands to be The Grand Budapest Hotel, which has hung onto the race remarkably well since opening the same week the Oscars were handed out last year. Everyone loves it, it’s an admirable feat of both craftsmanship and storytelling, it’s still picking up steam (five BAFTA wins!), and is too irresistible to be on the bottom of anyone’s ballot.  Budapest will likely lead the awards tally heading into Best Picture with four wins (maybe five since Best Original Screenplay could go either way between it and Birdman) and keep us in suspense.

It will be very close, but I think the night will end with one of two scenarios: Birdman picks up Best Picture in addition to Screenplay, Cinematography, and (maybe) Sound Mixing, or Boyhood takes it after scooping Best Director, Supporting Actress, and Film Editing.

Will win: Birdman
I’d vote for: since this is a ranked ballot, my votes go as follows: 
1) Birdman 2) The Grand Budapest Hotel 3) Selma 4) Boyhood 5) The Imitation Game  
 (you don't have to include everything, so I'd omit Theory, Whiplash, and Sniper... this just means that my ballot is void if all the films I listed are eliminated.)
Shoulda been there: Wild, A Most Violent Year, Gone Girl

Richard Linklater, Boyhood

Best Director

The nominees: Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Birdman; Richard Linklater, Boyhood; Bennett Miller, Foxcatcher; Wes Anderson, The Grand Budapest Hotel; Morten Tyldum, The Imitation Game.

This race follows all the arguments listed above, so, while it's stupid to try and predict a split, I think we’ll see the heart trump the head in this case since Boyhood is, above all, a shrewd feat of artistic vision. (As is Birdman!) The race being as close as it is, though, I think that Boyhood’s slight lead in the first round votes will correspond to a majority’s share of votes in the single vote picks of the Best Director ballots. It takes confidence and vision to carry a film through twelve years, although Iñárritu boasts a very good chance of trumping Linklater in this case due to the obvious demands of directing the demanding long takes in sync with the actors and the camera and since he has the Directors Guild behind him. This prize has only mismatched the Oscar three times since 2000—Ben Affleck for Argo, Rob Marshall for Chicago, and Ang Lee for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon—but this year is defying all the stats. I think this category is the hardest call of the night!

★Will win: Richard Linklater, Boyhood
★I’d vote for: Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Birdman
★Shoulda been there: Jean-Marc Vallée, Wild; J.C. Chandor, A Most Violent Year

Julianne Moore in Still Alice

Best Actress

The nominees: Marion Cotillard, Two Days, One Night; Felicity Jones, The Theory of Everything; Julianne Moore, Still Alice; Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl; Reese Witherspoon, Wild.

Julianne Moore feels like one of the few sure things of the night. She has the all-important overdue factor—she lost for Boogie Nights and Far from Heaven!—and her tally of  five nominations doesn’t even include A Single Man, Safe, or Magnolia. She’s the hardest working top actress without an Oscar, and her complex, shattering performance as a woman experiencing early onset Alzheimer’s in Still Alice simply deserves the award on merit. Add her crazy Cannes-winning performance in Maps to the Stars, and she has the performance, story, and range to make her the winner. Reese Witherspoon could have won this race any other year for giving the performance of her career in Wild, ditto Rosamund Pike had Academy members been bigger fans of Gone Girl.

★Will win: Julianne Moore, Still Alice
★I’d vote for: Reese Witherspoon, Wild
★Shoulda been there: Anne Dorval, Mommy

Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything

Best Actor

The nominees: Steve Carell’s fake nose, Foxcatcher; Bradley Cooper, American Sniper; Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game; Michael Keaton, Birdman; Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything.

Eddie Redmayne or Michael Keaton? Eddie Redmayne or Michael Keaton? Keaton, in my books, truly deserves this prize. One could say “forget the comeback and forget the story,” but Keaton’s performance is so compelling and fascinating because it invites such a novel reading of his own star status. This extra layer is the whole point, since Birdman is a story of reinvention, of a man escaping the costume and finding the actor and super hero within. A Best Picture win for Birdman is a win for Keaton it its own way even he doesn't take a prize himself. It’s a gutsy, complex, and original turn.

Redmayne, on the other hand, is excellent in his ability to bring to life both Stephen Hawking’s physical journey with Lou Gehrig’s disease and Stephen Hawking’s spirit. There’s so much heart and humour in this performance that falls in line with the Academy’s fondness for awarding actors who recreate real life subjects and grapple with stories of people with disabilities. The support for Theory in the Best Picture category easily shows just how much voters love this performance.

★Will win: Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything
★I’d vote for:  Michael Keaton, Birdman
★Shoulda been there: Jake Gyllenhaal, Nightcrawler; Oscar Isaac, A Most Violent Year; David Oyelowo, Selma

Patricia Arquette in Boyhood

Best Supporting Actress

The nominees: Patricia Arquette, Boyhood; Laura Dern, Wild; Keira Knightley, The Imitation Game; Emma Stone, Birdman; Meryl Streep, Into the Woods.

Patricia Arquette is the favourite by a landslide. Her performance is the heart of Boyhood and she carries the film. I think her inevitable win here suffices as recognition for the film as a whole, since the tangible maternal pride she carries for Ellar Coltrane's Mason feels so real. Additionally, her performance has an added element of bravery sine she ages across twelve years in age-averse Hollywood. None of her competitors have much of a chance at besting her. It would make my night to see Meryl Streep win here, too, but her fun over-the-top performance as The Witch (and her lovely rendition of “Stay with Me”) could have brought her a well-deserved fourth Oscar in another year, but even Streep acknowledges that she's never winning again and she probably needs to surpass her work on Sophie's Choice for Oscar number four. 

I really want Laura Dern to win because her performance in Wild infuses the film with so much power and spirit, and she’s certainly gained a lot of momentum for someone who was unfairly overlook all season long. Last year's efforts with her dad on Nebraska prove that she's a shrewd campaigner and a largely unsung member of a grand Hollywood family, too, which gives her added bonuses that her younger competitors lack. Might they work in her favour?

★Will win: Patricia Arquette, Boyhood
★I’d vote for: Laura Dern, Wild
★Shoulda been there: Jessica Chastain, A Most Violent Year; Kristen Stewart, Still Alice

J.K. Simmons in Whiplash

Best Supporting Actor

The nominees: Robert Duvall, The Judge ; Ethan Hawke, Boyhood; Edward Norton, Birdman; Marc Ruffalo, Foxcatcher; J.K. Simmons, Whiplash.

I think Whiplash’s J.K. Simmons is the surest bet of the night. He’s steamrolled his competitors all year long, and it bodes well for him that the Best Supporting Actor field of 2014 is so weak that even Robert Duvall’s turn in the lame also-ran The Judge is nominated. I never forgot that I was watching J.K. Simmons acting, but there’s so much Capital A Acting in Whiplash that the size of his role--both in terms of screen time and screen presence--makes him an obvious favourite.

★Will win: J.K. Simmons, Whiplash
★I’d vote for: Edward Norton, Birdman

The rest of the nominees:



Best Original Screenplay

Birdman – Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Armando Bo
Boyhood – Richard Linklater
Foxcatcher – E. Max Frye, Dan Futterman
The Grand Budapest Hotel– Wes Anderson
Nightcrawler - Dan Gilroy

Will win: Birdman (could be Budapest, too)
I'd vote for: Birdman
Shoulda been there: A Most Violent Year, Maps to the Stars

Best Adapted Screenplay

American Sniper - Jason Hall
The Imitation Game – Graham Moore
Inherent Vice – Paul Thomas Anderson
The Theory of Everything – Anthony McCarten
WhiplashDamien Chazelle 

Will win: The Imitation Game
I'd vote for: Inherent Vice 
Shoulda been there:  Wild, Gone Girl

Best Film Editing:


Will win: Boyhood (or Whiplash.)
I'd vote for: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Shoulda been there: Wild, Birdman, Gone Girl

Best Cinematography:


Will win: Birdman
I'd vote for: Birdman
Shoulda been there: Wild, The Immigrant, Tracks

Best Costumes:

Mr. Turner

Will win: The Grand Budapest Hotel
I'd vote for: Into the Woods

Best Production Design:

Will win: The Grand Budapest Hotel
I'd vote for: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Shoulda been there: Birdman

Best Score:

The Grand Budapest Hotel– Alexandre Desplat
The Imitation Game  – Alexandre Desplat
Interstellar – Hans Zimmer and the cracked-out church organ
Mr. Turner - Gary Yershon
The Theory of Everything - Johann Johannsson
Will win: The Grand Budapest Hotel
I'd vote for: The Imitation Game
Shoulda been there: Birdman, Gone Girl, Noah

Sound Mixing:

Will win: Birdman
I'd vote for: Birdman
Shoulda been there: Wild, Godzilla

Sound Editing:

The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies

Will win: American Sniper
I'd vote for: Birdman
Shoulda been there:   Godzilla

Visual Effects:

Captain America: Winter Soldier
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Guardians of the Galaxy
X-Men: Days of Future Past

Will win: Interstellar
I'd vote for: Interstellar
Shoulda been there: Godzilla

Best Make-up

Guardians of the Galaxy

Will win: The Grand Budapest Hotel
I'd vote for: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Shoulda been there:  Into the Woods

Best Song:

Lost Stars,” Begin Again
"Grateful," Beyond the Lights
"I'm Not Gonna Miss You," Glen Miller: I'll Be Me
"Glory," Selma

Will win: "Glory"
I'd vote for: "Lost Stars"
Shoulda been there: "The Hanging Tree," The Hunger Games: Mockingjay

Best Documentary Feature:

The Last Days of Vietnam
The Salt of the Earth

Will win: Citizenfour
I'd vote for: Finding Vivian Maier

Best Foreign Language Film:

Ida - Poland
Leviathan - Russia
Tangerines - Estonia
Timbuktu - Mauritania
Wild Tales - Argentina

Will win: Ida
I'd vote for: abstain 
Shoulda been there:  Mommy, Force Majeure

Best Animated Film:

Big Hero 6
Song of the Sea

Will win: How to Train Your Dragon
I'd vote for: How to Train Your Dragon
Shoulda been there: Rocks in My Pockets and, yes, The Lego Movie

Best Animated Short:

The Bigger Picture
The Dam Keeper
Me and My Moulton
A Single Life

Will win: The Dam Keeper
I'd vote for: Feast 

Best Live Action Short:

Boogaloo and Graham
Butter Lamp
The Phone Call (watch)

★ Will win: Butter Lamp

Short Documentary Short:

Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1
Our Curse
The Reaper 
White  Earth 

Will win: Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1

What are your Oscar picks?

Who will win? Who should win?