Oh, how I used to care about the Academy Awards. Even when they changed “And the winner is” because it hurt losers’ feelings (“The Oscar goes to” must have been conceived by an elementary school teacher), I knew in my heart it was still the main event. The Celluloid Super Bowl. I was the guy you wanted on your team at the Oscar trivia party. (“Who is Sacheen Littlefeather?” No problem, puny mortals…) My annual predictions were thrust upon family and friends, some of whom might have used them in office pools to unremarkable results. Ah, the halcyon days of my movie youth.
The Academy has been known for inscrutable decisions over the years. Citizen Kane didn’t win Best Picture in 1941; Crash did win in 2005. Rocky won Best Picture in 1976, beating All the President’s Men, Network, and Taxi Driver. Rocky director John G. Avildsen also won that year, when Martin Scorsese wasn’t on the ballot. Driving Miss Daisy, Bruce Beresford’s comedic drama about racial reconciliation between black chauffeurs and tiny rich white women, won Best Picture in 1989, the same year Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing wasn’t even nominated. Actually, that one makes complete sense.
And still I watch. This year’s big head-scratcher is the absence of Selma from so many categories. I loved it, and critics everywhere praised the direction and acting, neither of which were nominated. Seriously – Bennett Miller for Foxcatcher over Ava DuVernay? The ceremony will be hosted by Tony Award-winning celebrity memoirist Neil Patrick Harris, which seems promising until one tries to think of his great non-Tony hosting gigs. (We’ll always have Hathaway and Franco…)
So let’s talk.
BEST PICTURE (Links are to Moss Island reviews)
BIRDMAN OR (THE UNEXPECTED VIRTUE OF IGNORANCE)
THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL
THE IMITATION GAME
THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING
American Sniper was propaganda, Boyhood needed a story, and The Theory of Everything was so bland I couldn’t figure out how to write an interesting review. The Grand Budapest Hotel is my least favorite movie by one of my favorite directors (I haven’t written about it yet because I don’t trust my reaction.) I’d like to see Selma win, because of Ava DuVernay’s overlooked direction and David Oyelowo’s and Carmen Ejogo’s unrecognized performances; I don’t think it’s the best picture though. Ida is my choice for best movie of the year, but it’s nominated in the Foreign Language category. So, Birdman.
PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE
MARION COTILLARD – TWO DAYS, ONE NIGHT
FELICITY JONES – THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING
JULIANNE MOORE – STILL ALICE
ROSAMUND PIKE – GONE GIRL
REESE WITHERSPOON – WILD
The “leading role” categories tend to honor actors for work other than the movies they’re currently nominated for. That’s why pundits will say, “She’s overdue…” Carmen Ejogo should have been nominated; Julianne Moore is overdue.
PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE
STEVE CARELL – FOXCATCHER
BRADLEY COOPER – AMERICAN SNIPER
BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH – THE IMITATION GAME
MICHAEL KEATON – BIRDMAN OR (THE UNEXPECTED VIRTUE OF IGNORANCE)
EDDIE REDMAYNE – THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING
The Academy loves prosthetics (Steve Carell’s nose in Foxcatcher), but it loves difficult physical transformations more. Therefore, Eddie Redmayne’s Stephen Hawking has this wrapped up. But David Oyelowo’s Martin Luther King Jr. should have won.
PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
PATRICIA ARQUETTE – BOYHOOD
LAURA DERN – WILD
KEIRA KNIGHTLEY – THE IMITATION GAME
EMMA STONE – BIRDMAN OR (THE UNEXPECTED VIRTUE OF IGNORANCE)
MERYL STREEP – INTO THE WOODS
The nice thing about the supporting performance categories is they usually aren’t career achievement awards. (Sometimes, but not usually.) Emma Stone played her best-yet role in Birdman, but I’m leaning toward Patricia Arquette. I wrote that her movie should have been called Motherhood – Arquette’s graceful 12-year performance is the best thing in it.
PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
ROBERT DUVALL – THE JUDGE
ETHAN HAWKE – BOYHOOD
EDWARD NORTON – BIRDMAN OR (THE UNEXPECTED VIRTUE OF IGNORANCE)
MARK RUFFALO – FOXCATCHER
J.K. SIMMONS – WHIPLASH
Edward Norton gives an amazing, meta performance in Birdman, my favorite in this list. Conventional wisdom says J.K. Simmons will win, but I haven’t seen the film yet.
ACHIEVEMENT IN DIRECTING
BIRDMAN OR (THE UNEXPECTED VIRTUE OF IGNORANCE) – ALEJANDRO G. IÑÁRRITU
BOYHOOD – RICHARD LINKLATER
FOXCATCHER – BENNETT MILLER
THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL – WES ANDERSON
THE IMITATION GAME – MORTEN TYLDUM
Another category that tends to award careers when possible. But notice how this category is called “Achievement in Directing,” instead of “Best Director.” Well. Iñárritu’s achievement is arguably choreographic as much as directorial. Linklater’s achievement was really good scheduling. Pawel Pawlikowski should have been nominated for Ida, and Ava DuVernay REALLY SHOULD HAVE BEEN nominated for Selma. And yeah, Angelina Jolie was also snubbed (a unique circumstance whereby “white female” is just as disadvantageous as “black female.”) Flip a coin between Boyhood and Birdman – one of those guys will get this one.
ACHIEVEMENT IN CINEMATOGRAPHY
BIRDMAN OR (THE UNEXPECTED VIRTUE OF IGNORANCE) – EMMANUEL LUBEZKI
THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL – ROBERT YEOMAN
IDA – LUKASZ ZAL AND RYSZARD LENCZEWSKI
MR. TURNER – DICK POPE
UNBROKEN – ROGER DEAKINS
My favorite category. Lubezki’s work in Birdman is incredible. Yeoman has long been key to Wes Anderson’s signature style, and he gets better with every movie. In my opinion, Lukasz Zal deserves sole credit for his work on Ida – Lenczewski left the project because of “creative differences” (I assume the finished product does not reflect his sensibility.) I think Lubezki will win, but I’d give it to Zal.
As for the rest…
The program is much too long. The Academy already shunts a bunch of awards to a different ceremony – it needs to cut a few more from prime time. Production design, makeup and hairstyling, costume design, sound mixing and sound editing (two categories even voters don’t seem to know the difference between.) These are used by live tweeters to gauge the “steamroller effect” – the presumptive Best Picture winner on points. Animated short AND live action short AND documentary short categories? These are films most of the audience can’t find to watch even if they wanted to. Combine the original and adapted screenplay categories. Sure, I get the difference, but there’s no distinction between “adapted picture” and “original picture.” No “best original performance” and “best impersonation.” Best foreign language film is condescension – best should be best, period. (But we know the Academy wouldn’t see many foreign films without the category – this forces them to eat their vegetables.) Get rid of original song (let the Grammys take over the category.) And why in hell was Antonio Sanchez’s drum score for Birdman ineligible? Actually, don’t tell me. Cut the damn category if the rules prohibit one of the few inspired scores in 30 years (John Williams killed movie music when he composed Star Wars.)
So I’ll be watching, bottle of bourbon at hand. In previous years, the drinking game was based on utterances of “I’d like to thank the Academy…” This year, I’m going with every time Neil Patrick Harris says “Awesome.”