Academy Awards 2015 Picks

Alas, it is once again time to tune in and see what six thousand professionals in film voted for as the best of their industry this year. These predictions are reflective of what the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will vote for, as well as my own personal preference. In full disclosure, I did not include any categories in which I have seen no nominees.

BEST PICTURE

WILL WIN – Birdman

SHOULD WIN – Boyhood

boyhood - picture

There is no shortage of bold and daring work amongst the nominees for Best Picture this year, but the film that most deserves to win is at once the most audacious and the least pretentious. Capturing twelve years in one life is no small feat, and that is the mere starting point for Boyhood. It takes the most formative time in an individual’s life, and quietly reveals the profound physical and emotional transformations its characters undergo over the years. Even if their experiences differ from ours, the characters provide a mirror for us to look back on ourselves, thus contextualizing our own lives. Above all, this is the greatest achievement of Boyhood.

BEST DIRECTOR

WILL and SHOULD WIN – Richard Linklater – Boyhood

boyhood - director

Richard Linklater has long been fascinated by how the passage of time affects people. Boyhood is his biggest investigation of this ideas to date, and for his success in that exploration and for the sheer endurance involved in his travail, he absolutely deserves to win the Oscar for Best Director. Furthermore, he pulls genuine performances from his actors that feel closer to improvisation and finds compelling truths in staging otherwise mundane day to day activities, never once opting for contrived drama. That Boyhood works its way into the viewer’s subconscious using deceptively simple methods is quintessential Linklater.

ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE

WILL WIN – Eddie Redmayne – The Theory of Everything

SHOULD WIN – Michael Keaton – Birdman

birdman - actor

Of the five nominees for Best Actor, four play real people, but the outlier bears a closer similarity to his fictional character than the other actors do to their counterparts. There are several parallels to be drawn between Michael Keaton and Riggan Thomson, chief of which involves both men seeking a career renaissance after having been best known for playing a superhero. However, this is not the sole reason for why Keaton deserves the Oscar for Best Actor. There is a tremendous amount of emotional range required for portraying Thomson, from the outlandish embarrassment of running nearly nude through Times Square to the sobering reality of confronting loved ones with equally naked self honesty. Michael Keaton nails these notes and everything in between, navigating a man caught between the surreal heights of his potential and the truth of his search for meaning.

ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE

WILL WIN – Julianne Moore – Still Alice

SHOULD WIN – Rosamund Pike – Gone Girl

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I must confess that I have yet to see Julianne Moore’s performance in Still Alice, and I am not surprised that she is the frontrunner in this category, given her tremendous talents. In fact, Rosamund Pike in Gone Girl is the only performance among the Best Actress nominees I can claim to have seen, and it is certainly worthy of recognition. While the script she’s working  with is a bit misleading as Gone Girl veers into satirical black comedy, Pike’s portrayal of Amy Dunne is a thing of willfully venomous deception. A pleasant and warm human on the surface masks a cold and calculating creature underneath, and Pike’s breakout performance could easily stand shoulder to shoulder with the best of Hitchcock’s blondes.

ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

WILL WIN – J.K. Simmons – Whiplash

SHOULD WIN – Ethan Hawke – Boyhood

boyhood - supporting actor

Ethan Hawke makes it look easy. No matter what role he’s in, especially a Linklater film, Hawke is utterly effortless in his creation of memorable characters. What’s even more impressive is what he pulls off as Mason Sr. in Boyhood. Not only is he burdened by playing the father raising his children, but due to his divorce, his presence in their lives lacks permanence. Remarkably, Hawke is able to be that eclectic and free spirited father figure, yet also communicate his regrets about not being a daily presence in their lives. Add to that the actor’s own personal commitment and having the ability to slip back into that character on an annual basis, and one understands the formidable challenge that Hawke plunged into without hesitation.

ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

WILL and SHOULD WIN – Patricia Arquette – Boyhood

boyhood - supporting actress

Like Ethan Hawke, Patricia Arquette had to devote to her character over more than a decade, but the journey of her character was even more rigorous. As the single mother caring for her children as well as trying to realize her own goals and aspirations, Arquette is often put through her own trials. Whether making sense of her poor decisions with new husbands or trying to get a handle on her children’s growth, her physical and emotional transformation is equal to those of her son and daughter. Arquette gives full life to this deeply flawed woman, whose revelation toward the film’s end is all the more moving when realizing that her performance is where the heart of Boyhood lies.

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

WILL WIN – Whiplash

SHOULD WIN – Inherent Vice

SORTILEGE: Well Mornin’ Sam, like a bad luck planet in today’s horoscope, here’s the old hippie-hating mad dog himself in the flesh: Lieutenant Detective Christian F. “Bigfoot” Bjornsen. SAG member, John Wayne walk, flat top of Flintstone proportions and that evil, little shit-twinkle in his eye that says Civil Rights Violations.

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

WILL WIN – Birdman

SHOULD WIN – Boyhood

MASON: Dad? There’s no like… real magic in the world, right?

DAD: What do you mean?

MASON: You know, like elves and stuff. People just made that up.

DAD: Well, I don’t know. I mean what makes you thinks that, that elves are any more magical than something like… like a whale? You know, I mean, what if I told you a story about how underneath the ocean, there was this giant sea mammal that used sonar, and sang songs, and it was so big that its heart was the size of a car? And you could crawl through the arteries? I mean, you’d think that’s pretty magical, right?

MASON: Yeah. But like… right this second, there’s like no… elves in the world, right?

DAD: No. Technically no elves.

ANIMATED FEATURE FILM

WILL and SHOULD WIN – How to Train Your Dragon 2

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Of all of the outcries over Oscar “snubs” on nomination morning, perhaps none were more vocal than the lack of recognition for The Lego Movie in this category. Indeed, were it among the nominees, it would most likely be the victor on Sunday night. Alas, its absence yields the way for a different film, one that is in truth an even better candidate for the Animated Feature Film Oscar. So much of studio animation these days is centered around the hyper attentiveness of young audiences, coupled with ironic humor and pop culture references. Dreamworks Animation in particular has been a chief offender of this in its filmography, but the How to Train Your Dragon franchise has remained refreshingly immune to such facile entertainment. With this sequel, the company can confidently claim to have one of the best animated films this decade, based in emotional, character driven storytelling.

CINEMATOGRAPHY

WILL and SHOULD WIN – Birdman

In case it hasn’t been mentioned before, Emmanuel Lubezki is not just one of the best cinematographers working today, but he is likely to stand among the finest the medium has ever known. Birdman may be the greatest showcase of his talents to date, given both the physical demands and technical precision needed to pull off the film’s central long take. On his previous efforts, Lubezki tended to treat the camera as an observer, but in Birdman it is no doubt a participant. There is simply no way to deny the brilliant athleticism of the camera movement, both with steadicam and handheld, as well as the changes in expressive lighting to signal emotional transitions. With Birdman, Lubezki’s photography navigates effortlessly between the terrestrial and the surreal, all in service of plunging the audience deeper into the mind of Riggan Thomson.

COSTUME DESIGN

WILL WIN – The Grand Budapest Hotel

SHOULD WIN – Inherent Vice

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This category always offers vibrant work, the majority of which comes from period or fantasy films, and this year is no different. The film that strikes me most is Inherent Vice, whose costumes are such an integral element to realizing early 1970’s Los Angeles. The wardrobes here are as eclectic and messy as the cast, and rightfully so. From Josh Brolin’s square suited Bigfoot Bjornson to Martin Short’s violet robed dentist, there is always something new to discover in each scene. Every costume is appropriate to the person wearing it, visually informing the audience without calling attention to itself, unless that is its intention.

FILM EDITING

WILL and SHOULD WIN – Boyhood

Too often we think of editing as the pacing of a scene or a well placed transition from one scene to the next. Indeed, while that can constitute efficient editing, it is not the sole criteria upon which the craft is judged. What is often overlooked is how editing shapes a film on a macro scale, from the first shot to the last. There are no stunning cuts or clever, self aware transitions in Boyhood, because the film does not demand them. In fact, the individual scenes, just like our own day to day lives, are unremarkable on their own. However, when they are all gracefully strung together, the impact is deeply moving, just as we look back on our own lives wondering where the time went.

MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING

WILL WIN – The Grand Budapest Hotel

SHOULD WIN – Foxcatcher

FOXCATCHER

When choosing the nominees for makeup and hairstyling, there is often a tendency amongst Academy members to go for the most obvious showcases. This year is no different, but the film least likely to win is the one I found most impressive. The clear standout of makeup in Foxcatcher is Steve Carell’s prosthetic nose, but look further and see how his fake set of teeth and withered hair also contribute to John Du Pont’s disquieting physique. There are also subtleties to be found in both of the film’s wrestlers. Mark Ruffalo’s beard and receding hairline render him unrecognizable as Dave Schultz, and while Channing Tatum largely resembles himself, he also has a set of cauliflower ears to match his brother.

ORIGINAL SCORE

WILL WIN – The Grand Budapest Hotel

SHOULD WIN – Interstellar

Ever since the days of silent film, music has played an integral role in cinematic storytelling, serving as an emotional guide for an audience to follow. The range in which an original film score supplements a film depends on tone, and few composers are as recognizable in their compositions as Hans Zimmer. On Interstellar however, he largely subverts against traditional bombast and employs the organ to convey the mood of Christopher Nolan’s space epic. This decision gives the film an ancient, almost timeless aural quality, reflective of the intergalactic, time bending voyage at the heart. The resulting score is multi faceted in tone, both sweepingly grand and gently mysterious, a certain highlight in a career full of them.

ORIGINAL SONG

WILL WIN – “Glory” – Selma

SHOULD WIN – “Everything is Awesome” – The Lego Movie

Too often it is the case that an Oscar nominated song merely plays over a film’s credits. Therefore, a song effectively used within that film’s context is all the more rare. The sole fact that “Everything is Awesome” from The Lego Movie is a clever parody of catchy but ephemeral pop songs makes it already worthy of an Oscar for original song. Looking further, it is the very centerpiece and theme song at the core of The Lego Movie. Perfectly deployed and is thematically in sync with the film’s brainwashed characters, “Everything is Awesome” is, indeed, everything an original song winner should aspire to achieve.

PRODUCTION DESIGN

WILL and SHOULD WIN – The Grand Budapest Hotel

production design

Believe it or not, no Wes Anderson film has ever been nominated in this category. Well, there should be no more fretting as The Grand Budapest Hotel is among the most certain and deserving locks of the night. Every single environment, no matter how expansive or intimate, is measured and decorated within an inch of its life. This is par for the course in Anderson’s films, but it carries a deeper resonance as the film reaches its conclusion. The hotel itself is perhaps the most important character in the film. Its distinct visual contrasts across the decades provides us with an appreciation for it in its prime and in its eventual decay, a solemn reminder of all that was lost.

SOUND EDITING

WILL WIN – American Sniper

SHOULD WIN – Interstellar

INTERSTELLAR

To review once more, sound editing is equivalent to sound design, the creation of sound effects, either archival or practical, and their placement in conjunction with the picture. Sound mixing is distinguished by how it combines these sound elements with the audio and dialogue on set, in addition to the music. No other film from 2014 exemplifies the need for sound editing, or lack thereof, than Interstellar. There was no shortage of varied soundscapes to create, from the dust blown and barren Earth, the icy and water filled intergalactic planets, or space itself. The brilliant images seen on screen would mean would dramatically lose their impact without the accompanying aural textures.

SOUND MIXING

WILL WIN – Whiplash

SHOULD WIN – Interstellar

INTERSTELLAR

It’s uncommon to think of a nominee in a technical category as being considered controversial, but that was exactly the case this year with the inclusion of Interstellar in sound mixing. Beyond the critiques leveled at the film for its narrative, the consensus by audiences and critics was in regards to the overwhelming nature of the audio mix. Yes, there are significant stretches of the film in which the score or sound effects drown out the dialogue, but that cannot simply be attributed to technical negligence. Nolan purposely conceives his films to be as realistic as possible, even in larger than life circumstances, and this includes making his own dialogue inaudible if necessary. The larger emotional impact is what he’s pursuing. Therefore, the question here is where artistic intention impedes audience comprehension. Personally, I am in favor of the former.

VISUAL EFFECTS

WILL and SHOULD WIN – Interstellar

Deep-Space-in-Interstellar

Over the last several years, visual effects have arrived at a point where the finest results are a hair’s breadth away from verisimilitude. And yet, there is nothing that surpasses employing a tangible element in a practical manner. Christopher Nolan has been a vocal advocate for this method ever since he began working on studio films. Anything that can be captured in camera adds significantly to the audience believing what occurs in the frame, and so a wealth of models and miniatures are present in Interstellar, particularly for the space vessels. In the case of the wormholes and black holes, the CGI artists actually implemented scientific and mathematical data in their creation. Therefore, those images on screen are the first accurate visual representations of such phenomena. That type of breakthrough deserves an award.

DOCUMENTARY FEATURE

WILL and SHOULD WIN – CitizenFour

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Documentaries are typically told one of two ways. Either their narratives are recounted from the past or are actively conceived in the present. The vast majority tend to be the former, and even those which qualify in the latter are occasionally dependent on dramatizations of events in order to bolster the storytelling. CitizenFour is compelling enough on its own to require almost none of this. All it needs is people talking in rooms and the audience’s full attention. Granted, the film is not formally impressive, as its storytelling techniques are modest at best. As a journalistic expose, however, it is endlessly compelling. Thrillingly seen in the present tense immediately prior to former NSA employee Edward Snowden’s public unveiling, the revelations of CitizenFour have a startling impact. What it all will mean in the future is undetermined, but suffice to say that right now, CitizenFour feels like the most important documentary about the internet age.

FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM

WILL WIN – Ida

SHOULD WIN – Leviathan

leviathan02

Leviathan is not an easy film to swallow. It’s difficult to comprehend a situation in which a hard working, decent man is completely robbed of his independence and sense of self worth by the very people who should be defending it. While the film is not based on a true story, it might as well have been. Many films, foreign or otherwise, often look to the past in order to comment on the present, but Leviathan is one of the few whose contemporary setting vitally speaks to the current sociopolitical malaise in Russia. Further, it’s beautifully crafted and performed, even as it implies no end in sight to one nation’s abuse of power.

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~ by romancinema on February 21, 2015.

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