Oscar-nominated films have grabbed more pre-ceremony attention this year than they have since “Brokeback Mountain” pushed boundaries and comfort levels nine years ago.
A lack of recognition for “Selma” director Ava DuVernay and actor David Oyelowo when nominations were announced Jan. 15 sparked a national discussion about scant diversity within this year’s nominee ranks and the Academy itself.
Then “Selma’s” fellow best picture nominee “American Sniper,” released wide a day after the nominations, grabbed the spotlight with its large box office haul and supposedly hawk-ish message. The veracity of each of these true-story-based films also was questioned.
“Selma” and “Sniper” likely are not factors in the best picture contest, but intrigue will continue to bubble in that category (and others) until a winner is announced at the 2015 Academy Awards ceremony, airing at 5:30 p.m. Feb. 22 on ABC.
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Early favorite “Boyhood,” the critically beloved Richard Linklater film shot over the course of 12 years, has lost ground to “Birdman,” Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s electrifying backstage dramedy. “Birdman” picked up awards from the actor, director and producer guilds – key indicators of which film will win the Oscar.
By almost any measure, “Birdman” is the favorite. Yet many Oscar prognosticators, including me, are sticking with “Boyhood.” Because it offers something hard to measure: the soul-stirring experience of a once-in-a-lifetime movie. Once you have seen it, you wonder how anyone else who has seen it possibly could vote for another movie as best picture.
Possibly overwrought superlatives aside, I still am in it to win it – and to help readers fill out their own Oscar ballots. But emotion-based choices, like mine with “Boyhood,” are acceptable if A) the picture already ranks among the top two contenders in a category; and B) you make only one such choice per year.
I spent my chancy pick on “Boyhood.” That’s why I’m going with heavy favorite Eddie Redmayne in the lead-actor category, for his immersive performance as physicist Stephen Hawking in “The Theory of Everything,” instead of with sentimental favorite Michael Keaton, for his self-referential role in “Birdman.”
Below are predictions of who will win the big Academy Awards races (down to the screenplay level), based on pre-Oscar awards, online pundits’ predictions and other research. I also designated who should win, based on my preference.
Steve Carell, “Foxcatcher”
Bradley Cooper, “American Sniper”
Benedict Cumberbatch, “The Imitation Game”
Michael Keaton, “Birdman”
Eddie Redmayne, “The Theory of Everything”
Will win: Redmayne has swept the pre-Oscar awards for his physically taxing performance, and he looks like a lock. (So ignore that nagging feeling that the Academy, which loves comebacks and movies about Hollywood, will honor Keaton’s comeback in the showbiz story “Birdman.”)
Should win: Cumberbatch. He, like Redmayne, stars as a British genius nerd in a period film, with Cumberbatch playing World War II code-breaker Alan Turing. Both their characters seemed to feel trapped in some way, and both actors impart that feeling.
But Redmayne has the advantage, as an actor, of being able to manifest Hawking’s struggles with ALS through an intensely physical performance. Turing’s challenges as a socially inept man and secret homosexual (when homosexuality was illegal) are less visible, thereby requiring a more interior performance. Cumberbatch relies on his searching, sometimes pleading, eyes in a performance as powerful as Redmayne’s yet also more haunting.
Marion Cotillard, “Two Days, One Night”
Felicity Jones, “The Theory of Everything”
Julianne Moore, “Still Alice”
Rosamund Pike, “Gone Girl”
Reese Witherspoon, “Wild”
Will win: Moore. Speaking of doing a lot with one’s eyes, Moore’s show us when her character, who has early-onset Alzheimer’s, is with us and when she’s mentally far away. Moore has picked up every 2015 prize so far, and she finally will snag an Oscar after four previous nominations without a win.
Should win: Cotillard. Moore’s skill lay in how she eventually brings her character’s interior to the forefront. With Cotillard, emotions always rest on the surface. In “Two Days,” in which her factory-worker character fights to keep her job, Cotillard’s emotional transparency captivates and invigorates, until we root for her character – who knocks on co-workers’ doors to try to persuade them to keep her instead of their bonuses – as if she were in an inspirational sports movie.
Robert Duvall, “The Judge”
Ethan Hawke, “Boyhood”
Edward Norton, “Birdman”
Mark Ruffalo, “Foxcatcher”
J.K. Simmons, “Whiplash”
Will win: Simmons. He has ruled the awards season via his performance as an exacting-bordering-on-sadistic teacher at a music conservatory.
Should win: Norton. His stage-actor character, like Simmons’ jazz teacher, is an artistic elitist and jerk. But Norton’s performance holds layers – his creep shows a capacity for self-awareness, at least. Every time the jazz teacher appears human, it’s a trick. There were more colors to Simmons’ neo-Nazi character on the HBO prison drama “Oz.”
Patricia Arquette, “Boyhood”
Laura Dern, “Wild”
Keira Knightley, “The Imitation Game”
Emma Stone, “Birdman”
Meryl Streep, “Into the Woods”
Will win: Arquette. She’s snagged all the awards so far for being the emotional lynchpin of the sprawling “Boyhood.” Her performance, though shot in dribs and drabs over 12 years, remains consistent in tone and authenticity. Her highly relatable mother character makes mistakes without losing sight of her children’s well-being.
Should win: Arquette
“The Grand Budapest Hotel”
Will win: “Grand Budapest Hotel.” Wes Anderson’s colorful ode to 1930s caper comedies won the musical/comedy Golden Globe, picked up nine Oscar nominations (though Ralph Fiennes was robbed of a lead-actor nod for his portrayal of a courteous, honorable, sexually free eastern European concierge) and just won the Writers Guild of America award.
Should win: “Grand Budapest.” It’s the most inventive of the lot.
“The Imitation Game”
“The Theory of Everything”
Will win: Rookie screenwriter Graham Moore whipped up a lively script from Andrew Hodges’ 30-year-old, nearly 800-page Turing biography. The screenplay is key to the “Imitation Game” sneak-attack power, which rests in how, in its third act, it transitions from quips-flying caper formula to deep drama.
Should win: Gillian Flynn for adapting her own novel, “Gone Girl,” to the big screen. But she was not nominated.
“Birdman,” Alejandro G. Iñárritu
“Boyhood,” Richard Linklater
“Foxcatcher,” Bennett Miller
“The Grand Budapest Hotel,” Wes Anderson
“The Imitation Game,” Morten Tyldum
Will win: Iñárritu. He lends his film a vibrancy that runs from the movie’s always-moving visuals to the cast’s uniformly terrific performances.
Should win: “Boyhood” is a marvel, but directing should be assessed as an act, apart from a movie as a whole. Iñárritu dazzles.
“The Grand Budapest Hotel”
“The Imitation Game”
“The Theory of Everything”
Will win: “Boyhood.” “Birdman” is a wonderful film, but “Boyhood” offers a profound experience, transporting the viewer back to the feeling of being a child while also illuminating the experience of parenthood. I choose to have faith that Academy members were just as affected as I was by the film.
Should win: “Boyhood”
Call The Bee’s Carla Meyer, (916) 321-1118. Follow her on Twitter @CarlaMeyerSB.