As always I suffered through the horrible summer movie season looking forward to better film fare in the fall and winter. Oscar season is usually the epitome of why I love going to the movies.
However, this year was a different story. This year the crop of films were underwhelming. That isn’t to say they weren’t good (most of them were) they just weren’t great. If anybody wonders why “Boyhood” remains the favorite to win so many awards despite the fact that it came out in the summer all they have to do is look at the crop of films that came after it.
Still, even in a disappointing year I saw all of the Best Picture nominees and 18 of the 20 acting nominees. So here are my picks for both who will win and who should win. Who should win is ranked from least deserving to most deserving.
Best Supporting Actress
Will Win-Patricia Arquette in Boyhood…She’s won everything and I don’t see that changing here. Her only real competition for the win seems to be Meryl Streep and I don’t see the Academy giving Meryl a 4th Oscar for a supporting role in a so-so musical.
5…Emma Stone in Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)…This is by far her edgiest performance to date. She deserves a nomination but not the award.
4…Laura Dern in Wild…I am thrilled that twenty three years after “Rambling Rose” she’s gotten her second Oscar nomination. In the little screen time she shows us an interesting woman who creates a legacy for her children. She is the inspiration for Cheryl Strayed amazing adventure. But in the end she just doesn’t have enough screen time to make the big impact that would be required for the win.
3…Keira Knightley in The Imitation Game…I used to think she was a flash in the pan who couldn’t act but she continues to prove my early assumption about her wrong. She is great as a woman amongst the men working to break Nazi Germany’s enigma code.
2…Meryl Streep in Into the Woods…There will never be another Meryl Streep. For the nineteenth time she finds herself nominated for an academy award. Her performance here is great. Her singing is full of energy. Her witch is funny and scene stealing and a little touching at times. She is by far the best part of the movie. If there was ever an actress that deserves to equal Katherine Hepburn’s four Oscars it is Meryl Streep but it’s not going to happen for this movie.
1…Patricia Arquette in Boyhood…Meryl Streep has been nominated 18 previous times. Keira Knightley and Laura Dern have both been nominated before and I’m sure Emma Stone will be back at the big show. This (most likely) is Arquette’s one and only trip to the Academy Awards as a nominee. That alone doesn’t mean she should win but it’s a factor. The real reason she should win is being brave enough to age 12 years before your eyes. She should win for creating the portrait of a single mother who makes tons of mistakes but keeps trying her best to raise her children. She should win for her final scene alone. This is a moment that I never believed would happen for Patricia Arquette but it is one that is well deserved.
Best Supporting Actor
Will Win-J.K. Simmons in Whiplash…Like Arquette he’s won everything leading up to the Oscars. I don’t see anybody sneaking in for an upset here.
5…Robert Duvall in The Judge…This is one of the two acting nominees I haven’t seen so I have to put it last in this category. This movie didn’t look very good to me and I can’t imagine he does anything amazing in it. I feel like he’s gotten recognition for this movie because he’s Robert Duvall of “The Godfather” fame and because he’s eighty four years old and people feel like he may not be around much longer to celebrate. I get that. However, I would counter that this spot could be occupied by John Lithgow or Alfred Molina in “Love is Strange” or Mandy Patinkin in “Wish I was Here”.
4…Mark Ruffalo in Foxcatcher…I wanted to love him but I couldn’t. He’s not bad and is by far the best of the three big names in this film but is doesn’t have enough screen time to give his character any depth. This spot would have been better spent on Tom Wilkinson in “Belle”.
3…Edward Norton in Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)…Twice in the 1990s Norton gave performances that were worthy of an Oscar. And twice he was bested by flash in the pan winners (Cuba Gooding Jr. and Roberto Benigni), so it’s nice to see him pick up Oscar nomination number three. He really does a great job of creating his character. I really bought him as the arrogant actor who believes so much in his craft that he’s willing mess up his personal life but for the first time in his three nominations I don’t think he deserves to win.
2…Ethan Hawke in Boyhood…Very quietly Ethan Hawke has racked up four Oscar nominations. He is great here. Just as Patricia Arquette realistically creates the portrait of a single mother, he creates the portrait for the single weekend father. He’s not a bad father he’s just a man who isn’t ready for the day to day responsibility of raising his children. As we watch Ellar Coltrane grow up we also watch Hawke grow up from man child to boring fortysomething on family number two.
1…J.K. Simmons in Whiplash…I’ve seen him play evil before on “Oz” and I’ve seen him yell before in the first “Spiderman” franchise so I wasn’t expecting anything that great here. I was wrong. He is utterly and truly brilliant. He is a monster, there is no doubt about that, but there are enough quit moments that he’s able to give you a little glimpse behind the curtain see what makes this man tick. As good as Hawke and Norton are they aren’t even close to Simmons.
Will Win-Julianne Moore in Still Alice…Oscar nomination number five at the age of 54. If she doesn’t win now she never will…But she will.
5…Marion Cotillard in Two Days, One Night…The is the second acting nominee I haven’t seen so I must once again put it last. It’s possible Cotillard is brilliant. I didn’t see “La Vie En Rose” until four years after she won and I have to admit now she deserved her win in 2008. However, I can only assert that this spot could have been used for any of the following deserving performances; Gugu Mbatha-Raw in “Belle” (Forget David Oyelowo this is performance by a black actor that people should be upset was left out of the Oscar race), Kiera Knightly in “Begin Again”, Kristin Wigg in “The Skeleton Twins” or Shailene Woodley” in “The Fault in Our Stars”
4…Reese Witherspoon in Wild…I love Reese and I appreciate that she completely throws off her rom-com image and goes for it as Cheryl Strayed. However, the disjoined narrative of the film prevents the viewer from really getting a sense of physical, emotional and spiritual journey. As good as Reese is here I think she should have had a better chance of winning if she had held on to the role that outranks her for #3.
3…Rosamund Pike in Gone Girl…Who is this woman and how did we not know who brilliant she was before this year? Although it’s single role she really gives two very different performances in one film. The long suffering, possibly murdered wife and an intense sociopath. She is brilliant and very much deserves her first Oscar nomination.
2…Felicity Jones in The Theory of Everything…Eddie Redmayne has the flashier role but it is Jones that his the heart and soul of this film. Jane Hawking is the one who keeps Steven afloat. Jones (like Pike) is a great find this year. I look forward to seeing what she’ll bring to us in the future.
1…Julianne Moore in Still Alice…Forget that she has three times been robbed of the Oscar she deserved (1997’s “Boogie Nights” and 2002’s “The Hours” and “Far From Heaven”) because she should win for his film even if it was her first nomination. She transforms herself and takes us on the heartbreaking journey along with Alice. It makes me so pleased that at long last it looks like the stars will align for this brilliant actress.
Will Win-Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything…This is the only acting category that is competitive. Will it be Redmayne or Michael Keaton.? They split at the Golden Globes. Redmayne won at the SAG Awards and the BAFTAS, while Keaton won at the critics’ choice. It wouldn’t be a big shocker if Keaton wins but I think Redmayne will squeak it out. Yes, everybody loves a comeback story and Keaton had made a big comeback with “Birdman”. However, thinking back on previous nominated comebacks like John Travolta in “Pulp Fiction”, Richard Dryfuss in “Mr. Holland’s Opus”, Peter Fonda in “Ulee’s Gold” and Mickey Rourke in “The Wrestler” it seems a nomination is the big prize for these comeback performances.
5…Steve Carell in Foxcatcher…Let me start with the fact that this is a supporting role. Foxcatcher is about Channing Tatum not Steve Carell. Second, I appreciate that Steve Carell is really trying to act with a capitol A but it just doesn’t work. He doesn’t give his character any depth. He tries but at the end of the day it’s like the bad version of Nicole Kidman in “The Hours”, a fake nose and a mediocre performance. This spot should have gone to Mark Ruffalo in “Begin Again”, Jake Gyllenhaal in “Nightcrawler” Bill Hader in “The Skeleton Twins” or Miles Teller in “Whiplash”.
4…Bradley Cooper in American Sniper…Okay, Cooper creates a real character here. His portrayal of Chris Kyle is very different than other characters he’s played and that’s impressive. I admire Cooper for continuing to push himself as an actor. However, there just isn’t enough depth here to make Kyle not seem like a racist murderer. As much as I admire Cooper’s pursuit of better roles this spot should have gone to Ellar Coltrane in “Boyhood”, Ben Affleck in “Gone Girl”, Bill Murray in “St. Vincent”, Guillaume Gallienne in “Yves Saint Laurent”, Pierre Niney in “Yves Saint Laurent” or David Oyelowo in “Selma”…even Mathew McConaughey in “Interstellar” would have been a better pick.
3…Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game…An excellent performance. He manages to touch on both Alan Turing’s strengths and weaknesses. His mathematical brilliance is celebrated. But his social struggles including his homosexuality are also here. A very good performance that defiantly deserved its nomination.
2…Michael Keaton in Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)…It’s a great performance. It’s brilliant in its meta references to his Batman days. I’m so happy he finally got the Oscar nomination he should have gotten for 1988’s “Clean and Sober”. Still, at the end of the day you never forget you’re watching Michael Keaton. You leave the film saying “Michael Keaton was really good” and in another year that would be enough to deserve the win but not this year.
1…Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything…As great as Michael Keaton is here is the difference. You leave “Birdman” saying “Michael Keaton was really good” but you leave this film saying “Eddie Redmayne was Stephen Hawking”. In a race this close that makes all the difference.
Will Win-Alejandro G. Inarritu for Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)…A month ago I would have predicted Richard Linklater was a given but Inarritu won at the DGA award and that makes him a virtual lock for the Oscar.
5…Wes Anderson for The Grand Budapest Hotel…I’m sorry I just don’t get his stuff. I has a very distinctive style and he certainly created a world here but he certainly does not deserve an Oscar for this…This spot should have gone to James Marsh for “The Theory of Everything” or Damian Chazelle for “Whiplash”
4…Bennett Miller for Foxcatcher…At the end of the day I could have easily put him fifth. I think there are some really nice shots and but this movie wasn’t anything special…Many would argue that Ava DuVernay should have been nominated for “Selma”. I would counter that there was a much better movie directed by an African-American woman in 2014 and that was “Bell” directed by the deserving Amma Asante.
3…Morton Tyldum for The Imitation Game…He did an excellent job. For a war movie that never shows the war front there is a big state of urgency in this film. A well deserved nomination.
2…Richard Linklater for Boyhood…What he did with this movie was amazing. There are so many things that went right that could have easily gone wrong. I would not be upset if he won. However, in a category that should push for originality and innovation he comes in second.
1…Alejandro G. Inarritu for Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)…I hadn’t read about the illusion of the one shot aspect of the movie before seeing it, as a result I was in total awe of what he pulled off here. Shooting a movie over the course of twelve years is impressive but what Inarritu did with this very inventive film was truly magnificent.
Will Win-Boyhood…It’s a two picture race with Boyhood squeaking out the win. The Academy will split the top two prizes. Think 2000 when Steven Soderbergh won for his unique style in directing “Traffic” but the more traditional and conservative epic “Gladiator” won Best Picture.
8…American Sniper…This movie is garbage. Given the academy’s weighting system I think this movie got this nomination because the 10 to 15 percent of the Academy that are very conservative LOVED this movie. Forget all the things that are wrong politically with the movie. Just on a technical level it has no business being nominated for Best Picture…This spot should have gone to “The Skeleton Twin” or “Life Itself” or “Begin Again”.
7…The Grand Budapest Hotel…The best thing I can say about this film is that I saw it on an airplane ride from Mexico City to Lima. I didn’t have to spend any money on it and I didn’t have to pick watching it over doing something else since I had only one viewing option on that plane…Okay, I did laugh a couple of times but come on. It does not deserve to be nominated for Best Picture. This spot should have gone to “Gone Girl” or “St. Vincent”
6…Selma…It’s a good movie. It’s just not a great movie. Given the subject matter and the level of talent involved it should have been great. If the Academy still only nominated five films it wouldn’t have gotten the cut. I contend that it still shouldn’t have gotten nominated. If you want to show diversity among the Best Picture nominees I’d argue that “Belle” was a much better film to fill that spot.
5…The Imitation Game…A very good movie from start to finish. I wish it had explored Turings’ downfall caused by Britain anti-gay laws more but at the end of the day it deserved its nomination…but not the win.
5…Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)…I get why people LOVE this movie but I didn’t LOVE it. I liked it. Much like “The Imitation Game” it’s very good. I just found there was a level of weirdness in the third act that was bit too much for me. There is weird that elevates and then there is weird that confuses and annoys. This film slips too much into the later in the last half hour.
3…The Theory of Everything…With a bio pic you know what’s going to happen. That means that it will fall completely flat and be boring, like 2012’s “Lincoln”, be good but predictable, like “Selma”, or be extraordinary and fly. This movie flies. It is so well acted and so well done that you feel like you’re seeing Stephen Hawking for the first time. Even though you’ve seen the long suffering wife before you feel for Jane Hawking in a way that is very real. It’s a very, very strong third place.
2….This is a tough choice….It is a really tough choice….Whiplash…no Boyhood…no Whiplash….no Boyhood….Okay…..Whiplash…In a very, VERY close race I’m putting Whiplash at number two. Because films like “Selma”, and “Foxcatcher” didn’t live up to what I was expecting I went into this movie with very low expectations. I was very surprised and impressed. This film is fascinating and says a lot about ambition, art and the price you pay to be “special”. This really was a tough decision to make. If I could tie them I would but since I have to pick I put this film second.
1…Boyhood…Last July I heard a story on NPR about this movie and the reviewer said it would be best to see it before the hype got too big. I saw it in those early days and I was blown away. At the end of the day the movie is simple. It’s just about growing up but that’s what makes it so great. It takes the day to dayness of growing up and makes if fascinating to watch. It really is a great film that will and should win the award for Best Picture of 2014.
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