Predicting this year’s Academy Award winners
Okay, it’s that time of year when I typically dazzle readers with my Sherlockian deductive powers and predict the upcoming Academy Award winners. But the cold, hard truth is that, by the time all the Hollywood craft guilds—directors (DGA), producers (PGA), writers (WGA), and screen actors (SAG)—have weighed in with their own pre-Oscar award ceremonies, not to mention the pre-game warmup show of the Golden Globes last month, it’s pretty easy to follow the trends and pick the front-runners.
But not this year.
I wouldn’t say all bets are off; there are clear favorites in three out of the four acting categories. But the battle for some of the top prizes is turning into an epic slugfest between two (or three) very tough and worthy competitors. Nobody gets a cakewalk this year, including me; I really have to put my so-called deductive powers to the test. So here goes:
BEST PICTURE Boyhood. Of the eight nominees, we can eliminate the four films whose directors were not nominated in their category—which (surprisingly) includes Clint Eastwood for American Sniper, even though it’s made a ton of moolah at the box office these last few weeks. The Grand Budapest Hotel will probably win some craft awards, but nobody’s pretending it’s the year’s best film. The Imitation Game is a strong period biopic, although, for me, not as effective as The Theory Of Everything, whose director (James Marsh) inexplicably failed to make the cut.
A month ago, I would have said Boyhood was a slam-dunk for the gold. Director Richard Linklater’s completely original concept redefines the process of filmmaking and the art of storytelling in audacious new ways. But its biggest challenger, Birdman, has come on strong in the post-season awards. You can see why Hollywood loves Birdman—it’s all about showbiz and acting, the cult of celebrity and the cultural impact—for good or ill—of the movies. It’s put together with plenty of style, from the edgy, percussive score to the illusion that the entire film is shot in one long take. Its director, Alejandro González Iñárritu, has already been anointed with a DGA award, the film won for Best Ensemble at the SAGs, and craft guild members also vote for the Oscars. (Unlike the foreign press, which hands out the Golden Globes and the various regional film critics societies, who gave their prizes to Boyhood.)
Still, I’m voting my heart on this one. Yes, Birdman is wildly entertaining. But Boyhood offers a resonant glimpse into modern family life that will endure, in addition to its amazing contribution to the craft of making cinema.
BEST DIRECTOR Richard Linklater, Boyhood. Even more than usual this year, these two categories are joined at the hip, as both Boyhood and Birdman represent such singular director’s visions. This will probably not be one of those years where Academy voters divide the Director and Picture prizes: if Boyhood wins, Linklater will win this one. If Birdman wins, so will Iñárritu. Most egregious omission in this category? Ava DuVernay, for her extraordinarily powerful and accomplished handling of Best Picture nominee Selma.
BEST ACTOR Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything. I should be predicting Michael Keaton in Birdman, since, if my other predictions pan out, this would be the only major award that beloved film is poised to take. But Redmayne still has the buzz (and, significantly, the SAG award) for his precise and nuanced turn as Dr. Stephen Hawking, no matter how the Birdman/Boyhood smackdown plays out. He’d get my vote, over Benedict Cumberbatch (Imitation Game), Bradley Cooper (American Sniper), and the surprisingly serious Steve Carell (Foxcatcher).
BEST ACTRESS Julianne Moore, Still Alice. This is the only sure thing in the big four categories. Moore has already won every other prize for her performance as a woman coping with early-onset Alzheimer’s. And with four previous nominations, it’s perceived as her turn to win. Reese Witherspoon (Wild), Felicity Jones (terrific in Theory of Everything), Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl), and Marion Cotillard (Two Days, One Night) finish out of the running.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR J. K. Simmons, Whiplash. Like, Moore, he’s already won all the preliminary prizes. I’d vote for Edward Norton as the brilliant/deranged Broadway actor in Birdman, although I also thought Ethan Hawke was great in Boyhood. Foxcatcher didn’t make enough of a splash for Mark Ruffalo to win, nor will the ever-beloved Robert Duvall score an upset for The Judge.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS Patricia Arquette, Boyhood. As a divorced mom raising two kids, Arquette brings plucky, real-life-sized humanity to this film, and has been recognized for it at all the early award shows. She’s my favorite, although I also really liked Emma Stone (Birdman) and Laura Dern (Wild), over Keira Knightley (Imitation Game) and perennial nominee Meryl Streep (Into the Woods).
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY Birdman. This wry, well-crafted screenplay deserves to edge out Boyhood in this category. (Linklater’s film doesn’t feel scripted—which, of course, is a large part of its charm.) And since Iñárritu also co-wrote the script, this is the Academy’s best chance to give him his Oscar if he’s aced out of the directing prize.
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY The Imitation Game. It’s popular enough to be nominated in eight categories, and this is the best chance the Alan Turing codebreaking biopic has at striking gold. Theory of Everything might sneak in, although it may be perceived as more of an acting movie. American Sniper, Inherent Vice, and Whiplash are the runners-up.
MISCELLANY The only Foreign Language Film nominee I saw was Ida, which I adored, so I’m rooting for it, even if I can’t predict this category. The much-nominated Grand Budapest Hotel looks poised to win the Costume and Production Design awards, but Birdman should fly off with the Cinematography prize. And since I saw none of the Animated Feature nominees, you guys are on your own on that one!
(The 87th Annual Academy Awards airs at 5 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 22, on ABC.)
PHOTO: Michael Keaton in Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s ‘Birdman,’ which our film critic predicts will win Best Original Screenplay.