The Oscars are a time for revelry and merriment. The chosen few of Hollywood (our modern Babylon or maybe Sodom and Gomorrah) are given exultant praise while the rest of us sit at home, getting increasingly drunk and yelling at the TV. Grousing about the Oscars is a national pastime at this point, a sport comprised of poking holes at an overlong, self-congratulatory pageant that’s meant to celebrate artistic merit but more often than not simply rewards those who campaign hardest or appeal most to the Academy’s often middle-of-the-road tastes.
If it’s shocking that the Academy is overwhelmingly white (94%), male (76%), and elderly (the average age of voters is 63) then you simply haven’t been paying attention. But even in a year that saw some egregious snubs (*cough* Ava DuVernay for Best Director *cough*), we should at least celebrate what little diversity there is (lots of British folks!). Setting all that aside, it’s key to recall that 2014 was a great year for movies, one of the best in recent memory, and to view the Oscars for what they are: a chance to cheer favourites and jeer bad choices, to stare vacantly at beautiful people and imagine the orgiastic after parties they’ll be attending, and to celebrate some of the best films of the year and see who brings home those little bald golden men. With that in mind, here are my picks and previews for the 2015 Academy Awards:
(likely to win in bold, my preference in italics, click any underlined nominee to go to the full review)
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
- Robert Duvall – The Judge
- Ethan Hawke – Boyhood
- Edward Norton – Birdman
- Mark Ruffalo – Foxcatcher
- J.K. Simmons – Whiplash
J.K. Simmons in Whiplash is a virtual lock and deservedly so. His Terrence Fletcher is an antagonist for the ages, and a truly ferocious, funny and frightening performance deserving of all the accolades received.
Possible dark horse: Edward Norton could sneak in here for his role in Birdman as a self-absorbed and self-destructive actor that draws some inspiration from his real life, a tactic the academy often likes. If Robert Duvall gets it for The Judge I’ll eat my shoe in protest.
Who was snubbed?: Channing Tatum was surprisingly nuanced in Foxcatcher but was rightfully set aside in favour of Mark Ruffalo’s more soulful turn in the same film. While unlikely, it would’ve been nice to see Michael Fassbender here for Frank, as he showed he can act his ass off even behind a giant paper-mâché head.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
- Patricia Arquette – Boyhood
- Laura Dern – Wild
- Keira Knightley – The Imitation Game
- Emma Stone – Birdman
- Meryl Streep – Into the Woods
Another one that seems to be going in the right direction, the stars are looking to align for Patricia Arquette and her stirring portrayal of Mason Jr.’s mom in the 12-years-in-the-making Boyhood. Her final devastating scene alone ensures that she’ll be in serious consideration.
Possible Dark Horse: Laura Dern was effective and ethereal in her short screen time in Wild, but Emma Stone for Birdman seems more likely. She plays a young, newly-sober waif, the kind of character (and ingénue actress) that the Academy seems to favour in this category.
Who was snubbed?: Emily Blunt in Edge of Tomorrow! It’s a non-traditional (and kick-ass) choice, and surely better than Meryl Streep getting nominated for simply getting out of bed.
ANIMATED FEATURE FILM
How To Train Your Dragon 2 seems like the frontrunner and it’s a fine choice too. Filled with action, heart, and stakes, it’s a series that continues to evolve with its audience, not unlike a certain franchise about a boy wizard.
Possible dark horse: Song of the Sea is delightful and idiosyncratic, a triumph of classical storytelling and whimsical design. Its creators previously scored a surprise nomination in 2009 for The Secret of Kells and now may be their time to win.
Who was snubbed?: It may have seemed crazy a year ago, but when the Oscar noms were announced it was shocking that The Lego Movie wasn’t among them. What initially seemed like a crass commercial concept turned out to be a monster hit with critics and audiences, making its omission here a baffling choice. Everything is not awesome apparently.
FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
- Ida – Poland
- Leviathan – Russia
- Tangerines – Estonia
- Timbuktu – Mauritania
- Wild Tales – Argentina
Ida is an austere black-and-white film that tackles identity in post-WW2 Europe, so it stands a good chance at winning this category on subject matter alone (and is carefully composed as well). Timbuktu is the first nominee from the small nation of Mauritania, which may gain it favour amongst voters looking to back an underdog.
Possible dark horse: Leviathan is a darkly comic look at the Job-like struggle of one man against Russian bureaucracy, and is both timely and brusquely beautiful. Wild Tales is more outwardly funny and ribald, and would mark a playful winner in a category often filled with dour and serious films.
Who was snubbed?: Two Swedish films turned out to be some of the best of the year. Force Majeure‘s uncomfortable family dynamics was Sweden’s official entry into the Foreign Language Oscar race, while We Are The Best! was a true coming-of-age delight and deserves to be seen by as many folks as possible.
- Marion Cotillard – Two Days, One Night
- Felicity Jones – The Theory of Everything
- Julianne Moore – Still Alice
- Rosamund Pike – Gone Girl
- Reese Witherspoon – Wild
Julianne Moore is heavily favoured for Still Alice, the one nominee I haven’t yet seen. I’m sure she’s great but it may be a case of the Academy righting previous wrongs and rewarding an artist’s stellar career as opposed to a single performance (like Al Pacino in The Scent of a Woman). I’d like to see Marion Cotillard take it, not just for Two Days, One Night, but for her other great 2014 role in The Immigrant.
Possible Dark Horse: It’d be neat to see Rosamund Pike sneak in here for Gone Girl as the movie doesn’t have too many nominations and was a slam dunk of a film that ruffled a lot of feathers.
Who was snubbed?: It’s a little-seen horror pic – the kind of genre that rarely gets noticed at big awards shows – but Essie Davis was a true powerhouse in the terrifying tale of parental trauma and loss The Babadook.
- Steve Carell – Foxcatcher
- Bradley Cooper – American Sniper
- Benedict Cumberbatch – The Imitation Game
- Michael Keaton – Birdman
- Eddie Redmayne – The Theory of Everything
Eddie Redmayne and Michael Keaton are in a close race here, with Redmayne’s transformative work in the dramatic pic The Theory of Everything outweighing the more comedic and esoteric Birdman. I’d like to see Keaton take it to complete his triumphant comeback.
Possible Dark Horse: Outside of Keaton’s chances, it’s not out of the question that Bradley Cooper sneaks in here for packing on 30 lbs as Chris Kyle, the titular American Sniper. The movie is poised to become the highest grossing domestic release of 2014 and Cooper has been a favourite of the Academy in recent years.
Who was snubbed?: David Oyelowo for playing MLK in Selma. He humanized a towering historical figure and did justice to an oratorical legend in the film’s many stirring speeches. Forget political correctness, forget 12 Years A Slave trodding similar ground (I’d argue that the two are quite different and distinct, but whatever), and recognize that this performance definitely deserved at the very least to be nominated. I’d swap it out for Carell personally, as that feels more like a supporting role where the prosthetics do a lot of the heavy lifting.
- Wes Anderson – The Grand Budapest Hotel
- Alejandro G. Iñárritu – Birdman
- Richard Linklater – Boyhood
- Bennett Miller – Foxcatcher
- Morten Tyldum – The Imitation Game
After winning the DGA Iñárritu seems like a relatively safe pick for Best Director. Birdman was showy and self-referential, and the academy has shown in recent years that it’s not afraid to award one film for Best Direction and another for Best Picture. I’d like to see Linklater win for Boyhood as he essentially made 12 (great) short films over the span of as many years, and still tied them together as a cohesive whole.
Possible dark horse: It seems certain that either Iñárritu or Linklater will go home with the golden statue and neither would be shocking. Of the three remaining choices I’d vote for Anderson as The Grand Budapest Hotel is the culmination of an already masterful career and succeeds in every way a film can.
Who was snubbed?: No doubt about it, Ava DuVernay deserves to be here for Selma. She not only wove complex historical events into an affecting whole but she also wrangled a huge cast and made the past seem shockingly alive and vital and real. If I had a time machine this is the one snub I’d like to right (I’d also kill Hitler and hunt a Tyrannosaurus Rex).
- American Sniper
- The Grand Budapest Hotel
- The Imitation Game
- The Theory of Everything
Boyhood seems unstoppable at this point, picking up a slew of awards on its way to the big show and encountering little resistance. It’s my favourite of the bunch, excelling well beyond its central conceit and showing the small moments that add up to create the tapestry of a life. It’s hard to imagine it won’t take home this award and cap a steady run that had many critics pegging it as the frontrunner upon it’s initial release last summer.
Possible dark horse: With an increasingly large head of steam behind it, Birdman seems most poised to pull off an upset. I’d be happy to see The Grand Budapest Hotel take it, but the chances of that seem slim.
Who was snubbed?: It’s actually a pretty solid category, with films ranging from good to great. It sounds strange but it would’ve been nice to see a more commercial pick (like Gone Girl) or something from left field (like Blue Ruin or Snowpiercer) as the category can go to 10 nominations total.
Remember – winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing. Just kidding! The Oscars are overblown and ostentatious and onanistic, but we love ’em anyway. Enjoy the show.