It’s Oscar time, and whether or not you’re a fan of the ceremony (with its countless musical interludes, frequently cringe-worthy script, and some awkward actor pairings if ever there were any), it’s hard not to get caught up in the awards season build up – it does last about a quarter of the year after all. This inevitably leads to the prediction game. What follows is a series of will win/ should win, wherein I give my opinions, guesses and slightly more educated guesses as to the outcomes in the major categories on Sunday.
It’s always nice when a Best Picture category seems to reflect a strong and diverse year for cinema – think 2010, a year when the line-up had room for such varied entries as The Social Network, Toy Story 3, Black Swan and Inception. Although the same cannot be said for this year’s roster (due in large part to its reduced size – only 8 films have been nominated this time, thanks to a voting system so convoluted that not even Academy members quite seem to understand it), it is nonetheless bolstered by a number of ambitious, original and (in general) wildly successful admissions such as critical darlings Boyhood and Whiplash, both of which premiered over 12 months ago, at 2014’s Sundance Festival. Unfortunately, the other films which pad out the Best Picture category reveal an even stronger showing than usual from the annual Oscar bait biopics, from the perfectly good to The Imitation Game.
A year of extremes then, and as such neither the best nor the worst in recent history, but which are the frontrunners? This appears to be a two horse race; Boyhood is coming in strong after a win at the Baftas last week (their Best Film award has agreed with the Oscar champion since 2008), while Birdman has been gaining momentum through successive wins at the Producers’ Guild, Screen Actors’ Guild and Directors’ Guild Awards – in the past, this triple crown has almost always led to Academy gold. It’s not an easy category to mark and predictions have been split both ways, but in the end I can’t help thinking of Birdman as the outsider. Whilst acknowledging Boyhood‘s mighty achievements, it does seem to fall more in line with expected Academy preferences, and though the membership has shown a taste for movies about the industry (with recent winners including Argo and The Artist), Birdman is an altogether different beast, lacking the warm heart or Hollywood heroics that may have propelled those films to victory. Plus, the Academy has a precedent for rewarding critically lauded depictions of 12-year journeys to freedom.
No matter – either possibility would be a win for film fans, and both are daring, brilliantly presented visions the likes of which haven’t been seen in this category for some time (perhaps since 2007’s No Country for Old Men/There Will Be Blood head to head). My personal pick of the bunch however is Whiplash, a gripping, piercingly intense look into obsession and the price we will pay to achieve our dreams, with a killer soundtrack to boot.
Will win: Boyhood
Should win: Whiplash
This looks to play similarly to the above category, with Iñárritu and Linklater (helmers of Birdman and Boyhood respectively) the key figures. Boyhood in particular can be seen as a highly director-driven, logistically demanding pet project, one which was over a decade in the making. Iñárritu’s Birdman is the flashier of the two however (with its striking ‘done-in-one-take’ surface), and his win at the Director’s Guild Awards lends him serious weight in the category.
The deciding factor here may be a desire among the voters to spread the wealth between its top films (and who can argue? It can be awfully dull when one film sweeps the major awards), which could well result in a win for Iñárritu to complement Boyhood winning Best Picture. The precedent is there, with last year seeing a split between 12 Years a Slave and Gravity, and Argo and Life of Pi the year before that. Of course it could swing the other way, with Birdman winning Best Film and Linklater taking Best Director, but that seems less likely, especially given the trend in the last two years of honouring the director of the more visually dazzling contender.
Will win: Iñárritu
Should win: Iñárritu
Now for a category which is much simpler to predict. From the Critic’s Choice Awards and the Golden Globes, to the SAGs and the BAFTAs, Julianne Moore hasn’t missed a step in her awards campaign, and she now stands set to take the Oscar which she has for so many years deserved, for her portrayal in Still Alice of a linguistics professor struggling to come to terms with her future after being diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s. I haven’t seen the film yet (and so it is excluded from ‘Should win’), but it will be wonderful to see one of the most phenomenally talented actors of her generation finally rewarded, having been nominated four times in the past, losing out each time (her performance in 1997’s Boogie Nights, for which she was nominated in the Supporting Actress category, is particularly outstanding). This feeling among voters of a superb actor finally receiving her due will only add to the momentum, and this category is surely one of the most secure locks of the night.
Choosing a favourite from the other contenders is difficult in this remarkably strong category (with the exception of Felicity Jones’ performance in The Theory of Everything, which was… fine) but if anyone rises above the pack, it is probably Rosamund Pike for her bizarre but utterly mesmerising turn in David Fincher’s thriller Gone Girl, which was sadly and unfairly ignored in the nominations for the other major Oscar categories. Reese Witherspoon and Marion Cotillard both turned in excellent performances as well, elevating premises of questionable interest to totally gripping fare.
Will win: Julianne Moore
Should win: Rosamund Pike (…or Julianne Moore)
Here is another two man contest, and one with my most pronounced will win/should win divide yet: Eddie Redmayne’s chances (for his strong but *very* Oscar-centric role as a young Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything) are looking ever more favourable as he comes out of wins at the Baftas and Screen Actors’ Guild Awards (which, crucially, has correctly predicted the eventual Oscar winner for more than a decade and makes up the Academy’s largest voting branch), while Michael Keaton’s standing seems to be slipping despite an early win at the Critic’s Choice Awards.
Yet in this writer’s opinion, Keaton’s perfectly cast, self-referential turn in Birdman as Riggan Thomson, a washed up actor desperate to stage a comeback with a new self-directed Broadway production, ain’t the same ballpark, it ain’t the same league, it ain’t even the same f*ckin’ sport (end quote), and nothing on Oscar night would give me greater pleasure than seeing Keaton collect the statue that I believe he truly deserves for this by turns bitter, tortured, moving and hilarious powerhouse performance. It is by no means a long shot either – the man is obviously a veteran and he has a heck of a legacy, so support for him is sure to be strong among the voting body. This is another difficult race to call, and one which I will be greatly invested in come Sunday night.
Will win: Eddie Redmayne by a hair
Should win: Michael Keaton by a length
Best Supporting Actor:
With the exception of Leading Actor, the acting categories this year are the most secure of the lot, and in this case it’s J.K. Simmons who’s primed to take the award for his work bringing tyrannical bandleader Terence Fletcher to life in Whiplash. Simmons has won every major award from the Globe to the Bafta, and who are we to argue? This performance is a career best, an exhilarating thrill ride that people will talk about for years to come, and clearly industry voters agree – this category is straightforward, as it should be.
Will win: J.K. Simmons
Should win: J.K. Simmons
Best Supporting Actress:
This category is rather weaker than its male counterpart, due to such inclusions as Keira Knightley (lacking any flair in The Imitation Game, though to be fair she didn’t have much chance with that script) and Emma Stone (for my money the sole weak link in the otherwise excellent Birdman ensemble), but a strong frontrunner has emerged all the same: in this case it’s Patricia Arquette’s to lose.
In the same vein as Moore and Simmons, she’s gradually built up unstoppable momentum, winning all the big awards for her wonderfully honest role as a mother doing her best to raise her children in Boyhood, and being heaped with critical acclaim straight from the film’s premiere over a year ago. Arquette is a deserving winner, though I would personally love to see Laura Dern take the prize for her devastating performance which lies at the fiercely beating heart of Wild (again as a single mother trying to do right by her children), the film about a woman (Witherspoon) hiking the Pacific Crest Trail in an effort to come to terms with her past.
Will win: Patricia Arquette
Should win: Laura Dern
Best Original Screenplay:
Big awards favourites Boyhood and Birdman are certainly contenders here, but it’s Wes Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel which finds itself pulling ahead, after last minute wins at the Baftas and Writers’ Guild Awards. The script sees Anderson firing on all cylinders, and it sparkles in a way that the other contenders can’t match – Birdman‘s script is a little inconsistent (particularly in the scenes between Ed Norton and Emma Stone), Nightcrawler is a wild ride but flawed (and would perhaps belong more in categories such as Editing and Best Actor), and Foxcatcher‘s screenplay is probably about fifteen pages, judging by the word-per-minute snail’s pace at which the dialogue is delivered.
Looking good for Wes Anderson then, especially if Academy members are indeed adopting the spreading-of-wealth approach, given that Boyhood and Birdman are more likely winners in the Film and Director categories.
Will win: Grand Budapest Hotel
Should win: Grand Budapest Hotel
Best Adapted Screenplay:
This is a particularly unclear category, and not because there’s a wealth of quality on offer, unfortunately. The Imitation Game was pipped to be the leader of the group before a surprise victory for The Theory of Everything at the Baftas, though a win for the former on Saturday at the Writers’ Guild Awards and a predictably tasteless Oscar campaign from Harvey Weinstein (urging voters to ‘Honor this movie. Honor this man’) may see it regain its composure.
A saviour may come in the form of Whiplash, the film with the brilliant script which is absolutely not adapted – an Oscar technicality has landed this screenplay in the wrong category, which works hugely in its favour as it has left behind the far stronger Original Screenplay lineup, where it had little to no chance. As such, we have not had an opportunity to see how Whiplash fares against this weaker competition (as it hasn’t been nominated in the Adapted Screenplay categories elsewhere), so it stands as something of a wild card.
With very little evidence to go on, I’ll simply back Whiplash with all my heart (partly in desperation) and hope that something other than The Imitation Game wins on the night.
Will win: Whiplash… please…
Should win: Whiplash