Birdman_courtesy_Fox_Searchlight

The Oscars may be one of the most divisive award shows out there. The tension of tastes seem especially high with the populus favorite, American Sniper, going up against some undoubtedly better films that mainstream audiences didn’t know existed. But one possibly good thing that comes out of this is a conversation about what a makes a great film. Invariably this dialogue ends in: “That’s just your opinion, man.” But as a professor once told me when it comes to matters of opinion: “There’s no right answer. Just better ones.” The same can be applied to a contest drenched in pretensions. While I will not defend the Academy for some of the outspoken ignorance by certain members, racial slights, and the politics that will arise because the Academy is in fact made up by humans, not computers. This ensemble of judges are like any other group of humans. No matter the “objective” intentions, politics, emotions, a fight with their SO, and what they had for breakfast that day will affect their decisions.

Through all those inconsistent variables we hope that like last year (I’m thinking 12 Years a Slave and Alfonso Cuarón’s takeaways) the films and talent that win the awards are those that deserve the recognition. The question that remains is what should designate these nods? The fairest answer is craft. Is this always the case during the Oscars? No. More often than not, personal affinities and valid concerns over career length come into play. That being said, the predictions below are what I think the Academy will do, not necessarily my own choices. In a perfect world, these awards would be a celebration of filmmaking craft and the unbelievably difficult to put in perspective achievement that all of these films have accomplished. No matter who walks away with Gold figurines on Sunday, the exercise in skillful making that is shown throughout all these films should be appreciated. We as viewers often take for granted the films we are privileged to watch. Not knowing that completing a film at all is as French filmmaker Patrice Leconte put it, “a miracle.”

Best Actor

EDDIE REDMAYNE

THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING

Best Actress

JULIANNE MOORE

STILL ALICE

Best Supporting Actor

J.K. SIMMONS

WHIPLASH

This one is no contest. It also doesn’t hurt that Simmons is an industry veteran with some 100+ credits to his IMDB. Simmons won with the trailer alone:

Best Supporting Actress

PATRICIA ARQUETTE

BOYHOOD

Another no contest. Emma Stone does put up a good fight, but it’s a bit too early for her. Seniority does pull rank here, but Arquette’s performance is delicate, emotionally affective, and elegant in a way that only experience and hard work allow.

Best Animated Short Film

“FEAST”

PATRICK OSBORNE AND KRISTINA REED

“Awwwww. Wait, why am I crying?”

Best Animated Feature

HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2

DEAN DEBLOIS AND BONNIE ARNOLD

We all know the brilliant piece of content marketing The Lego Movie should win this, but sadly animated movies in the US are still only judged on quality of animation. They’re treated more like cartoons than as feature films. The result: A movie with excellent direction and writing gets snubbed. It doesn’t help matters that Dreamworks reportedly lobbied extensively for HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2. So it goes.

Best Documentary (Short Subject)

“CRISIS HOTLINE: VETERANS PRESS 1” ELLEN GOOSENBERG KENT AND DANA PERRY

Best Documentary Feature

CITIZENFOUR

LAURA POITRAS, MATHILDE BONNEFOY AND DIRK WILUTZKY

Best Foreign Language Film

IDA

Poland

Best Original Score

THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL

ALEXANDRE DESPLAT

Best Film Editing

BOYHOOD

SANDRA ADAIR

This is a tough category with Whiplash’s masterful use of cross cutting throwing a wildcard into the mix. But you try taking 12 years of footage and assembling the content into a smooth whole.

Best Adapted Screenplay

THE IMITATION GAME

WRITTEN BY GRAHAM MOORE

Best Original Screenplay

THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL

SCREENPLAY BY WES ANDERSON

STORY BY WES ANDERSON & HUGO GUINNESS

Another tough one, as my personal affinity for Birdman gets in the way. Birdman coalesces theater, Raymond Carver, and all sides of Hollywood films into a creative whole that makes me wonder wtf, how the hell did this work so well? But Anderson needs a win and his tight frames-within-frames narrative that never has a dull moment is told with such smooth confidence, humor, and passion that I almost ran out of adjectives to describe it.

Best Cinematography

BIRDMAN OR (THE UNEXPECTED VIRTUE OF IGNORANCE)

EMMANUEL LUBEZKI

LOL. That’s me laughing at anyone thinking that another DP has a chance. When you make a two hour feature film with only a few visible cuts this is what happens. The illusion of the single, continuous take is beautiful, but technically it’s insane. Lubezki is crazy (who won last year for Gravity) for even considering taking on this challenge. Here’s to two wins in a row. Looks like Lubezki is turning into the new Roger Deakins (who’s up for this award every single year).

Best Director

BOYHOOD

RICHARD LINKLATER

This was another tough decision. The hardest fought categories this year are Best Director and Best Picture as they both have Boyhood and Birdman talent competing for wins. Splitting the awards between these two films is what I’m expecting to see. My reasoning here is that although Alejandro G. Iñárritu did an expert job directing the tour de force of talent that is The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance, he didn’t do it over 12 years. There’s also the fact that Linklater is due for this award as well. But for Linklater to so perfectly cast a film, foster those actors over 12 years, and make it all look as easy as he does, is incredible.

Best Motion Picture of The Year

BIRDMAN OR (THE UNEXPECTED VIRTUE OF IGNORANCE)

ALEJANDRO G. IÑÁRRITU, JOHN LESHER AND JAMES W. SKOTCHDOPOLE, PRODUCERS

I’ll admit that there’s a good chance that this award will go to Boyhood. The reason being  that Boyhood is, as a colleague of mine put it, digestible by the masses. Birdman is a strange and learned film with references to theater and American writers, proclivities that all reek of snobbiness. Yet for all of Birdman’s high falutent flavors, it’s a highly entertaining and grounded film. That it accomplishes what it does with enough meat for the critics, the cinephiles, and other filmmakers is a testament to its power. After I watched Birdman, I rushed to tell my director friend about the film. He went to the theaters, saw it, and simply texted me “Wow.” That’s what Birdman represents on every single level of craft. The script, the acting, the score, the cinematography, the sound mixing, the illusive editing, the grips, the whole production is full of talent. This is why American Sniper or any other beloved movie on this list shouldn’t and, with the exception of Boyhood, will not win the award.

While American Sniper has a moving story, and is an excellent failed anti-war film turned propaganda, it has one or two things going for it. There’s Bradley Cooper’s brilliant performance, a timely, emotional story, and an ideology that Americans can get behind. But that’s it. The supporting actors are subpar. The script often falls into melodrama. The first act is especially Lifetime-y. The film failed miserably at its anti-war hopes, instead fostering greater hate and justification for war. Birdman, on the other hand, has a crew of people working at the highest levels of filmmaking. It’s undoubtedly the more difficult film to make and is done so in a way that speaks to our experiences as people. Iñárritu and his team push filmmaking forward. The analogy here is setting new records in sports. When people look back to judge a film by its cinematic merits, they’re not going to ask is this movie as good as American Sniper. They’re going to compare it to the film with the highest show of craft.

 

SECONDARY AWARDS

Best Costume Design

THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL

MILENA CANONERO

Best MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING

THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL

FRANCES HANNON AND MARK COULIER

Best Original Song

“GLORY”

SELMA

MUSIC AND LYRIC BY JOHN STEPHENS AND LONNIE LYNN

Best Production Design

THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL

PRODUCTION DESIGN: ADAM STOCKHAUSEN SET DECORATION: ANNA PINNOCK

Best Sound Editing

AMERICAN SNIPER

ALAN ROBERT MURRAY AND BUB ASMAN

Best Sound Mixing

WHIPLASH

CRAIG MANN, BEN WILKINS AND THOMAS CURLEY

Best Visual Effects

INTERSTELLAR

PAUL FRANKLIN, ANDREW LOCKLEY, IAN HUNTER AND SCOTT FISHER

 

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