Post-Oscars update: My score this year was only 58%. Don't count on me for help with your office Oscar pool next year, I'm afraid!
Will I approve of the winners?
This year, more than ever, the answer is: Of course not.
I can't think of a year in which the outcome of key races seemed less sure, but when the front-runners in some key categories like Best Picture, are really disappointing to me. But, hey, with Neil Patrick Harris hosting, at least it should be a good show.
Here are my marginally educated guesses of who will take home Oscar gold ... and who I wish would:
WILL WIN: Birdman
SHOULD WIN: Whiplash
WHY? Birdman certainly has its admirers. I'm not one of them. I found it a flawed, overreaching movie, and while overreaching is generally something to be lauded, in Birdman's case the result was confusing, confused and more than a little smug about it all. It's too proud of itself and unable or unwilling to acknowledge its flaws. Whiplash, meanwhile, has the opposite problem: It hardly seems to take notice of its effortless greatness. It's a movie so consumed with examining whether excellence is earned or bestowed, whether perfection is really achievable (and, if so, whether it's worthwhile) that it doesn't comment on its own excellence or near perfection. And it is a nearly perfect film. It's just not flashy enough. Boyhood is a close second in this race, in my book -- it's a beautiful, genius movie, conceived and created with care and compassion. It's so wonderful, though, I think the Academy will deem it a bit too twee. The Grand Budapest Hotel is a little too frothy, Selma too overlooked, and American Sniper too successful, while the British biopics (The Imitation Game and The Theory of Everything) are just too pat and feel like they belong in a different decade -- and probably cancel each other out, anyway.
WILL WIN :
SHOULD WIN : Richard Linklater
WHY? Even those who found the film too slow and meandering can't deny what Richard Linklater has accomplished with Boyhood. The sheer audacity of conceiving a movie that could only be shot over the course of 12 years is exactly the kind of "risk above all" that Birdman claims in its advertisements to contain. Linklater has built a career on making great movies, which only adds to the inclination to honor him.
Best Supporting Actor
WILL WIN : J.K. Simmons
SHOULD WIN : J.K. Simmons
WHY? His performance is unforgettable, and you can't say that about any of the other actors in this category. They're all fine -- more than fine, every one of them delivers a memorable performance. But memorable is different than unforgettable. And Simmons is the only performance people will still remember 50 years from now.
Best Supporting Actress
WILL WIN :
SHOULD WIN : Laura Dern
WHY? The acting block of the Academy, the single biggest voting group, loves Birdman because it focuses on, well, them. Simmons (see above) can't be overlooked, but the other four actresses in this category ostensibly could be in order to favor Birdman. And Stone, there's no doubt, delivers a terrific performance. But Dern's task was vastly more difficult and more compelling: She has to haunt the entire movie. Her character's death is the catalyst for the entire film, so in her relatively brief screen time, she has to convey the life-force, the love, the power, the memory of a woman whose loss could be so grievous it leaves a gaping whole that can't be filled. Dern manages just that. It's a delicate, pitch-perfect performance, but the film is generally thought of (incorrectly) to be a one-woman show.
WILL WIN : Eddie Redmayne
SHOULD WIN : Eddie Redmayne
WHY? While there's a mighty good chance Michael Keaton will walk home with the gold for a performance that held Birdman together and resuscitated an entire career, Redmayne wowed with the physicality of his performance. As Stephen Hawking, he portrayed the arc of (almost) an entire life, and though seemingly trapped by the physical immobility of the role, pushed through a remarkable humor, spirit and personality. It's Oscar bait -- but it's also savagely good work.
WILL WIN : Julianne Moore
SHOULD WIN : Julianne Moore
WHY? I'm torn on this one, and the Academy might be, too, because Reese Witherspoon is the heart and the catharsis of Wild, and there's a small chance she could steal the Oscar, which would make me happy indeed. But as much as I love Wild (I thought it was the year's single best movie), Julianne Moore rises to a seemingly impossible task in Still Alice, balancing fine technical knowledge of the progression of Alzheimer's disease (and what it looks like to the outside world) with a finely wrought fear and anxiety: She plays a woman who feels her own mind slipping away and is helpless to do a thing about it. She has to watch herself disappear, and as good as the film itself is (and it's very good), Moore is even better.
Best Adapted Screenplay
WILL WIN :
SHOULD WIN : Whiplash
WHY? Voters won't be able to resist the epic sweep and endearing love at the heart of The Theory of Everything (and enough voters left with a foul taste in their mouths over American Sniper will likely hamper its chances here). But Whiplash took the sketched-out ideas of a short film (on which it's based) and expanded them into a kinetic, furiously observed meditation on the nature of dedication and perfection. It's the movie that should win this category and most of the categories in which it's nominated, if you ask me -- but, then, no one did. And The Theory of Everything is just too well put-together to be overlooked.
Best Original Screenplay
WILL WIN : Birdman
SHOULD WIN : Boyhood
WHY? The people who love Birdman are being very vocal about it, aided by a seemingly limitless budget for advertisements and screenings. Birdman will win in every category in which it has even a minor opening, and it has a major opening here -- the other nominees don't have the resonance of either Birdman or Boyhood (Nightcrawler was just too off-putting for many, but it is a stellar screenplay, even if I thought the movie was a little cold and distant). Boyhood certainly deserves this honor in my book, though; it's a story that plays through from beginning to end with the rhythms and uncertainties of real life, and Linklater had quite a task to figure out how to structure it all. The biggest problem for it: Many reports that say Linklater and the actors worked together to determine what the film should be, undermining (wrongly) the notion so many people have that a screenwriter sits in a room and writes out everything start to finish, and that only "those" kinds of writers should be rewarded.
Best Animated Film
SHOULD WIN : How to Train Your Dragon 2
WHY? Academy voters may have been very satisfied with Baymax's care, but I'll go out on a little bit of a limb here and say that the sheer technical accomplishment of How to Train Your Dragon 2 will wow one set of voters, while the movie's deep and resonant story will attract others. This is the first year in a long time that there hasn't been a clear-cut winner in the category, and though Dragon is perceived to be at a little bit of a disadvantage because it wasn't the knockout success of the first, without The Lego Movie in the race, it seems to be the favorite. I'd agree with that (though, admittedly, I haven't seen the other three, which is a shame I do not bear lightly), and I also found it a rich, satisfying, beautiful movie fully deserving of the accolade.
Trust me, I could very well keep going on and on about these categories, even ones in which I haven't seen the nominees. There's been no shortage of Oscar handicapping on the Internet, and I've been doing my best to keep up. But rather than bore you with what are often (perhaps incorrectly, given their importance to movies) considered "the other" categories, here's a quick set of my guesses in each:
Best Foreign Language Film:
Best Documentary Feature: Citizenfour
Best Documentary Short Subject: Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1
Best Costume Design: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Best Film Editing:
Best Cinematography: Birdman
Best Makeup/Hair Styling: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Best Original Score:
Best Original Song: Glory
Best Sound Editing: American Sniper
Best Sound Mixing:
Best Visual Effects:
Best Production Design: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Best Animated Short Film: Feast
Best Live Action Short Film:
So, let's see next Sunday night how I do. Perhaps I'll beat last year's 79% accuracy rate!