The Academy has done it again! A critically-praised movie that was fourth in domestic box office in 2014 can’t make a list of the top-five animated movies; no-brainer, sure-fire nominations (and easily-to-be-imagined winners) left off the final ballots; and seeming acting afterthoughts propelled into high-octane races—anyone who thinks they know exactly what Oscar voters will do is sure to find themselves quickly humbled. And yet I am quite pleased with my predictions, especially in the most important category.
More on that below.
The three biggest surprises highlighted above were The Lego Movie (my projected winner which made a staggering $257,760,692 in the U.S. alone in 2014) not making the five-movie cut in Best Animated Feature. Life Itself—a touching documentary on the late (and beloved) prolific movie reviewer Roger Ebert—failing to land on the short list for feature length documentary and Gillian Flynn—accomplishing the near-impossible: successfully adapting her own novel to the screen—left off the Adapted Screenplay roster for Gone Girl. I had both taking home little golden men on my grandma (and George Washington’s) birthday, February 22.
Hewing to historical norms the biggest waves were made in the acting categories.
The first mild surprise was for me a toss-up. Indeed: In my penultimate predictions for Best Supporting Actor, I had The Judge’s Robert Duvall in the last position with Lyndon Baines Johnson portrayer Tom Wilkinson just missing the cut. Alas I switched it at the last minute, elevating Selma’s Wilkinson and slotting in Duvall in my ‘sleeper’ spot. In the end I think it was the safe pick, an outpouring of love for the 84 year-old (and now seven-time nominated) Duvall combined with the controversy over the historical accuracy—overcomplicated argument made short: LBJ in real life was much more supportive (and much less combative) of Martin Luther King, Jr’s crusade for equal rights—of Wilkinson’s character made the difference in what was undoubtedly a razor-thin margin between the two estimable actors.
As for my selections in this strong category, I nailed the other four nominees: Edward Norton, Ethan Hawke, J.K. Simmons, and Mark Ruffalo for Birdman, Boyhood, Whiplash, and Foxcatcher, respectively.
The third biggest shocker was Laura Dern receiving a best supporting actress nod for Wild. It wasn’t because her performance wasn’t subtly heart wrenching (it was most certainly that); instead, I think many thought her limited screen time—all in flashbacks—would prevent her from receiving her second nomination (Rambling Rose).
Like their male brethren, I had the other four nominees—Emma Stone as Michael Keaton’s daughter in Birdman; Keira Knightley as a brilliant mathematician in The Imitation Game; Meryl Streep as a witch in Into the Woods; and Patricia Arquette as the boy’s mother in Boyhood—correct. As noted in the lead up to my predictions, I knew Streep would be nominated but I’m disappointed that her inclusion cost Rene Russo a nod for Nightcrawler. In a perfect world, Dern keeps her much deserved spot and Russo (or even Jessica Chastain for A Most Violent Year; Tilda Swinton for Snowpiercer; Imelda Staunton in Pride; or Emily Blunt, far better in the same musical) takes Streep’s seemingly annual nomination.
The two biggest surprises came in the lead actor categories.
If the Academy’s love affair with Meryl Streep is long and storied the crush they have on Bradley Cooper is still in its hot and torrid phase. Since being nominated for the fantastic Silver Linings Playbook two years ago, Cooper has been honored by his peers a remarkable three years in a row, including last season in a supporting role for the vastly overrated American Hustle. Not yet to take home a statue, Cooper has another shot as real-life xenophobic, racist serial killer, er, decorated war veteran Chris Kyle in Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper.
I’ve only seen two of the performances so far—Benedict Cumberbatch, superb as genius code-breaker Alan Turing in The Imitation Game and Michael Keaton sublime as a more base and id-driven version of himself in Birdman—but it’s a shame that David Oyelowo, portraying MLK in Selma, didn’t nab one of the spots, either displacing Cooper or Steve Carell in Foxcatcher.
With no other nominees of color in any of the acting categories, last year’s treasure trove of three thespians—Barkhad Abdi for Captain Phillips and Chiwetel Ejiofor and Lupita Nyong’o for Best Picture winner 12 Years a Slave—among the 20 nominees seems now much more an aberration than progress.
Theme alert: I again got four of the five nominees correct (in Cooper’s place I had Oyelowo), with Eddie Redmayne’s portrayal of astrophysicist Stephen Hawking joining Carell, Cumberbatch, and Keaton on the prestigious list.
This then brings us to the ladies and the most surprising nominee: Marion Cotillard. The Oscar winner for her portrayal of French chanteuse Édith Piaf in La Vie en Rose, Cotillard is of course no stranger to the adoration of the Academy. But when the final spot—Felicity Jones (The Theory of Everything), Julianne Moore (Still Alice), Reese Witherspoon (Wild), and Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl) were locks to be honored—was revealed it seemed to be a dark horse race between Jennifer Aniston in Cake and another Academy fave, Amy Adams, in Big Eyes.
Instead it was Cotillard—portraying a factory worker who has to persuade her co-workers to forgo their bonuses so she can keep her job—in Two Days, One Night, that received her second nomination. (Certainly she was on my radar, as I had her slotted as my ‘dark horse’ nominee.)
Tabulating my hits and misses for the acting categories, I finished at an even 80 percent, missing exactly one thespian among every five nominees for each category.
As for predicting the Best Director nominees, my average slipped a bit, with only three of my five predictive auteurs earning nominations. I chose wisely with Birdman’s Alejandro González Iñárritu, Boyhood’s Richard Linklater, and The Grand Budapest Hotel’s Wes Anderson. I thought the last two nominees would be Ava DuVernay for Selma and Damien Chazelle for Whiplash, which he filmed in just 19 days.
But the Academy went for Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game, brilliant) and, curiously, Foxcatcher’s Bennett Miller. Previously nominated for Capote, Miller seems the odd choice, especially considering the ready alternatives of DuVernay, Chazelle, and even David Fincher for Gone Girl. I loved The Imitation Game—and had Tyldum as my sleeper—so I only disagree with one of the Academy’s choices.
Acting awards are great. Directing Oscars make careers and ensure future pictures will be made exactly how (and with how much) the winner chooses. Best Picture, though, is what is always remembered. It’s the ultimate prize whose colossal impact cannot be quantified or accurately gauged. It’s cinematic immortality.
Predicting this most important (and difficult) category is not for the faint of heart. And yet . . . perfection! Eight nominees and I had them all: American Sniper, Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), Boyhood, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Imitation Game, Selma, The Theory of Everything, Whiplash.
(True I listed nine, but not knowing how many the Academy would nominate—in the three previous years since the category expanded from anywhere between five and 10 films, nine have been named each year—I postulated that given the success, both critical and financial, of Gone Girl, they would honor it with a Best Picture nod. Going forward I will rank my film nominees in likelihood of nomination, lest this happen again and I become untrustworthy to my readers.)
Last year, I correctly chose 19 of the 25 actor and directing noms and eight of the nine Best Picture finalists. This year was one better: again 19 of 25 but all eight of the year’s premier films. Also of great import: My entire cast of predicted winners—Arquette, Simmons, Moore, Keaton—made the cut as did my director, Richard Linklater, and his career defining film, the 12-years-in-the-making Boyhood.