First-Pass Oscar Predictions, 2015

In a past life I was a full-time film critic and still keep up with the field. So every year when the Oscar nominations come out, I predict what will win in the six major categories, first fresh out of the gate, then again just before the ceremony, to factor in changing circumstances. The awards were just announced, so let’s dive in, shall we?

Best Picture

“American Sniper” Clint Eastwood, Robert Lorenz, Andrew Lazar, Bradley Cooper and Peter Morgan, Producers
“Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” Alejandro G. Iñárritu, John Lesher and James W. Skotchdopole, Producers
“Boyhood” Richard Linklater and Cathleen Sutherland, Producers
“The Grand Budapest Hotel” Wes Anderson, Scott Rudin, Steven Rales and Jeremy Dawson, Producers
“The Imitation Game” Nora Grossman, Ido Ostrowsky and Teddy Schwarzman, Producers
“Selma” Christian Colson, Oprah Winfrey, Dede Gardner and Jeremy Kleiner, Producers
“The Theory of Everything” Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Lisa Bruce and Anthony McCarten, Producers
“Whiplash” Jason Blum, Helen Estabrook and David Lancaster, Producers

The Academy can nominate up to ten films a year in this category; eight made the cut this year. At this point I usually throw out the films that don’t also have a director nominated as well, because it’s very rare for a film to win Best Picture when the director is not at least nominated. This year, that would leave out Whiplash, The Theory of Everything, Selma and American Sniper. I do think we can chuck out Whiplash and Theory, so out they go. However, I think it would be foolish to entirely discount Sniper this year; it has several other high-profile nominations, and I think people know who Clint Eastwood is as a director (he’s already got two director Oscars). Selma I would have ranked higher but a quick scan tells me it has two nominations total (the other being in Best Original Song), and I think that means it’s done.

I would toss out Budapest next, for the simple fact it’s a comedy and comedy statistically has a rough road to victory in the category. Birdman is also nominally a comedy, but I think its chances are better. For lack of a better way of putting it, it’s fresher than Budapest, which is, essentially, Wes Anderson doing what we all know Wes Anderson does (note: this is not a complaint. I loved Budapest).

At the moment I think four nominees have a decent chance at the Oscar: Sniper, Birdman, Boyhood and Imitation. If I had to rank their chances at the moment, I would do it thusly: 4. Birdman; 3. Boyhood; 2. Sniper; 1. Imitation. I rank Imitation highest not for any special fondness for the film, but because it’s a Weinstein Company film, and if the Weinsteins know anything, it’s Oscar campaign trench warfare. But I don’t think any of these films is out of the running.

If the Oscar were mine to give, I’d probably go with Boyhood, because it’s a marvelous stunt of a film (it was filmed over a dozen years with the same cast) that will likely never be done again, and it was also better than its stunt. That’s worth an Oscar to me.

But yeah, this category I’ll definitely be revisiting later.

Will win: The Imitation Game

Should win: Boyhood

 

Best Director

Alejandro G. Iñárritu, “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”
Richard Linklater, “Boyhood”
Bennett Miller, “Foxcatcher”
Wes Anderson, “The Grand Budapest Hotel”
Morten Tyldum, “The Imitation Game”

Miller out first, on account that Foxcatcher isn’t nominated for Best Picture, and a director’s odds are not good at all when that happens (in fact I can’t recall off the top of my head a director winning when their film was not nominated for Best Picture; if it happened it was long long ago).

After that it gets tricky. Tyldum has a chance, and historically the Academy likes to tie in the director and picture awards, and I am nominally giving Imitation the lead in that race at the moment. However, particularly in the last several years the Academy hasn’t been shy in splitting director and picture, and the rest of Tyldum’s resume consists of little-seen (in Hollywood) films in other languages, and there are other people in the category I suspect the Academy might want to award. So I’m hedging my bets on Tyldum.

I think Anderson’s out next, although I suspect there’s a very good chance he’ll be walking away with a different Oscar, which I will detail in a bit. I think, then, it’s going to come down to Iñárritu and Linklater, and of the two, I would put my money on Linklater. As noted before, he’s done something as a director no one else has done; also he’s been nominated for Oscars previously, and it might just be his time. I think he’s got it this year.

Will win: Linklater

Should win: Linklater

 

Best Actress

Marion Cotillard in “Two Days, One Night”
Felicity Jones in “The Theory of Everything”
Julianne Moore in “Still Alice”
Rosamund Pike in “Gone Girl”
Reese Witherspoon in “Wild”

Let me just make this one short and say I will be very surprised if Moore doesn’t take it. She’s been nominated for Oscars four times before (twice in both acting categories), she’s great, it’s her time, and the competition is between two women who have won Oscars already (Cotillard and Witherspoon) and two first-timers (Jones and Pike). This, to me, is an easy call. If Moore doesn’t get it, I’d put money on Jones, followed by, in order, Witherspoon, Cotillard and Pike.

Will win: Moore

Should win: Moore

 

Best Actor

Steve Carell in “Foxcatcher”
Bradley Cooper in “American Sniper”
Benedict Cumberbatch in “The Imitation Game”
Michael Keaton in “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”
Eddie Redmayne in “The Theory of Everything”

With the exception of Redmayne, who I think should probably be happy just to be here, I have no idea how this category will go. Carell has a very good chance by playing against type in a dramatic (and creepy) role and doing a universally acclaimed job of it; Cooper has been previously nominated and this could be Sniper’s big Oscar pickup; Keaton is giving the performance of his career and is the legitimate comeback kid of this crowd; Cumberbatch is as hot as an actor can be at the moment and may benefit from an Imitation Oscar snowball effect. It could go any of these ways. I just don’t know. Someone who tells you they know, or that there’s an easy choice here, is lying.

For the moment, I’m gonna give the edge to Cooper, for no other reason that of this whole crowd, he’s the one closest to the standard idea of a leading man, and yes, that’s an utterly shitty reason, but look, I told you this is a tough category. If the award was mine to give, I’d give it to Keaton, who takes a role that could have been mere parody — Keaton playing an actor who played a superhero, trying to escape that legacy! It’s so meta! — and made something better out of it.

Will win: Cooper

Should win: Keaton

 

Best Supporting Actress

Patricia Arquette in “Boyhood”
Laura Dern in “Wild”
Keira Knightley in “The Imitation Game”
Emma Stone in “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”
Meryl Streep in “Into the Woods”

Oh, look, here’s Streep’s annual nomination. They just gave her an Oscar in the lead category; she’s not gonna get this one. I’m not quite feeling it for Stone or Dern, either, although I approve of the nominations in both cases, and if either wins, I think it will say positive things about their filmmate’s chances in the lead categories. I think this will come down to Arquette and Knightley, and of the two I would give edge to Knightley, because of her previous nominations and because of the Weinstein ability to craft Oscar juggernauts. But if Arquette takes it, it could be an early signal of good things for Boyhood generally.

Will win: Knightley

Should win: Arquette

 

Best Supporting Actor

Robert Duvall in “The Judge”
Ethan Hawke in “Boyhood”
Edward Norton in “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”
Mark Ruffalo in “Foxcatcher”
J.K. Simmons in “Whiplash”

Oh, I don’t know. I’m historically bad at guessing this category and this year is no different. My gut tells me that Duvall’s on the slate because Robert Downey Jr., did some campaigning for him, Simmons is in the Richard Jenkins “Guy you know from TV gets a shot” slot, Hawke’s gonna get slighted again, and then Ruffalo and Norton are gonna basically slap fight for it from there, and Norton taking it because it’ll be Birdman’s nod for the year. But I have to tell you, my gut could be really high.

I want them to give it to Hawke, I know that much; for a dude who currently makes most of his income from Screen Gems horror/sci-fi films that show up in the off-brand months of the cinematic year, he sure shows up at the Oscars at lot (two screenwriting nominations and now two supporting nods), and if anyone deserves it this year, it’s him, unless you think doing the same role for a dozen years and making it work is easy.

Yeah, if you haven’t figured it out by now, I think Boyhood should pretty much win all the Oscars this year. Anyway.

Will win: Norton

Should win: Hawke

 

Other notes:

Screenwriting Oscars are the unofficial “compensatory Oscars” for directors — just ask Orson Welles or Quentin Tarantino — so I think there’s an excellent chance this year that Original Screenplay will go to Wes Anderson, for Budapest (and also as a bit of a career award). If it doesn’t go to Anderson, I expect it to go to Linklater, also nominated in the category. Adapted Screenplay? Maybe the other director named Anderson (Paul Thomas, for Inherent Vice), and it wouldn’t be a bad pick, although Inherent only has one other Oscar nod this year (Costume Design). I suspect Imitation will vacuum up Adapted, via its juggernaut powers. In Animated Feature I expect How to Train Your Dragon 2 will prevail, although Big Hero Six might correct me on my math.

On the science fiction front, Interstellar was nominated in no major categories (unless you count Original Score as a major category), but still racked up five nominations; I would be surprised if it doesn’t at least win Sound Design.

And finally, as a dark horse in the Original Song category, I’m gonna push my chips onto Glen Campbell’s “I’m Not Gonna Miss You,” because if you think a musician’s final song, about how Alzheimer’s is slowly robbing him of the memories of the woman he loves, isn’t going to push every single button the Academy has, well, you think differently about the Academy than I do.

Your thoughts on the Oscar nominees this year? Share them in the comments.