Thursday, February 19, 2015

Academy Award Winner Predictions for 2014 Films

Here’s the fourth annual Oscar-predictions-posting from Two Guys in the Dark, although I’ll (Ken Burke, the “public face” of Two Guys reviews for the present—or “infinity and beyond” as the case may be) admit that some of my “predictions” are just wild speculations based on industry gossip.  Watch the ceremony on ABC on Sunday, February 22, 2015, starting at 5:30pm Pacific/ 8:30pm Eastern (and for what may seem like days before that with all of the various-intensifying-hype-warm-ups), or check back here shortly after that and I’ll update my predictions with notations of all of the ecstatic (and probably blissfully hungover) winners (although the non-winners—we wouldn’t want to say “losers” now, would we?—may be even more hungover, for different reasons, but based on consistent predictions I'd say most of them already know what their outcomes will be).

Color coding key: red = my prediction, green = my preference of the nominees (plus a few other greenies that are my real preferences but that didn’t make the final list of the Oscar contenders through some oversight by the Academy, whose members just don't always see the wisdom of my insights), red + green = prediction and preference, and gold + bold at a later date = WINNER!

[2/22/2015  16 of my 24 predictions won for a fairly normal 66% result for me, although with only 13 of 24 of my actual preferences taking home a statuette so that’s only 54% if you look at the results from that perspective.  Still, I’m largely satisfied with the Oscar winners for 2014 released films, especially with Birdman taking Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Original Screenplay, only 1 of 3 of which were my predictions but 2 of 3 were my preferences (hard to make a choice for Best Director between Richard Linklater for Boyhood and Gonzales Iñárritu for Birdman, but I’d have chosen the former for his meticulous work over 12 years with his story and actors).  Also, I was glad to see Ida (Pawel Pawlikowski) take the Foreign Language Film prize, even though I have great respect for Leviathan (Andrey Zvyagintsev) and Timbuktu (Abderrahmane Sissako)—reviews to come in my next posting—as well as to see Interstellar (Christopher Nolan) and American Sniper (Clint Eastwood) get something at the Oscar competition, because both are excellent films that just happened to come up against even stronger contenders in the so-called-major-categories which pushed them to the sidelines overall.  Oddly enough, Birdman and The Grand Budapest Hotel tied for most wins with 4 apiece (although … Budapest Hotel’s wins were all in the technical categories), with Whiplash just behind at 3; the other major contenders only managed to score 1 award apiece, so at least you could say that the victors dived up the spoils fairly equally for the 2014 Oscar awards.   Just for comparison, my local hotshot critic, Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle got 17 of 24 predictions correct (71%) while Entertainment Weekly matched me at 16 of 24 (66%), so we all came in at about the same percentage this year, unlike last year when I was tied with EW at 83% but LaSalle came in lower at 66%.  I’m not too surprised at any of the Oscar winners this year given their previous endorsements from the various professional guilds (although The Grand Budapest Hotel did get the Writers Guild of America Original Screenplay award but lost—as I hoped—to Birdman at the Oscars), but, as usual, I played the obvious odds a little too closely to get an overall better result; however, I’m generally happy with the winners and the resources-protective-situation that I don’t bet much on lotteries or horse races given my predictive (?) abilities.]

Best Picture

American Sniper (producers [they get the award]: Clint Eastwood, Robert Lorenz, Andrew Lazar, Bradley Cooper, Peter Morgan [director (they usually get most of the credit): Eastwood])

Birdman (Alejandro González Iñárritu, John Lesher, James W. Skotchdopole [González Iñárritu]) WINNER!

Boyhood (Richard Linklater, Cathleen Sutherland [Linklater])

The Grand Budapest Hotel (Wes Anderson, Scott Rudin, Steven Rales, Jeremy Dawson [Anderson])

The Imitation Game (Nora Grossman, Ido Ostrowsky, Teddy Schwarzman [Morten Tyldum])

Selma (Christian Colson, Oprah Winfrey, Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner [Ava DuVernay])

The Theory of Everything (Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Lisa Bruce, Anthony McCarten [James Marsh])

Whiplash (Jason Blum, Helen Estabrook, David Lancaster [Damien Chazelle])

 While there are plenty of strong contenders above (and a few others I’ve had been glad to add to the competition—in a couple of cases in place of the ones the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences chose to anoint; see my 2014 Top 10 for further details), for me the others all fade away with the true competition coming down to Birdman vs. Boyhood, my preference being for the former because of the intricate idea and plot strands so successfully woven together but with a feeling that the Academy voters will ultimately be more impressed with how the latter manages to collect its own difficult strands of action shot over 12 years yet maintaining a continuity of character development that appears seamless (although I ultimately prefer the even-more-difficult-illusion of seamless flow in Birdman’s narrative so that the events appear to take place in one continuous take even as they span impossible chronological and spatial leaps during the story’s unfolding on screen).  I think this race could go either way—many critics groups have picked Boyhood as their best of the year but 2 Guilds (Producers and Screen Actors) chose Birdman, which could be significant because there’s plenty of overlap between Guild and Academy members, not much at all with critics in either of those groups—but I’ll predict that the Academy voters will chose Boyhood here and González Iñárritu in the next category below even as I’d prefer a reversal of those results.  Honestly, while I admire the casual relatedfulness (How’s that for a made-up word?) of the simple-but-honest-events of Boyhood I really find the experience as a whole a bit boring (especially given its hefty 165 min. running time—probably necessary to give balance to all the years being depicted in the lives of this Texas family, and maybe I’ve just seen too much of the real thing after spending my first 37 years in the Lone Star State growing up around similar events, but still more than enough of too-similar-stuff for my ultimate satisfaction for Boyhood as Best Picture of the year).

 Normally I note when you can peruse our previous postings for past commentary on films cited in a given review, but because much of what’s listed below—and definitely in these first 8 more-highlighted-categories—is in our archive of reviews I’ll simply refer you to it rather than clutter up this text with all those extra links—as well as drive myself crazy with constructing 120 of them.

Wes Anderson, The Grand Budapest Hotel

Alejandro González Iñárritu, Birdman 

Richard Linklater, Boyhood

Bennett Miller, Foxcatcher

Morten Tyldum, The Imitation Game

 As I noted above, both Birdman and Boyhood, along with their directors, are likely the top contenders for these 2 most-highly-prized-honors, both deserving of consideration here, one for the artistic audacity to bring together such an intoxicating blend of drama, humor, and surrealism, the other for having the vision and stamina to pull off such an extended-tightrope-walk of a challenge by shooting over a period of 12 years.  I’d prefer Linklater just because his self-appointed task was both so intimidating and so successfully achieved but I can certainly see why González Iñárritu could be honored for the precisely beautiful edifice that he’s constructed.  I’d give the Oscar to the former but won’t complain if it goes to the latter.  Both of these films are so impactful in their own ways that I’d prefer to see the top awards split between them (acknowledging that ties rarely occur with Oscars, never yet in these 2 categories), but if either one sweeps Best Picture and Director, it’s not a bad thing (although as you can see in my Top 10 of 2014 list noted above, Boyhood achieves only a #5 ranking from me when the consideration is simply for Best Picture of the year; however, my #2—Nymphomaniac Volume(s) I and II [Lars von Trier]—and #3—Ida [Pawel Pawlikowski]—choices didn’t make the Academy’s Best Picture list so of what’s here Boyhood would actually be #3 for me, behind The Imitation Game); therefore, let the voters make a decision and I can live with it.  As far as predictions go, though, while Linklater’s been piling up various critics’ honors González Iñárritu has the backing of the Directors Guild, which very frequently presages the Oscar winner, so I think he'll get the prize.

Actor in a Leading Role

Steve Carell, Foxcatcher

Bradley Cooper, American Sniper

Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game

Michael Keaton, Birdman

Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything  

 I certainly can’t fault the marvelously-difficult-performance turned in by Redmayne as Stephen Hawking (as well as being well aware of the parallels in that role with the brilliant, Oscar-winning work of Daniel Day-Lewis as another real-life-sufferer-of-an-uncooperative-body, Christy Brown, in My Left Foot [Jim Sheridan, 1989]), but for me the lead-male-acting-Oscar for 2014 films should go to Keaton who displayed a fantastic range of emotion and nuance in his completely-fictional-role.  Keaton’s been discussed as the front-runner for quite some time with some critics groups’ trophies to justify it, although Redmayne’s recent choice by the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) offers a strong hesitation here because in the last 10 years there’s a 100% correlation between the SAG and Oscar winners in this category.  Further, despite my admiration for Cooper’s intense work in American Sniper I’d still have replaced him with David Oyelowo from Selma (just as I’d have taken its director, Ava DuVernay, in place of Foxcatcher’s Bennett Miller), but none of that really matters because the only contest here is between Keaton and Redmayne, one of the tightest races of this competition.

Actress in a Leading Role

Marion Cotillard, Two Days, One Night

Felicity Jones, The Theory of Everything

Julianne Moore, Still Alice  WINNER!

Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl

Reese Witherspoon, Wild

 You can check my tops of 2014 lists noted above from my last Two Guys posting (February 12, 2015) for a couple of other contenders that I’d have put in place here rather than Cotillard and Witherspoon, but, again, shuffling the other nominees for this category is a pointless exercise because it’s almost certain that no one’s beating Moore, nor should they given her excellently-articulated-work.  Last year’s winner, Cate Blanchett for Blue Jasmine [Woody Allen], was being celebrated as such from the time of that film’s midsummer release; Still Alice came out considerably later in 2014 (just now benefitting from wider distribution) but with the same feeling for Moore as a woman as fully in command of her role of an early-onset-Alzheimer's victim as could be imagined.

Actor in a Supporting Role

Robert Duvall, The Judge

Ethan Hawke, Boyhood

Edward Norton, Birdman

Mark Ruffalo, Foxcatcher

J.K. Simmons, Whiplash  WINNER!

 As I noted in my 2014 lists posting, this is the category where I’m the closest to overlap with the Academy in terms of my favorites and their nominees (with my only change being Channing Tatum as the other wrestling brother in Foxcatcher rather than Ruffalo, although some feel that Tatum’s really the lead actor rather than Carell—with Steve as another nominee with an obvious connection to a past winner, in this case with another prosthetic nose to match the schnozz sported by Nicole Kidman as Virginia Woolf in The Hours [Stephen Daldry, 2002], even though she didn’t wear it to accept her Best Actress Oscar).  Once we’ve finalized the nominees, though, there seems to be no choice except Simmons, whose vicious approach to teaching would seem more suited to Marine boot camp than to a prestigious music academy, with even his seemingly sympathetic moments all being part of his larger-context-calculations (besides, he plays Professor Burke in those Farmers Insurance ads so how could I champion anyone else besides the guy who’s made my scholarly name known to every film critics' society worldwide—not that such notoriety’s resulted in my being elected to any of them, but as the old joke [whether it actually comes first from Freud, Groucho Marx, Woody Allen, or someone else] says, “I wouldn’t want to belong to any organization that would have me as a member” anyway … although I keep applying to the San Francisco Film Critics Circle annually just to keep them entertained).

Actress in a Supporting Role

Patricia Arquette, Boyhood  WINNER!

Laura Dern, Wild

Keira Knightley, The Imitation Game

Emma Stone, Birdman

Meryl Streep, Into the Woods

 Here I’m also largely in agreement with the actual nominees, although if you can force yourself to speed through all of the graphic sex in Nymphomaniac: Volume I (Lars von Trier)—or maybe you prefer to savor the details of nimble computer-graphics-merging of noted actors’ upper bodies with the actual-genital-penetrations of porno actors in the lower halves; I’m not keeping tabs on what you rent, so indulge in slo-mo delight if you prefer—to watch Uma Thurman’s one-scene-dismissal of her cheating husband, I still think you’d find this as the best option for the Supporting Actress Oscar.  However, working with the actual nominees here it seems that none of the major-awards-givers so far has had any real thought of another option except Arquette.  (Although the LA critics were creative in giving their honors to her as Best Actress—which illustrates the conundrum that often haunts these “supporting” roles regarding how little it takes of on-screen-presence to even deserve recognition, with Beatrice Straight getting this award for her 5 min. 40 sec. role in Network [Sidney Lumet, 1976] and Judy Dench winning for about 8 min. in 1998’s Shakespeare in Love [John Madden, 1998 ] vs. trying to determine at what point—except for a studio’s campaign strategy—a given role is still just supporting despite the character’s constantly-active-presence, as is the case this year with Arquette in Boyhood as the mother of the rapidly-aging-titular-youngster).  Esoterica aside, Arquette seems a slam-dunk here although I prefer the shorter-on-screen-time-but-to-me-more-impactful-presence of Stone (even as the chances of her winning are about the same as me being able to skip a stone across the Atlantic Ocean, so if you’re wagering anything on these awards pay more attention to my predictions than my preferences except where they coincide).

Writing – Adapted Screenplay

Jason Hall, American Sniper

Graham Moore, The Imitation Game  

Paul Thomas Anderson, Inherent Vice

Anthony McCarten, The Theory of Everything

Damien Chazelle, Whiplash

 The first question that many have about this group of nominees is “What’s adapted about Whiplash?”  Nothing, according to the Writers Guild of America (WGA), whose members chose it as one of the finalists for their Original Screenplay category; however, the Academy considered Chazelle’s short-film-version of his story, which garnered praise at the 2013 Sundance Festival, to be the original from which his 2014 feature script was adapted, hence its inclusion here.  It may not make too much difference where Whiplash ended up anyway given the strong sentiment for finding some Oscar victories for The Imitation Game (and its WGA win for Adapted Screenplay, although I’d still have gone for Gone Girl [David Fincher] if it were among the Academy nominees, just as I think that Still Alice belongs here more than American Sniper or The Theory of Everything; however, that brings up the eternal question: Do any voters from any group that honors this category actually measure the screenplay against the original work for transformational quality or are they simply voting for a strong script that happens to be adapted, even if they’ve never read/seen/heard the original?  I admit that I’m having to do the former because it’s rare that I’ve read the novel [the usual source of most cinematic adaptations] before [if at all] seeing the film, but maybe at least some of the voters are actually exploring the specific challenges faced by screenwriters transforming one medium into another).  Whatever the resolution of the voters-consideration-situation may be, If you’d like you can read the script for The Imitation Game—especially if it wins the Oscar—to see what the production crew was working with, then compare it, if you want to do some further reading, to its source material, Andrew Hodges biography Alan Turing: The Enigma (1983).

Writing – Original Screenplay

Alejandro González Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris and Armando Bo, Birdman  WINNER!

Richard Linklater, Boyhood

E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman, Foxcatcher

Wes Anderson and Hugo Guinness, The Grand Budapest Hotel

                                                                                                                      Dan Gilroy, Nightcrawler

 I know from what I read in the trades’ press that Academy voters are anxious to award The Grand Budapest Hotel wherever they can so I think this will be one of those places, although I still prefer Birdman for this category (and think that Whiplash belonged in this group—rather than Adapted—where it might have shifted the vote totals a bit, just as I think the delightful craziness of The Lego Movie [co-directed, co-written by Phil Lord, Christopher Miller] would have been better placed here than Foxcatcher, but I accept that mine is an almost-singularly-minority-opinion in this regard, not reflecting the larger level of respect for Foxcatcher shown by just about everyone except me).  If you wish, you can read the scripts for Birdman and The Grand Budapest Hotel then decide for yourself which one is better to you (relative to the “copyright clearance for reposting on websites” dictate you’ll find at these links, I got them from the January 7, 2015 newsletter of a group called BlueCat Screenplay Competition so I defer to them for the necessary clearances).

Cinematography                                            Film Editing

Birdman  WINNER!                                                      American Sniper

The Grand Budapest Hotel                                         Boyhood

Ida                                                                               The Grand Budapest Hotel

Mr. Turner                                                                   The Imitation Game

Unbroken                                                                    Whiplash  WINNER!

The Oscar possibilities for Birdman as Cinematography winner just got stronger with the recent win for Emmanuel Lubezki (of Mexico) for this film from the American Society of Cinematographers (he also won this Oscar and the ASC prize last year for Gravity [Alfonso Cuarón, 2013], a first at the ASC for a back-to-back-winner in their feature film category; to add further to his fame, he’s previously been given this ASC honor for The Tree of Life [Terrence Malick, 2011] and Children of Men [Cuarón, 2006]).  It amazes me that Birdman didn’t make the finalists for Film Editing given how (seemingly?) difficult it was to structure those many transitions so that the film seems to evolve in a continuous-time-flow despite the many temporal and spatial dislocations involved in its narrative.  However, in the initial voting only the members of Academy guilds choose the nominees in the various categories (although everyone can vote on Best Picture in the initial balloting) so I have to trust that the actual editors understand their craft more clearly than I do.  When all of the Academy members get a chance to vote for all of the categories in determining the actual awards, though, you never know what may happen in these and the technical races noted below once you’ve got a large bloc of actors making decisions that they may not know all that much about so that “bandwagon effects” can come into play for some contests, especially when the buzz is strong around Best Picture contenders, so we’ll just have to see how this all plays out for the films of 2014.

Documentary Feature                              Documentary Short Subject

Citizenfour  WINNER!                                                Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1  WINNER!

Finding Vivian Maier                                                  Joanna

Last Days in Vietnam                                                 Our Curse

The Salt of the Earth                                                 The Reaper

Virunga                                                                      White Earth

Foreign Language Film                           Visual Effects

Ida, Poland  WINNER!                                              Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Leviathan, Russia                                                     Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Tangerines, Estonia                                                  Guardians of the Galaxy

Timbuktu, Mauritania                                                Interstellar  WINNER!

Wild Tales, Argentina                                                X-Men: Days of Future Past

Sound Editing                                               Sound Mixing

American Sniper  WINNER!                                      American Sniper

Birdman                                                                    Birdman

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies               Interstellar

Interstellar                                                                Unbroken

Unbroken                                                                 Whiplash  WINNER!

Animated Feature Film                          Short Film – Animated

Big Hero 6  WINNER!                                              The Bigger Picture

The Boxtrolls                                                           The Dam Keeper

How to Train Your Dragon 2                                    Feast  WINNER!

Song of the Sea                                                      Me and My Moulton

The Tale of the Princess Kaguya                            A Single Life

Short Film – Live Action                       Production Design

Aya                                                                        The Grand Budapest Hotel  WINNER!

Boogaloo and Graham                                          The Imitation Game

Butter Lamp                                                           Interstellar

Parvaneh                                                                Into the Woods

The Phone Call  WINNER!                                     Mr. Turner

Costume Design                                      Makeup and Hairstyling

The Grand Budapest Hotel  WINNER!                  Foxcatcher

Inherent Vice                                                         The Grand Budapest Hotel  WINNER!

In the Woods                                                         Guardians of the Galaxy


Mr. Turner

Music – Original Score                    Music – Original Song

The Grand Budapest Hotel  WINNER!             “Everything Is Awesome,” The Lego Movie

The Imitation Game                                          “Glory,” Selma  WINNER!

Interstellar (even though it's mixed too loud)   “Grateful,” Beyond the Lights

Mr. Turner                                                         “I’m Not Gonna Miss You,” Glen   Campbell: I’ll Be Me

The Theory of Everything                                 “Lost Stars,” Begin Again

 I don’t really have much other commentary to offer on the above 14 categories except in some cases having to make limited or no choices at all based on my viewing opportunities.  (With the Documentary Features I’ve seen only Last Days in Vietnam [Rory Kennedy] and Finding Vivian Maier [John Maloof, Charlie Siskel] but assume from all I’ve heard that Citizenfour [Laura Poitras] is the strong probability for winning; I’ve seen none of the Documentary or Animation Shorts nor any of the nominated Animated Features—although I’m still surprised that The Lego Movie was overlooked here; with Foreign Language Films I prefer Ida for its ongoing-sublime-yet-devastating revelations but I’ve seen only it, Leviathan [Andrey Zvyagintsev], and Timbuktu [Abderrahmane Sissako]—reviews to come on those last 2 in my next posting—so I can’t know for sure what I think is the best here, with various implications telling me it’ll be a race between Ida and Leviathan [the latter also quite worthy, if it should win].)  As for the other categories, I’ve seen all of the nominees, have made my choices as best I understand the intentions of the competitions (with still a great difficulty from my perception to truly know the nuances that separate Sound Editing and Sound Mixing), and my sense that even though in the Live Action Short Film group the most intriguing one is Aya (Mihal Brezis, Oded Binnun) the Academy voters will likely go for the humor (and subtle political commentary) of Boogaloo and Graham (Michael Lennox)—again, see my 2014 Top 10 posting for more information on this category and directives on how you can access all 3 of the Short Film nominee clusters if they’re not playing in a theater in your area, although one option is here at Vimeo on Demand (for which I get nothing in return if you purchase through them).

 If you want much, much more of everything Oscar then go to the official site where you’ll find links to considerably more information on each nominee in each category and trailers for all of these nominated films.  Also, I hadn’t planned on doing a Musical Metaphor this week but then I came upon this via a Facebook post, Bob Dylan’s “My Back Pages” (from his 1964 album Another Side of Bob Dylan), a live performance from NYC’s Madison Square Garden in 1992 celebrating Bob’s 30th anniversary in the spotlight, featuring Dylan, Roger McGuinn, Tom Petty, Neil Young, Eric Clapton, and George Harrison trading verses.  Such a fine lyrical commentary on how we all take ourselves too seriously at times with our attitudes and pronouncements seems quite appropriate for me and anyone else making predictions about anything, from the simple granting of an Oscar statuette to the long-sought-prospects for peace in the Middle East.  However, after updating this Oscar-based-posting early next week I’ll be back to the normal structure of reviews where pontification on aesthetic worthiness is also a good candidate for being shot down, even when I’m the target.  See you later in our (idealthat is, when we’re most honest with ourselves) shared state of “I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now.”  (I hope this video plays well for you: I’ve seen it smoothly on Google Chrome and Firefox but once very choppy on Safari then smooth there another time—and you may have to be a member of Facebook to even see it, a decision I leave to you, but it’s a great rendition of this insightful song presented by a marvelous collection of pop talent.)
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AND … at least until the Oscars for 2014’s releases have been awarded on Sunday, February 22, 2015 we’re also going to include reminders in each posting of very informative links where you can get updated tallies of which 2014 films made various individual critic’s Top 10 lists and which ones have been nominated for and/or received various awards.  You may find the diversity among the various critics and the various awards competitions hard to reconcile at times—not to mention the often-significant-gap between critics’ choices and competition-award-winners (which usually pales in comparison to the even-more-noticeable-gap between box-office-success, which you can monitor here, and what wins the awards)—but as that less-than-enthusiastic-patron-of-the-arts, Plato, noted in The Symposium (385-380 BC)—roughly translated, depending on how accurate you wish the actual quote to be—“Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder,” so your choices are as valid as any of these others, especially if you can offer some rationale for your decisions (unlike many of the awards voters who simply fill out ballots, sometimes for films they’ve never seen).

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By the way, if you’re ever at The Hotel California knock on my door—but you know what the check out policy is so be prepared to stay for awhile.    Ken

P.S.  Just to show that I haven’t fully flushed Texas out of my system here’s an alternative destination for you, Home in a Texas Bar, with Gary P. Nunn and Jerry Jeff Walker.

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