Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Predicting the 2015 Oscar Nominations

Tomorrow morning at an unreasonably early hour, two people going on virtually no sleep and a lot of coffee will read something like 120 nominees in 24 categories, much of which will be predictable and a fair amount of which will draw gasps and agents worrying about their job security. Predicting where the specific gasps will fall is an exercise in futility and counter-intuitive logic, but it’s fun, so we (I) do it anyway.

I won’t bother predicting the 18 sub-major categories, because that’s a crapshoot that even I don’t have the time and patience for. But before we move onto the Big Six, here are a few hopes I have for the 18 other categories:

*Wild Tales, which was my favorite film at TIFF ’14, made the shortlist of 9 contenders for Best Foreign Language Film, and I deeply hope it gets a nomination. It’s the horse for which I have the most unbridled passion.

*While these are all expected nominees, Birdman, The Imitation Game, and Theory of Everything each had Original Scores that blew me away, so I hope none get left out.

*Aside from Citizen Four, which is considered the shoo-in, my favorite documentaries of the year were Jodorowsky’s Dune and Life Itself, so I’d love to see both of them get nominated.

*It’s unlikely to get nominated anywhere, but Under the Skin was my favorite under-seen/under-talked-about film of the year, so I hope it shows up on the ballot, regardless of category, if only because that will force more people to see it.

*Ida, the black and white foreign film contender from Poland, is one of the most gorgeously shot films I’ve seen in a while, with an unmoving camera that carefully composes each frame to look like a beautiful old photo. I’d love to see it honored with a cinematography nomination.

*Whiplash was the most impressive editing I saw this year, and that category will feel sorely lacking without it.

Best Supporting Actress

This race often has the most surprises, both in nominations and winners, so predictions here often run risky (everyone wants to predict the outlier) and frequently wrong. Patricia Arquette is a sure thing, and Emma Stone probably is. After that, no one knows anything. Keira Knightly and Meryl Streep are reasonably safe bets, the former because of overall support for her film, and the latter because she’s Meryl F-ing Streep. The fifth nominee could be anyone from Laura Dern (Wild), Rene Russo (Nightcrawler), or Jessica Chastain (A Most Violent Year)--the three “safest” bets--or some other name that even fewer people saw coming, like Carmen Ejogo as Coretta Scott King (Selma).

The Prediction:
Patricia Arquette, Boyhood
Laura Dern, Wild
Keira Knightly, The Imitation Game
Emma Stone, Birdman
Meryl Streep, Into the Woods

Where I’ll Be Wrong:
Dern is an iffy prediction, especially because support for Wild seems tepid. The Golden Globes picked Chastain as their fifth nominee, but I’m not sure if enough people in the Academy’s Actors branch actually saw A Most Violent Year. Support for Nightcrawler keeps growing, so Russo could squeeze in here.

Best Supporting Actor

J.K. Simmons is a sure thing, and Edward Norton, Ethan Hawke, and Mark Ruffalo are pretty close to sure things. Ruffalo might be vulnerable because of recent Foxcatcher controversy, but it’s unclear how many voters actually care about that stuff, especially in regards to the acting races. The fifth slot doesn’t seem to have a good choice. The Globes and others went with Robert Duvall (The Judge), in what felt like an obvious Hey we had to pick five move. If he doesn’t show up here, it’ll most likely be because either Tom Wilkinson or Tim Roth—two Brits playing Southern politicians in Selma—beat him out. But that’s starting to feel increasingly unlikely.

The Prediction:
Robert Duvall, The Judge
Ethan Hawke, Boyhood
Edward Norton, Birdman
Mark Ruffalo, Foxcatcher
J.K. Simmons, Whiplash

Where I’ll Be Wrong:
No one knows who’ll end up in that fifth slot if it’s not Duvall. I’ll go with Tom Wilkinson as my back-up pick, but I don’t feel great about it.

Best Actress

A lot has been written about what seems to be the boring consensus of this race, but I slightly disagree. When people talk about the consensus five nominees, they’re talking about Reese Witherspoon, Julianne Moore, Rosamund Pike, Felicity Jones, and Jennifer Aniston, but I don’t see that conclusion as foregone as others, because of the three names lurking on the outside. Hilary Swank’s performance in The Homesman seems under-seen, but the Academy clearly loves her. Marion Cotillard is a past winner who anchored two well regarded films (The Immigrant and Two Days, One Night), but votes for her could cancel each other out. Amy Adams, a Golden Globe winner for Big Eyes, is probably the biggest threat to spoil, and she is very good in a film that may just be too forgettable for her performance to get nominated. Picking between her and Aniston for the fifth slot is a toss-up, but I’ll play low risk and go with the pack in predicting Aniston.

The Prediction:
Jennifer Aniston, Cake
Felicity Jones, Theory of Everything
Julianne Moore, Still Alice
Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl
Reese Witherspoon, Wild

Where I’ll Be Wrong:
I won’t be surprised at all to see Amy Adams’ name show up on the final list, and even Swank or Cotillard wouldn’t be that shocking. Moore and Witherspoon are the only two names that feel like real locks to me.

Best Actor

This is the most difficult race to predict this year, because six people feel like sure-things. Obviously, one of them isn’t. Michael Keaton is the only one who surely can’t fall out. The others are all varying degrees of vulnerable, with Benedict Cumberbatch and Eddie Redmayne probably the safest. The other three—Steve Carell (Foxcatcher), David Oyelowo (Selma), and Jake Gyllenhaal (Nightcrawler)—are all preparing for potential disappointment, or at least should be. If Gyllenhaal is the one that falls out, that means the category would have five first-time nominees, which feels kind of fun. If Oyelowo falls out, it would be an all-white category, which always feels inappropriate. Oyelowo is the one who missed out on the SAG nomination, and because Selma feels (to me) like more of a SAG movie than an Academy movie, I think he’ll miss the cut here too. And all of this already assumes that Timothy Spall (the Cannes winner for Mr. Turner) and Bradley Cooper (American Sniper) don’t even have a chance, which feels a bit premature and risky.

The Prediction:
Steve Carell, Foxcatcher
Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game
Jake Gyllenhaal, Nightcrawler
Michael Keaton, Birdman
Eddie Redmayne, Theory of Everything

Where I’ll Be Wrong:
Oyelowo, or even Bradley Cooper (who’s been nominated both of the last two years in this category), knocking out Gyllenhaal or Steve Carell, who voters might see as playing too similar characters and deciding to pick one or the other (Ye old “I can only pick one sociopath” rule of voting).

Best Director

This is the race where we know the least. Richard Linklater (Boyhood) and Alejandro Inarritu (Birdman) seem like sure things, but when Ben Affleck and Kathryn Bigelow were left out of this race two years ago, we emphatically learned Best Director has no sure things. But for the sake of making things easier on myself, I’m assuming they’re in. From there, it could go anywhere. There’s the True-Story-With-Wide-Support Group, which includes Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game), James Marsh (Theory of Everything), and Ava DuVernay (Selma). There’s the Hey-We-Like-This-Guy-And-We’ve-Nominated-Him-Before Group, which includes David Fincher (Gone Girl) and Bennett Miller (Foxcatcher). There’s the How-Has-He-Never-Been-Nominated group, run by Wes Anderson (The Grand Budapest Hotel). There’s the Holy-Jesus-Exciting-New-Kid, which this category famously honored Benh Zeitlin with two years ago for Beasts of the Southern Wild, and Damien Chazelle (Whiplash) definitely qualifies. Then there’s the OMG-It’s-Clint-Eastwood category, which (obviously) includes Clint Eastwood (American Sniper).

So how do we reduce those eight possibilities down to three? Quickly, I’ll do it like this: First, I’m knocking off Wes Anderson, because it just seems like, at this point, the Academy’s Directors branch isn’t a fan of his work. Next, Clint Eastwood gets crossed off. Been there, done that. So now we have three groups left, and I’ll take one name from each. I think Chazelle will get in, because this race often likes the new kid, and Whiplash was an amazingly directed film. (That should be worth something, right?!) Between Fincher and Miller, I’ll take Miller. Gone Girl just might be too slight for some voters (it’s a dreaded genre film), and Foxcatcher is probably the more impressive directorial achievement anyway. I’ll eliminate Ava DuVernay because of my belief that Selma just wasn’t that artistically interesting, and hope voters agree. Lastly, between Marsh and Tyldum, I’m going Tyldum on what is basically a coin flip, and the added power of having a Weinstein name running your campaign.

The Prediction:
Damien Chazelle, Whiplash
Alejandro Inarritu, Birdman
Richard Linklater, Boyhood
Bennett Miller, Foxcatcher
Morten Tyldum, The Imitation Game

Where I’ll Be Wrong:
Possibly, everywhere. But most likely with Chazelle or Miller giving way to DuVernay or Anderson.

Best Picture

We know there will be at least five, no more than ten. The key is that a film needs to get at least 5% of the first place votes to get a Best Picture nomination, so being passionately loved by a small number matters more than being fairly loved by a large number. Because of that, I’ll immediately eliminate Gone Girl and The Grand Budapest Hotel. I just don’t see 5% of the Academy thinking either of those was the best film of the year.

Birdman and Boyhood, the front-runners, are definitely in. I think The Imitation Game, Theory of Everything, and Selma all get in because of the huge portion of the Academy that wants a Best Picture winner to feel like a BEST PICTURE WINNER, as stuffy and outdated as that sentiment may be. I also think Whiplash will get in because it’s the exact type of film that you can easily imagine 5% of the Academy ranking #1 on their ballot. Its support may not be wide-ranging, but it is loud and fervent.

From there, the big question becomes “What to do with American Sniper and Foxcatcher?” Sniper is likely to appeal to the classicist voters, and Foxcatcher may appeal to the same type of voters that also love Whiplash. In both cases, they run the risk of being cancelled out by voter overlap. But ultimately, I think both will get in.

The Prediction:
American Sniper
The Imitation Game
Theory of Everything

Where I’ll Be Wrong:
American Sniper and Foxcatcher could both easily be left off, and a nomination for Grand Budapest Hotel would be a surprise, but not a complete shock, especially given its Golden Globe win proving that it may have more support than people anticipated. Though remember, the Golden Globes and Oscars have no voter overlap, so its Globe win could just as easily mean nothing at all.