Oscar Re-Do: 2015 Edition

Here we are, back to making Oscar winners of those who might not have been actually awarded a trophy. The ceremony in 2015 was hosted by Neil Patrick Harris, who danced and sang his musical theater loving heart out. In any respect, not much to add other than to move right along.

Note again: Actual winner is bold, new winner is underlined

Best Original Screenplay

Birdman (Or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) – Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr. & Armando Bo

Boyhood – Richard Linklater

Foxcatcher – E. Max Frye & Dan Futterman

The Grand Budapest Hotel – Wes Anderson & Hugo Guinness

Nightcrawler – Dan Gilroy

I actually don’t have much of an issue with Birdman winning this, because it’s an insightful, powerful and biting script, but I have an incredibly soft spot in my heart for the films of Wes Anderson, especially the last few–which includes Moonrise Kingdom, which came before this–that I can’t help but hand him the award. He’s been nominated three times in this category, and to me, this is one of his best scripts. It’s funny and engaging, but manages also to have a sense of purpose to it. This also makes up for the travesty of Fantastic Mr. Fox not winning Best Animated Feature in 2010.

Best Adapted Screenplay

The Imitation Game – Graham Moore

American Sniper – Jason Hall

Inherent Vice – Paul Thomas Anderson

The Theory of Everything – Anthony McCarten

Whiplash – Damien Chazelle

This category baffles me most years, but my goodness is it bad this year. There’s nothing wrong with The Imitation Game, it just isn’t that interesting or thoughtful (it’s a fairly by-the-book biopic). Alternatively, we have two of the most off-kilter and daring movies of that year nominated against one another and they lose to someone who was an unknown, first time writer who didn’t really do anything spectacular. The win goes to Whiplash here, because it is a dialogue driven movie and Chazelle’s writing is complex and layered. I almost went with the Anderson sweep, but Inherent Vice isn’t as deserving of other PTA films.

Best Supporting Actress

Patricia Arquette – Boyhood

Laura Dern – Wild

Keira Knightly – The Imitation Game

Emma Stone – Birdman (Or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Meryl Streep – Into the Woods

Again, I don’t have any major issue with the winner. Arquette worked hard to help carry this unusual project, and manages to stay steady throughout the film. She isn’t spectacular, though, which is pretty strange for a supporting category at the Oscars, which often goes to a showier performance. That’s where Stone comes in, who, even though she goes onto win her Oscar two years later, does a lot of moody and interesting work here. It feels like more of an Oscar performance, at least in the supporting category. It also looks more challenging, even if Arquette’s work might actually have been.

Best Supporting Actor

J.K. Simmons – Whiplash

Robert Duvall – The Judge

Ethan Hawke – Boyhood

Edward Norton – Birdman (Or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Mark Ruffalo – Foxcatcher

This category makes me cringe a little because a) it’s very obvious nothing should change and b) that isn’t only because the rest of the field is less than enticing. Simmons’ powerful, acerbic performance won running away that year (he won 51 of the 54 Supporting Actor awards he was up for at various shows and publications, so yeah, I’d say he had it pretty well in hand), and the lifelong character actor deserved every bit of the attention. Hawke was fine, Norton was his usual zany self and Ruffalo is a fantastic actor who will get his Oscar one day–this was not that time.

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

All of these nominations, save for Tyldum who was the big “what!?” of the category, make a lot of sense. Iñárritu manages to make the insanity of Birdman work, and ties together the biting satire with a true love for actors and acting. Linklater took on the most massive project of all five, shooting his film over 12 years and then managed to hold the entire thing together; that alone puts him high on the list. Miller’s film is moody and, at times, terrifying, but he just couldn’t direct enough acting out of Channing Tatum. That leaves the quirky Anderson and his quietly huge film, probably the largest, most intricate production of his career. This category is always tough because it’s difficult to argue how a view sees exactly what the director did when the answer is “they oversaw everything.” In that regard, I’m going with the film that felt like it brought all the pieces together the best.

Best Actress

Julianne Moore – Still Alice

Marion Cotillard – Two Days, One Night

Felicity Jones – The Theory of Everything

Rosamund Pike – Gone Girl

Reese Witherspoon – Wild

I did not see Still Alice, but my understand is that the film is quite poor, in spite of an Oscar-winning turn from the always excellent Moore. Tellingly, it was the only nomination the film received at the Oscars and, so far as I can tell, her performance was the only piece recognized in other arenas as well. I should also mention that I didn’t see Cotillard or Witherspoon’s films either, so I’m a little handicapped on this one. I adored Jones’ performance in The Theory of Everything, her ferocity and power, while still being sensitive and caring, but found it to be a little less engaging than I’d like. Pike, on the other hand, was tremendous and committed all through David Fincher’s under appreciated film, which was like more by the Hollywood Foreign Press (4 Golden Globe nominations with no wins) than the Academy (Pike stands alone, but they also might hate Fincher). Her’s is a terrifying, mesmerizing role, and one that should have gotten more attention than it did. She’s the best thing in what is really a better film than most give it credit for.

Best Actor

Eddie Redmayne – The Theory of Everything

Michael Keaton – Birdman (Or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Steve Carrell – Foxcatcher

Bradley Cooper – American Sniper

Benedict Cumberbatch – The Imitation Game

Redmayne’s performance is thrilling and transformative, one that I can’t even imagine considering how it might be done, let alone doing it. Normally I’d argue that it’s one of those clear Oscar-bait roles, but the degree of difficulty is so high, it’s difficult to make that argument with a straight face. That’s why I’m keeping things the way they went. Keaton is doing some heavy scene chewing in Birdman, but I never really forgot I was watching him on screen. Carrell is steady and scary in Foxcatcher, but he doesn’t get a lot of chances to show out. Cumberbatch is effective, but the movie itself doesn’t hold up. Cooper, well, that movie was just so poorly executed, he should have just been happy to be there. Not even close to his best role. Why not Miles Teller here, Academy?

Best Picture

Birdman (Or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

American Sniper

Boyhood

The Grand Budapest Hotel

The Imitation Game

Selma

The Theory of Everything

Whiplash

The last film alphabetically is far and away my personal favorite from 2014, and the fact that it wasn’t a “reasonable” contender for this award is mind-boggling to me. For a long time, this was a two-horse race: Birdman and Boyhood, with the latter seemingly the frontrunner after the Globes named it Best Picture-Drama (and gave Best Picture-Musical or Comedy to Grand Budapest). In reality that didn’t hold up, with Boyhood only winning the one award (for Arquette, a trophy I took away from her in my version of the Oscars) and Birdman taking four, including the top prize (a total that Grand Budapest equaled, by the way). American Sniper was here mostly because it was a late-season box office smash (it wasn’t even screened in time for the Globes); The Imitation Game was fine, but nothing special; Selma felt weighed down by what it wanted to say rather than what it wasn’t to show; and The Theory of Everything was solid, but lacked something besides its lead actor to push it over the top. That leaves me going with Whiplash, with The Grand Budapest Hotel coming in a close second. Both movies were intricately and obsessively made, but the former literally laid that obsession out on screen, with two of the year’s strongest acting performances trading punches for an unrelenting hour and forty-five minutes. But yet, in spite of its claustrophobic story about a supposedly dead art form, it manages to create a connection between the audience and the characters, because pretty much everyone knows what it feels like to want something so badly like that–and many of us know what it feels like to give up on that. To top it off, the Oscar-winning editing done by Tom Cross makes the entire film feel cohesive and deliberate in a way you don’t often see. The entire film is a jazz riff, and each moment leaves you hoping there’ll be a lot more coming.

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