Oscar Predictions 2019

Well, it is that time again, ladies and gentlemen. Time for me to pretend that I either a) can see into the future or b) am smart enough to know what a gargantuan voting body will think about the year in movies. In reality, this is, as always, going to trend more in the direction of not only what I think the Academy will do, but what I would do if I were voting (I’m not). There are 24 categories and some of which are filled with movies I didn’t see, but I’ll do my best to cover each category, sometimes with very little explanation other than wild guesses. And away we go!

Best Picture:

“Black Panther”
“BlacKkKlansman”
“Bohemian Rhapsody”
“The Favourite”
“Green Book”
“Roma”
“A Star Is Born”
“Vice”

Should/Will Win: We’ll start with a category that, to my mind, is relatively easy. Yes, it’s the “biggest” award of the night, which would seemingly make it more difficult, but this year I just don’t think that’s the case. I’ll do this the way the Academy actually does the category, with preferential voting, in reverse order.

8. Bohemian Rhapsody – It’s a messy, unexciting and often incorrect biopic about a guy who’s life should have been a lot more interesting and tumultuous. For the life of me I can’t understand why this is even nominated when movies like First Man existed this year.

7. Green Book – Speaking of overhyped things. My initial response upon completing the movie was that it was a male platonic romantic comedy that made sure to include some racial issues stuff so people would pay attention. The acting is good, but the story is told with little effort, and that is not a compliment.

6. The Favourite – This is an absurd movie, and it’s lower here because I liked some of the other movies more (and also because I couldn’t quite figure out what this movie was about). Three great performances, especially from Emma Stone, but the movie itself didn’t do it for me.

5. Black Panther – This seems to be the movie people are getting behind as the one the Academy should be paying more attention to this year (see: Get Out from last year), and while I admired it in a lot of ways, for me it felt muddled and trying to accomplish too much.

4. Vice – More fun than I was expecting it to be and featuring a great lead performance from Christian Bale, I really didn’t think I would like this at all. It wears its politics on its sleeves and doesn’t always stick the landing, but there was something powerful about the movie itself feeling a little unsure what to do with the subject matter.

3. BlacKkKlansman – I’m not a Spike Lee fan (my favorite of his films is probably 25th Hour, which is pretty much nobody’s favorite Spike film), and I almost avoided this one altogether because of that. I’m glad I didn’t. There’s still some elements of this I didn’t love, and while powerful, the ending almost does too much to spell out the whole “hey, this is still going on” point of it all, but overall the film is well executed and really well acted.

2. A Star Is Born – I had no expectations for this one, and almost missed it altogether because of the massive hype train that was pulling into the station months before anyone even saw the film. Thing is, the film delivers in almost every way you would want it to. The performances, both acting and musically, are spectacular, the songs are mostly strong and, even though this is the fourth rendition of the movie, the story seems freshly updated (note: I’ve never seen any of the other versions). Honestly I’m confused as to why this has gotten drowned out by all the BoRhap and Green Book love, because this is a much better and more effectively executed film.

1.Roma – I was engrossed from beginning to end, at times I was even terrified and uncomfortable, and somehow I left feeling that Alfonso Cuaron had made me care about this family and devastated by the tragedies of its life. Part of that, yes, was because the movie was in Spanish and forced me to focus on it fully, but I also believe it would have done so anyway. The scene in the hospital close to the end was one of the most heart wrenching sequences I’ve seen this year, and it was a credit to the work of the film that I was both desperate for it to end and captivated by how he managed to make me want to keep watching. This is both my pick and the film I think will win on Sunday night.

Lead Actor:

Christian Bale, “Vice”
Bradley Cooper, “A Star Is Born”
Willem Dafoe, “At Eternity’s Gate”
Rami Malek, “Bohemian Rhapsody”
Viggo Mortensen, “Green Book”

Should win: Christian Bale, which seems very Academy of me, since they usually love transformations (see Gary Oldman just last year). But in all honesty, while the make up and weight gain enhances the performance, there is something specific about each of Bale’s choices, and that he makes you question your own motives regarding a Cheney that is clearly being represented in a certain way by Adam McKay and company, is a testament to how well his performance works. Honorable mention to Bradley Cooper here, who embodies the character of Jackson Maine with grace and eloquence.

Will win: Rami Malek, who I like a lot in Mr. Robot, but felt he was going through the motions here. That’s weird to say in a movie where he’s required to do a lot of capital-A Acting, but his performance never excited me or made me pay attention to the way either Bale or Cooper’s did. He’s kind of just doing an impersonation rather than making choices.

Lead Actress:

Yalitza Aparicio, “Roma”
Glenn Close, “The Wife”
Olivia Colman, “The Favourite”
Lady Gaga, “A Star Is Born”
Melissa McCarthy, “Can You Ever Forgive Me?”

Should win: Lady Gaga, which is saying a lot coming from me because I’m not what you’d call a Gaga fan. But my goodness is she great in this movie. I’m just lost as to how she’s gotten forgotten throughout this award process, because there was nothing in her past career that would have suggested she was capable of the kind of emoting and realism she showcases here. In some ways, yes, the role was made for her, but it doesn’t matter so much because she owns it. It’s showy without being obvious, emotional without succumbing to melodrama. Honorable mention to Aparicio, who makes her debut in Roma and holds the movie together with her steady performance.

Will win: I mean, I guess Glenn Close, although by all accounts The Wife is just an okay movie. This stinks of a career achievement award because they’ve never awarded her before. I haven’t seen the movie, because apparently it’s impossible to find and, frankly, it just doesn’t seem worth it.

Supporting Actor:

Mahershala Ali, “Green Book”
Adam Driver, “BlacKkKlansman”
Sam Elliott, “A Star Is Born”
Richard E. Grant, “Can You Ever Forgive Me?”
Sam Rockwell, “Vice”

Should win: Sam Elliott, who is the emotional fulcrum of A Star Is Born. Elliott takes his usual gruff cowboy act and makes him feel lived in and real. The movie doesn’t work without him, which, by definition is what a supporting actor should be doing (unlike most cases where this award goes to a second lead, more on that in a second). Driver is great in his role, but it feels lighter in comparison, which is weird to say given the film’s content, but he isn’t asked to deal with as much weight.

Will win: Mahershala Ali, who is the aforementioned co-lead of Green Book, and honestly plays mostly one note (pun intended) through most of the film’s run. He’s everywhere these days on the heels of his win in this category two years ago, and he definitely grants a sense of elegance and even humor to the role, but the film itself feels so slight to me, I just don’t see how he should actually win for this movie. This isn’t an award for overall acting ability (he’d probably win that, with Driver close behind), but for this film, which doesn’t deserve this type of recognition.

Supporting Actress:

Amy Adams, “Vice”
Marina de Tavira, “Roma”
Regina King, “If Beale Street Could Talk”
Emma Stone, “The Favourite”
Rachel Weisz, “The Favourite”

Should win: Emma Stone, because she makes all the shenanigans of The Favourite work in a way that it wouldn’t in lesser hands. Weisz has less to do, and Adams is fun in Vice, but not as supporting (yes, I’m taking this category literally). She’s due eventually, though (she’s already up to six nominations, five in this category, with no wins). Marina de Tavira really propels some of the action of Roma, though, too, in a way I wasn’t expecting as the movie began. I could go any way, but Stone is my favorite.

Will win: I haven’t seen Beale Street, but King seems to be the frontrunner here. I won’t be surprised any way this goes.

Director:

Spike Lee, “BlacKkKlansman”
Pawel Pawlikowski, “Cold War”
Yorgos Lanthimos, “The Favourite”
Alfonso Cuarón, “Roma”
Adam McKay, “Vice”

Should/will win: It’s Cuaron and there’s very little competition here, other than maybe a sentimental vote for Lee. All the hats that the Roma director wears will probably help his case (and allow him to win more than one award on the night himself). Cooper not being here is confusing and probably wrong, but at least it’s McKay, who directs an interesting movie (even if you hate it) and not Farrelly for Green Book.

Animated Feature:

“Incredibles 2,” Brad Bird
“Isle of Dogs,” Wes Anderson
“Mirai,” Mamoru Hosoda
“Ralph Breaks the Internet,” Rich Moore, Phil Johnston
“Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, Rodney Rothman

Should/Will win: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is a better movie than a few of the Best Picture nominees, and should walk away from this one with an easy victory, in spite of strong competition from Incredibles 2 and Isle of Dogs, both of which are also excellent. The wow factor, especially in the animation department itself, is too high for Spidey not to win.

Animated Short:

“Animal Behaviour,” Alison Snowden, David Fine
“Bao,” Domee Shi
“Late Afternoon,” Louise Bagnall
“One Small Step,” Andrew Chesworth, Bobby Pontillas
“Weekends,” Trevor Jimenez

Will win: “Bao,” because it was the only one I saw and I ate some bao in Chicago this summer and it was delightful.

Adapted Screenplay:

“The Ballad of Buster Scruggs,” Joel Coen , Ethan Coen
“BlacKkKlansman,” Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, Kevin Willmott, Spike Lee
“Can You Ever Forgive Me?,” Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty
“If Beale Street Could Talk,” Barry Jenkins
“A Star Is Born,” Eric Roth, Bradley Cooper, Will Fetters

Should win: A Star is Born mostly because it was the best of these nominated films, so far as I’m concerned. Cooper needs something to reflect the magnitude of what he accomplished, and this might be the best shot outside of a category yet to come. Sadly, I don’t feel super confident in that.

Will win: BlacKkKlansman, and I don’t really have a major problem with that. And while I haven’t seen Buster Scruggs, never count out the loved-more-expected Coen Brothers film, especially in writing categories.

Original Screenplay:

“The Favourite,” Deborah Davis, Tony McNamara
“First Reformed,” Paul Schrader
“Green Book,” Nick Vallelonga, Brian Currie, Peter Farrelly
“Roma,” Alfonso Cuarón
“Vice,” Adam McKay

Should win: I’m going with either First Reformed (which I haven’t seen but heard great things about) or Roma here. The issue with Roma is how little dialogue there is, but if the screenplay also takes into account the narrative arc (which is should), that gives Roma a slight edge (along with my having seen it).

Will win: It makes me gag, but for some reason the D-grade racial conversation centered around Green Book has kept it around much longer than it should have, and for some reason I think this is one of the places where the film gets recognized, even if the script is  basically a mediocre Joseph Campbell/Robert McKee hybridization that never excites.

Cinematography:

“Cold War,” Lukasz Zal
“The Favourite,” Robbie Ryan
“Never Look Away,” Caleb Deschanel
“Roma,” Alfonso Cuarón
“A Star Is Born,” Matthew Libatique

Should/Will win: Cuaron again (although this will probably actually be his first award of the night), because of the boldness of most of his choices in terms of where the camera goes and what it chooses to show you. The hospital scene is enough for me. The plethora of foreign-made films here is really interesting, though, and might impact the category, but I think it is Cuaron’s to lose, although it should be noted that the American Society of Cinematographers gave their feature film award to Zal a few days ago (also, another First Man snub).

Best Documentary Feature:

“Free Solo,” Jimmy Chin, Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi
“Hale County This Morning, This Evening,” RaMell Ross
“Minding the Gap,” Bing Liu
“Of Fathers and Sons,” Talal Derki
“RBG,” Betsy West, Julie Cohen

Will win: Having seen none of these, I will guess Minding the Gap, which I’ve heard is fantastic. That or Free Solo. No idea.

Best Documentary Short Subject:

“Black Sheep,” Ed Perkins
“End Game,” Rob Epstein, Jeffrey Friedman
“Lifeboat,” Skye Fitzgerald
“A Night at the Garden,” Marshall Curry
“Period. End of Sentence.,” Rayka Zehtabchi

Will win: See above for explanation. “End Game” feels like a nice selection.

Best Live Action Short Film:
“Detainment,” Vincent Lambe
“Fauve,” Jeremy Comte
“Marguerite,” Marianne Farley
“Mother,” Rodrigo Sorogoyen
“Skin,” Guy Nattiv

Will win: Yet again. Let’s go “Skin,” for randomness.

Best Foreign Language Film:

“Capernaum” (Lebanon)
“Cold War” (Poland)
“Never Look Away” (Germany)
“Roma” (Mexico)
“Shoplifters” (Japan)

Should win: So this is an interesting one. There’s a real chance that Roma walks away with not one, but two “Best Picture” awards, both the overall BP and this category. But I’m also thinking there’s a chance that those voters who give the BP nod to Cuaron’s film will also look to award someone else here and grant this category to someone else, namely…

Could win: Cold War, which is nominated in several other categories this year (there nominations in all), suggesting it has support in different sections of the Academy. If voters decide that Cuaron’s film winning in both places is too much, don’t be shocked if Pawlikowski’s film prevails here. Still think there’s a good chance Roma sweeps, though.

Film Editing:

“BlacKkKlansman,” Barry Alexander Brown
“Bohemian Rhapsody,” John Ottman
“Green Book,” Patrick J. Don Vito
“The Favourite,” Yorgos Mavropsaridis
“Vice,” Hank Corwin

Should/Will win: Before we start, this is a ridiculous category. The aforementioned BoRhap and Green Book are so dull and unoriginal in their editing, it kills me that movies like Roma (because of how little it cuts, forcing you to stay with moments longer than you want) or First Man (for almost the opposite reason, creating the uncomfortable sense of claustrophobia) aren’t here. Given that, the rhythm of Vice is what propels it forward and part of what makes the film so off-kilter and interesting. So I’m going that direction here.

Sound Editing:

“Black Panther,” Benjamin A. Burtt, Steve Boeddeker
“Bohemian Rhapsody,” John Warhurst
“First Man,” Ai-Ling Lee, Mildred Iatrou Morgan
“A Quiet Place,” Ethan Van der Ryn, Erik Aadahl
“Roma,” Sergio Diaz, Skip Lievsay

Should win: Ironically, I’d like to give a little love to the under-nominated A Quiet Place, which won Emily Blunt a Screen Actor’s Guild prize a few weeks back. Yes, much of the movie is quiet, eerily and uncomfortably so; but when the sound does kick in, it really does, and is part of what makes the movie tick. Close second to First Man, which, if you can’t tell, I’m fully prepared to beat the drum for as long as it takes for people to realize it’s spectacular filmmaking by one of our better young directors.

Will win: This feels like a Black Panther category, especially since it’s unlikely to win anywhere else and the voters will want to recognize it somewhere. I’m okay with almost anything winning here, except, well, you know by now.

Sound Mixing:

“Black Panther”
“Bohemian Rhapsody”
“First Man”
“Roma”
“A Star Is Born”

Should win: I’m also perplexed when there are differences in these two categories, and while yes I realize they are different skills, it feels like they should go hand in hand. If the sound design/editing works, then so, too should the mixing. So I’m back on the First Man train for this one, because of the just insane quality of the sounds throughout.

Will win: Again, probably a Black Panther category, although I could see A Star Is Born jumping in here because of all the music to call attention to the mixing.

Production Design:

“Black Panther,” Hannah Beachler
“First Man,” Nathan Crowley, Kathy Lucas
“The Favourite,” Fiona Crombie, Alice Felton
“Mary Poppins Returns,” John Myhre, Gordon Sim
“Roma,” Eugenio Caballero, Bárbara Enrı́quez

Should/Will win: The re-creation of 1970’s Mexico in Roma is astounding, so I’m fully on board for that win, although the same could be said for First Man and The Favourite, also period pieces, which often look good in this category. Black Panther is visually interesting, but depends so much on CGI to create the look of the film, so I’m going with Roma again on this one.

Original Score:

“BlacKkKlansman,” Terence Blanchard
“Black Panther,” Ludwig Goransson
“If Beale Street Could Talk,” Nicholas Britell
“Isle of Dogs,” Alexandre Desplat
“Mary Poppins Returns,” Marc Shaiman, Scott Wittman

Should win: Justin Hurwitz, who for some reason isn’t here for First Man. Barring that, the Academy really seems to love Alexandre Desplat, who has won in this category twice (for last year’s The Shape of Water and 2015’s The Grand Budpest Hotel) and been nominated seven other times, not including this year, since 2007. I enjoy his style, and as far as fits, it feels the strongest of the two films I’ve seen in this category.

Will win: Again, having not seen Beale Street, I have no idea, but I’ve heard great things. Won’t be surprised to see it go any way here.

Original Song:

“All The Stars” from “Black Panther” by Kendrick Lamar, SZA
“I’ll Fight” from “RBG” by Diane Warren, Jennifer Hudson
“The Place Where Lost Things Go” from “Mary Poppins Returns” by Marc Shaiman, Scott Wittman
“Shallow” from “A Star Is Born” by Lady Gaga, Mark Ronson, Anthony Rossomando, Andrew Wyatt and Benjamin Rice
“When A Cowboy Trades His Spurs For Wings” from “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” by David Rawlings and Gillian Welch

Should/Will win: I mean, I don’t think there’s much question here. This is likely the best chance for a win for A Star Is Born, and “Shallow” is a pretty great song, even if I don’t believe how it came together in the timeline of the film.

Makeup and Hair:

“Border”
“Mary Queen of Scots”
“Vice”

Should/Will win: Vice doesn’t work if the make up doesn’t work. No debate there.

Costume Design:

“The Ballad of Buster Scruggs,” Mary Zophres
“Black Panther,” Ruth E. Carter
“The Favourite,” Sandy Powell
“Mary Poppins Returns,” Sandy Powell
“Mary Queen of Scots,” Alexandra Byrne

Should/Will win: A win for Black Panther would be pretty off brand for this one, as period pieces are quite often awarded in this category. I’m going with The Favourite, since it’s likely one of the few real chances the film has to win despite double-digit nominations (inflated a little by three acting noms). It’s costumes are excellent and specific to the characters, which matters a great deal.

Visual Effects:

“Avengers: Infinity War”
“Christopher Robin”
“First Man”
“Ready Player One”
“Solo: A Star Wars Story”

Should/Will win: Strangely, with as much love as Black Panther got (it was nominated for seven total Oscars), it doesn’t end up here. First Man would be a nice surprise here because it doesn’t really fit what the Academy most often awards here, which is massive Visual Effect spectacles, something that describes 3/5’s of the nominees here. Christopher Robin being here is interesting, too, because honestly in the trailers the talking animals didn’t look all that good. For me, although I liked Solo: A Star Wars story more than many, I thin it comes down to Infinity War and Ready Player One, and I think the Marvel train keeps a-rollin’ here, even if the degree of difficulty for RPO is much higher, since most of the movie depends on the quality of the VFX.

And so there you have it. It’s going to be an interesting show on Sunday night, what with there being no host and the Academy deciding first to slash four awards from the telecast and then last-minute change directions on that choice, but in the end the important thing is who wins and where. When the night’s over, I fully expect Cuaron’s Roma to be the biggest winner, both in terms of number of awards and having won the biggest award of the night. We’ll see soon enough.

Final 2018 Oscar Predictions

The hour is almost upon us. Sunday night starting at 8 PM, Jimmy Kimmel will once again kickstart the biggest night in Hollywood (at least for those to whom things like awards matter, anyway); an event that takes place, strangely, in the middle of the LA afternoon, bringing out all the glitz and glamor of Tinsel Town.

Thing is, to me, little of that matters. I won’t take any time to watch the pre-awards show, take almost negative stock in who is wearing whom and frankly just want Kimmel to hit the stage to try to make jokes that appeal to massive audiences. I’m ready for the handing out of the first trophy (Best Supporting Actor, for some reason) and for the show to feel bloated and overlong by the middle section, before picking up steam into its final third, hopefully avoiding a fiasco like last year. And with this year’s show, we have a crop of nominees that could go in so many different directions, it’s really anybody’s guess who will walk out the big winner or the most decorated film of the night (not necessarily the same thing).

So since it’s anybody’s guess, I’ll venture a few myself. Because I am insane, I will select predictions and who I’d like to see win (again, not necessarily the same thing) for ALL TWENTY-FOUR OSCAR CATEGORIES, and add more details to some of the more notable awards. Strap in, folks, it’s about to get wild.

VISUAL EFFECTS

Blade Runner 2049

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2

Kong: Skull Island

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

War for the Planet of the Apes

Prediction: War for the Planet of the Apes

Preferred winner: Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Commentary: I could really be good with either of these films, or even Blade Runner 2049, winning, but in this case I’m going with the film I liked the best since it’s essential a wash in the category.

COSTUME DESIGN

Beauty and the Beast

Darkest Hour

Phantom Thread

The Shape of Water

Victoria and Abdul

Prediction: Beauty and the Beast

Preferred winner: Phantom Thread

Commentary: Feels odd that a film about fashion design isn’t getting more attention here.  No problem with the second highest grossing film of the year getting one here, though.

MAKEUP AND HAIR

Darkest Hour

Victoria and Abdul

Wonder

Prediction: Darkest Hour

Preferred winner: Meh

Commentary: History tells us that making someone old and/or fatter than they are goes well for this Oscar. See: Click is an Oscar-winning film.

ORIGINAL SONG

“Mighty River” from Mudbound, Mary J. Blige

“Mystery of Love” from Call Me By Your Name, Sufjan Stevens

“Remember Me” from Coco, Kristen Anderson-Lopez, Robert Lopez

“Stand Up for Something” from Marshall, Diane Warren, Common

“This Is Me” from The Greatest Showman, Benj Pasek, Justin Paul

Prediction: “Remember Me”

Preferred winner: “Mystery of Love”

Commentary: I haven’t heard any of these songs. This category is remarkably ridiculous in the best of years. I picked Stevens’ song mostly because I want to see him up on stage accepting an Oscar.

ORIGINAL SCORE

Dunkirk, Hans Zimmer

Phantom Thread, Jonny Greenwood

The Shape of Water, Alexandre Desplat

Star Wars: The Last Jedi, John Williams

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Carter Burwell

Prediction: The Shape of Water, unfortunately

Preferred winner: Phantom Thread or Dunkirk

Commentary: Nothing really wrong with Desplat’s score, it just doesn’t feel interesting or innovative to me, both adjectives with describe Zimmer and Greenwood’s scores. Both scores make the films tick (literally in Zimmer’s case) and ratchet up the tension and emotions of the films in which they are found. Williams is great, but he’s got a million Oscars now (note: it’s 5, with a total of 51 nominations, and a win for the original Star Wars already in tow) and I barely remember there being a score in Three Billboards. Pulling hard for an upset here.

PRODUCTION DESIGN

Beauty and the Beast

Blade Runner 2049

Darkest Hour

Dunkirk

The Shape of Water

Prediction: Beauty and the Beast (but really, probably The Shape of Water)

Preferred winner: Blade Runner 2049 or Dunkirk

Commentary: These categories where TSoW is featured will tell us a lot about how much the Academy at large loves the film (I didn’t, but I don’t get a real vote), so the swing towards Beauty could tell us something; a win for something like Blade Runner 2049 or even Dunkirk tells us something else, although at that point it’ll be too early to tell (remember that year when Mad Max: Fury Road swept all these tech awards and then disappeared, for example?).

SOUND MIXING

Baby Driver

Blade Runner 2049

Dunkirk

The Shape of Water

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Prediction: Dunkirk

Preferred winner: Dunkirk

Commentary: I read recently that a Star Wars film has never won in this category, which I think is insane. Still, the sound in Dunkirk is enveloping and unsettling, just as it should be. The Academy loves to give these awards to war films, and Nolan’s film should fit nicely into that, even if it is an unorthodox war film.

SOUND EDITING

Baby Driver

Blade Runner 2049

Dunkirk

The Shape of Water

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Prediction: Dunkirk

Preferred winner: Dunkirk

Commentary: It’s actually strange to see these categories match up exactly, but I think the  winner is the same for both. It’s just phenomenal work on all fronts (pun intended).

FILM EDITING

Baby Driver

Dunkirk

I, Tonya

The Shape of Water

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Prediction: Baby Driver

Preferred winner: Baby Driver (great with Dunkirk, too)

Commentary: The quirky, rock-and-roll quality of the editing in Baby Driver is similar to the jazzy editing in Whiplash, the winner from a few years ago. It’s note-perfect, and makes a lot of sense here.

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM

A Fantastic Woman (Chile)

The Insult (Lebanon)

Loveless (Russia)

On Body and Soul (Hungary)

The Square (Sweden)

Prediction: It’s a guess, because I haven’t seen any of them, but I’ll go with The Square

Commentary: I have no dog in this fight. Maybe I root for Ikea?

BEST LIVE ACTION SHORT FILM

DeKalb Elementary

The Eleven O’Clock

My Nephew Emmett

The Silent Child

Watu Wote/All of Us

Prediction: Shrug emoji; DeKalb Elementary as a random guess.

Commentary: Now starts a string of films/shorts I have no idea about. This is where Oscar pools are won and lost; on random guesses.

BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT SUBJECT

Edith+Eddie

Heaven is a Traffic Jam on the 405

Heroin(e)

Knife Skills

Traffic Stop

Prediction/Commentary: Heaven is a Traffic Jam on the 405 is both a great title and something I’m glad will not be true.

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE

Abacus: Small Enough to Jail

Faces Places

Icarus

Last Men in Aleppo

Strong Island

Prediction/Commentary: I’ve heard a lot about Last Men in Aleppo, so let’s go with that.

CINEMATOGRAPHY

Blade Runner 2049, Roger Deakins

Darkest Hour, Bruno Delbonnel

Dunkirk, Hoyte van Hoytema

Mudbound, Rachel Morrison

The Shape of Water, Dan Laustsen

Prediction: Blade Runner 2049

Preferred winner: Blade Runner 2049 (Dunkirk in second)

Commentary: It’s time to give Deakins his due and his Oscar. For all its faults, Blade Runner is a gorgeous film and well deserved of a victory here (though, to be fair, so were Skyfall, True Grit and No County for Old Men, if not more).

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

The Big Sick, Emily V. Gordon & Kumail Nanjiani

Get Out, Jordan Peele

Lady Bird, Greta Gerwig

The Shape of Water, Guillermo del Toro & Vanessa Taylor

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Martin McDonagh

Prediction: Get Out

Preferred winner: Lady Bird or The Big Sick

Commentary: Two things. First, I don’t think Peele’s film is going to win anywhere else, so this is a way for the Academy to acknowledge it (even if I think it’s pretty overrated); so while I don’t think it’s that deserving and that the screenplay is the thing dragging it along most, I expect to see Get Out win. Second, either of my preferred winners are worthy, and I actually pretty bummed not to see more from The Big Sick, but a win here for Gerwig could be telling about how much the voters like Lady Bird.

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

Call Me by Your Name, James Ivory

The Disaster Artist, Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber

Logan, Scott Frank, James Mangold & Michael Green

Molly’s Game, Aaron Sorkin

Mudbound, Virgil Williams & Dee Rees

Prediction: Call Me By Your Name

Preferred winner: Logan

Commentary: A lot like Get Out, I think this essentially it for Call Me By Your Name, which came into the world around this time last year to rapturous adoration and has sort of dissipated in the conversation since. Logan, on the other hand, is a superhero movie that really isn’t; its characters are so grounded and seem so real, if it weren’t for the adamantium claws and telepathy, the film wouldn’t function as a superhero movie at all. It would show a lot of good faith by the Academy to not only nominate, but award a trophy to a film of its massive success in a category like this.

ANIMATED SHORT

Dear Basketball

Garden Party

Lou

Negative Space

Revolting Rhymes

Prediction/Commentary: Again, no real idea here, other than I hope that we don’t have to start calling Kobe Bryant an Oscar winner. Go for Garden Party or Revolving Rhymes, just for fun.

ANIMATED FEATURE

The Boss Baby

The Breadwinner

Coco

Ferdinand

Loving Vincent

Prediction/Commentary: Coco. I caught a few minutes of the end of The Boss Baby and it is remarkably dumb, but that is because it is expressly written to entertain children, especially those under 5 (my three-year-old finds it incredibly impressive). I just don’t see a world where Pixar loses this one.

BEST DIRECTOR

Dunkirk, Christopher Nolan

Get Out, Jordan Peele

Lady Bird, Greta Gerwig

Phantom Thread, Paul Thomas Anderson

The Shape of Water, Guillermo del Toro

Prediction: Guillermo del Toro

Preferred winner: Nolan, followed by Gerwig and PTA

Commentary: Look, I have nothing against del Toro, and honestly think he’s a great, imaginative filmmaker. I just didn’t think much of The Shape of Water, which feels like a more mainstream attempt at the adult fairy tale he talked about way back when he release Pan’s Labyrinth, which, to my eyes, is a far better, more interesting film with much more at stake. This is also a bizarre category that nobody really knows how to predict, other than the fact that del Toro has pretty much swept like-minded awards throughout the last few months. I’m always going to root for Nolan, a first-time nominee in this category, and feel he’s overlooked because he’s not only incredibly talented, but also directs blockbusters. If he wins, I think we can pretty much assume the Best Picture category has gone an unforeseen direction, too.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Mary J. Blige, Mudbound

Allison Janney, I, Tonya

Lesley Manville, Phantom Thread

Laurie Metcalf, Lady Bird

Octavia Spencer, The Shape of Water

Prediction: Allison Janney

Preferred winner: Laurie Metcalf

Commentary: Janney has been a runaway winner in this category most of the awards season, but for me she doesn’t factor into the narrative of I, Tonya enough to justify her scenery-chewing performance win here. In terms of that, Metcalf’s performance is both more important and nuanced, so I’d like to see her come out the winner when it’s all said and done.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Willem Dafoe, The Florida Project

Woody Harrelson, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Richard Jenkins, The Shape of Water

Christopher Plummer, All the Money in the World

Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Prediction: Sam Rockwell

Preferred winner: Rockwell is fine, although I wasn’t enamored with any of those I saw (unseen: Dafoe and Plummer)

Commentary: Speaking of scenery-chewing performances, that’s what Rockwell is doing here, although his is more essential to keeping the plot of Three Billboards moving along, even if the ending feels a little cheap and unearned. To me there were other, better performances in other, better movies (I continue to beat the snub-drum for Tracy Letts, who plays Saoirse Ronan’s father in Lady Bird in a thoughtful, charming and subtle manner that the film requires), but since this is what we’ve got, I’m okay with Rockwell, who is always a fun and interesting performer, no matter the film he’s in.

BEST ACTRESS

Sally Hawkins, The Shape of Water

Frances McDormand, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Margot Robbie, I, Tonya

Saoirse Ronan, Lady Bird

Meryl Streep, The Post

Prediction: Frances McDormand

Preferred winner: Saoirse Ronan

Commentary: Nothing against McDormand–she’s strong and terrifying and remarkable and the best thing in Three Billboards–but I’m ready to see Ronan take home one of these things. It’s weird to think an actress is due at 23, but this is already her third nomination–for her incredible supporting turn in Atonement and her wildly underrated leading role in Brooklyn–and yet Lady Bird might be her best and most interesting performance to date. Even if she loses this year, I’ve no doubt she’ll be back and will eventually win an Oscar; I just think it should be this year.

BEST ACTOR

Timothée Chalamet, Call Me by Your Name

Daniel Day-Lewis, Phantom Thread

Daniel Kaluuya, Get Out

Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour

Denzel Washington, Roman J. Israel, Esq.

Prediction: Gary Oldman

Preferred winner: Daniel Day-Lewis

Commentary: I don’t get it. Are we ignoring Day-Lewis’s performance simply because of the “been there, done that” element of it? Because that hasn’t stopped us before, and I really think it shouldn’t here. That said, while I haven’t seen Oldman’s performance, I have no issue giving him an award for a role that is tailor-made for such a thing (see: Day-Lewis’ last Oscar win for Lincoln). He’s a gifted actor who is well deserving of recognition, I’m just not sure we should dismiss the grade, anger and nuance of Day-Lewis just because he’s always this excellent.

BEST PICTURE

Call Me by Your Name

Darkest Hour

Dunkirk

Get Out

Lady Bird

Phantom Thread

The Post

The Shape of Water

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Prediction: The Shape of Water

Preferred winners: Dunkirk or Lady Bird or Phantom Thread

Commentary: There doesn’t seem to be a lot of mystery to this, where the race seems to be between The Shape of Water and Golden Globe Best Picture (Drama) winner Three Billboards. I was underwhelmed by both, and can’t believe it’s all going to end in a whimper like this, after what is shaping up to be a pretty good, well-divided show. I placed my preferred winners in order of preference, but also in terms of what I think is most likely. The Academy obviously liked Phantom Thread a great deal more than many expected, and it does stand a chance to win in a few other areas, but Lady Bird is starting to get the feeling of a “happy to be here” film, which is sad, because the film is engaging and charming in ways that other nominees simply are not, including the supposed front-runners. If this were a few years ago, Dunkirk would win in a landslide, but the timbre of Academy voters has changed, leaving the film on less than stable footing. However, if a situation arises where various guilds and groups in the Academy divide the vote amongst the two in the lead going into the final turn, Dunkirk feels like a movie that is well-respected enough to slip in and take the whole thing, thanks in part to this bizarre preferential voting system. I could see a scenario where Shape and Billboards get more first place votes than Dunkirk, but end up losing to the latter because it takes all second and third place votes. Depending on how the math works out, that seems like an opportunity for Nolan’s film to win, even if that seems like a longer shot than it likely should be.

 

 

Oscar Re-Do: 2017 Edition

This is the one that is going to be the most difficult to look back upon, seeing as the awards were only given out about a year ago, not to mention all the back-and-forth surrounding the possible winners leading up to the ceremony. Still with only a week until this year’s awards, I will press on and take on this compelling and controversial year at the Oscars.

One final time: actual winners in bold, my new winners in italics.

Best Original Screenplay

Manchester By The Sea – Kenneth Lonergan

Hell or High Water – Tyler Sheridan

La La Land – Damien Chazelle

20th Century Woman – Mike Mills

The Lobster – Efthymis Filippou & Yargos Lanthimos

I should say up front: I have a La La Land poster in my living room and am probably the biggest champion of Chazelle’s film that I know. Its screenplay, however, was not the major strength of the film, so much as the overall puzzle strung together. It is, however, one of the two movies in this category I have seen, leaving me to give the award to the literally most original screenplay of that year (and maybe most other years) in The Lobster. To call it quirky would be an understatement; but it also manages to tell us something about society and our detachment from one another, and how we still need each other. The ability to do all those things at once makes it the winner here.

Best Adapted Screenplay

Moonlight – Barry Jenkins 

Lion – Luke Davies

Arrival – Eric Heisserer

Hidden Figures – Theodore Melfi & Allison Schroeder

Fences – August Wilson

Might as well get this out of the way here, too: I haven’t seen Moonlight, and I’m not sure if I ever will. Most of that is because of how much praise it has gotten in the last two years, so I don’t think there’s any way it can live up to it. That said, since I’m making these picks based on movies I’ve seen, you can count the eventual Best Picture winner out of the conversation all along the way. This category is also a short conversation, seeing as I only saw Arrival, which I felt was a considerable piece of work across the board, but especially in the way its storytelling twists and turns on itself, leading to a top-notch final reveal. It’s a sci-fi film that uses its effects wisely, but doesn’t skimp on the story or the character building. Heisserer’s script packs a punch and keeps you captivated whether the aliens are on-screen or not.

Best Supporting Actress

Viola Davis – Fences

Naomie Harris – Moonlight 

Nicole Kidman – Lion

Octavia Spencer – Hidden Figures 

Michelle Williams – Manchester By The Sea

Welp, I’m out of on this one. Literally saw none of these movies. So mostly I abstain, even if I know for a fact that Davis’ role was essentially a female lead and even though I really want to see Williams win one of these things one day. Sight unseen, however, I’ll leave it alone.

Best Supporting Actor

Mahershala Ali – Moonlight

Jeff Bridges – Hell or High Water

Lucas Hedges – Manchester By The Sea

Dev Patel – Lion

Michael Shannon – Nocturnal Animals

See above, mostly. My understanding is that Ali is fantastic in his scenes in Moonlight, and that the rest of the bunch are just here to fill out the nominations. Fine by me. This is the one place where not having seen anything else keeps Moonlight in its place.

Best Director

Damien Chazelle – La La Land

Denis Villeneuve – Arrival

Mel Gibson – Hacksaw Ridge

Barry Jenkins – Moonlight

Kenneth Lonergan – Manchester By The Sea

This is another interesting group, filled with directors of films of various sizes and genres. I don’t think I’m being a homer or inconsistent by keeping this trophy in Chazelle’s hands, as I’ve stated all along here that the magnitude and scope of the production matters a lot in this category, at least from my point of view. Arrival is also meaningful in that way, but Villeneuve didn’t manage to reclaim a nearly lost genre with his film (go ahead, argue with me about that, I believe it’s true). I didn’t see the rest of the bunch, but don’t think I need to. Chazelle is the right winner in this particular case.

Best Actress

Emma Stone – La La Land

Natalie Portman – Jackie

Ruth Negga – Loving 

Meryl Streep – Florence Foster Jenkins

Isabelle Huppert – Elle

Again, this is a one pony show for me (is that even a phrase people use?), and honestly, I would have liked to see Amy Adams here instead of bazillion time nominee Streep. If that were the case, I’d probably make Adams a first time winner; instead, in my world, Stone wins her second Oscar in three years, after winning my award for her supporting turn in Birdman a few years ago. This is obviously a fully different performance, showcasing her range and multi-faceted talents. Stone is great here, and I have zero problems keeping the trophy in her hands.

Best Actor

Casey Affleck – Manchester By The Sea

Andrew Garfield – Hacksaw Ridge

Ryan Gosling – La La Land

Viggo Mortensen – Captain Fantastic 

Denzel Washington – Fences

Admittedly, I find myself in an odd place here (and honestly this is starting to feel like a strong argument for why you should wait to revisit this type of thing). Having only seen La La Land, I’d be compelled to give the Oscar to Gosling, but honestly, while I liked him in the movie and found him to be charming, I’m not sure this is the movie he should win for (that’s likely still to come). By my own rules, that means I should leave the trophy with Affleck, but that’s a loaded decision in this day and age. So I’m going to go full on left field with this one and just give it to Denzel, who was, by most accounts, in second place here, and actually took a few critics awards from Affleck, including the Screen Actors Guild’s Best Actor, along the way. I have no problem awarding Washington another Oscar here, sight unseen.

Best Picture

Moonlight

Arrival 

Fences 

Hacksaw Ridge

Hell or High Water 

Hidden Figures 

La La Land

Lion

Manchester By The Sea

I mean, I told you this was coming way at the beginning. Of the nominees, I saw two of them–probably a low in terms of Best Picture nominees I’ve seen going into a ceremony in years–and while I loved them both for different reasons, my adoration of La La Land knows few bounds (my wife and I used it as entrance music for our reception at our wedding, if the living poster doesn’t convince you). Yes, I understand it isn’t your typical Hollywood love story, but really that statement gets to the heart of what it really is: a love letter to Hollywood and a story of living out your dreams, even if that means a relationship you thought that mattered can’t work. That’s the part of this story that matters.

Spoiler alert!

 

The two stars don’t end up together, no, but they both get what they wanted all along, and for those two people, and for most of the people who made the movie happen, this is an important point to make.

I can’t speak to the quality of most of the rest of the nominees, and I’m sure in its own way, Moonlight is well-deserving of the win, but I simply cannot say at this point, or do I even need to see it so I can find out. Not every movie is for everyone, and I’m okay living in a world where, in spite of my narrow view on the subject, Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway really did read La La Land for Best Picture, not just a mysterious second envelope for Emma Stone’s Best Actress trophy.

In the end, that’s what this exercise was all about: recognizing that film fans don’t have to agree about everything. That award shows don’t always get it “right,” and that’s mostly because “right” is subjective when it comes to art. For me, the best picture of 2016 was La La Land, no doubt in my mind. The votes of a few thousand actors, actresses, directors, writers and the rest isn’t going to change that for me.

 

 

 

Oscar Re-Do: 2016 Edition

Round 3. Fight!

Yet again, please note: Original winner is in bold, new winner is underlined.

Best Original Screenplay

Spotlight – Josh Singer & Tom McCarthy

Bridge of Spies – Matt Charman, Ethan & Joel Coen

Ex Machina – Alex Garland

Inside Out – Pete Docter, Meg LaFauve, Josh Cooley; Story by Pete Docter & Ronnie Del Carmen

Straight Outta Compton – Jonathan Herman & Andrea Berloff; Story by S.Lee Savidge, Alan Wenkus & Andrea Berloff

To me, this is a no-brainer. Before that, however, let’s reflect on what a strange group of nominees this is. There are three so-called original screenplays based on actual events. And yes, I understand that means the writers had to form those events into a coherent screenplay, but still, the writers for Spotlight, Bridge of Spies and Straight Outta Compton were working within predefined parameters in a way that neither Ex Machina nor Inside Out were. In that case, either of the latter two would be deserving, but Garland gets it for me because the film was mesmerizing and bonkers, certainly one of the most original films I’ve seen in a while. I really harp on the original part of the category name, and feel it is overlooked by most voters. Not me. Garland wins.

Best Adapted Screenplay

The Big Short – Adam McKay & Charles Randolph

Brooklyn – Nick Hornby

Carol – Phyllis Nagy

The Martian – Drew Goddard

Room – Emma Donoghue

This is a spectacular category. Minus Carol, which I did not see, these are all impeccably written scripts, properly paced for their genre and thrilling in terms of each script’s ability to do what it set out to do. This is difficult. I think Hornby is a top-notch writer (his book High Fidelity is fantastic and was adapted into one of my favorite films ever) and Brooklyn was a beautiful and overlooked movie, due in no small part to the quality of the writing. Goddard turned a rambling, 4th wall destroying novel into one of the funniest and most entertaining and remarkably moving films of that year. I thought The Big Short was properly rated–neither the best film of the year nor the worst of the Best Picture bunch–and was way more fun and compelling than a book about the federal reserve and stocks had any business being. But for me, it’s Donoghue’s emotional and complex retelling of her own novel. One of the hardest parts of that adaptation was always going to be condensing the first half of the book into compelling cinema, and somehow she managed to get the horrid nature of the situation just right without allowing it to become overwhelming. This makes the rest of the film work, along with the performances of its two leads, and it is a major credit to her understanding of how the story works, no matter the medium.

Best Supporting Actress

Alicia Vikander – The Danish Girl

Jennifer Jason Leigh – The Hateful Eight

Rooney Mara – Carol

Rachel McAdams – Spotlight 

Kate Winslet – Steve Jobs

Back to a less than compelling category, unfortunately. Along with Carol, I also didn’t see The Danish Girl or The Hateful Eight, so I don’t have much to say on this one. My hand is forced, then, to decide between McAdams and Winslet. The former is good in her scenes in Spotlight, but doesn’t have a whole lot to do. As far as transformational scene stealing goes, there’s no doubt that Winslet fits the bill, playing a fictional amalgamation of various people in Steve Jobs’ life. She’s good, but without much information, I can’t confidently say she was better than Vikander, Jason Leigh or Mara, the latter of whom I find to be the most compelling of actresses. It’s Winslet by default, but little else.

Best Supporting Actor

Mark Rylance – Bridge of Spies

Christian Bale – The Big Short

Tom Hardy – The Revenant

Mark Ruffalo – Spotlight

Sylvester Stallone – Creed

This is another stacked category, even if Ruffalo is a sort of strange addition here, since he feels like the lead of his film. I’ve actually seen all five movies here (including Creed, which I just saw this past November), so I feel confident is saying that the Academy fully got this one correct. Rylance is winning and captivating in the role, and it is mainly because of him that the movie works (which is nothing against Tom Hanks, who is his usual trusty self in the film, but the movie belongs to Rylance). Hardy broods, as he usually does, and Stallone didn’t impress me all that much, at least not to the extent I expected when people were gushing as if it were some mind-blowing performance. Bale is incredible to watch in The Big Short, but feels like a bit of an afterthought, as he is a little separated from the rest of the film and doesn’t really interact with much of the rest of the main cast. That said, he’s one of the few actors who could have pulled off what is asked of him, but this award is all Mark Rylance and his fedora.

Best Director

Alejandro G. Iñárritu – The Revenant

Adam McKay – The Big Short

George Miller – Mad Max: Fury Road

Tom McCarthy – Spotlight

Lenny Abrahamson – Room

A rare back-to-back for Iñárritu, and really this one makes more sense than Birdman did for me. It’s more of a director’s film, filled with spectacle and complicated set pieces, most of which were filmed outdoors in real life winter conditions. One could make an equal argument for Miller, but the lack of a strong narrative in Fury Road makes it all feel like fluff to me. McCarthy isn’t asked to do a lot to make Spotlight work (also counting against him might have been that he also made one of the worst reviewed movies of the same year with the Adam Sandler film The Cobbler) and while I adore Room, the visual sensibilities of the film don’t give Abrahamson much of a leg to stand on for this race. I’ll keep it where it went, especially since I took the other one away from Iñárritu.

Best Actress

Brie Larson – Room 

Cate Blanchett – Carol

Jennifer Lawrence – Joy 

Charlotte Rampling – 45 Years

Saoirse Ronan – Brooklyn

I sort of feel bad for taking away Blanchett’s Oscar from 2014, if only because she has no shot here for me, both because I didn’t see the film and because there’s only one winner in my mind, and that’s the woman who actually won the award. There were so many ways this part could have gone sour, but Larson manages to keep everything on the exact right note, where it be faking happy for the sake of her son or as she slowly falls apart dealing with her re-acclimiation into the real world. I didn’t see 45 Years, so I can’t comment on Rampling’s performance, but I can say that Lawrence did her best to make Joy work, and in spite of all her hard work, she and David O. Russell couldn’t pull it off this time. My runner-up is Ronan, who is gorgeous and captivating in Brooklyn, a film I think I liked more than the Academy did; but it’s mostly a more understated performance, which, while showing off a great deal of control, is also part of the reason why she can’t overcome Larson for this one.

Best Actor

Leonardo DiCaprio – The Revenant

Bryan Cranston – Trumbo

Matt Damon – The Martian

Michael Fassbender – Steve Jobs

Eddie Redmayne – The Danish Girl

I already gave Leo his Oscar for what I feel was a more deserving performance in The Wolf of Wall Street, so I don’t feel bad about not giving him another one here. That leaves the winner from the previous year in a film I didn’t see (but by most accounts trying to strike gold twice in almost the same way and not making it work as well), the man who created one of the best television characters in recent memory starring in a film nobody I know saw (including me), a tortured genius in a bizarre take on a biopic and a man who carries a movie pretty much on his own and still manages to be funny, heartbreaking and engaging all the way through. Call me crazy, but when it comes down to Damon and Fassbender, I’m left conceding that the former should be the winner. It would have been an unusual winner, as it isn’t the type of performance that usually gets this kind of awards attention, but the work Damon did to make that movie work (it literally doesn’t function without him) is well deserving of recognition.

Best Picture

Spotlight

The Big Short

Bridge of Spies

Brooklyn 

Mad Max: Fury Road

The Martian

The Revenant 

Room

I’m very fond of this list overall, actually. I will admit that it wasn’t an overwhelmingly great year for the Best Picture category, as I’m not sure any of these movies will stand the test of time, but on the whole this is a very, very solid list, even if I didn’t think Mad Max was all that great (sorry, I just remember being mad that it won all the tech awards). That said, I could make an argument for several of these movies. Bridge of Spies was Spielberg’s most compelling work (for me) since 2002, where he dropped Catch Me If You Can and Minority Report in the same year. Brooklyn was absolutely breathtaking filmmaking, and I’m not afraid to say that I found it quite an invigorating movie. The Martian was one of the most entertaining movies of the year, and even though it was by far the highest grossing movie of the bunch, it still managed to carry its own weight emotionally and seemed to want to say something about the power of persistence and perseverance. The Revenant was a movie I’ll likely never watch again, mostly because of how visceral an experience it was; this is both a compliment and a slight negation of the movie, as rewatch-ability matters. Room was beautifully acted (Jacob Tremblay belonged in that lead actor category) and emotional without being manipulative, all the while expressing our need for other people and the power of the human spirit. Spotlight tells an important story, and that, ultimately, is the reason it won, at least to my mind. It’s an actor’s film, and seeing as actors make up a giant chunk of the Academy’s voting body, it makes sense on a logical level. But it didn’t move me, not the way that most of the others did, for better or for worse. This was a difficult one to pick even at the time, but I’m going to go now with the way I wanted things to go then, even if I knew it wasn’t possible: Oscar gold for Room.

 

 

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.

Oscar Re-Do: 2014 Edition

I’m stealing from myself a little here, but indulge me, if you would. On my podcast a few years back, my co-host Ryan and I decided to go back and choose alternate Best Picture winners going back as far as the 2011 ceremony (for films released in 2010, mind you; winner was The King’s Speech, we chose Inception, because it’s better). With a few weeks before this year’s Oscars–delayed from their usual February date due to the Olympics–I decided to take on a similar task, this time selecting my own winners for the top awards (Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, Supporting Actor/Actress and both Screenplays), with a little rationale for a change. I’ve heard a few people–namely Bill Simmons of The Ringer–state that they think the Oscars should be presented like this, and I think it would be interesting. The staying power of the films would be more indicative of the movie’s quality and importance as opposed to the immediate reaction, due to things like political climate and overreactions to previous years. That, in short, is my rationale. But also because I think it will be loads of fun.

We’ll begin, I think, with the 2014 ceremony and do this once a week until just before March 4, when the 2018 edition gets handed out. And away we go.

Note: Actual winners will be bold, new winner are underlined.

Best Original Screenplay

Her – Spike Jonze

American Hustle – Eric Warren Singer & David O. Russell

Blue Jasmine – Woody Allen

Dallas Buyers Club – Craig Borten & Melisa Wallack

Nebraska – Bob Nelson

This first one is easy because the Academy fully got this right. In terms of originality, you don’t get much more of that than you do in Jonze’s heartfelt, heartbreaking futuristic romance. The rest of the nominees are well deserved, especially the under appreciated Nebraska, but there’s no way this award goes to anyone else.

Best Adapted Screenplay

12 Years A Slave – John Ridley

Before Midnight – Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy & Ethan Hawke

Captain Phillips – Billy Ray

Philomena – Steve Coogan & Jeff Pope

The Wolf of Wall Street – Terence Winter

I thought that 12 Years A Slave was a good film, but I wasn’t taken by it as a great film, so I’m going a different direction with this one. Winter’s script for the 3+ hour Scorsese film is really smart and engaging, not to mention hilarious, even as it rips through years of history and a story about a person who isn’t exactly a role model. The only other contender here would likely be the third entry into the Midnight film saga, but at this point, the fact that Linklater, Delpy and Hawke were still getting recognized is a feat in and of itself. That’s enough.

Best Supporting Actress

Lupita Nyong’o – 12 Years A Slave

Sally Hawkins – Blue Jasmine

Jennifer Lawrence – American Hustle

Julia Roberts – August: Osage County

June Squibb – Nebraska

Nyong’o’s performance is obviously powerful, and if you factor in the fact that this was her first film role, this makes sense as the winner here. My alteration is not because I think the actual winner was undeserving, then, but because I was so impressed with the quality of Squibb’s performance in Nebraska. She isn’t in much of the film, but she manages to be both hilarious and heartbreaking in her scenes, and her presence is vital to the film unfolding the way it does. Controversially–and slightly off-topic–but I feel like Sally Hawkins is more effective here than she is in this year’s The Shape of Water.

Best Supporting Actor

Jared Leto – Dallas Buyers Club

Barkhad Abdi – Captain Phillips

Bradley Cooper – American Hustle

Michael Fassbender – 12 Years A Slave

Jonah Hill – The Wolf of Wall Street

I cannot believe I live in a world where Jonah Hill has been nominated for not one, but two Oscars (essentially playing the same character, too, mind you). That said, this is a tough category. I wasn’t taken by Leto’s turn that much, and Abdi didn’t really have a lot to do besides yell at Tom Hanks. The Academy has always thought highly of David O. Russell’s actors, as American Hustle became his second film to have nominations in all four acting categories, but Cooper isn’t as good here as he was in Silver Linings Playbook. I’m left with Fassbender, who wins not only by default, but also because of the precision of his performance. It’s nuanced in a way that much of the film wasn’t for me, even if “cruel slave owner” is the basic trope of the role. Mostly I’d like a pass here, but I’ll take Fassbender over the rest.

Best Director

Alfonso Cuarón – Gravity

Steve McQueen – 12 Years A Slave

David O. Russell – American Hustle

Alexander Payne – Nebraska

Martin Scorsese – The Wolf of Wall Street

I’m also not bending here. Cuarón’s work here is second to none, as he managed to build an expansive world, shoot everything as realistically as possible and actually tap into the emotions that his small cast, especially Sandra Bullock, feels. Scorsese’s feat of making a 3 hour movie feel half as long is an achievement, but the movie isn’t great. And while I’d love to see Russell or Payne win one of these someday, they’ve both made better films.

Best Actress

Cate Blanchett – Blue Jasmine

Amy Adams – American Hustle

Sandra Bullock – Gravity

Judi Dench – Philomena

Meryl Streep – August: Osage County

Blanchett is undoubtably fantastic in the film, and I had no problem with her winning at the time (and still don’t, really); but I’m undoing a previous wrong here, too. In handing Bullock a much deserved Oscar here, I’m also taking away her by-the-numbers performance in The Blind Side and giving that trophy to someone else (Carey Mulligan from An Education, you’re now an Oscar winner). The work that Bullock does, acting essentially against herself and the perils of space, that’s top-notch stuff. This is the film she should be remembered for, not that mindless, white-privilege propaganda film.

Best Actor

Matthew McConaughey – Dallas Buyers Club

Christian Bale – American Hustle

Bruce Dern – Nebraska

Leonardo DiCaprio – The Wolf of Wall Street

Chiwetel Ejiofor – 12 Years A Slave

McConaughey’s better performance of that year was actually a supporting slot alongside DiCaprio. I had major problems with Dallas Buyers Club, and didn’t really think much of it as a movie. The lead actor was the best part about it, but DiCaprio’s deranged, kinetic and confident performance in Wolf should have been the one to break his streak (he’s good in The Revenant, too, but that one felt more like “it’s time” than “this is the one!”). I love Dern’s performance, too, and even Bale is having fun hamming it up in his role, but for me, there’s no comparison. Also, if Joaquin Phoenix was here like he deserved, this becomes a totally different conversation. First major non-nominated snub.

Best Picture

12 Years A Slave

American Hustle

Captain Phillips

Dallas Buyers Club

Gravity

Her

Nebraska

Philomena

The Wolf of Wall Street

What we have here is a reason that the Oscars should wait a few years. My goodness this list is a mess. Half of these movies are underwhelming head-scratchers (Philomena and Dallas Buyers Club especially), some are fine (Captain Phillips and American Hustle) and the actual winner certainly has its merits, but I’d maybe rank it 4th or 5th on my preferences. For me, it came down to two: Gravity and Her, both films made by talented and thoughtful directors who wanted to showcase their skills, and each featuring a tragic, terrific performance from a lead actor playing against technology. Her wins because, even though it is wildly quirky, its inventiveness is unmatched in this category and it also feels like the movie with the most to say, especially four years later. The dependency on technology is one thing, but the way we prioritize our lives and turn elsewhere to cope is a large part of the message here, and it is well made on all fronts.

(Note: for what it’s worth, my rankings would be 1. Her 2. Gravity 3. Nebraska 4. The Wolf of Wall Street 5. 12 Years A Slave 6. American Hustle 7. Captain Phillips 8. Dallas Buyers Club 9. Philomena)