Losing the ability to live-blog his angst during last year’s Academy Awards ceremony made it hell on this reporter. Forced to sit and watch the damn thing in real time — the horror. Matthew Lickona never did take to the spontaneous silliness of our shared event, but in the past few months, several of you have inquired as to whether or not we’ll crank one out for the 2015 popularity contest.
Matthew, rest your thumbs. Take the kids to a movie. I’ll drive this year’s snarkathon. The festivities officially kick off this Sunday at 5:30, but I’ll start providing color commentary at 4 during the pregame bathos.
What better way to make it through the three-and-a-half hour artificially inseminated pregnant pause known as the 87th Annual Academy Awards telecast than at the Reader’s online home? By way of homework, your industry-analyzing duo took time away from picking fights and lettuce to pick the bones of this year’s nominee stew. See you Sunday night to prove us right.
Nominees: American Sniper, Birdman, Boyhood, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Imitation Game, Selma, The Theory of Everything, and Whiplash
Marks: Will voters succumb to the pressure of not singling out one nominee-of-color and hand it to Selma, a firm and style-free history lesson that never rises above quality TV? Birdman is too confusing, the budget on Whiplash too small, and Grand Budapest too inconsequential (here’s hoping it goes home 0 for 10) to be given serious consideration. The two period biopics cancel each other out leaving the cogent gimmickry of Boyhood and Clint’s latest war pic. Had I seen American Sniper before making out my ten best of 2014, it would no doubt have topped the list. If the Academy pegs it their best picture, it will be the first time in 28 years — The Last Emperor to be exact — that we’ll have seen eye-to-eye. Expect a few more good months at the box office to be tacked onto Boyhood’s 12-year lifespan when it takes home the Best Picture Oscar.
Lickona: Okay, let’s get this out of the way at the outset: I didn’t see Boyhood. I know this makes me a terrible critic and a completely irrelevant voice when it comes to any discussion of awards. Tant pis. Let’s get on with it.
What should win: American Sniper. Posited: Best Picture is supposed to go to something that is more than the sum of its parts — acting, directing, writing, cinematography, etc. (That’s why we have those other awards, right?) It’s also supposed to go to something with a measure of high-low appeal: something that will hold up under the weight of a moment’s thought, but also something that will put butts in seats. I really liked Whiplash and Birdman. I admired Selma and enjoyed The Grand Budapest Hotel while I was watching it. But American Sniper fits the bill here. I read recently that these days, most of the talk about a film tends to happen before its release: the casting news, the teaser, the trailer, etc. But once the pre-release buzz is done and opening weekend is over, people go back to talking about Game of Thrones and waiting for the Next Big Release. American Sniper managed to beat that. Just because a film gets people talking doesn’t mean it’s a great film, of course — hello, Fifty Shades of Grey — but as movies seem to matter less and less, it does feel significant to have a well-made picture earn a place in the national conversation. Especially when that conversation threatens to break free of the red and blue echo chambers. (I think it’s one of those rare films that acknowledges its hero’s virtues to be the flip side of his vices, but maybe that’s just me.)
What will win: Boyhood. It’s an All-American achievement, from all accounts. Puts on sackcloth, writes “I am a bad film critic” 500 times.
Nominees: Alejandro G. Iñárritu (Birdman), Richard Linklater (Boyhood), Bennett Miller (Foxcatcher), Wes Anderson (The Grand Budapest Hotel), and Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game).
Marks: When asked who should win, the other four nominees all took one step backwards leaving Richard Linklater to write his acceptance speech.
Lickona: What should win: Bennett Miller, Foxcatcher. Pretty sure I’m going to be all alone on this one, but I thought this was a masterfully controlled meditation on family and fandom. Sports are such a huge force in American life, but very few sports movies pay any attention to that. This one does, giving us a man for whom wrestling becomes a way to free himself of his familial fetters, a weapon against his enemies, a cause he can champion, and a path to personal triumph. (Or, at least, that’s his hope.) I see a lot of images thrown up on the screen over the course of a year. The shot of Steve Carrell as John DuPont, releasing his mother’s horses from their stables after her death and driving them out into the gray morning mist, was, for me, the most memorable of 2014. But then, I didn’t see Boyhood. Sensing a theme?
Nominees: Steve Carell (Foxcatcher), Bradley Cooper (American Sniper), Benedict Cumberbatch (The Imitation Game), Michael Keaton (Birdman), Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything).
Marks: The baffling absence of Jake Gyllenhaal’s Nightcrawler makes this an easy one to call. Benedict Cumberbatch’s non-stop show-offishness failed to draw me in, ditto Eddie Redmayne’s wall-building impersonation of Stephen Hawking. Michael Keaton suffered well under all the unnecessary camera movement, while a zombified Steve Carrell let the hair and makeup do the heavy lifting. Bradley Cooper’s was the only nominated performance that best served its subject, but something tells me the Academy is going to go full–Rich Little and give it to Redmayne.
Lickona: Speaking of baffling absences, did they nominate Carrell or his fake schnozz? (Or rather, the fact that said schnozz combined with his odd posture and speech to produce an effect so different from the usual Carrell character?) I ask because that prominent proboscis seems to have obscured Channing Tatum, who, like Cooper (and Affleck in Gone Girl), managed to give an inner life to a thick slab of manbeef. I think the award will go to either Redmayne or Cumberbatch for their portrayals of English suffering, but my heart is with Keaton for tackling a dramatic version of himself, the way Gloria Swanson did in Sunset Boulevard. It’s a tricky business, and Keaton nails every maneuver.
Nominees: Marion Cotillard (Two Days, One Night), Felicity Jones (The Theory of Everything), Julianne Moore (Still Alice), Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl), and Reese Witherspoon (Wild).
Marks: We’ll begin by checking off perky Felicity Jones, this year’s most puzzling nominee. Rosamund Pike’s glacial sleazeball is a tad gamy for Oscar voters and Marion Cotillard’s talking-at-the-bottom-of-the-screen way of speaking is impossible to follow. As much as they love Reese Witherspoon (and actresses who shy away from makeup in general), they’re going to vote the pathos ticket and hand Julianne Moore another statuette. I say Viva la Cotillard!
Nominees: Robert Duvall (The Judge), Ethan Hawke (Boyhood), Edward Norton (Birdman), Mark Ruffalo (Foxcatcher), and J. K. Simmons (Whiplash).
Marks: Ethan Hawke will be overshadowed, Robert Duvall’s solemn slice of hambone flat-out doesn’t deserve it (never thought that would come out of me), and J.K. Simmons’s treadmill running got old fast. The battle is between a bombastic Edward Norton and sly and slow Mark Ruffalo. To the former go the spoils while the latter earns my personal pick for victor.
Lickona: This is maybe my toughest call. I take Scott’s point about the exhausting character of Simmons’s verbal assaults, but I was never not gripped by his ferocity. I actually think the Academy might give it to him; the performance is just showy enough (in a believable context) to catch their fancy. Ruffalo gets my heart for his disarming portrayal of genuine decency and brotherly love. Norton gets my head for his thrilling parody of The Actor.
Nominees: Patricia Arquette (Boyhood), Laura Dern (Wild), Keira Knightley (The Imitation Game), Emma Stone (Birdman), and Meryl Streep (Into the Woods).
Marks: The least interest-generating category of the bunch. Does Keira Knightley really belong in this company? The rallying cry “Enough Meryl Streep!” can be heard echoing across the Hollywood Hills. Only on rare occasions will Oscar favor youth. “She’s young with plenty of time ahead for her to win,” will be the voter’s excuse for not singling out Emma Stone. The odds-on favorite is Patricia Arquette’s monotone momma, but they should give it to Laura Dern for Blue Velvet, Smooth Talk, Rambling Rose, and for being the only live wire in the otherwise tame Wild.
Lickona: Gotta be Arquette, and I didn’t even see Boyhood! Simple process of elimination. Dern was the best thing in Wild but served mainly to define the edges of Witherspoon’s unhappiness. Stone was hugely fun to watch, and I loved her big speech on the horrible insignificance of the artist, but she wasn’t much more than that. Streep actually faltered in Into the Woods; that they didn’t nominate Emily Blunt is a gigantic oversight. She was the heart and soul of that picture. Knightley barely registered and was forced to say this line: “Sometimes it’s the people no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine.” Oof. I don’t know if anyone could have acted their way out of that one.
Nominees: Emmanuel Lubezki (Birdman), Robert Yeoman (The Grand Budapest Hotel), Lukasz Zal and Ryszard Lenczewski (Ida), Dick Pope (Mr. Turner), and Roger Deakins (Unbroken).
Marks: Inasmuch as cinematography and direction should go hand in hand, I ask, can a bad film truly be beautifully photographed? Robert Elswit was twice robbed for his contributions to Inherent Vice and Nightcrawler leaving Lukasz Zal and Ryszard Lenczewski’s Ida the only good un’ in the pack, a film that artfully tells its story in pictures and words. I’d venture that at least half of the voting body catnapped their way through Mr. Turner, and what they saw was impressive enough to reward Dick Poop...uh, Pope.
Lickona: I won’t argue overmuch, because I loved Nightcrawler (Thom Andersen might want to consider updating Los Angeles Plays Itself) and I managed to miss Ida as well. (Marks gets all the fancy award movies, it seems.) Though I will put in a world for The Grand Budapest Hotel. I agree that it was oddly insubstantial, but I loved looking at it while it played. Particularly the contrast between the hotel’s pinkly ornamental glory days and its garishly orange post-communist present. Maybe it’s really the set design that I’m admiring, but I don’t think so.
Nominees: Paul Thomas Anderson (Inherent Vice), Damien Chazelle (Whiplash), Jason Hall (American Sniper), Anthony McCarten (The Theory of Everything), and Graham Moore (The Imitation Game).
Marks: It is beyond indisputable to say that Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice is the only deserving nominee, so it’s certain the sentimental chumps will bestow their golden doorstop on Anthony McCarten’s The Theory of Everything.
Lickona: Give it to Chazelle, who had to come up with 4000 ways for Simmons to say “You suck!” to Miles Teller. And just for the sake of disagreement, I say the Academy will go for Moore and that godawful line of Knightley’s. It’s this year’s “I’m the king of the world!” and it shows up three times to make it extra-memorable.
Birdman (Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Alexander Dinelaris, Nicolas Giacobone, and Armando Bo), Boyhood (Richard Linklater), Foxcatcher (Dan Futterman and E. Max Frye), The Grand Budapest Hotel (Wes Anderson), and Nightcrawler (Dan Gilroy).
Marks: At long last, Nightcrawler. Enough said.
Lickona: Oh, fine — but only because I hate the commodification of everything, and Gyllenhaal is sort of the apotheosis of a guy who sees other people solely in terms of the value they can offer him. The Academy won’t have it, though. Too nasty. If it’s not Boyhood, I say it’s Birdman. It’s about a play, but it’s really about movies, and the Academy loves a story about itself.