Last Thursday the life of a film enthusiast became much more interesting, with the announcement of the nominees for the 2015 Oscars. This year, some say, was not the best for film. Some have suggested that the newfound infatuation of franchises in Hollywood has led to a drain in the creation of challenging, stand-alone films. While there is some truth attached to that idea, this year produced some movies that were certainly special.
The Academy’s nominations this year, as always, were not without snubs, surprises, and possibly even some hidden (not-so-hidden?) racism. One can hope that as society continues to progress toward a better future, The Academy changes with it. Nevertheless, some great films are being respected this Oscar season, and I’m here to offer my opinion (the right one, obviously) of who I think should take home the big prizes as well as who (or what) I think the Academy will ultimately choose.
Actor in a Supporting Role
Robert Duvall (The Judge)
Ethan Hawke (Boyhood)
Edward Norton (Birdman)
Mark Ruffalo (Foxcatcher)
J.K. Simmons (Whiplash)
My Pick: This is one of the toughest categories this year. All actors in this categories elevated their respective films to critical acclaim – well, except for The Judge. No one was saving that. However, my pick is J.K. Simmons.
Simmons has been around the scene for quite a long time now. People know him from one role or another; he has one of those faces people generally recognize but cannot actually name. His performance in Whiplash, however, is sure to be remembered for years to come. In Whiplash, Simmons plays the conductor of the premier jazz band of the most prestigious music school in the country. In order to pull the best out of his students, Simmons uses extreme methods to put psychological stress on his students – often risking their sanity in the process. I give Simmons the nod because this performance will become intertwined with the actor and could be the most meaningful role he has ever played.
The Academy’s Pick: I think the Academy will get this one right and award Simmons the prize. Duvall’s contribution to his film may have been decent, but it was not career defining. Unfortunately, I think there is a chance the Academy might award Duvall the honor in one of their “better late than never” efforts (the same could happen with Julianne Moore this year). Hawke’s performance – and dedication – in Boyhood is remarkable, but his role could’ve been filled by many other actors and still worked. Norton’s eccentric character in Birdman is sure to be a contender, but one could make an argument his role is a rather familiar one. Ruffalo is also sure to be a favorite amongst the Academy voters, but his performance was nowhere near as evocative and brutal as Simmons’.
Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role
Patricia Arquette (Boyhood)
Laura Dern (Wild)
Keira Knightley (The Imitation Game)
Emma Stone (Birdman)
Meryl Streep (Into the Woods)
My Pick: It’s not Meryl Streep’s year. Well, in some ways it’s always Meryl’s year, but she’s not my pick. This category was a difficult decision, but I ultimately landed on Patricia Arquette. Laura Dern gave a stirring, heart-felt performance as Reese Witherspoon’s deceased mother in Wild, but her overall contribution to the film wasn’t foundational. Honestly, I’m not sure why Knightley was nominated and I’ll leave it at that. Emma Stone was the runner-up for me. Her performance in Birdman was excellently acted, though she was admittedly working next to some uplifting talent.
Patricia Arquette, on the other hand, was a cornerstone of Boyhood. Her role was closer to that of a lead role rather than a supporting one. Without Arquette, unlike with Hawke, Boyhood would have not been the same. She was able to deliver a rather difficult role; albeit a very realistic role to some. In Boyhood, Arquette plays the mother of the boy. Tragically trapped in a cycle of bad boyfriends and husbands, Arquette’s character must navigate through the challenges of motherhood, the confounding remnants of divorce, and the endless journey for self-fulfillment. She literally ages on screen before the audience, and I can only hope to be as graceful when I do.
The Academy’s Pick: This is the one category I’m writing on in which I don’t know what the Academy will do. But, my guess is that Patricia Arquette will be awarded the Oscar, taking cue from the Golden Globes.
Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role
Marion Cotillard (Two Days, One Night)
Felicity Jones (The Theory of Everything)
Julianne Moore (Still Alice)
Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl)
Reese Witherspoon (Wild)
My Pick: I would give Rosamund Pike the award. Some might consider Pike to be one of the black sheep in the group; Julianne Moore’s and Reese Witherspoon’s performances have been much more talked about. Furthermore, commercial successes don’t have the greatest track record with the Academy voters. However, Pike introduced herself to the world as a force to be reckoned with as Amy Dunne in Gone Girl.
Those who read Flynn’s corresponding novel or saw the film know that Pike’s character was a tough one to embody. Amy Dunne is a woman living in the shadow of a picturesque version of herself dreamed up by her mother. As a result, Amy attempts to form the perfect life. When things don’t go so perfectly, however, she is pushed toward psychopathic tendencies.
Going into Gone Girl Rosamund was merely another pretty white face in a sea of pretty white faces. Coming out she made a name for herself. One scene in particular involving counterpart Neil Patrick Harris (I won’t give details in case you have yet to see it) made me think – before the film was over – that she deserved an Oscar for her performance. Yes, others have offered compelling contributions since then, but I have not forgotten the complex character she expertly delivered.
The Academy’s Pick: Julianne Moore. This makes Moore’s fifth time being nominated for an Oscar, the third for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role. Julianne Moore is one of those iconic actresses that most people know of, regardless of their knowledge of film history. Through her tenure as an actress, Julianne has played myriad characters ranging from a porn star in 1997’s Boogie Nights to her currently-nominated performance in the more saturnine film, Still Alice.
Obviously, this isn’t a certainty. I think there is also a good chance the Academy could choose Reese Witherspoon for her performance in Wild. But I think this year the Academy actually rewards Moore for her phenomenal performances throughout the years, not necessarily for her role as Alice in Still Alice.
Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role
Steve Carell (Foxcatcher)
Bradley Cooper (American Sniper)
Benedict Cumberbatch (The Imitation Game)
Michael Keaton (Birdman)
Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything)
My Pick: Well… My pick is truly David Oyelowo, though he was not nominated. Oyelowo portrayed — brilliantly, I might add — Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Selma. Attempting to approach such a monumental figure is a daunting task, even for a relatively seasoned actor. Oyelowo said, in order to overcome such intimidation, he approached the role of Dr. King as a human being, rather than the embodiment of equity and justice. Whatever he did in order to better tackle the role, it worked. But I digress because, for some reason, the Academy did not share my sentiments. (Note: I also thought Miles Teller delivered a worthy performance, though he was not included either.)
Within this list of actors, I feel lost. They are all exceptional performances, but I think there is an obvious weak link. It’s Steve Carell. I know, I know. We all wanted Carell to make a seamless transition from lovable funny-guy to serious, Oscar-winning performance, but his contemporaries were just far more skilled. Cumberbatch’s portrayal helped spread the knowledge of Dr. Turing’s crucial role in World War II as well as his role in developing the first computer. Although his performance was distinctly nuanced, there were multiple instances that elicit images of another antisocial genius, Sherlock Holmes. Michael Keaton’s performance in Birdman is one of the most awarded thus far for 2014. Multiple award-giving bodies have given Keaton the highest honor, and I understand why he is in the conversation. That being said, there were moments I thought he struggled to carry the story when he was alone with the camera. Some were great, others were okay. In a surprising choice, even for myself, I believe Eddie Redmayne earned an Oscar with his representation of Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything.
Initially I was skeptical of Redmayne and The Theory of Everything. I thoroughly enjoyed Les Miserables and thought Redmayne was a strength of that film. However, I was worried The Theory of Everything would be preoccupied with romance. What I found was quite the opposite. Redmayne found a way to become Stephen Hawking. Even through those seemingly unduplicatable situations – of real loss and pain – Redmayne was on point, bringing the viewer into the life of Hawking, reminding us how remarkable and heartbreaking his story is.
The Academy’s Pick: I think the Academy will settle on Michael Keaton, though I also think Bradley Cooper has a real shot. I’ll address the latter first. Cooper is adored by Academy voters. This is the third year in a row that Cooper has been nominated for an Oscar – the second time for best actor in a lead role. And his illustration of Chris Kyle in American Sniper may be his best yet. In Sniper, Cooper plays the controversial Chris Kyle, a Navy SEAL sniper who recorded roughly 160 confirmed kills. This role was far different than the previous two roles for which Cooper was nominated and, again, the Academy seems to love Cooper.
Keaton’s case is a little stronger. Birdman is one of the darlings of 2014. The Academy saw it fit to award the film nine different nominations and Keaton has cleaned up with other awards this year. This is also Keaton’s first Oscar nomination despite him having been around the Hollywood scene for quite some time now. I think they’ll be announcing his name on February 22.
Birdman – Alejandro G. Iñárritu
Boyhood – Richard Linklater
Foxcatcher – Bennett Miller
The Grand Budapest Hotel – Wes Anderson
The Imitation Game – Morten Tyldum
My Pick: All films in this category were expertly crafted, but some stand apart. Both Miller’s and Tyldum’s contributions this year were beautifully shot and showed talent. However, they did not challenge me to further realize the potential for intentional directing. Linklater may be a logical choice, considering his ground-breaking method of shooting a film over a twelve year period, but both Anderson and Iñárritu created films that were both aesthetically pleasing and expertly composed in order to develop a complex and compelling story.
Iñárritu showed himself to be a master of flow in Birdman. His shots were impossibly fluid for the complexity of the moments to be captured. One of the best examples of such is when Keaton rambles through Times Square, nearly-naked and perplexed. Characters moving seamlessly through crowded corridors seem to be his specialty and it truly makes the film impressive to behold. Wes Anderson’s talents were on full display in The Grand Budapest Hotel, but the true genius of the film lay with the screenplay; a category I think Anderson should win handily, though I am not writing on that category. All things considered, I pick Iñárritu.
The Academy’s Pick: I think Iñárritu has a shot at the Oscar, but Linklater seems to be the easy choice for the voters for his grandiose plan in Boyhood.
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
The Theory of Everything
My Pick: Although I find it extremely difficult to narrow down, there are two films that I found to be the most enjoyable – effectively capturing my imagination and leaving me utterly changed in some way: The Grand Budapest Hotel and Whiplash. However, when considering the best picture of the year I use different criteria. Yes, I expect the best picture of a given year to fulfill those two previously mentioned criteria, but I also expect it to challenge the medium of film altogether by adding something meaningful to this ever-encapsulating art.
When I take into account those criteria as well, I come to quite a different conclusion. When it comes to gravitas and the preservation of something worthy of being remembered, Selma makes a compelling case. Telling the story of the Civil Rights Movement, specifically highlighting the effort of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Selma, Alabama. In many ways, Selma reminded me of 2012’s Lincoln. Both Lincoln and Selma attempted to tell the story of a larger-than-life figure by showing that those individuals were, in fact, just people – complete with shortcomings and temptations that beset the masses. Ironically, in the attempt to humanize those figures the filmmakers further canonize them. Despite these great qualities, however, there is one movie that undoubtedly deserves the best picture award.
Boyhood pushed the boundaries of filmmaking. By now most will know of the film’s story. The work was literally twelve years in the making. The same actors were filmed around the same time each year over twelve years in order to present a relatively realistic tale of the average childhood of an American boy. As a result, this film was about heart and soul. Those who had a hand in the project developed strong ties, in some respects forming a family of their own. Boyhood boasts no ground-breaking special effects, has no exceptional script, and doesn’t rely on cheap tricks or surprise endings to be complete.
Boyhood is phenomenal because of its simplicity. It is a beautiful work because a filmmaker had the vision – and patience – to make a film about a very familiar story to which millions of people can relate. Don’t misunderstand me. I think all the films nominated for best picture were very good; some extremely good. However, Boyhood captured a life. Boyhood will and should be remembered as the pinnacle of filmmaking in 2014.
The Academy’s Pick: I actually think the Academy will vote Boyhood. Maybe surprising to some, I think the second best possibility is Birdman. I base that claim on the 2013 Oscars. Through knowledge gleaned from the previous 86 Academy Awards, we’ve learned that the Academy does some questionable things from time-to-time, including – but certainly not limited to – awarding individuals for previous performances and having a conceited disposition toward films even tangentially related to movies. In 2013, during a truly crowded Best Picture field, Argo took home the big prize. Argo won out over Lincoln and Zero Dark Thirty. Obviously, I don’t have the definitive say, but after watching all films multiple times, Lincoln and Zero Dark Thirty are objectively better films than Argo. But Argo all but said, “THANKS FOR SAVING THE HOSTAGES, HOLLYWOOD!” and the Academy thought, “Hey, we did save those hostages, didn’t we?” I can say with faith that Academy voters did not – in fact – rescue those hostages.
Brent Glass is a Michigander who graduated from Eureka College in May of 2013. He spent time at the Sagamore Institute in Indianapolis, IN (a non-partisan think tank) where he worked on political economy pieces for Detroit, MI and Elkhart, IN. Currently he is working as a freelance writer for Sagamore Institute, a teacher of government at Wayne State University, and a Ph.D. student in Public Administration, Urban Politics, and Public Policy at Wayne State University.