Tuesday, February 17, 2015

HOW TO WIN YOUR OSCAR POOL

Original caricature of "The March to Oscar 2015" by Jeff York (copyright 2015)
The Academy Awards are just five days away, and for the first time in many years, there are a number of genuine contests that make it an incredibly difficult year to be certain on what to predict. Starting at the top with Best Picture, many of the categories are simply too close to call. But at least such uncertainty should make for a suspenseful show this Sunday night.

Up until the guild awards, the Oscar telecast looked like it was going to be a sweep for Richard Linklater’s BOYHOOOD. His personal film about a boy’s life, from age six to eighteen, was favored to take Best Picture, Director, Supporting Actress, Original Screenplay and Editing. However, most of that changed once the Producers Guild honored BIRDMAN as the production of the year. Then the Screen Actors Guild gave their Best Ensemble Award to Michael Keaton and company. And finally, the Directors Guild overlooked Linklater in favor of Alejandro Inarritu and his tale about an actor’s troupe.

Those are the two reasons that BIRDMAN now may ultimately prevail at the Oscars. Not only has it swept the three major guild awards but its topic is near and dear to Hollywood’s heart. Navel gazing is a national pastime in Tinsel Town, and actors make up the largest voting block too, so all that bodes well for Inarritu’s film. Look no further than how the Academy has voted two of the last three years for Best Picture. THE ARTIST and ARGO, both show biz tales, took top prize.

In order to make educated guesses while filling out your Oscar pool ballot, it’s wise to keep such history in mind. It’s all a guessing game anyway, of course, but if you use your head more than your heart, you will likely be more right than wrong.

There are two other factors to keep in mind when predicting your winners. First, the Academy usually chooses prestige over commerciality, so that means films that have a historical significance or a certain perception of class to them, likely will prevail. It’s maybe why NIGHTCRAWLER didn’t get as many nominations (Picture, Actor, Cinematography) as it was expected to receive. The story of a sleazy, tabloid journalist may just have been too unsavory for the high-minded Oscar voter.

The other factor to keep in mind when making your predictions is that while composers nominate composers, and production designers nominate production designers, everyone votes on the final ballot. That means an awful lot of voters are voting for categories that they know very little about. Musicians may recognize that Alexandre Desplat’s score for THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL is a stunningly complex work and is vital, dare I say instrumental, to that film’s success, but special effects guys don't recognize that. They're not music experts. So they may vote for a film with a more obvious score, even the one with the loudest music. (Yes, I’m referring to the score for INTERSTELLAR.) Their palates just aren't going to be as sophisticated. 

So with all that in mind, here are what I believe to be the most rational predictions for this year’s Academy Awards.

 Best Picture – BIRDMAN

BOYHOOD still could triumph, but that likelihood seems in tatters after those guild awards. Even though it was the odds on favorite for months, and recently won the top prize at the BAFTA awards, the momentum here in America seems to be with BIRDMAN.

Best Director – Alejandro Inarritu BIRDMAN

It’s rare that Picture and Director fail to go hand-in-hand. Granted, these top two races are neck and neck between BOYHOOD and BIRDMAN, but Inarritu definitely is the favorite after the DGA.

Best Actor – Eddie Redmayne THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING

Even though it appears BIRDMAN has the big mo, why isn’t Keaton a shoo-in for Best Actor? Because Redmayne has come on strong in the last months, winning at the Golden Globes, SAG and the BAFTA’s. Remember too that voters elect acting that they can see, and it doesn’t get more apparent than when an actor plays someone with a handicap. Thus, newbie Redmayne will likely squeak by the veteran Keaton.

Best Actress – Julianne Moore STILL ALICE

Sunday should finally be Moore’s night. She’s been nominated four times before without a win, and this actor’s actor is due. She’s also swept most of the important awards, and she’s playing someone with a handicap, in this case – Alzheimer’s. The Academy will not forget to award her this time.  

Best Supporting Actor – JK Simmons WHIPLASH

The surest bet of the night is veteran character actor Simmons for his triumphant work in WHIPLASH. He’d win it in a competitive year, but the supporting actor field is exceptionally weak this go-round, and Simmons has dominated the critics’ awards. Plus, what actor wouldn’t want to honor a guy who’s paid his dues for decades, remained largely unheralded until now, and has charmed everyone at each ceremony with his humbleness and wit?  

Best Supporting Actress – Patricia Arquette BOYHOOD

She too has swept all the awards. And she’s great in the film. And it’s almost a leading role. All that will help make her the inevitable choice.

Best Original Screenplay – THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL

Wes Anderson’s film got nine nods and everyone, young and old, loved it. It also was the biggest indie hit of 2014 and such statistics make it the fave in a lot of technical categories and this big one. Anderson even trumped Linklater at BAFTA for their screenplay prize. This sleeper comedy could be a surprise upset in Best Picture, but it’s the favorite for its screenplay, even though this category is chock full of good nominees and remains a fairly competitive one for the night.

Best Adapted Screenplay – THE IMITATION GAME

The year’s best-adapted script wasn’t even nominated this year. That would be Gillian Flynn’s GONE GIRL, but since that isn’t in the running, the award will likely go to THE IMITATION GAME. That’s based on it winning some big awards in the last month, including Best Adapted Screenplay at the Writers Guild of America awards last weekend. It also has that gleam of history to it, and that always helps in the writing categories.

Best Cinematography – BIRDMAN

Its virtuoso trick of seeming to be one, endless shot is the kind of gimmicky photography that even a sound engineer can see and appreciate. And that’s not to say that it isn’t worth heralding. It’s key to the story as it blends the real world of the Keaton character with his fantasy one.  

Best Editing – BOYHOOD

WHIPLASH and AMERICAN SNIPER both created incredible tension with their expert editing, but BOYHOOD will likely beat them, as its challenge was to edit down 12 years of filmmaking into one, cogent two-hour film. It succeeded spectacularly at doing so.  

Best Production Design – THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL

The fact that the hotel is a main character in the film and its candy-colored designs are so integral to the movie’s comedy and whimsy gives Anderson’s fable an advantage over its competitors.

Best Costume Design – THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL

Its period clothing tells an incredible story about each character. And this movie has been cleaning up in categories like this, production design and makeup all awards season, so expect that below-the-line streak to continue through Oscar night.

Best Hairstyling and Makeup – FOXCATCHER

This category could go any of the three ways with THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL and GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY being superb competitors. Still, I'm guessing FOXCATCHER here. All three of its lead actors (Steve Carrell, Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo) were rendered unrecognizable by their extraordinary makeup. Such noticeable achievements should be easy for that sound guy to notice and vote for, right? 

Best Original Score – THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING

The more sophisticated score is the aforementioned one for THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL, but the Stephen Hawking bio’s music was emotional and helped open voters’ tear ducts. (You notice such things when you’re sobbing.) Thus, it will move Academy members to vote for it, just as it did with the Hollywood Foreign Press for the Golden Globes, and many other contests this awards season.

Best Visual Effects – INTERSTELLAR

The Oscar here should go to DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES or GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, but INTERSTELLAR is more of a prestigious choice. Plus, the old school green screen utilized here plays with a lot of voters who fear losing work to CGI enough already.

Best Sound Editing – AMERICAN SNIPER

Films shot outside, and in difficult locations, often prevail in the sound categories. So do action movies. This has all that going for it, and it's a huge box office hit that so many voters have seen in theaters where they can appreciate the full effect of its great sound editing. 

Best Sound Mixing – AMERICAN SNIPER

It should be WHIPLASH for its sophisticated blending of all the levels of music it mixed, but AMERICAN SNIPER had obvious noise and outdoor challenges that even the most unlearned voter should be able to sense.

Best Original Song – SELMA

It was an egregious shame that this stellar film only received two Oscar nominations. It won’t win Best Picture, but its consolation prize will have to be Best Song. And it’s a very good one too. It’s also got all the momentum having been performed at the Grammys two weeks ago, and scooping up a lot of awards in the last two months.

Best Animated Feature – HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2

For the first time in years, this category is competitive too. It could go a number of ways here, but the Dreamworks sequel has been winning most of the awards lately, and it just swept the Annie’s, Hollywood’s animation awards. Look for it to win here too.

Best Foreign Language Film – IDA

Poland's IDA was the best foreign film of the year and even scored a deserved cinematography nod. Plus, it’s about the Holocaust, which is always catnip for Academy voters.

Best Documentary – CITIZEN FOUR

LIFE ITSELF, the documentary about film critic Roger Ebert, would’ve given the Edward Snowden story a run for its money if it were nominated. It wasn’t, and the path is clear for the edgy and important story about whistleblowing to prevail.

Best Documentary Short – CRISIS HOTLINE: VETERANS PRESS 1

Ah, the shorts. They’re usually very difficult to predict, but since they’ve become open to more voting members, they have generally followed the trend of honoring those that most people have seen. This one is been very popular and it’s wonderful too. It also couldn’t be timelier, as the problem of veterans care is a national topic, if not shame. The award here will shine even more light on the problems.

Best Live Action Short – THE PHONE CALL

Again, here’s another tough category to call, with BOOGALOO AND GRAHAM being worthy of the win, as well as AYA. But the smart money is on the sensitively rendered two-hander between a timid crisis hotline operator and a man who just overdosed on anti-depressants in his bid to commit suicide. The fact that it stars British stalwarts Sally Hawkins and Jim Broadbent only helps its case further.

Best Animated Short – FEAST

Disney’s delightful short about a hungry dog could easily win it outright. The fact that more voters will have seen it due to it proceeding BIG HERO 6 in theaters only creates more of an air of inevitability.

Those are my best guesses for the 24 Academy categories, based on data, trends and tea leaves. Who do you think will win?


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