Saturday, February 21, 2015

… And One to Grow On: The Oscars, Previewed

by Jeremy Mathews and Chris Bellamy

Hello everyone! We’d like to officially welcome every single one of you  — Mom, Dad, random crew member from Predators — to our annual installment of The Only Oscar Preview Longer Than The Oscars. I hope you didn’t miss our 22,000-word preview of the Academy’s Scientific and Technical Achievements, which, let us tell you, was quite a party. We’ll have a short recap of it halfway through this article.

We’re clocking in with our 13th year of TOOPLTTO  — which, and I don’t know if you know this, is just one year longer than the number of years in which Boyhood was shot.

Crazy, right? It’s our official position at The Same Dame that more should have been made of this fact, but apparently no one in the “media” thought to mention it. Oh, well.

A few other observations we noticed: Is it just us, or did it totally look like Birdman or (Hey Didn’t That Guy Play Batman Once and Hey Didn’t That Guy Play the Incredible Hulk Once?) was shot in like a continuous take or something? Why has nobody else mentioned this? Also: Did you guys know Stephen Hawking used to be able to talk before he turned himself into a crazy robot?
And did you know there’s a really nice hotel in Budapest? It has a funicular and everything. Although we must admit, we’re pretty sure that “Budapest Hotel” movie is historically inaccurate. We’ve never even heard of Zubrowka or the Crossed Keys. We officially call bullshit.

With that out of the way, we’ve got a nice big bottle of champagne in our vagina … and we’ve got our trusty box cutter … and you know what that means! Time to bring on Neil Patrick Harris!

Neil Patrick Harris says: Yeah, just to echo Jeremy and Chris’ sentiments: Welcome to whatever number Oscars this is. 86th maybe? Mark Twain once said, “It’s better to remain silent and be thought a fool than start yapping and remove all doubt.”

Mark Twain says: I never said that.

NPH: Oh, really? Huh. I guess it was Abraham Lincoln.

Abrahama Lincoln says: Nope, not me. But I’ve got a pretty good line about the times you can fool various fractions of the population if you want to hear it.

NPH: No thanks Abe. We’ll just say Chris Bellamy said it. The quote applies to the Academy voters because we always thought they were stupid, but now that the Hollywood Reporter ran anonymous profile interviews with them, we know it to be true.

My favorite is the lady who says that Selma didn’t get as many nominations as some expected because it had no art to it (which still leaves it eligible for a Best Picture nomination), then completely undermines her perfectly reasonable (if wrong) stance by adding, “I've got to tell you, having the cast show up in T-shirts saying ‘I can't breathe’ [at their New York premiere] — I thought that stuff was offensive. Did they want to be known for making the best movie of the year or for stirring up shit?”

In case you’re wondering, if you find those shirts offensive, you’re racist.

There’s also this gem to explain why she’s voting for… wait for it… The Imitation Game for Best Picture: “For some years, it’s like, “Huh?! Around the World in 80 Days [the winner for 1956] won best picture? Are you kidding me?” So I try to vote in a way so that, in 50 years, people aren't going to go, “Huh?!” Huh indeed.

Hopefully we can get rid of these distracting controversies and get back to the usual reason the Academy fails to recognize great art: Its members are idiot charlatans.
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”

Jessica Chastain says: You’re telling me you didn’t nominate me for Best Supporting Actress?
* flicks cigarette away*
That was very disrespectful.
Jeremy says: This is a lock for Patricia Arquette, whose struggling, hardworking mother serves as Boyhood's emotional core. Naturally, the reasoning behind all of Boyhood's awards will include the fact that they spent 12 fucking years shooting it, but Arquette's work is impressive not only for capturing her character's increased direction and confidence, but for giving a sense of perspective and compassion to the coming-of-age story.

I would have loved to see shout-outs for Jessica Chastain in A Most Violent Year, Liv LeMoyne in We Are the Best! and/or Rene Russo in Nightcrawler, but this is a nice batch of nominees. Emma Stone and her windows-to-the-soul eyes are magnetic in Birdman or (Why the 'or' Should Be Inside The Parenthetical). Laura Dern gives a great sense of longing and regret to the mother in Wild, although the film's excellent structure of fractured memories may have made some of the performance's nuances less apparent to academy voters.

Like Anne Hathaway a couple years ago, Meryl Streep delivers a show-stopping death-scene musical number in Into the Woods with “The Last Midnight.” (It's also the only scene that Rob Marshall appears to have given two fucks about directing.) But the role also leaves room for her to rap and wistfully play with her witch's over-the-top persona. It's not Streep at her best — the film in general always feels just short of nailing the perfect tone — but it's certainly better than The Iron Lady, and she won for that. However, Woods doesn't have the full visceral melodrama of Les Mis that launched Hathaway to the prize, and this year's winner will be grounded in reality, not fantasy.

Jeremy's prediction: Patricia Arquette
Jeremy's preference: Patricia Arquette
Chris says: To be honest, I’m having a hard time even recalling Streep’s supposed show-stopper. Although part of that might have to do with the fact that the movie never seems to have any idea when or how it wants to resolve any of its many subplots, or send off any of its many characters. Streep had a death scene? Fuck if I remember. But I’ll take your word for it.

Then again, I also just didn’t think Streep was particularly good in Into the Woods, so you’ll have to forgive me for being a bit fuzzy on what parts of her performance were less mediocre than others. Although I’ll give you this: on the Streep Musical scale, it’s a big step up from Mamma Mia! At this rate, give her another half-dozen musicals and she’ll reach the level of The Sound of Music, Jeremy’s favorite musical.

Emma Stone was terrific in Birdman: or (At Least it’s Not Spider-Man, God Those New Ones Have Been Fucking Terrible), but she’s definitely someone who’s going to get her due one day. In this case, her Big Scene was delivering a trite and obvious monologue, but she imbued it with such raw emotionality and vulnerability that she kinda-sorta made it seem not badly written. Emma Stone is awesome.

I am in complete agreement with Jeremy on Arquette’s performance. She’s really the film’s one constant — given that Mason spends the whole movie growing up and perpetually changing — and she’s a veritable tapestry of mixed and hidden emotions. There’s a painful ache to certain moments when she finally has to let her guard down — a key scene near the end comes to mind -- and the whole thing is beautiful to watch. One could even argue (as some have) that it’s a borderline lead performance.

Random Construction Worker from Earlier in the Movie Says: Oooh, oooh, Ms. Arquette, Ms. Arquette! Do you remember me, from that condescending thing you said to me all those years ago? I know this is your big day and all, but I just wanted to randomly come up to you and tell you how much that condescending thing meant to me, and how much that condescending thing changed my life. See? I went to college and became a manager at a restaurant! Even though becoming a manager at a restaurant definitely does not require a college degree! OK what I’m really trying to say is, we really need to do something about our spiraling student debt.

Chris: Oh, that’s right, random callback character, I almost forgot about you. Yeah, see? Arquette is so damn good in Boyhood that she even survives being part of the single most wrong-headed scene of any 2014 movie, including ones directed by Jason Reitman. Now that is how you win a goddamn Oscar.

Chris’ prediction: Patricia Arquette
Chris’ preference: Patricia Arquette

Alison Pill says: Hold on, am I eligible if I’m only in one scene and I only appear for five minutes?

Judi Dench says: Worked for me.

Alison Pill: OK good, because I was fucking amazing in that classroom scene in Snowpiercer.

Chris and Jeremy: Can’t argue with that.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role
Robert Duvall, “The Judge”
Ethan Hawke, “Boyhood”
Edward Norton, “Birdman”
Mark Ruffalo, “Foxcatcher”
J.K. Simmons, “Whiplash”

Josh Brolin says: Oh, come on, what frozen chocolate-covered treat does a guy gotta sensuously fellate to get an Oscar nomination around here?
Do you know how many times I had to do that? Come on!
GOB Bluth says: COME ON!
Chris says: You’re absolutely right, Josh. I mean, you went to town on that thing. Bravo. You also kicked the hell out of that door, ate the shit out of some panacaku, and chewed the fuck out of that ganja.
Chris: Sorry to bring up such a painful memory, Doc.
Anyway, Josh, you also managed to be both hilariously uptight and brutally sardonic, all while injecting an ostensibly cold-hearted and intolerant character with an uncommon pathos, suggesting real pain and solitude in the process. You’d be completely justified in feeling gypped out of a second career nomination. In fact, you –
JK Simmons says: Stop.
Not my … favorite performance of the year. WHAT. You thought I was gonna go with a “not my tempo” joke, didn’t you? Didn’t you?! Come on, this isn’t fucking amateur hour, you bunch of limp-dick asshats. Every motherfucker in town is making a “not my tempo” joke. This is The Only Oscar Preview That Matters. Chris and Jeremy didn’t achieve true greatness by making the most obvious joke and then having some dumbass reader tell them, “Good job,” you insignificant shit-for-brains. Jesus Christ.
Chris: Thanks, JK. As I was saying, Brolin would certainly be wor –
Ha! Fuck, I was totally lying when I said I wasn’t going to make a “not my tempo” joke. Of course I’m going to make a “not my tempo” joke. What did you think this was, dipshit? An Oscar preview without a “not my tempo” joke? Not motherfucking likely. Go fuck yourselves.
But seriously, Bellamy, you’re fucking dragging. Speed this shit up. We don’t have all fucking day and I’ve got a fucking Oscar to win.
Chris: You’re right, JK; you’ve got this Oscar win in the bag. The frustrating thing is, this was almost a 100 percent justifiable category. But fucking Robert Duvall had to go and ruin everything. The other four are all great performances, all worthy of at least consideration. And if you add anyone else to that last slot – allow me suggest Brolin for Inherent Vice, Brolin’s buddy Joaquin Phoenix for The Immigrant, Riz Ahmed for Nightcrawler, Jonathan Pryce for Listen Up Philip, Roman Madyanov for Leviathan, Kang-ho Song for Snowpiercer – you have yourself a bang-up best supporting actor race, regardless of winner.
And you had to go and shit your proverbial pants with that Duvall nomination. I mean, is this now officially a yearly – or at least biennial – Academy tradition? Give the old respected industry veteran one last (or in some cases first) shot at Oscar glory for a run-of-the-mill performance? Look over the last decade. Christopher Plummer for The Last Station, whatever the fuck that is? Hal Holbrook and Ruby Dee, for some fucking reason? Max von Sydow for that Daldry piece of shit?
I mean, look, it’s Robert fucking Duvall, he’s always going to be good. But there was nothing especially noteworthy about The Judge itself or Duvall’s performance in it, and this seems like a celebration of a great 84-year-old actor’s career more than anything else. He’s well-liked for good reason, but give us a fucking break. Maybe it wasn’t the strongest year for feasible nominees (my alternate choices above are mostly off the grid, I admit), but come on.
Anyway, while it will be great to see Simmons take home the prize – rewarding an entire career of great character work – my personal choice would be Edward Norton. It’s been a long time since he’s inhabited a role as fully and perfectly as he does in Birdman: or (We’re Not Going to Have to Write the Whole Title Every Time, Are We?). Equal parts brash, volatile, and hilarious, Norton is in a lot of ways what makes the film’s character dynamics work, both because of what he brings to the table and what his character brings out of Keaton’s Riggan Thomson. As fantastic as Simmons, Hawke and Ruffalo were, I’m going with Norton.
Plus, I mean, dude wasn’t even nominated for Fight Club, and for American History X he lost to this thing:
And not the one from Night on Earth. The one from Life is fucking Beautiful. I know.
Chris’ prediction: JK Simmons
Chris’ preference: Edward Norton
Jeremy says: Well Chris, you just don’t get how brave Duvall’s performance was. I mean, when was the last time you shit yourself on film? And no, your interactive video blog doesn’t count. It takes true bravery to appear in a film when the most you’ll be able to accomplish is elevate it just above the level of a Lifetime movie. But Duvall unflinchingly pursued his mission of slightly better than mediocrity.

I second Chris’s praise of Brolin, and his prediction.

JK Simmons says: STOP! Do you think I'm going to win the fucking Oscar? Do you think I'm gonna take that fucking statue home and hide it somewhere you can never get ahold of it to fulfill your fantasy of shoving it up your ass?

Jeremy: Yes.


Jeremy: Jeez, JK, no need to get all homophobic on us. We're just trying to predict the Oscars here.

All the non-Duvall performances are excellent, but my favorite is Ruffalo, who adds a perspective of normalcy and compassion to Foxcatcher's madness. As his character grapples with the bizarre scenario and tries to bring his brother back to sanity, Ruffalo, like Hawke, brings it without the kind of bravado that usually wins these awards.

Jeremy's prediction: JK Simmons
Jeremy's preference: Mark Ruffalo

Best Achievement in Makeup and Hairstyling
“Foxcatcher” – Bill Corso, Dennis Liddiard
“The Grand Budapest Hotel” – Frances Hannon, Mark Coulier
“Guardians of the Galaxy” – Elizabeth Yianni-Georgiou, David White

Steve Carell’s prosthetic nose says: Hey, who is this guy whose nose I’m covering? Who is it!? Could it be beloved, likable comedian Steve Carell, appearing in a very different role than is typically expected of him? It’s hard to tell because his face is so different. That’s the magic of makeup, people!
Jeremy says: This category is a tough one — all the candidates are plausible winners. Foxcatcher earned more nominations than expected, reflecting either genuine affection or some hardcore campaigning, and its makeup is prominent. However, the prosthetic nose and skin at times call undue attention to themselves (the skin moreso than the nose), and if the voters were distracted by it, it might be out. Then again, they might have been distracted by it in a “Can you believe that’s Steve Carell?!? What great makeup!” kind of way.

So if I (perhaps ill-advisedly) take it out of the running, that leaves the artistic crowd-pleaser and the blockbuster crowd-pleaser. Guardians of the Galaxy was great fun, made a shit-ton of money and featured a wide variety of alien characters with distinct looks, created with a combination of makeup and computer graphics. If there's a desire to award its mix of acclaim and financial success — the ultimate Hollywood honor — this would be the category to do it in.

However, The Grand Budapest Hotel clearly has the Academy's affection, and its great visuals are grounded in the physical craft. Tilda Swinton's character has the makeup job that will earn The Grand Budapest Hotel attention, but Frances Hannon and Mark Coulier did subtle work on every cast member to help their detail-oriented director create his distinct atmosphere. They will deservingly take home the prize.

Jeremy's prediction: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Jeremy's preference: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Chris says: Is it just me, or did Steve Carell’s introductory note to this category just make me think of Steve Carell’s John du Pont humorlessly, creepily playing “got your nose” with a bunch of Olympic wrestlers while his disapproving mother silently looks on? No? That’s just me?

Fine. In any case, I guess I’ve been severely in the minority in thinking that Foxcatcher could actually win this category, if for no other reason than Carell’s prosthetics (which I don’t think anyone would be complaining about if, say, Carell were a newcomer making his movie debut instead of an instantly recognizable A-lister) are such a big, bold gesture, which is catnip for the Academy Awards. Then again, I looked back at 2002 and realized that Nicole Kidman’s nose in The Hours didn’t even get her makeup team a nomination, let alone a win. So I guess what I’m saying is I don’t know shit about what to expect from the makeup category, and no one should ever trust my analysis on nose-based predictions.

You might even say … (wait for it) … that I don’t really have a nose for these things.

That being said, fuck it, I’m sticking with my terrible instincts.

Chris’ prediction: Foxcatcher
Chris’ preference: Guardians of the Galaxy
Best Achievement in Costume Design
“The Grand Budapest Hotel” – Milena Canonero
“Inherent Vice” – Mark Bridges
“Into the Woods” – Colleen Atwood
“Maleficent” – Anna B. Sheppard, Jane Clive
“Mr. Turner” – Jacqueline Durran

Angelina Jolie says: Oh, look at those fools, predicting their little Oscar race, so confident in their choices. Don’t they know that I — Angelina Jolie, Oscar Thief! — was involved in Maleficent? I shall steal this award and take it back to my layer of stolen Oscars and stolen nominations. MwahahahahaHAHAHAHA!
Chris says: I mean … look, as much as I liked Bridges’ work on Inherent Vice — which managed to both evoke the era and play like a comically dreamlike interpretation of it — no one’s going to seriously argue that anything but The Grand Budapest Hotel should win this category, right? Should I just throw in a bunch of screen-grabs to make my point or will you all come to your senses so I don’t have to waste my time?

It seems like the runaway winner, too, although I suppose you can never count out Colleen Atwood, who counts among her career haul a pair of Oscar wins for previous Rob Marshall collaborations. Which reminds me: Remember when fucking Chicago’s costumes beat out Gangs of New York’s costumes? I mean, that one’s such a forehead-slapper, I’m not even going to bring in GOB Bluth to react to it.

Oh, and this is my obligatory annual comment reminding the Academy that non-period pieces also have costumes. Then again, I’m not sure which 2014 movies with contemporary settings would be most worthy of unseating Into the Woods here. John Wick maybe. Dom Hemingway for sure. Basically any movie named after its badass main character.

Chris’ prediction: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Chris’ preference: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Jeremy says: Yeah, with no Elizabethan dress fest to unseat it (Mr. Turner’s excellent design is thoroughly unglamorous), the Academy ought to get this one right and go with The Grand Budapest Hotel. Milena Canonero’s costumes are a key part of the film’s meticulous look. I already discussed how the makeup helped define the film’s characters, and that’s also the case for the costumes, which build on the fantastical feel.

Jeremy’s prediction: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Jeremy’s preference: The Grand Budapest Hotel

Best Documentary, Short Subjects
“Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1” – Ellen Goosenberg Kent, Dana Perry
“Joanna” – Aneta Kopacz
“Our Curse” – Tomasz Sliwinski, Maciej Slesicki
“The Reaper” – Gabriel Serra
“White Earth” – Christian Jensen
Best Short Film, Animated
“The Bigger Picture” – Daisy Jacobs, Chris Hees
“The Dam Keeper” – Robert Kondo, Daisuke Tsutsumi
“Feast” – Patrick Osborne, Kristina Reed
“Me and My Moulton” – Torill Kove
“A Single Life” – Joris Oprins
Best Short Film, Live Action
“Aya” – Oded Binnun, Mihal Brezis
“Boogaloo and Graham” – Michael Lennox, Ronan Blaney
“Butter Lamp” – Wei Hu, Julien Féret
“Parvaneh” – Talkhon Hamzavi, Stefan Eichenberger
“The Phone Call” – Mat Kirkby, James Lucas

As the nominee taught us, veterans press 1 when they call the suicide prevention hotline. People who just watched all five short documentary nominees press 2.
Jeremy says: First off, props must be given to the folks who nominated the shorts, as the overall quality is significantly higher than usual. In the live-action category, even the films that feel like typical slight Oscar shorts, Aya and Parveneh, showcase compelling performances and rich characters.

The truly pleasant live-action surprise is Hu Wei and Julien Féret’s Butter Lamp, a strikingly idiosyncratic and formal piece with a documentary feel. Shot from a single angle as a photographer takes family portraits using different backdrops, the film is a smart study of the changing Chinese landscape, full of sharp details. Given the usual fare in this category, it’s a bit like seeing a Piet Mondrian work at a regional landscape-painting competition. Of course, it has no chance of winning.

That honor would have gone to the crowd-pleasing family comedy Boogaloo and Graham, if not for The Phone Call, starring Sally Hawkins. Now, having Sally Hawkins in your short film is a bit like bringing a nuclear bomb to a pissing contest. Of course, you can’t assume that a British star will automatically earn a short an Oscar. (While The Shore with Ciarán Hinds won in 2012, last year’s The Voorman Problem with Martin Freeman did not). But this is Sally fucking Hawkins, in close-up, as a suicide hotline worker trying to talk down Jim Broadbent. She brings it like we know Sally Hawkins can bring it, and the rest is Oscar history.

Crisis hotlines may also win the day in the short documentary category, as Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1 delivers the most direct punch in the gut of all the nominees. It shows crisis workers trying to talk US war veterans out of committing suicide. It probably displays the weakest level of craft of all the nominees, but unless voters find the almost thriller-like style crass, it seems like the likely winner.

The two Polish films about parenting and disease could also win without outrage. Our Curse follows exhausted parents as they deal with their baby’s rare disorder, which prevents him from breathing on his own when he falls asleep. Since director Tomasz Sliwinski is depicting his own life, it can feel a bit forced at times, but leads to a strong emotional payoff and features the most memorable shot of all the films. Joanna, on the other hand, about a mother who’s dying of cancer, always feels simultaneously natural and poetic. The closing shot is particularly brilliant. It's poignant without feeling too on-the-nose.

The Mexican character portrait of a slaughterhouse exterminator, The Reaper, is well done, but surely a bit too gruesome and abstract for the voters. White Earth is also engaging in its portrait of a desolate oil-boom town through the eyes of the workers’ bored children and hard-working wives.

Formally, The Bigger Picture is the most ambitious and the most accomplished animation nominee. If anything could beat it, it'd be the emotionally resonant The Dam Keeper, with its hand-painted look and sharp visual storytelling. Feast and A Single Life are both clever, but neither feel substantial enough to win. Oh yeah, and a Moulton is a bicycle.

Jeremy's predictions: Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1, The Bigger Picture, The Phone Call
Jeremy's preferences: Joanna, The Bigger Picture, Butter Lamp
Chris says: Well, a funny thing happened on the way to The Phone Call’s Oscar win. After seeing Sally Fucking Hawkins’ customarily great performance, Angelina Jolie burst into the live-action shorts program, playing twin suicide hotline operators -- one of whom has a speech impediment — who personally save a guy’s life, and Jolie up and steals Sally Hawkins’ Oscar just like she stole Sally Hawkins’ goddamn Oscar nomination six years ago.

(We’re never going to let it go, Angelina, so don’t even ask.)

Wait, the short-film thing didn’t happen? I imagined it? Well, phew.

Anyway, the moment I saw how The Phone Call had decided to end — both ways it decided to end — I figured it was probably right up the Academy’s alley. And since they don’t have a hipster movie to reward this year, this one is probably going to take it. Nevermind that the last three minutes kinda go off the rails.

But in general, the live-action program was shocking just because it might be the first time in history that at least one of them wasn’t terrible. Some years, lots of the live-action shorts are terrible. But this year, somehow, they’re all, at a minimum, passable. And I happen to think they’re all, to one degree or another, pretty good. Even the ones, like The Phone Call, that falter somewhat are anchored by great performances. Or take something like Boogaloo and Graham, which is aggressively manipulative at times, but is also a low-key and charming movie that gave us one of my favorite lines — “Germans!” — of any movie I’ve seen recently.

I, too, was impressed with Butter Lamp -- mostly because it’s a shock that such an unusual formal experiment would get recognized by a voting body that usually goes for more straightforward narratives. And I’ve gone back and forth on whether that was my favorite, or whether that honor goes to Aya, which Jeremy incorrectly stated was “slight.” What Aya is, in fact, is a finely calibrated character piece that lets itself reside within the mysteries and contradictions of human behavior and connection. And, like many of the other nominees, it features a couple of standout performances that make it all work.

On the animated side, the collection was not the strongest it’s ever been, but all the shorts worked to one degree or another. And there were no fucking Gruffalos running around this time, thank Christ, nor any witches on any brooms. Me and My Moulton was charming for its voice and attitude, a bit less so for an animation style I would describe as Mid-1990s MTV Cartoon Chic. That short (the weakest of the nominees) was driven mostly by narration, to the extent that it could have been a 5-minute radio piece and I think it would have been just as effective. That it was followed immediately by Feast did it no favors; Feast certainly isn’t the strongest Disney short we’ve seen, but its story is told entirely through its visual qualities — a nice primer on the what animation can actually do, whereas Moulton was basically narration with accompanying illustrations.

The Bigger Picture, with its fascinating blend of impressionist impulses and stop-motion claymation, was the most interesting of the bunch, but also had no idea what to do with its two central characters (a pair of brothers) and in general seems like it could have used a few extra minutes to figure that out. Meanwhile, The Dam Keeper — which does some similar things with its painterly animation style — comes out as far-and-away the best nominee, with both a terrific story and gorgeous visuals. I also enjoyed the absurdity and morbidity of A Single Life, but it’s generally pretty lightweight.

Chris’ predictions:  Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1, Feast, The Phone Call
Chris’ preferences: Joanna, The Dam Keeper, Aya

Best Achievement in Visual Effects
“Captain America: The Winter Soldier”
“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”
“Guardians of the Galaxy”
“X-Men: Days of Future Past”

Scarlett Johansson, while slowly walking backwards and taking off her clothes, says: Wait. You’re actually going to tell me that five of this year’s movies had better special effects than Under the Skin? I mean, next thing you’re going to tell me five of this year’s movies had better sound design or a better score. I mean, surely you wouldn’t say anything as ridiculous as that. Did you guys fucking see the floating, ghostlike epidermis hanging there in that one scene, suspended, in that cold inky blackness, like an identity-erasing nightmare? You did? And you still nominated X-Men? Fuck you guys. I changed my mind, I’m totally putting my clothes back on.

Chris says: Yeah, Scarlett pretty much said it. Then again, this is the same category that didn’t give a nomination for The Fountain, The Tree of Life or The Social Network, because apparently the only movies that have special effects are massively budgeted studio tentpoles. Whatever.

While I had certain problems with the CGI in Days of Future Past, the other four nominees are all more than worthy. I have a feeling they’re going to want to reward Guardians of the Galaxy here, which is fine, but Interstellar and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes would be better choices. The former, in customary Nolan form, seamlessly blends practical and in-camera effects with its computer-generated necessities (using CG as a supplementary tool rather than a shortcut), and the latter improved dramatically on the pretty good effects of the series’ predecessor. That Dawn spent so much time with its ape characters only adds to the task, and the overall effect was astonishing. Interstellar probably had the most immaculate effects of the year, but Dawn’s characters are directly reliant on the effects and are on screen in every single shot, so the degree of difficulty is huge. I’ll go ahead and split the difference and vote for a tie.

Chris’ prediction: Guardians of the Galaxy
Chris’ preference: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes or Interstellar
Jeremy says: Interstellar definitely boasts the most fully realized special effects of all the nominees, and should win it. However, as Chris pointed out, we spend A LOT of time with those apes. Dawn requires a lot of great CG work to pull off its storytelling, but Interstellar leaves us with the most indelible images. I think Guardians will get lost in the impressiveness of those two efforts, and the Apes will ultimately come out on top and force us to become their slaves.

Brad Pitt says: I’ll rescue you!!

Jeremy’s prediction: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Jeremy’s preference: Interstellar
Best Achievement in Sound Mixing
“American Sniper”
Best Achievement in Sound Editing
“American Sniper”
“The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies”

The first two films of The Hobbit Unnecessary Trilogy each received three nominations, but this one only received one. That’s a sharp contrast to the Oscar-burst that The Lord of the Rings got for its final installment. What reason could there be for such a discrepancy?
Jeremy says: It's kind of a big deal if The Little Indie Film That Could wins a sound Oscar, given that Whiplash didn't likely have the same resources the big guys had at their disposal. But its dynamic audio mixing is key to its most exciting scenes, and musical films often catch voters' ears because music makes them aware that they're listening to something. Speaking of drumming, Birdman sports a rich blend of textures and is one of the most unique sonic experiences of the year, but might be a bit much for the Academy.

In the editing category, Interstellar has the best work, with fascinating soundscapes across the galaxy. However, people have been calling out the film’s mix, and its drowned-out dialogue. I just wish they’d thought of drowning out the dialogue in Inception. Heyo! *THUMP THUMP* Is this thing on? (See how I employed sound effects in the sound categories writeup? Go me!) Hopefully the unconventional mixing won’t hurt the film’s chances in editing and leave the door open for an American Sniper win, but that’s my fear.

By the way, Wild had the best sound design of the year, but you aren’t allowed to nominate films about women for any categories without “actress” in their names. Plus, it had no guns — what the fuck is up with that?

Jeremy's predictions: Whiplash for mixing, American Sniper for editing
Jeremy's preferences: Birdman for mixing, Interstellar for editing
Chris says: I’ll see your Wild and raise you The Babadook. Oh and hey wait, Under the Skin, too. And your point about not nominating films about women still stands. Come on, now, what is up with female-driven films not getting nominated in this category? Like what the fuck.

Jeremy says: Good call.

Chris says: I’m gonna be honest — until glancing back at this category just a second ago, I had no clue Unbroken was nominated for both sound categories. That shapeless piece of shit has three Oscar nominations? Sheesh.

Anyway, I second Jeremy’s thoughts on Interstellar’s audio work, and I’d like to see it win at least one of these. However, I don’t think it has much support, and I’m thinking they’ll give it to American Sniper. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if Sniper took both categories.

Chris’ predictions: Whiplash for mixing, American Sniper for editing
Chris’ preferences: Birdman for mixing, Interstellar for editing
Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score
“The Grand Budapest Hotel,” Alexandre Desplat
“The Imitation Game,” Alexandre Desplat
“Interstellar,” Hans Zimmer
“The Theory of Everything,” Jóhann Jóhannsson
“Mr. Turner,” Gary Yershon

Out of respect for Birdman or (Don’t Make an Interesting Score and Expect to be Oscar Eligible) and Whiplash, we have prepared a 15 minute drum solo in lieu of a traditional introduction. Enjoy!
Boom boom ratatat chiiiiiii!

Chris says: It appears the likely winner here is for Jóhann Jóhannsson, in a stacked category that also includes Alexandre Alexandrovich, Hans Hansmann, Gary Garysson and Alexandre Alexandrovich again.

Here’s the thing about Jóhannsson’s Theory of Everything score. Parts of it are thrilling and momentous and every bit as deserving as an Oscar winner should be. But at other times, it sounds like a bland composite of the music from every single prestige drama you’ve ever seen. I’d say the one movie that has a chance of snagging it from Theory is The Grand Budapest Hotel, which is my favorite of the bunch. I was just listening to it again this morning and it’s just such a beautiful compendium of moods and styles. It cleverly calls to mind the era-specific music of the types of films Anderson is drawing influence from (Michael Powell, Ernst Lubitsch, David Lean), while propelling the action forward in that playful way that has become one of Anderson’s signatures.

Of course, Desplat’s work was also the best thing about The Imitation Game, and if that movie has some support, perhaps Desplat will split his own vote a little bit. Then again, how about this: Desplat has never won an Oscar despite scoring approximately 300 movies per year over the last decade. So maybe he’s due. Or maybe he’ll become the musical equivalent of Roger Deakins.

Thomas Newman says: Hey! I’m the musical equivalent of Roger Deakins, and don’t you dare fucking forget it. Twelve nominations, no wins, motherfucker.

Chris: My bad, Mr. Newman. (And by the way, if Newman had been nominated this year, I would have referred to him as Thomas Thomasson at the beginning of this section. I just want to make sure that you, dear reader, know that I’m thinking of all possibilities.)

Oh, and in case you were wondering, Newman’s best chance at a nomination this year was for scoring The Judge, and I’m pretty sure he would have had to publicly shit his pants to get a nod for that one.

But back to the actual nominees. To refer back to what Jeremy mentioned about Interstellar’s sound, while a lot of people complained about the loudness of the music, I was personally a big fan of Zimmer’s work on the film. As I mentioned in my review, it is grand and bombastic in a way that is perfectly appropriate for what the film accomplishes (or at least tries to accomplish, if you’re not a fan). The score, like the film itself, is operatic and majestic, shifting between ethereal and funereal and — like Desplat on Budapest, albeit in a completely different way — also exquisitely drives the movie’s action and suspense setpieces.

I also liked Mr. Turner’s score quite a bit, in large part because — unlike Theory’s weakest segments — it sounds entirely unlike a prestige biopic. In fact, it’s more reminiscent of an offbeat, experimental Jonny Greenwood-type score than something going for Oscar gold. So it’s a credit to the Academy that they nominated something so idiosyncratic.

Of course, I would have loved for them to follow through on that outside-the-box impulse, and nominated Mica Levi for his unnerving, jittery, otherworldly Under the Skin score, or for the similarly expressionistic work by Nathan Johnson (again, seemingly Greenwood-esque) on the otherwise forgettable Young Ones, or Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans’ enigmatic, ominous, jazzy work on Enemy. And speaking of jazzy — and Greenwood, for that matter — what kind of bullshit is it that Birdman’s score was deemed ineligible? Fuck the Academy.

Chris’ prediction: The Theory of Everything
Chris’ preference: The Grand Budapest Hotel

Jeremy says: I’m envisioning The Grand Budapest Hotel dominating many of the craft awards, and that spilling over to his lovely score, giving Desplat his Oscar at last, even if Desplat’s best work happened years ago without honor.

Thomas Newman says: HA! Yes! I told you Desplat was a fucking pussy. Deakins and I are gonna go get drunk now. Enjoy the rest of the ceremony, assholes.

Jeremy says: I’d love to see Yershon win this, but Mr. Turner’s reward is getting nominated. I agree that The Theory of Everything could win it, but I feel like enthusiasm for the film has waned.

Jeremy’s prediction: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Jeremy’s Preference: Mr. Turner
Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Song
“Glory” from “Selma” – Common, John Legend
“Lost Stars” from “Begin Again” – Gregg Alexander, Danielle Brisebois
“Everything is Awesome” from “The LEGO Movie” – Shawn Patterson
“Grateful” from “Beyond the Lights” – Diane Warren
“I’m Not Gonna Miss You” from “Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me” – Glen Campbell, Julian Raymond

The assholes who wrote “Let it Go” say: Hey everybody! Remember us? Because everyone loved our acceptance speech last year, we’ve put together a pun-filled introduction for this year’s nominees! Now let’s get started…
Jeremy says: That’s OK guys, you can go home now.

In a year where The LEGO Movie didn’t get the animated feature nomination everyone was expecting, the clever satire “Everything is Awesome” might seem like a possible surprise win. After all, any pimp out there for whom life is hard will tell you that this award doesn’t always go to the classiest tune. But this is also the year that Selma didn’t get all the nominations it was expected to get, and Common and John Legend’s “Glory” has a more profound, weighty feel to it.

However, two stronger songs are “I’m Not Gonna Miss You,” Glen Campbell’s poignant take on his struggle with Alzheimer’s disease, and “Lost Stars” from Begin Again. Campbell’s not going to know what’s going on anyway, or that there’s a movie with his song in it, so there’s no point in giving the award to him, but “Lost Stars” is the best song of the bunch (and the Keira Knightley rendition is better than Adam Levine’s, in case you’re wondering). Begin Again got plenty of things wrong, but the songs weren’t among them.

Jeremy’s prediction: “Glory”
Jeremy’s preference: “Lost Stars”
Chris says: First of all, a Gilbert Gottfried rendition of “Lost Stars” would be better than anything that comes out of Adam Levine’s mouth. But guess what? Levine is the one singing at the actual ceremony, so I’m not sure I can get behind it winning. Whatever the case and whoever the singer is, “Lost Stars” is a very nice song; I just don’t think it’s anything exceptional.
Jeremy says: I don’t know that any of these are particularly exceptional — except (get it?!) maybe “Everything is Awesome,” in that it succeeds perfectly at what it’s trying to do. If we wanted to talk about exceptional I’d talk about God Help the Girl, but I think most of those songs are ineligible because Stuart Murdoch recorded a concept album before he got financing for the film. (And a couple of the songs were on The Life Pursuit.)

Chris: Yeah, that’s probably true. (And that reminds me — why is no one talking about how damn good Emily Browning is in that movie?) I think the two best songs are the two most likely to win — “Glory” and “Everything is Awesome” — so I really don’t have a whole lot to add to this discussion. Were there any other songs that got overlooked this year? Did Jake Gyllenhaal sing something in Enemy that I can nominate him for?

Chris’ prediction: “Glory,” Selma
Chris’ preference: “Everything is Awesome,” The LEGO Movie

Best Achievement in Production Design
“The Grand Budapest Hotel”
“The Imitation Game”
“Into the Woods”
“Mr. Turner”

Well it’s about fucking time the Academy nominated a Wes Anderson movie for production design. Do you realize that’s the first time that’s ever happened? Seriously, Fantastic Mr. Fox wasn’t nominated for production design. Moonrise Kingdom wasn’t nominated for production design. The Royal Tenenbaums wasn’t nominated for production design. We’re serious, you can look that shit up.
Chris says: Admittedly, Anderson and his team probably outdid even themselves this year (although the Mr. Fox production design would still be my personal favorite), giving us wonderfully bold color choices and a variety of different sets and locations, all tailored for a different tone, each one achieving its own specific brand of emotional resonance. Giving the film such a heavy dose of pastel pink during the sequences in which the Nazi proxies have begun to take over makes for such a beautiful, bittersweet sentiment. I hate to get as fascist as I was during costume design (just kidding, I fucking love getting this way), but seriously, no one is going to argue that anything but Grand Budapest should win here, right?

I didn’t think so. Before I make it official, I also want to quickly recognize the production design of Alex van Warmerdam’s spectacular Borgman (with color palettes that shift from earthy and naturalistic to boldly surreal), as well as that of Snowpiercer (with its vastly different looks for each location), A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (with its minimalist approach punctuated by touches of 1950s Americana), John Wick (a movie that created its own underground world, complete with its own currency and dress code), Guardians of the Galaxy (with its elaborate and gorgeous sci-fi kitsch), The Zero Theorem (which has some astonishing stuff, even by Terry Gilliam’s standards), Dom Hemingway (the way the splashes of color and oft-hilarious choices of set decoration played into the title character’s conception of himself and his situation) and The Immigrant (period piece! come on, Academy, you love that shit!).

Harvey Weinstein says: Look, I just want to say, and I’m telling you this with 100 percent honesty, that I have never even heard of a movie called The Immigrant, and I can guarantee you The Weinstein Company never made such a movie. Just like I never played any dirty Oscar-campaigning tricks during my Miramax heyday. These rumors crack me up.

Chris: I bet they do, Harv. I bet they do.

Chris’ prediction: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Chris’ preference: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Jeremy says: Yeah, the films Chris mentioned, especially Dom Hemingway and Snowpiercer, would receive more recognition if anyone actually cared about the finer points of production design. I’d also call attention to The LEGO Movie, The Boxtrolls and The Homesman. But The Grand Budapest Hotel is a towering achievement from Anderson, Adam Stockhausen and Anna Pinnock. It uses so many different elements, from miniatures to pastries, to realize its world.

However, lest we run the risk of going Academy-style and only awarding the flashiest costume design while cowering to Chris’ demands for conformity, we might consider that Mr. Turner quite magnificently creates its world with many subtle touches, but won’t be recognized because the style doesn’t call as much attention to itself.
Jeremy’s prediction: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Jeremy’s preference: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Best Achievement in Cinematography
“Birdman” – Emmanuel Lubezki
“The Grand Budapest Hotel” – Robert D. Yeoman
“Ida” – Lukasz Zal, Ryszard Lenczewski
“Mr. Turner” – Dick Pope
“Unbroken” – Roger Deakins

No, we’re not going to make a Dick Poop joke, because we have too much respect for these cinematographers’ craft, which they’ve honed almost as fervently as they’ve dirtied their penises.
Jeremy says: After the ceremony, it appears Emmanuel Lubezki will have gone from under-appreciated loser to two-time winner in the span of a year. Meanwhile, poor Roger Deakins will continue his winless streak, proving that Lubezki was always just a poser. A couple years of not having your work recognized? Psh, that’s nothing compared to Big Rog’s history. But I don't imagine Deakins will be too surprised or feel too hard done this year. While Unbroken's cinematography meets his usual high standards (the grey tones of the coal plant and a night fire in Tokyo being the highlights), its lack of a coherent directorial vision will prevent it from getting noticed.

The ironic thing about Lubezki’s (apparently) locked-up win is that he didn’t win for Children of Men. That film may not have gone for the illusion of one long unbroken cut like Birdman does, but its two epic takes were actually more complex than any of the shots in Birdman. It also had a more distinct and atmospheric look. That’s not meant to take away from Birdman, just to remind everyone how awesome Children of Men is. What year is it again?

Emmanuel Lubezki says: Hey, don’t forget I also didn’t win for The Tree of Life. Everyone remembers that, right? Everyone remembers how I somehow didn’t win a fucking Oscar for The Tree of Life?

Jeremy says: Manny, Jeez. I was just talking about unbroken takes. Calm the fuck down.

Roger Deakins says: And while you’re at it, shut up, you Oscar-hoarding golden boy!

Jeremy says: Children of Men lost to a foreign language film nominee, so perhaps history could repeat itself. Probably not, though, despite Ida’s austere look and fascinating, subtitle-challenging compositions. The film’s tone is deeply rooted in those shots, and without a technical achievement like Birdman in the running, I could almost see it pulling an upset. It’s also impressive for being shot mostly by first-timer Lukasz Zal after he took over for Ryszard Lenczewski, who prepped for the film but left (due to illness or because he hated the film — I’ve read it both ways) shortly after shooting began.

My other favorite nominee (the films are doing so different that it’s really impossible to say one is better with a straight face.) is Robert D. Yeoman. The Grand Budapest Hotel also happens to be the other film whose director’s influence is strikingly apparent in every shot. With its pastel colors and mannered compositions, Yeoman’s photography wonderfully captures a sense of nostalgia.

If I hadn’t rattled on too long already, I’d mention how Dick Pope brilliantly recalls the colors and tones of J.M.W. Turner’s paintings.

Jeremy’s prediction: Birdman
Jeremy’s preference: Ida or The Grand Budapest Hotel
Chris says: Hey, give it up for the Academy ratio, amirite? Two nominees out of five? I mean, I know Yeoman and Anderson utilized some other aspect ratios as well, but you see my point.

Anyway, I largely agree with what Jeremy said, and while I wouldn’t begrudge Lubezki another win (he deserves all the attention he’s gotten), I’d sure love to see Yeoman pull off a stunner. You’ll rarely find a film with compositions so perfect.

And yeah, while we’ve all been waiting years for Roger Deakins to finally get his long-deserved Oscar, it would be pretty silly — embarrassing, actually— if it was for a movie like Unbroken. And it’s flat-out not going to happen, so no need wondering. But —

Roger Deakins says: If I can take it, I can make it…

Chris: Uh … sorry, wha —


If I can rush the stage and take Chivo’s Oscar from out of his hands, I think I can make it out the back door of the Dolby Theatre before security catches me. If I can take it, I can make it …

Y’know, y’know, y’know … go, go, go …

Chris: Guys, I think Roger Deakins is having some sort of nervous breakdown. I mean, how long are you going to torture him like this? Can you give him a fucking Oscar, for god’s sake? Look, just take away Andrew Lesnie’s and give it to Roger. That’s justice anyway.

But back to the task at hand: The category was so rich this year that I could easily come up with another couple of groups of five entirely different nominees and I wouldn’t really be able to complain either way. Robert Elswit for either Inherent Vice or Nightcrawler (or both). Bradford Young for either Selma or A Most Violent Year (or both). Hoyte van Hoytema for bringing an entirely different look and feel to Christopher Nolan’s palette in Interstellar. Darius Khondji for The Immigrant, Nicolas Bolduc for Enemy, Daniel Landin for Under the Skin, Vincent van Warmerdam for Borgman, Jeff Cronenweth for Gone Girl … the list could go on.

Chris’ prediction: Emmanuel Lubezki, Birdman
Chris’ preference: Robert Yeoman, The Grand Budapest Hotel

Best Achievement in Editing
“Boyhood” – Sandra Adair
“The Imitation Game” – William Goldenberg
“The Grand Budapest Hotel” – Barney Pilling
“Whiplash” – Tom Cross
“American Sniper” – Joel Cox, Gary Roach

Douglas Crise and Stephen Mirrione say: Oh great, we see how it is. You edit a movie that mostly looks like one continuous shot and BOOM, the Academy doesn’t nominate you for editing, even though you’re a motherfucking Best Picture contender. You guys can all go fuck yourselves. We’re just going to stand over here and scream Macbeth’s final soliloquy while you guys discuss the nominees.
Chris says: Richard Linklater and Sandra Adair had to wrangle a dozen years’ worth of material and shape it into a real coming-of-age tale, so their accomplishment is quite impressive both in its degree of difficulty and in the scope of the story it wound up putting together. Then again, it also neglected to edit out all the scenes with the drunken stepfathers, especially the completely out-of-place drunk-driving one. So it wouldn’t be my personal pick of these five options.

As one of the Best Picture frontrunners, it could easily take this category, although Oscar voters also have an occasional tendency to reward war films and action filmmaking in general, so I could see American Sniper pulling an upset here. Not necessarily predicting it — it just wouldn’t surprise me.

For me, it’s a toss-up between Whiplash and The Grand Budapest Hotel. Wes Anderson is such an exacting filmmaker that the way he and Barney Pilling cut together the film’s manic screwball tone is of utmost importance. Then again, Whiplash’s long climactic sequence is a fucking master class in building narrative tension almost entirely through editing. So I’d be OK with either one of those taking it.

Jeremy says: I mean, if you can make a drum solo seem exciting, you must have some serious editing chops, amirite?

Chris says: Damn right. Anyway, I won’t get into all of the many snubs, and examples that would have been more worthy of a nomination than Sniper or The Imitation Game … but with all due respect to everything that actually made my top 10, this is the best single edit from any movie this year, and frankly it’s not close:


Chris’ prediction: Boyhood
Chris’ preference: Whiplash or The Grand Budapest Hotel

Jeremy says: Going back to that exciting drum solo, I’m gonna have to give Whiplash the upset here. Boyhood’s craft is apparent, but it also doesn’t draw attention to itself. Whiplash, on the other hand, is one big, stylish collection of look-at-me montages. The Academy often mistakes Best for Most, and in the event of a tie, you know Most is going to take it.

Jeremy’s prediction: Whiplash
Jeremy’s preference: The Grand Budapest Hotel

Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published
“American Sniper” – Jason Hall
“Inherent Vice” – Paul Thomas Anderson
“The Imitation Game” – Graham Moore
“The Theory of Everything” – Anthony McCarten
“Whiplash” – Damien Chazelle

Chris Kyle says: Hey, did I ever tell you guys about the time I punched George Clooney? He was bragging about winning the Oscar for Syriana, and I was like, “Fuck you, that movie isn’t even set in America! Matt Dillon should’ve won that Oscar. You see, he was a racist woman-molester, but he also saved that lady when she was in the car crash. Hey, Crash! That was the name of the movie. Clever.” Clooney replied, “I respectfully disagree,” so I coldcocked him. And then through all of Michael Clayton, he has a huge black eye from when I punched him. True story.
Random title card says: Chris Kyle was killed by Puck Beaverton after walking off the stage.

Jeremy says: Wait, The Theory of Everything had a screenplay?!?

Let’s be clear on one thing: It shouldn’t matter if The Imitation Game played down Alan Turing’s giant, bright green penis or that American Sniper ignored that its subject told lies about this country’s greatest national treasure, Jesse Ventura. What does matter is that American Sniper is a shapeless go-nowhere mess. I don’t know why this category is fodder for Best Picture nominees with mediocre screenplays, especially when they could have nominated We Are the Best!, Enemy, Wild, The LEGO Movie, Edge of Tomorrow, 22 Jump Street, The Boxtrolls or The Homesman.

If you’re going on the assumption that The Imitation Game has to win something, then this is as likely a place as any, and its screenplay is indeed sharper than Sniper or Everything. But Whiplash’s odd assignment to this category will work in its favor and earn it another prize. The screenplay is undercooked — at least 10 pages too short — but it no doubt makes an impression. Voters will remember the mix of terror and humor in J.K. Simmons’ abuse and want to reward the distinctive dialogue.

Of the nominees, I’d favor Inherent Vice, although I was actually surprised it was nominated considering its hazy, meandering structure. I guess there are enough drugged-out members in the Academy to get it nominated, but that’s where the honors will end.

Jeremy’s prediction: Whiplash
Jeremy’s preference: Inherent Vice

Chris says: Frankly, this is a weak category. Not a great screenplay among the group. The only two that are even remotely good are the ones Jeremy just mentioned, but even Whiplash — my favorite of the five — has some pretty real flaws (which are largely saved by the editing, direction and performances in the movie itself). PT Anderson’s Inherent Vice adaptation is full of brilliant details, descriptions, sharp dialogue and delightful elliptical moments, but is also a bit of a structural mess that doesn’t always know how to deploy its necessary exposition sections, and certainly doesn’t earn the presumptive emotional resolution of the Jena Malone / Owen Wilson subplot. But still, there’s enough great stuff in there for me to be happy it got a nomination, at least considering what else got through. As for the Academy’s actual selection? The script for The Imitation Game has picked up a lot of awards already, so I’d expect that trend to continue on Sunday night.

But to piggyback on some of what Jeremy mentioned, much more daring and worthy choices would have been, among others, Enemy, based on Jose Saramago’s The Double, which is not to be confused with Richard Ayoade and Avi Korine’s The Double, based on Dostoevsky’s The Double. Also for your consideration: Snowpiercer (third-act information dump notwithstanding), Edge of Tomorrow, and finally, one of the nomination field’s most surprising omissions, Gillian Flynn for adaptation of her own novel in David Fincher’s savagely entertaining take on Gone Girl.

Chris’ prediction: The Imitation Game
Chris’ preference: Whiplash
Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen
“Boyhood” – Richard Linklater
“Birdman” – Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Nicolas Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Armando Bo
“Foxcatcher” – E. Max Frye, Dan Futterman
“The Grand Budapest Hotel” – Wes Anderson, Hugo Guinness
“Nightcrawler” – Dan Gilroy

Richard Dutcher says: Original screenplay?


Obviously, as everyone knows, Dan Gilroy just stole my screenplay idea for my movie Falling, because it’s really not possible for two superficially similar movie ideas to exist independent of one another. It’s like earlier this year I saw Tracks and then I saw Wild and I’m like, “Uh, OK obviously this Cheryl Strayed bitch stole Robyn Davidson’s life story and just changed a few things. Well, the wrong guy noticed. I’m on to you, Cheryl. And you, Reese. From now on you’re never allowed to star in any of my movies.”

And for the matter, Chris and Jeremy, you’re on notice, too. My lawyer will be in touch. I’ll see you in fucking court.
Chris says: Look, I like Birdman: or (How to Say a Bunch of Obvious Things About Actors, Art and Ego Without Really Trying). I really do. But it has no business getting anywhere near a screenwriting award. It tries way too hard to say too little.

I do think we’ll avoid that fate, as I’m going to say they reward Richard Linklater for his work on Boyhood, which encapsulated so many of the themes — personal, temporal and otherwise — that he’s explored throughout his career. But the script (and the movie) is a tricky case. It both passes and fails the Howard Hawks Test many times over — there are certainly more than three truly great scenes, but a strangely high number of pretty bad scenes as well. See: Any scene involving a stepdad or a Mexican gardener-turned-restaurant manager. I know, I know, by this point I’m repeating myself. But that being said, I’m all for bold experiments being rewarded, and Boyhood is certainly that. I just happen to think the other three remaining scripts are more deserving. I’ve already gone on and on about Budapest by now, but we’ve hardly gotten a chance to talk about Nightcrawler. So … can we fucking talk about Nightcrawler now please?

I remember hearing a lot about how the film was a media satire, with people comparing it to Network. But that’s not actually the case. Its critique of the media is more fatalistic, taking its inherent bloodthirstiness and corruption as a starting point; the film’s satirical target is elsewhere, and that’s on the nature of American business, capitalism, upward mobility and self-reliance. That such a rousing “success” story is accomplished by (and seen through the eyes of) a stone-cold sociopath is just one of the film’s many sardonic delights. But every word that comes out of Gyllenhaal’s mouth (and we’ll get to the performance later) is golden, a disciplined collection of business-seminar platitudes and cliches that he turns into an entire worldview, and a successful business model. It’s just a terrific piece of work all around.

Also deserving of consideration in this all-too-packed category? Borgman, Leviathan, Selma, Calvary … among others.

Chris’ prediction: Boyhood
Chris’ preference: The Grand Budapest Hotel or Nightcrawler

Jeremy says: Yeah, Nightcrawler absolutely deserves this award. Lou Bloom is a nightmarish figure born from the pages of self-help books. Dan Gilroy not only creates an indelible character (with Gyllenhaal’s help), but places him in countless interactions that are memorable, creepy and suspenseful.

While I, too, have some issues with Boyhood’s screenplay, I don’t think its low points are quite as unforgivable as Chris does. It’s not as if the Mexican gardener had some sort major role and it took a great contrivance to get him in that final scene. And having him become a restaurant manager — whether the job requires a college degree or not — is certainly more plausible than having him pull up in a Rolls Royce and give Patricia Arquette a million dollars. Boyhood is about the things that shape and make an impression on our lives, so a scene that punctuates that theme with a reminder that the things we say and do make a difference doesn't quite qualify as “the single most wrong-headed scene of any 2014 movie.” Recently, a guy I barely remembered came up to me and told me he always felt guilty for taking a skateboard from my yard when I was a kid — like 25 years ago. Sometimes things make an impression.

If Linklater wins, it certainly won’t be for his best screenplay, but Oscar winners usually don’t win for their best work.

On the prediction front, however, I wonder whether the film’s loose structure will hurt it in this category. By design, it is a graceful series of impressions. Linklater’s style is so naturalistic that some voters might feel like it’s not really written at all. On the other hand, The Grand Budapest Hotel’s structural acrobatics are on display for all to see.

Rex Reed says: Are you saying it will swoop in like a bird and make boys of the two Best Picture contenders?

Jeremy says: Yes. Yes I am.

Jeremy's prediction: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Jeremy's preference: Nightcrawler
Best Animated Feature Film of the Year
“Big Hero 6”
“The Boxtrolls”
“How to Train Your Dragon 2”
“Song of the Sea”
“The Tale of the Princess Kaguya”

Unikitty says: Fuck off, Academy.
Jeremy says: Even with the Academy’s failure to nominate Phil Lord and Christopher Miller's delightful The LEGO Movie, this category has some finely crafted work. Big Hero 6 is the one that doesn’t deserve to be here, but its first half is so good that I still have a bit of a soft spot for it. However, it has exactly the kind of risk-free, generic hackery that The LEGO Movie works so hard to reject. The Boxtrolls boasts brilliant design and sharp humor (note how traditional plot contrivances — like parents not listening to their kids — play out as absurdist satire that feeds the film’s themes, rather than simple narrative cheats). And Isao Takahata’s The Tale of The Princess Kaguya is soft, graceful and deliberate.

But the true standout in the category is Song of the Sea. DIrector Tomm Moore takes all the things that he did so well in The Secret of Kells — Irish tradition, geometric 2D designs, gorgeous lighting effects — and improves on them tenfold. Every scene is a visual delight, and few films this year were such a joy to look at.

It's almost enough to make me want to predict it to upset How to Train Your Dragon 2 (which is a perfectly good movie, too). Hell, I guess will. Might as well make this long-ass article interesting. It’s not as if money is on the line. Your move, Bellamy.

Jeremy’s prediction: Song of the Sea
Jeremy’s preference: Song of the Sea

Chris says: Yeah, Song of the Sea pretty much kicked my ass. Everything I liked about The Secret of Kells was funnier, more beautiful, more dreamlike and more visually magnificent this time around. I won’t make such a foolish prediction like Jeremy, but boy, I sure hope he’s right.

That one is right up there with The LEGO Movie for the year’s best animated film, but neither film has any shot — the former because it’s a tiny Irish thing that only awesome people like us have even heard of, and the latter because this petty, lily-livered, prejudicial Best Animated Film voting body didn’t even see fit to nominate it. Say what you want about any of the other five nominees, but few 2014 movies — animated or otherwise — have the kind of creative energy and intelligence of Miller and Lord’s work on LEGO.

To echo Jeremy’s sentiments, the first half of Big Hero 6 is so fantastic that you can see why it garnered a nomination, but for me the second half was such a colossal disappointment that I’m still angry it wound up in the final five. Even The Book of Life would have been a more worthy nominee.

But sad to say, the perfectly enjoyable and adequate How to Train Your Dragon 2 — the movie whose lack of breakout success forced DreamWorks to fire 500 employees and shut down some of its animation department — will likely take this one. Everything is not awesome.

Chris’ prediction: How to Train Your Dragon 2
Chris’ preference: Song of the Sea

Best Foreign Language Film of the Year
“Ida” (Poland)
“Leviathan” (Russia)
“Tangerines” (Estonia)
“Timbuktu” (Mauritania)
“Wild Tales” (Argentina)

Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne say: Vas te faire encule, Academy!

Chris says: Yeah, can we talk about how the Academy — and/or whoever the hell is making these decisions in France and Belgium — keep completely overlooking the Dardennes in this category? I mean, at least Two Days, One Night garnered a nomination for lead actress Marion Cotillard, but come on.

GOB Bluth says: COME ON!

Chris: But anyway: Fine, I’ll have to accept that the Dardennes are out of the picture. I’ll also have to accept that this award will almost inevitably be handed to Ida (certainly a good, and visually striking, film) when it should be going to Leviathan, Andrey Zvyagintsev’s brutally powerful, slyly comic, angry and compassionate drama about a man swimming against a current of corruption and fate. I’m a fan of Zvyagintsev anyway, but this is, in my opinion, his best work so far.

Beyond that, I realize I’m severely in the minority here, but I found that Timbuktu — while its intentions were noble and its approach stately and crisp did not really hold up on its pure filmmaking merits. (Although the soccer scene, I’m sure Jeremy will agree, is magic.) I did like Wild Tales, but it peaks in its brilliant first 10 minutes and is kinda hit-or-miss from there. Still, I love how unapologetically black-hearted it is, and even with its weaknesses it’s an entertaining ride.

I haven’t seen Tangerines because it didn’t even have US distribution until a few days ago, but uh … I did have an Estonian film on my top 10 a few years ago, so maybe cut me some slack?

Chris’ prediction: Ida
Chris’ preference: Leviathan
Jeremy says: Like the live-action shorts, this year’s slate of foreign films doesn’t have anything alarmingly awful in it. There’s not an Ajami in the bunch. That said, my favorite foreign-language films of the year, We Are the Best! and Two Days, One Night, weren’t nominated. The nation of Sweden will likely spend the rest of its history wondering what might have been if they’d submitted Best! instead of Force Majeure.

Ida and Leviathan are my two favorite films in the category, but I’d rank Ida higher for its efficient and striking visual storytelling and raw performances. My big question here is whether Ida is really the Academy’s type of film. It often reflects a rather nihilistic outlook, comes to ambiguous conclusions and does not exactly aim for the kind of demonstrational drama that Oscar loves. This wouldn’t be the first year that a presumed favorite nominated in other categories went down. However,  it is about the Holocaust, so maybe I’m overthinking this.

I could see the trophy going to Leviathan — it did win the Golden Globe, after all — but that film is also rather bleak. Tangerines, on the other hand, is much more straightforward in its depiction of political conflict. The story of two men caught in the middle of a war who are nursing wounded soldiers from both sides has a sly humor and a lot of empathy. It isn’t as nuanced as the other nominees, but nuance doesn’t often win Oscars.

So part of me wants to say upset, but the other half wants to say Holocaust. Betting against the Holocaust hasn’t served me well in the past, so let’s just go with Ida.

Jeremy’s prediction: Ida
Jeremy’s preference: Ida

Best Documentary, Features
“Finding Vivian Maier”
“Last Days in Vietnam”
“The Salt of the Earth”

John Maloof says: I’d just like to take this moment to sanctimoniously shame anyone who has ignored Vivian Maier’s artistic genius by not voting to give me an Oscar. I would now like to give 25 examples of people who got Oscars for shoe-horning themselves into documentaries. First, however, I’d like to commiserate with my pal Jeremy Scahill, who didn’t win for Dirty Wars last year.

[Jeremy Scahill looks on with concern and nods solemnly.]
Jeremy says: This is the only non-song (damn Glen Campbell) category in which I haven't seen all the nominees. Wim Wenders’ and Juliano Ribeiro Salgado's The Salt of the Earth seems to be impossible to view if you didn't see it at a festival. That hasn't stopped Janean, who loyal fans will know as the Stedman of The Same Dame, from hoping that it wins. (“I just don't think any of the four I've seen deserve it,” she explains.)

She kind of has a point. Frontrunner Citizenfour is more noteworthy for its historic nature than its craft. Last Days in Vietnam trudges through half an hour of dull, routine setup before it gets to its compelling stories. Finding Vivian Maier has John Maloof.

But Virunga, despite occasionally trying too hard to push its political thriller angle, is really quite good. It also tackles a much less divisive issue than Citizenfour, which Academy voters will appreciate. They might not be sure if that Snowden guy is a hero or a traitor, but they know that conservation is good and oil companies and warlords are bad. Combine director Orlando von Einsiedel's kaleidoscopic structure that allows emotional release and shots of baby gorillas along with the meaty information, and you've got a heart-grabbing winner.

Jeremy's prediction: Virunga
Jeremy's preference: Virunga

Chris says: I pretty much agree with what Jeremy said …

Jeremy Scahill says: I’m sorry, what? Did someone say my name?

Chris: No, sorry, Jeremy Scahill, I actually meant Jeremy Mathews.

[Jeremy Scahill closes his eyes in deep thought, scribbles something on his notepad, opens his eyes. A single tear slides slowly down his cheek.]

Chris: ...except for his comments on Last Days in Vietnam, which may not be extraordinary but I found a lot more interesting than he

Jeremy Scahill says: Vietnam, now that was a Dirty War.

Chris: Thank you, Jeremy Scahill. Anyway, I liked Last Days in Vietnam even before its big finale, but I agree it’s not the strongest category.

Jeremy says: If I may interject…

Jeremy Scahill says: Wait, I’m the one who gets to interject!

Jeremy says: I do want to clarify that I found a good hour of Last Days very engaging, not just the finale. I just thought the setup felt clunky and routine.

Chris says: Fair enough. I also agree that Virunga — despite trying way too hard to tug at our heartstrings in certain moments …

[Cut to a shot of a gorilla looking sad.]

Chris: … is the best of the nominees …

[Cut to a shot of a gorilla looking happy and eating a banana.]

Chris: … in large part because of the way it showed how a singular issue like this one can be dramatically affected and overshadowed by bigger and more powerful entities. It’s a movie about social corruption more than a movie about saving a gorilla habitat.

[Jeremy Scahill looks off into the distance in deep contemplation about his role in the Virunga crisis.]

Jeremy Scahill: I could have done so much more … This watch …

Chris: Anyway, Jeremy, how could you not even mention Steve James getting fucked yet again, with his outstanding Life Itself —  which was much more profound than simply a re-telling of a film critic’s adventures — being left out of the final nominees? I mean, it’s not quite on par with Hoop Dreams getting the shaft, but it’s close. Plus, any movie that includes that amazing footage of Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel bitching to (and about) each other while trying to shoot promos is guaranteed to be one of the funniest movies of any given year.

Jeremy says: I also failed to mention Frederick Wiseman’s brilliant National Gallery. I’m pretty much a horrible person.

Chris says: As for what actually made the cut? Jeremy, you silly bitch, Citizenfour has this thing wrapped up with a bow on it.

Chris’ prediction: Citizenfour
Chris’ preference: Virunga

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role
Marion Cotillard, “Two Days, One Night”
Felicity Jones, “The Theory of Everything”
Rosamund Pike, “Gone Girl”
Julianne Moore, “Still Alice”
Reese Witherspoon, “Wild”

Marion Cotillard says: You all know you could have given me two nominations, right? I mean, after snubbing me for Rust and Bone, it’s the least you could do. I know, I know, Harvey Weinstein probably threatened to have all of your legs cut off if you threatened to even acknowledge the existence of The Immigrant, so I’ll forgive you for overlooking that one. But seriously, I’m like the best actress on the planet, right? All I’m saying is that the best actress on the planet totally deserves multiple nominations in the same category.

Gugu Mbatha-Raw says: Oh yeah, well what about me? I gave two great performances too, and even if my movies weren’t quite as good as yours, goddammit, I knocked those roles out of the park. Tell me you took your eyes off the screen even for a second during the “Blackbird” scene in Beyond the Lights. I’m not even asking for two nominations like Marion over here. Just one. Is that too much to ask?
Chris says: Yeah, I can’t really argue with you there. Either role should have warranted consideration.

Gugu Mbatha-Raw says: Also I have a perfect face.

Chris: Yes. Yes you do.

I feel bad complaining about this category because I like and respect all of these actresses and I actually thought they all did nice work. Even while I disliked The Theory of Everything, for example, Felicity Jones is a goddamn natural, and I expect a career full of Oscar nominations for her.

But the frustrating thing is that this was actually an incredible year for lead female performances, and most of the nominations went to extremely conventional choices. Julianne Moore has been the guaranteed winner here for months, but another award for playing someone with a disability, with everyone acting like it’s the best work of said actor’s career? She’s good in Still Alice, but it’s not fucking Boogie Nights or Far from Heaven. Similarly, I was a fan of Wild and Witherspoon is as strong as always. But everyone who plays a role where they’re on screen by themselves the whole time gets an Oscar nomination. (Well, everyone except Tom Hardy, but we’ll get to him later.) And Jones in Theory … the long-suffering wife of the guy with the disability? Ugh, it’s all so typical. Can the Academy get itself an imagination please?

Aside from Cotillard’s magnificent work in The Immigrant, how about Jenny Slate in Obvious Child? Or does “heartfelt, devastating comedy” not count as great acting? How about Emily Blunt for Edge of Tomorrow? Essie Davis for The Babadook? Hilary Swank for The Homesman? Scarlett Johansson for Under the Skin? Mira Barkhammar for We Are the Best! or Anne Dorval for Mommy? Emily Browning for God Help the Girl?

But I digress. While Moore is the clear winner, the best performance of the group — and the best performance, by anyone, in any category — is Rosamund Pike in Gone Girl. She has no shot to win because there’s little to no Academy enthusiasm for the movie, but she is next-level great as Amazing Amy. It’s astonishing how much she gets across with slight inflections in her tone of voice. She might have been both the funniest character and the most terrifying character of the year, often at the same time. Poisonous, seductive, hateful, sardonic, warm, cold … Pike did it all. It was a role that required her to be great, and she was even greater. I haven’t been that simultaneously terrified and enraptured by a girl since every single time I tried to talk to one as a teenager.

If I were to hold out hope, of a slightly more likely upset, though, it would be Cotillard — the only other actress of these five nominees that I would have considered nominating this year — who was her usual astonishing self in Two Days, One Night, memorably capturing the character’s exhaustion, her flickering hope, her quiet, just-under-the-surface desperation, in a way few (if any) other people could.

Chris’ prediction: Julianne Moore
Chris’ preference: Rosamund Pike

Jeremy says: I agree that Julianne Moore is long overdue for recognition, and that Still Alice will not go down as the best performance of her career, and that typically she's finally going to win for portraying someone with a disability. But let's not pretend this is your standard person-with-a-disability performance (see: the next category). Moore is, not surprisingly, really fucking good here. Her level of physical and verbal control is astounding, especially when her character is in the stage of her mind going, but still has most of her wits about her. As her character fights to retain her sense of self, Moore brings layers of depth and emotions that, let's face it, Still Alice would completely lack without her.

So as great as Cotillard is (and in a superior film), I'm going to go out on a crazy limb and say maybe the Academy isn't getting this one all wrong.

And as far as overlooked performances, I’m glad Chris mentioned Barkhammar. And in response to his request to see people talking about how good Emily Browning is in God Help the Girl, might I direct you here?

Jeremy's prediction: Julianne Moore
Jeremy's preference: Julianne Moore

Marion Cotillard as Lady Macbeth: I will fucking cut you, Jeremy. I will cut you.

Chris: Yeah, I understand the sentiment, Lady Macbeth. I’m not going to get violent with Jeremy, but I will say that he’s a crazy person for thinking Moore should win this category, and that it is a crazy-person type of thing to believe. You’re a crazy person, Jeremy. You admit it’s not the best performance of her career … yet it’s still better than Cotillard at (or near) her best? These two things do not compute.

Jeremy says: OK fine. Cotillard should win it. Happy?

Lady Macbeth: I don’t know … was my husband happy after I got my hooks into him?

[Lady Macbeth disappears into a cloud of smoke.]
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”

Jake Gyllenhaal says: Hey Academy members, what if my problem isn’t that I don't understand the Oscars but that I don’t like them? What if I was the kind of person who was obliged to hurt you for this? I mean physically. I think you’d have to believe afterward, if you could, that failing to nominate me was a mistake.
Jeremy says: I’m having a hard time mustering up much excitement for these nominees because Jake Gyllenhaal’s performance in Nightcrawler is ingrained in my mind. His portrayal of Lou Bloom (and I'm sure Chris will tell you about his role(s) in Enemy as well) is the kind of iconic performance that will be celebrated long after everyone recovers from the post-Oscars hangover. It’s creepy, haunting and darkly humorous. Bloom is such a puzzling character that every scene with him has an extra sense of mystique and an intangible urgency.

Other performances that should not be forgotten include Brendan Gleeson in Calvary, Oscar Isaac in A Most Violent Year and David Oyelowo in Selma.

As for the actual nominees, this race looks like it’s narrowed down to Michael Keaton and Eddie Redmayne (unless you think Bradley Cooper will take advantage of a split vote). The two performances illustrate a dichotomy between the intellectual and the emotional. Both actors bare their souls in their roles — Keaton as an actor struggling with his theatrical production and his sanity; Redmayne as a man struggling with an incurable disease. Birdman often leaves you guessing how you're supposed to react; Theory keeps it pretty well spelled out.

Keaton's performance is ultimately the trickier one, but it's also the less Oscar friendly. I mean, he’s going against a guy who isn't just playing a famous persons, but a disabled famous person. If you wanna bet against that, good luck.

If Keaton had the support to win this thing, it stands to reason that much of it would come from his fellow actors, who are both in awe of his long career and connect emotionally to Birdman’s themes. But Keaton didn’t win the SAG award, and those factors would have been amplified there. That leaves me to believe he just doesn’t have the support to topple Redmayne.

Jeremy’s prediction: Eddie Redmayne
Jeremy’s preference: Michael Keaton
Chris says: I couldn’t have described Gyllenhaal’s Nightcrawler greatness better myself, Jeremy. Agree with every word. Any time you’re being compared favorably to fucking Travis Bickle, you know you’re doing something right.

This category, though, good god. Seriously, give this a thought. Pretend that all five these nominees are disqualified for some reason, leaving five empty spots for Best Actor. Easy. Off the top of my head: Gyllenhaal in Nightcrawler, Ralph Fiennes in The Grand Budapest Hotel, Oyelowo in Selma, Jan Bijvoet in Borgman, Gleeson in Calvary. That group is more than deserving.

Now, say those five are disqualified. Guess what? Still easy: Gyllenhaal in Enemy. Tom Motherfucking Hardy in Locke. Aleksey Serebryakov in Leviathan. Isaac in A Most Violent Year. Jesse Eisenberg in The Double.

I’m not done! I’ve got another five for you! Jason Schwartzman in Listen Up Philip. Matthew McConaughey in Interstellar. Timothy Spahl in Mr. Turner. Philip Seymour Hoffman in A Most Wanted Man. Christoph Waltz in The Zero Theorem.

Yes, a Best Actor field of 20 nominees would have no duds. Well, except for maybe Cumberbatch and Redmayne, who got into the dance by doing the Give Me an Oscar Please thing. But I’m sure we could find a couple to replace those guys. Like Joaquin Phoenix in Inherent Vice, for example.

Jude Law says: Or how about me, Jude Law, from Dom Hemingway? Maybe I should tell you all about my cock again. Alright here we go:


Chris: Alright, alright, Jude, that’s enough. We’ve heard this monologue before. Heard it, loved it, but we’re strapped for time here.

Anyway, I’ve been pretty dismayed and surprised to see Redmayne come up and seize the momentum from Michael Keaton — first because Keaton’s performance is, simply, a lot better than Redmayne’s, but also because a Redmayne win just reinforces all the dumb stereotypes about the type of performance that wins Oscars. An incredibly famous person with a disability, whoop-de-fucking-doo. I’m being cynical, but this much is true: Any actor who did even a half-competent job looking and living in the part in a fucking Stephen Hawking biopic would have gotten nominated. That’s just how it works. Redmayne was fine (Felicity Jones was better), but there was much better work this year. Keaton, frankly, is amazing in Birdman. As I’ve said, I’m not the biggest cheerleader for that movie, but god, Keaton knocked me out. He’s been an underrated actor for a long time and I’ve love to see him honored after being largely irrelevant (in Hollywood terms, I mean) for too long. It’s so great to see him work in Birdman because he contends with so much — so much that’s beyond his control. It’s a performance of reactions — befuddlement and quietly bubbling frustration with the set of interviewers; desperation and self-doubt in almost every scene with Norton; solitary, calm, unspoken nobility during his cigarette break … which transforms into humiliation within moments. The movie puts him through the wringer but never decides to go Big — there really isn’t capital-A Acting here — it’s just nuanced and precise and hilarious and heartbreaking. Give the man a fucking trophy.

Chris’ prediction: Michael Keaton
Chris’ preference: Michael Keaton
Best Achievement in Directing
Wes Anderson, “The Grand Budapest Hotel”
Alejandro G. Iñárritu, “Birdman”
Richard Linklater, “Boyhood”
Bennett Miller, “Foxcatcher”
Morten Tyldum, “The Imitation Game”

What is a Morten Tyldum again? Is that like an old wooden ship? I’m pretty sure it sank off the coast of Sweden in 1628.
Chris says: This one is pretty clearly down to Linklater and Iñárritu, and I could have sworn (and have been swearing since the spring — just ask our friend Joe, he’ll tell you!) that Linklater was going to take it. But with Iñárritu winning the DGA and the BAFTA, it seems the tables have turned. First, to defend the choice, should he win it: I bristle at the common criticism of Iñárritu’s work on Birdman as being “style over substance” (an asinine criticism, on any level, at any time), or the idea that he’ll win because of how “flashy” his direction is. Arguments like that — especially when they come from critics — completely miss the point, because they show a refusal to engage with the work itself. Flashy or not flashy, the way Iñárritu directs Birdman completely defines what Birdman is. So either talk about why his approach works or doesn’t work as a storytelling device, or shut the fuck up.

For me, it works. While I thought the script was trite, the direction is thrilling, and I wouldn’t mind seeing him win. Even if I’d have rather he won it for Amores Perros or something.

As for Linklater, he’s been doing good work for so long that it would be cool to see him rewarded for it, even though I don’t think Boyhood ranks near his best work, and in certain scenes is actually rather aesthetically banal and/or clumsy. Where was the Academy when Dazed and Confused or Before Sunrise rolled around?

It’s clear by now that my favorite piece of filmmaking among these five choices is Wes Anderson on The Grand Budapest Hotel, but if he stands any kind of chance at picking up some hardware, it would be in the screenplay category, not director. Still, it still boggles my mind that we’re getting ready for an Oscar show in which a completely uncompromised Wes Anderson movie has nine nominations.

At this point, do I need to mention all the more worthy nominees I would have personally considered, or is that overkill? Eh, fuck it, I’ll just end up mentioning them again in the Best Picture discussion.

Chris’ prediction: Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Birdman
Chris’ preference: Wes Anderson, The Grand Budapest Hotel

Jeremy says: As far as this prediction goes, it's basically a choice between two different kinds of directorial commitment: one to an ambitious 12-year shoot, the other to a daring and complex stylistic endeavor. Both directors asked for a lot from their actors and got some remarkable performances. So does it come down to either which film has a better backstory, or which one the Academy liked more.

Frankly, neither of these ambitious titles seem like the kind of fare that would top the Academy’s priority list, but with The Theory of Everything and The Imitation Game not quite receiving the planned enthusiasm, they make for an interesting plan-B.

I do wonder if Birdman or (The Virtues of Not Trying to Predict the Oscars) might feel a little too strange and forced for a Best Picture win, but not a Best Director win. I think Iñárritu could win this and Boyhood could still win Best Picture, but if Linklater wins I think Boyhood will take the big one as well. Ah shit, I think I just spoiled my prediction in the next category.

Jeremy's prediction: Alejandro G. Iñárritu
Jeremy's preference: Richard Linklater
Best Motion Picture of the Year
“American Sniper”
“The Grand Budapest Hotel”
“The Imitation Game”
“The Theory of Everything”
Neil Patrick Harris says: And now it’s time for the moment you’ve all been waiting for — or just scrolled ahead to. Cheating bastards. I hope that my likability and charm haven’t hurt the article by giving Jeremy and Chris little inspiration for jokes.
Jeremy says: I kinda wonder if the Academy should have not nominated Selma for anything, just to make its lack of nominations anywhere else feel more organic. They really need to get their shit together next year. Ava DuVernay’s handsomely crafted historic epic seems like the stuff Oscar would be into — with no history and just a list of these eight films, I might have picked it as the most likely to win — but for whatever reason it didn't resonate. Still, it's a fine film worthy of a nomination.

But gradually a movie about the creative craft and the desire to be taken seriously has moved to the forefront. I fear I may be screwing myself over with the belief that Birdman or (How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Failing in My Oscar Predictions) is just not quite good enough to win Best Picture. It’s not that that is usually a metric, but it feels like something that isn't quite to the Academy’s taste, and therefore needs to be extra-perfect to take home the Oscar. If everyone else is right, then I’m probably underestimating the voting body’s emotional connection to the subject matter.

Linklater’s approach to Boyhood may also not fit with the tradition of big dramatic Oscar films, but in its way, it’s about how life does quietly, subtly add up to a big impact. Add that to the story of its production, and I think it narrowly edges out the competition.

Of course, you may have grown wise to the fact that I’d rather see some films on this list that aren’t here at all, especially Nightcrawler, The Immigrant and A Most Violent Year — not to mention some silly foreign films that never had a chance. But some of the nominees are good, so I’ll allow it.

Jeremy’s prediction: Boyhood
Jeremy’s preference: Boyhood or The Grand Budapest Hotel

Chris says: Yeah, Birdman certainly didn’t strike me as the Academy’s typical taste, and I had basically written off its Best Picture chances until recently, when it started dominating the guild awards. In fact, a couple months ago I had it in my mind that I was going to predict a surge for The Imitation Game, just because it seemed to fit all the normal Oscar checkboxes and had Harvey’s girth behind it. But it just never picked up much steam, except for its various screenplay wins.

A month after that, I was leaning toward picking an American Sniper upset, because it was the big story around Hollywood at the time — its box-office haul is astonishing — and it was directed by a legend and was buoyed by a unanimously respected lead performance. But that, too, petered out, and I really don’t think it has to do with all the controversy about Chris Kyle himself. I just think a lot of people just don’t like the movie all that much. Which, given how timid and largely ineffectual I found it to be personally, doesn’t really surprise me.

So that brought me back to Boyhood, which had been the frontrunner for months but still felt like an underdog just because it didn’t have the marketing and campaigning clout of some of the other contenders. And then this Birdman thing happened, and I had to reconsider all over again. You know what, for all I know, goddamn Theory of Everything is going to swoop in and take the top prize. But I doubt it. These days, with the sheer number of groups that give out awards and lay the groundwork for all the other award shows, this isn’t nearly as unpredictable as we all kind of wish it was. Usually, when a film like Birdman starts picking up all the big awards, it’s not by accident. So that’s where I think the Academy’s going to go.

As for me, it’s clear where I stand by now. Grand Budapest all the way.

But hey, it would have been nice if they’d nominated both of the Gyllenhaal movies or, like, Borgman or Leviathan or something.

Hey, a guy can dream.

Chris’ prediction: Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Winning an Award for Being the Fourth- or Fifth-Best Nominee)
Chris’ preference: The Grand Budapest Hotel

Jude Law says: OK, can I tell you about my cock now?

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