Thursday, January 15, 2015

2015 Early Oscar Observations and Predictions

The nominations for the Academy Awards were announced this morning, and, yes, I live-streamed them - that's how much of an Oscar nerd I am. This marks my eleventh year of publishing my predictions, and my 22nd overall watching and picking the Oscars. For the record, here are my stats over the past decade of publishing my predictions. (Note that I have made the switch this year to the year that the Oscars are hosted in, rather than the year in which the movies were released, so the years will be slightly different from previous years.)

2014: 8/9, missed Original Screenplay
2013: 6/9, missed Director, Supporting Actor, and Animated Feature
2012: 8/9, missed Actress
2011: 7/9, missed Director and Original Screenplay
2010: 6/9, missed Picture, Adapted Screenplay, and Original Screenplay
2009: 8/9, missed Actor
2008: 6/9, missed Actress, Supporting Actress, and Adapted Screenplay
2007: 5/9, missed Picture, Actor, Supporting Actor, and Animated Feature
2006: 7/9, missed Picture and Supporting Actress
2005: 7/9, missed Picture and Original Screenplay

If you break it down by category, here are what my percentages look like over the past decade:
Best Picture: 6/10 (missed 2005, 2006, 2007, 2010)
Best Director: 8/10 (missed 2011, 2013)
Best Actor: 8/10 (missed 2007, 2009)
Best Actress: 8/10 (missed 2008, 2012)
Best Supporting Actor: 8/10 (missed 2007, 2013)
Best Supporting Actress: 8/10 (missed 2006, 2008)
Best Animated Feature: 8/10 (missed 2007, 2013)
Best Original Screenplay: 6/10 (missed 2005, 2010, 2011, 2014)
Best Adapted Screenplay: 8/10 (missed 2008, 2010)
Total: 68/90 for 75.5% accuracy.

Now, onto this year's nominations.

Overall thoughts on the nominations


This year, perhaps as much as any in recent memory, is testament to the power of the Oscar narrative and the late awards season PR blitz; some movies benefit (Grand Budapest Hotel, Whiplash, American Sniper), while others (apparently) suffer from a last-minute PR hit (Selma, Foxcatcher). It also demonstrates the continuing division between different parts of the Academy (ie. old white Republicans and young diverse voices), as well as the general groupthink that pervades the entire process. While it is a positive that movies like Whiplash (or Amour or Philomena, to cite recent examples) manage to make the short list now, for each movie that makes it, there are many more (Nightcrawler most prominently this year) that are still on the outside looking in.

Also, I find it interesting that after the last few years that have featured several films and performances that have focused on themes and issues of significance to minorities that this year is an almost entire whitewash. All acting nominees are white, only one Best Picture nominee addresses issues of race (Selma), and Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu is the only non-white Director nominated. It seems that the Academy felt that they had done their duty by giving Directing awards to Ang Lee and Alfonso Cuaron in the past two years, and that having 12 Years a Slave and Lupita Nyong'o win last year meant that they were now cleared of being racist, so they didn't really have to look past the majority this year. It could be argued, of course, that the performances and accomplishments honoured really were the year's best, and I'm certainly not advocating for quotas, but it seems odd that the Academy reverted to form so quickly in honouring primarily the dominant culture. (Read Mark Harris' take on the Selma omissions here).

Best Picture(s)


The shocker may have been that there were only eight pictures nominated for Best Picture, but none of them were that much of a surprise, considering the recent surge of American Sniper. (Mark Harris of Grantland actually got all eight correct!) The biggest surprise was Foxcatcher's omission, but as Harris observed, it probably didn't really have a chance anyway, along with its ilk such as Nightcrawler and Inherent Vice (or Inside Llewyn Davis or The Master or Drive in recent years) that were just a tad too dark or edgy for the Academy; Whiplash seems to have met that need for Best Picture. Interstellar, Unbroken and Into the Woods never really got the critical traction they needed (unlike Selma, which did), and Gone Girl was a little too genre for this year's group (or something).

The entire spectrum skews indie this year after a few years of studio-focused nominations, but that's more due to the general dearth of good material from the main studios. The nominees divide into their usual archetypes: a controversial pick (American Sniper); indie faves and raves (Whiplash); studio biopics (The Theory of Everything, The Imitation Game, and Selma); a film-maker's movie/lifetime achievement award (Grand Budapest Hotel); and the clear frontrunners (Birdman and Boyhood). Birdman - which could be considered the first superhero movie ever to be nominated, I suppose - looks poised to win a few awards, but it seems like Boyhood has a good shot at taking it. I will note, however, that only twice since 1978 has the winning Best Picture had fewer than seven nominations - Crash in 2005 with 6 and The Departed in 2006 with 5, so Boyhood could be facing an interesting bias with only six nominations. Still, it's the early leader.

In regard to Best Animated Feature, I was ready to pre-emptively crown The Lego Movie as the winner, but for some unforeseen reason, it wasn't nominated. I think the leader is Big Hero 6, but How To Train Your Dragon 2 might be awarded in lieu of its predecessor.

Directing and Writing


Best Director is a mostly run-of-the-mill category in which Bennett Miller made history in two ways. He has been nominated for all three of the movies he has directed (the only comparable feat I can recall is David O. Russell's three consecutive nominations in four years, but those weren't his first three), and he is the first Director nominated without a Best Picture nomination under the new expanded Best Picture format, which shows how close Foxcatcher likely was to receiving a nomination. Either way, the only notable omission here was Selma's Ava DuVernay, who would have been the first African-American woman nominated in this category, but alas. Wes Anderson finally gets his due with The Grand Budapest Hotel, but he is along for the ride here, along with The Imitation Game's Morten Tyldum, nominated for his first film. It comes down again to the two technical towers: Inarritu for Birdman and Linklater for Boyhood. It could go either way, but I suspect that Linklater's twelve-year devotion to his craft will earn him the Oscar for Boyhood.

Best Adapted Screenplay is an interesting category. The slots many predicted would go to the Nick Hornby for Wild and Gillian Flynn for adapting her own novel Gone Girl went instead to Jason Hall for American Sniper and P.T. Anderson for Inherent Vice (which is itself a nod to the task he faced in adapting a novel by Thomas Pynchon), so they are likely not going to win. It seems like the British biopics will cancel each other out, which leaves us with Damien Chazelle for Whiplash as the winner. Sounds about right.

Best Original Screenplay is also interesting, and it's easily the most difficult category to pick. It features the three most nominated movies, including the two front runners, as well as Nightcrawler and Foxcatcher, which are happy to be nominated but likely deserving in their own right. It could be either Birdman or Boyhood that wins here, but I suspect that this could be a category in which Grand Budapest Hotel wins Anderson a long-overdue Oscar. I'll give it the early lead.

Acting


Best Actor seems the most clear cut of the four acting categories. Carell has made the leap after a decade, but he won't be awarded on his first go. The Brits - Cumberbatch and Redmayne - should cancel each other out, leaving the early front runner, Michael Keaton for Birdman, and his top competition - Bradley Cooper. Cooper - the only former nominee in any category - was a surprise nomination, but it's his third in three years and first for Best Actor, and he could garner some sentiment. I still think it's Keaton's to lose.

Best Actress features two new nominees (and fairly fresh actresses, period), two former winners, and Julianne Moore, who now has almost as many nominations (5) as notable non-nominations (7? 8?) with her first nomination since 2003. She is guaranteed to win.

Best Supporting Actor has only one previous winner (Robert Duvall), two previous nominees (Norton and Ruffalo), and two long-serving but surprisingly first-time nominees (Hawke and Simmons). My sense is that Norton and Ruffalo will receive the "we can honor them later" treatment, and that Hawke's nuanced performance will be overshadowed by the juicy iconic role of the one-time "Hey! It's That Guy!" J.K. Simmons.

Best Supporting Actress has a similar make-up to the other categories: a previous nominee/winner (Streep); a young first-time nominee (Stone); a "we can nominate her later" nominee (Knightley); and two actresses with surprisingly few nominations despite long careers (Dern and Arquette). It seems like the award is Patricia Arquette's to lose, particularly in the wake of the "Boyhood was filmed over a dozen years" narrative that seems like it will need to be awarded with one acting win.

Technical Categories and Final Thoughts


As usual, I'm not going to hold myself to predictions in the technical categories, though I will make a few observations. I think Birdman is perched to win a few categories (pun intended), as well as Grand Budapest Hotel. I'll be interested to see if The Lego Movie's "Everything is Awesome" can pull the upset over Selma's "Glory" for Best Original Song, and whether Interstellar can manage to win a technical award or two. But I'll hold out for picking those until my final picks on the weekend that includes Feb. 22, the day of the awards (which are only five weeks away).

In those five weeks, it seems like I have some "homework", as this is by far the lowest number of nominated movies that I have seen before the nominations probably since I started on this intentional track in 2005. Of the major nominees, I have only seen The Grand Budapest Hotel - though I certainly feel the need to watch it again (which may have to wait for a couple of months). That means I have yet to see Boyhood, Birdman, Whiplash, The Imitation Game, The Theory of Everything, Selma, and Foxcatcher in some order, with Nightcrawler and Inherent Vice in the mix; I'm not sure about prioritizing American Sniper, though I imagine I should see it at some point, even if only for Cooper's performance. That's nine movies in my immediate queue with a tenth hovering on the edges for those counting at home, which means I might have a busy - and intense, judging by this year's nominees - few weeks ahead of me. Then again, there are worse ways to occupy my time - I could always watch through these stinkers nominated for this year's Razzie Awards... (of which I have again proudly seen none, and I intend to keep it that way.)

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