And the Oscar goes to: Either a boy or a birdman

Our personal picks, the odds on favourites, films that did not deserve nominations and those that should have got nominations but did not.

 |  8-minute read |   22-02-2015
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The grandmother of all international film awards is coming up. As film buffs gouge each other's eyes out over who will be the big Oscar winners this year, let me add to the din of debates in your home in the run-up to the awards given away by the US' Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The ceremony will be held in Los Angeles on February 22 evening, that's the morning of Monday, February 23, for us in India.

Here are my predictions for the four most glamorous gongs at Oscars 2015:

Best Picture:

Nominees: American Sniper, Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), Boyhood, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Imitation Game, Selma, The Theory of Everything, Whiplash.

This is a tough battle, primarily between Richard Linklater's Boyhood and Alejandro González Iñárritu's Birdman.

Shot over a period of 12 years with the same cast, Boyhood is mind-bogglingly challenging and fascinating at a conceptual level. Its qualitative merit though lies in the way Linklater tells this understated coming-of-age story of young Mason Evans and his family as if we are witnessing life happening before us on screen. Birdman is jazzier, more energetic and supremely entertaining.

Boyhood was considered a shoo-in for this award by many as it scooped up prize after prize from critics' bodies and the Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture Drama in early January. Then it was beaten by Birdman to the Producers Guild of America award plus the prestigious Screen Actors Guild (SAG) award for its entire cast. Then Boyhood beat Birdman to the BAFTA for Best Film on February 8. And suddenly the field was wide open again.

Some observers are hoping for an upset that would give the little golden statuette to The Imitation Game, aided by its unprecedented box-office performance (the trade publication Variety reports that it is the top-grossing independent film release of 2014). However, the grand prize will in all probability elude Morten Tyldum's film about British mathematical genius Alan Turing who headed a team that aided the Allies in World War II by cracking the Nazis' Enigma code for communication, but was in later years prosecuted for his homosexuality. The Academy's discomfort with overtly gay themes is not unknown. After all in the face-off between Ang Lee's gloriously beautiful Brokeback Mountain and Paul Haggis' more conventional even if lovely Crash in 2006, voters gave the Best Director Oscar to Lee but Best Picture to the safer Crash. Remember?

If anything could play spoiler to the artistic virtues of Boyhood and Birdman then, it is the raw energy and (American) patriotic appeal of Clint Eastwood's controversial American Sniper, the biopic of US military shooter Chris Kyle with a reportedly unmatched track record of kills at war. Adding to the film's emotional draw for Academy voters is the fact that Kyle was murdered in 2013, allegedly by a fellow veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) who he was trying to help; and his murder trial has just begun this month. Also going in the legendary gunman's favour is his current box-office momentum since the film was released worldwide as late as mid-January 2015 and is continuing to rake in a fortune.

My personal pick: Boyhood.

Most likely winner: In a close fight between Boyhood and Birdman, the odds seem to favour Birdman now.

Could play spoiler: American Sniper.

Should not have been nominated: Selma. This nomination is the Oscar's bow to political correctness, not good cinema. Negatives: A dry documentary-like storytelling style and questionable, possibly dishonest, simplistic good-black-guy-versus-evil-white-man racial politics. Even a close associate of Martin Luther King has gone on the record to tell The Washington Post that King shared a cordial relationship with US President Lyndon Baines Johnson, which contradicts the antagonism portrayed between them almost throughout this film.

Should have been nominated: Nightcrawler with its biting representation of sleazy, unethical "journalism".

Best Director:

Nominees: Alejandro González Iñárritu (Birdman), Bennett Miller (Foxcatcher), Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game), Richard Linklater (Boyhood), Wes Anderson (The Grand Budapest Hotel).

This is another close contest - between Linklater for Boyhood and Iñárritu for Birdman. Linklater has already bagged a Golden Globe and BAFTA for Best Director, while Iñárritu walked away with the Directors Guild of America Award. The trends during this awards season throw up this question: Will the Academy once again give the best picture and best director trophies to two different films?

My personal pick: Richard Linklater for Boyhood.

Most likely winner: Again, a close fight between Linklater and Iñárritu, with Linklater having a slight edge.

Should not have been nominated: Bennett Miller for the very dull Foxcatcher that makes a boring mess of a highly dramatic real life story of drugs and murder in sports.

Should have been nominated: Dan Gilroy for Nightcrawler.

Another grouse: Why isn't Damien Chazelle nominated for the impeccably paced music school drama Whiplash?

Chazelle could have replaced: Morten Tyldum for The Imitation Game.

Best Actress:

Nominees: Felicity Jones (The Theory of Everything), Julianne Moore (Still Alice), Marion Cotillard (Two Days, One Night), Reese Witherspoon (Wild), Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl).

Without question the front-runner here is Julianne Moore for her underplayed, profoundly introspective, nuanced, heartbreaking performance in Still Alice as a Columbia University linguistics professor diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's disease. In a category filled with very talented ladies - including previous Academy winners Marion Cotillard and Reese Witherspoon - Moore's Oscar odds have improved with each passing awards function. She has already picked up this year's Golden Globe, SAG and BAFTA in addition to numerous film critics' association awards. If she does not win the Oscar, it will be a huge upset.

My personal pick: Julianne Moore.

Most likely winner: Julianne Moore.

Possible - very unlikely - spoilers: Rosamund Pike, Reese Witherspoon.

Should have been nominated: Jennifer Aniston for Cake.

Aniston could have replaced: Felicity Jones.

Best Actor:

Nominees: Benedict Cumberbatch (The Imitation Game), Bradley Cooper (American Sniper), Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything), Michael Keaton (Birdman), Steve Carell (Foxcatcher).

Former Batman Michael Keaton was cruising along comfortably with a slew of critics awards in his kitty till two things happened in January: The Theory of Everything and American Sniper were released, and young Eddie Redmayne vanquished him in a head-to-head match for a SAG and a BAFTA. At the Golden Globes, they had each already bagged a best actor trophy in their respective categories, Keaton for motion picture comedy or musical and Redmayne for motion picture drama.

Now it seems that Redmayne - not Keaton - is the man to beat in this group, for his performance as the internationally celebrated physicist Stephen Hawking who was diagnosed early in life with Lou Gehrig's Disease that has left him wheelchair-bound and unable to speak. Still, Keaton remains the emotional favourite with Birdman somewhat mirroring his own life: It's the story of a veteran actor who once played a superhero called Birdman on screen and is now trying to salvage his fading career by turning to the stage.

The man who could defeat both these wonderful actors is Bradley Cooper who completely erased his naturally hunky persona for his role as a troubled military veteran in American Sniper. Cooper's character has neither the physical bombast of the down-and-out actor played by Keaton nor the physically debilitating condition that Redmayne had to fall back on. His is a deeply internalised and outstanding performance. In news that would please Redmayne fans though, points out that the SAG winner has gone on to win the equivalent Oscar for the last ten years.

However, here's a fun fact that will have you tearing your hair out in confusion as you arrive at your own list of likely winners: Cooper was not in contention for any of the aforementioned awards bagged by Keaton and Redmayne because his film was released so late in the day (it had a limited US release on Christmas 2014, but the film's worldwide release was only in mid-January). Besides, this is his third consecutive nomination whereas the others in his category are all first-timers, and as Variety reminds us, "of the 20 other actors who have ever received three consecutive (or more) Oscar nominations, 60 per cent won a statue in the first three years". Onward then to a nail-biting finish, gentlemen.

My personal pick: Bradley Cooper.

Most likely winner: In a close contest between Eddie Redmayne and Michael Keaton, it's Redmayne who now has the edge.

Likely spoiler: Bradley Cooper.

Should not have been nominated: Steve Carell for Foxcatcher. Oh for God's sake, transformative make-up and the decision to go against your track record doth not the best performance make! Commendable turn by Carell, but others were way better.

Should have been nominated: Jake Gyllenhaal for Nightcrawler.


Anna MM Vetticad Anna MM Vetticad @annavetticad

The writer is the author of The Adventures of an Intrepid Film Critic.

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