Published on January 16th, 2015 | by Greg Payne0
Oscars 2015 – Nomination Day
When the nominees for the 87th Academy Awards were revealed well before sunup in Los Angeles this morning, the list wasn’t too surprising in retrospect, considering the way the critical breeze has been blowing throughout the preliminary awards season. Still, while I’d argue that this is one of the most downright bizarre and varied lineups for Best Picture nods in many a moon, the overall list is a curious mix of revolutionary and reactionary. While there’s possibly never been a film as stylistically daring as Iñárritu’s as a leading contender, the presence of a dully topical Eastwood movie as a late-breaking finalist shows an Academy at aesthetic war with itself.
Despite the general public moaning about the paucity of quality films out there (this moaning usually accompanies a screed on why so many people turn to downloading: “Well, if Hollywood would make good movies, we’d pay those high ticket prices to see them…”) 2014 was actually a pretty solid year. While there was nothing that emerged with a popular/critical ferocity to make it a landmark such as, say 1994—with Pulp Fiction, Quiz Show, The Shawshank Redemption and, love it or hate it, Forrest Gump taking up four of the Best Pic nods that year—the last twelve months help more than its share of treasures. I had trouble winnowing my own list down to a top ten…tiny, barely-released genre pics were shuffled into CGI’d crowd-pleasers and festival hits and I was surprised at how many had stuck with me.
The Best Picture nominees run a similar gamut. There are the festival winners (TIFF champion The Imitation Game and Sundance breakout Whiplash), the earnest bio-pics (Selma and The Theory of Everything), the token old-Hollywood nod (American Sniper), a “we’ve snubbed him long enough” acquiescence (The Grand Budapest Hotel), and rounding it out, two movies that would have played tiny arthouses ten or fifteen years ago, and in 2014 would ideally herald more studio risk-taking if the box office had been a big bigger (Boyhood and Birdman). Speaking of the almighty grosses: how weird is it that the biggest-grossing movie of all the nominees is a Wes Anderson flick? American Sniper just opened and will probably ultimately outperform it, but seriously?
At the ceremonies in 1997, host Billy Crystal jokingly welcomed the crowd to “Sundance by the sea,” quipping at the presence of Breaking the Waves, Fargo, Shine and Secrets & Lies in the running for top honours, and a legion of then-relatively-unknown actors filling their respective categories. The 2015 nominees show the evolution of the Hollywood system to make room for the outsiders, or to put it less charitably, the list demonstrates how their absorption into the hive mind is now complete.
The bigger question this year, as it happens from time to time, was “who wouldn’t make the cut?” While the number of possible noms in the Best Picture category (and I’ll stop rambling about it soon) was expanded for the 2009 Oscars essentially because of The Dark Knight being shut out despite its billion-dollar bonanza, the other categories stayed locked. Five each for all four acting, both writing, and the directing categories means than in a year as filled with critically lauded performances as this one, loads of worthy competitors were left hanging, but it was hard to actively complain too much about the ones that made it in. So nothing for Jake Gyllenhaal or Amy Adams, but no one particularly doubts they’ll be back. And even eight nominees for the top prize left out such highly-celebrated movies as Foxcatcher, Inherent Vice and Nightcrawler, but looking over that list I wonder how easily their dark subject matter really sat with the voters.
So anyway, skipping the docs and the shorts (none of which I’ve seen) here are my thoughts and predictions for the Biggest, Most Endless Night in Hollywood (coming February 22nd).
Best Picture: I’ve gone on enough about the noms already, but I suspect it’ll come down to either The Imitation Game, which is practically A Beautiful Mind Redux, or Boyhood, which is riding a critical wave unlike almost any other this year. I’ll go out on a limb and place my money on Boyhood.
Best Actor: A few months ago, I would have guessed that it would be a runoff between Steve Carell and Benedict Cumberbatch; both were sailing through festival season and the year-end critics’ circles collecting plaudits. Then Michael Keaton appeared out of nowhere as a dark horse, and flipped the table over. At this point it’s likely Keaton’s to lose. Hollywood loves a comeback story, and a meta one such as Birdman would feel even better to Academy voters than McConaughey ending a long dry spell with his solid run last year. So I say Keaton, with Cumberbatch as the spoiler.
Best Actress: The nominees include two previous winners in movies that nobody’s seen (Marion Cotillard in Two Days, One Night and Reese Witherspoon in Wild), Felicity Jones as this year’s bio-pic gamine and Rosamund Pike, who in any other year might well have sailed through to the statuette after she knocked back her accent for a big glossy old-school mystery thriller helmed by a supreme craftsman. Two things work against her this year: Gone Girl was possibly the coldest movie David Fincher’s ever made and while the twisty plot inspired think-pieces out the yin-yang, that doesn’t translate to real love (see how it was left off the best pic list, and perennial fave Fincher didn’t get a directing nod). And she’s up against Still Alice‘s Julianne Moore full stop. This is Moore’s fifth Oscar nomination and she got it for playing an Alzheimer’s patient: it’s hers in a walk. If Big Eyes had found a little more popular love, she’d have been up against Amy Adams (who currently also sits at five). As it stands, I’m sure Adams is taking a hint from the Gervais/Winslet playbook and is on the phone with her agent at this moment trying to suss out the next big holocaust drama.
Best Supporting Actor: While it’ll be close, I suspect that J.K. Simmons will edge out Mark Ruffalo and take the gold. Ruffalo has been both a critical and audience favorite since 2000’s You Can Count On Me, and will almost unquestioningly get the prize one day, but Simmons is holding up the Chris Cooper edge of the tent in this year’s crop of nominees. His long career as a character actor took a sharp, star-making turn this year when he came out all guns a-blazing in Whiplash. As for the others, Duvall is a nostalgia vote, Ethan Hawke has never fallen so low career-wise that Boyhood would be seen as his comeback, and Edward Norton is the second guy in this category to play the Incredible Hulk. Hey, I just realized that!
Best Supporting Actress: This category’s even more of a gimme than Best Actor. While Meryl Streep is in here out of contractual obligation with the Oscar telecast’s producers (okay, she was really good in Into The Woods), Patricia Arquette is the only actress out of the other four nominees who seems to have captured the heart of audiences at large with her decade-long, lived-in performance. If Boyhood wins nothing else, which is always a remote possibility, expect Arquette to be up at the podium.
Best Director: The Academy’s been splitting the wealth more and more in recent years, with Picture and Director wins going to separate films. That could well be the case this year. Bennett Miller’s the long shot, considering that Foxcatcher didn’t get a Best Picture nod. Morten Tyldum is equally far back in the mix because, even if The Imitation Game pulls an upset, the film itself was directed with no particular personality. Wes Anderson is the only one of the five nominees with an immediately identifiable visual style; that same style also rubs some people as twee and arch, and he’s a real “love him or hate him” choice. I predict a split for 2015 then…Richard Linklater will have to be content with a Best Picture win while Alejandro González Iñárritu will make it into the history books as the second Mexican director in a row to take top honours in his category.
So that’s it for me for the big ones. Looking forward to the debates between now and the big night, and for the first time in a few years, I’m genuinely excited about the Oscars themselves. The slate of nominees is actually eccentric and wide-ranging for the first time in recent memory, and promises surprises no matter where you lay your bets.
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