With the Academy Awards coming this Sunday night, two Maclean’s arts writers have assembled (walked to each other’s desks) to provide you with their picks to win statuettes on film’s biggest night. Here are the critics who will be making their calls on who will win (and who should win) eight of the most important award categories:
JAIME J. WEINMAN doesn’t really like anything if it isn’t in black and white and doesn’t have a laugh track. He also got almost every category wrong in his Oscar predictions last year. This makes him feel, if anything, more confident this year. The audience at the Academy Awards will be full of people who have gotten raises and million-dollar deals after making terrible films, so this is a night when we should celebrate the principle of failing upward.
ADRIAN LEE had the most correct picks from the 2014 edition of these predictions and, as a result, has spent the last 365 days basking in the decadent spoils of his glory (which is to say, he spent the 10 minutes immediately after the 2014 Academy Awards wolfing down a box of PC-brand Decadent cookies.) The last movie he saw in 2014 was The Interview, because it’s like the adage goes: The best way to finish a delicious meal is with a bowl of sewage.
Who Will Win: Boyhood. The main Oscar category is more interesting than usual this year, because there are at least four films whose victory might truly be meaningful, or at least would inspire a lot of think pieces. There are two “gimmick” pictures: Birdman’s Hitchcock-style trick of making the whole thing look like a single take, and Boyhood’s use of the same actors at different stages of their lives. Then there are two other films, both without Best Director nominations, that reflect cultural issues people feel very strongly about: Selma and American Sniper. I think Boyhood is the likely winner because it doesn’t have the postmodern wackiness of Birdman or anything obviously political. But it’s hard to see an obvious frontrunner.
Who Should Win: Boyhood. In an era of very plot-driven entertainment, it would be nice to see a winner with so little plot. And the gimmick, while not new, plays on one of the greatest powers of film: its ability to capture the same people at different ages and show us, in a way we rarely realize, how much people change over time. It takes film—or whatever it is we use now instead of film—to make us look at life so clearly.
Who Will Win: Boyhood, a movie that took 12 years to film and, with its nods to the rise of cellphones and the use of pop music of its time—Coldplay has never made me feel weepier—managed to make Millennials feel feelings in a quiet, unostentatious way. Against all odds, though, this all-time great Bildungsroman has the edge only by a hair; American Sniper, which enjoyed huge commercial success, is nipping at its heels. And since the Academy didn’t reward American Hustle last year, it may feel the need this year to make up for choosing a critically adored film, and not the commercially successful, above-average one with America in the title.
Who Should Win: Birdman. Not that Boyhood‘s victory would be disappointing; in fact, it’s a legitimately stunning work, and the Oscars recognizing the quiet revolution of this artful, mostly plotless film and ignoring more typically Oscar-y fare like American Sniper and The Imitation Game would be something of a coup. The problem is that Boyhood becomes such a difficult movie to judge because of how inextricably linked it is to the formal experiment of filming over 12 years, which can make it difficult to assess for narrative and direction. (Also the fact that this is perhaps the ultimate slice-of-life film makes it, at times, a little objectively boring, even if that is perfectly reflective of the vicissitudes of life.) Birdman, on the other hand, is a fun, effervescent and thoughtful meditation on celebrity that, for all those reasons, eliminates it from consideration, even if it was triumphant at the Golden Globes. It even features the work of a cinematographer the Academy loves to nominate, the legendary Emmanuel Lubezki, but who has only come up with a single Oscar, for the 2013 triumph Gravity, so it feels even more like a bridesmaid.
Who Will Win: Michael Keaton (Birdman). Comeback stories are irresistible to voters, even in the context of a movie that is partly an ironic take on comeback stories.
Who Should Win: Bradley Cooper (American Sniper). His character is difficult to play because he’s so ambiguous, and everyone projects onto him what they want him to stand for: Some people see him as a hero, others as a dupe; some people pity him and some fear him. Cooper got all this into one performance without just making him a blank slate.
Who Will Win: Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything). It’s a terribly tight field full of standout performances, even if Redmayne’s in The Theory of Everything was, by my eye, nothing truly special. But the Screen Actors’ Guild award has been taking the fun out of this category for literally a decade—since 2005, it awarded its Outstanding Performance from a Male Actor award to the man who would go on to take the Oscar—and Redmayne took the prize back in January.
Who Should Win (Selma.) David Oyelowo, for his amazing and daring embodiment of Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma, except that he wasn’t even nominated, which is insane. So I’ll agree with Jaime’s assessment that Bradley Cooper was spectacular in American Sniper, probably the only spectacular thing about that movie. Cast someone else, I think, and the movie becomes a mess.
Who Will Win: Felicity Jones (The Theory of Everything). You usually need a nod or two to traditional inspirational biopics, and Jones is the kind of rising female star the Academy likes to honour at this point in her career: She’s young enough to have her most lucrative roles ahead of her, but not so young that she hasn’t “paid her dues.”
Who Should Win: Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl). She’s playing someone with her own agenda in a year when most of the other nominees are Overcoming Adversity. I always go for the character who’s fun, because there aren’t enough roles like that, especially for women.
Who Will Win: Julianne Moore (Still Alice). She has never won an Oscar. (What? How?) In classic Oscar form, she will win for a showy performance of a professor with early-onset Alzheimer’s in Still Alice, to make up for past wrongs—it has been foretold since basically the beginning
of time of Oscar season.
Who Should Win: Moore is a rightful lock. That being said, I’ve been surprised that Reese Witherspoon’s depiction of Cheryl Strayed in Wild has been getting no love, partly because the gig was so clearly Oscar-baity and partly because, as the person with whom the audience is spending almost every minute of the film with, often alone in the woods, she succeeds despite needing to do extremely heavy lifting.
Who Will Win: Ethan Hawke (Boyhood). I think the Academy will like the film’s adult leads for two reasons: one, the commitment it required to keep coming back when Linklater needed them, and two, the craft it takes for an actor to work with a lead who isn’t a professional. The only question is whether they’ll get a backlash for entering themselves in the supporting category, when they’re co-leads with the boy (who wasn’t nominated).
Who Should Win: Mark Ruffalo (Foxcatcher). This doesn’t strike me as a very exciting category this year, but I’ll go with Ruffalo because sports movies don’t get enough respect, and for the Hulk jokes that will ensue.
Who Will Win: J.K. Simmons (Whiplash). The extremely versatile actor, whom I simply cannot divorce from his portrayal of news editor J. Jonah Jameson in the original Spiderman films, is listed in the supporting actor category, which feels unfair, since his performance as a terrifying drum teacher is the defining feature of Whiplash.
Who Should Win: Simmons. You can safely take out a Farmers Insurance policy on his victory. That being said, I really like the idea of Edward Norton winning an Oscar for playing basically Edward Norton in Birdman, or some acknowledgment of Ruffalo’s understated excellence in what was the best performance in a strong trio in Foxcatcher, a movie that managed to be worse than the sum of its parts.
Who Will Win: Patricia Arquette (Boyhood). Same reasons as Ethan Hawke.
Who Should Win: Patricia Arquette. It’ll be something to remind her that she’s too good to be playing the lead in CSI: Cyber.
Who Will Win: Laura Dern (Wild). Canadian filmmaker Jean-Marc Vallée is a career redeemer, having done so with Matthew McConaughey in Dallas Buyers Club—it’s just that everyone thought that’d happen for Reese Witherspoon and not for Dern, playing Laura Dern, for playing Cheryl Strayed’s unfailingly sunny mom, Bobbi.
Who Should Win: Patricia Arquette (Boyhood). Seriously, it’s crazy that Patricia Arquette is in CSI: Cyber. But she also deserves this win for providing many of the most emotional moments in Boyhood, an observation confirmed by her victory at the Golden Globes.
Who Will Win: Alejandro González Iñárritu (Birdman). For many Academy voters, “directing” doesn’t really mean making the best film, it just means doing the most obviously difficult job. And there’s nothing that impresses them as much as a big, long take.
Who Should Win: Richard Linklater (Boyhood). Sustaining a movie without a lot of story, and with a lead actor who isn’t really an actor, seems like the more impressive achievement here. If Ava DuVernay were nominated for Selma, I might pick her for taking a story that could have been another dreary liberal inspirational film (like The Butler) and making it something people could actually get interested in and argue about.
Who Will Win: Alejandro González Iñárritu (Birdman). Beautiful movie, beautiful vision, dark wryness, essentially Iñárritu. It feels like the stylistic wonder that he’s been working up to in his career.
Who Should Win: Richard Linklater (Boyhood). Birdman is a remarkable feat of creative derring-do, so much so that it can blind you from the sheer mass of the vision in Boyhood, a movie that feels like it was filmed from a camcorder in a single take, the feeling of which, on its own, should be worth granting this prize to Linklater.
Who Will Win: Emmanuel Lubezki (Birdman). Cinematography is another of those categories that depends largely on how obviously difficult a job it was. That should make Birdman a natural.
Who Should Win: Dick Pope (Mr. Turner). As Mike Leigh’s cinematographer, he’s done 25 years of important work without much awards recognition.
Who Will Win: Emmanuel Lubezki (Birdman). Make it two in a row, after years of being shut out. For proof, I point you to the guy’s amazing Instagram feed.
Who Should Win: Birdman, no question. But in another year? Wes Anderson is finally getting serious affection in the cinema world, rather than being viewed as a twee outsider, and a win for The Grand Budapest Hotel, perhaps his strongest work yet, in part because of its perfected visual quirks, would be great to see.
Who Will Win: Wes Anderson (The Grand Budapest Hotel). This is the first movie that ever got Anderson any major Oscar attention, and if it doesn’t take any of the big prizes, this will at least confirm the fact that the establishment doesn’t hate him anymore.
Who Should Win: Wes Anderson. Sure, he’s mostly known as a visual stylist, but his scripts are a major part of his style, and have an old-Hollywood precision you rarely see in modern movies.
Who Will Win: Wes Anderson (The Grand Budapest Hotel). The Academy shocked me—shocked me!—last year by anointing the Original Screenplay Oscar to Spike Jonze’s hipster Her, dismissed by many watchers as too hipster for the stodgy voters, instead of the institutional and staid American Hustle script. Buoyed by a newfound affection for originality, which is, after all, in the title of the award, I’m going to say this year’s prize recognizes a similarly hipster auteur, Wes Anderson, for his relentlessly original The Grand Budapest Hotel.
Who Should Win: The Grand Budapest Hotel. Don’t let me down, Academy (he said, at the end of a piece that literally highlights the difference between what we want and our generally dim expectations of the Academy).