He got them all right last year—how will Elijah fare in 2015?
Well, folks, another year has gone by, and despite the Doomsday Clock being at its closest to midnight since 1984, we are still here. A lot has changed since February 2014, but some things remain the same. Isn’t that a reassurance, to know exactly what you’ll be doing at a given time, every year? I know what I’ll be doing on February 22nd 2015 – like millions of others around the globe, I will be tuning in to the 87th Academy Awards ceremony.
Last year, I wrote: “The truth is that the Academy is undergoing a period of serious transition. In only a few years, we’ve seen a woman win a Best Director award, more ethnical groups represented than ever before, and people seemingly destined for a life of anonimity pulled out of their ordinary lives by well-deserved nominations.”
I stand by that, but I may have spoken too fast. This year has been, some say, too male-centric. Too white. #OscarSoWhite became a popular trend on Twitter, in apparent payback for the omission of “Selma” in the Best Director and Best Actor categories. Yes, no woman was nominated for Best Director. Yes, all Acting nominees were white. Does that mean that racism or sexism is in play?
I wouldn’t be so sure. What if a snub is just that – what if Academy members genuinely prefer one movie, or one performance, to another? Should they nominate a person solely to appease a certain community? Vote for someone solely on the basis of their ethnicity or gender? Wouldn’t that be just as bad as not nominating them in the first place? In both cases, that person would be given an unequal treatment.
The problem with art is that it is inherently subjective. Academy members found “Selma” worthy of a Best Picture and a Best Original Song nomination. They chose to reward other films in other categories. They are entitled to an opinion, and we shouldn’t try to force their hand. If anything is to be learned from this controversy, it is that perhaps not enough African-American and female filmmakers are given an opportunity to make the films they really want to make. People rallied behind “Selma” precisely because it was perhaps the only film to have been given that opportunity in the last year.
But enough polemics. Let’s get down to Oscar predictions! Read no further if you wish to avoid spoilers! Last year, they all came true.
There are eight films competing for the award this year, all of them worthy of consideration. When you think of the kind of films that win Oscars, you typically think of heavy historical dramas – commonly known as Oscar bait. But sometimes, you’re in for a surprise. The two front-runners are unlikely candidates, notable for their bold artistic choices: Richard Linklater’s Boyhood and Alejandro G. Iñarittu’s Birdman.
Boyhood is a tender look at the life of a young boy and his family. Admirably, it was filmed over 12 years – a first for a fiction film, and possibly a last. When it was first rumoured to be a major Oscar contestant, the idea seemed absurd – Oscar voters love big, important stories, but Boyhood is a collection of mostly passive and seemingly unimportant moments in a child’s life, as he grows up and his worldview is shaped. Yet, Boyhood was the best-reviewed film of 2014 and is the likeliest to become the next Best Picture winner.
Birdman is a very different beast. A carefully scripted and choreographed explosion of emotions, both repressed and expressed on screen. A jazzy, dreamy caricature of show business. A strange and deeply confounding film, it is made to look like a single, continuous shot, as we follow an aging movie star’s descent into hell and back. It is, in my humble opinion, the most deserving of the two, but it may prove too much for the Academy voters. I feel they might prefer the calm, contemplative Boyhood to such a relentless, furious roller-coaster.
The showdown between Boyhood and Birdman continues in this category. It could be the third consecutive year when the Best Director award doesn’t go to the Best Picture winner. It has become a trend to reward the most visually ambitious nominee for its visionary directing and this year, it is Iñarritu’s Birdman that fits the description. Filmed in very long, audaciously constructed shots that require uninterrupted acting and movement, it envelops you, and watching it, you feel like you’ve landed on the stage of a play. An exceptionally well-directed play, I might add.
Best Actor in a Leading Role
Much like his character in Birdman, ex-superhero Michael Keaton has made a glorious comeback after a decade of near-oblivion. His character is seen battling family and career issues, as well as a perfidious alter ego who attempts to lead him astray, back on the path of commercial moviedom. There are several references to Keaton’s own life throughout the film, but he claims this is the character he could least identify with, out of any he has played. It is a challenging role, and Keaton gave it his all. He deserves to win.
Best Actress in a Leading Role
There is little doubt as to what name will come out of that particular envelope : Julianne Moore, sometimes called “the Meryl Streep of not winning Oscars”. Nominated 4 times before, hers is a classic case of overdue. Her performance in Still Alice as an Alzheimer’s-afflicted linguist is as stellar as you’d expect. She hits all the right notes, showing the changes her character goes through with subtlety and flair.
In a perfect world, however, it is Rosamund Pike who would get the gold for her sensational breakthrough performance in Gone Girl. Rivaling every great psycho in the history of film, her character is terrifying because she is deeply unknowable. What is she really thinking? How far can she go? The movie opens and closes with the same shot of her, and by the end we understand more about her, but overall she remains a mystery. It is hard to say more without spoiling anything; if you haven’t seen Gone Girl yet, you absolutely should.
Best Actor in a Supporting Role
There can be no doubt – J.K. Simmons will win. He has always been good, for example as Spider-Man’s scene-stealing editor in Sam Raimi’s franchise, but in Whiplash, he is simply too good to ignore. This is an award often given for villainous performances, and Simmons’ character is a masterclass in cruelty and emotional abuse. As a teacher in a prestigious music conservatory, he is a shapeshifter, sometimes deceivingly flattering, at other times a violent despot – all in the name of art. Simmons is chilling and unforgettable as he commands the screen with an iron hand. If this isn’t an Oscar-worthy performance, I don’t know what is.
Best Actress in a Supporting Role
The first name that comes to mind is Patricia Arquette. Unlikely that she would be considered an Oscar frontrunner in 2015, but she can thank Boyhood for that. She was still a popular star in 2002 when filming started, but soon after that she began to take years off in between films and eventually focused on television. Now, fast-forward to 2015, and she is once again on everyone’s lips. In many ways, watching Boyhood is like opening a time capsule – her performance is one of the many good things we found inside.
Best Original Screenplay
The Grand Budapest Hotel is one of the year’s best-written films. Hard to say whether it is original—what is these days?—and it was admittedly inspired by Stefan Zweig’s works, but it is insanely clever and deeply rewarding. It has the usual traits of a Wes Anderson screenplay: bright characters, witty dialogue, and an engrossing and hilariously complicated story. But it also covers new and surprisingly dark territory: shoot-outs, gruesome murders and mutilations, and dead cats. All of that portrayed with Anderson’s trademark childlike innocence. It is also immensely tender in recounting a love story and a friendship, as well as Anderson’s love for an era, a writing style, and a time lost. The key to the film is in this line, “To be frank, I think his world had vanished long before he ever entered it—but, I will say: he certainly sustained the illusion with a marvellous grace!”
Another possible winner is Birdman, which is also well-written. So much happens every second that it is an action movie in terms of intensity. It makes you fall in love with movies again. It makes you marvel, laugh, spit out your popcorn in surprise, or hold very still when someone’s life is in the balance. All of this may sound like a given but how often does that happen to you anymore? How often do you feel that there are no boundaries to what could happen on the screen? When was the last time you truly felt a film’s heartbeat? The Grand Budapest Hotel deserves to win, but if Birdman does, I’m sure there will be no hard feelings.
Best Adapted Screenplay
Now let’s come back to the most Oscar-ish movie on the list—The Imitation Game. I call it that for two reasons. First, it follows a formula made popular by past Oscar winner A Beautiful Mind: real-life eccentric mathematician deals with personal problems and espionage, real or imagined. Second, it is an “important issue” movie, showing a true story of persecution. It is fairly well-written, but perhaps too traditional in its storytelling. It brings up interesting questions, but doesn’t know how to deal with them because the screenwriter is limited by Hollywood conventions. Yet the movie will probably win, because it is undeniably a story that needed to be told.
The one that should win, but perhaps won’t, is Whiplash. It is competing in the Adapted Screenplay category because it is based on a short film made by the director in order to get financing, but apart from that, it is wholly original. An intricate psychological drama, or a musical thriller, it explores the pursuit of greatness. As a student, what sacrifices are you willing to make? As a teacher, should you be allowed to do just about anything it takes to unlock a student’s potential? We never get to know the characters very well and there’s no need to, because the moral dilemmas posed by the movie are universal, as is the battle of wills at its core. Whiplash is written with gusto, and its final sequence is all-time great material.
Let’s not forget to congratulate our fellow Canadians and Montrealers nominated for Oscars this year! In animation, Dean DeBlois from Aylmer, Quebec, nominated for directing How to Train Your Dragon 2; Graham Annable from Ontario, nominated for co-directing The Boxtrolls; Torill Kove, who was born in Norway but has lived in Montreal since 1982, a Concordia graduate, nominated for her short animated film Me and My Moulton; in visual effects, Cameron Waldbauer and Nicolas Aithadi from the Vancouver area, nominated for X-Men: Days of Future Past and Guardians of the Galaxy, respectively; in production design, Dennis Gassner from Vancouver, nominated for Into the Woods and presently hard at work on the new James Bond film; in sound mixing, Craig Mann from Ontario, nominated for his electrifying work on Whiplash.
Another year in movies is now officially past us. As always, there were casualties—Robin Williams, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and many others. It seems impossible to imagine the movies without them but, somehow, things will go on. Let them never be over.
Take a look back at the best of 2014 in film by tuning in to the 87th Oscars ceremony, hosted by Neil Patrick Harris!