For Your Consideration: Feb. 20, 2015

It’s a very special weekend, everybody: we have finally reached the end of the season of famous people giving shiny statues to other famous people. Who will triumph at the Oscars? “Birdman?” “Boyhood?” “The Imitation Game?” We’ll find out on Sunday night. But right now, we’re combining our Academy Award celebration with this weekend’s OTHER major event: yes, I’m talking about the release of “Hot Tub Time Machine 2.” Come take a step back through Oscar history with us, won’t you?

– Ethan

“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” (2004)

Cast: Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet, Mark Ruffalo, Tom Wilkinson, Kirsten Dunst, Elijah Wood, Jane Adams, David Cross

Available to rent or purchase from iTunes, Amazon Instant and Vudu, on disc from Netflix

10 years ago, Michel Gondry’s modern masterpiece only managed two Oscar nominations – Best Actress for Kate Winslet (deserved, though she somewhat pales in comparison to Jim Carrey’s unrecognized, career-best work opposite), and Best Original Screenplay. For comparison, “Finding Neverland” got six nominations that same year. So it goes. At least, in the best victory of the night that was otherwise dominated by milquetoast offerings like “Million Dollar Baby” and “Ray,” Charlie Kaufman took that screenplay award. The writer’s branch has always been the most daring part of the Academy when it comes to nominating genuinely great, oddball work, and this time even the rest of the membership couldn’t ignore the dazzling inventiveness and melancholy of Kaufman’s sci-fi-rom-com scenario.

– Ethan

“Ed Wood” (1994)

Cast: Johnny Depp, Martin Landau, Sarah Jessica Parker, Patricia Arquette, Jeffrey Jones, G.D. Spradlin, Vincent D’Onofrio, Bill Murray, Mike Starr, Max Casella, Lisa Marie

Available to rent or purchase from iTunes, Amazon Instant and Vudu, on disc from Netflix

20 years ago, Tiny Ethan was glad to be not yet old enough to recognize cinematic injustice. But I’ve had plenty of time since to make my distaste for “Forrest Gump” known, so we won’t linger on that. One of the few categories that wasn’t taken over by Zemeckis’ saccharine juggernaut was Best Supporting Actor, where Martin Landau was deservedly recognized for his work as aging film star Bela Lugosi in Tim Burton’s paean to the titular “worst director of all time.” This was something of a career award, the kind the Academy so dearly loves to dole out, for Landau: he’d come up with the Actors Studio decades earlier in New York City, befriended James Dean and Steve McQueen, and had two previous nominations (“Tucker,” “Crimes and Misdemeanors”) among his many workhorse credits. But Landau is also fantastic in “Ed Wood:” an appropriately Z-movie take on Norma Desmond, delusional and fierce and sympathetic, a former great at the end of his rope. It’s quite possibly the best acting performance ever put forward in a Burton movie – challenged, I think, only by Depp in the same film.

Ethan

“The Godfather, Part II” (1974)

Cast: Al Pacino, Robert Duvall, Diane Keaton, Robert De Niro, John Cazale, Talia Shire, Lee Strasberg, Michael V. Gazzo, G.D. Spradlin

Available to rent or purchase on Amazon Instant, iTunes and Vudu, on disc from Netflix

40 years ago, the first and only sequel ever to take Best Picture triumphed over one of the toughest (if a bit top-heavy) fields in Oscar history. I mean, how do you vote between “Godfather II,” Coppola’s other masterpiece “The Conversation,” and “Chinatown?” Some of the other choices might have been easier, though: Coppola’s father Carmine winning for Best Original Score was a decent way to make up for the controversy surrounding Nino Rota’s score for the original two years earlier; meanwhile, despite Fred Astaire standing as a sentimental favorite for his turn in the star-packed “The Towering Inferno,” Robert De Niro’s far superior performance won over in Best Supporting Actor – despite the actor, Hollywood royalty now but largely unknown at the time, never speaking a word of English in the film.

– Ethan

Final Predictions – Oscars 2015

We’re only a week out from the big day. All the precursors are in, so it’s time to go on the record. These are my picks for who’s going to win at the Oscars next Sunday night (Feb. 22), along with some bet-hedging and griping about what should’ve been nominated in the first place. Agree? Disagree? Let’s find out.

Best Animated Short: “Feast”

Best Live Action Short: “The Phone Call”

Best Documentary Short: “Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1”

Predicting the short categories isn’t quite the blind stab that it used to be, thanks to improved distribution that has gotten the nominees out into theaters and various streaming services ahead of the ceremony. But, since most of the Academy members are now watching these at home on screeners rather than at official in-theater screenings, in some ways it’s become even more difficult to gauge how they’re leaning. So it’s still a bit of a crapshoot, but I’m betting on the following: 1) without a standout opponent, the lavish production value and style of Disney’s “Feast” will rule the day in the animated field; 2) familiar face Sally Hawkins (a Supporting Actress nominee just last year) will lean voters towards “The Phone Call” in live action; and 3) the heart-breaking but ultimately optimistic subject matter of “Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1” (exactly what it sounds like) makes voting for it in documentary feel both good and important, which is exactly the spot where the Academy loves to be.

Best Documentary Feature

Laura Poitras’ first-hand account of Edward Snowden’s leak of classified NSA documents and his flight to Russia has been stream-rolling through the documentary prizes this season, and there’s pretty much no reason to think it won’t win here. “Finding Vivian Maier” was an unexpected art-house hit, but “Citizenfour” has immediate political resonance, and the Academy tends to favor right here-right now docs.

Will win: “Citizenfour”

Could win: “Finding Vivian Maier”

Should’ve been here: (abstain – I’ve been really behind on the documentaries this year)

Best Original Song

One of the first seriously difficult calls of the night. The favorite among the audiences at home will obviously be “Everything Is AWESOME,” Tegan + Sara’s outrageously infective tune from “The LEGO Movie,” but there are some big subplots going on underneath two of the other nominees. There was of course much talk of the general lack of “Selma” in the Oscar nominations, but this is one of the only places where DuVernay’s movie slipped through, and voters upset by the film’s absence elsewhere may very well automatically tick it off here (the fact that it’s a great, fierce song, is actually an appropriate cap to the film, and had a much-discussed performance as the Grammys last week helps too). But then there’s “I’m Not Gonna Miss You” by Glen Campbell, country superstar and occasional actor who is now suffering from Alzheimer’s. The nominated song is effectively the last one that Campbell will ever write, and that narrative will likely play gangbusters with the Academy’s older generation. This category won’t tell us who will win Best Picture, but pay close attention anyway – it may tell us a lot about how Academy demographics are (or are not) shifting.

Will win:“Glory,” from “Selma”

Could win: “I’m Not Gonna Miss You,” from “Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me”

Should’ve Been Here: “I Love You All,” from “Frank”

Best Sound Mixing

See here for a good run-down of the difference between Sound Mixing and Sound Editing – but the upshot is that musicals tend to fare well in Mixing, where all the disparate dialogue, score and effects tracks are combined into one comprehensible soundtrack (the inclusion of “Interstellar” here is a mystery in that regard). That’s good news for “Whiplash” and “Birdman,” both of which rely heavily on their jazz-infused scores. “Birdman” is the technical marvel of the year, but I’m thinking that the outlier status of “Whiplash” here means something special.

Will win: “Whiplash”

Could win: “Birdman”

Should’ve been here: “Under the Skin,” “God Help the Girl”

Best Sound Editing

With “Whiplash” out of the way here, the general voters will gravitate more towards their favorite film.

Will win: “Birdman”

Could win: “American Sniper”

Should’ve been here: “Under the Skin,” “The Babadook”

Best Visual Effects

Another tough call. More ground-breaking motion-capture work from Andy Serkis and the “Planet of the Apes” team? Universally beloved “Guardians of the Galaxy?” Ballyhooed, practical space effects from “Interstellar?” There’s a lot of options here and you could make a good case for any. Going with my gut here.

Will win: “Interstellar”

Could win: “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”

Should’ve been here: “Under the Skin”

Best Film Editing

All five nominees are in the Best Picture hunt, so there are no particular clues there. “American Sniper” has the traditional scenes of war suspense/thrills that can do well here, while Sandra Adair had the unenviable task of paring down footage shot over 12 years to put together “Boyhood.” But since it’s a film that’s all about rhythm, the editing in “Whiplash” is the most obvious – and obviously great, even for non-editors.

Will win: “Whiplash”

Could win: “Boyhood”

Should’ve been here: “Under the Skin”

Best Makeup and Hairstyling

And now we enter Wes Anderson territory. “The Grand Budapest Hotel” was perhaps the most unexpected awards season success of the year, running away with tons of love from both the critics and the guilds. Anderson’s aesthetic is always about meticulous design, and this seems to be the year we’re rewarding him for his whole back catalog of great craft. Expect a GBH runaway in the middle of the show.

Will win: “The Grand Budapest Hotel”

Could win: “Foxcatcher”

Should’ve been here: “The Babadook”

Best Costume Design

See above.

Will win: “The Grand Budapest Hotel”

Could win: “Mr. Turner”

Should’ve been here: “A Most Violent Year”

Best Production Design

See above, again; though the practical, non-green-screened spaceship sets of “Interstellar” has its advocates.

Will win: “The Grand Budapest Hotel”

Could win: “Interstellar”

Should’ve been here: “Snowpiercer”

Best Cinematography

After a decade of futility, the man they call Chivo is now an unstoppable Oscar machine. More or less no question now that he’ll triumph over Roger Deakins (again) – the big one is, can he be back next year for Iñárritu’s “The Revenant” and make it three in a row?

Will win: Emmanuel Lubezki, “Birdman”

Could win: Robert Yeoman, “The Grand Budapest Hotel”

Should’ve been here: Daniel Landin, “Under the Skin,” Bradford Young, “Selma”

Best Animated Feature

A category that seemed locked up a year ago was suddenly, but briefly thrown into chaos by the inexplicable exclusion of “The LEGO Movie.” But when the dust settled after that kerfuffle it seems fairly obvious what the second-most-beloved animated film of the year was.

Will win: “How to Train Your Dragon 2”

Could win: “Big Hero 6”

Should’ve been here: “The LEGO Movie,” of course

Best Foreign Language Film

Wow. I’ve seen three of the nominees and already this category is so much better than the Best Picture lineup, you guys. “Leviathan,” “Ida” and “Timbuktu” are all off-the-charts good: gorgeously crafted, devastating social-political dramas that leave you feeling worn down but enlightened about some piece of human nature. But when it comes to this category, that’s exactly what will probably work against them: they’re all so good, in similar ways, so how do you choose between them? That’s why I’m leaning towards “Wild Tales,” Damian Szifron’s reportedly insanely entertaining anthology film, to triumph. It just stands out the most, the same way Argentina’s “The Secret In Their Eyes” pulled ahead of “The White Ribbon” and “A Prophet” a few years back.

Will win: “Wild Tales” (Argentina)

Could win: “Leviathan” (Russia)

Should’ve been here: “Force Majeure” (Sweden)

Best Original Score:

Tricky. Alexandre Desplat’s greatest competition might be himself; will fans of “The Imitation Game” and “The Grand Budapest Hotel” split between the two or rally behind one to make sure Desplat is rewarded? (“Grand Budapest” could and should be that option if so) But, don’t count out Jóhann Jóhannson; there are some serious fans of that film in the Academy, and Jóhannson’s score is undoubtedly one of the best and brightest things about it.

Will win: Alexandre Desplat, “The Grand Budapest Hotel”

Could win: Jóhann Jóhannson, “The Theory of Everything”

Should’ve been here: Mica Levi, “Under the Skin”

Best Original Screenplay:

Ugh, the category that is my perpetual downfall in this competition. Too often I lean towards a Best Picture frontrunner, trying to take in the overall picture rather than just going for the option with the strongest personality behind it (e.g. Quentin Tarantino for “Django Unchained,” Woody Allen for “Midnight in Paris”). So I’m going to try to self-correct this year and say instead of the flashy, but by-committee “Birdman” screenplay, they continue to dole out a career reward to Wes Anderson, who has certainly been one of the most unique voices in film this past decade or two.

Will win: Wes Anderson, “The Grand Budapest Hotel”

Could win: Alejandro Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Armando Bo, “Birdman”

Should’ve been here: John Michael McDonagh, “Calvary,” J.C. Chandor, “A Most Violent Year”

Best Adapted Screenplay

Man. Who the f— knows. Again, the go-with-the-best-picture-leader theory would lean us towards the prestige drama of “The Imitation Game” or “The Theory of Everything,” but both of those films are so strongly oriented toward their performances rather than the screenplay. “Inherent Vice” is flashier, but way too out there for general Academy taste. That’s why I think I have to go again with crowd-pleaser “Whiplash,” the script that’s the most in-your-face with how sharp it is. I’m just now realizing that this little Sundance drama may very well end up with four Oscars on five nominations. That’s an impressive haul.

Will win: Damien Chazelle, “Whiplash”

Could win: Graham Moore, “The Imitation Game”

Should’ve been here: Gillian Flynn, “Gone Girl”

Best Supporting Actress

Three of the four acting categories are signed, sealed and delivered. Let’s power through.

Will win: Patricia Arquette, “Boyhood”

Could win: Emma Stone, “Birdman” (but not really)

Should’ve been here: Tilda Swinton, “Snowpiercer”

Best Supporting Actor

Will win: J.K. Simmons, “Whiplash”

Could win: Edward Norton, “Birdman” (but not really)

Should’ve been here: Ben Mendehlson, “Starred Up”

Best Actress

Will win: Julianne Moore, “Still Alice”

Could win: Rosamund Pike, “Gone Girl” (but not really)

Should’ve been here: Scarlett Johannson, “Under the Skin”

Best Actor

Man oh man. This is the one that’s going to do me in this year. I can feel it. Eddie Redmayne’s hit the traditional markers of success (Golden Globe, SAG award, BAFTA), but Michael Keaton’s still hanging around there with the Golden Globe (comedy) and the “comeback” narrative. And then there’s Bradley Cooper hanging around with high praise in an unexpected box office smash, just waiting to slip up the middle and be the shock winner a la Adrien Brody. I don’t know. Literally nothing I choose feels right. I’ll be gritting my teeth all night waiting for this category.

Will win: Eddie Redmayne, “The Theory of Everything”

Could win: Michael Keaton, “Birdman”

Should’ve been here: there were so many options, they should’ve just expanded the category to ten this year – Jake Gyllenhaal, “Nightcrawler,” David Oyelowo, “Selma,” Timothy Spall, “Mr. Turner,” Brendan Gleeson, “Calvary,” Joaquin Phoenix, “Inherent Vice”

Best Director

The directors guild went for Iñárritu, but I can’t help but think that from the outside looking in, more Academy members will be impressed by Linklater’s obvious achievement. Does that mean we’re headed for the second Director/Picture split year in a row…?

Will win: Richard Linklater, “Boyhood”

Could win: Alejandro Iñárritu, “Birdman”

Should’ve been here: Jonathan Glazer, “Under the Skin,” Pawel Pawlikowski, “Ida,” Andrei Zvyagintsev, “Leviathan”

Best Picture

Seemingly down big to “Boyhood,” “Birdman” swung back in the season with huge wins from the Screen Actors Guild, the Producers Guild and the Directors Guild. Only “Apollo 13” has hit that trifecta and failed to take Best Picture as well. Clearly people in the industry love it (should it triumph, we need to have a discussion about Hollywood’s recent self-obsession; believe it or not, only two films that are really explicitly about filmmaking have won Best Picture, and they’ve both come within the past five years: “The Artist” and “Argo”). The “Birdman” vs. “Boyhood” showdown smacks of last year’s “Gravity” vs. “12 Years a Slave:” two very, very different films, both great in their own way. I think another Picture/Director split leaves everyone feeling rewarded.

(Do I feel good about picking “Birdman” for Best Picture and not Michael Keaton for Best Actor? You bet I don’t. That doesn’t make any sense. But throw logic out the door this year. It’s been a bumpy ride, and I expect that to continue.)

Will win: “Birdman”

Could win: “Boyhood”

Should’ve been here: “Under the Skin,” “Ida,” “Leviathan,” “Calvary,” “Timbuktu”

For Your Consideration: Oct. 17, 2014

On Wednesday, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences announced that yes, song-and-dance-man and awards-show-host-extraordinaire Neil Patrick Harris has finally been swayed to take on the Oscars. Harris has won widespread acclaim for his turns hosting both the Emmys and the Tonys, putting him only one slot away from the first-ever hosting EGOT. Oscar producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron, returning for their third straight ceremony, are clearly not interested in breaking away from their musical-number comfort zone – so if they’re going to stick to the formula, you might as well get one of the best for it. Harris is known more as a Broadway and television favorite than for his cinematic work, but his film resumé is still more impressive than, say, Jon Stewart – this week we’re considering three of Doogie Howser’s most memorable movie performances.

– Ethan

Starship Troopers (1997)

Cast: Casper Van Diem, Denise Richards, Dina Meyer, Jake Busey, Neil Patrick Harris

Available to rent or purchase from Amazon Instant and iTunes, on disc from Netflix

Not everyone in Paul Verhoeven’s cult favorite is quite on board with the director’s hyperbolic satire of jingoistic patriotism and militarism – although in the case of, say, Denise Richards, it’s hard to say whether that’s a matter of miscommunication or ability. But Neil Patrick Harris certainly gets it – as the psychically gifted best friend of our fresh-recruit protagonist Johnny Rico (Van Diem), Harris perfectly balances sincere resolve and enthusiasm with an ironic, winking edge. His bit in one of the film’s hilariously on-point ra-ra recruitment PSAs is one of the movie’s highlights, facing blunt violence with a smile.

– Ethan

Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle (2004)

Cast: Kal Penn, John Cho, Ethan Embry, Robert Tinkler, Fred Willard, Steve Braun, Paula Garcés, David Krumholtz, Eddie Kaye Thomas

Available to rent or purchase from Amazon Instant and iTunes, on disc from Netflix

Another internet/cult favorite, although “Harold and Kumar” is probably more notable for helping to launch NPH back to the A-list. Not that the former child star ever really went away, but years in the theater and less-notable TV roles put him in a prime spot for a renaissance, with his gleefully raunchy, self-parodying turn as himself in this contemporary Cheech-and-Chong wannabe stoner comedy. “Did Doogie Howser just steal my fucking car?” is a pop-culture line for the ages – and the answer, by the way, is yes, yes he did.

– Ethan

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (2009)

Cast: Bill Hader, Anna Faris, James Caan, Andy Samberg, Bruce Campbell, Mr. T, Benjamin Bratt, Neil Patrick Harris, Bobb’e J. Thompson, Al Roker, Lauren Graham, Will Forte

Available to rent or purchase from Amazon Instant and iTunes, on disc from Netflix

All right, so NPH doesn’t exactly have a lot to do here, as the talking-monkey sidekick to Bill Hader’s well-meaning inventor in Phil Lord and Chris Miller’s animated charmer. In fact, he pretty much just yells “Steve!” a lot. But it’s funny. Every. Single. Time.

– Ethan