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”

NYFCC Don’t Want To Be Your Hero

Yesterday, the New York Film Critics Circle kicked off the next phase of the Oscar season (first comes festivals, then comes critics, then comes shiny statues in a shiny statue carriage). The results weren’t exactly surprising, but I would still call them refreshing: particularly in regard to the group’s choices in the leading performance races, there’s a notable effort here not to immediately narrow down the season to a handful of select names. It should be the job of the critics’ groups to look as broadly as possible around the world of film and perhaps come back with some ignored, foreign or otherwise overlooked candidates. I’d say the NYFCC generally accomplished that this year. Further thoughts along with each category’s winner below!

New York Film Critics Circle

Best Film: Boyhood

“Boyhood” hasn’t stopped playing at the IFC Center in NY since its first shows sold out for almost a week straight in August. The NYC crowd have been the main ones singing its praises the whole time, so this was no shocker. With some of the expected contenders winding up with mixed or lackluster receptions, “Boyhood” is looking better and better by the day, summer release be damned.

Best Director: Richard Linklater, “Boyhood”

See above. His spot in the field is as about as secure as anyone’s.

Best First Film: Jennifer Kent, “The Babadook”

I haven’t seen it yet, but Kent’s film has been a festival favorite since Sundance and has genre luminaries like Stephen King and William Friedkin stumping for it. Female directors FTW, in any case.

Best Actress: Marion Cotillard, “Two Days, One Night” and “The Immigrant”

Yes yes and yes – even if I’ve never been fond of the NYFCC’s tendency to reward a “career year” rather than one performance like this, I’m glad someone’s putting Cotillard (back) in the conversation, whether for James Gray’s period piece or the Dardennes’ economy-woes drama. There’s been a lot of complaints about a “thin” year for Best Actress contenders, which speaks more to Hollywood’s unwillingness to put an adult woman at the center of any of its films than anything else. But there’s a rich history in such “thin” years of the Academy reaching further for more interesting choices if they get pushed there – in fact, Cotillard’s already got an Oscar to prove it (“La Vie En Rose”). So let’s start pushing. Kudos, NYFCC.

Best Actor: Timothy Spall, “Mr. Turner”

Again, Spall remains on the right side of the conversation bubble for at least a little longer. Best Actor could go 15 deep and I don’t think anyone would argue this year – whether or not Spall gets a spot, a Cannes victory plus this will certainly get a few more people out to see Mike Leigh’s latest.

Best Supporting Actress: Patricia Arquette, “Boyhood”

In the supporting categories the NYFCC tended more toward solidifying groupthink – but when the performances are this good, it’s tough to argue. Arquette’s wonderful in the film, plain and simple, and it helps that she’s a respected and endearing actress that everyone will be happy to see rewarded.

Best Supporting Actor: J.K. Simmons, “Whiplash”

Same logic goes for Simmons. His performance in “Whiplash” is the kind of instantly iconic work that often sweeps the field in this category (see Ledger, Heath; Bardem, Javier; Waltz, Christoph, the first time). Expect to see him in Oscar montages for years to come.

Best Cinematography: Darius Khondji, “The Immigrant”

Khondji’s something of an unsung hero of the field. He’s been doing fantastic work going back to Fincher’s “Se7en,” and even if “The Immigrant” didn’t light the critics aflame, it certainly looked gorgeous. Another nice keep-the-box-open pick.

Best Screenplay: Wes Anderson, “The Grand Budapest Hotel”

Personally I haven’t understood the “GBH” hoopla. I think Anderson’s done far richer work and there’s a host of fresher options in this category this year (Damien Chazelle for “Whiplash?” Justin Simien for “Dear White People?” John Michael McDonagh for “Calvary?” come on, people). But he’s a writer’s branch favorite and despite the film’s very early-in-the-year release, he seems to be gathering steam for another nomination.

Best Nonfiction Film: CITIZENFOUR

Haven’t caught up with it yet, so no comment.

Best Foreign Language Film: Ida

Likewise, although it’s streaming on Netflix and is one of my last big priorities for the year (and should be for you as well).

Best Animated Film: The LEGO Movie

Not a whole lot of options out there for the critics this year, but as much as I enjoyed “The LEGO Movie,” I feel like clearly not enough of the membership saw “The Tale of Princess Kaguya.” I mean really, if the critics can’t even get out of the multiplex, where are we these days with animation?

Special Award: Adrienne Mancia, curator of film exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art

More well deserved than you all can know. Hear, hear.

For Your Consideration: March 7, 2014

If you’re like us, come the weekend you end up spending more time going through Netflix’s recommendations than watching anything at all. We here at The Best Films of Our Lives understand your plight, and are here to help! In our new weekly feature, For Your Consideration, we will recommend three movies to help you cut down on browsing time, maximize viewing time, and spice up your week. To keep it relevant, we’ll choose them based on a relevant theme of the week, from political events to cultural milestones to new releases at the megaplex.

For our first week, instead of picking movies set in Ukraine or featuring a quasi-dictator who wrestles tigers and conquers nations, we chose a different route to Eastern Europe. In honor of the release of Wes Anderson’s latest cinematic caper we’ve chosen three films that take place in, you guessed it, a hotel.

The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

Now playing in limited release.

Cast: Ralph Fiennes, F. Murray Abraham, Mathieu Almaric, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Harvey Keitel, Jude Law, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Saoirse Ronan, Jason Schwartzman, Lea Seydoux, Tilda Swinton, Tom Wilkinson, Owen Wilson, Tony Revolori

For a quirky indie director of stylized comedies, Wes Anderson is a remarkably polarizing figure. But Whether you love the touching humanity in his exaggerated characters or hate his overly precious visual style, he’s unapologetically been churning out films that are nothing less than his for two decades now, and influencing a generation of filmmakers in the process. That’s an overly grand way of introducing his latest film, which generally looks like little more than a charming romp with all of your favorite Anderson regulars – Murray, Goldblum, Dafoe, Brody, Wilson, Swinton, etc. But this time he’s added two major new faces: Ralph Fiennes, as the debonair concierge of a fictional East European resort, and Tony Revolori as his young protege. Reviews for that duo, and the film itself, were terrific out of the Berlin film festival in January – if you’re all-in on Anderson, this will surely be a must-see.

Ethan

“A Room With A View” (1985)

Cast: Helena Bonham-Carter, Maggie Smith, Julian Sands, Daniel Day-Lewis

Available on Netflix instant streaming and on YouTube

“Don’t you agree that on one’s first visit to Florence, one must have a room with a view?” Beginning and ending in a Florentine pensione, “A Room With A View” follows Lucy Honeychurch (Helena Bonham-Carter), a respectable young Englishwoman on a grand tour of Italy with her prim, manipulative chaperone (a delightfully horrible Maggie Smith). En route, she meets George Emerson, a strange, idealistic young man who not only offers her a room with a view at the pensione, but a view out of the room of her life. Awash in the golden light draping its romantic Italian vistas, this period piece about a young woman’s self-awakening is not only beautiful but thoughtful, a love story, a critique of the British class system, and an acting master class, wrapped in one.

Elaine

Lost in Translation (2003)

Cast: Bill Murray, Scarlett Johannson, Giovanni Ribisi, Anna Faris

Available on Netflix instant streaming.

Anderson had another, less direct, hand in crafting another seminal movie Marriott. After writing the lead role of her second feature with Bill Murray in mind, Sofia Coppola asked Anderson, a close friend, to help her enlist the reluctant comedy legend to the part. After five months of hounding, Coppola and Anderson won him over, and the result was “Lost in Translation,” one of the finest uses of Murray’s weary empathy yet. As an aging film actor who strikes up a friendship with an aimless college grad (Scarlett Johannson) during their stay at a luxurious Japanese hotel, Murray brought his likable affability to Coppola’s story of existential ennui, isolation and culture shock. Johannson was at her best here as well, and combined with Lance Acord’s dreamy cinematography and Coppola’s nimble direction, the whole thing added up to one of the most romantic, intimate stories of non-romance in film.

Ethan