Predicting the Oscar Nominees, 2015

E: Oh my goodness.

This is the time of year when I ask myself that age old question: what would AMPAS do?  AMPAS, of course, is the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the prestigious voting body that awards Oscars to the films it deems the year’s best.  It’s time to put myself into the minds of 6000 people I’ve never met and likely will never meet.  What’s the reality they collectively reflect back at us?

I’m not going to lie.  This is an unusually unsettled year.  Most of the time, we know long in advance who at least four out of the five acting nominees will be in each category if not all five.  Most of the time, we have a more solid grasp on director.  Most of the time, there’s only one or two pictures in best picture that are up in the air.  This year, it’s just a big ball of chaos — but hey, there’s something to be said for embracing chaos, right?

Best Supporting Actor
Give Him the Statue Now:

J.K. Simmons, Whiplash

Everyone Says It’s You:

Ethan Hawke, Boyhood

Ed Norton, Birdman

Mark Ruffalo, Foxcatcher

So They Say:

Robert Duvall, The Judge

Long Shots:

Josh Brolin, Inherent Vice

Steve Carell, Foxcatcher

I have to say, this category has seemed pretty solid from the get go, easily the simplest of this volatile year: the same five names have appeared on every shortlist from every award-giving body.  It’s incredibly rare that there’s such consistency in either of the men’s categories (what with there being so many more meaty roles for men).  Now, every year there are surprise snubs, but there’s practically no one else with even the tiniest bit of heat.

After decades of playing crusty but kind-hearted dads (as well as the just plain crusty J. Jonas Jamison), never-nominated J.K. Simmons got his chance at the brass ring; writer Jason Reitman (who’d directed Simmons in Juno, his most acclaimed earlier work) connected the actor with hopeful writer Damien Chazelle. Chazelle, a one time jazz prodigy, had a story about an abusive teacher, and Reitman thought Simmons would be perfect for the part.  And indeed, it turns out he was, savage and monstrous in his intense desire to provoke greatness from Miles Teller’s hapless drummer.  Simmons is nominated for the Screen Actor’s Guild, the Independent Spirits, the Satellites, the BAFTA and the Broadcast Film Critics/Critics Choice, which have yet to give out their awards, and won the Golden Globe, the Austin, Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Florida, Las Vegas, L.A. and New York film critics awards, just to name the big ones — in short, everything that’s been announced so far besides the National Board of Review, which went to Ed Norton.  He’s the picture of brutal and complete domination. He is the securest of the secure.

The other four actors on this list have a similar right to feel sanguine; they’ve all also made the Golden Globe, SAG and Critics Choice.  Ed Norton’s loose cannon actor — the ringer brought in to save Michael Keaton’s play — sends it careening into danger instead.  He brings an air of risk and unpredictability; you never quite know what he’s going to do, except that whatever it is, it’s not going to make things easy.  It’s some of the best work of his career, ridiculous and irritating, self-aggrandizing and thoroughly enjoyable.  Both of his previous Oscar nominations came in the 90s, so it’ll be nice to see him back on the big stage.

As the father in Boyhood, Ethan Hawke works with his longtime collaborator Richard Linklater to create yet another indelible character, this time a divorced father struggling to maintain a relationship with his growing children.  Though Hawke has been nominated once before for his acting, he’s also shared two screenwriting nominations with Linklater and Julie Delpy for their partially improvised dramas Before Sunset and Before Midnight, the last two films of a trilogy that follows a romantic relationship over many years.  Clearly, both friends get the appeal of the long term.

If any of these five is going to get snubbed, my best guess would be Robert Duvall.   I’m not entirely sure where his name even came from, to be honest, other than the fact that the movie The Judge (a flop in theaters) seems to have an excellent PR team.  Former winner Duvall is a legend, however, and the tremendous respect the industry bears him will probably get him on to the slate over the distinctly un-buzzed about competition.  He’s likely to pick up his seventh career nomination tomorrow morning.

Intriguingly, BAFTA (the British Academy, equivalent of our AMPAS), nominated Steve Carell as a supporting actor, not a lead one as he’s being campaigned here. It seems like a more fitting place — though I have yet to see the movie, the protagonist is Channing Tatum’s Mark Schultz, on whose book the film is based.  Though Academy voters have made category switches before (most notably in the case of Keisha Castle Hughes for Whale Rider) they generally follow the lead of the actors’s p.r. firm.  It’s rather a shame, because Carell could probably have made this list; it’s possible for him to make the other, but he’s by no means a shoe-in.

Josh Brolin managed to make the Critic’s Choice/BFCA list — but don’t get too excited.  They pick six nominees.  He’s certainly got a shot, but it’s no where near in the same league as the main five. The Satellites gave their sixth slot to Andy Serkis for his motion capture work in Dawn  of the Planet of the Apes; I can all but promise you that won’t happen with AMPAS.

So, officially and for the record, I’m predicting Simmons, Norton, Ruffalo, Hawke and Duvall, in that order of certainty, with Brolin as the potential spoiler.

Best Supporting Actress

Your Winner:

Patricia Arquette, Boyhood

They’re Making Every List:

Kiera Knightley, The Imitation Game

Emma Stone, Birdman

Who Do They Love More Than Her? No One:

Meryl Streep, Into the Woods

What the Heck Happened To Her:

Laura Dern, Wild

Filling Out The Mix:

Jessica Chastain, A Most Violent Year

Tilda Swinton, Snowpiercer

Naomi Watts, St. Vincent

First things first.  Patricia Arquette has this one locked up. After spending almost all her life on one screen or another, she fell into this twelve year passion project, and it has brought her the same level of awards attention as fellow Golden Globe winner J.K. Simmons. In fact, her list of critics awards is just as big (you can add San Francisco, St. Louis and Toronto) and just as impressive.  Drawing on her own experiences as a single mother, she plays Ethan Hawke’s counterpart – mom to the titular boy in Boyhood, filming the coming of age story over 12 years.  She began the project before her other most successful role as the title character in the television show Medium; she’s lived an entire career in that time period.

Making every other shortlist (Golden Globes, Satellites, BFCA, SAG and BAFTA) are Kiera Knightley as World War 2 code breaker Joan Clark and Emma Stone playing a young personal assistant helping her once famous father (Michael Keaton) restart his career.  It Girl Stone has never been nominated — outside of The Help she hasn’t really starred in the sort of movies that attract awards attention — but has always been well-liked by critics.  Knightley, on the other hand, has been twice nominated for her leading roles in Pride & Prejudice and Atonement; this is her first foray into the Oscar race for a supporting role.  It would also be her first nomination in a movie not directed by Joe Wright.  At this point, however, a nomination would simply be a honor in itself, a mark on their resumes which will perhaps someday lead to the Hollywood community as a whole deciding they’re past due.

Until the Golden Globe and SAG nominations came out, everyone assumed Laura Dern was a shoo-in for her second nomination, and now she’s just disappeared (barring one Satellite nomination) in favor of Meryl Streep.  I’m not really sure why this is — reports have it that she’s campaigning fiercely to score the nomination for her role as Cheryl Strayed’s well-loved, incandescent mother Bobbi in Wild — but despite getting excellent reviews in a well-made, well-respected movie, it doesn’t seem to be happening.  Could she surprise?  Absolutely.  I’m not going to lie: I’d really like to see it happen.

Not that I don’t love Meryl Streep, the pre-eminent actor of our times.  If she’s given a nomination for this role as the Wicked Witch (and let’s face it, only Meryl Streep could be nominated for playing a witch in a subversive fairytale) it will be her 19th.  Though her three wins don’t best Katharine Hepburn’s record-setting four, Streep absolutely dominates the nomination count. This time, she’d just be wracking up higher numbers; it seems fairly likely to happen.

After Streep, things get a little tricky.  The Globes filled out their five slots with Jessica Chastain, who’s built up an astonishing filmography in the last few years; since she burst onto the scene in 2012, she’s been nominated for two Oscars and has been in the running for several others.  It’s been quite a meteoric rise, and it’s clear that the Academy are big fans.  She also made the BFCA list this year.  A Most Violent Year, while generally lauded with the critics, hasn’t arrived with overwhelming buzz or box office success, and Chastain wasn’t nominated by SAG, BAFTA or the Satellites. I’m not sold on her as a lock, and while the general awards picture backs up that instinct, I will confess to a bias; I’m rather hoping not to have to see her movie, and it’s possible my disinterest in it has colored my lack of certainty.

So who does that leave?  Despite my little confession, I know it’s not just about me; the women’s slate definitely lacks the cohesion of the men’s supporting grouping.  SAG went with brilliant two time Oscar nominee Naomi Watts for her performance as a pregnant hooker in St. Vincent.  BAFTA picked Imelda Staunton’s work in the crowd-pleasing (but little known on this side of the pond) Pride as well as Rene Russo’s blood-thirsty television producer in Nightcrawler. Staunton is a non-starter in the U.S., at least for this role.  Even in the supporting categories, it’s getting harder and harder to find comic roles doing well.  Considering how much attention Jake Gyllenhaal and the movie itself has received, it’s rather a surprise that Russo hasn’t gotten more than the San Diego Film Critics award, but there it is.  I’d consider her a dark horse, but she’s a talented, under-appreciated actress, and I’d be absolutely thrilled to see her get very well deserved recognition for her work.  Katherine Waterston managed to score a single nomination at the Satellites for her work in Inherent Vice, a film which hasn’t quite had the success of director Paul Thomas Anderson’s previous two films, The Master (which received three acting nominations) and best picture nominee There Will Be Blood.

Finally, there’s the wild card in the race – professional oddball and Oscar winner Tilda Swinton.  Though she was only nominated the once for Michael Clayton, Swinton’s filmography boasts many critically lauded roles (in Orlando, We Need To Talk About Kevin, The Deep End, Moonrise Kingdom and The Curious Case of  Benjamin Button as well as 2014’s Only Lovers Left Alive and The Grand Budapest Hotel). Snowpiercer was an unusually well-reviewed piece of science fiction, and her role as a gender-neutral bureaucrat won raves.  I think she has to be considered a serious threat.

In case you were wondering, I have no idea why we’re not seeing Selma‘s Carmen Ejojo or American Sniper‘s Siena Miller on any major lists, but we haven’t and there you go.

All that said, it’s Arquette, Knightley, Stone, Streep and even though most people think it’ll be Chastain, I’m guessing it’ll be either Swinton, Dern or Watts, with the slight edge going to Swinton.  That’s a bold call, and I’m prepared to be wrong.

Best Actor

At The Top of a Massive Heap of Men:

Michael Keaton, Birdman

Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything

Only Slightly Further Behind:

Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game

Most Likely to Get Snubbed:

Jake Gyllenhaal, Nightcrawler

The Next Most Nominated:

Ralph Fiennes, The Grand Budapest Hotel

David Oyelowo, Selma

And After Them:

Steve Carell, Foxcatcher

Timothy Spall, Mr. Turner

Long Shots (And Yes, I Realize There Will Be Only Five Nominees):

Ben Affleck, Gone Girl

Ellar Coltrane, Boyhood

Bradley Cooper, American Sniper

Thomas Hardy, Locke

Bill Murray, St. Vincent

Jack O’Connell, Unbroken

Miles Teller, Whiplash

This, right here, is the category that gives me fits.  (Well, I suppose aside from Best Picture and Best Director, which will always and forever give me fits.) Not only does the winner seem less assured, but the nominees just do not follow a clear pattern at all.

Now, permit me a brief tangent. Every year we get a lot of moaning about how there are so few good roles in contention for best actress that the Academy is forced to troll tiny indie movies to find good female roles.  This is patently true.  While there is an overabundance of great roles for men, and a dirth of roles for women, I’ve noticed that this year at least the men’s roles come from movies that are just as tiny.  The only hit film on this slate is Gone Girl, and it’s Rosamund Pike who’s going to get a nomination for that film, not the sadly underrated Affleck.  Unbroken has done very well with audiences, cracking 100 million only a few weeks into its run, but critics seem to have a problem with it, and O’Connell’s got virtually no chance. Birdman, The Theory of Everything and The Imitation Game all boast likely nominees of both genders; all three have brought in a respectable but not particularly impressive amount of money.   It’s possible that Selma and American Sniper will make decent amounts of money – right now they clock in at 15 and 3 million, respectively. Thomas Hardy made one of the most critically acclaimed performances of the year, certainly of the first half of the year, but his film barely made more than a million dollars. Whiplash made just over 6.

My point here is that while there are definitely more substantial and interesting roles for men, Oscar simply doesn’t find its honorees of either gender in blockbuster movies.  Love Jennifer Lawrence?  Great, but let’s reward her for Silver Linings Playbook, not for The Hunger Games, even if latter is the adaptation of a more acclaimed novel and touches on deep and difficult subject matter.   (Yes, yes, SLP made good money, but less than half what the other pulled in.)  Come Oscar time, let’s pretend that kind of well-made blockbuster doesn’t exist.

Alrighty.  Rant over.  Let’s get down to the men, shall we?

What’s really nice is that the lion’s share of the folks in contention here have never been nominated.  We love our Meryl, but it’s good to spread the wealth around, too. There are at least three new-to-Oscar gentlemen who’ve made all the pre-cursor award shortlists, and should be contenders for the win: Cumberbatch, Keaton and Redmayne.  Actually you’d have to consider Keaton the frontrunner; go to his IMDB page, click on awards, and you’ll see that almost every award in his long career comes from this movie, and instead of the word “nominated,” you’re going to see a lot more of the word “won.”  The awards season is definitely a new world for the 80s box office titan, suddenly lauded for playing a faded actor aiming to revamp his career with a Broadway play in Birdman.  In fact, his character, Riggan Thompson, is most famous for having played a superhero (the titular Birdman) who looks and sounds quite a bit like Keaton’s Batman.  If the film weren’t so completely weird it’d be even a little too much on the nose.  This weekend Keaton won the Golden Globe for actor in a comedy, and gave a deeply felt speech about transformation and his love for his family.  It will be nice to see the 63 year old get this kind of recognition.

38 year old British phenomenon Benedict Cumberbatch isn’t having to wait nearly that long. Recently catapulted into international fame for his role as the greatest detective on Sherlock, Cumberbatch tops a pile up of high profile roles (Smaug in The Hobbit, Khan in Star Trek into Darkness, as well as appearances in recent Oscar flicks War Horse, August: Osage County, and last year’s winner 12 Years a Slave) with this year’s turn as code breaker and computer pioneer Alan Turing.  The film is clumsier about its subject matter — socially challenged and sexually closeted hero overcomes obstacles to win the war, but is later prosecuted and driven to suicide by draconian anti-gay law — then I had hoped, but the performance is still moving, and Cumberbatch has captured the public imagination over the last few years with his unique blend of intelligence, humor and heart.  Hollywood will be thrilled to have him at their biggest show, and no doubt be praying for some Cumberbombing on the red carpet.

Eddie Redmayne, so memorable in former best picture nominee Les Miserables, arrives on the scene with the Oscar-baitiest of all Oscar-bait roles; the true story of theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking’s descent into paralysis, and his strong will to live and continue his work despite ALS.  Add in a devoted love story, and how can Oscar resist?  Despite his baby face, Redmayne is in his early thirties, and the Academy prejudice against youth and beauty in men should be tempered by their love of physical disability.  He’s been gamely campaigning with on-screen partner Felicity Jones at what seems like a ferocious rate.  There’s no telling before the SAG and BAFTA awards if this will be enough to best Keaton for the win, but he should absolutely manage a nomination.  Cool random note?  A decade ago, Cumberbatch played Stephen Hawkings for a TV movie, one that his friend Eddie refused to watch least it influence his own take on the character.

I don’t quite know what to do about Gyllenhaal.  AMPAS does not tend to favor younger men in leading roles, and Nightcrawler is a beloved but exceptionally creepy film about a bottom-feedings news reporter that could easily turn older voters (the plurality of AMPAS members) off.  Yes, Gyllenhaal has been nominated before, but in supporting (an easier feat for a young man), and then it was in many ways the subject matter and prestige of Brokeback Mountain that forced the Academy to take notice despite his age.  He and the late Heath Ledger broke the sexual preference barrier for many actors (including recent turns by Michael Douglas and Matt Damon in Behind the Candelabra and John Lithgow and Alfred Molina in this year’s critically praised but under-awarded Love is Strange) but are still something of a rarity, matinee idols who’ve managed to score Oscar nominations in their 20s. (Damon makes that list, too.)  Anyway, the sheer number of precursor awards — Golden Globe, SAG, BAFTA, BFCA — suggest that he has this locked up, but I have trouble seeing it.   The movie just doesn’t feel Oscar to me.   My gut says he goes the way of Michael Fassbender in Shameless – generally considered a lock after making all the precursor lists, but too pretty and too strange to get the nomination.

If not Jake, then who?  For the most obvious candidates, it’s time to go back to Britain for never-before-nominated Davide Oyelowo in his magnificent role as civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr, and two time nominee Ralph Fiennes as the strange and marvelous concierge in The Grand Budapest Hotel. Probably better know to contemporary audiences for his work as Lord Voldemort in the Harry Potter films, Fiennes took Hollywood by storm in the 90s with his Oscar nominated work in Schindler’s List and, later, The English Patient.  So no, he’s not a newbie like so many of the others, but I’m delighted to see Fiennes getting noticed again, receiving nominations from the Hollywood Foreign Press, BAFTA and the BFCA.  He was utterly robbed of the Oscar for Schindler’s List (you really don’t want to hear me go on about that one, because I can, at length), and his brilliance has been sadly passed over in Quiz Show, The Invisible Woman, Coriolanus, The Constant Gardner and The End of the Affair, just to name a few.

35 year old Oyelowo has, if not such a lofty filmography, certainly one filled with good work.  I first became aware of him in the searing British spy drama MI-5, and have enjoyed seeing him pop up in Lee Daniels’ The Butler, as a voice actor on Star Wars Rebels, and yes, on The Good Wife.  In addition to his break-out role as Dr. King, this year he also appears in Interstellar and A Most Violent Year.  His career seems to be finally taking off and he’s received the kudos to match, from the Hollywood Foreign Press, BFCA, the Satellites and the Independent Spirit.

Comedian Steve Carell managed to snag one of the five SAG nominations, and has had tremendous buzz all year for his role as murderous wrestling enthusiast and would-be Olympic benefactor John du Pont in Foxcatcher.  Director Bennett Miller’s good at getting his actors nominated, and it’s very possible that Carell (who was also nominated for a Satellite) could follow in the footsteps of Philip Seymour Hoffman, Brad Pitt and fellow comedian Jonah Hill.  Award-giving bodies have, in general, been very fond of Mr. Carell, but this would be his first Oscar nomination. If he does make the slate, there’s no question we’ll hear mention of the infamous prosthetic schnoz that so completely transformed his face.

Like Ralph Fiennes, Timothy Spall is probably largely familiar to American audiences for his work as Wormtail in the Harry Potter film series.  He’s been fixture in the British scene for ages, and his work on the artist biopic Mr. Turner is the most celebrated of his already well-reviewed career.  His inclusion would be a surprise,  but not an outlandish one.  He did manage to win the New York Film Critics Circle award for best actor.

There are seven names remaining on my list, all long shots whose inclusion would be that outlandish surprise.  Ellar Coltrane, the star of Boyhood, isn’t old or famous enough; Miles Teller is also too young. The previously unknown Jack O’Connell’s movie has underperformed with critics.  All three of those actors should get great boosts to their careers because of their amazing work this year, at the very least. While the Academy seems quite into Bradley Cooper, his movie hasn’t taken off with audiences.  Thomas Hardy’s film was too small and too long ago. After famously passing him over for directing Argo and choosing not to nominate him for any of his acting roles, I get the feeling that the Academy thinks his existence is already reward enough for Ben Affleck.  Though the Academy definitely likes Bill Murray, it’s an uphill battle for comic roles in a highly competitive year.

In the end, choices must be made.  Though I don’t feel secure in these choices at all, I’ll call it for Keaton, Cumberbatch, Redmayne, Fiennes and Oyelowo, with Gyllenhaal, Cooper and Carell up to bat in that order.  That’s probably crazy of me; I guess we’ll see tomorrow if I’m crazy like a fox.

Best Actress

The Favorite:

Julianne Moore, Still Alice

The Runners Up:

Felicity Jones, The Theory of Everything

Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl

Reese Witherspoon, Wild

Duking It Out For the Last Slot:

Amy Adams, Big Eyes

Jennifer Aniston, Cake

Potential Spoiler:

Marion Cotillard, Two Days, One Night

What’s Wrong With Her?:

Shailene Woodley, The Fault In Our Stars

Long Shots:

Anne Dorval, Mommy

Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Belle

Jenny Slate, The Obvious Child

Hilary Swank, The Homesman

Four Oscar nominations doesn’t seem like that enormous a total, but when you point out that in addition to those nods, the brilliant Julianne Moore has been overlooked for her impressive work in The Kids Are All Right, A Single Man, Magnolia, Safe, An Ideal Husband and Vanya on 42nd Street, the situation seems a little more dire.  And that brings us to 2014, when Moore starred not only in Maps to the Stars (for which she received a Golden Globe nomination) but also Still Alice, the tour-de-force story of a woman losing herself to early onset Alzheimers.  With fingers crossed, many of her long time fans are hoping that she’s not only about to receive her fifth nomination, she’s finally on the verge of winning.

It’s generally agreed that there are three women certain to have the honor of losing to Moore.  First, we have delightful Brit Felicity Jones, long a family favorite for her turn as Catherine Morland in the BBC adaptation of Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey.  Hollywood first noticed her work in 2011’s agonized romance Like Crazy, and she drew decent reviews for 2013’s The Invisible Woman as well as working steadily in British films and television, making a bit of news for allegedly refusing to consider the lead role in 50 Shades of Gray.  For her role as Stephen Hawkings devoted and determined wife Jane, who kept him alive decades past his ALS diagnosis, Jones should receive her first Oscar nomination.  The film did premier quite some time ago, but as previously mentioned, Jones and her costar Eddie Redmayne have been courting likely voters in what seems to be an excellent p.r. campaign to keep their film in contention.

I’m rather intrigued by the links between the next two films, and no, it’s not because my book club happened to read both of them this year.  Not only are Gone Girl and Wild both adaptations of best-sellers written about controversial women who don’t quite fit into an average mold, Reese Witherspoon was responsible for getting them both to the screen.  This isn’t her first foray into producing – her first production company was responsible for Legally Blonde — but they’re her first two works with new producing partner Bruna Papandrea.  It’s a pretty good start for Pacific Standard when you think about it.  Former Bond girl Rosamund Pike (who was far more successful as a Jane Austen heroine in Pride & Prejudice) wows audiences as the titular missing girl in David Fincher’s biggest box office success, giving us the same character from multiple points of view and in many states of manipulation.  Is Amazing Amy Dunne likable?  No.  Does it matter?  It shouldn’t.

For herself, Witherspoon kept the role of advice columnist Cheryl Strayed, who comes by her position of dispensing advice the hard way, losing her way after her beloved mother’s early death from cancer.  Trying to claw her way out of depression, drug use, and an infidelity-fueled divorce, Strayed decides to trek the Pacific Crest Trail by herself, woefully unprepared but deeply determined.  It’s a great part, and while it doesn’t seem likely to grab her a second win, Witherspoon should pick up a second acting nomination as well as a producing nod for Gone, Girl.  Given that she appeared in another 2014 film with Oscar buzz, Inherent Vice, Reese has more than a few reasons to pat herself on the back.

Let’s be honest.  The Academy can be pretty snooty about some things.  They’re not big fans of genre films: mysteries, thrillers, science fiction, fantasy and romantic comedies have a really tough time of it, now more than even ten or twenty years ago. If you’re a comedian in anything other than a black, absurdist comedy, God help you. Long ago, It Happened One Night could win the top five Oscars (actor, actress, director, screenplay and picture); even in the early 90s, Four Weddings and A Funeral could snag a best picture nomination.  While it’s now an acceptable thing for actors to move back and forth between the big and small screens, that migration still seems to flow in one direction — mostly movie actresses of a certain age or color flocking to television to find more interesting roles than they’re being offered in films.  Those ladies can win Emmys.  (Oh, and Kevin Spacey, too.) But if you’re a comedienne who started her career on a Must See sitcom?  I just don’t think the river flows in that direction.  The Academy choked on Jennifer Aniston the last time she starred in a well-reviewed indie (2002’s The Good Girl) , for which she received an Independent Spirit nomination. For this year’s depression/suicide comedy Cake, Aniston has even more buzz, picking up nominations from the BFCA, the Golden Globes and SAG.  Of course its possible that this is actually her year, but I can’t help feeling she’s going to go the way of another pretty sitcom star, Mila Kunis, who was nominated for every possible precursor award for her role in Black Swan and got snubbed by AMPAS.   Though the numbers point to her, I think it’s a tough road.  Like fellow comediennes before her, Aniston needs a Blind Side or an Erin Brockovich in order to be truly taken seriously.

And the rather obvious alternative to Aniston is Amy Adams, who rocketed onto the scene in  2005’s Junebug and has picked up 5 nominations is the decade since.  That’s 5 nominations in 9 years; it’s pretty damn good. That’s Meryl Streep level nominating.  Last year Adams won the comedy Golden Globe for her performance in American Hustle and knocked poor marvelous Emma Thompson out of Oscar contention.  (I love Adams, but I’m still depressed about that.  Poor Emma.)  This year Adams won the comedy Golden Globe for her work in Tim Burton’s art biopic, Big Eyes, and I have the strongest feeling that history is about to repeat itself. Someday the Academy is going to be forced to put Adams on the actual podium when the weight of all those nominations piles up too high.  She’s never the favorite — in fact I don’t think she’s ever really been in contention for the win — but they find her impossible to ignore.

A word of caution; last year I thought Adams was the most likely spoiler, but that she’d knock Meryl Streep off the list, not Emma Thompson.  So who knows?  Maybe Aniston will stay on and it’ll be Witherspoon or Pike who gets the boot.  I’m curious to see if this list is less stable then I imagine.

I’m not even sure why this is, but whenever Hilary Swank gets nominated for an Oscar, she wins.  (This has to be very frustrating to someone like Glenn Close or Amy Adams or Peter O’Toole, who between them have received 19 nominations without a competitive win.)  When she has a good film and no chance of winning (like, say, Insomnia or Amelia) she doesn’t get the nomination.  This is a puzzling and rather unusual situation (Kevin Spacey is the only other person I can think of in that boat), and it leads me to think that Swank will be passed over for her role as a tough, principled frontier woman in Tommy Lee Jones’ The Homesman.

Former winner (and also one time nominee) Marion Cotillard had several attention-getting roles this year in very tiny movies; first The Immigrant (about a devastating 19th century immigrant experience in New York City) and Two Days, One Night, playing a woman who’s forced to beg her coworkers to give up their bonuses so that her boss will have the money to pay her.  At first the historical film looked to be her ticket, but now attention has focused on the more contemporary drama. Foreign language performances have a tough time with AMPAS, however, and it’s been reported that Cotillard hasn’t come to Hollywood to campaign the way she did to ensure her win over Julie Christie for La Vie En Rose ( La Mome) back in 2008.   The Academy clearly likes her, and those two roles received fantastic notices, but between the two roles splitting votes and the relative size of the films, I think this probably is not her year to pick up that second nomination.

The longest of long shots would be Jenny Slate for the abortion comedy, The Obvious Child, one of the best reviewed movies of the year with a 90% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.  This is the movie that gets Slate noticed enough to start making more mainstream films if she so desires, not the one that gets her an Oscar nod – it’s her Like Crazy.  She did make the BFCA list as well as the Independent Spirits and the Chicago film critics (among others), so she deserves at least a footnote in this year’s race. Mbatha-Raw seems ready to be ignored for two impressive roles this past year (Belle and Beyond the Lights), so we’re left just to be happy that an African-British actress can open two films the same year; like Cotillard, Dorval is likely to be sunk because her tiny movie’s in French, though her widowed mother of a violent teen has drawn buzz and a Satellite nomination.

Genre comes into play again when looking at Shailene Woodley (a Golden Globe nominee a few years ago for The Descendants).  In 2014 she starred in two high profile young adult adaptations, the dystopian action flick Divergent and the teens-with-cancer weepy The Fault In Our Stars.  Why isn’t she in the mix for the latter?  It’s a high-Oscar interest subject matter (cancer, grief, death) based on a highly acclaimed novel.  The reviews for the film and for Woodley were quite good.  So what’s wrong with this picture?  Two words: young adult.  Hollywood will take money from teenage girls, but it’s not ready to respect them.

As you may have guessed, I’m predicting Moore, Jones, Pike, Witherspoon and Adams, in that order.  Aniston is the obvious alternate, with Cotillard as her back up.

Best Director

The Frontrunner:

Richard Linklater, Boyhood

The Runner Up:

Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Birdman

The Next Most Nominated:

Wes Anderson, The Grand Budapest Hotel

The Golden Globes and the Broadcast Film Critics Choices:

Ava DuVernay, Selma

David Fincher, Gone Girl

The Director’s Guild Choices:

Clint Eastwood, American Sniper

Morten Tyldum, The Imitation Game

You Can’t Count Them Out:

Bennett Miller, Foxcatcher 

Damien Chazelle, Whiplash

James Marsh, The Theory of Everything

Super Long Shots:

Angelina Jolie, Unbroken

Christopher Nolan, Interstellar

 

Quite reasonably, the path to Oscar begins with your peers.  This is to say that the nominating process limits voting to within a specific category; actors vote for the acting awards, cinematography is decided by cinematographers, screenplay by the members of the writing branch, and so on, with everyone voting for best picture.  In some branches, this voting method produces a fair number of outliers, and this phenomenon is never more obvious than with directors, who are notoriously quirky.  Like the documentary film makers, they’re unimpressed by big names, and often eschew commercial work for something more artsy or obscure.  Witness the 2012 exclusion of former winners Kathryn Bigelow and Tom Hooper, or the 2013 snubbing of Ben Affleck which caused such outrage that it lead pretty directly to his film Argo winning Best Picture.   The Director’s Guild is far more likely to produce a respectable slate of expected names, although this year they may have muddied the field — and either way, they’ve announced their slate after Academy voting closed.  In an era of large and confusing Best Picture fields, the shortlist of possible directors is long, and it’s even harder to know which of the five directors will make the cut.

The writer-director Richard Linklater is a no-brainer inclusion.  He’s won the plurality of awards offered thus far, and has received enormous buzz for the persistence of telling one story over 12 years of filming, chronicling the actual boyhood of star Ellar Coltrane.  There’s no way they’re leaving the two time writing nominee off the list after that kind of commitment.  Not gonna happen.

We already know the Academy’s fondness for Inarritu; he was nominated twice as the director and producer of Babel, and is likely to repeat that feat again this year, probably with a screenplay nod thrown in.  Good for you, Alejandro!

Quirky Wes Anderson has been nominated once for his animated feature The Fantastic Mr. Fox, and twice for writing original screenplays.  In a weirdly fluid year, he may just be enough of a consensus candidate to finally get him onto the shortlist.   Like Inarritu, he has an excellent shot of a triple crown of nominations, for writing, directing and producing his best reviewed and most financially successful film to date. I’m honestly not sold on this – they’ve had ample opportunity to reward Anderson before, and found him too twee or precious or odd — but in this really strange year for directors, he might just the right kind of odd.  Or maybe they’ve just finally gotten used to him.

On the other hand, the Academy could make some real history, choosing to honor it’s first African American female director in Ava DuVernay, who helmed the civil rights drama Selma.  In her favor, Selma has a 99% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and an 89 on Metacritic, higher than any other contending film this year besides Boyhood.  It’s also got the biggest scope of any of the main contenders.  Against her is, sadly, history — not to mention a smear campaign against the film — and what appears to be either an impoverished or incompetent p.r. campaign that failed to send screeners to at least SAG and the Producers Guild (and I think also the DGA), resulting in a complete lack of nominations for the late opening film that voters couldn’t yet see in theaters.

The Academy could also reward an extremely popular and twice nominated director who has of yet never managed to win — David Fincher.  He’s been nominated 6 times for a Director’s Guild Award for his work in commercials, television and films, but he didn’t make their list this year, and it’s hard to know if he’ll make it onto Oscar’s.  Gone Girl wouldn’t put him in the winner’s circle, certainly, but he did make the shortlist for the BFCA and the Golden Globes this year and might yet make it into what’s arguably 2015’s most contested race.

Even though his movie is a sure bet, I don’t really see Norwegian national Tyldum making the cut. The fact that he didn’t get a BAFTA nom for his very British film seems most telling to me.  Eastwood is more of a threat, despite the uneven response to his film. He’s still an icon, even after that whole incident at the RNC with the chair.

After them in terms of precursor awards, we have writer-director wunderkind Damien Chazelle, who wowed audiences with a fictionalized version of his own relationship with an uncompromising band leader.  Like DuVernay’s, his film has been dogged by odd controversy; though his work had been campaigned as an original screenplay, the Academy decided without telling him that they considered it an adapted screenplay since he’d earlier filmed a short using a portion of the same script as a fundraising tool to get the whole movie made. Craziness. There’s a lot of respect out there for his work, and I think it’s just possible that the controversy could work for him — that Academy members who find the screenplay category rules preposterous might then be inclined to vote for Chazelle in other categories.  After all, we’ve seen what the director’s branch snub of Ben Affleck did for Argo‘s previously murky best picture chances.

It’s curious that  James Marsh has a film all but assured of a best picture nomination — one which would almost certainly make the list even if there were only five nominees — yet he seems to have very little chance of getting an Oscar nomination.  He just doesn’t have the same sort of heat as the film, no matter how loudly Eddie Redmayne and composer Johann Johannson thanked him at the Golden Globes.  Perhaps it’s because like Fincher, he’s spent a good deal of time directing television.  Marsh in fact seems largely to be a documentary film maker. Then there’s Bennett Miller, whose film Foxcatcher may or may not make the best picture category; he’s been nominated before for Capote, in what was rather a surprise move at the time.  Though past success is no good indicator of future success with the director’s branch, we do at least know they like him.

Finally, there seems to be some sort of Academy prejudice against auteur Christopher Nolan (nominated for his writing but never directing – are you sensing a theme here?) and against Angelina Jolie’s adaptation of Laura Hillenbrand’s WW2 prisoner survival story Unbroken.  The inclusion of either director or film would be a great shock; more on that in a minute.

First, let me put it down in black and white.  Linklater, Inarritu, Anderson, DuVernay and Chazelle on a weird hunch, with Fincher or Eastwood (or both) as spoilers.  I could easily be wrong about as many as three out of those five.

Best Picture

This We Know For Sure:

Boyhood

Nearly As Certain:

Birdman

The Imitation Game

The Theory of Everything

The Chances Are Very Good:

Gone Girl

The Grand Budapest Hotel

Can They Possibly Leave It Off?:

Selma

Coming On Like Gangbusters At the Last Minute:

American Sniper

Duking It Out For the Last Slots:

Foxcatcher

Nightcrawler

Whiplash

Long Shots:

Interstellar

Mr. Turner

Unbroken

Since AMPAS instituted its new voting system in 2012, allowing for between 5 and 10 Best Picture nominees, each year has produced 9 nominees.  Though the system failed to produce more nominations for blockbusters as intended, we have at least reached a point where we can adequately predict the number of nominees, or so most people assume. Predicting the actual films is much harder.

Hopefully I’ve said enough about Boyhood to make it obvious that it’s going to land on this list, and that as of now it’s the undisputed frontrunner for the win.  Had Selma managed to get a nomination from the PGA or SAG, it seems like the one film with the scope and ambition and epic storyline to challenge the coming of age drama — but since it didn’t,  it can’t build up the necessary steam.  While admirable, The Imitation Game isn’t as smart or as moving as The King’s Speech; it will be nominated, but I doubt it can challenge for the win.  Birdman is so odd that it couldn’t beat the endearingly daffy Budapest Hotel for Best Comedy at the Golden Globes. The Theory of Everything has yet to win anything – but from BAFTA to the Critics Choice to SAG and everywhere in between, it’s gets the nomination.

It’s not unusual for Oscar to value films that the critics find pedestrian, and pass up more critically-acclaimed ones, but it would be a terrible shame to see a movie as brilliant and topically vital as Selma passed over because American Sniper is more butch or more … something.  I have no idea what, really.  Like I said, there’s often a disconnect between the critics and the industry, and Sniper seems a prime example of that rift.  It was largely ignored by critics groups (excepting the National Board of Review and the AFI with their top ten lists) but has picked up support from the Director’s Guild and the Producer’s Guild.  Perhaps surprisingly,  since it looks like a commercial thriller, it has the lowest box office totals of almost anything in contention.  I’m at something of a loss as to why this film suddenly has more awards buzz than smart blockbusters like Unbroken and Interstellar.  Those two represent what Oscar nominees used to be: good movies that people actually saw and enjoyed.  While I’m thrilled that Oscar embraces small film (I’ll still cheer over Requiem for a Dream, Winter’s Bone and Frozen River) I’m not sure I’ll ever understand why, when given the choice between a popular film and an unpopular one with virtually the same critical response, Academy voters would prefer the unpopular film.  Both Interstellar and American Sniper hover around 72 at both Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes, hardly an impressive figure.  For that matter, both Wild and Still Alice were far better reviewed than either one, in the 80s and 90s.  In that case, I’m forced to wonder if they have no best picture buzz because both films are solely about women, which is true of nothing else on this long list.  (Gone Girl and The Theory of Everything are about marriages, which is not the same thing at all.) And then there’s the teen romance The Fault in Our Stars, which again ranks far higher with critics and audiences.

On the highest end of the box office spectrum we’ve got Gone Girl, by far the highest grossing of the contenders at around $150 mil domestically.  (Technically the highest grossing film is Interstellar, with a domestic take of $185 mil, but I’m having trouble calling it a true contender to receive Academy notice.) Fincher’s flick could be classed as a thriller, which makes it slightly unusual for Oscar.  The Academy isn’t usually as high on director David Fincher’s work as the critics and the public are (or AMPAS’s television counterpart, for that matter).  And it’s a screenplay written by a woman, adapted from her own novel, and has an unlikable female character close to its center.  The Golden Globes and the BAFTAs and the SAG awards snubbed it, though it was nominated by the Satellites and the Producer’s Guild.

It’s strange to me that people might feel more passionately about Nightcrawler than Gone Girl, but it does seem to be the case – that movie did make quite a few short lists, including the Producer’s Guild, the NBR and the BFCA.  True crime drama Foxcatcher made the SAG list as well as the Golden Globes.  I can’t help feeling that these two movies, along with Whiplash, present a pack of close competitors, all personal stories of ambition and destruction.  I have trouble imagining they’ll all make it — that’s a big ball of darkness — but which ones to leave off the list?

Though it made a strong showing on critics top ten lists and with the National Board of Review, Mr. Turner has failed to make any guild or major award lists. even the BAFTAs.  It would constitute a major shock.

In order of how secure I’m feeling about each of them, Boyhood, Birdman, The Imitation Game, The Theory of Everything, Gone Girl, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Selma, American Sniper, and Whiplash, with Foxcatcher as my first alternate and Nightcrawler after that.

And that, my friends, is that.

Other thoughts:

I’ll be curious to see if gorgeous costumes dramas Belle and Mr. Turner (the normal fare for Oscar) are left of the costume award list as the were at the costume guild.  Certain to make that list are the fantastical wonders Into the Woods and The Grand Budapest Hotel. Look to Guardians of the Galaxy and The Hobbit to hit up the technical categories. Big Hero 6, How To Train Your Dragon and The Box Trolls should figure in feature length animation.

Birdman probably has a lock on cinematography, though Unbroken should get a nomination as well. Gillian Flynn will become the first woman nominated for adapting her own novel, so a woman will get to make a little history even if DuVernay doesn’t win her spot.  As I said, Whiplash had been assumed a lock for a screenplay nod, but with its category switch, it’s now in question.

And there it is!  A lot of uncertainty, a lot of confusion, and a lot of new blood.  You won’t hear from me as quickly as usual tomorrow because I’m going to be working during the nomination announcement. (I know.  It’s killing me.  And I apologize even more to the people waiting for me to write my usual Good Wife recap; God knows when I’ll have time to finish that one.)  But as soon as I can, I’ll be with you to discuss all the stuff the rest of the pundits and I got right and wrong this year; it’s just too unsettled for anyone to be more than lucky, I think.  Which, hey, is definitely more fun (if more nerve-wracking) than the years when it’s all decided far in advance.

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15 comments on “Predicting the Oscar Nominees, 2015

  1. MMGF says:

    Man, that 5th Best Supporting Actress slot is tough, eh? I have this weird feeling that it’s going to be something unexpected, like maybe a Rene Russo in Nightcrawler. (I hadn’t realized she snagged a BAFTA nomination.) We’ll see!

    Oh – I can also totally envision a world where Adams and Aniston BOTH get Best Actress nominations, and Witherspoon is the one left out. Except that Wild does seem to be very well-received (which makes the disappearance of Dern this award season all the odder!)

    • E says:

      Oh my gosh, yes. I’m fascinated to see how all this will go. At, you know, 2:30 this afternoon. 😛 (I could probably bring my iPad with me and check, but I think I’d rather watch a tape of the live show than get the info on the internet…)

  2. John says:

    Nice work, E. You nailed the supporting noms with only the very slight Swinton vs Dern miscall.

    The best actor category was up for grabs as predicted with Carell instead of Oyelowo being the most surprising (but nice, since I like Carell a lot). You did call Carell and Cooper as “up to bat”, so you were right about that – they batted better than expected for sure.

    You called best actress really well, with naming Cotillard as the “potential spoiler”. That turned out to be true. Poor Amy Adams.

    Director always seems to be a tough category but you only missed two, instead of your feared three, out of five. Miller and Tyldum are interesting. I liked “Imitation Game”, but I felt like the movie couldn’t figure out if it was about homosexuality or code breaking. Screenwriter’s fault rather than director? Perhaps. Overall, I liked the movie.

    And Best Picture was really well done. You called every movie, but they snubbed Gone Girl. Only 8 nominees this year, instead of the usual 9, so it probably would have been Gone Girl if it had gone to 9. As it was, you named 100% of the nominations, so that’s a win in my book.

    Looking forward to seeing some of these movies that I haven’t seen yet.

    -J

    • E says:

      Man, I can’t believe Gone Girl did so badly! It even missed on Adapted Screenplay, where it was the expected winner.

      Off to write the response piece! Will write more soon.

      • MMGF says:

        Crazy, isn’t it? Initial reaction is that The Lego Movie being missing from the Animated Feature category is the biggest snub. But I actually think that Gone Girl missing out on a Best Picture slot is right up there. As you know, I actually thought Gone Girl might be a front-runner for Best Picture!

        At least Whiplash ended up not being hindered by its odd relegation to the Adapted Screenplay category.

        • E says:

          I wonder if Whiplash ended up taking Gillian Flynn’s spot? I think that’s the trio – Gone Girl, Flynn for her GG screenplay, and The Lego Movie. Heck, I think TLM got a screenplay nod from the WGA or something, even; I thought they’d have really liked it.

        • E says:

          Well, and then there’s Aniston, Gyllenhaal, and Chastain. I’m probably most bummed about Oyelowo and DuVernay, and most happy to see Dern get in. Dang, though, now I have to find a way to see Two Days, One Night. Where the heck is that showing? Or it already on video? One can hope…

          • MMGF says:

            Yes! Your Laura Dern got in! Good for her, though – I tend to like her work. Even if I find issue with her playing Reese Witherspoon’s mother, being only NINE years older.

            • E says:

              Yeah, that’s pretty ridiculous. Like Jennifer Lawrence playing the mother of a 6 year old or whatever in American Hustle. I am happy for Dern, though.

    • E says:

      Hey, I don’t know if you noticed, but “Lost Stars” got a nomination for best song! Super excited about that one.

      Also, thanks. 🙂

    • E says:

      Oh, and also? I don’t feel super sad for Adams. She’s got a lot of nominations, and this wasn’t one she was going to win. I mean, of course it’s sad, but the one I feel the most sorry for is Aniston, because they just don’t seem to want to let her play at all.

      I am a little peeved at myself for switching over to Swinton from Dern at the last minute, though. Ah well!

  3. […] but I actually guessed wrong less than I was expecting.  Let’s get to it!  Here’s a link to my predictions, in case you’re curious to compare them exactly, and another to the […]

  4. ptully94 says:

    Saw this, thought of you. RE: Lego Movie snub.

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