Previewing Oscars 2015 This year more than ever before, there’s an element of ‘pfftt’ to the Academy Awards, with its odd fascination with pleasant, middle-of-the-road British biopics and aversion for anything deemed too edgy, too sexy, or seemingly too black. But here I am anyway, with just a couple of hours to spare, presenting a collection of shoulda, coulda and woulda’s for the glitziest, silliest night of the year in film.
Will Win Birdman is masterful on a technical level, but it’s the knowing Hollywood commentary pumping through its veins that ought to entice Oscar voters to name it Best Picture.
Should Win It’s not the best film of the year, but in terms of scope and filmmaking, Boyhood most likely should take home the night’s big one.
Shoulda Been a Contender Provocative and thrilling, Gone Girl was completely shut out this year. It was never going to win Best Picture, but it at least deserved a nomination here.
My Ballot Birdman, Boyhood, Gone Girl, Whiplash, Under the Skin
Will Win/Should Win Alejandro González Iñárritu’s work on Birdman is playful, surreal and adventurous, and it seems unthinkable for him to go home empty-handed.
Shoulda Been a Contender Never has the term ‘otherworldly’ been more appropriate when talking about Jonathan Glazer and Under the Skin.
My Ballot Damien Chazelle (Whiplash), Ava DuVernay (Selma), Jonathan Glazer (Under the Skin), Alejandro González Iñárritu (Birdman), Richard Linklater (Boyhood)
Best Adapted Screenplay
Will Win It’s likely the Academy will find some way of awarding the uncomfortably successful American Sniper, though Buffy fans will probably get a kick out of the fact that screenwriter Jason Hall was once best known for playing Devon, Cordelia’s ex and the frontman of Dingoes Ate My Baby. Small world…
Should Win Damien Chazelle, just for writing one of the most gut-wrenching third-act plot twists in recent memory. It’s a masterful screenplay.
Shoulda Been a Contender Gillian Flynn so brilliantly adapted her own novel for the big-screen in a way that effortlessly combined pulpy thrills with provocative smarts. It’s another odd decision this year not to invite her to the party.
My Ballot Paul Thomas Anderson (Inherent Vice), Joon-ho Bong and Kelly Masterson (Snowpiercer), Walter Campbell and Jonathan Glazer (Under the Skin), Damien Chazelle (Whiplash), Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl)
Best Original Screenplay
Will Win In some ways Birdman is the total package (gorgeous visuals, smart writing, flawless ensemble). It’ll likely walk away with the most wins tonight.
Should Win It ought to be Nightcrawler, both for its social commentary and uncomfortable laughs as well as its brilliant characterisation. Alas, it’s too dark for Oscar.
Shoulda Been a Contender Justin Lader’s script for The One I Love is perceptive and smart on a human level, complete with a genre-defying mid-way plot twist that exposes the creative potential of low-budget independent film. It’s a shame it was never really in the conversation.
My Ballot Wes Anderson (The Grand Budapest Hotel), Dan Gilroy (Nightcrawler), Mark Heyman and Craig Johnson (The Skeleton Twins), Justin Lader (The One I Love), Paul Webb (Selma)
Will Win Eddie Redmayne does very good things in his Stephen Hawking biopic, but the film (and that of his fellow nominee Benedict Cumberbatch) are so Oscar-by-numbers that it is always slightly disappointing when they take home the gold. It’s been neck-and-neck between Redmayne and Keaton all awards season, but it’ll probably be Keaton who stumbles at the last hurdle. Oscar convention usually falls on the side of the inoffensive.
Should Win Birdman has one of the best ensemble casts of the year, but it operates best as a complete showcase for Michael Keaton, who delivers a performance that is energetic and noisy but backed up with moments of subtlety and tenderness. Just a fully-formed, career-defining piece of work.
Shoulda Been a Contender This was arguably the most stacked Best Actor category in years, which explains all the snubs. While Ralph Fiennes deserved more awards recognition for The Grand Budapest Hotel, it is David Oyelowo’s Selma snub that remains entirely bizarre, his Martin Luther King reaching far beyond mere imitation and into something truly rousing and transcendent. Then there was Bill Hader’s revelatory work in The Skeleton Twins, hilarious and tender but layered with depth and melancholy. Special mention also needs to go to Jake Gyllenhaal’s terrifying work in Nightcrawler, though it is no surprise the Academy ignored such a dark, provocative thriller.
My Ballot Ralph Fiennes (The Grand Budapest Hotel), Jake Gyllenhaal (Nightcrawler), Bill Hader (The Skeleton Twins), Michael Keaton (Birdman), David Oyelowo (Selma)
Will Win Julianne Moore effectively had her name engraved on the Best Actress statue five months ago for her devastating work in the otherwise sterile Still Alice. While she’s long overdue to take home a gong, it is disappointing it will be for one of the more bland roles on her gargantuan resume.
Should Win Dark and twisty but fuelled by an underlying devastation, Rosamund Pike is all tightly-coiled rage and volatility throughout Gone Girl, a performance full of multi-faceted range and hidden levels. It’s crushing that she and her movie are almost complete Oscar non-factors this year.
Shoulda Been a Contender Scarlett Johansson did mesmerising, career-best work in Under the Skin, though it is no surprise such an abstract, experimental piece went unnoticed by the Academy. More baffling is the absence of Jennifer Aniston, whose performance in Cake is moving and heartfelt and should hopefully represent a career turnaround of sorts.
My Ballot Jennifer Aniston (Cake), Marion Cotillard (Deux jours, une nuit), Scarlett Johansson (Under the Skin), Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl), Reese Witherspoon (Wild)
Best Supporting Actor
Will Win/Should Win Like Julianne Moore, Simmons has effectively been rendering the rest of his category’s nominees moot points this Oscar season, but rightly so. Simmons’ performance in Whiplash is loud but never overpowering, forceful yet never dominating. He matches the film’s pressure-cooker tempo and then some, the kind of role born for and deserving of enormous recognition.
Shoulda Been a Contender Instead of the odd nomination for Robert Duvall’s performance in that Robert Downey Jr. courtroom drama that sunk without a trace months ago, how about throwing a bone to Michael Fassbender’s incredible work in Frank, in which he sources warmth and laughs all while stuck inside an enormous fibreglass head.
My Ballot Michael Fassbender (Frank), Ethan Hawke (Boyhood), Edward Norton (Birdman), Mark Ruffalo (Foxcatcher), J.K. Simmons (Whiplash)
Best Supporting Actress
Will Win The third acting category in which the winner is a guaranteed shoe-in, Patricia Arquette has been nabbing awards left, right and centre for her lovely if slightly bland work in Boyhood. But it also nicely doubles as a ‘career award’ for an actress who has delivered fantastic performances for close to twenty years without any major recognition. So that’s cool.
Should Win There’s an obvious vibe of “ugh, again?” whenever Meryl Streep is even inserted into Oscar discussion, but she’s honest-to-god breathtaking in Into the Woods, particularly her big Stay with Me number, and while it’s predictable and generic to sing her praises, she’s still the best of the five nominees this year.
Shoulda Been a Contender This section is disappointingly vast considering the performances that ended up getting nominated. The once-forgotten Rene Russo came crawling out of the 1990’s with a vengeance in Nightcrawler, Tilda Swinton was bizarre, unapologetic camp at its finest in Snowpiercer, and Uma Thurman’s Nymphomaniac cameo was a force to be reckoned with. It’s also a pity that Still Alice stole all the thunder right out from under Julianne Moore’s perverse, daring work in Maps to the Stars, arguably one of the greatest performances of the year.
My Ballot Julianne Moore (Maps to the Stars), Rene Russo (Nightcrawler), Meryl Streep (Into the Woods), Tilda Swinton (Snowpiercer), Uma Thurman (Nymphomaniac)