Brendan Shick | Freelance Film, Broadcast, & Digital Media

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Oscar Lineup & Predictions 2015

Feb 22 2015 by Brendan Shick Add Your Thoughts

My annual Oscar picks are here to once again serve as your cheat sheet to winning your Oscar-guessing contests with some commentary on my favorites thrown in for good measure.

The past two years, I’ve guessed 20 out of 24 categories correctly (16 out of 24 from three years ago) and once again screened nearly all the nominees this year, including every single film nominated for the top 8 awards or in multiple categories, to maintain an informed opinion (the handful I haven’t screened are noted below in the appropriate category).

As far as the ‘should-have-been-nominated’ entrants, these include only eligible films I’ve personally screened – your favorite will not show up there if I haven’t seen it.

Best Motion Picture of the Year

Nominees:

Birdman (2014)Will Win: Birdman

Dark Horse: Boyhood a close second

My Favorite: Birdman or Whiplash

Should Have Been Nominated: Guardians of the Galaxy, Interstellar, Snowpiecer, Gone Girl, Beyond the Lights, The Judge

The strongest indicator of who will win Best Picture is who won the top prize at the Producer’s Guild awards (PGA). Nine years out of ten, both awards are given to the same film. This year, Birdman got the honor.

Birdman is the type of Hollywood self-love that often nabs this category. Think The Artist from a few years back, only replacing silent films and talkies with Broadway and superhero films. It’s a celebration of Broadway acting, and the Academy voters are largely actors themselves. They will relate.

Things are unusually close this year (a trend of late), and Boyhood wouldn’t be far behind. Anyone who puts it down here could upset some ballots late should it pull out a win.

For the second year in a row, I’m having trouble not putting down a tie for my personal Best Picture choice – but this may be a rare instance where the Academy actually agrees with me as to who should take home the honor. For those who haven’t seen Whiplash, it’s a small film with massive popularity. Basically it’s Birdman if you replace ‘theater’ with ‘music.’

BEST ACHIEVEMENT IN DIRECTING

Nominees:

Birdman (2014)Will Win: Birdman

Dark Horse: Boyhood

My Favorite: Birdman

Should Have Been Nominated: Damien Chazelle (Whiplash), Christopher Nolan (Interstellar), David Fincher (Gone Girl)

The second strongest trend of the Oscars is that Best Director and Best Picture also go to the same film 9 times out of 10 – and yet, the past two years, this fact of conventional wisdom has not held true.

Since, I’m favoring Birdman for Best Picture, I’m also putting down Iñárritu here. He won the Director’s Guild of America award in this category, which is a decently strong indicator. Again Boyhood is a relatively close second.

The last time Best Picture and Director went to different films 3 years in a row was in the 1930s – it could technically happen again this year, although this seems less likely this year than when it was quite predictable for the past two.

It’s a bit odd that Foxcatcher was nominated here without a Best Picture nomination. Bennett Miller is a strong, well-liked director (his previous film, Moneyball, was my favorite of that year), but I would have like to have seen some other films recognized here as well.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role

Nominees:

The Theory of Everything (2014)Will Win: Eddie Redmayne

Dark Horse: Michael Keaton

My Favorite: Eddie Redmayne

Should Have Been Nominated: Timothy Spall (Mr. Turner)

Four of these performances were tricky, in that they were roles involving real life people – two of them high-profile figures from the present generation. It also features Steve Carell in a ‘serious’ role.

One of those is Stephen Hawking, Redmayne’s character in The Theory of Everything – yes, the guy from Les Misérables, who is here indistinguishable from the historical figure. He’s won the award from the Screen Actor’s Guild already. They’ve not picked a different winner than the Academy here for over a decade, after all actors are the largest voting block in the Academy.

However, this is the closest race of all the acting categories. Keaton was long seen as the front runner until recently, playing the lead in the heavily nominated Birdman and Bradley Cooper could sneak in as well. His transformation into a recent historical figure was as complete and convincing as Redmayne’s and he also has been nominated three years in a row now, so far without a win.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role

Nominees:

Still Alice (2014)Will Win: Julianne Moore

Dark Horse: not likely

My Favorite: Reese Witherspoon

Should Have Been Nominated: Anne Hathaway (Interstellar), Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Beyond the Lights), Keira Knightley (Begin Again)

If Moore doesn’t win this one, no one has a clue who would upset her. Several things work in her favor.

First, she’s already won the Screen Actor’s Guild prize, much like the other nominees I’m choosing in the acting categories. But in her case, she also benefits from this being her 5th Oscar nomination – as yet without a win.

If you’re hoping to play major spoiler with your ballot by voting against Moore, stay away from Cotillard – although a previous winner, her nomination this year surprised just about everyone.

Witherspoon and Pike both turn in great performances in a pair of films (Gone GirlWild) that I think were widely underrepresented in this year’s nominations.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role

Nominees:

Whiplash (2014)Will Win: J.K. Simmons

Dark Horse: Unlikely, but Norton or Hawke

My Favorite: J.K. Simmons (apologies to Robert Duvall)

Three of these films are probably making my top 10 for the year (The JudgeBirdmanWhiplash) – and the great cast in each is a big part of that.

J.K. Simmons is the favorite here, having won the comparable Screen Actors Guild award. This is a strong indicator, since the largest number of Academy voters are actors, who naturally also vote in the SAG Awards.

I can’t disagree, although two of my other favorite performances of the year (Norton, Hawke) are also on the list and have a very small chance of an upset, if only because the films themselves were more widely seen and popular amongst Academy voters.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role

Nominees:

Boyhood (2014)Will Win: Patricia Arquette

Dark Horse: Meryl Streep, Laura Dern

My Favorite: Tilda Swinton

Should Have Been Nominated: Kristen Stewart, Still Alice; Tilda Swinton, Snowpiercer

Not only is this category basically a lock for Arquette, it’s also Boyhood‘s best shot at taking home a win between its 6 nominations.

No one is going against her as a first choice, including the Screen Actor’s Guild, which has a respectable 80% record of choosing the same winner in this category (actors make up the largest percentage of Academy voters). Most have Dern listed in second place, although the last time SAG and the Academy disagreed, it was when the latter gave Streep the statute for Best Actress in The Iron Lady.

Unfortunately, there were a couple other standout supporting performances this year that weren’t recognized with a nomination, including my favorite, Tilda Swinton in Snowpiercer.

Best Writing, Original Screenplay

Nominees:

The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)Will Win: The Grand Budapest Hotel

Dark Horse: Birdman

My Favorite: Birdman

Should Have Been Nominated: InterstellarThe Judge, Beyond the Lights, arguably Whiplash

The writing awards are always interesting to call because the Writer’s Guild of America award doesn’t correlate nearly as nicely with the Oscars as the other guilds’ awards.

This can be attributed to the fact that fewer Academy members are writers, but often different films get nominated as well.

This year, that’s a major issue, since the WGA nominated popular Whiplash as an original screenplay and the Academy put it down for adapted – arguing it was based on a short proof-of-concept version the producers used to pitch and raise funds from investors.

Either way, The Grand Budapest Hotel took home original screenplay at the WGAs and will likely repeat; but Birdman wasn’t in the running like it is here – and it just might have a stronger surprise showing among the actors’ branch in the Academy.

Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay

Nominees:

Whiplash (2014)Will Win: Whiplash

Dark Horse: The Imitation Game

My Favorite: Whiplash, although Gone Girl and Wild are also solid choices if you insist that Whiplash was an original work

Should Have Been Nominated: Gone Girl, Guardians of the Galaxy, Wild, possibly Snowpiecer

The Academy has chosen a weaker lineup here than the Writer’s Guild, but that’s possibly because moving Whiplash over to an adapted work took a slot that another picture could have filled.

By contrast, the WGA put my 3 favorite adapted screenplays of the year here instead (Gone Girl, Guardians of the Galaxy, Wild) which made the field very different.

The Imitation Game ultimately won there, but against completely different competition. Here it’s up against The Theory of Everything and critically popular Whiplash – which makes it a close and unpredictable race. Just how strong will Whiplash perform in a different category? Will the Hawking biopic split the British drama vote?

It’s a very close call, and Whiplash is by no means a given here, especially with The Weinstein Company campaigning for its main competition.

Best Achievement in Cinematography

Nominees:

Birdman (2014)Will Win: Birdman

Dark Horse: Unbroken

My Favorite: Birdman

Should Have Been Nominated: Whiplash, Snowpiercer, Noah

As a cinematographer myself, this is one of the categories I look forward to most each year. The year’s work was a little disappointing in this arena, but there are some interesting choices available.

Lubezski and Deakins both gather a second consecutive nomination (after last year’s Gravity and Prisoners respectively) and Lubezski is probably the favorite – which would actually give him back to back wins.

It’s his 7th nomination – although Gravity was his first win even though two of his other entries were Children of Men and The Tree of Life. Deakins has 12 nominations, but has never won (despite running against himself in 2008). Unbroken was a pretty film in spots and could garner him the ‘it’s-about-time’ vote. Both artists are still due another honor.

Ida is an interesting choice as this is the second year in a row that a foreign film was nominated (last year’s must see: The Grandmaster), not to mention the second year for a black and white film (last year: Nebraska). In fact, there’s been a b&w film on the list for 3 of the past 4 years (The Artist, 2012).

Like The Artist, Ida and The Grand Budapest Hotel both use the now rare 4:3 aspect ratio – although The Grand Budapest actually cuts between 4:3, 16:9, and 21:9 to show passage of time.

BEST ACHIEVEMENT IN PRODUCTION DESIGN

Nominees:

The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)Will Win: The Grand Budapest Hotel

Dark Horse: Into the Woods

My Favorite: Interstellar or Mr. Turner

The Grand Budapest Hotel and Into the Woods look like a pretty likely one and two spot here. Both create a highly stylized and singular look thru their production design.

Interstellar and Mr. Turner were perhaps more difficult to design for since their looks need to be successfully grounded in the real world. Both also stand apart as period pieces, Mr. Turner being a historical drama and Interstellar set in the somewhat near future.

Best Achievement in Costume Design

Nominees:

Into the Woods (2014)Will Win: Into the Woods

Dark Horse: The Grand Budapest Hotel

My Favorite: too close to call

Should Have Been Nominated: Snowpiercer

This is one of the closer races amongst the smaller categories, and it wouldn’t be a huge shocker if any of these pulled out a victory.

A lot of people are saying to go with The Grand Budapest Hotel here – Canonero does have a strong history with the Academy Awards after all. However, the number one rule in this category is never vote against Colleen Atwood. She’s 3 for 11 in the past.

Grand Budapest also has a safe appeal since it’s tied for the most nominations (9, tied with Birdman) and it’s safe to say most voters will have screened it. Frankly, however, there’s always that one film that receives lots of nominations and then strikes out on wins. I think Grand Budapest will hold that spot this year, not for lack of prowess, but simply because it was released so early in the calendar year, putting it in a weaker position come awards season.

Inherent Vice, Maleficent, and Mr. Turner round out the ballot with 2, 1, and 4 total nominations respectively.

BEST ACHIEVEMENT IN MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING

Nominees:

Foxcatcher (2014)Will Win: Foxcatcher

Dark Horse: any nominee

My Favorite: Guardians of the Galaxy

Could Have Been Nominated: The Theory of Everything, possibly Snowpiercer

This is one of the tightest races on the ballot – most experts are literally splitting their picks evenly between all three well-deserved nominations.

I think Foxcatcher will edge this one out, as this category has traditionally gone to the serious drama in recent years (The Iron Lady, Dallas Buyers Club) even when it was a lesser known entry (The Iron Lady).

Steve Carrell’s unrecognizable nose will of course be the reason for this, but I prefer not to overlook the more pervasive makeup usage in comedic Guardians of the Galaxy, much like I thought last year’s Bad Grandpa was snubbed. Grand Budapest may once again miss out by the narrowest of margins.

BEST ACHIEVEMENT IN FILM EDITING

Nominees:

Boyhood (2014)Will Win: Boyhood

Dark Horse: Whiplash

My Favorite: Boyhood, with apologies to American Sniper & Whiplash

Should Have Been Nominated: Gone Girl, possibly Wild

The key to picking the winner for Best Editing is pacing. Boyhood compresses 12-years into 166-minutes and fells a tad long, but not too long to be watchable. It should feel this way considering how much ground it covers.

This is what the Academy loves to see in this category. American Sniper also has a great well-paced flow and it wouldn’t be too upsetting to see it win here. What is upsetting is that two and a half hour Gone Girl, a marvelously paced thriller, didn’t make the cut.

BEST ACHIEVEMENT IN SOUND EDITING

Nominees:

American Sniper (2014)Will Win: American Sniper

Dark Horse: Birdman

My Favorite: Interstellar [not screened: The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies]

Should Have Been Nominated: Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Guardians of the Galaxy

Oftentimes, you have a shoe-in nominee that is expected to sweep the technical categories (sound, vfx, etc.) quite decisively – think last year’s Gravity. That’s not so much the case this year, although war drama Sniper could get both sound wins.

The Hobbit is the least serious contender – already falling massively short of its counterpart’s (The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King) record win total, receiving only a single nomination.

Best Picture front-runner Birdman and sci-fi epic Interstellar shouldn’t go unnoticed, as Unbroken could always split the war drama vote, and play spoiler to Clint Eastwood’s best shot at a win this year.

Best Achievement in Sound Mixing

Nominees:

American Sniper (2014)Will Win: American Sniper

Dark Horse: Whiplash, possibly Birdman

My Favorite: definitely Whiplash

Should Have Been Nominated: Wild

If the Academy as a whole truly understood the difference between the two sound categories, it would give Birdman and particularly Whiplash a huge edge here, while the other three lost some ground.

However, unlike in the nomination stage, the whole Academy votes to choose the winner, and that means a lot of actors and not many sound engineers are making the call.

Traditionally, this means the two awards end up going to the same film whether it’s deserved or not. Sniper probably has the edge and this is the second most likely win for the biopic. But let’s not forget that sometimes the absence of sound, such as in segments of Whiplash, can be just as powerful.

Best Achievement in Visual Effects

Nominees:

Interstellar (2014)Will Win: Interstellar

Dark Horse: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes or possibly Guardians of the Galaxy

My Favorite: Interstellar or Captain America: The Winter Soldier [not screened: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes]

Interstellar and Captain America: The Winter Soldier are the two strongest entrants here, both benefiting from going heavy on the practical effects when possible. The former is considered the front-runner to win the category; however, the Academy has an interesting history here of choosing the film with the worst visual effects instead of the best (often going with a ‘quantity’ over ‘quality’ mantra essentially).

This could give something that focuses a little more on the CGI-from-scratch approach the win instead – probably Dawn of the Planet of the Apes or possibly Guardians of the Galaxy could fit this bill. It does seem this is Interstellar‘s best shot though – and it would seem odd to let it leave empty-handed out of the three (Guardians is a serious contender for makeup, Planet of the Apes only has the single nomination anyway).

Best Achievement in Music, Original Score

Nominees:

The Theory of Everything (2014)Will Win: The Theory of Everything

Dark Horse: The Grand Budapest Hotel

My Favorite: Do I have to choose?

Pundits have The Theory of Everything in the lead with The Grand Budapest Hotel close behind.

Probably the only reason Desplat doesn’t have this one locked up is because he’s a bit of a victim of his own success this year. With 2 nominations, he’s running against himself and will likely split the vote – making this the third year in a row (alongside Argo and Philomena) he was nominated and didn’t win. It’s an unfortunate situation, as this would make 8 career nominations and losses all in the past 9 years.

The Grand Budapest Hotel is a singular score uniquely fitting its film that is exactly what the Academy would vote for otherwise, so there’s still a chance it could reign supreme here.

Hands down to the music branch for picking the right nominees though. I can’t choose between them personally. The Imitation Game and The Theory of Everything both are solid musical works by their own accord, while Interstellar, The Grand Budapest Hotel, and Mr. Turner are all scores that are very uniquely qualified to accompanied their respective films, each with a very distinct character.

BEST ACHIEVEMENT IN MUSIC, ORIGINAL SONG

Nominees:

Selma (2014)Will Win: “Glory,” Selma

Dark Horse: “I’m Not Gonna Miss You,” Glen Campbell…I’ll Be Me

My Favorite: “Glory,” Selma; or “Grateful,” Beyond the Lights [not screened: Glen Campbell…I’ll Be Me]

Should Have Been Nominated: “Magnificent” (Noni & Kid Culprit), Beyond the Lights; “Immortals” (Fall Out Boy), Big Hero 6

The music branch of the Academy found some good films to recognize in this category that found little love elsewhere. Selma managed a nomination for just this category and Best Picture (a strange combination for anything with two nominations), and The LEGO Movie managed to not get a nomination for Best Animated Feature.

Outside of these two, the music branch has selected original works from some music heavy films – Beyond the Lights also works hard to prove that there should be an Oscar for Best Usage of Music Previously Published category (even including a brief bit from Ft. Wayne local Nyzzy Nyce), like every Tarantino film before it.

Of the four films I screened in this category, all the songs are solid as a stand-alone; however, “Glory” and “Grateful” work the best in their films – ending each on a strong cathartic note.

“Glory” is the likely winner as it has the more weighty message and was arguably the best part of Selma (despite being buried in the credits), whereas “Grateful” is primarily built up by the great film and solid music that comes in the two hours before it. “Lost Stars” and “Everything is Awesome” are perfect if you just want to play something on loop.

Not understood is why Fall Out Boy’s “Immortals” or one of the better tracks from Beyond the Lights didn’t make the cut.

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE

Nominees:

Citizenfour (2014)Will Win: Citizenfour

Dark Horse: Virunga

My Favorite: Citizenfour [not screened: The Salt of the Earth]

From a technical perspective, this year’s documentary feature nominees are particularly impressive. Typically, the documentaries chosen in this category deal with major issues covered in a direct, sometimes guerrilla way (think 4 Broken Cameras or The Square). Not the case this year; from what I saw, the nominees are visually fantastic.

Citizenfour, the third film in Laura Poitras’s post-9/11 America trilogy is the likely winner here, already taking home the DGA award. Virunga is a distant second on most lists.

Although I can’t disagree with the importance heaped upon the subject matter covered in the likely front-runners, I also was quite entertained and informed by Last Days in Vietnam and Finding Vivian Maier, a tale about a unknown, but recently discovered Chicago area photographer.

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM

Nominees:

Ida (2013)Will Win: Ida

Dark Horse: Wild Tales or Timbuktu

My Favorite: Only screened Ida and Tangerines

Really this one could go to anything except Tangerines (the sole nominee that wasn’t in the Cannes slate this year), although Ida will get a small boost from also being up in the cinematography category this year.

Notably absent is Two Days, One Night, the official entry of Belgium, which had enough buzz to earn Marion Cotillard a Best Actress nomination anyway.

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE

Nominees:

How to Train Your Dragon 2 (2014)Will Win: How to Train Your Dragon 2

Dark Horse: Big Hero 6

My Favorite: only screened Big Hero 6 [edit: and now The Boxtrolls, which is in the lead]

Should Have Been Nominated: The Lego Movie

This is the closest this race has been in a while. How to Train Your Dragon 2 is considered the ever-so-slight-front-runner, although the Academy is slow to change in this category.

Pixar was a lock for years (even Brave won) and it took a while for Disney to finally gain recognition (Frozen and Wreck It Ralph! are recent nominees). If they are slow to move again, the win will go to Big Hero 6, the default Disney choice.

But the biggest snub of the entire year is notably absent. The Lego Movie was considered the easy winner all year long – that is right up until the day the nominees were announced. Also noteworthy is that Pixar didn’t even release a film this year, forcing them off the ballot for a change.

Best Short Film, Animated

"Feast" (2014)Nominees:

Will Win: “Feast”

Dark Horse: “The Bigger Picture”

My Favorite: Largely indifferent

The Pixar or Disney shorts have traditionally been the safe bet here. It always plays before the studios’ feature release (typically also the Best Animated Feature front-runner) and therefore is the most widely seen.

“Feast” is Disney Animation Studio’s release this year, although to be fair, their Get a Horse! lost last year, despite playing in front of slam dunk Frozen. If that sways you against sticking with tradition, “The Bigger Picture” is the next safest bet.

Best Short Film, Live Action

Nominees:

"The Phone Call" (2013)Will Win: “The Phone Call”

Dark Horse: “Parvaneh” or “Boogaloo and Graham”

My Favorite: “The Phone Call”

I’ve made it a point for the past several years to see all the nominations in this category theatrically via the ShortsHD theatrical package. Although this year was no exception, it also is the weakest slate this category has put up in a long time.

“The Phone Call” is simple, but also the heartstring-tugger type that often takes this category. As another plus, it has name talent attached. Meanwhile, “Parvaneh” and “Boogaloo and Graham” have the political background that may force an upset.

Best Documentary, Short Subject

"Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1" (2013)Nominees:

Will Win: Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1

Dark Horse: Tough call

My Favorite: Only screened “Our Curse”

You just never know with the shorts. Veterans Press 1 is considered the likely winner, but if it’s not #1, there’s really no telling…


Brendan Shick

Brendan Shick is a freelance DP, gaffer, and sports broadcaster serving primarily the Chicago, IL; Pittsburgh, PA; Grand Rapids, MI; and Fort Wayne, IN, regions. You can find out more by following this blog, his recent work on Vimeo, or by connecting with him on Twitter or LinkedIn. Brendan is also an occasional contributor to the Project Updates feed for one of his most recent films, To Turn Back Time.


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