OSCAR! OSCAR! OSCAR!!!

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Our amazing collaborator and inveterate cinema buff, Chris Corbellini, returns to provide his Oscar picks. Your pools have never looked so good.

“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

— Maya Angelou.

Sniper got under our author’s American skin



Scrolling through the Best Picture nominees one final time, I keep coming back to this Angelou quote. The only film that got under my goose bumps, and put a stiff beverage in my hand within an hour of seeing it, was American Sniper.  It’s worthy of winning it all. Judging from the box office tally, a lot of the U.S. feels the same way.

I will forget eventually that the second act was distractingly repetitive (Oh here we go, ANOTHER teary plea from his wife?), and remember simply and truly that war can break down even the strongest and most self-assured of soldiers. Sniper was a numbing experience — it had pro-soldier and anti-war vibes running side-by-side with one another for all 132 minutes — and I was appreciative of the way director Clint Eastwood crafted the story.  The Hollywood icon can still bring the high heat, and he’s in his 80s.

Of course, Selma pulls at you as well. So does Birdman. So does Boyhood. But in the latter two cases, Oscar voters would be rewarding them for what they did, not how they made us feel. Birdman was masterfully put together — where are the edits? — and the cast attacked the scenes like piranha. Boyhood is a triumph of persistence, shot over a decade, and a triumphant, authentic tale of a single mother. Years from now, whether you felt anything more than admiration for the execution of those two films is something I wonder about.

So, feel over form? Or form over feel? I’m still mulling my decision amongst those four as I type this. Let’s come back to it.

Actor in a leading role:

Steve Carrell, Foxcatcher
Bradley Cooper, American Sniper
Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game
Michael Keaton, Birdman
Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything

The winner: Keaton. 

It wasn’t even Subway Underwear Weekend in NYC when he did this

I quote the three rules of show business, by Louis CK: 1) Look ‘em in the eye and speak from the heart. 2) You gotta go away to come back. 3) If someone asks you to keep a secret, their secret is a lie.  Keaton delivers us the first two rules in Birdman better than the field. That should be enough.

Actress in a leading role:

 

Marion Cotillard, Two Days, One Night

Felicity Jones, The Theory of Everything

Julianne Moore, Still Alice
Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl

Reese Witherspoon, Wild

The winner: Moore. 

A still from “Still Alice”

When an actress elevates a so-so movie to something more than it should be, she’s done something special.  Honorable mention goes to Pike here, who proved she’s more than just an ice princess. I think she will win the red carpet amongst all these gorgeous ladies, but won’t take home the grand prize.

Actor in a supporting role:

Robert Duvall, The Judge

Ethan Hawke, Boyhood
Edward Norton, Birdman
Mark Ruffalo, Foxcatcher

J.K. Simmons, Whiplash 

The winner: Simmons. 

Hawke, Norton and Ruffalo will have other Oscar-worthy roles over their careers, and this isn’t Duvall’s finest hour. Simmons has been so good in every part he’s accepted – small, large and larger-than-life – and he should be rewarded for that. And for tearing into this role.

Actress in a supporting role:

Patricia Arquette, Boyhood
Laura Dern, Wild
Keira Knightley, The Imitation Game
Emma Stone, Birdman
Meryl Streep, Into the Woods

The winner: Arquette. 

This was the easiest category to predict. Her final scene, a portion of which can be seen here, would have been nearly impossible to perform had she not been a part of this production for 12 years. The moment is earned.

Original screenplay:

Birdman
Boyhood

Foxcatcher
The Grand Budapest Hotel

Nightcrawler

The winner: The Grand Budapest Hotel.  

What a lineup. All five of these scripts are beasts. Still, the flashback-of-a-flashback-of-a-flashback-of-a-flashback storytelling sets Hotel apart, and just barely. The final summation read like it was etched on M. Gustave’s tombstone: “There are still faint glimmers of civilization left in this barbaric slaughterhouse that was once known as humanity … he was one of them.”

Adapted screenplay:

American Sniper
The Imitation Game
Inherent Vice
The Theory of Everything
Whiplash

The winner: The Imitation Game.

Just a gut feeling. I do love the backstory on this one, with the producers basically out of work and offering the screenwriter, Graham Moore, little in the way of up-front pay. As in, no pay at all.

Sound editing:

American Sniper
Birdman
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
Interstellar
Unbroken

The winner: American Sniper. 

Birdman uses that voice of self-doubt in Keaton’s brain splendidly (and darkly) – and they are plopped in perfectly in each sequence — but the sounds I keep coming back to took place in the sandstorm during the bullet-strewn finale in Sniper. It’s a wall of horror that almost swallows the audience.

Sound mixing:

American Sniper
Birman
Interstellar
Unbroken
Whiplash

The winner: American Sniper.
Granted, it’s a different discipline from sound editing — taking all those edits and merging them into one symphony, and raising one audio track louder than the rest when the scene demands it. The sound of warfare is always a challenge to get right, because the audience expects to hear carnage … and how do you surprise them? But I think the mixers did so in this case. Whiplash could definitely take this one though, and I almost rewrote this entire section thinking so.

Visual effects:

Captain America, The Winter Soldier
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Guardians of the Galaxy
Interstellar
X-Men: Days of Future Past

The winner: Interstellar. 

Meh. None of these nominees were as groundbreaking as last year’s winner, Gravity. The five are not even in the same orbit. Apes had some nifty motion-capture work, and let’s not forget that the main ape character, who had a respectable range of emotions, was almost completely computer-generated. I thought about Guardians here too – it did have that moment when the crew enters a grand, celestial being’s head (which was being mined by outlaws, of course). But it felt like a cartoon in places as well.

Film editing:

American Sniper
Boyhood
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
Whiplash

The winner: Boyhood. 

The Grand Budapest Hotel has that spectacularly cut museum sequence where Deputy Kovacs meets his demise, and that fun chase in the snow, but the challenge of Boyhood is flow, not style or panache. How do you edit 12 years into one compelling feature? Done wrong, and it’s that scrapbook that your mother put together that she half-forces you to look at (Ooh, graduation photo!).  Finally, how is Birdman not in this category? The entire film looked like a single take – that’s terrific editing.

Original score:


The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
Interstellar
Mr. Turner
The Theory of Everything

The winner: The Grand Budapest Hotel.
Not a rousing year for this category. Again, I keep coming back to that chase in the snow, and the death of Kovacs. A very lively score does raise this movie here and there.

Original song:

Begin Again
Beyond the Lights
Glen Campbell: I’ll be Me
The Lego Movie
Selma

Winner: Glory from Selma. 

The one Oscar I project that it wins.  “Everything is Awesome,” from The Lego Movie would be a terrific choice, too. I also think the musical Begin Again chose the wrong song for this category. This one was magical, and absolutely critical to the entire plot.

Production design:

The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game

Interstellar
Into the Woods
Mr. Turner

The winner: The Grant Budapest Hotel. 

It made me chuckle to see all those hunting rifles in the back of the great hall as the will of a rich matriarch was read in front of that entire family. There was a line in the script about greed around that moment, and that wasn’t an accident.  I also enjoyed all those pink bakery boxes that Zero and his future wife fell into near the end – something they completely ignored as they fumbled about, then grabbed hold of each other.  You know from frame 1 of a trailer when you are watching a Wes Anderson film. It should be celebrated this year.

Cinematography:


Birdman
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Ida
Mr. Turner
Unbroken

The winner: Birdman. 

That’s back-to-back statues for Emmanuel Lubezki, who won last year for Gravity. I felt like I was on the shoulders of the actors over long stretches of this film, and of course there’s that technical mountain he climbed in order to make everything look like a single take.

Costume design:

The Grand Budapest Hotel
Inherent Vice
Into the Woods
Maleficent
Mr. Turner

The winner: The Grand Budapest Hotel. 

Another gut feeling, with admittedly little practical, professional experience to back it up. Maybe Maleficent steals this one. They can’t let Princess Angelina Jolie go completely unnoticed, can they?

Makeup:

Foxcatcher
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Guardians of the Galaxy

The winner: The Grand Budapest Hotel. 

The Academy may want to reward Hotel with plenty of technical and aesthetic categories, because it’s not going to win the big one. I could see Guardians of the Galaxy here, too. Just look at Michael Rooker here. And the lovely Zoe Saldana in a lovely shade of green. Half this summer blockbuster is makeup. But the cynical portion of my brain believes that the fact that it’s a summer blockbuster will stop it from winning.

Animated Film:

Big Hero 6
The Boxtrolls
How to Train Your Dragon 2
Song of the Sea
The Tale of Princess Kayuga

Winner: How to Train Your Dragon 2. 

It was a weak season for the animation set.

Foreign Language Film:

Ida (Poland)

Leviathan (Russia)
Tangerines (Estonia)

Timbuktu (Mauritania)
Wild Takes (Argentina)

Winner: Ida. 

There’s name recognition involved in this case, as there’s more than a good chance that some voters didn’t see all of these films. Full disclosure: *I* didn’t see all of them, either.

Director:

Wes Anderson (The Grand Budapest Hotel)
Alejandro G. Inarritu (Birdman)
Richard Linklater (Boyhood)

Bennett Miller (Foxcatcher)
Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game)

The winner: Linklater. 

Let’s reward the filmmaker who refused to cut corners and executed his vision over all that time, from the big picture to the minutiae and details that you remember during the passage of our lives. Of all the directors out there today, he’s the one I’d most like to go out and have a beer with, and the let the big ideas flow into the early morning hours. Let the auteur from Texas take this one home.

Best Picture: 

American Sniper
Birdman
Boyhood
The Grand Budapest HoteL
The Imitation Game
Selma
The Theory of Everything
Whiplash

The winner: Birdman. 

That’s right, form over feel this year, and I don’t agree with it. It’s a four-star flick, but not an all-timer. In this case I think the voters, a group of creatives in the motion picture business, will honor the movie about a star creative taking a break from the motion picture business to pursue a passion. Throw in the mastery of the technical aspects, and Keaton’s comeback, and it has just enough to edge Boyhood, Selma and Sniper for the big trophy of the night.

 

 

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