Just for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, and Best Actress:
Picture: It comes down to either "American Sniper" or "Birdman," both of which I've seen. "Sniper" is, without a doubt, the populist favorite, but "Birdman" wins on artistic merits, which probably counts more for the Academy. Given the way the biased media have been pounding "Sniper," I suspect "Birdman" is going to win this. Both films are equally deserving, but comparing them really is like comparing apples and oranges.
Director: Eastwood or Iñárritu? This is a toughie. Eastwood has always been a simple, unpretentious director who mainly just points the camera at his actors and lets them act. "American Sniper" is vintage Eastwood to that extent, but "Sniper" also allows Eastwood to direct battles, something I've never seen him do before. (I never saw his pair of WW2 films) Eastwood does so with aplomb and competence, a fact that militates in his favor. But "Birdman," as I said in my review, essentially turns a moviegoing experience into a theatergoing experience, and that's a nearly impossible trick to pull off. I'm going to go with Iñárritu for this one.
Actor: As above, I think it comes down to Michael Keaton versus Bradley Cooper, but personally, I think Keaton deserves the win, here. Cooper's performance was fine, but it was simply a more understated version of the performances he normally gives. Keaton had the more difficult task of acting in a "meta" film, which often required him to engage in acting about acting. (One classic scene in "Birdman" has him weeping in front of Edward Norton's character while telling the sad and horrifying story of his fucked-up childhood, only for him to stop and snarl at Norton, "See? I can act, too!")
Actress: I don't think I've seen any of the films in which the nominated actresses have played, but the scuttlebutt gives this award to Julianne Moore for her turn in "Still Alice," the story of a woman with early-onset Alzheimer's. It's easy to see why: you've landed a plum role when you can play someone mentally deteriorating. Sad degeneration is always a pity to behold, especially when the character begins the story as lively, powerful, and mentally sharp. The Academy eats such roles and stories up—terminal cancer, Alzheimer's, whatever. So I think it'll be shocking if Moore doesn't get the Oscar for her performance here.
And those are my modest predictions for tonight's Academy Awards. We'll soon know whether they bear out. I'll be doing errands when the results finally come in, but as always, I'll update this post to give you the harsh reality and to see how accurate my predictions turned out to be. Given my history, I suspect I'll be wrong about three of the above four predictions.
UPDATE: Wow—I actually got three out of four right this time: everything except Best Actor which, according to commenter Charles, went to Eddie Redmayne for his work portraying Stephen Hawking in the misleadingly titled "The Theory of Everything." (Hawking hasn't actually developed a Grand Unified Theory.) I had heard that Redmayne's performance was good, but it seemed to me—from the previews, anyway—that it was less about Redmayne's acting and more about his physical resemblance to Hawking. But I have yet to see the movie myself, so I really have no idea how good Redmayne's acting was.
Monday, February 23, 2015