On Oscar night, Sunday, February 22, refer to the following quick run through. A sentence or two about each of the nominees in the major categories includes predicting who will win and how the competition stacks up.
Best Supporting Actor and Supporting Actress:
- J.K. Simmons in “Whiplash” should and will win. The size and irritating quality of the jazz band leader he plays will grab the Gold. Edward Norton in “Birdman” deserves the Oscar, too, playing a great Broadway actor, who’s rather a jerk when not acting. Ethan Hawke in “Boyhood” is effective playing a likable divorced dad but the role doesn’t say “award me.” Robert Duvall as “The Judge” does a feisty Robert Duvall thing. This isn’t meant to slight this iconic actor’s acting. It’s his nice enough film that’s slight. Mark Ruffalo in “Foxcatcher” also does well in a no big deal film as a brother and wrestling coach who gets caught up in creepy.
- Patricia Arquette in “Boyhood” will win. The size of the role and mom-at-the-center presence boosts her to an Oscar. Laura Dern in “Wild” puts a girlishness into her middle aged mom that enhances Witherspoon as her daughter. Emma Stone anchors “Birdman” playing the daughter in a very support award way, but Keaton and Norton raise the bar so high, she’ll miss the Oscar grab. Meryl Streep in “Into the Woods” has over-the-top fun, including impressive singing, but nomination number 19 doesn’t rate 4th Oscar talk.
Best Actor and Actress:
- Eddie Redmayne in “The Theory of Everything” should and will win, his edge being the huge physical commitment to making Stephen Hawking’s handicap so real and making this renowned genius feel so knowable. Michael Keaton in “Birdman” inhabits a pressure cooked soul in a see-through crucible of Broadway theater ambition. It’s tough calling it an also-ran performance. Bradley Cooper in “American Sniper” juices a range of visceral and intellectual reactions about top notch heroic soldiering. It’s astonishing that he seems only to be third best. Benedict Cumberbatch in “The Imitation Game” seems almost an ordinary brand of excellent on this list, though this nerdy WWII drama is hardly ordinary. Steve Carell in “Foxcatcher” should be on a different list. The comic actor does serious creepiness well but without enough facets in the role or the script.
- Julianne Moore in “Still Alice” will win because of a sympathetic TV disease movie of the week type role plus a respected career including four previous Oscar nominations. Rosamund Pike is sort of a should-win with a fresh brand of creepy in “Gone Girl” that will be too quickly passed over. “Felicity Jones” rounds out “The Theory of Everything” as a critical life partner to Stephen Hawking, but she’s in the shadow of Redmayne playing Hawking. Reese Witherspoon in “Wild” is very good backpacking 1000 miles and more, but she’s just too Reese for this part. Marion Cotillard in “Two Days, One Night,” nuh-uh – just not given enough to spin Awards cloth here.
Best Picture and Best Director:
- (top tier) Alejandro González Iñárritu and the film he directed, “Birdman,” will both win, but Richard Linklater and his “Boyhood” compete deservingly neck and neck. “Birdman” is much bolder in its in-your-face acting, in its scripting and filming technique, and delivers all the way. “Boyhood” provides a genuine and loving family voice, including resonantly real difficulties along the way. Filming two kids every year for 12 years and managing all else for that long time was the master stroke that made Linklater and “Boyhood” frontrunners that lose by an Oscar nose.
- (middle tier) “American Sniper,” with director Clint Eastwood not nominated, is a controversy-stirring story of top notch heroic soldiering plus some PTSD. It’s a tautly conceived and executed film, a very good film, notwithstanding any issues about tolls of war in the Middle East. Morten Tyldum and the film he directed, “The Imitation Game,” packs its drama chock full in classic satisfying style, yet with nerdy suspense, an eye-opening context about homosexuality, plus a curious morph on male-female romance.
- (lower tier) “The Theory of Everything” is a very satisfying trip to the movies with its window into Stephen Hawking’s life and love, but something of an ordinary satisfaction as movie making goes. “The Grand Budapest Hotel” may be fun weird fun, stylish weird fun, but Wes Anderson has not directed anything Best-ish here. “Whiplash,” though big on tension and good acting, forces too much claim on excellent musicianship and too much singling out of the drummer. “Foxcatcher” wasn’t nominated Best Picture. Its Director Bennett Miller was. The film kind of lays flat in its based-on-a-true story about creepy turning bad.