Saturday, 21 February 2015

Oscars preview 2015 (Reader's Digest 20/02/15)

Another year, another outrage over the year’s Oscar nominations. 2015’s primary column-filling controversy has centred on the predominance of Caucasian males in the major award categories – a reflection of industry status quo, maybe, but taken by some as a particular affront in the year Ava DuVernay’s much-admired Martin Luther King biopic Selma hoped to build on the representational progress of last year’s triumphant 12 Years a Slave. Not for the first time, Hollywood finds itself accused of whitewashing.

These objections are not unfounded, but likely to fall on (in some cases, literally) deaf ears. Academy voters are 94% white and 76% male, with an average age of 63: to moan about the Best Picture shortlist is like asking the most ornery of grandfathers to pick his ten best films, and then questioning why his selections are so stuffy. Change may well be required, though possibly in the form of a rebranding, rather than any quota system: to the squealing Teen Choice awards, the Oscars might, in future, be regarded as a Duffer’s Choice alternative.

Best Picture
American Sniper
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
The Theory of Everything

Just eight rather than the permitted ten titles, which speaks to a dearth of quality in the year’s major English-language releases. Boyhood remains the odds-on favourite: logistically audacious (filmed in snatches, lest we forget, over a dozen years) yet formally conservative, Richard Linklater’s ingratiating indie hair-ruffler puts the family values of past Academy faves as On Golden Pond into nice new sneakers before leaving voters with the irresistible takehome that, here in America, we raise our kids right. At this stage, only American Sniper, a zeitgeist-catching late-year studio release, has the firepower to take it down.
What should win: Whiplash What will win: Boyhood

Best Actress
Marion Cotillard (Two Days, One Night)
Felicity Jones (The Theory of Everything)
Julianne Moore (Still Alice)
Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl)
Reece Witherspoon (Wild)

A close contest, highlighting strong performances in generally middling films: it’s hard to see voters feeling for the cynical Gone Girl or the splashy Wild – or even, really, for Jones’s measured emoting in the one Best Picture nominee here. The exceptional Cotillard transcends her brand-ambassador status to disappear inside the role of a fragile factory worker – but will the Academy bother to read the subtitles? It’s more likely they’ll reward Moore, for bringing her usual fierce intelligence to bear on the kind of quietly worthwhile indie project she’s been bolstering for 20-odd years.
Who should win: Cotillard Who will win: Moore

Best Actor
Steve Carell (Foxcatcher)
Bradley Cooper (American Sniper)
Benedict Cumberbatch (The Imitation Game)
Michael Keaton (Birdman)
Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything)

You could almost make up a second five of performers unlucky to miss out: Timothy Spall, David Oyelowo, Jake Gyllenhaal, Joaquin Phoenix… If the prize was for Most Improved Actor, then Cooper – nominated three times in three consecutive years upon doing the world the favour of jettisoning his Hangover smirk – would be romping home. As it is, it’s currently neck-and-neck between comeback king (and home favourite) Keaton and the impressively tangled ingenu Redmayne, and not even Carell’s genuinely transformative work in Foxcatcher can compete.
Who should win: Carell Who will win: Keaton or Redmayne

Best Supporting Actress
Patricia Arquette (Boyhood)
Laura Dern (Wild)
Keira Knightley (The Imitation Game)
Emma Stone (Birdman)
Meryl Streep (Into the Woods)

Not the strongest of categories, and if you wanted proof of what US TV offers actresses that movies presently don’t, you might usefully compare Dern’s nothingy two-scene bit-part in Wild with her all-encompassing work on the HBO series Enlightened. Distinguishing herself from a shortlist of coasting Academy favourites, Arquette has picked up every award going this season – as with Best Actress, this category may be a case of handing over a distinguished achievement award for a performer who’d threatened to slip under the radar.
Who should win: Arquette Who will win: Arquette

Best Supporting Actor
Robert Duvall (The Judge)
Ethan Hawke (Boyhood)
Edward Norton (Birdman)
Mark Ruffalo (Foxcatcher)
J.K. Simmons (Whiplash)

By contrast, Supporting Actor makes for as competitive a line-up as any, which is why it’s been somewhat surprising that Simmons’ tremendous, screen-seizing work as the tyrannical drum instructor in Whiplash has so dominated the pre-Oscar chatter. Hawke’s contribution to Boyhood is every bit as committed and valuable as his co-star Arquette’s, while Ruffalo’s usual thoughtful grounding of character helps to give Foxcatcher the punch it finally has – there’s even a case that his onscreen brother-in-arms Channing Tatum (speaking of Most Improved…) was unlucky to miss out here.
Who should win: Simmons Who will win: Simmons

Best Director
Wes Anderson (The Grand Budapest Hotel)
Alejandro González Iñárritu (Birdman)
Richard Linklater (Boyhood)
Bennett Miller (Foxcatcher)
Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game)

There’s no greater illustration of the Downton effect – that curious malady whereby Americans go a tad doolally around genteel British period drama – than Tyldum’s nomination for his TV-level handling of the Alan Turing story. (Consider, instead, Damien Chazelle’s tautly precise marshalling of image and sound in Whiplash: now there’s direction.) Right now, this category depends on how the Academy’s feeling: spoil Boyhood further, or split the top prizes, as it did last year, by rewarding Iñárritu’s showy backstage Steadicamming?
Who should win: Miller or Linklater Who will win: Linklater

Best Foreign Language Film
Wild Tales

UK readers will have to wait for the majority of these – the Argentinian contender Wild Tales opens here in March, Mali’s Timbuktu in May, the Estonian entry Tangerines as yet unknown – but the head-to-head battle suggested by Ida and Leviathan indicates a high quality threshold. Ida’s deserved Best Cinematography nod – and brisk running time, a boon for voters struggling to negotiate a backlog of awards-season screeners – possibly gives it the edge over the heftier Leviathan, currently mired in some controversy over its standing as Russia’s (surprisingly critical) official submission.
What should win: Leviathan What will win: Ida

The 87th Academy Awards ceremony will be held tomorrow.

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