Okay, it's that time of year when I typically dazzle readers with my Sherlockian deductive powers and predict the upcoming Academy Award winners. But the cold, hard truth is, by the time all the Hollywood craft guilds—directors (DGA), producers (PGA), writers (WGA), and screen actors (SAG)—have weighed in with their own pre-Oscar award ceremonies, not to mention the pre-game warmup show of the Golden Globes last month, it's pretty easy to follow the trends and pick the front-runners.
But not this year.
I wouldn't say all bets are off; there are clear favorites in three out of the four acting categories. But the battle for some of the top prizes is turning into an epic slugfest. between two (or three) very tough and worthy competitors. Nobody gets a cakewalk this year, including me; I really have to put my so-called deductive powers to the test. So here goes:
|Ellar Coltrane grows up before our eyes in Boyhood|
|There's a chance Birdman might still fly off with the gold|
A month ago, Boyhood was a slam-dunk for the gold. Director Richard Linklater's completely original concept redefines the process of filmmaking and the art of storytelling in audacious new ways. But its biggest challenger, Birdman, has come on strong in the post-season awards. You can see why Hollywood loves Birdman—it's all about showbiz and acting, the cult of celebrity, and the cultural impact—for good or ill—of the movies. Its director, Alejandro González Iñárritu, has already been anointed with a DGA award, the film won for Best Ensemble at the SAGs, and craft guild members also vote for the Oscars.
Still, I'm voting my heart on this one. Yes, Birdman is wildly entertaining. But Boyhood offers a resonant glimpse into modern family life that will endure, in addition to its amazing contribution to the craft of making cinema.
|Chalk up a victory for Eddie Redmayne|
BEST DIRECTOR Richard Linklater, Boyhood. Even more than usual this year, these two categories are joined at the hip, as both Boyhood and Birdman represent such singular director's visions. Most egregious omission in this category? Ava DuVernay, for her extraordinarily powerful and accomplished handling of Best Picture nominee Selma.
BEST ACTOR Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything. Redmayne has the buzz (and, significantly, the SAG award) for his precise and nuanced turn as Dr. Stephen Hawking, no matter how the Birdman/Boyhood smackdown plays out.
|Julianne Moore: it's finally her turn|
BEST ACTRESS Julianne Moore, Still Alice. This is the only sure thing in the big four categories. Moore has already won every other prize for her performance as a woman coping with Early-Onset Alzheimer's. And with four previous nominations, it's perceived as her turn to win.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR J. K. Simmons, Whiplash. Like, Moore, he's already won all the preliminary prizes.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS Patricia Arquette, Boyhood. As a divorced mom raising two kids, Arquette brings plucky, real-life-sized humanity to this film, and has been recognized for it at all the early award shows.
|Family gal: Arquette in Boyhood|
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY The Imitation Game. It's popular enough to be nominated in eight categories, and this is the best chance the Alan Turing codebreaking biopic has at striking gold.
MISCELLANY The only Foreign Language Film nominee I saw was Ida, which I adored, so I'm rooting for it, even if I can't predict this category. The much-nominated Grand Budapest Hotel looks poised to win the Costume and Production Design awards, but Birdman should fly off with the Cinematography prize. And since I saw none of the Animated Feature nominees, you guys are on your own for that one!
(The 87th Annual Academy Awards airs Sunday, February 22, 5 p.m. on ABC.)