My Completely Necessary, Not At All Superfluous Academy Award Predictions Begin!

by Michael Hunley. 0 Comments

THE IMITATION GAME

(Benedict Cumberbatch is a major Oscar contender for the biopic “The Imitation Game,” so Oscar better prepare itself for his Tumblr girlfriends to scale the bleachers to get a taste of the sweet, sweet Cumberbatch. Photo courtesy of The Associated Press.)

For the past two years, I’ve started the delightful tradition of predicting the annual Academy Award nominations, chronicling a film and performer’s ever-changing buzz from the unofficial start of the Oscar season (which is, essentially, after a number of eagerly anticipated films are screened at the Toronto, Telluride and Venice film festivals in September) to its end four months later (when the nominations are announced in January). It’s fun, maddening, interesting, aggravating, a time-waster … and you can play along at home, too!

Last year’s first stab at predictions went fairly well — even if my first guesses were off (remember when people thought “The Monuments Men” was an Oscar contender?!), I correctly listed all the eventual nominees (though many were picked as possible alternatives; whatever), so … DON’T QUESTION ME, OK?

I’ll be updating the list every two weeks throughout the season as more films are seen and thrown into the “Yay” or “Nay” Oscar pile. So, let’s take a look at what the playing field looks like now, shall we:

PICTURE*
1. “The Imitation Game”
2. “The Theory of Everything”
3. “Foxcatcher”
4. “Boyhood”
5. “Gone Girl”
6. “Wild”
7. “Unbroken”
8.  “Birdman”
9. “Interstellar”
10. “The Grand Budapest Hotel”

alternates:
11.  “Selma”
12. “Pride”
13. “Into the Woods”
14. “Inherent Vice”
15. “Mr. Turner”
16. “Still Alice”
17. “The Good Lie”
18. “Big Eyes”
19. “American Sniper”
20. “Trash”

Around this time, Oscar prognosticators have some front-runners leading the pack: Last year, “12 Years a Slave” and “Gravity” had pundits foaming at the mouth, and two years ago, “Argo” and “Silver Linings Playbook” were being discussed as strong Best Picture candidates. Now, we have … two politely received British biopics. There hasn’t been any knock-em-out festival favorites so far, leading many to believe there’ll be a dark horse contender to come roaring into the Oscar race in the next few months.

But for now? The Best Picture race is topped by the aforementioned biopics, “The Theory of Everything” (about Stephen Hawking) and “The Imitation Game” (focusing on mathematician Alan Turing), which premiered earlier this month at the Toronto and Telluride film festivals, respectively. Critics were quick to throw huge amounts of praise toward the actors (“Theory’s” Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones and “Imitation’s” Benedict Cumberbatch are all said to be sure bets for acting nominations), but hesitant to fully embrace the films, which were said to be well made but fairly standard and cliched biographical dramas (in the same vein as past Oscar champs “My Left Foot,” “A Beautiful Mind”). “Imitation” ended up winning the Toronto Film Festival’s People Choice Award (which, in the past, has gone to future Best Picture winners “12 Years a Slave,” “The King’s Speech,” “Slumdog Millionaire” and “American Beauty”), which leads me to put it at the top of my predictions list — for now — but I don’t expect it to stay up there long. It’s basically the best card in a weak hand.

Which isn’t to say that the other contenders are bad films — more, they’re less likely to be openly embraced by the Academy as a Best Picture victor. Of the movies that have been seen so far, dark true-crime drama “Foxcatcher” has been scooping up raves since its May premiere at the Cannes Film Festival (where it was awarded Best Director), though many seem to think it’ll also do better in the acting categories (Steve Carell is apparently revelatory, and equally strong reviews have been written for co-stars Mark Ruffalo and *ahem* Channing Tatum, who I’ll refrain from speaking ill of until I’ve actually seen his performance, but … come on, guys, it’s Channing Tatum).

Also much loved is the indie summer hit “Boyhood,” Richard Linklater’s study of a young boy’s coming of age that was shot using the same actors over 11 years. And when I say “much loved,” I mean critics went NUTS over this film — on Metacritic, it has a perfect score of 100. It’d be a shock if the Academy didn’t reward the film with some recognition, though its greatest chances at a win is probably for Best Original Screenplay.

Other well-received films likely to get a spot in the race: David Fincher’s big-screen version of the bestseller “Gone Girl” has been getting great reviews so far — it’ll be seen by more critics when it opens the New York Film Festival later this week and when it opens in theaters nationwide next Friday (it could, though, always go the way of Fincher’s last adaptation of a hit book, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” which only scored one major Oscar nod in the Best Actress category); “Wild,” directed by Jean-Marc Vallee, got good reviews in Telluride and Toronto, though mainly for its acting (the same thing happened to Vallee’s last film, “Dallas Buyers Club,” though it still ended up with a Best Picture nomination); the gonzo drama “Birdman” was rapturously embraced by many critics when it premiered at the Venice Film Festival, especially for its gimmick of appearing to be one long continuous take, but it may be too weird and out there for some conservative Oscar voters; and Wes Anderson’s popular “Grand Budapest Hotel” became his best-reviewed (and bigger grosser) film earlier this year, though the quirky filmmaker has always had more success in the screenplay categories.

Of the films that haven’t been seen yet but seem to have the strongest chance of getting nominated, there’s “Unbroken,” Angelina Jolie’s second directorial effort, and if the trailer is to believed, this is the kind of rousing, against-all-odds epic that Oscar dreams of when it sleeps (then again, Jolie’s directorial debut, “In the Land of Blood and Honey,” turned out to be a bit of stinker). Also keep an eye on “Interstellar,” Chris Nolan’s latest super-secret sci-fi adventure that seems appropriately rousing and exciting, but the trailers and plot details are all frustratingly vague and full of cringe-inducing dialogue like “Love is the one thing that transcends time and space” (uuuggghhhh), though we’ll know more when it opens in November.

Also keep your eyes on these films being released in the next few months: In the as-yet-unseen category, there’s drama “Selma” (which details the historic voting rights marches in 1965); the big-budget Disney musical “Into the Woods,” based on the much-loved Broadway production; Paul Thomas Anderson’s sure-to-be-a-future-cult-classic “Inherent Vice,” an adaptation of Thomas Pynchon’s novel, which premieres at the New York Film Festival next week; Tim Burton’s quirky biopic “Big Eyes;” true-life action drama “American Sniper” from Oscar favorite Clint Eastwood; and Stephen Daldry’s thriller “Trash” (though this British indie has little buzz, never — NEVER — overlook a Stephen Daldry film: Every one of his previous films have received either a Best Picture or Director nomination, including his critically reviled “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close”). And from films that’ve screened already, notable entries include crowd-pleasing British dramedy “Pride,” about the unlikely union between gay activists and Welsh miners; Mike Leigh’s critically adored biographic drama “Mr. Turner;” Alzheimer’s drama “Still Alice,” which was mainly cited by critics for Julianne Moore’s lead performance; and well-received refugee drama “The Good Lie,” starring Reese Witherspoon.

TEN MORE BEST PICTURE CANDIDATES TO KEEP AN EYE ON: “Fury;” “The Gambler;” “Get On Up;” “The Homesman;” “Love is Strange;” “A Most Violent Year;” “Nightcrawler;” “St. Vincent;” “Suite Francais;” “Whiplash”

 *The number of nominees for Best Picture can range from five to 10, depending on the number of votes a film receives.

ACTOR
1. Eddie Redmayne, “The Theory of Everything”
2. Benedict Cumberbatch, “The Imitation Game”
3. Steve Carell, “Foxcatcher”
4. Michael Keaton, “Birdman”
5. Timothy Spall, “Mr. Turner”

alternates:
6. Jake Gyllenhaal, “Nightcrawler”
7. Bill Murray, “St. Vincent”
8. Chadwick Boseman, “Get On Up”
9. David Oyelowo, “Selma”
10. Channing Tatum, “Foxcatcher”

Young British actors were the biggest winners from all the attention given to the two biopics “Theory” and “Imitation” — even when critical huzzahs were muted toward the films, the lead performances were unanimously praised. Redmayne and Cumberbatch have been lavished with superlatives for their portrayals of Stephen Hawking and Alan Turing, respectively, and both have shot to the top of the list. I’m only giving the (slight) edge to Redmayne now because many reviews compared his performance to Daniel Day-Lewis’ Academy Award-winning one in “My Left Foot,” and any comparison to DD-L spells OSCAH!

They’re joined by two actors who’ve wowed critics with career-best performances: Comedian Carell, who’s said to be chilling as a sadistic coach in “Foxcatcher,” has been getting Oscar buzz since the film’s premiere at Cannes in May; and Keaton, in a possibly meta role as a veteran actor best known for playing a superhero in “Birdman.” Those four actors all seem like sure bets for nominations, as of now, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s a four-way brawl for the trophy come next year.

Taking the fifth slot, I’m going with Timothy Spall, the Cannes Film Festival’s Best Actor winner for his performance as the famed painter J.M.W. Turner. Spall’s a well-respected character actor who’s found success in Hollywood (he’s perhaps best known for playing Peter Pettigrew in the “Harry Potter” films), though he may not be a big enough name to beat out his competition: Gyllenhaal as an underground journalist; Murray as a lovable curmudgeon; and Oyelowo as Martin Luther King Jr. in the still-unseen drama “Selma.” Carell’s co-star Tatum is also a possibility, depending on how “Foxcatcher’s” studio decides to campaign him (he’s apparently a co-lead but could have a better chance at a nod in the less-crowded supporting race).

Newcomer Boseman scored fantastic reviews for his role as James Brown in “Get On Up” last month, but that film’s weak box office performance sank his Oscar prospects heavily (yes, this is a day and age when a performer’s chances at major awards are determined by how much money their film makes … but that’s another article), though he could be a dark-horse contender if he’s able to score a Golden Globe nomination in December.

FIVE OTHER BEST ACTOR CANDIDATES TO KEEP AN EYE ON: Ben Affleck, “Gone Girl;” Bradley Cooper, “American Sniper;” John Lithgow, “Love is Strange;” Jack O’Connell, “Unbroken;” Joaquin Phoenix, “Inherent Vice”

ACTRESS
1. Reese Witherspoon, “Wild”
2. Julianne Moore, “Still Alice”
3. Felicity Jones, “The Theory of Everything”
4. Amy Adams, “Big Eyes”
5. Rosamund Pike, “Gone Girl”

alternates:
6. Hilary Swank, “The Homesman”
7. Jessica Chastain, “The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby”
8. Shailene Woodley, “The Fault in Our Stars”
9. Meryl Streep, “Into the Woods”
10. Jessica Chastain, “A Most Violent Year”

When “Wild” debuted at the Telluride Film Festival earlier in the month, it looked like the Best Actress Oscar race was closed — numerous articles were being written about Reese Witherspoon’s performance, many saying it was her best since Academy Award-winning one in 2005’s “Walk the Line.” It was the start of what’s being touted as Reese’s career renaissance, after years of mediocre films and a highly publicized arrest last year. Plus, her film is directed by the guy who did the impossible: He tricked Oscar voters into thinking Matthew McConaughey was an actual actor in last year’s “Dallas Buyers Club!”

Add her well-received performance in another upcoming release, “The Good Lie,” and her producing credit to the highly anticipated thriller “Gone Girl,” and it looked like 2014 was going to be the Year of Reese. And it still could very well be that … though it may not be quite the slam dunk some had in mind, especially once people got a load of Julianne Moore in “Still Alice.”

Moore is going through her own mini-renaissance herself — though her career has never really slumped, she hasn’t reached the same highs she did back in the late ’90s/early ’00s, when she scored four Oscar nominations in six years (including two nods in the same year). Since then, she’s given a number of well-received performances in films like “A Single Man” and “The Kids Are All Right,” though she was overshadowed by her co-stars come Oscar time. But several roles this year look to get her back in the game: In May, she was a surprise Best Actress winner at the Cannes Film Festival for the savage Hollywood satire “Maps to the Stars” (though word is that it won’t be released in the U.S. until early 2015); in Toronto, film festivals critics have been going nuts for her portrayal in “Still Alice,” about a woman going through early onset Alzheimer’s, and the film was quickly bought by Sony Pictures Classics, who are planning a release later in the year; and her high-profile role in the new “Hunger Games” movies will keep her in the public eye later this fall. Since 2014 hasn’t seen a dominating performance like Cate Blanchett’s in “Blue Jasmine” last year, all signs are currently pointing toward a Witherspoon versus Moore battle, with the former given the lead for now (depending on how aggressive Sony’s Oscar push for Moore is, this could easily be switched).

Fighting for the last three spots are a number of possibilities: There’s young Felicity Jones, who was lavished with praise as Stephen Hawkin’s wife in the crowd-pleasing “Theory;” five-time nominee Amy Adams, rumored to be the best thing about Tim Burton’s “Big Eyes;” Rosamund Pike, who’s bound for super-stardom as the titular girl in “Gone Girl,” and critics have been raving so far; two-time winner Hilary Swank, who’s getting great reviews ofr the western “Homesman;” this year’s “It girl,” Shailene Woodley, who has a surprisingly large number of supporters pushing for her to get recognized for her role in the tween version of “Love Story;” and Jessica Chastain in AT LEAST five films (the much buzzed about “A Most Violent Year;” “Miss Julie,” though they may not get released until 2015; and the love story “Eleanor Rigby,” which is being released as three different films, and … I’ll let Wikipedia explain it). Lastly, never count out Dame Meryl Streep, the most nominated actor in Oscar history. Her character in “Into the Woods,” the Witch, had some big, juicy musical numbers in its Broadway productions, and COME ON, it’s Meryl Streep — she got nominated for her performance in last year’s “August: Osage County,” which was about as subtle as an episode of “Mama’s Family.”

FIVE OTHER BEST ACTRESS CANDIDATES TO KEEP AN EYE ON: Jessica Chastain, “Miss Julie;” Rooney Mara, “Trash;”  Mia Wasikowska, “Tracks;” Michelle Williams, “Suite Francaise;” Reese Witherspoon, “The Good Lie”

SUPPORTING ACTOR
1. Mark Ruffalo, “Foxcatcher”
2. Edward Norton, “Birdman”
3. Channing Tatum, “Foxcatcher”
4. J.K. Simmons, “Whiplash”
5. Tom Wilkinson, “Selma”

alternates:
6. Albert Brooks, “A Most Violent Year”
7. Ethan Hawke, “Boyhood”
8. Josh Brolin, “Inherent Vice”
9. Christoph Waltz, “Big Eyes”
10. Dominic West, “Pride”

The supporting races are generally the hardest to predict this early: The previous two Supporting Actor winners — Christoph Waltz and Jared Leto — didn’t become front-runners until their wins at the Golden Globes. So, though this category is almost always up in the air, we have a few strong contenders so far: “Foxcatcher’s” Mark Ruffalo and Channing Tatum have been touted as locks for nominations since the film’s Cannes premiere (though Tatum may be campaigned in the lead category, he’d probably have a better chance in supporting); “Birdman’s” Norton, who has an attention-getting role in a large supporting ensemble cast; and veteran character actor Simmons, getting raves for his role as a cruel teacher in the Sundance Film Festival winner “Whiplash.”

After that, it’s pretty much anyone’s guess. There’s several films that have yet to be seen and will begin to be screened for critics in the next few weeks and months: “Selma,” with Tom Wilkinson playing President Lyndon B. Johnson; the buzz-y crime drama “A Most Violent Year” (which may be a way for Oscar to make it up to Albert Brooks after snubbing his great performance in 2011’s “Drive”); “Inherent Vice,” though Brolin may be pushed out for any of his co-stars, including Owen Wilson, Benicio del Toro and Martin Short; and two-time winner Waltz could be in the running again for “Big Eyes.”

Also keep an eye out for Ethan Hawke, who scored major critical huzzah in the much-loved “Boyhood,” and Dominic West,  said to be strong in “Pride.”

FIVE OTHER BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR CANDIDATES TO KEEP AN EYE ON: Johnny Depp, “Into the Woods;” Robert Duvall, “The Judge;” Domhnall Gleeson, “Unbroken;” Logan Lerman, “Fury;” Miyavi, “Unbroken”

SUPPORTING ACTRESS
1. Patricia Arquette, “Boyhood”
2. Katherine Waterston, ” Inherent Vice”
3. Keira Knightley, “The Imitation Game”
4. Laura Dern, “Wild”
5. Emily Blunt, “Into the Woods”

alternates:
6. Anna Kendrick, “Into the Woods”
7. Carmen Ejogo, “Selma”
8. Imelda Staunton, “Pride”
9. Viola Davis, “Get On Up”
10. Meryl Streep, “Into the Woods”

Again, the supporting races are sort of a free-for-all at this point, so we can only speculate about who may or may not make enough of an impact to stick around for the nominations announcements early next year. One name that’s being touted fairly regularly is Patricia Arquette for her role as the mom in the coming-of-age epic “Boyhood” (she already picked up a Best Actress trophy at the Seattle International Film Festival).

From the films we’ve seen so far: Knightley and Dern gave well-received performances on the film festival circuit in “Imitation Game” and “Wild,” respectively, though they may be pushed out of the spotlight if more attention is given to their leading co-stars or their films fail to gain traction come Oscar time. Staunton is said to be a scene-stealing delight in “Pride,” and if that film is as much of a hit with audiences as some are suggesting, she could find her way into the competition. And Davis received great reviews for her small turn as James Brown’s mom in “Get On Up,” though she’d have had a better chance at a nomination if her film was a bigger hit at the box office (though her high-profile new TV series “How to Get Away with Murder” could help keep her in the game).

From what we haven’t seen: The biggest chatter I’ve heard on “Inherent Vice” has been about up-and-coming actress Waterston, who’s said to be a breakout in the crime drama (and she’s the daughter of “Law & Order’s” Sam Waterston, and only good things can come from Jack McCoy). Another newcomer, Ejogo, may get attention if “Selma” makes a splash (she’ll play the wife of Martin Luther King Jr.).

As for the “Into the Woods” actresses, several things could happen: 1. It could follow in the footsteps of “Chicago,” the first film from “Woods” director Rob Marshall, which scored two Supporting Actress nods for Catherine Zeta-Jones and Queen Latifah (and a win for the former); 2. It could follow in the footsteps of “Nine,” Marshall’s last adaptation of a Broadway musical, a flop with critics and audiences, receiving just got one nomination in this category (for Penelope Cruz); or 3. It could be a massive stinker (there have been rumors of last-minute reshoots) and get shut out completely. Just to remain optimistic, though, I’m going with ~at least~ a nomination for Blunt, who plays The Baker’s Wife, a role that got Joanna Gleason a Tony Award when it first premiered on stage in the ’80s. Kendrick is also a strong possibility as Cinderella, mainly because of how much people still love her singing in the always-on-HBO musical “Pitch Perfect.” And depending on which category Disney decides to campaign Meryl in (early talk is she’s going for leading actress), expect her to be a contender no matter what (though the Oscars did me wrong by not nominating my favorite performance of hers).

FIVE OTHER BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS CANDIDATES TO KEEP AN EYE ON: Jessica Chastain, “Interstellar;” Emma Stone, “Birdman;” Marisa Tomei, “Love is Strange;” Lorraine Toussaint, “Selma;” Emily Watson, “The Theory of Everything”

DIRECTOR
1. Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, “Birdman”
2. David Fincher, “Gone Girl”
3. James Marsh, “The Theory of Everything”
4. Morten Tyldum, “The Imitation Game”
5. Richard Linklater, “Boyhood”

alternates:
6. Christopher Nolan, “Interstellar”
7.  Bennett Miller, “Foxcatcher”
8. Jean-Marc Vallee, “Wild”
9. Angelina Jolie, “Unbroken”
10. Paul Thomas Anderson, “Inherent Vice”

This category can be the most volatile, since it depends mainly on what films make it through into the Best Picture category. For now, I’m putting former nominee Inarritu at the top thanks to how well the stylish “Birdman” has been received on the festival circuit, but mainly because, in the past two years, Oscar has given this trophy to two other technically breathtaking films (“Life of Pi” and “Gravity”). But he could get pushed down by a number of other contenders, namely two-time nominee David Fincher (if the buzz for “Gone Girl” holds up), or even Marsh and Tyldum, the directors of the dueling British biopics (as long as the Academy embraces those films as much as some Oscar pundits think). Also look for critical darling Linklater to make the list — he probably won’t win, but the good will and adoration toward “Boyhood” will probably earn him a slot in the top five.

Now, we’re mainly just waiting for several films to be screened: “Interstellar” could finally get Nolan that Best Director nod he’s been snubbed for several times; Jolie may become the fifth woman nominated for Best Director if “Unbroken” turns out to be a success; and former nominee Paul Thomas Anderson could make the cut, though if “Inherent Vice” is as divisive as his last film, “The Master,” then he may be in for another snub. They’ll have to compete, however, with Bennett Miller, who won the Cannes Film Fest’s Best Director prize for “Foxcatcher,” and “Wild’s” Jean-Marc Vallee, though his film is likely to do better in the acting categories.

FIVE OTHER BEST DIRECTOR CANDIDATES TO KEEP AN EYE ON: Wes Anderson, “The Grand Budapest Hotel;” Stephen Daldry, “Trash;” Ava DuVernay, “Selma;” Clint Eastwood, “American Sniper;” Mike Leigh, “Mr. Turner”

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