The 87th Annual Academy Awards: 2015 Oscar Picks

Has it really been a year already?  It's hard to believe, but it's time again for my annual Academy Awards picks post.  This year, the Oscars sort of snuck up on me.  Last year they were the first weekend in March so I was thinking that I had another week to check out any films that I had not yet seen.  Luckily I was able to see the last couple that I was really interested in over the past week or so.

This year, thanks to The Grandin Theatre's screening of the Animated and Live Action Short Film nominations, I will be expanding my picks to cover twenty two of the twenty four categories (up from twenty last year).  The only categories that I will not be picking are the two documentary categories.  I didn't see any of those films and wouldn't have the slightest idea what I was talking about (actually, by that criteria I could have eliminated the Best Foreign Language Film category as well, but I couldn't bring myself to cut a category that I had previously picked).  Please keep in mind that these are not predictions, but the selections I would make if I actually had a vote. Each category is listed below. The nominees that I have seen are denoted by a link to my review of that film. In the case that I didn't write a review for a film that I have seen, it will be denoted by an asterisk (*). 

Without further rambling, if I were voting for tomorrow night's 87th Annual Academy Awards, my ballot would look a little something like this:

Best Short Film, Live Action: Aya, Boogaloo and Graham, Butter Lamp, Parvaneh, The Phone Call

My Pick: Parvaneh was a heart warming tale of friendship and Aya and Butter Lamp were interesting but I didn't really relate to them at all.  In my mind this category comes down to two nominees: The Phone Call and Boogaloo and Graham.  The Phone Call was emotional, impactful, and is driven by two previous Oscar nominees (one winner).  Boogaloo and Graham wasn't just a little bit odd, but it was a touching, humorous, story about love and friendship.  Not only between a child and their pet, but between a parent and their children.  It may not be the best reason in the world, but I'll pick Boogaloo and Graham because it left me feeling happier at the end.

Best Short Film, Animated: The Bigger Picture, The Dam Keeper, Feast, Me and My Moulton, A Single Life

My Pick: The Bigger Picture is the most stylistically unique of the animated shorts, and I personally really enjoyed the look and story of The Dam Keeper, but I think that Feast will take the prize for its Pixar polish.  Is it really fair for Pixar entries to be considered?  It almost feels like a big leaguer being sent down to Double A on a rehab assignment, but the rules allow it, so what can you do?  Nothing against Pixar, but I wouldn't be offended if I got this pick wrong because one of the other films turned out to be the Academy's choice.

Best Achievement in Visual Effects: Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Guardians of the Galaxy, Interstellar, X-Men: Days of Future Past

My Pick: This year this category plays up to my nerdiness even more than it usually does.  Three comic book films, a Christopher Nolan film, and the second installment of a classic sci-fi franchise reboot.  Obviously all of these films had great visual effects, but due to the ridiculously high quality and sheer number of motion captured/computer generated apes created by the effects team spearheaded by the godfather of motion capture himself, Andy Serkis, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is the winner in my book.

Best Achievement in Sound Editing: American Sniper, Birdman, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, Interstellar, Unbroken

My Pick: There doesn't seem to be a clear cut winner in this category (at least in my mind) like there was last year with Gravity.  So I'm left looking at past winners and tendencies for Sound Editing to try and help narrow things down.  Often times, the winner of this category also takes home the award for Sound Mixing.  That little nugget doesn't help much as four of these films are nominated in both categories.  I'm torn between Interstellar and Birdman.  Interstellar is very similar to Gravity in subject matter (as far as sound goes), and Birdman includes an almost non-stop score full of drumming.  My pick goes to Interstellar because, of these five films, I believe it has the most diversity in its sound editing.

Best Achievement in Sound Mixing: American Sniper, Birdman, Interstellar, Unbroken, Whiplash

My Pick: As previously mentioned, the winner in this category often mirrors that of the Sound Editing category, however I'm going to split these two and pick Whiplash here.  The two awards were split in 2013 with action films (Skyfall and Zero Dark Thirty) sharing the Editing award while musical Les Misérables took the Mixing award.  As the only film in this category that was not also nominated for Sound Editing, I feel like the music-centric Whiplash will cause a similar split this year, and is my pick for the mixing category.

Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Song: Selma: Common, John Legend ("Glory"), Begin Again: Gregg Alexander, Danielle Brisebois ("Lost Stars"), The Lego Movie: Jo Li, Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone, Akiva Schaffer ("Everything is Awesome"), Beyond the Lights: Diane Warren ("Grateful"), Glen Cambell: I'll Be Me: Glen Campbell, Julian Raymond ("I'm Not Gonna Miss You")

My Pick: I have only seen two of the films nominated in this category, so I'm picking with limited knowledge, but between the two that I have seen, I have to go with The Lego Movie.  "Everything is Awesome" is one of those songs that sticks with you, and those are the songs that tend to take this award home.  The Lego Movie was also looked over in the Best Animated Feature Film category, so hopefully it gets a little validation here.

Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score: The Imitation Game (Alexandre Desplat), The Grand Budapest Hotel (Alexandre Desplat), Interstellar (Hans Zimmer), The Theory of Everything (Jóhann Jóhannsson), Mr. Turner (Gary Yershon)

My Pick: This category almost always gives me a hard time.  Even after seeing four of the five nominees, I'm can't specifically remember one of these scores standing out above and beyond the others.  Obviously they are all wonderful, otherwise they wouldn't have received nominations.  I'm chalking my difficulty up to the time that has passed since I've seen films such as The Grand Budapest Hotel or Interstellar.  I find it interesting that Alexandre Desplat picked up nominations for two different films.  That's a pretty solid year!  Since I cannot immediately pick one over the others, I'll go with Desplat's score for The Imitation Game.  I'd love to see it get some Oscar love and I'm not sure that it has a realistic chance in most of the other categories that it is nominated in.

Best Achievement in Makeup and Hairstyling: Foxcatcher (Bill Corso, Dennis Liddiard), The Grand Budapest Hotel (Frances Hannon, Mark Coulier), Guardians of the Galaxy (Elizabeth Yianni-Georgiou, David White)

My Pick: The work done on Steve Carell (especially his nose) in Foxcatcher is unbelievable, as is the job turning Tilda Swinton into old woman Madame D. in The Grand Budapest hotel, but the overwhelming number and quality of characters that were created by the makeup and hairstyling team in Guardians of the Galaxy makes it the winner in my mind.

Best Achievement in Costume Design: The Grand Budapest Hotel (Milena Canonero), Inherent Vice (Mark Bridges), Into the Woods (Colleen Atwood), Maleficent (Anna B. Sheppard, Jane Clive), Mr. Turner (Jacqueline Durran)

My Pick: This is another category that I'm picking with a limited knowledge of the nominees as I've seen just three of the five.  Period pieces tend to do well in this category so it wouldn't shock me if Mr. Turner took this one home, but since I haven't seen it, my pick goes to The Grand Budapest Hotel thanks to its quirky and extensive cast of characters.

Best Achievement in Production Design: The Grand Budapest Hotel (Adam Stockhausen, Anna Pinnock), The Imitation Game (Maria Djurkovic, Tatiana Macdonald), Interstellar (Nathan Crowley, Gary Fettis), Into the Woods (Dennis Gassner, Anna Pinnock), Mr. Turner (Suzie Davies, Charlotte Watts)

My Pick: I'm going to go with The Grand Budapest Hotel in this category for virtually the same reason I picked it in the Costume Design category: it has the largest number of unique settings of any of the films that I've seen in this category.  Each and every one feels like it belongs in a Wes Anderson film.  That uniform look and feel despite the numerous set pieces used puts it ahead of the others in my book.

Best Achievement in Editing: Boyhood (Sandra Adair), The Imitation Game (William Goldenberg), The Grand Budapest Hotel (Barney Pilling), Whiplash (Tom Cross), American Sniper (Joel Cox, Gary Roach)

My Pick: This is the first category of a few that I feel will end up in the hands of Boyhood by the end of the night.  Taking footage filmed over the course of twelve years and editing it down to a coherent film that doesn't feel anywhere near as long as its actual run time is an Oscar worthy achievement.

Best Achievement in Cinematography: Birdman (Emmanuel Lubezki), The Grand Budapest Hotel (Robert D. Yeoman), Mr. Turner (Dick Pope), Unbroken (Roger Deakins), Ida (Lukasz Zal, Ryszard Lenczewski)

My Pick: Nothing against any of the other nominees, but this is one of the categories in which there is very little doubt this year.  The way that Emmanuel Lubezki shot Birdman, panning from one character to the next, inside and out, seemingly in a single shot, is an amazing piece of camera work and makes him the clear cut winner here.  A win in this category would give him two in a row as he also won last year for his work on Gravity.

Best Foreign Language Film of the Year: Tangerines: Zaza Urushadze (Georgia), Ida: Pawel Pawlikowski (France), Leviathan: Andrew Zvyagintsev (Russia), Wild Tales: Damián Szifrón (Argentina), Timbuktu: Abderrahmane Sissako (France)

My Pick: More than any other category, Best Foreign Language Film has me grasping at straws.  That is because for the second year in a row, I have not seen any of the nominees.  I'll take a wild shot in the dark and pick Leviathan, if only because it seems to be the nominee that I have heard mentioned the most.

Best Animated Feature Film of the Year: The Boxtrolls, Big Hero 6, How to Train Your Dragon 2, Song of the Sea, The Tale of the Princess Kaguya

My Pick: I've only seen two of these nominees (Big Hero 6 and How to Train Your Dragon 2).  The Boxtrolls looks fun and I've always enjoyed stop motion animation.  The only thing I know about Song of the Sea is that was directed by the same man that directed 2010's nominee The Secret of Kells (Tomm Moore). Unfortunately, I don't know anything about The Tale of the Princess Kaguya.  Big Hero 6 was the highest grossing animated film of 2014 but box office dollars to not always turn into gold statues.  I certainly wouldn't be surprised if Big Hero 6 took the prize, but my pick is How to Train Your Dragon 2.  The animation was absolutely top notch, and the continuation and expansion of the story and its characters was also excellent.

Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published: American Sniper (Jason Hall), Inherent Vice (Paul Thomas Anderson), The Imitation Game (Graham Moore), The Theory of Everything (Anthony McCarten), Whiplash (Damien Chazelle)

My Pick: This category always gives me fits because not only have I not read the actual screenplays, but in this case, I haven't read any of the source material that the screenplays have been adapted from.  Based solely on the fact that he has been nominated for five previous Oscars (three of which were in the screenplay categories), and has not yet won, I'll go with Paul Thomas Anderson work for Inherent Vice.

Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen: Boyhood (Richard Linklater), Birdman (Alejandro González Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Armando Bo), Foxcatcher (E. Max Frye, Dan Futterman), The Grand Budapest Hotel (Wes Anderson, Hugo Guinness), Nightcrawler (Dan Gilroy)

My Pick: And here's the other writing category that is always a crap shoot for me.  Having not read any of the actual screenplays, I'm pretty much falling back on how much I enjoyed these films, and I'm really torn here.  Boyhood was excellent, but I don't feel as though its writing was what made it such a special film.  In my mind it comes down to either Birdman or The Grand Budapest Hotel.  I think my pick here will be Birdman.  It has already won Best Original Screenplay at the Critic's Choice Awards and Best Screenplay - Motion Picture at the Golden Globes versus The Grand Budapest Hotel's Best Original Screenplay victory at the BAFTAs.  

Best Achievement in Directing: Richard Linklater (Boyhood), Alejandro González Iñárritu (Birdman), Bennett Miller (Foxcatcher), Wes Anderson (The Grand Budapest Hotel), Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game)

My Pick: I'm a huge Wes Anderson fan and this year he upped his game and earned a directing nomination for the first time in his career.  While I'd love to see him win, I think it is much more likely that the award will go to either Richard Linklater or Alejandro González Iñárritu.  They have both garnered equivalent honors at awards banquets leading up to the Oscars, but only once in the last ten years has the winner of this category at the Director's Guild Awards not taken home the Oscar as well (2013 when Ben Affleck was snubbed for Argo).  So, with that nifty little stat in hand, my pick here goes to this year's DGA winner Alejandro González Iñárritu.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role: Patricia Arquette (Boyhood), Laura Dern (Wild), Keira Knightley (The Imitation Game), Emma Stone (Birdman), Meryl Streep (Into the Woods)

My Pick: Three of the four acting categories this year appear to be pretty much locked up based upon the other ceremonies this awards season.  Patricia Arquette's turn as the mother in Boyhood isn't just a great piece of acting, but is more impressive when you take into account that she had to repeatedly get back into character each year for twelve years.  The film may be called Boyhood and may be about one young man's maturation, but it is Arquette's performance that really guides the narrative of that film.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role: Robert Duvall (The Judge), Ethan Hawke (Boyhood), Edward Norton (Birdman), Mark Ruffalo (Foxcatcher), J.K. Simmons (Whiplash)

My Pick: Similarly to Arquette, J.K. Simmons has been sweeping this category at all of the other awards ceremonies.  My initial reaction when I saw Birdman was 'wow, Edward Norton's going to get nominated for this', and one could argue that Mark Ruffalo was the emotional center of Foxcatcher, but Simmons' hardcore, abusive music director is the performance of a lifetime, and really makes him the only choice in this category.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role: Marion Cotillard (Two Days, One Night), Felicity Jones (The Theory of Everything), Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl), Julianne Moore (Still Alice), Reese Witherspoon (Wild)

My Pick: Rosamund Pike and Felicity Jones fall into the same category for me: both gave excellent performances, but each was one half of a duo that led their respective films.  Their performances demanded more than 'Supporting' status, but were not (in my mind) quite on par with what one would think of in a 'Leading' role.  This is no slight to them, I absolutely loved both of their films as anyone who has read my reviews can attest.  Up until a week ago, I would would have given this award to Reese Witherspoon for Wild.  Then I saw Julianne Moore's performance that I had been hearing so much about.  No doubt about it, her powerful portrayal of a linguistics professor battling early onset Alzheimer's in Still Alice is the clear winner this year.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role: Steve Carell (Foxcatcher), Benedict Cumberbatch (The Imitation Game), Bradley Cooper (American Sniper), Michael Keaton (Birdman), Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything)

My Pick: This is another tough one as all five of these actors gave spectacular performances.  The awards ceremonies leading up to the Oscars have gone to either Michael Keaton (Critic's Choice, Golden Globes - Musical or Comedy) or Eddie Redmayne (Golden Globes - Drama, BAFTAs, Screen Actor's Guild Awards).  Recently, the winner of this category at the Screen Actor's Guild Awards tends to take home the Oscar as well, so a win here by Eddie Redmayne would not be surprising, and may be probable.  However, as much as I enjoyed and respect his portrayal of Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything, my pick in this category is Michael Keaton.  Maybe I'm letting nostalgia get the best of me, but he really was the only actor that could bring the authenticity necessary to that role.  Who better to portray an actor dealing with his fall from stardom by reinventing himself on the small stage?

Best Motion Picture of the Year: American Sniper, Birdman, Boyhood, The Imitation Game, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Selma, The Theory of Everything, Whiplash

My Pick: Similarly to Ben Affleck for Argo in 2013, I believe that Richard Linklater will be the last one giving an acceptance speech at the end of the night.  His film Boyhood is an amazing cinematic achievement.  Not only was it an ambitious idea - who says 'I'm going to take twelve years to make my film'? - but it was executed splendidly.  Boyhood isn't just an excellent film, but it is a ground breaking piece of work from a production standpoint.  I don't know that we'll see a slew of twelve-year-long projects in the future, but this was first and it couldn't have been done any better.  For that, Boyhood will take home the biggest prize of the night.

There they are, my picks for the 87th Annual Academy Awards.  As always, I'll be curious to see how closely my thoughts match up with the Academy's.  What are your picks this year?  Did you see any of the films that I didn't?  If so, do you think they would have changed my picks if I had?


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