**ESTIMATED READING TIME : 7 Minutes 36 Seconds**
Fifteen billion years ago, there was an explosion that shattered the silence of the abyss and started the birth pangs of our universe. In the wake of that big bang, some 4.5 billions years ago, a myriad of once runaway particles and gases clustered together to form a planet, our earth. 3.5 billion years ago the first life stirred deep in the bowels of earth's primordial sludge. Approximately 160,000 years ago homo sapiens staggered onto the scene for the first time. The entire history of the universe and life in it's many forms will reach its epic apex this Sunday, February 22, 2015, with the Academy Awards presentation hosted by Doogie Howser.
If you are not excited for the Oscars, then you hate the universe, God, Doogie Howser and all complex life forms, up to and including puppies, kittens, unicorns and babies (including the baby Jesus himself). You are also in the unique position of not only being a denier of evolution but also of creationism and, most appallingly, of Doogie Howser.
Since I respect the universe and life, and love all puppies, unicorns, and babies regardless of their claims to divinity, I will be riveted to my television set this Sunday to watch the Oscars. Admittedly, I am, at best, ambivalent towards kittens and Doogie Howser, at worst, violently hostile. Keeping that hostility in mind, it is not only my right, but my duty, as an upstanding citizen of Hollywood, the United States of America, The Planet Earth, and the Universe to share my predictions and thoughts on the upcoming Oscars. I apologize, but not sincerely, if Doogie Howser or any kittens are harmed in the writing or reading of this Oscar post.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR NOMINEES
Robert Duvall - The Judge : I have not seen The Judge. In fact, up until two days ago, I had not spoken to any person who has seen The Judge. Those two people liked it a lot, but to be fair, those two people are the biggest natural born liars I have ever met. I don't trust them as far as I can throw them, and believe me, I can throw them very far. With all that said, Robert Duvall is on my personal Mount Rushmore of great actors. His career has spanned six decades of both stellar supporting and lead roles and includes some of the finest acting ever captured on film. He won't win here, but he has won at living a true life of artistry.
Ethan Hawke - Boyhood : Ethan Hawke is easily the best thing about Boyhood. He is the only actor in the entire cast to bring a sense of genuine life and sincerity to his role. Hawke is an often times underrated actor, but he is consistently really very good. His work in Boyhood is good enough to overcome what I felt was a bad film, which is proof of his talent and skill if nothing else.
Mark Ruffalo - Foxcatcher : Foxcatcher is a very flawed film, but that is not Mark Ruffalo's fault. Ruffalo does fantastic work as wrestler David Schultz. Ruffalo does the best acting work in the film in what is easily the least flashy role. Foxcatcher needed much more of Mark Ruffalo, and suffered because of his absence.
Edward Norton - Birdman : Norton is a truly superb actor, and after some years in career purgatory, he got back into the swing of things this year with both Birdman and The Grand Budapest Hotel. Norton is absolutely fantastic as the self absorbed and artistically devoted actor Mike Shiner in Birdman. The role hit pretty close to home to the bad reputation Norton has accrued over the years as being difficult. I don't care what people say about him, I just hope he does more films like Birdman and Grand Budapest Hotel, because his formidable talents shouldn't be wasted on lesser projects.
J.K. Simmons - Whiplash : J.K. Simmons gives a powerhouse performance in Whiplash. I couldn't help but imagine how a bigger name actor, with lesser skill and craft, would have left the subtlety out in the playing of this bombastic music teacher. This is an easy role to screw up, it is to Simmon's credit that he not only didn't fall into the traps laid out before him, but deftly avoided them all while creating a masterfully original performance.
WHO WINS : This is J.K. Simmons Oscar to lose. He has won every award leading up to the Oscars, so it would be a shocker if he didn't win it. Plus, he has been around forever and worked with everyone (even me!!), and everyone likes him (even me!!). He bags this Oscar.
WHO SHOULD WIN : Simmons is phenomenal and is more than deserving of the Oscar. If Norton won, I would not complain either…but that isn't happening. Congratulations Mr. Simmons!!
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS NOMINATIONS
Patricia Arquette - Boyhood : Arquette is the odds on favorite to win the award. I really like Patricia Arquette and her work, but with that said, she is not only 'not good' in Boyhood, she is actively terrible. It is not all her fault, the twelve year shooting schedule and the script, or lack thereof, certainly didn't help matters. Boyhood is a bad movie, and Patricia Arquette is bad in it.
Laura Dern - Wild : I like Laura Dern a great deal, but I am wondering why she is nominated for this performance. The performance isn't horrible, it just isn't noteworthy. Wild is a good enough film, but not great, and Dern's performance is rather mundane. I think this nomination is an indicator that this year was a very thin one in the supporting actress category.
Keira Knightley - The Imitation Game : I thought Keira Knightley did a good job in an underwritten role in this film. As I said in my review, this film would have been much better off with more of Knightley rather than less. Again, not a spectacular performance, but a well crafted one nonetheless.
Emma Stone - Birdman : Emma Stone has always been an appealing and charming presence in films, but never a very powerful one. I think with Birdman she has made the giant leap from being an actress you are pleased to discover is in a film to being an actress you really want to see in a film. She is really fantastic in Birdman. This is a performance of great subtlety and power. I hope this is the beginning of more great things from Emma Stone.
Meryl Streep - Into the Woods : You can't have an Oscars without Meryl Streep…or so it would seem. I have not seen Into the Woods, but there is little doubt that whenever Meryl Streep steps in front of a camera, awards are soon to follow. Streep is arguably the greatest actress in the history of cinema, so I will simply bow whenever she is in my presence and leave it at that.
WHO WINS : Patricia Arquette. For some reason people are tripping over themselves to praise Patricia Arquette's performance in Boyhood and the film itself. I thought both were not only mediocre, but downright bad. Apparently I am in the minority, so Ms. Arquette gets another statue to add to her growing collection from this year's awards season.
WHO SHOULD WIN : Emma Stone. She won't win because of the mass delusion in Patricia Arquette's favor, but Emma Stone did the best job of all the nominees…and it isn't even close.
BEST ACTRESS NOMINATIONS
Marion Cotillard - Two Days, One Night : I have not seen this film. But I have seen Ms. Cotillard before and she is so beautiful there is a chance the universe may collapse in on itself because of the dense gravitational power of her beauty. I did see the film The Immigrant which starred Ms. Cotillard this year. She was great in that, and most everything else I've seen her in, so I assume she is wonderful in this film as well.
Felicity Jones - The Theory of Everything : Felicity Jones is really good in The Theroy of Everything. Her role is considerably harder than the physically challenging role that has garnered her co-star Eddie Redmayne so much acclaim. Jones is the straw that stirs the drink of this movie, without her it would have been an even more fruitless endeavor than it already is….which is pretty fruitless.
Julianne Moore - Still Alice : Moore is a sometimes overlooked master when it comes to great actresses. In the last twenty five years or so, she has been as good as anyone in film. This performance isn't even close to her best, but it is head and shoulders above everyone else this year.
Rosamund Pike - Gone Girl : This nomination befuddles me. I thought Ms. Pike fell into the trap of caricature and obviousness in her portrayal of the single minded, crazy woman at the center of Gone Girl. Gone Girl wasn't just a bad movie, it was an abomination, and Rosamund Pike didn't do anything to help this dog get out of the road.
Reese Witherspoon - Wild : Everybody loves Reese Witherspoon, how can you not? I think she does the very best she can in this flawed, but decent film. I give her credit for stepping out of her comfort zone and challenging herself and her audience. I hope we get much more of this in the years ahead.
WHO WINS : Julianne Moore. A runaway victory. This was a pretty down year for female roles and performances across the board, but Moore is so far above the other actresses it isn't even funny.
WHO SHOULD WIN : Julianne Moore. Moore's performance is as specific and detailed a master class in the art of acting as you'll see. It is too bad the film doesn't even come close to living up to her work in it, but she is remarkable nonetheless.
BEST ACTOR NOMINEES
Steve Carell - Foxcatcher : Steve Carell is a really good actor. He is versatile and charismatic in his own unique way. I thought his work was good but incomplete in Foxcatcher. It is not his fault. The film is fatally flawed in it's structure and Carell is left holding the half empty bag that the script gives him. Also, Carell's role is a supporting role, not a lead, which may be a part of the problem with Foxcatcher. Overall, this could have been an Oscar worthy performance, but the director and script made that an impossibility.
Bradley Cooper - American Sniper : I know that this will horrify people, but American Sniper is not a good film, not even close. Cooper's work in it is as good as he has ever been. He has a few scenes of very fine craftsmanship that he deftly pulls off. The film never remotely approaches living up to the work Bradley Cooper does in it.
Benedict Cumberbatch - The Imitation Game : Cumberbatch is an interesting actor. He is skilled at creating a compelling character who draws the viewer in, but then only reveals glimpses of his character's true inner life once you get there. I thought he did well in The Imitation Game, but was hamstrung by a rather tepid approach to the story. This is not a bad performance, but it is also not a great performance. Cumberbatch is lukewarm, matching the film itself.
Michael Keaton - Birdman : Keaton is really fantastic in Birdman. This is a finely crafted, yet fiercely driven performance. Keaton has long been a tantalizing talent, who never quite reached his potential, but after all these years, he steps up and crushes this role, the greatest of his career.
Eddie Redmayne - The Theory of Everything : Redmayne's physical transformation is very impressive in this film. His emotional transformation, not so much. I felt this performance to be rather lifeless and dead eyed. It was more a contortionists carnival act than a stellar piece of acting work.
WHO WINS : Eddie Redmayne. For some reason, I am not exactly sure why, the Academy loves these sorts of performances. Eddie Redmayne is a fine actor, but trust me when I tell you this, there are literally hundreds of actors who could have played that part as well as he did. Maybe that is why actors reward roles like this with awards, they can see themselves playing the same part just as well as the winner. Keaton might pull off the upset…but I doubt it.
WHO SHOULD WIN : Michael Keaton. Keaton gives a really powerful and exquisitely well crafted performance, easily the best of his career.
BEST DIRECTOR NOMINEES
Alejandro Inarritu - Birdman : Inarritu did a spectacular job keeping what could have been a mess of a movie, right on track. Visually and dramatically this film is as compelling as any film this year and that is a credit to Inarritu.
Richard Linklater - Boyhood : I get it that it is hard to make a movie over twelve years. But just because you can pull off a gimmick like that doesn't mean you deserve an Oscar nomination. Boyhood is a wonderful achievement, but a lousy movie.
Bennet Miller - Foxcatcher : Foxcatcher is a fatally flawed film and it is entirely Bennet Miller's fault. He does not deserve an Oscar nomination, he deserves to be picked up and slammed down onto a wrestling mat.
Wes Anderson - The Grand Budapest Hotel : Wes Anderson is back at the top of his game with The Grand Budapest Hotel. This is such a detailed and meticulously original film that it is tough to wrap your head around it. Anderson may have stumbled creatively in the last few years, but he brings his own specific brand of genius to bear on The Grand Budapest Hotel, and it is truly a wonder.
Morten Tyldum - The Imitation Game : Just like Linklater and Miller, I am wondering what the hell Morten Tyldum is doing with an Oscar nomination. I wish he played 'the imitation game' where he imitates a director with more artistic courage and made a better movie. This film is such a middle of the road, mild, lukewarm affair that it deserves about as much attention as the film itself gave to Alan Turing's greatest struggle in the last year of his life. Virtually none.
WHO WINS : It is either Inarritu or Linklater. I think whoever doesn't win this may win best picture. I give the nod to Linklater for best director.
WHO SHOULD WIN : Wes Anderson. Anderson's work on The Grand Budapest Hotel is far superior to everyone else in this category. Only Inarritu can even be considered to be in contention besides Anderson. The person who should really win is Damien Chazelle who directed Whiplash, but he isn't even nominated. What the hell, Academy?
BEST PICTRUE NOMINEES :
American Sniper : Oh dear. I know people say they love this film, but I think they are saying that because they think they are supposed to say that. Like if you don't love American Sniper you hate America or worse yet…'Don't Support The Troops'. American Sniper has become a political football, so rational thought is thrown out the window when people express themselves about it. I will say this, from a purely technical stand point, the film is an utter disaster area. It is a rushed, sloppy, cheap looking mess. The acting, besides Cooper, is so atrocious as to be embarrassing. To think that the same man who directed a masterpiece like Unforgiven made this amateurish film is staggering.
Birdman : Birdman was one botched ending away from being a transcendently amazing film. It is still great and easily one of the best films of the year. The acting, dialogue and the visuals are all superb. A really enjoyable and very well made film.
Boyhood : I absolutely loved this intimate portrait of a film…oh…wait…no I didn't. I have talked to an awful lot of people about Boyhood. The age range of these people is from as young as 19 to as old as 75. The industry experience of these people ranges from those with absolutely no connection to the business at all, to working actors, to someone who is a very famous director whom I can only name as "Mr. X". Across the board, without any exceptions, absolutely everyone I spoke to who saw this film didn't like it. That is a pretty staggering piece of information. I talked to actors, writers, directors, cinematographers, editors, and people with no connection to the film business at all. NONE OF THEM THOUGHT IT WAS GOOD. NONE OF THEM. I whole heartedly concur. Boyhood is as dramatically compelling as watching someone else's home movies.
The Grand Budapest Hotel : This is an interesting, complex story with exquisite acting (Ralph Fiennes) and spectacular visuals. I really loved this film a great deal. It was funny, poignant, layered and captivating. One of the best of the year.
The Imitation Game : The most dramatically interesting part of the protagonists life happens after the films ends. A safe, dare I say, cowardly film that while well executed, is not very compelling.
Selma : Selma is a good movie. It isn't good enough to be an Oscar nominated movie though. To be fair, neither are a bunch of these other films. The film is interesting, and some of the performances are stellar. It does have the slight stench of sentimentality about it though, which can be a fatal flaw to a film.
The Theory of Everything : Another safe film that could have been so much better (like The Imitation Game). Stephen Hawking is a pretty remarkable guy, but this film is pretty ordinary. The Theory of Everything tells us absolutely nothing about absolutely everyone.
Whiplash : Whiplash is as well made a film as any this year. It is so well directed, acted, edited and shot that it just shines. First time director Damien Chazelle proves himself to be a first rate craftsman and he elicits stunning performances from both Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons. A taut, magnetic film which never loses it's pace or skips a beat.
WHO WILL WIN : I think it is Birdman eking out a win over Boyhood. Birdman is about "The Business", and Hollywood likes nothing more than films about itself and congratulating itself for those films. Boyhood has a chance to steal the victory, but I think we get a split, with Linklater winning director, and Birdman winning Best Picture.
WHO SHOULD WIN: Whiplash is without question, the best film this year. I cannot emphasize enough how incredibly well made and well acted this film is. I loved Whiplash and still haven't stopped thinking about it after having seen it twice. Top to bottom, across the board, Whiplash is the Best Picture, with Birdman a distant second.
In conclusion, just a gentle reminder to everyone that wagering on the Oscars is not only illegal, it is a sin according to the High Holy Church of Hollywood and it's leader, Pope Doogie The First.
Thus ends this years rather lackluster Oscars. To think that all of those billions of years of universal and human evolution were leading up to this single night, makes me feel it wasn't really worth all of that fuss after all. Oh well…there is always next year.