Early tomorrow morning, nominations for the 87th Academy Awards will be announced. Now, lately, film writers have divided into two factions: You either hate horse races like this, or you're obsessed with them. This snapped into focus recently when the National Society of Film Critics chose Jean Luc-Godard's Goodbye to Language—which is nearly impossible to see in America—as the best film of 2014. Immediately, those critics were accused of purposely ignoring relevance and mocking the award-chasing tenor of most film discussion these days; the critics, quite reasonably, pointed out that relevance is not their concern, and, uh, who gives a shit, anyway?
Our side? Frankly, we tend to be like most people who aren't critics: We know awards are pointless and self-indulgent and completely beside the point with regards to quality ... yet we find them undeniably fun regardless. Part of the reason is that the Oscars, unlike other major awards, have to at least nod at quality. Last year, Macklemore won a Grammy; Modern Family is still winning Emmys ever year. The Oscars will have their Crash or The Artist fiascos every so often, but it's rare that something truly terrible wins anything, or even gets nominated. In many ways, awards can in fact drive the bus: When studios are so desperately trying to win something, they can sometimes make a wonderful film in spite of themselves. We know the Oscars don't matter, but as long as the people who make movies think they do, we see no reason to discourage them.
Thus, here are my predictions for tomorrow morning's festivities in the eight major categories. These are predictions, not hopes, though I'll sneak in one of my own personal favorites for each.
Birdman (Alejandro González Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Armando Bo)
Boyhood (Richard Linklater)
The Grand Budapest Hotel (Wes Anderson and Hugo Guinness)
Nightcrawler (Dan Gilroy)
Selma (Paul Webb)
The first three are locks, and Nightcrawler has received a nice late push, largely out of affection for Jake Gyllenhaal's performance. The question here, as with many other categories: How much has the (largely stupid) backlash against Selma's depiction of LBJ hurt the film's chances overall? If voters are likely to punish it anywhere, it's here—but I still can't see the next contender, Foxcatcher, passing it over, particularly considering that film's own problems with "authenticity."
Nomination I'd Like to See: Only Lovers Left Alive. Jim Jarmusch's ode to the wisdom and taste that comes with getting old was as sharp a movie as he's made in more than a decade.
American Sniper (Jason Hall)
Gone Girl (Gillian Flynn)
The Imitation Game (Graham Moore)
The Theory of Everything (Anthony McCarten)
Whiplash (Damien Chazelle)
This is a crazy group with no obvious favorite— Gone Girl honestly has a legitimate chance to win—and wild cards like Whiplash, which is pretty obviously an original screenplay forced into this category because it's based off a short film Chazelle wrote to finance the longer one. American Sniper is probably the shakiest pick here, but it's picking up steam as of late and may end up crashing a ton of categories.
Nomination I'd Like to See: Under the Skin. It's less an adaptation of the 2000 science-fiction novel than a total reimagining ... which is sort of what this category should be.
Patricia Arquette, Boyhood
Jessica Chastain, A Most Violent Year
Keira Knightley, The Imitation Game
Emma Stone, Birdman
Meryl Streep, Into the Woods
Arquette is the lock-it-up, slam-dunk entry in this category—deservedly so, I'd argue—and Knightley and Stone are solid bets, too. It would be weird to have a year without Streep, so she's in. (It helps that she's far and away the best part of the movie.) Chastain's the weakest bet because so few people have seen her film, but she's a beloved actress who is great in everything. Here's betting she holds off Rene Russo, Naomi Watts, and Laura Dern.
Nomination I'd like to see: Robin Wright, A Most Wanted Man. Never before has American imperialism and intrusion been made so compelling and so seductively loathsome.
Robert Duvall, The Judge
Ethan Hawke, Boyhood
Edward Norton, Birdman
Mark Ruffalo, Foxcatcher
J.K. Simmons, Whiplash
This is typically one of the strongest categories, but there are only four obvious ones this year: Hawke, Norton, Ruffalo, and Simmons (your likely winner). Duvall is even more of a default W ell, FINE pick than Streep, but you do have to choose someone. Check out this list: You see anything better on there? (And Steve Carell doesn't count: He's being nominated as a lead performance.) Slim pickens indeed.
Nomination I'd like to see: Bill Hader, The Skeleton Twins. The movie's a little cutesy, but Hader is both funny and quietly moving as a prickly man who's actually not all that likable on the surface ... but who you find yourself caring for deeply the more you learn about him. It's a tricky performance, and he makes it look easy.
Amy Adams, Big Eyes
Felicity Jones, The Theory of Everything
Julianne Moore, Still Alice
Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl
Reese Witherspoon, Wild
The big question in this category: Are they really going to nominate Jennifer Aniston for Cake, a movie that few have seen and no one has liked? I know Oscar nominations are in some part about campaigning, but to what degree? Here's my perhaps wrongheaded vote for reason, and for Adams to take Aniston's spot. (The other four are locks.)
Nomination I'd Like to See: Scarlett Johansson, Under the Skin. An astounding, courageous performance in a great film that's too weird and challenging for anyone to even give it the time of day. This is the one performance we'll still be talking about in 20 years, though.
Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game
Jake Gyllenhaal, Nightcrawler
Michael Keaton, Birdman
David Oyelowo, Selma
Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything
Without question the most intriguing category, with insurgents like Gyllenhaal, "controversy"-swirling movies like Oyelowo's, and the utter strangeness of Steve Carell's John du Pont. That's not to mention star turns from two actors in movies likely to be nominated: Bradley Cooper in American Sniper and Ralph Fiennes in The Grand Budapest Hotel. This is the one everybody's most likely to get wrong, but in a pinch, I'll go with Oyelowo and Gyllenhaal over Cooper, Carell, and Fiennes.
Nomination I'd like to see: Cooper. It's an honest, incredibly impressive performance. Also: It'd be nice to see Philip Seymour Hoffman get one last honor for A Most Wanted Man, which might be my favorite-ever performance from him.
Wes Anderson, The Grand Budapest Hotel
Ava DuVernay, Selma
Clint Eastwood, American Sniper
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Birdman
Richard Linklater, Boyhood
The big omission here is Morten Tyldum for The Imitation Game, but I'm trying to figure out a way to note the late-charging freight train that is American Sniper and still get DuVernay in here. (Damien Chazelle for Whiplash is close, too.) Tyldum will most likely get lost in the shuffle; I just don't think the Selma backlash, such as it is, will end up being nearly as wide-sweeping as its biggest defenders fear.
Nomination I'd like to see: David Fincher, Gone Girl. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: David Fincher should direct every movie.
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
The Theory of Everything
Maybe it's a copout, but I'm betting they use all 10 spots. Even with that, I can't find a spot for Foxcatcher.
Nomination I'd like to see: You're probably tired of me pumping up Under the Skin, aren't you?
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