How to Fill Out Your Oscar Ballot in 2015
Our 2015 Oscar predictions.
This year’s Oscar ceremony will only be diverse by one metric. It isn’t race or sex, but the movies themselves which represent a jumbled pot of genres, styles and budgets. If you were ever on the fence regarding the detriment of judging one piece of art against another, a year where the boots-on-the-ground grit of American Sniper goes up against the intimate difficulty of Boyhood and the candy-glossed bittersweet adventure of The Grand Budapest Hotel might just push you over to one side.
In any normal year, predicting the winners of almost every category would be simple. Even when they sidestep expectations, the Academy isn’t exactly nimble. This year is a bit different, though. There may be a few surprises – mild as they can be – simply because there are few clear frontrunners in any given category.
Still, despite the Oscars being all but meaningless by focusing on a dozen movies in the sea of 1,500 hours (or so) of film released this year, predicting them can be good for at least one thing: the sheet cake and/or small pile of money you’re aiming to win in your office Oscar pool. We’re not saying you’re gauranteed victory with these picks, but you should at least have a leg up against co-workers who don’t know who The Dardenne Brothers are. If you don’t know who they are, you should get to know them, but you can fake it ’til you make it in the mean time.
American Sniper | Birdman | Boyhood | The Grand Budapest Hotel | The Imitation Game | Selma | The Theory of Everything | Whiplash
Who You Should Pick: Birdman
Why: The toss ups get started early. I said it wouldn’t be easy, and there’s a coin flip between Birdman and Boyhood here. I give the edge to the former because of its Guild awards and the dominance of its 9 Oscar nominations.
Of course, if either wins, Hollywood will be applauding the very kind of movies that it would never dare to make. “This is the best movie of 2015. Thank God someone else made it.”
Alejandro González Iñárritu, Birdman | Richard Linklater, Boyhood | Bennett Miller, Foxcatcher | Wes Anderson, The Grand Budapest Hotel | Morten Tyldum, The Imitation Game
Who You Should Pick: Alejandro González Iñárritu
Why: With the exception of Ben Affleck not even being nominated for an Oscar, you’d have to go back to 2002 (Rob Marshall) to find a Directors Guild winner who didn’t also win the Oscar. They are in as consistent a step as you can get with these things.
Steve Carell, Foxcatcher | Bradley Cooper, American Sniper | Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game | Michael Keaton, Birdman | Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything
Who You Should Pick: Eddie Redmayne
Why: This is another toss up that I’m admittedly pivoting to safe ground for. Redmayne is the 1) main attraction in a 2) biopic where his character 3) transforms completely 4) because of an illness. The Oscar math is there, and Redmayne won the Screen Actors Guild award, which lines up 100% with the Oscars in the modern era. We’ll see that mirrored for the other acting nominees as well. Keaton is a comeback story and Cooper seems preternaturally beloved by AMPAS, so there could be a spoiler, but the conservative bet is on Stephen Hawking.
Sony Pictures Classics
Marion Cotillard, Two Days, One Night | Felicity Jones, The Theory of Everything | Julianne Moore, Still Alice | Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl | Reese Witherspoon, Wild
Who You Should Pick: Julianne Moore
Why: The surest of the sure things, Moore is a hurricane in this movie. She also won the SAG, and if she doesn’t win on Sunday, every Oscar prognosticator’s head will fall off. Everyone else is essentially tied for second, but I’m still looking forward to when Pike’s name is called because there’s a 1% chance they’ll show that scene from Gone Girl. Don’t laugh. They need ratings.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Sony Pictures Classics
Robert Duvall, The Judge | Ethan Hawke, Boyhood | Edward Norton, Birdman | Mark Ruffalo, Foxcatcher | J.K. Simmons, Whiplash
Who You Should Pick: J.K. Simmons
Why: Again, SAG. He’s another relatively sure thing, and he’ll throw a chair at your head if you don’t mark him down on your ballot.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Patricia Arquette, Boyhood | Laura Dern, Wild | Keira Knightley, The Imitation Game | Emma Stone, Birdman | Meryl Streep, Into the Woods
Who You Should Pick: Patricia Arquette
Why: Again, SAG. And BAFTA. You’ll notice with all of the supporting actress nominees that they were the hearts of their respective movie, yet Arquette has managed to dominate awards and stand out as more than just a supporting act. Unlike the other nominees, she’s an inch away from being a main role contender, and she grounded Richard Linklater’s experiment in a way that’s rightly getting praise. Go, Team True Romance.
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
The Weinstein Company
American Sniper, Jason Hall | The Imitation Game, Graham Moore | Inherent Vice, Paul Thomas Anderson | The Theory of Everything, Anthony McCarten | Whiplash, Damien Chazelle
Who You Should Pick: Graham Moore
Why: The WGA awards aren’t as secure a predictor of the Oscars, but there’s little else to go on beyond gut in this category, and while The Imitation Game won the WGA, it also meets those Oscar Bait quadrants that seem to turn on the octogenarians who vote. Plus, it can also be seen as a kind of consolation prize (full respect to Moore) since Imitation scored 8 nominations, but likely won’t win in many categories.
Whiplash complicates things because of the bizarre ruling to count it as an “adapted” screenplay despite it being original. Chazelle made a short film as a proof of concept from the script, but the Academy is counting that short film as the “original” property, making the jazz drumming concussion metaphor into an “adaptation” of that short film. Still, it’s unlikely to win, and it would be even more unlikely going up against Grand Budapest in the Original category. It’s an excellent read, but do not weep for it.
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Fox Searchlight Pictures
Birdman, Alejandro González Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris and Armando Bo | Boyhood, Richard Linklater | Foxcatcher, E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman | The Grand Budapest Hotel, Wes Anderson and Hugo Guiness | Nightcrawler, Dan Gilroy
Who You Should Pick: Wes Anderson and Hugo Guinness
Why: Grand Budapest will win by sheer force of imagination. It will also confound screenwriting “gurus” claiming there’s a structure and formula for good writing for years to come. This is a strong crop of diverse writing styles – every script is worth the read – but Budapest works as a delightful tale that has a dark heart despite harking back to early 20th century screwball comedies. There’s great appeal there, it also won the WGA award, and it also works as a consolation prize for not winning Best Picture.
Birdman, Emmanuel Lubezki | The Grand Budapest Hotel, Robert D. Yeoman | Ida, (Ryszard Lenczweski and Lukasz Zal | Mr. Turner, Dick Pope | Unbroken, Roger Deakins
Who You Should Pick: Emmaneul Lubezki
Why: Kyle wrote recently about why Deakins is long overdue for an Oscar win. This is his 12th nomination, and it’s likely that he’ll lose for his 12th time on Sunday. As usual, the DP field is stacked with talented artists near or at the top of their game, but Birdman has the most overtly showy cinematography – the kind of visual trickery that jumps out, grabs you by the ears and demands awards. It’s unlikely that nuance will win the day.
BEST COSTUME DESIGN
Fox Searchlight Pictures
The Grand Budapest Hotel, Milena Canonero | Inherent Vice, Mark Bridges | Into the Woods, Colleen Atwood | Mr. Turner, Jacqueline Durran | Maleficent, Anna B. Sheppard
Who You Should Pick: Milena Canonero
Why: Canonero has won 3 Oscars and has worked on an enviable list of movies (think Clockwork Orange and Dick Tracy). Her extensive imagination is clear, and with Grand Budapest she responded forcefully to the opportunity to evoke the feeling of Europe in an alternate dimension.
BEST FILM EDITING
American Sniper, Joel Cox and Gary Roach | Boyhood, Sandra Adair | The Grand Budapest Hotel, Barney Pilling | The Imitation Game, William Goldenberg | Whiplash, Tom Cross
Who You Should Pick: Sandra Adair
Why: Cobbling together 12 years of footage into a cohesive, tightly wound story is a thing of magic. Also of sticky labels and, probably, well-marked binders.
Cross crafted the single most thrilling editing of the year with the final sequence in Whiplash, but the tie goes to the long distance runner in this instance. The marathon will outweigh the sprint.
BEST MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING
Fox Searchlight Pictures
Foxcatcher, Bill Corso and Dennis Liddiard | The Grand Budapest Hotel, Frances Hannon and Mark Coulier | Guardians of the Galaxy, Eliazabeth Yianni-Georgiou and David White
Who You Should Pick: Frances Hannon and Mark Coulier
Why: Coulier won an Oscar for The Iron Lady and there’s a bit of symmetry here alongside a dash of quirky creativity. Grand Budapest is greatly about the look and feel of the environment that Anderson crafts, and he does that only with the help of masters like Hannon and Coulier. There’s a slim chance that the boldness of Guardians alien creations will trump here, but it’s unlikely. Making a birthmark in the shape of Mexico and turning Tilda Swinton into a dusty old tramp will earn gold.
If your office is predicting the full field, keep reading (and kudos to all of you).
BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
The Grand Budapest Hotel, Alexandre Desplat | The Imitation Game, Alexandre Desplat | Interstellar, Hans Zimmer | Mr. Turner, Gary Yershon | The Theory of Everything, Jóhann Jóhannsson
Who You Should Pick: Alexandre Desplat
Why: Here’s where we start getting into trickier territory. The bulk of Oscar guessers see a win for Jóhannsson due to, I don’t know, prestige? Either that or because they see Desplat vs. Desplat being problematic on the math side. I’m sticking with Desplat because of the Budapest wave, because he’s now been nominated 8 times without a win, and because I don’t foresee anyone getting tripped up checking the box on Imitation Game. Those predicting he’ll split his own votes are out-thinking themselves.
BEST ORIGINAL SONG
“Lost Stars” from Begin Again, Gregg Alexander and Danielle Brisebois | “I’m Not Gonna Miss You” from Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me, Glen Campbell and Julian Raymond | “Everything is Awesome” from The LEGO Movie, Shawn Patterson | “Glory” from Selma, John Stephens and Lonnie Lynn | “Grateful” from Beyond the Lights, Diane Warren
Who You Should Pick: John Stephens and Lonnie Lynn
Why: While all your office mates choose “Everything is Awesome,” you’ll keep in mind that the song is grating to the average Oscar voter (age: 114), and that “Glory” balances the best of both worlds as an original song. It’s gorgeous on its own, while also evocative of the movie it was made for.
BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN
The Grand Budapest Hotel, Adam Stockhausen and Anna Pinnock | The Imitation Game, Maria Djurkovic and Tatiana Macdonald | Interstellar, Nathan Crowley, Gary Fettis and Paul Healy | Into the Woods, Dennis Gassner and Anna Pinnock | Mr. Turner, Suzie Davies and Charlotte Watts
Who You Should Pick: Adam Stockhausen and Anna Pinnock
Why: In a normal year, this (and maybe Best Costumes) would go to the musical in the bunch, but Anderson has taken the affectations of a musical and stuffed them into a movie about a painting instead. Again, it’s the look of the film that’s most striking, and it’s the look of the film that will be most rewarded.
BEST SOUND EDITING
American Sniper, Alan Robert Murray and Bub Asman | Birdman, Martin Hernandez and Aaron Glascock | The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, Brent Burge and Jason Canovas | Interstellar, Richard King | Unbroken, Becky Sullivan and Andrew DeCristofaro
Who You Should Pick: Alan Robert Murray and Bub Asman
Why: If you want to really impress/terrify your fellow Oscar pool gamblers, here’s a quick primer on the difference between Sound Editing and Sound Mixing:
- Editing = sound creation
- Mixing = blending, balancing
Here is where the starkness and force of sound in American Sniper can prevail over the other prospects. Asman and Murray are both prior Oscar winners, and they crafted a hell of a soundscape for the brutality of war and the homefront.
BEST SOUND MIXING
American Sniper, John Reitz, Gregg Rudloff and Walt Martin | Birdman, Jon Taylor, Frank A. Montaño and Thomas Varga | Interstellar, Gary A. Rizzo, Gregg Landaker and Mark Weingarten | Unbroken, Jon Taylor, Frank A. Montaño and David Lee | Whiplash, Craig Mann, Ben Wilkins and Thomas Curley
Who You Should Pick: Craig Mann, Ben Wilkins and Thomas Curley
Why: This may be a bit of a toss up between Whiplash and American Sniper, but in a world where Whiplash won’t be recognized for its insanely edited finale, it damn well better see a statuette for the way brassy music and a percussive environment resonate throughout the entire film. It’s the current favorite.
BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Dan DeLeeuw, Russell Earl, Bryan Grill and Dan Sudick | Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Joe Letteri, Dan Lemmon, Daniel Barrett and Erik Winquist | Guardians of the Galaxy, Stephane Ceretti, Nicolas Aithadi, Jonathan Fawkner and Paul Corbould | Interstellar, Paul Franklin, Andrew Lockley, Ian Hunter and Scott Fisher | X-Men: Days of Future Past, Richard Stammers, Lou Pecora, Tim Crosbie and Cameron Waldbauer
Who You Should Pick: Paul Franklin, Andrew Lockley, Ian Hunter and Scott Fisher
Why: Here is where all the populism went. It’s understandable that Team Days of Future Past should get a violent pat on the back for crafting that Time in a Bottle sequence, but it’s fairly clear that Interstellar is the total package pick. I also have to wonder how many Oscar voters actually saw Days of Future Past.
There’s also Apes to consider, but it was nominated for this same award during its Rise, and didn’t win there either.
BEST ANIMATED FEATURE FILM
Big Hero 6 | The Boxtrolls | How to Train Your Dragon 2 | Song of the Sea | The Tale of Princess Kaguya
Who You Should Pick: How to Train Your Dragon 2
Why: Actually, here is where the populism went. Consider this the least risky guess of the bunch, even though the right answer is Princess Kaguya.
Dragon won the Annie Award this year, but the first film in the series also won it before going on to lose to Toy Story 3 at the Oscars. Without a Pixar entry in 2015, Dragon has a clearer path to the dais. Still, when it wins, consider it a triumph of the mediocre.
BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
Wild Tales, Damián Szifrón; Argentina | Tangerines, Zaza Urushadze; Estonia | Timbuktu, Abderrahmane Sissako; Mauritania | Ida, Pawel Pawlikowski; Poland | Leviathan, Andrey Zvyagintsev; Russia
Who You Should Pick: Ida
Why: Ida has won a hefty amount of awards so far, owning the European Film Awards and scoring 50 other accolades in foreign-entry competitions. It’s a steamroller, and the Academy simply doesn’t have the stomach to give the award to Wild Tales.
BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
CITIZENFOUR | Finding Vivian Maier | Last Days in Vietnam | The Salt of the Earth | Virunga
Who You Should Pick: CITIZENFOUR
Why: The Oscars have a reputation for nominating profound, depressing non-fiction movies and then awarding the lighthearted human interest stories at the finish line. Laura Poitras’ film about Edward Snowden is topical, sexy and only depressing in an abstract way. It’s the zeitgeist pick, and a heavy favorite.
BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT SUBJECT
Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1 | Joanna | Our Curse | The Reaper | White Earth
Who You Should Pick: Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1
Why: Let’s not pretend that anyone has a firm grasp on the next categories. These are the entries that everyone shoots wildly at and often misses.
When it comes to documentary shorts, there’s a tendency to focus on the most emotional devastating stories possible. They are mostly all Kleenex commercials in narrative form. Some experts see a win for Joanna, the Polish short featuring a terminal cancer patient speaking directly with the son who will forever remain a child for her, but Crisis Hotline has at least a bit of an edge because it’s both topical and gut wrenching.
BEST ANIMATED SHORT FILM
The Bigger Picture | The Dam Keeper | Feast | Me and My Moulton | A Single Life
Who You Should Pick: Feast
Why: If there’s an easy pick among the shorts, this is it. It’s this year’s Paperman. It blissfully utilizes a simple premise – a dog and his owner aging with every meal – to tell a sweet, fun story.
BEST LIVE-ACTION SHORT FILM
Aya | Boogaloo and Graham | Butter Lamp | Parvaneh | The Phone Call
Who You Should Pick: The Phone Call
Why: When all else fails, stick with the consensus. I have a sinking suspicion that a majority of Oscar experts have pivoted to this short film simply because it features Sally Hawkins and Jim Broadbent, even as there are other worthy competitors. It’s also a spiritual sibling to Crisis Hotline, in that it features a mental health worker speaking with a suicidal man. The theory is that name recognition will prevail here, but if that bothers you (or you simply want to be different) my side money would be on Parvaneh, the story of an Afghan refugee working in Switzerland who battles bureaucracy in order to send cash back home. It’s timely, beautifully tragic and evokes the inner workings of a current hot button issue.
Who are you picking to win?