On an almost annual basis, I venture into the awards game and give you my picks for the best actor/actress, leading and supporting, best director, and the top movie. This year these selections seem to be particularly difficult because there are no obvious (or runaway) choices. The Billy is how I would vote; the Oscar is my prediction on the actual winners.
I’d love to hear your choices. Let’s see how we do!
The Billy: Of all the supporting performances I saw last year I would chose Naomi Watts, nearly unrecognizable as the Russian hooker, Daka, in “St. Vincent.” Staying within the nominations, I’ll take Patricia Arquette for her remarkable ability to age obviously but gracefully in “Boyhood,” while subtly showing just how difficult it is to be a single parent through multiple marriages.
The Oscar: Emma Stone will get it for her gritty role as the difficult, ex-addict daughter of Michael Keaton’s Birdman. But if the night goes to “Boyhood,” Arquette could take this.
We saw five very strong performances in this category. Robert Duvall could be a sentimental favorite for “The Judge,” but I think the Academy will pick a newer face. J.K. Simmons is an incredible presence in "Whiplash," but, as I said in my review, he didn’t seem to be trying very hard. Ethan Hawke was completely natural in “Boyhood," but someone who is stretching will more likely be picked.
To me this is a two-women race between Felicity Jones in “The Theory of Everything” and Julianne Moore in “Still Alice." Rosamund Pike has a strong, evil look but didn’t give us a lot more than that in “Gone Girl.” I didn’t see Marion Cotillard in “Two Days, One Night” or Reese Witherspoon in “Wild,” but I think the latter needed only to appear pained and survive.
The Billy: I was blown away by how understated but passionate Jones was as the wife of Stephen Hawking. She manages to succeed brilliantly at portraying a woman whose life changes so dramatically over the course of the film.
The Oscar: This is Moore’s fifth nomination and the Academy will likely feel she deserves it for this particularly sympathetic characterization of an early onset Alzheimer’s patient. I can’t think of any other actress who could have done so much with this role.
Here are another five strong performance, but one stood out for me. Steve Carell was certainly an ominous presence in “Foxcatcher," but how much was that make-up and how much acting? Bradley Cooper was very convincing in “American Sniper,” but the Academy may want to stay away from the controversy - I know I do. Benedict Cumberbatch gave a frenetic, eye-catching portrayal of Alan Turing in “The Imitation Game,” but in a narrow range.
The Billy: Eddie Redmayne is lucky enough to bear a passing resemblance to Stephen Hawking, but only an incredible performance could give us the many phases of his convoluted, enormously challenged life. Redmayne gave us the complete Hawking from beginning to end. The scene when he has to pull himself up the stairs was the most unforgettable of the year.
The Oscar: The sentimental choice will be Michael Keaton. He has made a remarkable comeback from the super-hero doldrums in a movie about a character trying to make a comeback from the super-hero doldrums. The Academy wants him to win.
There is a theory that whoever doesn’t get Best Picture will get the Directing prize in a sympathy vote. That’s not the way I’m voting.
The Billy: Wes Anderson created a whole crazy world populated with an all-star cast in "The Grand Budapest Hotel," but still managed to infuse the film with his quirky, one-of-a-kind style. A triumph.
I’ll handicap the eight selections, in my order of preference:
“Whiplash” - This is less a major motion picture than a character study, and the subject is a sadistic music instructor. Not broad enough.
“The Grand Budapest Hotel” - Wes Anderson is brilliant but with all the “serious” work this year, a comedy won’t take top prize.
“The Imitation Game” - It’s always fun to beat the Nazis. Plus this film made good points about intolerance in our near past, but a period piece like this doesn’t have quite enough weight to win the top prize.
“The Theory of Everything” - Despite the unbelievable performances from Redmayne and Jones, this film had a niche following and won’t win the Oscar.
“Selma” - This is a big movie with a big theme and is the first to focus on Martin Luther King, Jr. It’s on the other end of the political spectrum from “Sniper,” but, even more than left-leaning, the Academy is controversy averse, so they won’t pick this one either.
The Billy - “Boyhood” is hands down the most innovative movie of the year, but it was also the best. Without resorting to on-screen histrionics, it told a relatively uneventful story of a boy and his family over 12 years, but it still held audiences rapt. That's quite an accomplishment in this day of CGI effects and lurid violence.
The Oscar - I didn’t connect with “Birdman,” but I think Oscar voters did because they always love self-referential stories like this that are about “the business.” Add in the strong acting and the Michael Keaton comeback that mirrors the movie, and you have “Birdman” winning the big prize.