Academy Awards predictions | Buzz Blog

Friday, February 20, 2015

Academy Awards predictions

Posted By on February 20, 2015, 11:38 AM

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If you're a film critic, you will be asked this question. You will be asked this question for what seems like forever, but really just amounts to the three months between the first trickle of critics' group awards in early December and the red carpet ceremony at the end of February: "So, what's gonna win the Oscar."

Sometimes, in some categories, we all know. Sometimes we don't have a clue and pretend we know. Sometimes we don't care and pretend we care. We love Oscar, we hate Oscar, we need it and we wish it would go away forever. But here it is at last, promising at least a few months' respite from a campaign season that feels like it lasts longer than a presidential election cycle.

I don't have any horses in this race, from a practical standpoint. I long ago divorced my own artistic preferences from this crazy industry beast called Oscar, because they're not about the same thing. If you have any doubts about that fact, just read the interviews with actual Oscar voters published in The Hollywood Reporter this week.

Nevertheless, it's sometimes fun to play the game of guessing what those crazy voters have deemed worthy. And so, on with some silly predictions for the 24 categories that will be awarded on Sunday night.

Short Films: Everyone's ballot gets screwed by these, so let's get them out of the way. I didn't catch the Documentary Shorts programs this year, so I'll simply defer to my colleague Danny Bowes' prediction that Joanna is the pick there. Animated Short  has rarely gone to the studio favorite (remember Get a Horse last year?), and Feast may experience the same fate. I'm going with the anti-bullying allegory of The Dam Builder. And in Live Action Short, I get the feeling that my personal favorite, Aya, isn't going to stick with the voters. Flipping a coin between the Irish "Troubles"-set Boogaloo and Graham and the immigrant refugee drama Parvaneh, I'm guessing that Parvaneh feels like the more "important" one to honor.

Sound Editing/Sound Mixing: Nobody knows the difference, so don't ask. Nobody in the industry knows. I'm not even sure actual sound technicians know. I do know that this could be the place to find out whether there's any support for American Sniper in any category. It's entirely possible that it has a silent base of support, and could win both, especially since more voters will have seen it than Interstellar or The Hobbit. I'm taking a shot (ha! shot!) that American Sniper takes Editing (the one more based on external sound effects), but Whiplash continues a long Academy tradition of musicals or movies based around music (Dreamgirls, Chicago, Ray & Les Miserables just in recent years) winning Mixing.

Music: Original Score is tricky with two Alexandre Desplat nominations competing (The Grand Budapest Hotel and The Imitation Game), which could result in the dreaded split vote. But it feels like The Grand Budapest Hotel is in line for several technical awards, and this could be one of them. As for Original Song, this appears to be the place where voters can assuage their consciences over ignoring Selma in all other categories, by recognizing "Glory." Though "Everything is Awesome" would be awesome.

Visual Effects: Seems like a lot of voters really liked Guardians of the Galaxy. I'm still guessing Dawn of the Planet of the Apes has more support. Or maybe just "hoping".

Makeup/Hairstyling: Maybe Grand Budapest. Maybe Steve Carell's Foxcatcher nose. Let's go with all the body makeup in Guardians of the Galaxy.

Production Design/Costume Design: The Grand Budapest Hotel will take both. I think. Let's move on.

Cinematography: Remember how Academy voters really liked that trick in Gravity of making it seem like there was one really long shot? Yeah, they still really like that stuff. Birdman in a walk.

Editing: That Whiplash finale in particular is going to wow a lot of voters, and rightly so. I still get the sense that the achievement of pulling together 12 years worth of footage for Boyhood will give it an edge.

Documentary Feature: Citizenfour has been the presumed winner in this category for months. Doesn't feel like anything has changed.

Animated Feature: I've gotten my Lego Movie groaning out of the way. Conventional wisdom seems to be that folks have rallied around How to Train Your Dragon 2. Which is interesting. No further comment.

Foreign Language Feature: I wouldn't be shocked to see any of these nominees win. I'll only lean towards Ida thanks to its surprise inclusion among the Cinematography nominees, which suggests it may have been more widely seen and appreciated.

Adapted Screenplay: Only two candidates really appear to be in play here: Graham Moore for The Imitation Game and Damien Chazelle for Whiplash (and the reasons why Whiplash is in this category rather than Original Screenplay could inspire its own "what the hell are these people thinking" rant). Whiplash probably would've taken Original, and still feels like the favorite here, if only by a nose.

Original Screenplay: It certainly wouldn't be a surprise if Birdman took this one, but Wes Anderson for The Grand Budapest Hotel feels like the pick here.

Supporting Actor/Supporting Actress: No point wasting time on foregone conclusions:  J.K. Simmons in Whiplash. Patricia Arquette in Boyhood.

Actress: Julianne Moore in Still Alice is only slightly less of a lock than the supporting performance categories.

Actor: Oh boy. For years, I've been a proponent of an almost mathematical theory for predicting the lead acting categories that involves six criteria: 1) playing a real-life person; 2) "glamming down" or physical transformation; 3) adopting an accent or distinctive speech pattern (the Rain Man/Forrest Gump rule); 4) struggling with mental illness or addiction; 5) dying or being terminally ill on screen, or mourning a death on screen; 6) a previously winless veteran who's deemed to be "due." This formula is why Julianne Moore is a sure thing. Unfortunately, that formula would point to Steve Carell this year, and he's not winning. So if I can't rely on my formula to break the seeming deadlock between Michael Keaton in Birdman and Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything, what can I rely on? I'm thinking a late surge—and the general historical preference for playing real-life people—is the difference for Redmayne.

Director: The flashy choreographic trickery of Birdman gives Alejandro González Iñárritu the upper hand over Boyhood's Richard Linklater.

Picture: Boyhood. Birdman. Boyhood. Birdman. American Sniper? OK, first, a brief lesson in the crazy way the Best Picture Oscar ballot works differently from any other category's voting. Basically, every voter is asked to rank all eight nominees in order of preference. In the first round of tabulation, "stacks" are created with all the first-place votes in each category. The film with the least number of first place votes then gets all of its votes distributed to the film that was second on each list. So, hypothetically, if Selma had the fewest first place votes, and you voted for Selma first and Boyhood second, your vote then goes into the Boyhood pile. And the process goes on like that—including third-place or lower votes being the determining factor if higher-ranking films have already been eliminated from contention—until one stack has more than 50 percent of the votes in it.

What that means is that a movie with a crapload of second-place votes might actually end up in better shape than a movie with, say, even one-quarter of the first-place votes. And this is why I'm giving Boyhood the edge over Birdman: It just feels like there are more people who would put Birdman at the bottom of their rankings than would put Boyhood at the bottom of their rankings.

Oh, one final thing: My prediction history is, in general, terrible. If you use my choices to fill out your own ballot, I take no responsibility for anything.

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