Well, I didn't see every film nominated in the eight major categories of tonight's Academy Awards. I fell five short, missing out on: Selma, Two Days, One Night, Still Alice, Wild and Into the Woods. Below you can find my views on each category. The rankings are the order that I personally viewed these films, performances, directing, and writing in, but I'm also including my prediction for a winner in each category - which is going to differ from my personal selections in some cases.
1) American Sniper
2) The Grand Budapest Hotel
4) The Imitation Game
6) The Theory of Everything
To Be Seen: Selma
This crop of Best Picture nominees was lacking a leader for me. Nothing jumped above the pack. I did not like Boyhood or The Theory of Everything very much, but the Top 5 I have could really be re-ordered in any fashion. Those films were all very close. I don't think it was a very strong year in terms of the movies that have been nominated. The one I liked the most - American Sniper - will actually be the most shocking to me if it wins. It does not seem like the type of film the academy would honor with its top award, and there is a lot of public commentary surrounding the film, which might be a detractor. It also doesn't seem like Selma has a great shot, mainly because of the historical inaccuracies in the film. My guess is this category is a three horse race between Birdman, Boyhood, and The Grand Budapest Hotel. Grand Budapest is probably a dark horse (even thought it won a Golden Globe).
Prediction: Birdman. I think it will win out because of its own revolutionary film making approach - where the entire movie looks like one continuous shot - over Boyhood's production marvel of being filmed over 12 years.
Best Actor (Leading)
1) Michael Keaton - Birdman
2) Eddie Redmayne - The Theory of Everything
3) Bradley Cooper - American Sniper
4) Benedict Cumberbatch - The Imitation Game
5) Steve Carrell - Foxcatcher
While I thought the Best Picture category was lacking, I thought the acting categories were all full of great performances. While this is probably between Michael Keaton and Eddie Redmayne, I think Bradley Cooper might have a shot to pull off a surprise. I think his transformation is just as impressive as what Redmayne did in portraying Stephen Hawking. Because of his added bulk, accent, demeanor, focus, you don't see Cooper at all when watching American Sniper, you only see the character.
Prediction: Michael Keaton. I think it's going to be a big night for Birdman, and the acting is what really carries the film. Keaton is phenomenal. You laugh with him and at him. You feel his pain. You root for him. You hate him at times for what he is doing to himself. It's great all the way around, and trumps Redmayne's remarkable physical performance.
Best Actress (Leading)
1) Rosamund Pike - Gone Girl
2) Felicity Jones - The Theory of Everything
To Be Seen: Marion Cotillard - Two Days, One Night, Julianne Moore - Still Alice, Reese Witherspoon - Wild
This category was my biggest failure. Between the two performances I saw, Rosamund Pike was far and away more impressive than Felicity Jones. I think Pike has no shot at winning, though. I missed what are likely the three best performances.
Prediction: Julianne Moore. She is a veteran with a stellar career who turns in what everyone is calling a great performance. This is her fifth nomination and she has not won an Oscar yet. I'm thinking tonight is her night.
Best Supporting Actor
1) Edward Norton - Birdman
2) Mark Ruffalo - Foxcatcher
3) J.K. Simmons - Whiplash
4) Ethan Hawke - Boyhood
5) Robert Duvall - The Judge
There were three phenomenal performances in this category - Edward Norton, Mark Ruffalo, and J.K. Simmons. Ethan Hawke was very good, and far and away my favorite thing in Boyhood. As for Duvall, I think his nomination is one last chance to honor a great actor. I don't think his performance matched up with the rest. If he wins, I'll be absolutely stunned. Any of the other four I could see winning, but really this category is locked up for Simmons.
Prediction: J.K. Simmons. As much as I liked Norton and Ruffalo, Whiplash is all about Simmons' performance. It will be great recognition for a phenomenal character actor in Simmons, who currently has 148 acting credits to his name. I've liked Simmons in every performance I've seen him in. From Emil Skoda on Law & Order to a hilarious scene in Burn After Reading to this performance in Whiplash.
Best Supporting Actress
1) Emma Stone - Birdman
2) Keira Knightly - The Imitation Game
3) Patricia Arquette - Boyhood
To Be Seen: Laura Dern - Wild, Meryl Streep - Into the Woods
Another category where I missed a few, and might have missed the best. I don't think Meryl Streep is going to win, but Laura Dern might have a shot from what I am hearing. From what I saw, Emma Stone was far and away the best in this group. Patricia Arquette is getting a lot of love, though.
Prediction: Emma Stone. She is the performance that really brings Birdman home - tying everything together as the daughter of Michael Keaton's lead character. As she hangs around a group of emotionally unstable actors trying to put on a play, her personal issues serve as a way for the film - and the characters - to stay level. It's funny how a troubled character serves as the stability for the film. It really works well.
1) Richard Linklater - Boyhood
2) Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu - Birdman
3) Wes Anderson - The Grand Budapest Hotel
4) Morten Tyldum - The Imitation Game
5) Bennett Miller - Foxcatcher
The fact that Boyhood was shot incrementally over 12 years yet looks like any other movie that was shot over 45 to 90 days is a testament to Richard Linklater. He deserves to be recognized for that. It's a shame for Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu because the direction of his film is outstanding, and he was able to meld together the best acting of any film this year.
Prediction: Richard Linklater. I'll be surprised if anyone else wins. I think after Simmons this is the closest thing to a lock from these categories.
Best Original Screenplay
1) Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Nicolas Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Armando Bo - Birdman
2) Dan Gilroy - Nightcrawler
3) Wes Anderson, Hugo Guinness - The Grand Budapest Hotel
4) E. Max Frye, Dan Futterman - Foxcatcher
5) Richard Linklater - Boyhood
This is an interesting group with Dan Gilroy and E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman being included for Nightcrawler and Foxcatcher. I thought Nightcrawler was awesome, and it's a shame that Jake Gyllenhaal did not earn a nomination. My enjoyment, though, doesn't take away from the fact that Nightcrawler has no shot at winning. This is between the team that wrote Birdman and Wes Anderson and Hugo Guinness for The Grand Budapest Hotel.
Prediction: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Nicholas Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Armando Bo. It's going to be a crowded microphone to accept this award. I think Anderson has a good chance to get his first Oscar, but, again, I'm thinking it is going to be Birdman's night.
Best Adapted Screenplay
1) Paul Thomas Anderson - Inherent Vice
2) Graham Moore - The Imitation Game
3) Jason Hall - American Sniper
4) Damien Chazelle - Whiplash
5) Anthony McCarten - The Theory of Everything
Inherent Vice might have been my favorite movie of the year. I think it could have earned a host of acting nominations and definitely a Best Picture nom, but, alas, it is only nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay. This group is difficult to assess for me after Paul Thomas Anderson's writing for Vice. Everything else didn't come close to stacking up for me.
Prediction: Paul Thomas Anderson. This is Anderson's sixth nomination without a win yet, and I think it's time one of the best writer/directors working today gets an Oscar. Only Anthony McCarten has more than one Oscar nomination, and they both come tonight (he's also nominated for Best Picture as one of the producers of The Theory of Everything). With my picks of Anderson and Moore (who worked together and were both nominated for Boogie Nights), I'm not saying the academy looks at getting Oscars to certain people who have been nominated in the past and not won. I do think it is time for both Anderson and Moore to win, though.