Oscar Predictions 2015 – The Mid-Majors

Every year at the Oscars, there’s a middle group of categories somewhere between “really important” and “I wonder which college basketball games are on right now.” For most people, the categories listed below probably fall closer to the latter group, but for people who genuinely love film, categories like editing and cinematography are just as important as Best Director.

Let’s take a look at the nominees.

Best Visual Effects

This is always a fun award to watch being presented, because the telecast always shows the various stages of visual effects magic. You see Gollum as this weird grid-like structure, then a crude 3D rendition, and finally, the layers ad up to a finished product of this weird little creature skittering across the screen.

  • Captain America: The Winter Soldier
  • Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
  • Guardians of the Galaxy
  • Interstellar
  • X-Men: Days of Future Past

This is a pretty significant achievement for Marvel: three films based on their franchises are nominated in one category. That said, I don’t think Captain America  or X-Men have enough traction to win here. Which leaves us with three legitimate candidates. My personal favorite of the bunch is Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, because Andy Serkis is always, always brilliant, and his motion-capture performances help make CGI feel real. Interstellar is the prestige film of the lot, and could walk away with a victory based on merit. Then there’s Guardians of the Galaxy, that feel-good romp through sci-fi silliness. It was adored by audiences and critics alike, but is it too light to pick up an Oscar? (In case you haven’t noticed, the Oscars don’t always reward the most deserving work, but the one that seems most prestigious). Interstellar certainly had more VFX, mostly because it had more of everything at almost three hours in length. But I’m going with the dark horse here.

Prediction: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Best Cinematography

Now, I know what you’re thinking here: why is this a mid-major category? Think of your favorite photograph. Think of the picture of that sailor getting a kiss in Times Square that was on the cover of Life. Cinematographers want you to remember their images. Everything from the composition of a shot (Establishing shot? Two-shot? Close-up?) to color pallette to lighting is in some way dictated by the cinematographer, so if the movie looks great, we have them to thank.

  • Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
  • The Grand Budapest Hotel
  • Ida
  • Mr. Turner
  • Unbroken

Roger Deakins, cinematographer of Unbroken, has been nominated twelve times with zero wins. He was the favorite a couple years ago for Skyfall, but ended up losing to Life of Pi. However, I don’t think 2015 will be his year, either (even though he’s responsible for my favorite shot in film all year). And, as has been our trend all along, I think we can safely rule out Mr. TurnerIda is brilliantly shot, in crisp, clear black-and-white that recalls the films of Bresson in its simplicity (and 4:3 ratio). But it’s also not going to win.

The two real contenders (in a category of beautiful movies) are Birdman and The Grand Budapest HotelGrand Budapest is inventive, colorful, and experimental (it alternates between aspect ratios as the narrative jumps through time). In another year, this one might go to Wes Anderson’s quirky tale. But this year, it’s going to Emmanuel Lubezki’s work on Birdman. Purposely designed to look like one continuous shot, Lubezki’s camera is crystal-clear, showing every pore on the faces of the actors from which it hovers no more than six inches away. It weaves and bobs like some beautiful pugilist. It’s a thing to behold.

Prediction: Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Best Film Editing

One of my personal favorite categories. Next to the director, the editor may be the most important person at work on a film, because the editor sets the tone and pace of the whole movie. It’s the editor who chooses to cut to a reaction or stay on the person speaking. It’s like being a second director, and some movies (see Jawsare considered to be “made in the editing room.”

  • American Sniper
  • Boyhood
  • The Grand Budapest Hotel
  • The Imitation Game
  • Whiplash

This one comes down to two films, with one potential spoiler. As to the spoiler, it’s going to be American SniperSniper is going to be breathing down the neck of the frontrunner in many categories simply because it has so much momentum going into Oscar Sunday. But barring a shocker, this one is down to Boyhood and WhiplashBoyhood is interesting because it isn’t really greatly edited. It’s more a feat of twelve years’ work, and assembling so much footage into one workable film. Whiplash, on the other hand, is a master class in how to edited a film. The camera is constantly moving, and the editor picked up on that rhythm, using quick cuts when necessary, constantly allowing the tension to build. Its last act is a dizzying crescendo of terror. The problem therein is that Boyhood picked up most of the editing awards throughout the season, while Whiplash came on strong at the very end, picking up the BAFTA. In honesty, it’s probably going to be Boyhood taking home the trophy, but here I think I’ll stand up for which I thought was the better job. This is a close race, and it could go wither way.

Prediction: Whiplash

Best Foreign Film

Look, you may not care about foreign films. But this is an important category. It shows that there are films outside of Hollywood. It’s a category that chooses the best picture, without being called “Best Picture.” Not many categories at the Oscars honor a film as a whole and this is one of them.

  • Ida
  • Leviathan
  • Tangerines
  • Timbuktu
  • Wild Tales

This category had a semi-shocker when Force Majeure, one of the year’s best-reviewed films, was left out of the nominations. In a rather unfortunate way, though, it helps us narrow down the real contenders to two: Ida and Leviathan. Neither film is particularly uplifting material, and the latter is certainly more experimental in terms of structure. That approach paid off last year with Italy’s The Great Beauty, but I have a feeling that this year, Ida will take home the trophy.

Prediction: Ida

Best Documentary Feature

  • CitizenFour
  • Finding Vivian Maier
  • Last Days in Vietnam
  • The Salt of the Earth
  • Virunga

This has been another interesting category to follow. I’ve been assured that every entry is excellent, and for a long time, it seemed CitizenFour was a shoo-in. The Edward Snowden chronicle was one of the year’s best-reviewed films. However, both the Netflix-produced Virunga and Last Days in Vietnam have been gaining lots of steam, with many critics now proclaiming the latter to be the best of the bunch. Still, I think most of the damage has been done, so to speak, and despite two potential spoilers (Virunga is great, by the way. Watch it immediately.), CitizenFour will probably take this one.

Prediction: CitizenFour

Best Animated Feature

  • Big Hero 6
  • The Boxtrolls
  • How to Train Your Dragon 2
  • Song of the Sea
  • The Tale of Princess Kaguya

The biggest nomination shocker this side of Selma cam when The LEGO Movie was left out of this category. I personally didn’t think it was that great, but apparently all of the world did, so there’s that. The Boxtrolls was a critical darling, but does it have enough steam to beat two juggernauts? I don’t think so. It’s a Disney-versus-Dreamworks kind of year, with Big Hero 6 squaring up against How to Train Your Dragon 2. I think the latter takes it, as a way of honoring that rare sequel that lives up to its predecessor.

Prediction: How to Train Your Dragon 2

On next to the awards we’ve all been waiting for, in some of the most hard-to-call races in years. I’m not looking forward to this…

Oscar Predictions 2015 – The Minor Categories

Let me start this list of predictions off with a few observations. I went 20/24 on my predictions last year, with at least two of the misses coming in categories like “Best Documentary Short,” categories to which the average moviegoer has very limited access. So, let me get this out there right off the bat: I’m guessing on a lot of these. I have not gone to my local arthouse theater and watched the nominated short films. In categories like these, I rely heavily on oddsmakers like GoldDerby, which in turn process the predictions of people more qualified than I to prognosticate in such matters. Again, If I’m going to lose ground in my overall win percentage, it’ll happen by missing out in these categories.

Also, you might be one of those people who automatically rail against me using a label like “minor categories”–after all, this is the Oscars, and I’m sure that “Best Short Film–Live Action” is full of wonderful nominees. But let’s be real here–you’d be a lot more upset at missing Best Actor than you would Best Sound Mixing.

With that said, let’s take a look at some nominees.

Best Documentary Short Subject

I’m sure there are some really intriguing entries here, but I certainly haven’t seen any of them.

  • Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1
  • Joanna
  • Our Curse
  • The Reaper
  • White Earth

According to the experts at GoldDerby, Crisis Hotline is the clear frontrunner. When it comes to documentary filmmaking, one wants to be timely and incisive. In a year filled with conversation on VA scandals, as well as potentially riding the coattails of the hot-button American Sniper, it seems Crisis Hotline may be taking home the gold statue. It also has what is possibly the best marketing of the bunch, coming from HBO Films. If there’s a potential spoiler, it appears to be the tearjerker Joanna, about a terminally ill woman who starts a blog and chronicles her final months of life.

Prediction: Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1

Best Live Action Short

  • Aya
  • Boogaloo and Graham
  • Butter Lamp
  • Parvaneh
  • The Phone Call

The main reason I don’t get to vote for the Academy Awards is because if they allowed me to do so, I would be tempted to vote for anything called Butter Lamp sight unseen.

This one doesn’t even seem like a competition. Currently, the odds of The Phone Call winning are a staggering 4/11. I won’t mess with odds like that.

Prediction: The Phone Call

Best Animated Short

  • The Bigger Picture
  • The Dam Keeper
  • Feast
  • Me and My Moulton
  • A Single Life

Again, this is a runaway: Disney’s short Feast sits at 3/10 odds to win. As in, not even worth plopping down your cash for. However, the runner-up as of now, as far as oddsmakers are concerned, is The Dam Keeper, at 5/1, making it a legitimate dark horse. Still, Walt Disney has the marketing power to take this every year if it wants, and I don’t see anything eclipsing Feast.

Prediction: Feast

Sound Mixing

As we move into the sound categories, you’ll notice an award for Sound Mixing and another for Sound Editing. The latter used to be called Sound Effects Editing, which helps you realize that big, flashy movies like Interstellar or American Sniper have a leg up on the competition. Sound Mixing, though, is this weird category that no one really gets. Is it about the final mix of sound, or about the process of mixing it, or what? Check out this piece at Grantland and you’ll see that there’s no great way to choose this category.

  • American Sniper
  • Birdman
  • Interstellar
  • Unbroken
  • Whiplash

Going along with the Grantland piece, I see it as significant that Whiplash, a small film, got a nomination here. When you see the film, you’ll realize just how amazing its mix is, though. This movie is a wall of sound that Phil Spektor could only dream of. It is a visceral sucker-punch and its editing–both visual and auditory–play key roles in its immersive experience. However, we should watch out for American Sniper. Conservatives everywhere love this movie–and that also means a significant number of the older-leaning, white demographics that compose Academy voters are apt to vote for it. It does have an incredible mix, but is it too divisive a picture overall? Also, be on the lookout for Birdman. Often, a movie that ends up sweeping the big awards will win these lesser ones, too, whether it deserves them or not. A Birdman victory could mean bigger things down the road. But right now, I’m calling it for the little indie that could.

Prediction: Whiplash

Best Sound Editing

  • American Sniper
  • Birdman
  • The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
  • Interstellar
  • Unbroken

Again, this one is about sound effects. The above comment on Birdman holds true here, too–a win could mean a lot for the Best Picture nominee. We can probably safely rule out The Hobbit and UnbrokenInterstellar provides an interesting dark horse here: a smart, long, sci-fi film that has a legitimate shot at winning other technical awards. However, I think that the Academy decides here to honor American Sniper. It’s the movie of the moment, and it’s probably been viewed by more Academy members than Interstellar.

Prediction: American Sniper

Best Makeup and Hairstyling

Being the expert in makeup and hairstyling that I am (I am now the proud owner of two combs and four kinds of pomade), This category should be a breeze, right?

  • Foxcatcher
  • The Grand Budapest Hotel
  • Guardians of the Galaxy

Only three nominees! I guess we really are trying to keep the telecast under three hours, eh? Well, let’s see here. Just looking at the nominees, I think we can get rid of Foxcatcher. This may be a surprise, since the film has Best Director and Best Actor nominations, but that thing on Steve Carell’s face is actually pretty divisive (I felt it inhibited his performance). Depending on who you ask, it was either great or hideous makeup work. WHich leaves us with two nominees. In cases like this, it’s always best to go with the Best Picture nominee, and I already feel that the sublime period work of Grand Budapest Hotel was the best of the bunch. I was jealous of Ralph Fiennes’ hair the whole darn movie, and look what they did to Tilda Swinton! If that’s not convincing makeup, I don’t know what is. GoldDerby seems to agree with me here, so I’ll call this one now.

Prediction: The Grand Budapest Hotel

Best Costume Design

Again, my expertise is unparalleled in this field…

  • The Grand Budapest Hotel
  • Inherent Vice
  • Into the Woods
  • Maleficent
  • Mr. Turner

This can be a tough category to call. It seems that the award tends to alternate between British period pieces (the poofier the gowns, the better) and out-there fantasy films. However, this year, I think this is actually fairly easy to project.

Rule out Maleficent. No other nominations? Not a good sign. Rule out Mr. Turner. Not enough publicity for the film. Rule out Inherent Vice. Its period detail is spectacular, but members of this branch generally want to see the design work put into practice, not necessarily a good job combing through vintage clothes.

I think this one goes to Grand Budapest. It’s a big, colorful movie, and the costumes are suited to each character’s personality (look at these two, and try to convince me they’re good guys). Into the Woods has an outside chance, but I think it may be hindered by the somewhat similar Maleficent.

Prediction: The Grand Budapest Hotel

Best Production Design

This one used to be called “Art Direction.” It’s essentially the design of sets, from the huge facade of buildings to the props in an actor’s hand. It’s about the look of the film, whether it achieves an effect of expressionism or realism. Sometimes, fantastical, colorful films get the Oscar, and on the other hand, one often sees stately British period dramas represented.

  • The Grand Budapest Hotel
  • The Imitation Game
  • Interstellar
  • Into the Woods
  • Mr. Turner

Mark Harris at Grantland points out that those aforementioned British period dramas have been striking out of late in this category. So let’s rule out Mr. Turner (again) and The Imitation GameInterstellar  could get some love here, but it’s unlikely to win (especially since Gravity lost in the same category last year). Into the Woods is yet another dark horse, but I think Grand Budapest continues its lighthearted romp through the technical awards and snags this one. Wes Anderson and his teams are known for crafting each film with meticulous care, and The Grand Budapest Hotel is no exception.

Prediction: The Grand Budapest Hotel

Best Original Score

  • The Grand Budapest Hotel
  • The Imitation Game
  • Interstellar
  • Mr. Turner
  • The Theory of Everything

Two of my favorite scores in film this year were The Grand Budapest Hotel and The Theory of Everything (another favorite, Birdman, got left out here, which makes me very unhappy). There are a couple issues in this category. First, Alexandre Desplat composed two of them: Grand Budapest and The Imitation Game. This means he might split votes between himself. Ruling out (of course) Mr. Turner and Interstellar (it might take Hans Zimmer a while to live down that Inception score), I think this race comes down to Grand Budapest and Theory of Everything. Having just re-watched the latter, I must say, it’s mushy, gushy, and manipulative (in short, everything Academy voters love). I would vote for Grand Budapest if I could, but alas, the Academy has yet to recognize my musical genius. Besides, it’s my job here to predict what others will vote for, not what I prefer. Grand Budapest won the BAFTA; The Theory of Everything won the Golden Globe. The former is by a renowned composer with eight nominations and zero wins as of yet. The latter is by some guy named Johann Johannsson (no prior nominations). GoldDerby has Theory of Everything as a clear favorite, but The Grand Budapest Hotel as a real threat at 2/1 odds. I really, really want to go with the underdog here…in fact, I typed it as my winner once. I hope it wins. I think I’ll be wrong no matter which I pick. But I’m picking the favorite.

Prediction: The Theory of Everything

Best Original Song

  • “Everything is Awesome” – The LEGO Movie
  • “Glory” – Selma
  • “Grateful” – Beyond the Lights
  • “I’m Not Gonna Miss You” – Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me
  • “Lost Stars” – Begin Again

So let’s be clear here: Oscar almost never picks actual good songs to compete in this category. It’s usually given to something that represents a big “issue” picture so that the Academy can stroke its ego and feel it rewarded something noble (Bono is always nominated here). That said, we can rule out “Grateful” and “I’m Not Gonna Miss You.” No publicity. We can also probably get rid of “Everything is Awesome,” because as much as we all have to admit its catchiness, and as much as the Academy might want to give it the “My Bad” Award for leaving it out of the Animated Feature category, this is not really a song that something like the Academy Awards recognizes. So that leaves us with “Lost Stars”–which, by the way is my favorite–and “Glory.” “Glory” has won, like, every one of these awards, so let’s not buck the trend.

Prediction: “Glory,” Selma

Well, there you have it. The “Lesser” or “Minor” Categories. I have a bad feeling about Best Original Score, but, hey, at least it’s minor, right? Right?