It's Oscar season, baby, and I've got the fever. As mainstream and artistically culpable as the Oscars can be, they sure are a lot of fun, and they make for my favorite annual conversation piece. If anything, that is the precise reason why I continue to grit my teeth through every snub and every ridiculous nomination - to start a conversation about film. I can talk about Sundance with my fellow cinematic nerds and social lost causes any day, but Oscar season lets the normies in on our ridiculous conversation, and makes film the topic of many a water-cooler exchange, usually relegated to sports, reality television, and reality sports television. I despise all of those things, so yeah, I'm pretty amped. Snubs and controversy aside, it is my annual hope that the cream will rise to the top, and I'd like to take some of the more popular categories and point out the creamiest of the cream. Here are my Oscar picks. Note that these are the nominees that I want to win, not who I think will win (a task which, if my sports cronies are to be believed, is just as difficult as making an accurate March Madness bracket).
Best Supporting Actress
Laura Dern - Wild
Keira Knightley - The Imitation Game
Emma Stone - Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Meryl Streep - Into the Woods
Patricia Arquette - Boyhood
Patricia Arquette, by a huuuuuuge margin. What a performance! Even if you remove the technical impressiveness of a role that was spread out over more than a decade, Arquette crushes it as the matriarch (who is simply and brilliantly named 'Mom') of the central family. Her performance is so genuine that the first thing I did after leaving the theater was call my own mother, just to say hello and let her know that I'm happy and aware of the sacrifices she made to ensure my happiness. Moms rule, and so does Patricia Arquette.
Best Supporting Actor
Robert Duvall - The Judge
Ethan Hawke - Boyhood
J.K. Simmons - Whiplash
Edward Norton - Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Mark Ruffalo - Foxcatcher
J.K. Simmons! Already established as one of the most unique, talented, and consistent character actors, it's a blast to watch Simmons chew apart a much meatier role than those for which he is usually cast. Don't get me wrong, this is certainly character acting as I've come to understand it, but it's also so much more. Simmons' Fletcher is a unique type of villain. He's a guy that you'd absolutely hate (and totally should) if the results of his methods weren't so perfect. As he tortures young Andrew into giving more than his all to be the best jazz drummer in the world, one can't help but think of the old adage "those who can't, teach" and see the intense motivations behind Fletcher's madness. He'll never be the best musician in the world, but dammit he WILL find this diamond in the rough, and he will cut it to perfection. Fletcher is absolutely terrifying, threatening to melt every cell of film on which he appears. Simmons creates a villain unlike any other in cinematic history. Electrifying!
Alejandro G. Iñárritu - Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Richard Linklater - Boyhood
Bennett Miller - Foxcatcher
Wes Anderson - The Grand Budapest Hotel
Morten Tyldum - The Imitation Game
Richard Linklater, OF COURSE. Anyone who can manage to direct an entire cast of people for twelve years without one of them quitting or dying deserves an Oscar. Add to that the fact that, technical wizardry aside, it's a purely entertaining movie that doesn't drag for a second of its close to three hour runtime. The full name of the award is 'Best Achievement in Directing' which is Boyhood described to a T. This is groundbreaking filmmaking, the likes of which we won't be seeing for a long time, but thanks to Linklater's influence, we definitely will be seeing. The phrase 'game-changing' gets tossed around a lot, but in the case of Boyhood it is more than appropriate.
Marion Cotillard - Two Days, One Night
Felicity Jones - The Theory of Everything
Julianne Moore - Still Alice
Rosamund Pike - Gone Girl
Reese Witherspoon - Wild
Rosamund Pike, although this was a hard decision. Julianne Moore's performance in Still Alice made a terrible disease seem real to me, but Rosamund Pike's performance in Gone Girl keeps me up at night. Gone Girl is Cape Fear for the social media age, with Pike's Amy Dunne the deliciously sinister villain at the center of it. As both a stinging indictment of the "we" culture of relationships as it is a call for a return to trustworthiness, Gone Girl succeeds in making the viewer suspicious of everyone, and uses Pike's "perfect woman" visage to send its message. Pike swings wildly from victim to villain and back again, creating a pulpy duality that, in the hands of a lesser actress, could be hokey and scripted, but in this case is dense and satisfying. This is a female character that exists out of the comfort zone of many mainstream releases, and Pike knocks it out of the park and into the parking lot, where it smashes the windshield of a very expensive car and sets off the alarm on ten others.
Steve Carrell - Foxcatcher
Bradley Cooper - American Sniper
Benedict Cumberbatch - The Imitation Game
Michael Keaton - Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Eddie Redmayne - The Theory of Everything
Your favorite Batman and mine, Michael Keaton. Ok, so maybe he's not your favorite Batman, but that's kinda the point. His Batman is of another era, yet it set off the era in which we all live. Without Batman, there is no Iron Man, yet it seemed like we had all but forgotten the man behind the original rubber mask. In the world of Birdman, Keaton's Riggan is stuck in a strange place. Sure, he could ride the notoriety of Birdman forever, but he truly believes he is so much more than that. This was exactly how I felt watching Keaton in White Noise. This guy is a legend, a class act, and a forgotten talent - what can he do to prove his worth? Why, embrace his inner Birdman, both figuratively and literally, that's what. Keaton brings humor, authenticity, and pride to a role that could have easily been an empty exercise in meta filmmaking, resulting in a performance that is so urgently entertaining, it's a wonder he didn't sleep for a week straight after the director yelled his last "CUT!" Maybe he did, and if so, he deserved it. This is the return that failed to occur after Jackie Brown. This is the bridge between notoriety and legitimacy; between comedy and tragedy. Michael Keaton's performance is the single heartbeat that happens between the metaphorical wink and nod. Give this man a trophy, a hug, and a huge cultural thank you.
Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
The Theory of Everything
Literally anything but American Sniper or The Imitation Game. Don't get me wrong, both are perfectly fine movies (Imitation Game being the superior of the two), but neither have any business being on this list. Yes, I'm leaving The Theory of Everything on here because, as biopics go, it's one of the better ones. Surely, it's no Selma, but if Theory won, I wouldn't view it as a disappointment. Think about the potential here: Wes Anderson's next movie could be advertised as "from Academy Award winning director"; A small indie darling about a jazz drummer could set the stage for similar releases; Boyhood could alter the world of epic filmmaking to include simple family drama; The trials and tribulations of Stephen Hawking and Martin Luther King could inspire positive change in the hearts of many a moviegoer; a parable about fame and self-awareness could be a mirror through which artist see themselves. As I said before, it is my hope that the cream rises to the top, and this is an especially creamy list. Let's hope the Academy makes the right choices.
Let's also hope that the winners keep their speeches short. I have work the next day.