Oscars 2015: Will Win/Should Win (Mike Ward)

oscarsIt’s Oscar Week! Each staff member will be revealing their final picks for the upcoming Academy Awards on February 22. Missed one? Click on Will Win/Should Win 2015. Make sure to make your picks in our Oscar Pool hosted by Fun Office Pools.

And now it has come down to this: the Cinematic Super Bowl, National Championship, or Finals.

Say what you will, but year after year, the Oscar season mirrors that of a sports season. The offseason consists of hundreds of films (692 released theatrically in 2014, with 323 eligible for Oscars this year) vying for attention, jockeying for position, moving up and down the calendar, essentially positioning themselves for a run at the title. The preseason runs from January through August, and here at Awards Circuit we debate back and forth, daily, how a movie (“team”) looks, how strong or weak its cast will be (“the players”), its below-the-line prospects (“the coaching staff”), and how each piece fits together for a possible Oscar run. Hundreds of movies see their opportunities wane over the course of the year and generally, 40-50 films hear their name called in January at the Academy’s 5:30 a.m. nomination announcement.

If September’s festivals are the kickoff to the “season,” essentially a weekly tournament to establish the contenders, December through February replicates a postseason. In the last two months, 43 critics groups named winners in film from nearly every geographical location and demographic, 15 individual guilds handed out specific craft awards, 8 respective organizations internationally feted films and performances, and another 20-25 groups, organizations, and entities nominated or awarded winners in many of the same categories Oscar will reward on Sunday.

When you count in all the film festivals which qualify films for consideration in the three short film categories, as well as all the non-Oscar endorsed film festivals around the world, there is an exhaustive and incomprehensibly extensive analysis that must go on when trying to figure out which 24 names will get pulled out of envelopes in a ceremony watched by hundreds of millions of people around the world.

And now it has come down to this.

Here is the Will Win/Should Win analysis about the best I can deliver it. I took some time away from Awards Circuit, the bike is a bit rusty, but like all of you, I will be eagerly anticipating the next chapter being written in cinematic history on February 22.

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Best Picture

Will Win: Birdman
Could Win: Boyhood
Should Win: Boyhood
Should Have Been Nominated: Gone Girl, Nightcrawler

Boyhood, the critics’ choice of 2014 has been supplanted by the industry choice in the Boyhood vs. Birdman war that has consumed the Oscar season. The admiration each team has for their respective films has been a nice underscoring to the season, but man, the anti-Boyhood campaign has been intense – the film lacks diversity and color, the individuals involved are nothing more than “garbage” and “losers”, the film is a gimmick and not a “real” movie – whatever that means. On my personal Top 10 list, Boyhood and Birdman occupied the Top 2 slots respectively, and I have deep affection for both of them. Birdman has performed exceedingly well with the guilds, and has SAG, PGA, and DGA in its clutch. The actors love the collective work and while the film is a challenging pill to swallow for lots of mainstream moviegoers, and the narrative will clearly become American Sniper getting robbed by an elitist, liberal Hollywood after Sunday (oh just you wait…), Birdman will represent an edgy, daring, insular, and innovative choice moreso than the quiet little movie that took 12 years to tell a story that hits many voters far too close to home for them to apparently consider it seriously.

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Best Director

Will Win: Richard Linklater – Boyhood
Could Win: Alejandro G. Iñárritu – Birdman
Should Win: Richard Linklater – Boyhood
Should Have Been Nominated: Ava DuVernay – Selma; Damien Chazelle – Whiplash

While Alejandro G. Iñárritu shocked everyone by winning the Director’s Guild of America award for Best Director, it truly seemed that the Birdman dye had been cast. Add in a Producers Guild award and Screen Actors Guild prize and Birdman seemed rather unstoppable. Then Boyhood, with one last attempt at a knockout punch, took BAFTA, winning Best Film and Best Director and three awards in total to Birdman‘s one. When one thinks about the legacy of Richard Linklater, it is hard to not honor the astonishing accomplishment of Boyhood. He has two cult classics under his belt (Slacker, Dazed and Confused), a lasting heartfelt comedy to rock and roll and responsibility that plays just as well today as it did a decade ago (School of Rock) and the beloved Before trilogy of films with Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy. Boyhood may just be his crowning achievement and for an industry that has patted him on the back while looking off in the distance for another conversation to jump into, I often hesitate to say someone is “owed” or “deserves” an Oscar. But damn if Richard Linklater doesn’t come close to meeting whatever that criteria happens to be.

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Best Actor

Will Win: Eddie Redmayne – The Theory of Everything
Could Win: Michael Keaton – Birdman
Should Win: Eddie Redmayne – The Theory of Everything
Should Have Been Nominated: Jake Gyllenhaal – Nightcrawler, Tom Hardy – Locke, David Oyelowo – Selma

I recently watched both Birdman and The Theory of Everything for a third time each, really trying to figure out Keaton or Redmayne, Redmayne or Keaton. At the end of the day, the performances are equally stunning for similar reasons. The parallels are there for all the physicality and transformative work Redmayne achieves in portraying Stephen Hawking, but Michael Keaton comes close to matching the immersion with his character, going dark and deep within himself to blur the lines between Birdman‘s Riggan Thomsen and post-Batman Keaton.

While the other nominees all turn in strong work, Redmayne and Keaton seem to leave a script behind and act on instinct and natural response. Both actors are household names now, Keaton obviously with the far higher Q score I would imagine, but they each disappear on screen. Keaton’s desperation real, lived in, and raw, while the desperation of a body failing him day after day and year after year only intensifies the extraordinary performance from Eddie Redmayne. At the end of the day, the final vote has to be razor thin close between these two. Add in two things – Stephen Hawking’s endorsement that he thought he was seeing himself on screen in key moments of The Theory of Everything and the old Oscar trope of transformative physicality and portraying disabilities almost always surpasses emotional and intuitive work, Redmayne will likely finish first across the finish line in something of a photo finish.

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Best Actress

Will Win: Julianne Moore – Still Alice
Could Win: Marion Cotillard – Two Days, One Night
Should Win: Rosamund Pike –  Gone Girl
Should Have Been Nominated: Jenny Slate – Obvious Child

The argument that Julianne Moore should be contending for a second, or perhaps third, Oscar is a conversation for another time. We appear to be on the eve of a wrong being righted as Moore is set to take home her first Academy Award for Still Alice. I love Julianne Moore and have loved her for a very, very long time and she has turned in work befitting of all five (and more) of her Oscar nominations in her career. Still Alice is not a bad film, it’s a heartfelt, occasionally schmaltzy, often on-the-nose look at a woman who suffers early onset Alzheimer’s disease at just 50 years old. Moore handles the part exquisitely well and is every bit worthy of the nomination. And while the film is not my first choice as the possible representation of her as an Oscar winner, I will likely choke up a bit finally seeing one of this generation’s greatest talents holding an Oscar for the very first time.

No one else is winning this, but Marion Cotillard is really the only actress who can say she gained any traction this season, winning a few critics prizes and landing her second nomination in five years for her strong turn in Two Days, One Night. She “just” won however for La vie en rose and a second Oscar is likely going to be seen as coming down the line for her.

And allow me one last opportunity to stand and shout my lungs out for Rosamund Pike’s fantastic turn in David Fincher’s Gone Girl. One of the truly enigmatic and memorable performances by any actor in 2014, Pike’s performance is one we will talk about for years to come.

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Best Supporting Actor

Will Win: J.K. Simmons – Whiplash
Could Win: Edward Norton – Birdman
Should Win: J.K. Simmons – Whiplash
Should Have Been Nominated: Josh Brolin – Inherent Vice

There is really nothing to say, as Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress have been finalized for months. J.K. Simmons won the Oscar in the opening moments of Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash, when he emerges from the shadows as a monster of a band instructor, unknowingly summoned by Miles Teller’s first-year music student, rehearsing in a practice room. Kudos to everyone else, and Edward Norton deservedly has lots and lots of people in his corner, but no one else matched Simmons phenomenal and against-character turn in a movie that leaves most completely exhilarated and spent by the end.

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Best Supporting Actress

Will Win: Patricia Arquette – Boyhood
Could Win: Emma Stone – Birdman
Should Win: Patricia Arquette – Boyhood
Should Have Been Nominated: Jessica Chastain – A Most Violent Year, Carrie Coon – Gone Girl

Patricia Arquette’s dominance in this race means nothing different come Oscar Sunday. She runs away with Best Supporting Actress in a raw, unpolished, and wholly organic performance as the mother who knots and double-knots Richard Linklater’s Boyhood profoundly.  Yes, Ethan Hawke has many terrific moments, adding vitality and espresso shots to Linklater’s tender and quiet film, but Arquette is the maternal figure presiding over the entire film. And she achieves true beauty and strength in a movie about the moments between the moments in everyday life.

The other performances are all strong, but one would have to think that Meryl Streep, Keira Knightley, Laura Dern, and Emma Stone all landed just enough #1 votes to qualify. Stone, in an unexpected Birdman sweep, could come close but Arquette has likely cleaned the mantle, installed a hermetically sealed case, and is on a final edit of her speech.

And it is truly the correct decision.

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Best Original Screenplay

Will Win: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Could Win: Birdman
Should Win: Birdman
Should Have Been Nominated: Selma

At times, the screenplay awards have been the de facto “We loved your film, but we didn’t name it Best Picture” prize and certainly Wes Anderson seems in prime position to land his first Oscar for the widely beloved The Grand Budapest Hotel. With 9 nominations, and a likely haul in the craft categories, Budapest seems poised to take one high profile prize and this seems to be the one.

Birdman is right on its heels though and the perceived embracing of the film could push it over the finish line. Frankly, as someone who feels Budapest is a great film, but Anderson’s fifth-best work behind The Royal Tenenbaums, Rushmore, Moonrise Kingdom, and The Fantastic Mr. Fox, I would like to see the high-wire act and insightful, bold and multi-layered depth of Birdman bring home an Oscar.

My personal favorite in this category, the jaw-dropping and nasty Nightcrawler by Dan Gilroy, has no shot and one of the more glossed over snubs in this category comes in the writing of Selma, a powerful, delicate, and empowering work. But the snub of Selma across the board…well, there’s simply not enough time or space to get into that all again here.

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 Best Adapted Screenplay

Will Win: Whiplash
Could Win: The Imitation Game
Should Win: Whiplash
Should Have Been Nominated: Gone Girl

And exhale. I have issues with the screenplay of The Imitation Game which limit me personally from calling a victory for the film, and while I like the film – the screenplay is reason 1-8 why I would be perfectly satisfied seeing it go home empty-handed on Sunday. I was personally offended with much of Jason Hall’s American Sniper “screenplay” (or, rather the Taya Kyle-influenced protecting of the Chris Kyle brand) and find it’s nomination in this category laughably absurd.

Those thoughts out of the way, I have discussed with lots of Oscarologists and pundits the possibility of three Oscars being given to the tiny little film that Sony Pictures Classics mishandled commercially that seems to resonate strongly with nearly everyone who sees it. I see lots of love for Whiplash right now as people slowly start to catch up to it and truly think that Damien Chazelle could sneak in and win this Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar (that third win comes later…). I recognize The Imitation Game has a lot of support, with its egregious closeting of Alan Turing glossed over by Harvey Weinstein and voters being brainwashed into believing that they will make a powerful statement in support of the LGBTQ community by choosing the film to win here.

We all know this should be Gillian Flynn’s Oscar for Gone Girl, but I would hope that Chazelle, the young filmmaker with a dazzling eye and spark of creativity, finds an Oscar in his hands than the writing of a film which reprises the 1990s-era of Miramax and shamefully covers up one key element as to why Alan Turing is such an important and enigmatic historical figure.

 

Majestic flying sequences that have to be experienced to be believed.

Best Animated Feature

Will Win: How to Train Your Dragon 2
Could Win: Big Hero 6
Should Win: How to Train Your Dragon 2
Should Have Been Nominated: The LEGO MovieI was outraged like the rest of you when The LEGO Movie was snubbed in the Best Animated Feature Film category and then I spoke with a friend of mine who works in animation. To put it succinctly, he was not surprised at all it missed here. To many in that trade, he shared that The LEGO Movie was viewed as novelty and not “true” animation. So, its non-appearance here, coupled with the entire Academy voting on this award nowadays, shifts you from looking at the more adventurous selections to focusing on the more affable and commercially appealing of the nominees.

So, thank you The Tale of the Princess Kaguya and Song of the Sea. Perhaps one day Oscar voters will acknowledge that stop-motion animation and the painstaking intricacies inherent in crafting a movie like The LEGO Movie or The Boxtrolls will reap an award again someday. This is a two-horse race and it is neck-and-neck between the Marvel-esque origin story of Disney’s Big Hero 6 and a sequel to a former two-time Oscar nominated film which went home empty-handed in 2010.

Personally, I much prefer How To Train Your Dragon 2 to Big Hero 6, but this is an Academy which named Brave the Best Animated Feature Film over many other worthy competitors in 2012. Either film winning here would not surprise me in the slightest.

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Best Production Design

Will Win: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Could Win: Into the Woods
Should Win: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Should Have Been Nominated: Birdman, Selma

I penciled this one in back in March. Wes Anderson’s films live in visual landscapes unlike any other and he has never had a film as visually striking, beautiful, and expertly crafted as The Grand Budapest Hotel. Are there any other nominees in this category?

I know Birdman missed the cut, a shame because the dark and dingy, queasy and clinically uncomfortable theater hallways and staircases provide the perfect backdrop for the disorientation Iñárritu creates for us and with Michael Keaton’s mind during the course of the film. Into the Woods could sneak in here, but I don’t buy for a second Interstellar scoring a win here or any other contenders having the slightest chance in challenging Budapest.

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Best Cinematography

Will Win: Birdman
Could Win: Ida
Should Win: Birdman
Should Have Been Nominated: A Most Violent Year, Selma

Emmanuel Lubezki will be a returning champion this year for his breathtaking and flawless work in bringing Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s audacious vision of Birdman into reality. His work creates a character in and of itself, an invisible demon of conscience chasing after Michael Keaton’s Riggan Thomsen through the bowels of a Broadway theater, into the streets of New York City, through dimly lit bars, and under the harsh lights of the stage. I know this means Roger Deakins loses again (for Unbroken this year), but the only real threat to Birdman here comes in the form of the quiet little Polish film, and Best Foreign Language Film nominee, Ida, which is an extraordinary film to watch in haunting and resonant black-and-white.

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Best Costume Design

Will Win: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Could Win: Into the Woods
Should Win: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Should Have Been Nominated: A Most Violent Year, Selma

It’s Oscar win #3 for The Grand Budapest Hotel and while this is not as easy a category to predict as others, I truly cannot see any other film unseating it, except Into the Woods.

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Best Film Editing

Will Win: Whiplash
Could Win: Boyhood
Should Win: Whiplash
Should Have Been Nominated: Birdman, Gone Girl, Selma

In my opinion, the year’s best editing goes to Birdman, and the how-on-earth-did-they-do-that cutting of the film to resemble one (mostly) continuous take. And naturally, it missed a nomination here.

Right behind it I place Whiplash, a film that paces itself like a tremendously satisfying jazz concert, with flourishes and refrains, and a dash of renegade improv, building to that final 10-minute sequence that rivals the best thing you have seen on film in a long, long time.

Sandra Adair certainly deserves high praise and arguably an Oscar for finding a way to blend twelve years of filmmaking into one cohesive story, without missing a beat anywhere along the way. In fact, the naturalistic flow and the inability to rely on cheap gimmicks like title cards or name and place markers on screen only intensified the challenges in delivering a film that shows the maturation of time in a largely subtle, nonchalant manner.

I struggle to convince even myself that a $10 million grossing film is going to perhaps walk away with one of the biggest hauls of the night, but man does Whiplash dart and dash across so many spectrums, I can reasonably assume a third Oscar win falls here.

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Best Make-Up & Hairstyling

Will Win: Guardians of the Galaxy
Could Win: Foxcatcher
Should Win: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Should Have Been Nominated: Maleficent, Selma

I literally have no idea what to predict in this category. I feel like Guardians of the Galaxy is an easy pick though, and while I have recognized some have recoiled from the work in Foxcatcher, the reconfiguring of Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo especially is actually quite accomplished work. The Grand Budapest Hotel nomination here also makes a case for how simply sublime everything looks and feels, Tilda Swinton’s appearance rather remarkable on its own merits. Any one of these three could win here, but I will spread the love around and give an Oscar to the second biggest-grossing film of 2014.

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Best Sound Editing

Will Win: American Sniper
Could Win: Birdman
Should Win: Birdman
Should Have Been Nominated: Godzilla, Whiplash

The dizzying, dazzling world of Birdman truly should be honored for its extraordinary sound design but American Sniper is likely going to win the Sound Editing award, as the sequences with Chris Kyle at war are heart-stopping and crisply rendered on screen. The crackle of gunfire, the chaotic battle sequences, and the silent jarring pop from one pull of the trigger all hits you right in the heart while watching Clint Eastwood’s film.

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Best Sound Mixing

Will Win: Birdman
Could Win: American Sniper
Should Win: Whiplash
Should Have Been Nominated: Godzilla, Under the Skin

If ever a film was worthy of winning this, Whiplash should take Sound Mixing in a walk, but I cannot see it scoring 4 Oscar wins and not being heavily factored into the Best Picture conversation. Perhaps a savvier Oscar pundit would switch out Best Adapted Screenplay with Best Sound Mixing and win all the monies in their Oscar pool, but I will opt out of that switch and stick with this choice.

Oscar may give American Sniper the Sound Design sweep, adding a Sound Mixing Oscar to its laurels, but again I circle back onto Birdman, a movie that has a fantastic jazz percussion score, blended with some classical music, all while rhythmically moving along as one unstoppable sequence. The dialogue is quick, fresh, and popping and the blending of natural sound, the rise and fall of ambient sound as the camera swirls and travels, is simply without parallel.

Five of the last seven years, the Academy has awarded the same film Best Sound Mixing and Best Sound Editing, this bodes well for American SniperBirdman or even longshots Interstellar and Unbroken who landed in both categories.

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Best Visual Effects

Will Win: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Could Win: Interstellar
Should Win: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Should Have Been Nominated: Edge of Tomorrow, Under the Skin

Quite frankly, recognizing this is blasphemy, I wasn’t really super-impressed with the films nominated for Best Visual Effects this year. Each offer some truly special moments and sequences, but much of this year felt like a “been-there, done-that” situation, unlike the groundbreaking recent winners in this category, Inception and Gravity, chiefly among them.

Motion capture has somewhat fallen out of favor with the Academy, but Dawn of the Planet of the Apes somehow made the primates this time around more real and tangible than ever before. A number of actors brought them to life, but on screen, they looked remarkable and the flawless editing of the action sequences and the seamless effects work found in the film were something we should applaud.

Yes, Interstellar took us to never-before-seen galaxies and planets, but as clean and pristine as the work happened to be, Nolan has presented more bold and innovative worlds than these. X-Men: Days of Future Past also looks familiar, save that extraordinary laboratory sequence, and Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy fill out the fight card.

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Best Original Score

Will Win: The Theory of Everything
Could Win: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Should Win: The Theory of Everything
Should Have Been Nominated: Birdman, Gone Girl, Nightcrawler

Alexandre Desplat is still waiting for an Oscar and despite having scored both The Grand Budapest Hotel and The Imitation Game, he may see his hopes get cast aside by a relative newcomer to the Oscar stage, Jóhann Jóhannsson for his beautiful and tender work on The Theory of Everything. Still, it is hard to deny Jóhannsson’s work here, which amplifies and underscores so many pivotal moments between Stephen and Jane Hawking’s relationship together and apart. Playful at the beginning, subtle and somber in the middle, and resolute by its end, Jóhannsson’s has crafted a work of beauty.

Hans Zimmer has a lot of supporters for Interstellar, a score which almost works as a standalone soundtrack album, and Desplat has a precocious and fetching Grand Budapest Hotel and dramatic and stinging The Imitation Game sitting in voters’ hands and MP3 players. Gary Yershon’s Mr. Turner is also in play, but with Budapest an Oscar favorite and the Icelandic Jóhannsson passed over for last year’s compelling Prisoners score, the more classical and traditional score will likely bring Desplat more heartbreak and Jóhann Jóhannsson his first Oscar.

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 Best Original Song

Will Win: Glory – Selma
Could Win: Lost Stars – Begin Again
Should Win: Glory – Selma
Should Have Been Nominated: America For Me – A Most Violent Year, The Hanging Tree – The Hunger Games, Mockingjay, Part I

Selma is more than just a movie with a really terrific song, but alas, here is where we find ourselves. As a fan of Common for a decade-and-a-half, arguably America’s most talented and overlooked rapper of the last 15 years finally gets a chance to show the world why he is such an amazing, powerful, and compelling artist. John Legend, himself, should arguably be a three-time Oscar nominee in this category, crafting Oscar-nomination worthy work in composing themes for documentary Waiting for ‘Superman’ and Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained in years’ past.

“Glory” is incredible in every way – from the lyrics which blend racial history, torment, and recent events flawlessly to that anthemic arrangement to that soaring John Legend chorus and resting with that gospel choir punctuating the film’s message clearly and memorably. You feel for “Lost Stars” because, until that Soundcloud of “Glory” dropped in late-November 2014, this really was setting up to be a Begin Again win, as the Adam Levine and Keira Knightley ballad fits the perfect model for what a Best Original Song truly should be. A character in the film, “Lost Stars” defines so much of what transpires in Begin Again, you know it has to have its supporters.

“I’m Not Gonna Miss You” from Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me is heartwrenching and bittersweet final elegy to Glen Campbell’s career, while “Everything Is Awesome!!!” makes for a great production number and provides some levity. “Grateful” from Beyond the Lights wins with its nomination here.

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Best Documentary Feature

Will Win: CITIZENFOUR
Could Win: Last Days In Vietnam or Virunga
Should Win: Finding Vivian Maier (from these five nominees).
Should Have Been Nominated: Life Itself

One of the more disappointing documentary fields of recent years, CITIZENFOUR has been anointed the winner since it premiered last fall. While important and deeply thought provoking, in terms of filmmaking and craftsmanship, the film is a little lacking when compared to the absent Life Itself or the darkhorse contender Virunga.

Frankly, Last Days In Vietnam could sneak in and steal this thing, although it is yet one more film about the Vietnam War; albeit a shocking expose regarding something the United States government has long been silent on – The Fall of Saigon. The environmental and socially aware Virunga has the power of Leonardo DiCaprio behind it as a producer, Finding Vivian Maier is a pulse-pounding mystery, suspense-thriller about a mysterious nanny who left behind hundreds of thousands of photographs when she died. The Salt of the Earth, also originating from the arts community, is simply too off the mark to galvanize the populist Academy to vote for it.

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Best Foreign Language Film

Will Win: Ida
Could Win: Wild Tales
Should Win: Ida
Should Have Been Nominated: Force Majeure, Two Days, One Night, A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night

What will speak to the average Academy voter, that 63-year-old white male? With the entire Academy now voting for every category, from the top to the bottom of the card, Ida sure seems to be the film that offers the easiest buy-in and lasting sustainability. This is quite the interesting field. Gritty and cold-to-the-touch films from Russia (Leviathan), Mauritania (Timbuktu) and Estonia (Tangerines) all deal with harsh realities, specific to location and economic and societal realities.

The rambunctious and fitfully creative Wild Tales is bold multi-part storytelling and will have support among a younger voting demographic, but I have to think Ida, the small, contemplative, 80-minute story about a nun who learns some sudden and uncomfortable truths about her identity and family will be hard to resist for voters.

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Best Documentary Short

Will Win: Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1
Could Win: Joanna
Should Win: Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1
Should Have Been Nominated: N/A

Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1 is remarkable work, a film of great power and poignancy that sheds light on the struggles facing our veterans in an alarmingly increasing rate. This is the film American Sniper lacked the conviction or courage to be. You cannot help but be moved by the film, and there are a great number of other worthy contenders here. Our Curse is a refreshingly honest and raw look at a couple whose newborn is diagnosed with a debilitating and life-changing medical condition, Joanna deals with a woman’s physical decline and her efforts to leave something for her son to have after she has passed on, White Earth documents the small town Americana of a North Dakota oil town, while The Reaper is an unflinching look at the life of a slaughterhouse worker.

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Best Animated Short

Will Win: Feast
Could Win: The Dam Keeper
Should Win: The Bigger Picture

This is not an easy call this year. One of the finest slates of Animated Short Films in recent years boils down to trying to think what the general voting block of the Academy will react too most favorably. A case could easily be made for many of the nominees, from the jaw-dropping life-sized animation techniques of parental loss in The Bigger Picture, to the commercially recognized Disney film Feast, to the quirky, yet heartfelt The Dam Keeper. Other films, A Single Life and Me and My Moulton have promise, but this likely comes down to the film about the little pig who powers a windmill for energy for his town, yet cannot make friends at school, or the story of the dog who sees the life of his owner reflected in the meals he is served twice a day. My guess is Feast, seen by everyone who saw Big Hero 6 in theaters will keep Disney’s streak of winning either Animated Feature or Animated Short alive for a third straight year (Paperman, Frozen).

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Best Live Action Short

Will Win: The Phone Call
Could Win: Aya
Should Win: Butter Lamp
Should Have Been Nominated: Too Many Cooks!!!

The Phone Call possesses recognizable star power in Oscar nominee Sally Hawkins and the voice of Oscar winner Jim Broadbent. Aya plays like a conventional film, with a dose of mystery and suspenseful flirtation, BAFTA winner Boogaloo and Graham is a heartfelt, light-in-tone ode to parenting, while Parvaneh is a terrific little film about a Muslim teenager seeking asylum in Switzerland and finding a street punk who befriends her.

And then we have Butter Lamp, a film that is as bizarre and unique as anything nominated here in a long, long time. A traveling photographer takes pictures of locals in a Tibetan village against a variety of backdrops. That’s it. And as boring as that sounds, the unscripted reactions the photographer and director get make it compulsively entertaining.

And again, shame on Adult Swim for not finding a way to qualify the still awesome family television show parody Too Many Cooks for Oscar consideration. We already know some Academy members found it to be truly innovative and awesome. Oh well.

FINAL WINNER TOTALS:

Birdman – 3
Boyhood – 3
The Grand Budapest Hotel – 3

Whiplash – 3
The Theory of Everything – 2
American Sniper – 1
CITIZENFOUR – 1
Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1 – 1
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes – 1
Feast – 1
Guardians of the Galaxy – 1
How To Train Your Dragon 2 – 1
Ida – 1
The Phone Call – 1
Selma – 1
Still Alice – 1