Who Will Win This Year’s Oscars

It’s that time of year again – time for my predictions of the winners at the annual Academy Awards. Most of the major honors appear fairly clear-cut at this point, but, even with that said, here are my picks for who will take home statues this year:

Best Actor

The Field: Michael Keaton, “Birdman”; Eddie Redmayne, “The Theory of Everything”; Benedict Cumberbatch, “The Imitation Game”; Steve Carell, “Foxcatcher”; Bradley Cooper, “American Sniper”
Who Will Likely Win: Eddie Redmayne. In this talent-packed category, it wasn’t entirely clear at the start of awards season who would end up prevailing. However, Redmayne has gradually emerged as the favorite in light of his wins in the Golden Globe, Screen Actors Guild and BAFTA Awards competitions. While I don’t believe he has a solid lock on the statue at this point, I would say that his position is looking fairly strong, and anyone else grabbing it away from him would have to be considered an upset.
Who Should Win: Eddie Redmayne. Among 2014 releases, the list of potential honorees in this category was quite long, and those in the running – including those who didn’t get nominated – were all deserving of their accolades. That made picking the most worthy recipient difficult. However, given the magnitude of Redmayne’s phenomenal portrayal of cosmologist Stephen Hawking, it would be difficult justifying not giving him the Oscar.
Possible Dark Horse(s): Michael Keaton. Actually, calling Keaton a dark horse is something of a misnomer, given that he’s the only performer to have beaten Redmayne in any of the awards competitions leading up to the Oscars, having bested the front runner for the Critics Choice Award. That victory, coupled with a Golden Globe Award (which he received in a category in which he was not competing head to head with Redmayne) and a likely win in the upcoming Independent Spirit Awards (in which Redmayne is not nominated), could stand him in good stead as an upset winner. However, if the outcome holds true to form for Oscar races between one actor playing a fictional character and one actor playing a historical/biographical character, the actor playing the historical/biographical character nearly always wins. If that’s the case here, count Redmayne in and Keaton out.
Also-Rans: Benedict Cumberbatch, Steve Carell and Bradley Cooper should be grateful for their nominations. Even though they each turned in capable performances, I don’t believe any of them has enough momentum to push past Redmayne or Keaton. If one of them were to pull off an upset, it would be Cooper, who could prevail in light of the film’s phenomenal late season financial success, coupled with the fact that he’s something of a wild card, having not been nominated in the lead actor category in any of the season’s other awards competitions (thus providing no basis for comparison). Don’t count on this happening, though it’s not out of the realm of possibility.
Who Should Have Been Left Out: Everyone nominated should have been included, though, considering the talent pool vying for honors in this category, it’s unfortunate that only five gentlemen were permitted to make the final cut.
Who Else Should Have Been Considered: There are many other actors who would have made welcome additions in this category, most notably David Oyelowo for “Selma,” Jake Gyllenhaal for “Nightcrawler” and Christoph Waltz for “Big Eyes,” all of whom received nominations in other awards competitions, and Timothy Spall for “Mr. Turner,” who won the best actor award at the Cannes Film Festival. Other candidates worthy of recognition include Chadwick Boseman for “Get On Up,” Philip Seymour Hoffman for “A Most Wanted Man” and Jeremy Renner for “Kill the Messenger.”

Best Actress

The Field: Julianne Moore, “Still Alice”; Felicity Jones, “The Theory of Everything”; Rosamund Pike, “Gone Girl”; Reese Witherspoon, “Wild”; Marion Cotillard, “Two Days, One Night”
Who Will Likely Win: Julianne Moore. This is Moore’s award to lose. Having won the Golden Globe, Critics Choice, Screen Actors Guild and BAFTA Awards for best lead actress, coupled with a nomination for best female lead in the upcoming Independent Spirit Awards (which she’s likely to win), it’s hard to imagine the pattern changing on Oscar night. Having been passed over by the Academy four times previously, this is her year.
Who Should Win: Julianne Moore. Even with some formidable competition from Witherspoon and Pike, Moore still rises to the top as the cream of the crop in this category and genuinely deserves the win.
Possible Dark Horse(s): Reese Witherspoon. The actress’s excellent portrayal received some front runner buzz early on in awards season, but, with the release of Moore’s film, Witherspoon’s star faded from the scene rather quickly. That loss of momentum, coupled with the fact that she has already won (for “Walk the Line” (2005)) and Moore hasn’t, serve to work against her. But, if anyone could surpass Moore, it would be her (but don’t count on it).
Also-Rans: Felicity Jones, Rosamund Pike and Marion Cotillard should be grateful for their nominations. I don’t believe any of them stands a chance.
Who Should Have Been Left Out: Of all the performance categories, lead actress was by far the weakest of them in 2014 (the exact opposite of what happened in 2013). In fact, before awards season began, I had trouble envisioning a slate of five truly worthy candidates. Once the list of nominees was revealed, I wasn’t surprised by the roster, though I was seriously disappointed with one of the choices – Marion Cotillard. As fine an actress as she is, her performance in “Two Days, One Night” has to be one of the most overrated portrayals I’ve seen in recent years. There are several other candidates who would have been far more deserving and should have been named in place of this ill-considered nomination.
Who Else Should Have Been Considered: The biggest snub of Oscar season has to be the exclusion of Jennifer Aniston for her outstanding performance in “Cake”; how her portrayal was overlooked truly escapes me. Others who might have been considered for nomination include Amy Adams for “Big Eyes,” Gugu Mbatha-Raw for “Belle,” Helen Mirren for “The Hundred-Foot Journey” and Kristen Wiig for “The Skeleton Twins,” though the strength of these performances – as good as they are – likely didn’t have enough oomph behind them to put them over the top.

Best Supporting Actor

The Field: Robert Duvall, “The Judge”; J.K. Simmons, “Whiplash”; Ethan Hawke, “Boyhood”; Edward Norton, “Birdman”; Mark Ruffalo, “Foxcatcher”
Who Will Likely Win: J.K. Simmons. This is Simmons’s award to lose. Having won the Golden Globe, Critics Choice, Screen Actors Guild and BAFTA Awards for best supporting actor, coupled with a slew of film critics’ awards and a nomination for best supporting male in the upcoming Independent Spirit Awards (which he’s likely to win), it’s hard to imagine the pattern changing on Oscar night. In short, Simmons has a lock on this award.
Who Should Win: J.K. Simmons. Even with some formidable competition from Hawke and Norton, Simmons still holds all the cards in this category and richly deserves to take home the award.
Possible Dark Horse(s): It’s difficult to imagine anyone overtaking Simmons at this point.
Also-Rans: Anyone who isn’t J.K. Simmons. They should thank the Academy for their nominations.
Who Should Have Been Left Out: As much as I enjoyed Mark Ruffalo’s nuanced performance, I believe that the Academy should have nominated one of several other performers in his place, most notably his co-star, Channing Tatum (see below). While I wouldn’t say that this portrayal was completely undeserving, I believe there were other performances that were more worthy.
Who Else Should Have Been Considered: As noted above, I believe “Foxcatcher” would have been better represented in the supporting actor category by Channing Tatum, who showed a range not seen in any of his previous roles. With that said, though, there was another noteworthy supporting performance that inexplicably received no recognition – Tim Roth for “Selma.” It truly baffles me how this performance was completely overlooked in all of the season’s other awards competitions and went virtually unmentioned in the entertainment press. I also would have considered Josh Brolin’s portrayal in “Inherent Vice” as a possible nominee.

Best Supporting Actress

The Field: Patricia Arquette, “Boyhood”; Keira Knightley, “The Imitation Game”; Emma Stone, “Birdman”; Meryl Streep, “Into the Woods”; Laura Dern, “Wild”
Who Will Likely Win: Patricia Arquette. This is Arquette’s award to lose. Having won the Golden Globe, Critics Choice, Screen Actors Guild and BAFTA Awards for best supporting actress, coupled with a nomination for best supporting female in the upcoming Independent Spirit Awards (which she’s likely to win), it’s hard to imagine the pattern changing on Oscar night. In short, Arquette has a lock on this award.
Who Should Win: Emma Stone. As capable as Arquette’s performance is, Stone really stole the show in the supporting actress category for 2014. She showed talent not previously seen in her prior roles, and she really deserves to win.
Possible Dark Horse(s): It’s difficult to imagine anyone overtaking Arquette at this point. Also-Rans: Anyone who isn’t Patricia Arquette. They should thank the Academy for their nominations, though I must say that I was very happy to see Dern nominated for a wonderful performance that had been overlooked in the season’s other awards competitions.
Who Should Have Been Left Out: As much as I enjoyed Meryl Streep’s performance in “Into the Woods” (and in virtually everything she does), I believe the Academy would have better served its members by nominating someone else in her place. The reason? Given her record number of nominations, as well as three previous victories (“Kramer Vs. Kramer” (1979), “Sophie’s Choice” (1982) and “The Iron Lady” (2011)), she’s simply not going to win for this capable, though not outstanding, performance. That being the case, the nomination is a sort of “throwaway,” one that might have better been bestowed on someone who legitimately has a chance of winning. (I’ll probably burn in hell for having just said that, but I think any nominations Streep receives in the future will have to be for performances that raise the bar far above what she has previously turned in for them to be taken seriously as worthy of victory. Anything that’s seen as merely “adequate” by Streep’s standards is sure to be summarily overlooked, simply because of her track record.)
Who Else Should Have Been Considered: As with the lead actor category, there were many deserving supporting actress performances worthy of recognition, including Jessica Chastain for “A Most Violent Year,” Tilda Swinton for “Snowpiercer,” Imelda Staunton for “Pride” and Rene Russo for “Nightcrawler,” all of whom were nominated in other awards competitions. Others who should have received consideration include Rachel McAdams and Robin Wright, both for “A Most Wanted Man,” and Christine Baranski for “Into the Woods.”

Best Director

The Field: Richard Linklater, “Boyhood”; Alejandro González Iñárritu, “Birdman”; Morten Tyldum, “The Imitation Game”; Wes Anderson, “The Grand Budapest Hotel”; Bennett Miller, “Foxcatcher”
Who Will Likely Win: Richard Linklater. Having won the Golden Globe, Critics Choice and BAFTA Awards, coupled with an Independent Spirit Award nomination (which he stands a good chance to win), Linklater has to be considered the front runner in this category. However, in light of a somewhat surprising loss to Iñárritu in the Directors’ Guild Awards (usually a reliable predictor of the eventual Oscar winner), I don’t believe Linklater has an absolute lock on the statue at this point. Given that he is likely to win the award for best picture (as producer of “Boyhood”) (see below), there’s a possibility he might lose out on the best director award in favor of his “Birdman” competitor. Even though the best picture and best director awards historically run in tandem, splits are known to happen, and I wouldn’t entirely rule out that possibility at this point. Still, if I were to follow my gut instincts, I would have to say I expect Linklater to best Iñárritu in this category.
Who Should Win: Alejandro González Iñárritu. Among the nominees, I believe Iñárritu turned in the best work (even though my favorite directorial performance of 2014 wasn’t nominated, as noted below). Despite the ambitious 12-year undertaking involved in the creation of “Boyhood,” I believe “Birdman” is the better picture, and much of the credit for that rests with its director, who deserves to be honored accordingly.
Possible Dark Horse(s): Wes Anderson. Should Linklater and Iñárritu split the vote for best director, which is not outside the realm of possibility, that could open the door for Anderson to sneak in as a spoiler. I don’t believe this will happen, but I can picture it as a remote possibility.
Also-Rans: Morten Tyldum and Bennett Miller should thank the Academy for their nominations. I suspect neither of them stands a chance.
Who Should Have Been Left Out: Bennett Miller. Very simply, “Foxcatcher” is not a very good film, despite the strength of its three principal performances. How the director managed to pick up a nomination when the film itself wasn’t even considered for best picture escapes me. This slot should have been opened up to any number of other more deserving candidates.
Who Else Should Have Been Considered: In my opinion, the best directorial work of 2014 was turned in by Ava Duvernay for “Selma,” and her exclusion in this category is a glaring oversight. Others worthy of consideration include Damien Chazelle for “Whiplash,” J.C. Chandor for “A Most Violent Year” and Jean-Marc Vallée for “Wild.”

Best Picture

The Field: “American Sniper”; “Birdman”; “Boyhood”; “The Grand Budapest Hotel”; “The Imitation Game”; “Selma”; “The Theory of Everything”; “Whiplash”
What Will Likely Win: “Boyhood.” With its wins in the Golden Globe, Critics Choice and BAFTA Awards competitions, coupled with a best feature nomination in the upcoming Independent Spirit Awards program (which it stands a good chance of winning), this film has to be considered the prohibitive favorite for taking top honors on Oscar night. The picture has a virtual lock on this award, and anything else winning would be a shock.
What Should Win: “Selma.” Without a doubt, “Selma” is the best picture of 2014. Its poor overall showing in the nominations, however, virtually dooms it to also-ran status. The film will have to be satisfied with its award for best original song, which it’s almost certain to win, one of only two nominations that the picture received – far, far, far short of what it deserved.
Possible Dark Horse(s): “Birdman,” “The Grand Budapest Hotel” and “American Sniper.” While I don’t realistically expect any of these pictures to present a serious challenge to the front runner, they could slip in as possible dark horses. The biggest wild card here is “American Sniper,” especially in light of the aforementioned late season financial success and lack of comparative performance in other awards competitions. “Birdman” and “Budapest Hotel” also have potential to sneak in, though don’t expect that, especially if either of them captures the director award (as discussed above).
Also-Rans: “The Imitation Game,” “Selma,” “The Theory of Everything” and “Whiplash,” though all admirable, should thank the Academy for their nominations. I don’t realistically see any of these pictures having a chance.
What Should Have Been Left Out: All controversy issues aside, cinematically speaking, “American Sniper” is definitely not in the same league as its competitors and should not have been tapped as a nominee. And, if it were up to me, I probably would not have nominated “Boyhood,” either; its novelty production history, ambitious though it was, is not enough to merit the film the kind of overblown attention it has been receiving, especially in light of its largely underwhelming story line and generally lame performance by its protagonist.
What Else Should Have Been Considered: Several noteworthy films were overlooked in this category, including “Wild,” “A Most Violent Year,” “A Most Wanted Man” and “Rosewater.” Any of them would have made fine additions to the category and better choices than those that should have been left out.

The Oscars will be handed out in televised ceremonies on Sunday February 22. I’ll post my report card on these predictions thereafter. Enjoy the show!

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Copyright © 2015, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.

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