The 87th Academy Awards, the most overblown employee recognition awards in the history of Western Civilization, air Sunday at 8:30 p.m. on ABC (preceded by 90 minutes of red carpet fashion assessments and chatter so inane that viewing it will melt a tiny but important part of your brain). To best enjoy the actual show, watch it while following the live-tweets of someone funny — I'd suggest Albert Brooks, Billy Eichner or any comedian you follow on Twitter. Or The Film Yap's a good bet if you want to keep it local. A little company makes that technical awards section fly by.
Here's my annual assessment of who is going to win what and why. Just remember, I'm trying to predict the selection process of a bunch of old white guys, many of whom aren't fully in touch with their own business anymore. Also, there are a lot of actors in the Academy and they like to vote for acting ensembles from LA or NYC. Plus, some members want the Academy to seem edgy, while others want it to be reward “important” fare. Finally, everybody is really impressed with British accents because they sound classy and smart. As you can see, Oscar award prediction is not an exact science.
- Patricia Arquette (with Ellar Coltrane and Loralei Linklater) in Boyhood
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
The Theory of Everything
Selma is out, because 12 Years a Slave won last year and giving the Best Picture trophy to films dealing with human rights and black Americans two years in a row is a little too crusader-ish for the Academy.
The Imitation Game is noble and has British accents, but the lead character is gay and the old white guys don't like dealing with that.
The Theory of Everything is also noble, but it's got no buzz.
Whiplash has buzz, but it's all in the acting categories. Plus, quite a few people were disturbed by the bullying onscreen.
Wes Anderson's wonderful The Grand Budapest Hotel is too weird for the old white guys, though the actors' contingent likes it.
American Sniper is the dark horse. It's critically acclaimed and a hit — two pluses — but it's controversial and the Academy generally likes to avoid controversy.
Everything really boils down to two films: Boyhood and Birdman. The 12-years-in-the making Boyhood has received great reviews, but some viewers complain that it doesn't have a plot and it gets boring. Birdman is just as celebrated, but some (including me) find the camerawork gimmicky and the percussive score grating.
Should Win: Whiplash is the most deserving, but it doesn't have a prayer. Of the two most likely winners, Boyhood is the best.
Will win: This is the closest race I've seen in years, and I think Birdman is going to just barely beat Boyhood. If it happens, the Academy members will feel very pleased with themselves for being so progressive. If Boyhood wins, they will feel good about rewarding art.
- Bradley Cooper (left) and Luke Grimes in American Sniper.
Steve Carell, Foxcatcher
Bradley Cooper, American Sniper
Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game
Michael Keaton, Birdman
Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything
Steve Carell is fascinating in Foxcatcher, but I thought he struck a precise, odd note and held on tight. He's very good, but he won't win.
Benedict Cumberbatch and Eddie Redmayne are both impressive, but they're playing to the same crowd and will cancel each other out.
Bradley Cooper gives the best performance of his career in American Sniper. He's terrific.
Michael Keaton, meanwhile, reminds us why we've all liked Michael Keaton for so long. Damn, the man is good.
Should/Will Win: Bradley Cooper probably deserves it a little more, but he's going to be around a long time to do even more powerful work, so I'd give Michael Keaton the trophy and the perks that go with it. I suspect the Academy will think the same way I do.
- Julianne Moore in Still Alice
Marion Cotillard, Two Days, One Night
Felicity Jones, The Theory of Everything
Julianne Moore, Still Alice
Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl
Reese Witherspoon, Wild
Here's the thing. I could evaluate each performance and talk about the various mindsets at play, but the truth is that Julianne Moore is going to win this award.
Her performance as an erudite person diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's disease is perfect, which should come as no surprise to anyone who has followed her remarkable career. If that wasn't enough, the story is presented from the point of view of Moore's character.
Still Alice was designed to win a Best Actress Oscar and it will do just that. Sorry, everybody else.
Should/Will Win: Julianne Moore