Oscar 2015 Category by Category Analysis by Kamran Jawaid and Farheen Jawaid

The following feature was published in MAG the Weekly on Friday, the 18th of February 2015 (links and pictures will be updated soon).

Oscars Predictions 2015: The Year When Things Go Topsy-Turvy

By Mohammad Kamran Jawaid and Farheen Jawaid

While people here may be more interested in cricket and the tensions one associates with the World Cup, across the Atlantic pundits are exasperated by the sudden shifts of another game: the 87th Annual Academy Awards.

In our ten-year experience of charting the Oscars race, there has never been a year with so many drastic turn of events. Individual consensus of Academy members, industry favors, award season trends, will overturn most predicted of outcomes this coming Sunday. The feeling of having this knowledge is a mixture of thrill and fear. What may happen, no one knows – but everyone cares about.

Before we go any further, let’s discuss our process of evaluating the winners: the films, obviously, play a big part every year, and watching every title, regardless of its inconsequence or brawn in the game is important. This year we went through 41 of the 46 titles (the remaining were not available for consideration). The practice helps nail down technical and aesthetic aspects of the nominees’ strength in specific categories.

We couple this evaluation with simultaneous industry awards happening throughout the season. The prominent ones include the Director’s Guild of America (DGA), Writers Guild of America (WGA), Producers Guild of America (PGA), and the Screen Actors Guild (SAG). Technical guilds, like the cinematographers, editors, art directors and so on, play a less substantial part in the game, partly because members from these guilds have negligible influence over Academy members.

It should be noted that most guild’s members are also a part of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) – and that not many members see all titles in every category. As a consequence voters will employ good judgment, or give into to a film’s marketing push – which run to a maximum of $10 million – or go along with positive word-of-mouth when putting the stamp on some categories.

It’s nearly impossible to guess the minds of 5783 Academy voters. In its place, we exercise our “gut” instinct and a meticulous, systematic, breakdown of the trends fluctuating within the system, leading up to the time of voting deadlines.

As far this year goes, both Boyhood and Birdman are in grim competition. For a good number of months Richard Linklater and Boyhood have been a favorite for Best Director and Picture. This changed significantly when Birdman shifted its weight, and is now a favorite in both categories.

The Grand Budapest Hotel is a much-backed contender for multiple categories (it is tied up with Birdman with nine overall nominations); by the end of the night, director Wes Anderson’s film will likely be the only title to secure the most number of wins.

Whiplash – our personal favorite – is the most powerful film in the bunch, and is up for awards that help corroborate the subject matter’s intensity in aesthetic and technical nods (it is nominated in Adapted Screenplay, Editing, Sound Mixing, Supporting Actor and Picture).

American Sniper, though a commercial triumph – and an instigator of harsh criticisms and arguments – is our least favored title of all nominees; we don’t see it getting much Oscar love during awards night. There will be a lot of upsets, especially in technical awards and the Best Score, with only a few sure-fire sureties, which makes the following predictions all the more interesting.

The evaluative process below is a simple one: we pick the most formidable titles in each category and divide their chances of success according to our experience and understanding. Here’s our prediction for who has the most chances of winning this year:

PICTURE

Birdman: 65%

Boyhood: 35%

With wins at the three major guild awards – the DGA, PGA and SAG – Birdman looks very hard to beat at the moment. A possible upset could be Boyhood the previous would-be contender with a lot of industry-wide support. It should be noted that Boyhood was a critical favorite for a longer period of time than Birdman, so there are odds of a major upset here.

DIRECTOR

Richard Linklater – Boyhood: 55%

Alejandro González Iñárritu – Birdman: 45%

While both of us prefer Alejandro González Iñárritu’s direction in Birdman for its razor sharp approach to a very off-kilter story, it is our guess that Academy members will back Richard Linklater’s perseverance and vision in setting up and executing a decades-long project. We also think that since the award went to a foreigner last year (Alfonso Cuarón nabbed it for Gravity) Academy members will most likely give it to someone close to home. Boyhood is an ideal story about an average American family and the pains of growing up – and Linklater may win by the feeblest of margins.

ACTOR

Eddie Redmayne – The Theory of Everything: 95%

Michael Keaton – Birdman: 5%

Despite Michael Keaton’s brilliant turn in Birdman the trophy literally has Eddie Redmayne’s name engraved on it for his captivating performance of Stephen Hawkins.

ACTRESS

Julianne Moore – Still Alice: 99%

Unanimous support goes to Julianne Moore here as a linguistic professor who battles, and loses the war with Alzheimer’s. That’s not to say that Marion Cotillard didn’t fascinate with her role of a depressed woman, who tries to win votes from fellow employees so that she could keep her job in Two Days, One Night.

SUPPORTING ACTOR

J.K. Simmons – Whiplash: 95%

Edward Norton – Birdman: 5%

Edward Norton commanded our attention when he played a talented but emotionally frail actor in Birdman; in contrast J.K. Simmon’s ruthlessness literally blew up the screen in Whiplash.

SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Patricia Arquette – Boyhood: 85%

Laura Dern – Wild: 15%

Patricia Arquette is not our personal favorite here. Then again, apart from Laura Dern in The Wild, we didn’t fancy anyone for an Oscar nod here. That’s not to say they weren’t good. According to us, they just weren’t that good.

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

The Grand Budapest Hotel: 70%

Birdman: 30%

The Grand Budapest Hotel is a perfect example of Wes Anderson’s whimsical storytelling – right from the screenplay, which we were fortunate enough to read, and later compare with the finished motion picture. Birdman, however, is utter-originality incarnate – a grand spin of events that’s both unexpected and hypnotizing. One of us prefers The Grand Budapest Hotel while the other favors Birdman. We estimate a wide-margin of support for Budapest, though.

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

Whiplash: 50%

The Imitation Game: 50%

This one is a doozy. We prefer Whiplash, but by the time of this writing, an upset has revealed itself: The Imitation Game has won the award for Best Adapted Screenplay at the Writer’s Guild, which may very well translate into an Oscar win. The problem, though, is deeper than that. While the Academy has decided that Whiplash falls into the Adapted category, the WGA believes it to be an original work (the film is based on a short film of the same name by the director, who made it as a proof-of-concept to get funding). This confusion may very well tilt favor to The Imitation Games’ side. Maybe.

ANIMATED – FEATURE

How to Train Your Dragon 2: 60%

Big Hero 6: 20%

Song of the Sea: 20%

We are divided in this. While none of us likes How to Train Your Dragon 2 enough to vote for it, if we were in the Academy, we nonetheless see a great push coming from it. The other likely contender is Big Hero 6, and the least likely win (though preferred by us) is Song of the Sea, whose director, Tomm Moore, was previously nominated for The Secret of Kells in 2009. We also believe that a lack of marketing power from the Song of the Sea is what will cost it the Oscar.

FOREIGN

Ida: 40%

Leviathan: 30%

Wild Tales: 30%

Ida is the current front running for the Best Foreign Film. Close behind it are Wild Tales and Leviathan. They are critically loved (they have to be, to get this far), and have considerable power over the other two nominees Tangerines (our first choice, though not everyone else’s) and Timnuktu. Ida will have a tough fight from Wild Tales and Leviathan.

DOCUMENTARY – FEATURE

Citizenfour: 70%

Virunga: 30%

An upset by Virunga may be the least of worries for Citizenfour, a powerful documentary about Edward Snowden that shows us what happened as the news stories were coming out. Citizenfour is topical and touches a nerve about the absolute corruption of government powers, and security of American citizens.

CINEMATOGRAPHY

Birdman: 75%

The Grand Budapest Hotel: 15%

Ida: 10%

Very slight chances of an upset here. Birdman cinematographer, Emmanuel Lubezki – who won the Oscar just last year for Gravity – has unanimous support from the industry here – and it is well deserved. Birdman is also a technical masterpiece, so that counts too.

EDITING

Boyhood: 50%

Whiplash: 30%

American Sniper: 20%

A bit of problem this one. Our preference is the razor-sharp edits of Whiplash. The industry is tilting towards American Sniper. Boyhood has just won the Editor’s Guild. We think Boyhood’s edits, which spanned a good decade of shoots and shooting formats, may well prove to be too strong a contender than the others.

SOUND EDITING

American Sniper: 40%

Interstellar: 30%

Birdman: 30%

The Cinema Audio Society – the guild that awards the best in its discipline – gave the award to Birdman recently, so the film, our personal pick in this category, has some backing here. However, from the looks of things, America (or most of the 5783 members of the Academy) may pick American Sniper for its sound design and edits – and lest we forget, because Sniper may only secure wins here, and not anywhere else. Interstellar, though well designed, but consciously messily mixed, is second best in this line-up.

SOUND MIXING

Whiplash: 55%

American Sniper: 45%

Very tough call in Sound Mixing. American Sniper has a strong presence. Whiplash is better mixed.

PRODUCTION DESIGN

The Grand Budapest Hotel: 60%

Mr. Turner: 25%

Into the Woods: 15%

The Grand Budapest Hotel has the best design of the five nominees. We chart Mr. Turner second (whose painterly frames by cinematographer Dick Pope are an eye-catch) with Into the Woods following behind.

MAKE-UP AND HAIR STYLING

The Grand Budapest Hotel: 40%

The Guardians of the Galaxy: 35%

Foxcatcher: 25%

Another head-scratching moment here! The Grand Budapest Hotel looks like a winner; but so do Foxcatcher and The Guardians of the Galaxy. In fact, both Guardians and Budapest both won two awards in the Make-up and Styling guild. These wins won’t translate into the awards here, but anything can happen. Academy voters may prefer the less extravagant entry of the three, and it may be Foxcatcher and Guardians’ only chance to get a trophy.

COSTUME

The Grand Budapest Hotel: 60%

Into the Woods: 40%

The Grand Budapest Hotel looks good here as well, with Into the Woods a good second candidate to bet on, and Maleficent a far off third.

VISUAL EFFECTS

Interstellar: 60%

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes: 20%

The Guardians of the Galaxy: 20%

Almost a no-brainer. Academy has little love for apes or robots (no Transformers or Rise of the Planet of the Apes ever won this award). We prefer Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, but Interstellar, with its scientifically accurate approach is the likely winner. The Guardians of the Galaxy is the least likely tag associated with itself.

ORIGINAL SCORE

The Theory of Everything: 36%

The Grand Budapest Hotel: 34%

The Imitation Game: 30%

Alexandre Desplat has two nominations this year: one with The Imitation Game, the other with The Grand Budapest Hotel. The two scores show Mr. Desplat’s talent; this is, after all his seventh Oscar appearance and a total of eight nominations, with no win. Mr. Desplat may well be the other Roger Deakins – the ace cinematographer who has lensed classics like The Shawshank Redemption, No Country for Old Men, True Grit, Skyfall, Prisoners, and Unbroken this year; all nominated with a total tally of 12 Oscar noms, but no win.

This may be Mr. Desplat’s year…if it weren’t for Jóhann Jóhannsson’s formidable work in The Theory of Everything. The competition – and sheer amazingness of the work – makes Original Score one of the most difficult of categories to guess right. So far it’s a toss-up, with just a tad bit of favor going to Jóhannsson’s work.

SONG

Glory – Selma: 50%

Everything is Awesome – The Lego Movie: 40%

Lost Stars – Begin Again: 10%

Selma’sGlory” is powerful. The Lego Movie’s “Everything is Awesome” is awesome. Begin Again’s “Lost Stars” has a whimsical quality to it. Glory is most likely a winner – and is probably the only award critical favorite Selma will get this year. The fact that it is also that one lonesome chance for Begin Again and The Lego Movie to win an Oscar is what makes this category the most interesting to look out for.

ANIMATED SHORT

Feast: 80%

The Dam Keeper: 20%

While we don’t generally predict short films, mainly because they are difficult to find, sometimes just seeing one film makes a world of a difference. The Feast, about a very hungry, everything-goes puppy, is that one film. It’s short, sweet and funny with the right sprinkling of Disney magic. Pundits are keeping The Dam Keeper as an alternate, so for this category alone, we’re giving them a benefit of the doubt.

MAG Cover

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