All right here’s the thing I took a melatonin pill about eight minutes ago so I have until that sucker kicks in to scrawl down some thoughts on this year’s Oscars. I’m telling you right now, this shit’s not gonna be perfect. Honesty and authority: those are the values guiding my 2015 resolutions. So in the spirit of practicing honesty and authority, I’m going to describe who would win which Academy Awards if I ran the show. My verdicts will be honest and backed with real evidence (my well-informed opinions, duh) and they will be declared without apology because authority.
Some of the things I’m about to say are going to sound blasphemous or even kind of inflammatory but that’s kind of the point – we all have different perceptions and tastes and come tomorrow morning, we’ll all have plenty of snubs to bitch about. With the surfeit of awards shows plaguing red carpets everywhere (am I complaining no I am not) the Oscars at this point don’t hold a lot of surprises (Keaton, Moore, Simmons, Arquette, Linklater & Boyhood, let’s just call it right now) but there’s still something fun about an award that signals the very top of an industry’s craft, even if it’s just because some dude says it’s so. And as long as we all acknowledge this months-long process of back-patting is little more than a sham, in an echo chamber, dressed in a very pretty gown, we can bitch about snubs all we want. Because it’s about culture, people. And taste. I have it, you don’t. Let the rabble-rousing begin!
BEST ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
5) Randall Park, The Interview: BOOM DIDN’T SEE THAT ONE COMING DID YOU. Hear. Me. Out. Park was tasked with turning an actual real-life dictator we see on the news (ish?) into a mixture of sharp political satire and sheer buffoonery. The first part requires calibrating every line believably and the second part requires fine-tuning the timing and delivery of each of those lines, and the whole endeavor has to be balanced on the edge of a knife. His line reading of “You know what hurts worse than nuclear bombs, Dave? …Words.” Um. Brilliant. The Oscars may never recognize comedic timing as worthy of accolades, but Park (and full disclosure several other people you’ll see on this list) knows dying in a fiery explosion during a Katy Perry song is easy. Comedy is hard.
4) Edward Norton, Birdman: I’m a sucker for directors who let actors just go for it. Who don’t rely on editing to make a performance work better, and have no problem with a little bit of ham. Norton gives Birdman an extra serving of ham, it’s true, but his douchey actor’s fierce commitment to “authenticity” in “art” or “whatever” is as fully embodied as it is bombastic, as entertaining as it is undercut by the kinds of lingering uncertainties that characterize actors of any kind. I would know I live with two of them.
3) Ethan Hawke, Boyhood: Amongst the hosannas, some moviegoers were not impressed with this film’s gimmick and lack of beginning-middle-end structure, and I see their point. But everything that worked about it – its comments about motherhood versus fatherhood, its bravely nonjudgmental view of adolescence, its refreshingly naturalistic snippets of life – is embodied in Hawke’s tender performance. For the twelve years we see him, we feel that guy loved his kids and at first had no idea how to go about doing that. By the time he figured it out, he had also figured out Mom had done all the work. The unassuming scene at the end that unites these flawed parents is as close this movie gets to a climax, and in its lack of showiness and catharsis, I found myself utterly overwhelmed.
2) Anthony Scott, Pride: Here’s the thing. I’m not gonna weigh in on Best Picture because ever since that category opened up to ten nominees (but sometimes nine? wtf) who cares. But for what it’s worth, Selma is probably the best film of the year. Pride, though, is my favorite. I sat in my screening amongst a sea of scribbling critics, trying to restrain my emotions throughout, but when those buses pulled up – see the movie for goodness sakes! – I opened up like a geyser. Like a shameless, whining geyser. Blubbering and not bothering to hide it any longer. Part of what makes Pride so astonishing and perfect is its cast, a true ensemble without a clear lead. Scott, though, distinguishes himself in a handful of impossibly heart-wrenching scenes, and I honestly think there are few other actors operating on his level. If there were an Oscar for greatest pause taken while on the phone, Scott would have it. And his acceptance speech would be adorable. But my pic for this category has to be…
1) Josh Brolin, Inherent Vice: Yeah, I’m a little biased. Honesty and authority, people. My interview with Brolin was just as trippy as Paul Thomas Anderson’s narc-y noir, and it grew on me long after the fumes lifted. Deranged in his conservatism, tragic in his crippling insecurity, Brolin’s Bigfoot represented the contrasting tensions that ultimately brought about the end of the hippie era. See this movie even if you don’t get it, and you won’t really get it. I sort of felt like everyone involved in the movie was high on something, and I had been given a much smaller dose. Brolin would say that’s right on, man.
BEST ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
5) Keira Knightley, The Imitation Game: Even though she already has an Oscar nomination, I feel weirdly proud of Miss Keira, like I left the movie thinking TOLD YOU SHE CAN ACT. If there’s any lingering doubt, she can, and what makes her portrayal of mathematician Joan Clarke so worthy is the way the movie shifts its weight entirely onto Knightley’s skills in its final five minutes. She carries the film’s conclusion, eyes glued to her belittled costar, one simple speech making the case for an entire other movie dedicated to Clarke. Plus, how cute is that scene where she solves the puzzle in under six minutes?
4) Tilda Swinton, Snowpiercer: What a fantastic year for our resident alien goddess. I’m picking her work in Snowpiercer because that movie was ballsy and weird and she was its tyrannical, overly betoothed heart. She’s such an enigma in real life – or like in her glass box at MoMA or whatever – so it’s delightful to see her inhabit such a unique yet credible character and indulge in some offbeat comedy. Also I feel like she’s someone who only only only does great movies that prompt discussion, and we should reward actors like that.
3) Emma Stone, Birdman: Yeah, she’s a huge movie star, and this movie is being maybe annoyingly meta by casting huge movie stars, but THAT MONOLOGUE THO. It’s impossible to take your eyes off her, she gave a rather dark dark comedy a wry sense of humor, and she gave voice to those who struggle with addiction. Stone won’t win this year – it’s only a matter of time! – but she deserves the nomination.
2) Patricia Arquette, Boyhood: See above. It is certain that her name will be called tomorrow morning, and certain that she will win. Can you fault an actress who aged in front of our eyes and then spent her final scene raging against the passage of time? And the desperation to protect her children from an abusive stepfather is palpable. I’d list her as first, were it not for…
1) Imelda Staunton, Pride: See above. Blubbering geyser, etc. I was under this movie’s spell, and Staunton should patent charm itself. Her performance in a movie full of convincing actors stands out for its balance of goofiness and fierce passion. She is by turns haughty, outraged, laugh-out-loud funny – especially when she herself is laughing. If her next ten roles were just like this one, I wouldn’t mind.
BEST ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE
5) Michael Keaton, Birdman: See above. The likely winner, Keaton deserves the prize if only because there aren’t many other actors who could embody a fading blockbuster star with equal parts gravitas and weakness. It’s also a casting thing – can’t we all imagine a former Batman has waged the “art versus commerce” inner debate? That debate fuels every step of this ballsy performance.
4) Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game: He was truly magnificent as Alan Turing, but a nomination for a 2015 acting Oscar makes perfect sense for a guy at this point in a career. Give him the nomination for the way he growled as Smaug, the way he rolled his eyes as Sherlock, as well as the way he obsessed over that machine in The Imitation Game.
3) Joaquin Phoenix, Inherent Vice: Most compelling actor in Hollywood? He’s not palatable to the mainstream masses, but there hasn’t been a single moment of this man’s on-screen career that isn’t riveting – and that’s certainly worth something. Paul Thomas Anderson builds a gorgeously groovy and goofy world, but it’s Phoenix’s private eye who lives and breathes it. I’d write more about why he’s becoming one of my favorite actors but this melatonin has me by the balls now and I did not think this was a 2000 word piece not gonna lie.
2) David Oyelowo, Selma: It’s not just an impersonation. It’s like…a personation. Oyelowo nails Dr. King’s idiosyncratic speech patterns, and is surely aided by makeup and Ava DuVernay’s wonderful period costumes and lighting, but there’s something uncanny about the way he embodies a man who IRL he resembles little. Look at a picture of David Oyelowo on the red carpet, and then look at a picture of Dr. King. And then see Selma. Frankly, you have to see Selma anyway because as I said, it’s the best movie of the year by fifty miles. Thoughtful compositions, unshowy performances, an ability to translate both the intimately personal and vastly historic – it elevates the biopic to a new standard. That’s the other thing: it’s a biopic, sure, but because it just covers voting rights efforts, DuVernay could easily continue the story with sequels and the same cast. Why not? Mostly, this movie is startlingly resonant today, painfully so. I saw it two days after the Eric Garner decision, and couldn’t help but feel shattered by how far we haven’t come as a country. There are regal shots of Oyelowo as King in the Oval Office, and it’s hard not to wonder what would happen if we had leadership like that – decisive and firm as well as idealistic – at the highest level in this country.
1) Ralph Fiennes, The Grand Budapest Hotel: This is not Wes Anderson’s best movie. It’s torn between too many guest stars who don’t have enough time to display real heart, and the offbeat aesthetic is frankly starting to feel stale. As a showcase for one of the greatest living actors, however, it’s invaluable. Is there anyone on this Earth better than Fiennes? I’m not sure there is. Certainly not when it comes to balancing Cowardian eccentricity with a subtle, haunting tragedy. The most unexpected and one of the funniest performances of the year, hands down. Particularly this moment: “You see, there are still faint glimmers of civilization left in this barbaric slaughterhouse that was once known as humanity. Indeed that’s what we provide in our own modest, humble, insignificant… oh fuck it.”
BEST ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE
5) Emily Blunt, Into the Woods: All right yeah this is just blatant favoritism. Come on.
4) Rosario Dawson, Top Five: YOU GUYS. NO. TOP FIVE IS SERIOUSLY THE MOST AMAZING MOVIE. You go in expecting to get Chris Rock’s neuroses meta-projected onto a pleasantly irreverent exploration of comedy. What you get instead is verklempt! It’s not a Woody Allen movie, it’s Nora Ephron!! And it’s a welcome update to a story we’ve heard before, a rambling love letter to New York that relies on one-liners from its large cast of hysterical comedians. Rock’s first scene is a masterpiece, a personified debate over whether America has made any progress, culminating in him trying to flag a cab (he makes his point when one passes him by, but the second cab stops). The scene is loose and funny and gift wrapped in Rosario Freaking Dawson’s IRRESISTIBLE CHARM. How this woman has not starred in the last ten romantic comedies is beyond me. She balances a casual skepticism with some of those romcom tropes that make you roll your eyes even as your heart flutters; she’s equal parts specific and every romantic leading lady you’ve ever seen. Out of all the people on this list, Dawson is the one who deserves far, far more chances to show off her range. Fingers crossed Hollywood will catch on.
3) Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl: SPOILER ALERT, Rosamund Pike deserves an Oscar for a hair flip. You know the one! Unless you haven’t seen the movie! In which case…aaack! See it so we can talk about her. She’s bloody fantastic.
2) Jenny Slate, Obvious Child: Yes, I interviewed her and have been a longtime fan, but she’s second on this list because I genuinely thought Obvious Child took tremendous acting chops to pull off. Comedy is hard, right? Abortion comedy is harder. Donna the hapless comedian never doubts that an abortion is the right path, but that doesn’t stop her from revealing glimmers of the pain and shame she’s feeling underneath her quirky bravura. Plus, like Dawson, Slate nails every step of the romcom journey, visibly falling in love despite herself and her ridiculous circumstances. Her performance also spoke to me personally because I know the struggling Brooklynite artist life, and it all felt startlingly lived-in, like a friend I never knew I had. Honestly I just love the way this actress wears her heart on her sleeve, inviting you into her inner world of jokes and curiosity and, most of all, joy.
1) Julianne Moore, Still Alice: Finally, at the end of this long list, the Academy’s tastes and mine have aligned. I fully agree with the notion that Moore is the favorite to win. The most underrated actress in Hollywood will finally get her due with this ehh movie featuring a performance so stellar it will make her Oscar more than just a body-of-work inevitability. She charts every moment of her character’s decline into early-onset Alzheimer’s with admirable restraint, burying fear and despair for the sake of the people she so clearly adores. I just couldn’t help marveling at how few other actors out there could do what she’s doing in this otherwise mediocre film.
Happy Oscar Season, everyone! Next year let’s spice things up and do seeded nominations.