MCN Columnists
David Poland

By David Poland poland@moviecitynews.com

20 Weeks To Oscar… 3 Days Left

The irony of this moment is that with almost nothing left to say, the world’s media suddenly feels compelled to say EVERYTHING all at once.

Here’s the deal, as concisely as I can offer it…

Best Picture is a giant cluster of possibilities, none of which is sure. The only film that I truly think is locked out at this point is Selma, because the anger around the lack of more nominations slapped a lot of Academy voters right in the face. Had Selma been the winner, it would not have been an embarrassment… nor would it be locked into the slot as one of the greatest films ever made. But the social game blew up in the film’s face. Hollywood prefers meaningless snubs, like Ben Affleck not getting a Best Director slot, to a discussion of race that points a finger at the voters (fairly or not).

That leaves 7.

And that invokes all that is good and bad about preferential voting.

Simplifying… do half of the ballots +1 (approximately 3001) have your title in the first round of counting? That seems impossible this year.

Without getting into a complicated attempt to explain how the preferential voting process works, each following round disqualifies the lowest/lower vote-getters and redistributes their highest still-qualified vote.

Preferential Voting has been defended in some corners. The LA Times took a shot at explaining the process again this year… and got a kick in the teeth for getting some of it wrong. Writers point out that the Australian Parliament, 10 American cities, some universities, and others use the system.

But while the preferential vote is not an issue – which suggests to me that it should not exist – in most Best Picture races, where one or two films seem to dominate the voting. Everyone seems to assume – though none of us actually know – that most Best Picture votes in this system go to the second round, where there is one redistribution of votes, and a winner is selected.

But this is a unique year. There seems to be a lot of support for pretty much all of the 8 nominees. And this is where the convolutions of preferential voting get (potentially) ugly. The more broadly support is spread over the 8 titles, the more rounds of redistribution become inevitable.

The purpose of preferential voting is to avoid one passion film that is widely disliked by the rest of the voting group from winning because there are so many candidates. In a group like The Academy, that means that 6000 or so votes (the full membership is now over 6200 because of expansion to attempt greater diversity in age, color, and gender), making 751 the minimum possible winning total in a straight up vote of #1s, more realistically meaning that 1000 or 1200 votes could conceivably win Best Picture without a rule requiring adjustment. The argument against this being that no one wants a film to win Best Picture when only 20% of The Academy loves it when 60% might hate it.

I don’t actually think this would be so bad. I see the value of this system in political races in which there are more than 3 or 4 candidates. The cost of re-votes is prohibitive and there is a public interest in a winner by majority. But with The Academy, the stakes are much lower and there is no situation in which one could anticipate a radical mob of 1200 in The Academy picking a porn film (or some such horror) to win Best Picture to make a statement.

For the record, this also means that I discount any real possibility of enough people “gaming the system,” as people call it, to make a major difference in what happens in a vote of 6000 individuals. I do think the smaller branches are subject to this kind of thing when it comes to nominations. If your branch has 350 people in it and 100 are so committed to one film that they avoid voting for what they see as a serious competitor from a short list, that could certainly keep the threatening film from a nomination. But I’m not talking about categories other than Best Picture today… or the nominating process.

Now… even if you don’t think a straight majority is okay, I would argue that there are better systems to make this work. My personal preference would be for a Top 5 vote in which every vote is counted and weighted. It’s simple and more voices with wider interests would, I feel, be heard that way. Or heck.. do the whole group of nominees, whatever the number. Getting a 50% +1 majority would not be an issue, as every film would have as many votes as are counted.

And if voters want to, effectively, vote against a film by making it their #8 or whatever, so be it. It is an election, not a game.

With that issue brought up again… and put to bed for now… the other 24 categories are going to be interesting as well… for much the same reason that the Best Picture race is so interesting this year. There aren’t a lot of obvious answers.

Yes… there are JK Simmons, Patricia Arquette, and Julianne Moore. All seem pretty obvious at this point. To be honest, I don’t think Moore, who has given better performances in better movies, is a natural slam-dunk. But there hasn’t been much push from anyone else to keep her from the win. So I don’t really see an upset happening there.

And then there are the other 21 categories.

Actor has become a 3-horse race… the never-before-nominated Redmayne and Keaton, and the thrice-in-a-row nominated Bradley Cooper. True toss-up.

Director seems like a competition between two brilliant stunts… Alejandro G. Iñárritu and the “one-shot” vs Richard Linklater and the 12-year journey. And Wes Anderson, director of well-loved and profoundly stunty films is right there in case the leaders somehow kill one another off.

Both Screenplay votes seem precursor-settled and reality-up-in-the-air. The Grand Budapest Hotel and The Imitation Game have won a lot of hardware so far. But Birdman and Boyhood and Whiplash and American Sniper all seem right in range to “upset.” Often, when you watch The Oscars, there are certain categories that seem to signal what is coming at the end of the night. This could be the tipping point this year… or an utter distraction of the “so close… but so far” variety. We’ll only know in retrospect.

Cinematography seems to be locking in for Chivo for the second straight year. But then again, it would be the second straight year. Do people think about that when they vote? Does the name Emmanuel Lubezki even register or are voters mostly thinking about the movie they thought looked coolest? (“Manny Lubeski” could have come over from Poland 40 years ago. He didn’t… but he could have.) Again, The Grand Budapest Hotel, shot by Robert D. Yeoman, looks pretty great. And Yeoman has been around this game, in LA, for 30 years.

Production Design seems to be settled in with Grand Budapest… but it is such a diverse category. You have a big showy fantasy-ish pieces in Into The Woods, early-1800’s England in Mr. Turner, the space/corn continuum in Interstellar, and 1940s England, including a cool model for the first computer in The Imitation Game. Budapest is the biggest show-er in this group… but sometimes they push back on that.

Costume Design is also interesting. Budapest‘s high style, Maleficent‘s high goth, Into The Woods‘ high/low, Inherent Vice‘s high high, and Mr. Turner‘s nose high in the air. Some say Budapest is locked in. I see this as a pretty open race.

Editing is a pretty distinct choice. 12 years cut together in Boyhood. Tempo setting on Whiplash. Action in American Sniper. And Wes Anderson pacing in The Grand Budapest Hotel. You even have William Goldenberg for The Imitation Game, a win that seems unlikely, but would be for a guy who is a longtime part of “the family” (as is Joel Cox, fwiw). Complete crap shoot, as far as I’m concerned. Could be a vote for the favorite film. Could be hooked into the time thing. Could be that a beautifully edited, but cut-heavy music piece feels like the most edited.

The sound editing and mixing categories are always mysteries. What those categories are meant to honor and what the wide expanse of Academy voters think they are voting for is always at loggerheads.

Visual Effects would be well served if every voter could get a look at the “bake-off” reels. This is another category where voters often go for “most effects” because they really don’t know what they are looking at when they consider their picks.

Make-Up and Hair is an interesting one because it does seem so obvious. Or does it? This season in particular, it’s The Hair (Budapest) vs The Nose (Foxcatcher) vs The Skin (Guardians). But is this fair to any of the contenders? For instance, on Guardians, the green skin was done by the make-up team, but the scarred Drax skin was done by a prosthetics team. And how would a voter balance that out, even if they knew? Ironically, this is a category for work that is really meant to be seamless… unnoticeable. And in many ways, it is. So people pick what they like… which probably means Budapest.

Score is interesting this year. Since 1946, when it became a 5-person race, there has been a composer nominated for two films in the same year 14 times (8 of those times, it was John Williams) and the only time any of them have won was when John Williams won for Star Wars, the score of which was an actual bestseller on vinyl. This year, 8-time nominee Alexandre Desplat is up for The Grand Budapest Hotel and The Imitation Game. He seems a lock. Only one of his competitors has a Best Picture nod to go with the score. None of the scores have become pop hits and none of the nominated songs are from any of the films nominated for score. But history suggests that Alexandre is going to be left at the altar again. Or maybe history just isn’t an issue this year.

Song would seem to be a mortal lock for Selma‘s “Glory.” But the name-calling put a lot of Academy voters (male and female) off. So maybe there is a surprise coming.

Documentary branch seemed to push away any of Citizenfour‘s seriously entertaining competitors. But we know that the vote of the full Academy tends to go for lighter, apolitical fare. Does this mean Virunga or Finding Vivian Maier? I think so. But every Academy rule is naturally meant to be broken.

Foreign Language is always rife with surprises. Ida is the only film to get a nomination outside of Foreign Language, which bodes well for a win in this category. Wild Tales is the most entertaining of the group. Leviathan is somewhere in between these two. Coin flip.

Animated Feature has been battled out hard by DreamWorks Animation and Disney. DWA seems to have done well in overcoming the objection to a “2” at the end of an Oscar nominated title. Any of the other three films seems like a longshot simply on the basis of familiarity of the name. Lean Dragon… don’t be surprised by BH6… and don’t have a heart attack if The Tale of Princess Kaguya, one of the last films from the founding leaders of Studio Ghibli finds its way to the podium.

The shorts? No idea. If 20% of voters have watched them, I’d be shocked. Dart board.

And with that, I wish you a great Oscar Sunday. It could be the most obvious series of winners ever… or the most chopped up night with no one getting more than 3 wins. That, my friends, is why they run the race.

5 Responses to “20 Weeks To Oscar… 3 Days Left”

  1. Mark says:

    “Does the name Emmanuel Lubezki even register or are voters mostly thinking about the movie they thought looked coolest?”

    Is his name on the ballot at all? I read somewhere that technical categories only name the film, not the people nominated. That’s why Deakins is still “oscarless”, I think.

  2. Bob Burns says:

    So the lead of this story is that the Academy members are a bunch of thin skinned thugs who punish criticism with their votes as an object lesson against anybody who might be outraged by their racism in the future?

    They are, in plain sight, racist in the way they conduct their business and and in the way they exercise their power as Academy voters.

  3. Jerry says:

    I am definitely rooting for a massive upset by Lubezi since so many scenes in Ida look incredible.

  4. Daniella Isaacs says:

    It would be so refreshing it IDA won the cinematography trophy. Simple, perfect images. I could stare at them all day. For so many people who really love film, THAT is what the cinema is–1.33 to 1, black and white: RULES OF THE GAME, ON THE WATERFRONT, LA STRADA, ASHES AND DIAMONDS, WINTER LIGHT… Not gonna happen, though.

  5. Hatem Alaa says:

    Who Will and Should Win?
    Picture
    American Sniper
    Birdman
    Boyhood
    The Grand Budapest Hotel
    The Imitation Game
    Selma
    The Theory of Everything
    Whiplash
    Who Will Win: Birdman
    I think that “Boyhood” is too much of an indie to take home the big prize and it is slightly overhyped by the fact that it was shot over twelve years. Between the two, “Birdman” is the worthy winner and likely more suited to the Academy’s taste – after all it is a movie about actors that is original in every aspect of it not just the way it was shot.
    Who Should Win: The Grand Budapest Hotel
    Wes Anderson’s crowning achievement and the most entertaining movie of the year that is simply a breakthrough in storytelling and filmmaking that is engaging with the right mix of drama and comedy.

    Director
    Alejandro G. Inarritu – Birdman
    Richard Linklater – Boyhood
    Bennett Miller – Foxcatcher
    Wes Anderson – The Grand Budapest Hotel
    Morten Tyldum – The Imitation Game
    Who Will Win: Alejandro G. Inarritu
    There is lots of love for Linklater but I think it is more for the daringness of his project. Inarritu did something original and his DGA win pretty much seals his Oscar.
    Who Should Win: Alejandro G. Inarritu
    Anderson did wonders with “Budapest Hotel” but there is no denying the originality of Inarritu’s directorial style for “Birdman” especially with the film shot as if it is just one single take.

    Actor
    Steve Carell – Foxcatcher
    Bradley Cooper – American Sniper
    Benedict Cumberbatch – The Imitation Game
    Michael Keaton – Birdman
    Eddie Redmayne – The Theory of Everything
    Who Will Win: Eddie Redmayne
    A tight race between Redmayne and Keaton but I think the Academy will go with Redmayne who delivered the most challenging and transformative performance of the five as Stephen Hawking in a good yet overrated film. However, there is a chance that Keaton – the frontrunner from the start of the awards season only to have Redmayne’s chances increase with the latter’s SAG win – wins as the Academy loves this kind of a comeback role.
    Who Should Win: Eddie Redmayne
    One of the strongest year in recent memory for actors and I am still bewildered that the likes of David Oyelowo (“Selma”) and Ralph Fiennes (“ Budapest Hotel”) didn’t make the cut although their performances are better than the five nominees in my opinion. Carell is great but it is is more of a supporting role and Cooper (while delivering a career-best performance that is more worthy of awards consideration than last year’s “American Hustle”) is a last minute addition who should just be happy to be part of the pack. Cumberbatch is great but it is just not his year yet. So it boils down to Keaton and Redmayne. Although I loved “Birdman” yet only liked “Theory”, there is no denying the strength of Redmayne’s emotional and physical transformation to portray Hawking’s genius and humor despite his devastating physical state.

    Actress
    Marion Cotillard – Two Days, One Night
    Felicity Jones – The Theory of Everything
    Julianne Moore – Still Alice
    Rosamund Pike – Gone Girl
    Reese Witherspoon – Wild
    Who Will Win: Julianne Moore
    There has a lot of mention that 2014 was weak year for female lead roles but I must say that the Academy picked a perfect list of strong performances (probably because choice was easy). It would be a big surprise if Moore doesn’t win for her demanding, emotionally draining role as a linguistics professor with early onset Alzheimer. Plus she is one of the best living actresses and her Oscar is way overdue (she was nominated four times before).
    Who Should Win: Julianne Moore
    A part of me wanted to say Cotillard who was a surprise nominee for her devastatingly real portrayal of an impoverished, depressed mother who asks her co-workers to vote for her to stay on the job instead of getting their bonuses in this little French film. Another film wanted to say Witherspoon in a career-best, whole-rounded, challenging performance as Cheryl Strayed who hiked the Pacific Coast Trail. But I will go with Moore partly because she is one of my all-time favorite actresses and should have gotten her Oscar ages ago. But most importantly, her performance is excellent and possibly the most resonating and moving of the five. It elevates the little movie to a completely different level.

    Supporting Actor
    Robert Duvall – The Judge
    Ethan Hawke – Boyhood
    Edward Norton – Birdman
    Mark Ruffalo – Foxcatcher
    J.K. Simmons – Whiplash
    Who Will Win: J.K. Simmons
    A very strong category (with the exception of Ruffalo). Edward Norton is great and delivers the strongest role in “Birdman” in my view. But there is no denying Simmons’ strength in a soon-to-be-classic performance that showcases the thin line between a mentor and a monster. He also virtually won all other awards.
    Who Should Win: J.K. Simmons
    Please see above – I just loved this performance.

    Supporting Actress
    Patricia Arquette – Birdman
    Laura Dern – Wild
    Keira Knightley – The Imitation Game
    Emma Stone – Birdman
    Meryl Streep – Into the Woods
    Who Will Win: Patricia Arquette
    A weak category that makes it easy to single out Arquette who is the heart and soul of “Boyhood” as the loving mother who makes awful guy choices. Like Simmons, she also swept the majority of pre-Oscars awards.
    Who Should Win: Patricia Arquette
    I believe there are only two really good roles here” Arquette and the always-reliable, three-time-winner Streep. But I also have to choose Arquette for her subtly strong performance in “Boyhood”. She plays the most interesting character in the movie and just steals all scenes she is in.

    Animated Feature
    Big Hero 6
    The Boxtrolls
    How to Train Your Dragon 2
    Song of the Sea
    The Tale of Princess Kaguya
    Who Will Win: How to Train Your Dragon 2
    There was a lot of backlash on the absence of “The Lego Movie” from the list of nominees. It should have been there, yes. But it shouldn’t have won. “How to Train Your Dragon 2” is the one that should and will win with “Big Hero 6” a close second. The movie improves on the popular original, has great animation and is entertaining and extremely moving.
    Who Should Win: How to Train Your Dragon 2
    I haven’t seen “Song” or “Princess” but “Dragon 2” was undoubtedly one of the best family movie-going experiences of the year.

    Documentary Feature
    Citizenfour
    Finding Vivian Maier
    Last Days in Vietnam
    The Salt of the Earth
    Virunga
    Who Will Win: Citizenfour
    I haven’t seen any of the movies in this category but given the great acclaim for Citizenfour, it would be a big surprise if it doesn’t win.

    Foreign Language Film
    Ida (Poland)
    Leviathan (Russia)
    Tangerines (Estonia)
    Timbuktu (Mauritania)
    Wild Tales (Argentina)
    Who Will Win: Ida
    I also haven’t seen any of the nominees but it looks like “Ida” has this one locked. It was probably the most seen of the five by Academy members too.

    Adapted Screenplay
    American Sniper
    The Imitation Game
    Inherent Vice
    The Theory of Everything
    Whiplash
    Who Will Win: Whiplash
    “Whiplash” will benefit from Academy rules that led it to be nominated in this category not in Original Screenplay (because there was a short movie by writer-director Damien Chazelle preceding the movie that was only done to secure funding for this movie). Chance of an upset from “The Imitation Game” (which could be its only Oscar win) especially after its WGA win –.
    Who Should Win: Whiplash
    One of the best movies of the year with a great original script. It benefits from landing in the relatively weak Adapted Screenplay category.

    Original Screenplay
    Birdman
    Boyhood
    Foxcatcher
    The Grand Budapest Hotel
    Nightcrawler
    Who Will Win: The Grand Budapest Hotel
    A very competitive category with good chances of upsets from the greatly loved 12-year-saga “Boyhood” and one of the year’s most original movies “Birdman”. But “Budapest Hotel” should and will likely win this category (cemented by its SAG win). It is a masterpiece in storytelling that it feels as if it was adapted from a novel. Plus Wes Anderson was nominated in this category twice before.
    Who Should Win: The Grand Budapest Hotel

    Cinematography
    Birdman
    The Grand Budapest Hotel
    Ida
    Mr. Turner
    Unbroken
    Who Will Win: Birdman
    You can’t have a conversation about “Birdman” without mention of its unique single-take feel with credit primarily to go to the great Emmanuel Lubezki who will likely win for the second year in a row (last year he won for his remarkable work on “Gravity”). He also shot one of the most memorable and, well, best-shot Times Square sequences with Keaton in his undies.
    Who Should Win: Birdman

    Costume Design
    The Grand Budapest Hotel
    Inherent Vice
    Into the Woods
    Maleficent
    Mr. Turner
    Who Will Win: The Grand Budapest Hotel
    A close race between “Budapest Hotel” and “Woods”. The Academy has deservedly shown a lot of love for “Budapest” and this is one of the categories where it will earn the love. The costumes are unique and colorful. Milena Canonero is also a veteran working since the 1970s with three Oscars to her credit (“Barry Lyndon”, “Chariots of Fire”, “Marie Antoinette”).
    Who Should Win: Into the Woods
    You got to hand it to Colleen Atwood when it comes to challenging costumes (she also has three Oscars – “Chicago”, “Memoirs of a Geisha” and “Alice in Wonderland”). “Woods” was underrated and not loved enough, which doesn’t work to its favor especially when there is a movie with more love and challenging costumes. But Atwood managed to re-create costumes of most-known Grimm Brothers fairytales in one movie to perfection.

    Editing
    American Sniper
    Boyhood
    The Grand Budapest Hotel
    The Imitation Game
    Whiplash
    Who Will Win: Whiplash
    Although there is a lot of love and push for first-time nominee and longtime Richard Linklater collaborator Sandra Adair, I would pick another first timer – Tom Cross for “Whiplash”, which is possibly the most artistic of the five. Adair had a tough job going through footage shot over twelve years and delivering one cohesive end result. But Cross’s editing was key (especially in the movie’s enigmatic finale) in creating a thriller out of a movie about a guy who wants to be a top drummer.
    Who Should Win: Whiplash
    I would have loved to see “Birdman” here (there must be credit to the editor for making the movie feel unedited) but I would have probably still gone with “Whiplash”.

    Makeup and Hairstyling
    Foxcatcher
    The Grand Budapest Hotel
    Guardians of the Galaxy
    Who Will Win: Guardians of the Galaxy
    A tough one to call as it is not a very strong category with an obvious snub for “Into the Woods”. “Budapest” could win, however, given the amount of love for the movie but other than the Tilda Swinton transformation, the makeup is not that obvious. “Galaxy” had the greatest amount and most challenging makeup of the three.
    Who Should Win: Guardians of the Galaxy

    Original Score
    The Grand Budapest Hotel
    The Imitiation Game
    Interstellar
    Mr. Turner
    The Theory of Everything
    Who Will Win: The Grand Budapest Hotel
    Alexandre Desplat was nominated six times before and this year he is nominated twice for “Budapest Hotel” and “The Imitation Game”, which runs the risk of his votes being split. But, again, “Budapest Hotel” was the most nominated and with the absence of the supposed winner “Birdman” (tied for most nominations) from the list for silly Academy rules (it sampled too much classical music!), it has it sealed. I also think it is high time for Desplat to win for his memorable, happy-go-lucky score for the movie. Johann Johannson’s classical score for “Theory” could be the upset.
    Who Should Win: Interstellar
    The brilliant almost single-note score from Hans Zimmer is one of the best thing’s about Nolan’s space saga. But it is too subtle for the Academy to recognize.

    Original Song
    Everything Is Awesome – The Lego Movie
    Glory – Selma
    Grateful – Beyond the Lights
    I’m Not Gonna Miss You – Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me
    Lost Stars – Begin Again
    Who Will Win: Glory
    It is an outrage that Selma only got two nominations and this is the only category (since the other is Best Picture) where the academy can redeem itself.
    Who Should Win: Lost Stars
    I just love that song and Adam Levine’s high-pithed falsetto at the bridge. It is also a significant song in the movie that is played three times!

    Production Design
    The Grand Budapest Hotel
    The Imitation Game
    Interstellar
    Into the Woods
    Mr. Turner
    Who Will Win: The Grand Budapest Hotel
    “Budapest Hotel” was one of the most-colorful and best-looking films of the year with several beautiful settings especially the title hotel. It will and should win.
    Who Should Win: The Grand Budapest Hotel

    Sound Editing
    American Sniper
    Birdman
    The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies
    Interstellar
    Unbroken
    Who Will Win: American Sniper
    The Academy just loves to award war movies in the sound categories (will disregard “Unbroken” for obvious reasons) and this is possibly where the only love for Best Picture nominee and surprise hit “Sniper” will be showcases.
    Who Should Win: The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies
    Peter Jackson fantasy films are always the most challenging in the sound-editing domain if you ask me and this one is no exception.

    Sound Mixing
    American Sniper
    Birdman
    Interstellar
    Unbroken
    Whiplash
    Who Will Win: Whiplash
    Usually one film nabs both sound awards but it would be a shame if “Whiplash” doesn’t win this one – it is a movie about music and sound plays a great role in creating its immersive, tense vibe.
    Who Should Win: Whiplash

    Visual Effects
    Captain America: The Winter Soldier
    Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
    Guardians of the Galaxy
    Interstellar
    X-Men: Days of Future Past
    Who Will Win: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
    “Apes” represents another leap forward for motion-capture technology. The apes look real and their numbers are just far more than ever.
    Who Should Win: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Quote Unquotesee all »

“Dude, I don’t like the way you talk, bro. How can you tell me that it’s going to be hard? Do you see a lot of people like you writing stories? Give me a break, bro. That’s your strength, that you’re not like us. Go out there and tell your stories. Don’t go out there and try to be like Quentin or me or anybody else. We need you. Tell me what makes you angry, why you’re arrogant, or fearful, whatever it is. Don’t hide anything. Be honest. What is that thing that bothers you and makes you distinct? Everyone’s looking for you. A Mexican point-of-view to tell a story right now? I’m telling you, everybody wants that right now. I desperately need you to tell your story in your way. You are essential.”
~ M. Night Shyamalan

“My films are always brought to life from an idea, a coincidence, or a dreamlike magic. An ephemeral moment that settles in my mind and starts to bloom. The plot slowly appears before my eyes, and there’s nothing left but to write it. I actually do use a mood board. And location scouting is essential to the realization of the film. I’m inspired by architecture — the beauty of certain neighborhoods, the mystery in odd buildings, or streets that suggest psychoanalytic theories. I only choose my actors after I write the script.”
~ Dario Argento