With the Academy Awards rolling around, The Argus Arts section took look at the nominees and made our own predictions. We asked who might win, which underdogs we are holding out for, and which of the absent films should have snuck into the Academy’s bracket. In the process, we examined the ways in which categories are organized, judged, and evaluated, and revisited those films that have moved us over the course of 2014.
The Oscars, almost by definition, highlight the year’s grander pictures. The Best Original and Best Adapted Screenplay are able to highlight a wider array of films, simply by virtue of the larger number of total nominees. The awards do often go to some of the competition’s dark horses; even if the nominees match up with the Best Picture nominees, it’s a much less cut-and-dry competition.
It would seem that this year’s set of nominees in particular seeks to highlight some of the year’s darker, edgier screenplays. While this year’s awards in particular may seem poised to spurn the year’s “prestige” pictures, the screenplay awards in particular focus on art-house and independent films.
To call the Original Screenplay nominees “small” films would be a misnomer. Each of the screenplays and films nominated features acclaimed writers or powerful stars. But here, the Academy seems far more willing to value genre filmmaking than other non-technical categories in the competition. Certainly, there is the “art film” in “Birdman” and a “historical” picture in “Foxcatcher” (although neither of these hit the traditional notes of the often milquetoast Oscar winners). But there is also Dan Gilroy’s excellent, chilling crime epic “Nightcrawler”; Richard Linklater’s superb, sincere “Boyhood”; and Wes Anderson’s touchingly human (yet slapstick-heavy) “The Grand Budapest Hotel.”
The Adapted Screenplays feature a more “traditional” group of Oscar nominees. “The Imitation Game,” “American Sniper,” and “The Theory of Everything” tell incredibly important stories (although their success varies), but they do fit squarely within the traditional Oscar biopic wheelhouse. “Whiplash” and “Inherent Vice” are the two outliers, with the former a more traditional entrant: a relatively down-to-earth story that is nonetheless captivating. The latter may be Paul Thomas Anderson’s weirdest film yet, even from a man who once rained frogs down on California.
But each category has its share of major snubs, and this year is no exception. It’s a crime that J.C. Chandor’s modern noir masterpiece “A Most Violent Year” didn’t receive a nomination for Original Screenplay; as an exploration of the perversion of the American dream, few screenplays were as powerful or as brutally honest. Even more astounding is that Gillian Flynn’s superb screenplay for “Gone Girl” didn’t even receive a nod. No film was as emotionally taxing.
So the question of who will win remains.The Original Screenplay competition has a number of front-runners. “Birdman” seems in the lead, placing Hollywood and art as a whole under an emotional, psychedelic, hallucinatory microscope. It would not be an undeserved win: Alejandro González Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr., and Armando Bo deliver one of the year’s most fascinating psychological deconstructions in the form of Riggan Thomson, a washed-up former action star.
But Linklater’s “Boyhood” is also a favorite, because outside of its unique production history, it tells a deeply human story. It’s sappy at times, but each milestone feels so sincere that it’s impossible not to get caught up in its web. Divorce, addiction, love, sex: “Boyhood” captures the complexities of all stages of life.
The outlier in this category, then, is “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” Wes Anderson’s third major nomination (his first was for “The Royal Tenenbaums,” his second for “Moonrise Kingdom”). And it may be Anderson’s finest film, creating a thrilling romp through Eastern Europe that nonetheless illustrates the constant, inevitable march of time. In spite of Anderson’s quirky, stylized dialogue, the two tragic stories of the film (M. Gustav and Zero) weave together seamlessly.
The Adapted Screenplay Award may likely go to one of the three biopics, probably “American Sniper” or “The Imitation Game.” But while “American Sniper” had well-crafted, well-shot scenes, its nationalist tones often felt alienating and simplistic in the screenplay, and the powerful moments of “The Imitation Game” were not necessarily supported by the film’s jumpy, divided narrative. But the award could go to an outlier, and, should this be the case, “Whiplash” seems all but poised to take the win. And it’s hardly a shocking one; it bewitched in its raw reversion of the typical student-teacher dynamic and its powerfully inspiring ending.
The least likely (but perhaps most deserving) nominee is “Inherent Vice.” As an adaptation, Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Inherent Vice” perfectly captures Thomas Pynchon’s twisted noir revisionism. But it also pares the original work down to its essentials, creating something that twists and turns delightfully. Issues about coherence be damned. “Inherent Vice” was never about coherence.
Will Win: “Birdman.” With “Boyhood” possibly winning major awards in Directing and Best Picture, it’s likely that Inarritu and company will take this well-deserved win.
Should Win: “The Grand Budapest Hotel.”
Snubbed: “A Most Violent Year.”
Will Win: “Whiplash.”
Should Win: “Inherent Vice.”
Snubbed: “Gone Girl.”