'Birdman' battles 'Boyhood' on Oscar night 

click to enlarge Directed by Richard Linklater and co-starring Patricia Arquette, "Boyhood" is among the 2014 films in the spotlight at the 87th annual Academy Awards, which are being presented Feb. 22 in Los Angeles. - COURTESY IFC FILMS
  • Directed by Richard Linklater and co-starring Patricia Arquette, "Boyhood" is among the 2014 films in the spotlight at the 87th annual Academy Awards, which are being presented Feb. 22 in Los Angeles.
It's exciting when a movie like "Boyhood" comes along and everyone agrees it’s great, and it’s exciting when such a movie becomes an Oscar front-runner. At the same time, we love challenges. The 87th annual Oscar race is even more interesting since "Boyhood" has come up against solid contenders: the equally great "Birdman" has charged up, and the controversial hit "American Sniper" has thrown down the gauntlet.

Best Picture

All eight nominees are pretty good. The least interesting – “The Theory of Everything" and "The Imitation Game" – are the most typical Oscar-type movies. That means the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has embraced films that are not typical, specifically, 2014’s three best movies: "Boyhood," "Birdman" and "The Grand Budapest Hotel." "Boyhood" seemed to be ahead, until "Birdman" took Producer's Guild and Director's Guild awards (considered the closest Oscar predictors). Yet unlike “Boyhood,” “American Sniper," a surprise breakout hit in January, also is nominated for best editing, whose winner often gets best movie.

Will win: "Birdman"

Could win: "Boyhood" or "American Sniper"

Should win: "Boyhood"

Write-in: "Under the Skin"

Best Director

Clint Eastwood (“American Sniper”) was not nominated, and Wes Anderson (“Grand Budapest Hotel”), Morten Tyldum (“Imitation Game”) and Bennett Miller ( “Foxcathcher”) have little chance. Alejandro González Iñárritu won Director's Guild for “Birdman” and Richard Linklater (“Boyhood”) has won about everything else. Both are great achievements in directing, but, frankly, Linklater, a solid independent filmmaker for 25 years, deserves it. He rarely missteps, and occasionally ventures into greatness. "Birdman" is Iñárritu's first interesting film after a series of Oscar-mongering works.

Will win: Richard Linklater

Could win: Alejandro González Iñárritu

Should win: Linklater

Write-in: Jonathan Glazer, "Under the Skin"

Best Actor

There are two strong finalists after eliminating Benedict Cumberbatch for “Imitation Game” (he will have another turn, soon) and Steve Carell for “Foxcatcher.” Bradley Cooper has a distant chance, given "American Sniper’s" popularity and his two nominations in the past two years. In “Birdman,” Michael Keaton gives 2014’s best performance – ferocious, maniacal, obsessed, reckless, dangerous, funny, moving and deeply personal. And Eddie Redmayne does very strong work as Stephen Hawking in “The Theory of Everything,” but it's typical for the Oscars, whose voters often gravitate to movies about real people, especially real people with a disease, disability or disfigurement. Meanwhile, comic actors rarely get noticed. Tradition holds that Redmayne will win, but maybe more daring voters will give Keaton the edge?

Will win: Eddie Redmayne

Could win: Michael Keaton

Should win: Keaton

Write-in: Miles Teller, "Whiplash"

Best Actress

No contest here, and the category is as boring as the competition. It's yet another example of how every year there's a deplorable lack of movies about grown-up women, with parts for real actresses. It's a shame that the brilliant Julianne Moore, with a resume full of terrific, smart movies and four prior nominations, will win for "Still Alice," a painfully routine disease-of-the-week weepie. Felicity Jones (“Theory of Everything”) is riding the coattails of a much-nominated movie, Marion Cotillard (“Two Days, One Night”) and Reese Witherspoon (“Wild”) already have won, and Rosamund Pike's film "Gone Girl" has all but disappeared from critics' and voters' minds.

Will win: Julianne Moore

Could win: No one

Should win: Rosamund Pike

Write-in: Scarlett Johansson, "Under the Skin"

Best Supporting Actor

J.K. Simmons remains ahead of the pack. He controls the category like his villainous Fletcher controls the practice room in "Whiplash" – one swift jerk of his hand, and everything stops. A win for the beloved character actor would be satisfying. Ethan Hawke also deserves to win for great work in "Boyhood." Edward Norton has his first nomination in 14 years for "Birdman," in a canny commentary on his own notorious reputation – but that reputation may keep him from winning. Mark Ruffalo (“Foxcatcher”) likely will be here again someday, and Robert Duvall (“The Judge”) has been here many times (including his first nomination for "The Godfather").

Will win: J.K. Simmons

Could win: No one

Should win: Ethan Hawke

Write-in: Andy Serkis, "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes"

Best Supporting Actress

If "Boyhood" only wins one Oscar, this will be it. Patricia Arquette has had the momentum all along and it hasn’t flagged. A favorite for years, she does her best work here. Although she ages 12 years on camera and goes through decidedly unflattering phases, her soulful performance outshines the film’s time gimmick. She's vulnerable, a little unsure, and it’s heartwarming to see how her character survives tough situations and makes tough decisions. Emma Stone, a worthy runner-up, also is powerful in "Birdman." Keira Knightley (“Imitation Game”), Laura Dern (“Wild”) and Meryl Streep (“Into the Woods”) are just along for the ride.

Will win: Patricia Arquette

Could win: Emma Stone

Should win: Arquette

Write-in: Tilda Swinton, "Snowpiercer"

Best Screenplay (Original)

Once again, "Birdman" and "Boyhood" butt heads, and the terrific "The Grand Budapest Hotel" is in there, too. (It just goes to show that the movie business needs to take more risks on original material.) Although it’s beautiful, the "Boyhood" screenplay isn’t currently favored by tastemakers. Some folks are betting on "Birdman," but more are putting "Budapest" in front, and a Writer's Guild win almost clinches it. "Nightcrawler" and "Foxcatcher" won't win, but are worth seeing.

Will win: "The Grand Budapest Hotel"

Could win: "Birdman" or "Boyhood"

Should win: "Boyhood"

Write-in: "The Lego Movie"

Best Screenplay (Adapted)

Though some pundits are choosing "Whiplash," the front-runner is "The Imitation Game," mainly because it has a bunch of nominations, and its only real chance of winning is in this category. As for the other nominees: "Inherent Vice" is confusing, "American Sniper" is controversial and "The Theory of Everything" is too simplified.

Will win: "The Imitation Game"

Could win: "Whiplash"

Should win: "Whiplash"

Write-in: "Gone Girl"

Animated Feature

Aside from the "Selma" snub and overall whiteness of 2014’s nominees, the most head-scratching controversy this year was that "The Lego Movie," a winner of other awards throughout the season, wasn’t nominated – perhaps because it has an irreverent tone or includes live-action footage? The front-runner is "How to Train Your Dragon 2," which is dazzling, but lacks the humor of "Big Hero 6" and "The Boxtrolls" and the poetry of "The Tale of The Princess Kaguya" or "Song of the Sea."

Will win: "How to Train Your Dragon 2"

Could win: "Big Hero 6"

Should win: "Big Hero 6"

Write-in: "The Lego Movie"

Foreign Language Film

With its outdated rules, this category rarely boasts worthy nominees. Perhaps even more alarming is the sad state of foreign film distribution in the U.S. Despite that, a great film – Pawel Pawlikowski's "Ida," from Poland – is among this year's contenders, and even more surprisingly, it actually could win. It's too bad Jean-Luc Godard's "Goodbye to Language" couldn't have been considered, just to shake things up.

Will win: "Ida"

Could win: "Leviathan"

Should win: "Ida"

Write-in: "Goodbye to Language"

Documentary Feature

Excellent, entertaining documentaries such as "Jodorowsky's Dune," "Life Itself," "National Gallery" and "To Be Takei" were not included, and it’s not a big surprise because entertainment typically takes a backseat to importance in this category. This year’s front-runner "Citizenfour," the clandestine tale of whistleblower Edward Snowden, not only exposes injustices, but also the vengeful, ugly way that people like Snowden are treated. Nevertheless, some posit that Netflix's very good "Virunga" has a shot, given its cute gorillas and depiction of evil, greedy corporations and the good folks who stand up to them.

Will win: "Citizenfour"

Could win: "Virunga"

Should win: "Citizenfour"

Write-in: "Jodorowsky's Dune"


Groundbreaking genius Emmanuel Lubezki deserves the win for "Birdman" for the way he created the illusion of an astounding, exhilaratingly fluid single shot. He also won last year for his equally groundbreaking work on "Gravity" (after being nominated five times). The equally great Roger Deakins, who never has won, received his 12th nomination. Unfortunately "Unbroken" is not very good, and whatever momentum it may have had is long gone. The Academy could give it to Deakins – and though he deserves an award at some point – it would be a shame to give it to him for this film. It should be noted that other nominees – "Ida," "The Grand Budapest Hotel" and "Mr. Turner" – are excellent, too.

Will win: Emmanuel Lubezki, “Birdman”

Could win: Roger Deakins, “Unbroken”

Should win: "Birdman"

Write-in: Rodrigo Prieto, "The Homesman"

About The Author

Jeffrey M. Anderson

Jeffrey M. Anderson

Jeffrey M. Anderson has written about movies for the San Francisco Examiner since 2000, in addition to many other publications and websites. He holds a master's degree in cinema, and has appeared as an expert on film festival panels, television, and radio. He is a founding member of the San Francisco Film Critics... more
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