Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Oscars 2014: The Manifesto's Official Oscar Nomination Predictions

Don't look now, but a dynasty is being built in America, as an unstoppable juggernaut—captained by an unflappable, charismatic leader—is seeking to become champion of the world for the second consecutive year. No, I'm not talking about the Seattle Seahawks' ongoing efforts to repeat at the Super Bowl. I'm talking about the Manifesto and its quest to perfectly predict the slate of the Oscars' Best Picture nominees two years running. Now, I recognize that I just compared myself to Russell Wilson, but let's not be ridiculous: Russell Wilson never won this.

Besides, Wilson's presence accounts for roughly 1.9% of the Seahawks' game-day roster; I'm doing this all on my own. In terms of astonishing repeat performances, if I can pull this off, I'd slot it somewhere between Johnny Vander Meer pitching back-to-back no-hitters and Jed Bartlet winning reelection despite the American public discovering that he'd spent the last four years in the Oval Office concealing a life-threatening disease. We're on the brink of history here, people.

So let's get to it. Across all categories, I'm hoping to top the mark of 86% I put up last year (59 of 69). As always, I'm only predicting nominees for 13 of the 21 major categories, so if you're starving for analysis of the major players in the Best Documentary Feature field, you'll have to search elsewhere in this vast wasteland that is the Internet. I will, of course, predict the winner of all 21 feature categories in this space before the show airs on February 22.

One recurring theme you'll notice as you read along: It is very difficult to predict the fortunes of movies one has not yet seen. And thanks to the infuriating practice of studios delaying releases until the last possible moment, there remain an excruciating number of contenders I've yet to see. You've been warned.

American Sniper
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
The Theory of Everything

Comments: Remember, this is a floating field that could yield anywhere between 5 and 10 nominees, depending on how the preferential voting system plays out. But it's generated exactly nine contenders in each of the past three years, so I'm sticking with that magic number until something changes. In terms of safe picks, Birdman and Boyhood will be battling until the end, and The Imitation Game is right there with them. The Grand Budapest Hotel just scored a league-leading 11 BAFTA nominations, so it isn't going anywhere; nor is The Theory of Everything, with its Producers' Guild nomination and its ensemble cast nod from the Screen Actors' Guild. I'm hesitant to call American Sniper a lock, given that audiences haven't seen it yet, but Clint Eastwood's nomination today from the Directors' Guild makes it a near-certainty.

After those six, though, things get tricky. Whiplash's omission would be a travesty, but its buzz seems to have receded over the past month even with J.K. Simmons in desperate need of a bigger trophy case. On the flip side is Nightcrawler, a dark, disturbing movie that's seemingly too nasty for the Academy but that's been racking up the citations of late.

And then, of course, there's Selma. I haven't seen it (I'm correcting that tomorrow), and more importantly, neither did the guilds, as the studio failed to send out screeners. Academy members did receive screeners, but only recently, so it's debatable how many voters have even watched the movie. Still, it's a critically beloved film about a crucial time in American history—can Oscar really afford to let it slide by? I'm wagering no.

Potential upsets: There are two films lurking that could upset the balance. The first is Foxcatcher, which has a Producers' Guild nomination, as well as a Golden Globe nod. But it's an off-putting film, and unlike Nightcrawler, it seems to be fading from the conversation. The more interesting dark horse is Gone Girl, which also has a PGA nod and just happened to be one of the biggest hits of the year. Still, the PGA is a more populist body than the Academy, so Gone Girl's commercial success might not be all that relevant. With that said, don't be surprised if either (or even both) of these two ends up in the race.

Longshots: Inherent Vice (could be the kind of passion play that performs well in the preferential voting system, though I've yet to see it—looking forward to fixing that tonight); Big Eyes (maybe for its actors); Interstellar (wishful thinking); Unbroken (seemed like a lock until people actually saw it); Mr. Turner (has anyone seen this yet?); A Most Violent Year (same question); Wild (nah).

Wes Anderson—The Grand Budapest Hotel
Clint Eastwood—American Sniper
Alejandro González Iñárritu—Birdman
Richard Linklater—Boyhood
Morten Tyldum—The Imitation Game

Comments: I'm trying to develop a reason to stray from the Directors' Guild nominations, and I'm not finding one. I mean, who seems vulnerable here? Linklater and Iñárritu are locks. Tyldum is hardly a big name, but The Imitation Game is practically a frontrunner. Eastwood is a hero, and he hasn't been here in eight years. I could make a halfhearted case against Anderson, but everyone loves The Grand Budapest Hotel, and it's so overwhelmingly a Wes Anderson movie that leaving him off seems ludicrous. I'm calling a perfect match.

Potential upsets: But since we're here, let's consider the spoilers. The most obvious are the helmers of the other Best Picture nominees, including Damien Chazelle (Whiplash), Ava DuVernay (Selma), Dan Gilroy (Nightcrawler), and James Marsh (The Theory of Everything). None of those is a household name, of course, but if I had to back an upset, I'd go with DuVernay, since she'd certainly help the Academy's credibility with progressives. Chazelle and Marsh do have BAFTA nominations, so they're also in play, with Marsh the more likely candidate, given The Theory of Everything's stronger overall buzz.

Longshots: David Fincher for Gone Girl (only possible if it nabs a Best Picture nod; Bennett Miller for Foxcatcher (ibid); Christopher Nolan for Interstellar (hey AMPAS, it's never too late to apologize for that Inception debacle).

Benedict Cumberbatch—The Imitation Game
Ralph Fiennes—The Grand Budapest Hotel
Jake Gyllenhaal—Nightcrawler
Michael Keaton—Birdman
Eddie Redmayne—The Theory of Everything

Comments: Cumberbatch, Keaton, and Redmayne are all already in, and Gyllenhaal isn't far behind. This really comes down to the last spot, which is where that dratted category confusion pops up. Is Steve Carell a lead actor in Foxcatcher, or is he supporting? SAG thought the former, but BAFTA went with the latter, and while Sony Classics is pushing him as a lead, Academy voters are always entitled to go their own way. That, combined with the diminishing buzz for the film overall, allows me to think that someone else can sneak in here. And I'm betting on Fiennes, since I think Grand Budapest Hotel is going to rack up double-digit nominations overall.

Potential upsets: Besides Carell, the real wildcard here is Bradley Cooper for American Sniper. Again, it's difficult for me to evaluate the prospects of candidates I haven't seen (I'm seeing that one on Saturday, and yes, that means I'll be watching high-profile Oscar contenders on three of the next four nights), but I just haven't heard Cooper's name come up all that much this season. The same is true of David Oyelowo for Selma; as with his director, he can't show up here if his movie misses the Best Picture field.

Longshots: Timothy Spall for Mr. Turner (OK, I'm getting a little sick of Oscar buzz for movies that haven't even been released yet); Oscar Isaac for A Most Violent Year (WHAT DID I JUST SAY?); Joaquin Phoenix for Inherent Vice (I give up); Philip Seymour Hoffman for A Most Wanted Man (like you wouldn't cry if this happened); Miles Teller for Whiplash (yes, there were actually two major actors in that movie).

Amy Adams—Big Eyes
Felicity Jones—The Theory of Everything
Julianne Moore—Still Alice
Rosamund Pike—Gone Girl
Reese Witherspoon—Wild

Comments: Pike, Moore, and Witherspoon are all in, and with The Theory of Everything building momentum, I don't see Jones missing out. Now, have you ever heard of this movie called Cake? I don't know anything about it, but it stars Jennifer Aniston—you know, the hot one from Friends—and she's apparently been a major player in the Best Actress race for the last several months. Typical. But once again, I'm required to either back a contender whose work I haven't seen or to go against the grain. (Of course, I haven't seen Still Alice either, but this is Julianne Moore we're talking about here. She's not going anywhere.) And seeing as how Academy voters flat-out adore Amy Adams—the girl turned 30 last August, and she's already racked up five Oscar nominations—and seeing as how she just won the Golden Globe (in the admittedly useless musical/comedy category, but still), I think she could unseat Aniston. Seriously, though, Cake: Anyone heard of it?

Potential upsets: Aniston. Everyone else is a longshot.

Longshots: Marion Cotillard for Two Days, One Night (still waiting for this one, Century Boulder); Shailene Woodley for The Fault in Our Stars (don't get me started).

Josh Brolin—Inherent Vice
Ethan Hawke—Boyhood
Edward Norton—Birdman
Mark Ruffalo—Foxcatcher
J.K. Simmons—Whiplash

Comments: Simmons, Norton, and Hawke are all locks, and Ruffalo should be comfortable. And now we enter the realm of pure speculation. The fifth spot is presumed to be reserved for Robert Duvall in The Judge. I haven't seen that one either, but it's not the studio's fault; it's because the movie received such tepid reviews that I couldn't be bothered to see it back in October. Duvall has nominations from both SAG and the Golden Globes (but not BAFTA, which went with Steve Carell as a supporting actor), so he should be on firm ground. But have you heard anybody talk about The Judge in the past three months? That thing was dead on arrival. As for a replacement, the Inherent Vice crowd is nuts about Josh Brolin, and he's a familiar face who popped up here six years ago for Milk. This is admittedly a reach, but what the hell, let's get crazy.

Potential upsets: Duvall and Carell.

Longshots: Christoph Waltz for Big Eyes (not entirely farfetched if Adams also gets in); Tom Wilkinson for Selma (apparently he plays Lyndon Johnson, which sounds awesome).

Patricia Arquette—Boyhood
Keira Knightley—The Imitation Game
Rene Russo—Nightcrawler
Emma Stone—Birdman
Meryl Streep—Into the Woods

Comments: Uh oh. Up until now, although I hardly expect to be perfect, I'm reasonably confident that I'll land at least four out of five in each category. This party, however, only has three confirmed invitees: Arquette, Knightley, and Stone. After that, I am thoroughly lost. Streep has, of course, been nominated 87 times already, but the visibility of her performance combined with the shallowness of this field make me think she has the inside track. I'm less confident in Russo, but I'm relatively bullish on Nightcrawler's prospects overall, and she's the most likely recipient of a trickle-down effect.

Potential upsets: The biggest lurker here is Jessica Chastain for A Most Violent Year, another movie that I, in case you missed it, have not yet fucking seen. Do you realize that A24 released this movie in two markets on New Year's Eve? I promise that next year, I'm going to use all of the advertising revenue I gain from this site to buy a ticket to New York for the holidays, then just set up camp in a theater for seven straight days.

Longshots: Naomi Watts for St. Vincent (only because she somehow scored a SAG nod); Imelda Staunton for Pride (same re: the BAFTAs, though that at least makes some sense, given the movie's Britishness); Tilda Swinton for Snowpiercer (a guy can dream).

Birdman—Alejandro González Iñárritu et al.
Boyhood—Richard Linklater
The Grand Budapest Hotel—Wes Anderson, Hugo Guinness
Nightcrawler—Dan Gilroy
Selma—Paul Webb

Comments: The Writers' Guild nominations are only moderately helpful, since a number of potential Oscar nominees are ineligible with the guild. Still, the triumvirate of Birdman, Boyhood, and The Grand Budapest Hotel should be on firm footing once again here. Less solid is Nightcrawler, but it landed a key BAFTA nod, so I'm slotting it in. The fifth slot, however, is a complete mystery. I'm going with Selma just because it's an important historical story. But honestly, I'd be OK with the Academy tabbing Spike Jonze's Her script here. Sure, it already won last year, but if any screenplay deserves to win multiple Oscars, it's that one.

Potential upsets: Take your pick. The Academy is a fan of Mike Leigh, so it could highlight his script for Mr. Turner. Foxcatcher scored a WGA nod, so it could pop up here, though it's not a particularly writerly movie. As for A Most Violent Year, let me just say that... never mind.

Longshots: Interstellar and, uh, The LEGO Movie?

American Sniper—Jason Hall
Gone Girl—Gillian Flynn
The Imitation Game—Graham Moore
The Theory of Everything—Anthony McCarter
Whiplash—Damien Chazelle

Comments: Funny story about Whiplash: It's actually an original screenplay, but after writing it, Chazelle made a short film about a drummer, then went back to the full script and turned it into the feature that's currently in contention here. The Academy, in its infinite wisdom, has ruled that this means Whiplash is actually based on previously existing material, meaning its screenplay is adapted, even though it's already received recognition as an original screenplay from both the WGA and the BAFTAs. So, I suppose it's possible that your average Academy voter could become very confused by this development and just ignore the film entirely. Otherwise, this field seems fairly set, as American Sniper is the only selection that gives me pause. Wonder why.

Potential upsets: Guardians of the Galaxy and Wild both scored with the WGA, so they're viable candidates. But again, Whiplash played in the Original field at the guild, while The Theory of Everything was also ineligible for reasons that would interest absolutely no one.

Longshots: Inherent Vice and, uh, The Boxtrolls?

Birdman—Emmanuel Lubezki
The Grand Budapest Hotel—Robert D. Yeoman
The Imitation Game—Óscar Faura
Interstellar—Hoyte Van Hoytema
Unbroken—Roger Deakins

Comments: Birdman is the only true lock here. I'm also reasonably confident in The Grand Budapest Hotel, because it should pop up repeatedly below the line, and Unbroken, because Roger Deakins just might get nominated 50 times before he ever wins (he's currently at 11). The Imitation Game is a shakier pick, but it has a guild nod, and I think its coattails are long enough to rack up some craft nods. Interstellar does not have a guild nod, but the Academy has shown an appreciation for brawny work in this category in the past.

Potential upsets: Mr. Turner received guild recognition, so that's the most obvious outlier here. I could also see Nightcrawler popping up, or even the black-and-white crispness of Ida.

Longshots: If the Academy really wants to reward a blockbuster, it could peg Godzilla here. Eastwood's collaborator Tom Stern scored an invite six years ago for Changeling, so don't rule out American Sniper. The Theory of Everything is the other deep lurker, but if it pops up here, it's probably getting 12-plus nominations, and I don't see that happening.

American Sniper—Joel Cox, Gary Roach
Boyhood—Sandra Adair
The Grand Budapest Hotel—Barney Pilling
The Imitation Game—William Goldenberg
The Theory of Everything—Jinx Godfrey

Comments: The guild is only so helpful here, given that it provided 11 nominations (6 for dramatic work, 5 for musical/comedy). Boyhood is the home run, despite its failure to travel across the pond for a BAFTA nod. After that, I'm basically just correlating this category to my interpretation of each film's overall strength. With one exception, that is...

Potential upsets: Birdman appears to be a fixture in this category—it landed a guild nod as a comedy, and it also earned a BAFTA nomination—but given that there are literally zero cuts in the entire movie, I don't see how it receives Oscar recognition for its editing. A more sensible replacement would be Whiplash, given that it's all about rhythm in the first place. Meanwhile, Nightcrawler can hardly be ruled out.

Longshots: Gone Girl really should show up here, but I don't see it doing so unless it lands a Best Picture nomination. Could the Academy cast a broad net and pick out Edge of Tomorrow? Don't count on it.

Gone Girl—Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross
The Grand Budapest Hotel—Alexandre Desplat
The Imitation Game—Alexandre Desplat
Interstellar—Hans Zimmer
The Theory of Everything—Jóhann Jóhannsson

Comments: Birdman's percussive score has been deemed ineligible, so that simplifies matters. The Theory of Everything just won at the Golden Globes for this category, so it's not going anywhere. Zimmer is a mainstay here. Desplat rocking double-nominee status may seem unlikely, but he's a beast, and both The Grand Budapest Hotel and The Imitation Game are massive contenders. And as abrasive as Reznor and Ross' score is for Gone Girl, the Academy has hardly let that bother them in the past. Kudos to them.

Potential upsets: None. I am going to get this category perfect. Just you wait.

Longshots: Under the Skin scored a BAFTA nod, but while voters may be willing to roll with Reznor and Ross' weirdness, I think that one may be a bridge too far.

The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
Into the Woods
Mr. Turner

Comments: The Grand Budapest Hotel and The Imitation Game are your two locks. After that, best of luck. The guild here breaks things down into three different mini-categories, yielding a total of 15 nominations, so it's virtually useless. More interesting are the BAFTAs, including their citation for both Mr. Turner and Interstellar. From the stills I've seen of the former, it looks to be a handsome period piece, and the Academy certainly loves those, while Interstellar's design is bold enough to require voters to take notice. A fantasy player usually pops up here, and Into the Woods is probably the closest respected player to fitting that bill.

Potential upsets: Big Eyes has a BAFTA nomination, while Birdman can never be ruled out of any category (well, except for Best Original Score, where it's been literally ruled out).

Longshots: If the Academy really wants to go fantasy, it could highlight The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. Inherent Vice is a period piece, so it's got that going for it, which is nice.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Guardians of the Galaxy
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
X-Men: Days of Future Past

Comments: This category has already been whittled down to 10 entries. I'm duplicating the BAFTA list with my picks here, though Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is the only automatic selection.

Potential upsets: Of the remaining five contenders, Godzilla is my favorite to knock off a BAFTA selection, most likely The Hobbit. The others are either poorly regarded critically (Maleficent, Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb, Transformers: Age of Extinction) or too muted in their V/X usage (Captain America: The Winter Soldier).

So there you have it. We'll be back on Friday with a recap of our performance.

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