Best Visual Effects
Will win – Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
I could see this going to either Captain America: The Winter Soldier or Interstellar instead, but Dawn of the Planet of the Apes features significantly more horseback-riding apes firing machine guns, always the “x factor” in decisions like these.
Should win – Guardians of the Galaxy
Guardians of the Galaxy probably doesn’t have the show-stopping visual bells and whistles of the other nominees, but a lot of its charm is wrapped up in its ramshackle look and feel (not to mention its raccoons wearing people clothes). I wasn’t as crazy about the movie as some folks I’ve read or spoken to, but it’s entertaining and ingratiating, in part because of those pleasingly modest effects.
Not nominated – Noah
For reasons I still can’t fathom, Darren Aronofsky’s Noah seems completely forgotten already, if not outright mocked or dismissed. That’s too bad – it’s a smart, searching examination of faith and doubt disguised as an epic disaster movie of literally Biblical proportions. Its spectacle aspect, though, is impressive both in the CGI renderings of a fallen world, and the way in which Aronofsky deploys those effects, in service to the story rather than crowding it out.
Laura Poitras’ Edward Snowden doc Citizenfour has a lot going for it (on paper at least; I haven’t seen it) – it’s ripped from the headlines, by most accounts pretty gripping, and offers an unprecedented look at history as it unfolds. Finding Vivian Maier introduced audiences to an artist who deserves more attention, which I could see holding a certain amount of appeal to voters. But Virunga, which is focused on conservation efforts and attempts to save Africa’s oldest national park (in Democratic Republic of the Congo) from oil exploration and its wildlife from extinction, is going to pull an upset here. It’s an “issue film” that seems very much in line with past winners like 2005’s March of the Penguins, 2006’s An Inconvenient Truth, and 2009’s The Cove, and, while not everyone might support Snowden or care particularly about street photography, I doubt there are too many who come down on the “anti-endangered species, pro-fossil fuels and environmental devastation” side of the debate, at least among those voting. Having Leo Dicaprio as executive producer probably doesn’t hurt, either.
Should win – Abstain
The only nominee I’ve seen is Finding Vivian Maier, and I did not care for it at all.
Not nominated – Jodorowsky’s Dune
David Lynch’s adaptation of the cult classic sci-fi novel Dune is famously divisive, and had a tortured journey to the screen. Fascinatingly, iconoclast filmmaker (and very excitable man) Alejandro Jodorowsky tried for years to get financing to make it before Lynch came on board. It never happened, of course, but in Jodorowsky’s Dune we get to see what might have been, by way of his elaborately constructed and lovingly preserved book of images and drafts for the project. On camera, he supplements these with descriptions and digressions, all delivered with his inimitable manic enthusiasm – he must be one of the few people in the world who can talk with so much gusto and good nature about a passion project that didn’t work out. Frank Pavitch’s doc isn’t the film Jodorowsky wanted to make, but it’s probably the next best thing.
Best Supporting Actor
Will win – J.K. Simmons, Whiplash
There’s no drama here. J.K. Simmons is the crazed heart and questionable soul of Damien Chazelle’s stellar Whiplash – his enormously intimidating, morally dubious music teacher dominates every scene he’s in to such a degree that the “supporting” part of the award almost doesn’t apply. Never has the phrase “Not really my tempo” struck fear into so many hearts. J.K. Simmons, a veteran character actor with a ton of great performances to his name, is basically even odds to win, and he deserves it.
Should win – J.K. Simmons, Whiplash
Not Nominated – David Koechner, Cheap Thrills
E.L. Katz’s Cheap Thrills is a gratuitously violent, depraved, and brutal portrait of class struggle and how far we’re willing to go to get by. It’s also hilarious, mostly because of David Koechner (probably familiar to most viewers as Packer on the American version of The Office). Perfectly cast, he brings the same boorish behavior from that role to this one, except things go into much darker territory. It’s a dark night of the soul all around, but Koechner finds plenty of humor in the darkness.
Best Supporting Actress
Will win – Patricia Arquette, Boyhood
Like J.K. Simmons’ predicted win, this seems pre-ordained. And like Simmons, Arquette deserves every bit of the acclaim. Her performance is nuanced, rich, utterly believable, and, in one incredible scene where she takes stock of her own life and reflects on the passage of time, heartbreaking. Arquette has never been better – she’s never been close to this good, as far as I know. She’ll win, and should.
Should win – Patricia Arquette, Boyhood
Not nominated – Uma Thurman, Nymphomaniac Vol. 1
Lars von Trier’s controversial Nymphomaniac Vol. 1 is lighter in tone than the second installment released here in the U.S. (and better for that very reason), but it can still be pretty grueling. In the middle of all the sordid business, Uma Thurman shows up for about four minutes and leaves the biggest impression of anyone in the film. Walking her kids through our protagonist’s apartment, where she’s entertaining Thurman’s unfaithful husband, she carries on in the most bitter, cringe-worthy, and hilarious monologue imaginable, followed by a breakdown that’s like the emotional version of a car wreck – it’s impossible to look away. When she fake-cheerfully asks the children if they want to see “the whoring bed,” it’s simultaneously appalling and funny … a lot like the movie itself.
And the rest
I didn’t bother with several categories, either because I didn’t see enough (or any) of the nominees or because I didn’t have much to say. But for the sake of completeism (and so I can laugh at how wrong I was tomorrow), here are basically random, largely unfounded predictions for the rest:
Best Animated Short – The Dam Keeper
Best Costume Design – Into The Woods
Best Live Action Short – Aya
Best Documentary—Short – Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1
Best Makeup and Hairstyling – Foxcatcher
Best Original Score – The Theory of Everything
Best Sound Editing – American Sniper
Best Sound Mixing – Whiplash