Movie lovers should come away from this year's Academy Awards ceremony feeling pretty good. No matter what wins for best picture, it's going to be a masterpiece.
Assuming, that is, that either "Boyhood" or "Birdman," the two front-runners, takes home the top Oscar. "Birdman" is an astoundingly inventive comedy-drama starring Michael Keaton. It recently won the Producers Guild of America's award, an almost infallible Oscar predictor. But I'm rooting for "Boyhood," an epic achievement 12 years in the making from Richard Linklater.
As for the lack of diversity at this year's Oscars, that's a perennial refrain and a valid point. David Oyelowo was snubbed despite his amazing turn as Martin Luther King Jr., in "Selma," which earned a nod for best picture but nothing for its black director Ava DuVernay. Look through the whole long list of nominees, in fact, and you'll see a sea of mostly white faces. That may be an Oscar problem, but it begins with the movies the industry chooses to produce.
For the most part, though, quality looks likely to win the night. The little indie film "Whiplash" will come away with at least one big Oscar, Julianne Moore will win her first statuette and the overhyped "Interstellar" will not be over-rewarded. Here are my predictions for this year's Oscar outcomes.
SHOULD WIN: Milena Canonero, “The Grand Budapest Hotel.” This category usually goes for dazzle (“The Great Gatsby,” “Anna Karenina”) over subtlety, which makes Canonero's whimsical period outfits tough to beat. WILL WIN: Canonero.
SHOULD WIN: “Ida.” It's a Holocaust-themed film like no other: unsentimental, hard-nosed and all the more powerful for it. Oscar voters loved it enough to nominate it for cinematography as well. WILL WIN: “Ida.”
SHOULD WIN: “Everything is Awesome,” from “The Lego Movie.” This little ditty lasts essentially 15 seconds, yet says more about consumerist idiocy than all of Marx's “Das Kapital.” It's hilarious, self-referential and maddeningly catchy. You're probably singing it right now. WILL WIN: “Glory,” from “Selma.” The song is no great shakes, but the message is important and the Academy has left itself few other ways to pay tribute to this worthwhile film.
SHOULD WIN: Hans Zimmer, “Interstellar.” This big, bold score literally speaks louder than the dialogue – Christopher Nolan wanted it that way. The other scores here may be prettier, but this one is more memorable. WILL WIN: Zimmer. But keep in mind that Alexandre Desplat, with two nominations ("The Imitation Game" and "The Grand Budapest Hotel"), has statistics in his favor.
SHOULD WIN: Damien Chazelle, “Whiplash.” Chazelle's wholly original script is in the adapted category due to a silly technicality. By any definition, though, it's a gem – tightly paced, economical and packing a bang-up finale. WILL WIN: Graham Moore, “The Imitation Game.” The story of World War II hero Alan Turing, later unjustly prosecuted for homosexuality, has resonated strongly with viewers. This category will be one of the film's big wins.
SHOULD WIN: “Birdman.” Thanks to a team of writers (including Rockville Centre's Alexander Dinelaris, Jr.), the movie sounds like a jazz-combo of voices, roiling with wisecracks and heartbreak. WILL WIN: “Birdman.”
SHOULD WIN: Sandra Adair, “Boyhood.” If editors are unofficially co-directors, then Adair deserves an Oscar for assembling 12 years' worth of footage into a single feature film. WILL WIN: “Boyhood,” though don't rule out dark horse Tom Cross for the snazzy, jazzy rhythms of “Whiplash.” It's also worth noting that Douglas Crise and Stephen Mirrione, of “Birdman,” have been unjustly left out of this race.
SHOULD WIN Emmanuel Lubezki, “Birdman.” The film was shot and edited to look like one continuous take! Somehow, Lubezki makes it look seamless yet ever-changing. WILL WIN: Lubezki.
SHOULD WIN: Richard Linklater, “Boyhood.” His visual style isn't flashy, but his overall vision is epic. From its initial concept to its execution, “Boyhood” is a true original. WILL WIN: Linklater.
SHOULD WIN: “How to Train Your Dragon 2.” Given the competition, this sequel seems to have the best combination of craft, heart and box-office success. WILL WIN: “How to Train Your Dragon 2.” Just for the record, the absence of “The Lego Movie” in this category is baffling.
SHOULD WIN: Patricia Arquette. This is another of those deceptively small roles – she plays a single mother – that props up the whole movie. It isn't until the end that you realize how important she was. WILL WIN: Arquette.
SHOULD WIN: Mark Ruffalo, as an amiable family man drawn into a lair of evil in “Foxcatcher.” It's a small but crucial role that Ruffalo plays beautifully. WHO WILL WIN: J.K. Simmons, as an abusive music teacher in “Whiplash.” It's well-deserved, too. He's terrific in the role and deserves an Oscar after years of great work in “Juno,” “Up in the Air” and “Burn After Reading.”
SHOULD WIN: Julianne Moore. “Still Alice” is a somewhat standard issues-movie, but Moore's performance as a woman battling early-onset Alzheimer's is terrific. WILL WIN: Moore, though don't rule out Marion Cotillard, who is enjoying major critical acclaim for her role as a Belgian woman trying to keep her job in "Two Days, one Night."
SHOULD WIN: Eddie Redmayne. As the physicist Stephen Hawking, he's eventually reduced to using only his eyes – and a computerized voice – to express himself. In every scene, his emotions come through loud and clear. WILL WIN: Redmayne. A while back, all signs pointed to Cumberbatch, but Redmayne's wins at the Golden Globes and Screen Actors Guild has made him the clear front-runner.
SHOULD WIN: “Boyhood.” Richard Linklater's modest-looking but hugely ambitious project is surely the first movie ever to use the same cast of actors for 12 years. It hasn't been a major hit, but it's clearly a major accomplishment. WILL WIN: “Boyhood.”