Oscar Night, 2015 Top Tier: Ponick’s prognostications

My picks this year are absolutely guaranteed to be occasionally right. This year’s awards will tilt partly toward effort, partly toward legacy, and partly toward PC.

Best Movie Oscar Picks
Best Movie Oscar Picks

WASHINGTON, February 22, 2015 – Tonight’s Academy Awards Oscarcast is almost upon us. Hosted by Doogie Howser himself, the eminently likable Neil Patrick Harris, the 2015 edition of Hollywood’s annual orgy of narcissism and self-love will air tonight on ABC affiliates across the country.

Neil Patrick Harris emcees the 2015 Oscars.
Neil Patrick Harris will emcee tonight’s 2015 Academy Awards telecast. (Image credit: ABC, Sunday’s Academy Award network host)

This evening’s Oscar action commences with “opening ceremonies” and breathless hype at 7 p.m. EST, segueing (likely with numerous commercial breaks) into the actual Oscar Awards at 8:30 p.m. Keep those index fingers on the “mute” button during the transitions.

ABC is also livestreaming the broadcast. The catch: Your service provider must have enabled this service and you have to make sure Adobe Flash shared objects are enabled, likely entitling you to give out your location and sit through each and every ad. To check to see if you can get the streaming broadcast, click this link and obey its commands.

My picks for this year’s top awards—the ones most viewers are generally interested in—are based partly on effort and quality, partly toward the Academy’s occasional tradition of honoring individuals more for their past rather than their current work and, of course, toward Oscar’s roughly 40-year modern tradition of tilting in the predictable direction of political correctness and phony green propaganda rather than something that might please Republican constituencies or suburbanites. But who cares about those losers in flyover country anyway, right?

Here’s my 2015 list of likely Oscar winners and my rationale behind each pick:

Best Picture: “Boyhood.” This one hits all the mostly right buttons. It’s an intriguingly painstaking reality show that took a long time and a great deal of dedication to put together. It’s a highly original idea, although others have used this motif. It’s an actual movie, not totally dependent or nearly totally dependent on CGI for its effects. And the acting and directing are meticulous and crisply accomplished.

What should win: Clint Eastwood’s “American Sniper” for its convincing if slightly hyped portrayal of who and what non-coastal Americans really think and do, not to mention the first film to unabashedly portray American patriotism since Vietnam. We’d be shocked if this film got much of anything tonight, though, because of Hollywood’s nearly monolithic support for anything left, its hatred of Clint Eastwood’s immortal “empty chair” routine at the 2012 Republican convention, and its love for anything anti-U.S. On the non-political front, it’s also difficult to compete against the incredible amount of work, time-consumed, attention to detail, and fine character portrayals that make “Boyhood” a distinctive film.

Best Director: Richard Linklater, “Boyhood.” Pretty much all of the above. Wes Anderson (“The Grand Budapest Hotel”) coulda been a contendah any other year. Ditto, Morten Tyldum (“The Imitation Game”). But I sense a groundswell of respect here for Linklater’s dedication and narrative skill that will be hard to overcome.

Who should win: I give.

Best Actor: Eddie Redmayne, “The Theory of Everything.” Redmayne is very likely to win, according to most of the Hollywood buzz I’ve dissected, and indeed, the actor does a superb job in a very difficult role, portraying the mental genius of a young Stephen Hawking that still shines even as his body becomes almost completely useless. But the competition is much, much tougher than usual this year, including strong performances by Benedict Cumberbatch in a similarly esoteric role (Alan Turing in “The Imitation Game,” another “real-life” evocation); sentimental favorite, veteran actor Michael Keaton whose star turn as an aging, declining former movie superhero in “Birdman” showcases him as an actual, serious actor, not necessarily a stock comedian; Steve Carell, another supposed full-time comic actor who shows chillingly gripping acting chops as the villain in “Foxcatcher”; and

Who should win: Actor Bradley Cooper whose uncommonly convincing portrayal of murdered military hero Chris Kyle in “American Sniper” is really the best of the lot. But once again, if this politically incorrect movie, with its positive portrait of an American military hero wins anything at all, it will be in one of the more obscure categories. If this film cops either Best Picture or Best Actor this year, it could signal a (highly unlikely) sea change in Hollywood politics. Not gonna happen. Although Eastwood and Cooper will quietly win the unofficial “Laughing All the Way to the Bank” award.

Best Actress: Julianne Moore, “Still Alice.” As aging Boomers metaphorically begin to head for the showers, the specter of Alzheimer’s is becoming more and more like the collective fear experienced by the population of Tokyo each time Godzilla pops his head out of the ocean. Boomer Moore’s touching portrayal of a somewhat younger woman whose conscious life (and grey matter) is about to be consumed by the dreaded scourge for which there is no current cure is top of the line and pushes all the right buttons without becoming mawkish or bathetic. Add to that her generally fine career to this point and the fact that she’s well liked and respected in Hollywood likely makes her a slam dunk for this year’s Best Actress honors.

Who should win: It’s a tough category this year, with particularly good-to-great performances by Marion Cotillard for another illness-oriented role in the foreign film “Two Days, One Night”; and Reese Witherspoon, who shows terrific and believable acting chops in “Wild.” But Moore likely has this one in the bag, and it will be a shocker if she doesn’t walk away with a 2015 statuette this evening. She should win and she will win.

Best supporting actor: Although character actor J.K. Simmons has been around forever in movies, TV, and Farmer’s Insurance commercials (“We are Farmers, Dum-da-dum dum, dum-dum dum”), his shockingly brutal star turn in “Whiplash” has created the kind of Hollywood buzz that former Fruit-of-the-Loom fruit F. Murray Abraham attracted for his shocking portrayal of Mozart nemesis Antonio Salieri in “Amadeus.” Simmons is simply great as the scary, yet oddly sensitive music teacher in this film, one of those guys who brutalizes his best students to prepare them for the brutality of the world and the brutality of competition—but takes things too far in the end.

Who should win: Robert Duvall, the impossible-to-like central figure of “The Judge,” is, as usual, at his quirky, powerful best, and has sentiment and legacy going in his favor. But, like Julianne Moore, if there is justice in the world, Simmons should win and will win.

Best Supporting Actress: Patricia Arquette, “Boyhood.” For pretty much the same reasons we offered above for Best Picture and Best Director, Arquette’s dedication and fine acting in “Boyhood,” added to the “respect for career” and “sentimental favorite” tick marks should make her close to a shoo-in for this year’s Supporting Actress Oscar. Bonus: if she does manage to win, this should give her new TV series, “CSI: Cyber” a real ratings boost as it airs this spring as a late mid-season replacement for the now likely-doomed original CSI.

Who should win: As in the Best Actress category, the women competing for Best Supporting Actress are in a real catfight. While Laura Dern (“Wild”) and Meryl Streep (“Into the Woods”) would normally offer stiff competition, Arquette seems well positioned to win this year’s statuette. Again, Arquette should win and will win.

Best Original Screenplay: “Boyhood.” While this category is less followed than the above, it and the following category appeal to writerly types like yours truly. Plus, more often than not, without great writing (i.e., a winning screenplay), you don’t get a film good enough to enable those more popular Best Actor and Best Actress categories, so the pen (or virtual pen) is still key to creating the best movies. “Boyhood” which has been popping up here with almost nauseating frequency, is in the catbird seat this year for all the listed reasons….

What should win: …but “Birdman,” which arguably hit the critical heights on genuinely creative writing should really have the inside track and could very well win if “Boyhood” starts faltering at some point.

Best Adapted Screenplay: “Whiplash.” The painstaking, behind-the-scenes history of how this film came to be—from a scriptwriting/screenplay standpoint—is worthy of a book. An early version of this film’s screenplay languished for years searching for a producer, a budget and a studio. Ultimately, a Reader’s Digest-style condensation of the much-larger original script was produced as an 18-minute short film that received a good deal of notice when it was shown at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival. That’s what finally attracted the necessary resources, resulting in the current, much praised film, which was still produced on a slender $3.3 million budget: chump change by Hollywood standards. The Horatio Alger-style story of this screenplay and its permutations should make this one a shoo-in.

What should win: The much-evolved screenplay for “American Sniper” is right in there and normally would be if Hollywood weren’t still pro-Communist and actually admired the American military. But the story behind “Whiplash,” plus its Sundance pedigree should combine to make it the winner here. We’d be hard-pressed to give it a thumbs-down at this point. We know a good story when we see one.

Missing in action: Any major nomination or potential award for “Selma,” the much-touted Martin Luther King, Jr. biopic that seems to have run into some kind of mysterious blockade this year−strange for a film that hits all the right PC buttons. This one is a mystery that remains to be explored but won’t because it’s too touchy and because the lefty hacks who run the media don’t like to expose family quarrels in print or on line.

Will we seem some demonstrations or protests at tonight’s Oscar-cast? Hard to say. But ‘twould be interesting if we did.

That’s it for this year’s prognostications. And again, here’s my iron-clad guarantee: Some of these may even be right.

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