It's Oscar day, and I am expecting that my annual mixture of kvetching and ogling and cheering is going to veer a lot more toward kvetching, given that this is one of the most homogenous and least impressive (and whitest) slate of nominees in recent memory. Why do I bother even commenting? Because the Academy Awards purport to be about rewarding the best work, and winning leverages careers. Having seen so much of the work that is eligible for that recognition, I continue to wish that those who deserve it more regularly had a shot at getting it.
Here's how I would vote on this year's nominees, such as they are--entirely non-predictive of what will happen at tonight's Oscar ceremonies--along with some commentary about glaring omissions from the nominations that are worth seeking out.
Best Picture: SELMA. As I indicated on my ten-best list, I could make a case for "Boyhood," but when all is said and done, I think "Selma" deserves best picture recognition because it pulls off something extremely important and difficult, and sets the bar for beginning to tell some of the scores of neglected stories of the American Civil Rights Movement. As for the rest of the list of nominees, "Boyhood" and "The Grand Budapest Hotel" deserve to be here, and I think the case can be made for "Whiplash," but "Birdman" is way overrated and I don't think either "The Imitation Game" or "The Theory of Everything" are best picture material. "American Sniper" is an absolutely terrible film. I would replace those films with "Calvary," "Metro Manila," "Ida," "Two Days, One Night," and "Dear White People."
Best Actor in a Leading Role: DAVID OYELOWO, who isn't nominated. This group of nominees makes me furious. None of them comes near either Oyelowo's performance as Martin Luther King, Jr. in "Selma" or Chadwick Boseman's performance as James Brown in "Get on Up" or Brendan Gleesan's performance in "Calvary." I would also add Ralph Fiennes for his pitch-perfect performance in "The Grand Budapest Hotel" and Timothy Spall's performance in "Mr. Turner."
Best Actress in a Leading Role: MARION COTILLARD, who is absolutely phenomenal as a woman fighting for her job in "Two Days, One Night." Julianne Moore is also excellent in "Still Alice" and is more likely to win, because the challenge of playing someone with Alzheimer's Disease is more obvious. The other nominees do not belong on this list at all, particularly Rosamund Pike, who is one of the least believable actresses working. I'd replace them with Gugu Mbatha-Raw in "Beyond the Lights" and Agata Kulesza and Agata Trzebuchowska in "Ida." It strikes me that this year's roles for women are particularly underwritten.
Best Actor in a Supporting Role: ETHAN HAWKE for very thoughtful work playing the hapless weekend dad in "Boyhood"--though I can make a very solid case for J.K. Simmons in "Whiplash," who is riveting as an abusive music conductor. I love Robert Duvall, but his role in "The Judge" is far too ridiculous to be award worthy. I would replace Duvall with Chris O'Dowd in "Calvary."
Best Actress in a Supporting Role: PATRICIA ARQUETTE all the way. She is absolutely wonderful as a complicated mom doing her best and making loads of mistakes in "Boyhood." I'm not really a fan of any of the other nominees; although fair criticisms have been raised about the way Coretta Scott King is portrayed in "Selma," Carmen Ejogo's performance surpasses those of all the other nominees. Tilda Swinton also deserved a nomination for her iconic oppressor in "Snowpiercer."
Best Cinematography: THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL, though I could also make a case for "Ida. "Mr. Turner" is also a deserving nominee; not so "Birdman" or "Unbroken."
Best Costume Design: THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL again, with its wonderful and quirky artistic vision.
Best Director: RICHARD LINKLATER, among these nominees. He really did a visionary thing by using such an extended and spacious creative process for "Boyhood." However, Ava DuVernay absolutely deserved a nomination, as did John Michael McDonagh for "Calvary" and Pawel Pawlikowski for "Ida."
Best Documentary Feature: FINDING VIVIAN MAIER. Only two of the nominees were released in Portland in time for me to screen them and, of those two, the exploration of the quirky nanny with a singular eye for capturing the downtrodden on film is the most deserving. I'm glad that "Citizenfour" was made but don't find it a particularly well-crafted film. I would add "Keep On Keepin' On" to the list of nominees.
Best Film Editing: THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL again. "Whiplash" is another worthy nominee in this category.
Best Foreign Language Film: TIMBUKTU, which was my favorite film at this year's PIFF (though I didn't screen it in time to include it in my own top ten films for 2014). "Ida" is another worthy nominee; "Wild Tales" is entertaining but a very slight film. The other two nominees weren't released in Portland in time, but I did see several of the other films eligible in this category and consider "Today" from Iran and "Corn Island" from Georgia far worthier of recognition than "Wild Tales."
Best Original Song: "GLORY" from "Selma," which accomplishes what an original film song is supposed to do.
Best Production Design: THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL for sure. "Mr. Turner" is an especially deserving nominee in this category.
Best Visual Effects: INTERSTELLAR, out of this rather unimpressive group of nominees.
Best Original Screenplay: BOYHOOD, which Richard Linklater wrote over a period of a dozen years. "The Grand Budapest Hotel" is the only other nominee worthy of nomination. "Calvary," "Dear White People," and "Ida" belong on this list.
Best Adapted Screenplay: WHIPLASH, among an unimpressive group of nominees.