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Sunday, February 22, 2015

Everything You Need to Know for the 2015 Academy Awards

I don't want to make any grand proclamations, but I think it's safe to say that 2014 was a great year for cinema. In 2014, cinema was grounded in stories of humanity. Many films allowed the cast members to sink their teeth into their roles, and bring complicated characters to life. The films that made waves in 2014 succeeded because their stories were not only intriguing, but appealed to audiences on a personal level. Also, the actors were up for the challenge of taking on these characters without guarantee of financial or even critical success. A lot of these films could have been seen as risky, and if certain elements didn't fall into place, the films may have been forgotten instead of applauded.

I can't help but think that 2014 brought us back to the root of cinema - the story and the characters. Gone were the flashy, sleek special effects and astronomical budgets of some previous years (I'm looking at you, Avatar). Gone Girl was the closest we saw to the big budget Hollywood blockbuster in the awards season ring, but Rosamund Pike's impressive portrayal as Amy Dunne still couldn't quite compete with the likes of Julianne Moore. This isn't a diss on Pike's acting ability, but just an example of how great some of last year's performances were across the board.

It's not likely that you'll see any major surprises this Sunday, but that doesn't mean that it won't be exciting to watch it play out. The winners have been fairly consistent throughout awards season, however, the Oscars combine some categories that other shows separate into different groups. This will make the show all the more fun to watch. The real competition of the night will be between Birdman and Boyhood. Two great films that deserve any and all recognition that comes their way.

I fully anticipate Eddie Redmayne to take home the Best Actor trophy for his role as Stephen Hawking in the Theory of Everything. I've been rooting for Redmayne since seeing his work in Like Minds back in 2006, which I had rented because I wanted to catch up on Tom Sturridge's films up until that time. Like Minds wasn't a particularly good film, to be honest, but there was something about Redmayne's performance that made you think that he had what it takes to one day be great if given the right opportunity. Clearly, he didn't let us down once that opportunity came around in the form of Stephen Hawking.

If Redmayne doesn't end up with the Best Actor Oscar, it will most certainly be in the hands of Michael Keaton, which isn't a bad place for it to be either. Keaton impressed critics and audiences in his lead role in Birdman.

You know that saying about how you can tell a lot about a person by the way they treat those who can do nothing for them? Well, Keaton is a nice guy. A hardworking, talented, genuinely nice guy. I once worked on an indie film in Chicago during my early 20s, and was at the bottom of the ladder in terms of the production's hierarchy. That didn't seem to matter to Keaton, who directed the film. He was one of the first to congratulate me the day I got the call to work on a bigger project. He shared his avocados with me for afternoon snacks. He made sure I had protein shakes in the morning (at that time, my idea of a protein shake was a giant can of Red Bull). Long story short, I wasn't someone he could get anything from, but he treated me the same as anyone else on that production. If he wins over Redmayne, the Oscar will go home with someone incredibly deserving of the honor.

If you've spoken to me in the last few months, you likely know how impressed I was with Boyhood. I told various people on numerous occasions that I will no longer associate with them if they dislike Boyhood (this was mostly a joke...mostly). The importance of Boyhood far exceeds the 2 hours and 45 minutes the film takes up. It reminds us of the potentiality of cinema - what cinema can accomplish at its core when you strip away everything and get down to the roots of great storytelling. The power of Boyhood is how it stays with you after the film concludes, how it resonates with the audience. I realize that spending almost 3 hours of your life watching a film in hopes that you might "feel" something afterwards may not be my most popular idea to date. If you're already typing up a letter to the editor about how I've officially gone insane, then I don't blame you. But hear me out - Boyhood succeeds because not only does it allow viewers unrestricted access into the lives of Mason and his family, but it's earnest in a completely refreshing way. It's not trying to follow any Hollywood stereotype or adhere to a specific structure. Then you add in the whopping 12 years the filmmakers spent on this project, and well, it all adds up to a once in a lifetime type of cinematic experience.

Full disclosure, I've been a Richard Linklater fan since before I knew what a director truly did on set. I remember watching Before Sunrise on HBO in elementary school, and listening through headphones plugged into my box television set because I didn't want to miss a single word of dialogue. (Yes, I was that kid.) I couldn't quite pinpoint what seemed so special about Before Sunrise while viewing it as a kid, but I could tell that it was unlike anything I'd really seen before. Linklater's films have yet to lose the magic of that first viewing of Before Sunrise. This year, Linklater is up for the Best Director award. The Best Director statue will likely come down to him and Birdman's director, Alejandro González Iñárritu, who is equally deserving of the award. I just happen to by on Team Linklater, so my loyalties are to him and Boyhood.

Like previously mentioned, the only surprises of the evening will be whether Boyhood or Birdman go home with the most awards. Julianne Moore should go ahead and have her speech ready to go since there's no way anyone can beat her performance in Still Alice. Same goes for J.K. Simmons, who has been cleaning house this awards season. I'd be willing to bet that Patricia Arquette will add another point to Team Boyhood when she accepts her Best Supporting Actress Award.

Hopefully, we'll see Wes Anderson take home the Best Original Screenplay award. Anderson is one of those rare talents, who has found his own style while also being innovative in his storytelling and approach to cinema. His films are smart, entertaining, and always full of heart. Cinema needs the Andersons of the world just as it needs the Linklaters and Iñárritus.

The legacy of this year's awards season is a reminder that good storytelling is what matters. Films like Boyhood and Birdman show us that there is still something to look forward to in cinema, there are still people out there pushing the boundaries, being innovative, and taking risks.

Here some of my predictions for this year's Academy Awards:

Best Picture: Boyhood

Actor: Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything

Supporting Actor: J.K. Simmons in Whiplash

Actress: Julianne Moore in Still Alice

Supporting Actress: Patricia Arquette in Boyhood

Animated Feature: How to Train Your Dragon 2

Adapted Screenplay: The Theory of Everything by Anthony McCarten

Original Screenplay: The Grand Budapest Hotel by Wes Anderson

Cinematography: Emmanuel Lubezki for Birdman

Costume Design: Colleen Atwood for Into the Woods

Director: Richard Linklater for Boyhood

Production Design: Adam Stockhausen and Anna Pinnock for The Grand Budapest Hotel

Now, you should be all prepared to face the Oscars show head-on. Make sure you have a bowl of popcorn ready and stay hydrated (yes, champagne does count). We'll be live-tweeting Sunday's show, so make sure to follow us on Twitter and sound off on your favorite films from 2014.

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