Oscar Predictions: 2015

Truth be told, the Oscar nominations this year have been rather unexciting, with few surprises and a number of movies and performances that I liked getting the snub. Fortunately, it’s not all clear-cut and there are a small number of categories in which there are no front runners. Given that I am not involved in any Oscar pool this year, I have reverted back to the practice of abstaining from the documentary and short film categories. Now, on to the predictions:

Best Motion Picture of the Year

Should win: Birdman

Prediction: Birdman

Although Boyhood has a good chance here, it’s not as flashy and exciting as Birdman, and feels a bit more like improv. Birdman is one of the most original films I have seen in years and wins my vote here.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role

Should win: Michael Keaton (Birdman)

Prediction: Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything)

The Academy loves performances like Eddie Redmayne’s, plus he even got an endorsement from Stephen Hawking himself. It’s an astonishing physical transformation for sure, but in terms of actual acting, I feel Michael Keaton did a better job. If Jake Gyllenhaal had been nominated for Nightcrawler, it would have been a closer race, but alas that was not to be.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role

Should win: Julianne Moore (Still Alice)

Prediction: Julianne Moore (Still Alice)

This is not a particularly strong category – most of the performances here are good but not great, which means Julianne Moore’s outstanding performance in Still Alice will likely give her a win. Rosamund Pike’s performance in Gone Girl was certainly a career-best one, but it’s still not good enough to beat Moore.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role

Should win: J.K. Simmons (Whiplash)

Prediction: J.K. Simmons (Whiplash)

Honestly, this category is J.K. Simmons to lose. Not only is he a veteran in the industry, the performance he gave in Whiplash is unforgettable and well worth a win.  I loved Edward Norton’s performance in Birdman as well, but I don’t think he has a chance to win when pitted against J.K. Simmons.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role

Should win: Patricia Arquette (Boyhood)

Prediction: Patricia Arquette (Boyhood)

The amount of time invested in Boyhood is tremendous, and I think the fact alone that Arquette has more or less devoted 12 years to the movie will make her the front runner in this category. I really liked Emma Stone’s performance as well, but don’t think she has a chance to win here.

Best Achievement in Directing

Should win: Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu (Birdman)

Prediction: Richard Linklater (Boyhood)

Birdman is such an amazingly conceived and technically capable film that I feel Innaritu should get the nod here. However, Linklater has also crafted one of the best films of the year, and the fact that the labour of love took a dozen years means he stands a better chance here.

Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen

Should win: Birdman

Prediction: The Grand Budapest Hotel

This is a strong category and my personal preference is for Birdman. However I believe the quirky screenplay for The Grand Budapest Hotel is likely to win out.

Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published

Should win: Whiplash

Prediction: Whiplash

This has been one of the most divisive categories in the awards race this year – I am giving it to Whiplash because Damian Chazelle both wrote and directed the film, but really it can feasibly go to any nominee here and wouldn’t be too surprising.

Best Achievement in Cinematography

Should Win: Birdman

Prediction: Birdman

Emmanuel Lubezki’s work in Birdman is stunning to stay the least, and the oft-nominated Roger Deakins will likely have to sit this one out again.

Best Achievement in Editing

Prediction: Boyhood

Editing 12 years of footage down to a coherent film is an immense, daunting task, and Sandra Adair totally deserves a win here.

Best Achievement in Production Design

Prediction: The Grand Budapest Hotel

The quirky and standout production design in The Grand Budapest Hotel stands out from the rest.

Best Achievement in Costume Design

Prediction: The Grand Budapest Hotel

This category sees a number of deserving nominations but I believe The Grand Budapest Hotel will beat out Maleficent and Into the Woods to clinch the statuette.

Best Achievement in Makeup and Hairstyling

Prediction: The Grand Budapest Hotel

Based on the wins so far this awards season, it seems likely that The Grand Budapest Hotel will win here as well.

Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score

Prediction: The Theory of Everything

I felt Hans Zimmer overdid it a little for Interstellar, and virtually no one saw Mr Turner. There could be a chance it would be either of Desplat’s nominations, but the possibility of split votes makes Johann Johannson the likelier winner here.

Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Song

Prediction: I’m Not Gonna Miss You (Glen Campbell… I’ll Be Me)

This is a particularly flat category for me this year, without a favourite to root for.

Best Achievement in Sound Mixing

Prediction: American Sniper

Best Achievement in Sound Editing

Prediction: American Sniper

I have a feeling Interstellar would not be taking any awards home despite being the more deserving winner for both sound categories, so I’m predicting American Sniper for both.

Best Achievement in Visual Effects

Prediction: Guardians of the Galaxy

This category is wide open since none of the Best Picture nominees ended up here, so for me it’s going to be either Interstellar or Guardians of the Galaxy. I think Guardians is likely to be the more popular vote here.

Best Animated Feature Film of the Year

Prediction: Big Hero 6

The Lego Movie is a truly shocking omission here – I may not have loved the movie as much as many critics and moviegoers, but I would have expected it to be a shoo-in for the nomination at the very least. In the absence of The Lego Movie, it’s likely the “bigger” commercially-released animations will win out here, and my vote goes to Big Hero 6.

Best Foreign Language Film of the Year

Prediction: Leviathan

Full disclosure – I have not seen any of the five nominated films here, unfortunately. Leviathan has been the critics’ darling so I will go with that here.


Kingsman: The Secret Service

Genre: Action

Director: Matthew Vaughn

Screenplay: Jane Goldman, Matthew Vaughn, based on the comic book “The Secret Service” by Mark Milar, Dave Gibbons

Cast: Colin Firth, Samuel L. Jackson, Mark Strong, Taron Egerton, Sophie Cookson, Jack Davenport, Mark Hamill, Sofia Boutella, Edward Holcroft, Jack Cutmore-Scott, Geoff Bell, Samantha Womack, Michael Caine

Running Length: 129 minutes

Synopsis: Based upon the acclaimed comic book and directed by Matthew Vaughn (Kick-Ass, X-Men: First Class), the film tells the story of a suave, old-school British superspy who recruits an unrefined but promising street kid into his agency’s ultra-competitive training program just as a global threat emerges from a twisted American entrepreneur.

Review: For those who think that James Bond is too stuffy for them, Kingsman is here to the rescue. Taking the British spy thriller genre and spinning it on its head, Vaughn has managed to create one of the most entertaining comic book adaptations and spy movies I have seen in a while. Yes, the plot is absurd and stretches plausibility to breaking point, but it’s a very enjoyable movie to sit through (with a caveat – more on that later), with slick, polished visuals and a great sense of style and humour. It also establishes Colin Firth – surprise, surprise – as a bona fide action movie star, reminiscent of what Taken managed to do for Liam Neeson’s career.

Kingsman does not pretend to be anything else than a glossily packaged spy movie parody, but unlike many parodies, it is a top notch production while wearing its intentions proudly on its immaculately tailored sleeve. Newcomer Taron Egerton is highly charismatic and likably cocky, a perfect fit as the fledging spy-in-training under Colin Firth’s wing. Firth manages to show off a hitherto unseen action hero skill set while remaining impeccably coiffed in his suit. They are ably complemented by a strong ensemble cast, with Samuel L. Jackson stealing the limelight (as he’s prone to do) as a lisping megalomaniac with a strange aversion to blood, and special mention going to Algerian dancer Sophie Boutella as an updated Oddjob (known aptly as Gazelle here), brandishing the coolest killer prosthetic legs I’ve ever seen.

Audiences who have seen Vaughn’s Kick-Ass would be aware that he is not one to shy away from violence, and there is certainly a lot of near-gratuitous violence to be found in Kingsman. The hyperviolence is not for all audiences, and there will be some viewers who may feel it’s a bit too much (the church sequence – no spoilers – can particularly be rather disturbing, even if one takes it purely at face value). The plot makes no sense whatsoever, more at home in the Austin Powers franchise than the Bond franchise, but if one is willing to go along for the ride and not take things too seriously, it is a thrilling, highly entertaining movie well worth its price of admission.

Rating: * * * (out of four stars)



Genre: Drama

Director: Angelina Jolie

Screenplay: Joel Coen & Ethan Coen, Richard LaGravenese and William Nicholson, based on the book by Laura Hillenbrand

Cast: Jack O’Connell, Domhnall Gleeson, Miyavi, Garrett Hedlund, Finn Wittrock, Jai Courtney, John Magaro, Luke Treadaway, Alex Russell, John D’Leo, Vincenzo Amato, Ross Anderson, C.J. Valleroy, Maddalena Ischiale

Running Length: 137 minutes

Synopsis: Unbroken is an epic drama that follows the incredible life of Olympian and war hero Louis “Louie” Zamperini (Jack O’Connell) who, along with two other crewmen, survived in a raft for 47 days after a near-fatal plane crash in WWII – only to be caught by the Japanese Navy and sent to a prisoner-of-war camp.

Adapted from Laura Hillenbrand’s popular book, Unbroken brings to the big screen Zamperini’s unbelievable and inspiring true story about the resilient power of the human spirit.

Review: Unbroken is a very, very well-made film, excelling in its technical aspects and honestly quite an achievement for second-time director Jolie, who had embarked on making a second war-related movie after her little-seen directorial debut (2011’s In the Land of Blood and Honey). However, the film also feels sterile and perfunctory, lacking heart and a deeper emotionality, despite an excellent performance by newcomer Jack O’Connell. And even though it already runs over two hours, there’s this sense of incompleteness, that there’s a bigger story to be told of what happened to Zamperini after his traumatic ordeal, which deserves more than a few seconds worth of title cards before the end credit crawl.

Louie Zamperini’s life story is an incredible one – in a short span of years, he goes from Olympic athlete to an army officer surviving a plane crash, being stranded almost fifty days at sea on a life raft, followed by more than two years of torture and suffering in various POW camps. Based on Laura Hillenbrand’s biography of Zamperini, Unbroken tells a mostly straight tale, but Jolie chooses not to touch on the lighter aspects of his life. Zamperini was a born leader and apparently devised ways to make life more bearable for himself and his fellow inmates, but this is not covered in the film at all. Jolie instead focuses almost entire on the brutality that Zamperini endured, which makes the narrative more one-sided than it should be. There’s also no redemptive arc in the film, even though it is a significant portion of the biography, which mutes the impact of Unbroken further.

Performances of the ensemble cast are almost uniformly good, with the exception being Miyavi, who plays Zamperini’s sadistic tormentor Mutsushiro “The Bird” Watanabe, who hams it up a little too much and becomes more caricaturish than truly evil. Jack O’Campbell is a relatively fresh face, but manages to take on both the physical and emotional aspects of the role well. It is a difficult role to undertake, but he manages to give an excellent performance, not just in the big moments, but even in the small nuances of action and movement in the quiet scenes.

Jolie had assembled a highly proficient team of technicians for Unbroken, from the Coen Brothers being involved in the script, to Alexandre Desplat for the scoring and Roger Deakins in cinematography. It all works admirably well, especially so for the stunning cinematography by Deakins (which has been aptly rewarded with a nomination in the upcoming Academy Awards), accompanied by excellent production design by Jon Hutman. However, she may still have bitten off a bit more than she could chew with Unbroken as a sophomore effort, resulting in a somewhat lopsided movie that does not sufficiently engage.

Rating: * * ½ (out of four stars)


Jupiter Ascending

Genre: Sci-Fi

Directors: The Wachowskis

Screenplay: The Wachowskis

Cast: Mila Kunis, Channing Tatum, Eddie Redmayne, Sean Bean, Douglas Booth, Tuppence Middleton

Running Length: 125 minutes

Synopsis: Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis) was born under a night sky, with signs predicting that she was destined for great things. Now grown, Jupiter dreams of the stars but wakes up to the cold reality of a job cleaning other people’s houses and an endless run of bad breaks. Only when Caine (Channing Tatum), a genetically engineered ex-military hunter, arrives on Earth to track her down does Jupiter begin to glimpse the fate that has been waiting for her all along – her genetic signature marks her as next in line for an extraordinary inheritance that could alter the balance of the cosmos.

Review: Originally slated to open in July 2014, Jupiter Ascending was delayed for a full six months, and is now opening in a non-typical February window (particularly considering it cost US$175 million to make). That in itself is quite an ominous sign, that perhaps The Wachowskis are following the career trajectory of M. Night Shyamalan, and that Jupiter Ascending is not the film that will return them to greatness. Unfortunately, that is exactly the case here – Jupiter Ascending is overproduced, overwrought, and overdone, with a half-baked story and underdeveloped characters in a movie that truly ends in a whimper. While it may have aspirations to be the next big space opera, all it manages to achieve is to be vapid, thoroughly forgettable eye candy. It’s not even in the “so bad, it’s good” category of films, so all it manages is to be a bad sci-fi movie.

While the plot may aspire to be a cautionary fable for modern capitalism, Jupiter Ascending really feels more like a Disney princess fairy tale more than anything else – it has the rags to riches transformation of Jupiter and a tame, PG-13 romantic subplot with an unconventional Prince Charming . Unfortunately, because the Wachowskis obviously weren’t satisfied with something that “prosaic”, they chose to bury the simple plot with layers upon layers of pointless exposition and a frustrating lack of resolution, with multiple characters appearing to do their bit then disappearing for the rest of the film, and an inconsequential conclusion that just does not do the grandiose setting any justice. And despite the baseline simplicity and the endless exposition, the plot still doesn’t make sense, with so many logical gaps that one truly needs to check their brain at the door to wring more enjoyment out of the movie.

There’s no middle ground to the performances in Jupiter Ascending – they are either bland and uninteresting or extremely overwrought. Both Mila Kunis and Channing Tatum (and almost everyone else, honestly) fall into the first category, plus a total lack of chemistry between the two means it’s nearly impossible to feel vested in Jupiter’s plight or their romance. This may be a fault of the script more than the actors, since the whole movie positions Jupiter as a near-hapless damsel in distress, and Caine repeatedly swooping in on his jet boots to rescue her as a literal deus ex machina. This kind of setup does not lend much need to emoting on any level. And then there’s Eddie Redmayne, who is so exceedingly campy in his performance that he seems to be channeling a parody of Meryl Streep – delivering a good portion of his dialogue in a breathy whisper, then suddenly switching to shrieking, nostril-flaring, scenery-chewing mode as an indicator of his rage. Honestly, it’s lazy acting and a far cry from his outstanding performance in The Theory of Everything.

That’s not to say that there isn’t any brilliance in Jupiter Ascending, and that’s exactly why The Wachowskis’ output has been so frustrating to watch. Amidst all the chaff there are actually some good things about the movie. The CGI-laden visuals are impressive and near faultless (though pointless to watch in 3D), and it is clear that much though and effort have been put into bringing the Jupiter Ascending world to life. There are so many interesting spacecraft, technological gadgets, alien species, costumes, landscapes and more, that there seems to be enough to populate a whole TV series, not just a two-hour movie. Alas, it all shuffles by so quickly that one wonders why so much effort was put into realizing the universe and its accoutrements.

One of the most interesting scenes in Jupiter Ascending was a bureaucratic shuffle when Jupiter is first trying to claim her royal title, which sees her being pushed from one bureaucrat to another in a seemingly endless cycle, culminating in an unexpected, but very pleasantly surprising cameo. It’s a telltale sign that the best scene is one entirely devoid of action and flashy CGI (and without Michael Giacchino’s bombastic, overbearing score – a misstep for him), and one wonders that perhaps it is now time for the Wachowskis to go back to their roots and make movies on a limited budget, because it seems the more money they get, the worse their output gets.

Rating: * ½ (out of four stars)