With all the controversy aimed at who didn’t earn an Oscar nomination this year, there has been a startling lack of attention paid to those who did.
Or devoted to who will actually win, who might get shut out or who stands the best chance of embarrassing themselves with ill-chosen remarks.
Time to address the key issue. Here are the breakdowns of those cinematic standouts hoping to snag a gold statuette at Sunday’s 87th Annual Academy Awards ceremony (ABC, 7 p.m. Eastern).
Robert Duvall. Ethan Hawke. Edward Norton. Mark Ruffalo. J.K. Simmons: The five veteran actors in this category have appeared in a collective 445 onscreen projects. And you know who has the most credits to his name? J.K. Simmons.
The 60-year-old character actor enjoys the best role of his journeyman career in “Whiplash,” playing a merciless conservatory music teacher who engages in a clash of wills with an ambitious jazz drummer (Miles Teller).
What elevates their riveting interactions — and all but ensures an Oscar for Simmons — are the layers of depth he conveys. At times abusive, compassionate, vindictive and magnanimous, his Professor Fletcher is the most memorable character to hit screens in 2014.
The other four nominees deliver fine work (especially Norton as a haughty thespian in “Birdman”), but come awards time, voters can’t help beating the drum for Simmons.
Our prediction: J.K. Simmons for “Whiplash”
Has there ever been a category more prone to upsets than supporting actress? It’s the spoiler. The cooler. The frequent knock-out punch for those expecting to sweep their illegal Oscar office pools. As Marisa Tomei so famously proved in 1992’s “My Cousin Vinny,” anybody can prevail for any reason.
Let’s hope that logic doesn’t apply to Meryl Streep, whose nomination for “Into the Woods” ranks among the most frivolous of her 19 nods. Barring witchcraft, Streep will join more-deserving candidates Laura Dern (“Wild”) and Keira Knightley (“The Imitation Game”) watching from the sidelines.
If there’s going to be an upset it will be from the universally liked Emma Stone, excellent at portraying Michael Keaton’s bitter daughter in “Birdman.”
Front-runner Patricia Arquette (“Boyhood”) has customarily been a role player of limited scope. Solid but unexceptional. As the single mother homemaker who blossoms into a university professor, she lands a part that not only shows off her emotional range but reveals the physicality that accompanies a 12-year-shoot.
Our prediction: Patricia Arquette for “Boyhood”
Despite other awards show voters swooning over Eddie Redmayne’s respectable portrayal of scientist Stephen Hawking in “The Theory of Everything,” it sure feels like this is Michael Keaton’s year.
His other competitors — Steve Carell (“Foxcatcher”), Bradley Cooper (“American Sniper”) and Benedict Cumberbatch (“The Imitation Game”) — will have to be appeased by the “It’s just an honor to be nominated” adage. (That said, it’s interesting to consider how politics and box-office success might factor into Cooper’s chances.)
For now, Keaton accomplishes exactly what his “Birdman” character, Riggan Thomson, hopes to in that comedic drama: bringing artistic respectability back to a movie star long past his marquee prime.
Our prediction: Michael Keaton for “Birdman”
Marion Cotillard (“Two Days, One Night”) and Reese Witherspoon (“Wild”) have previously won in this category. They’re balanced out by newcomers Felicity Jones (“The Theory of Everything”) and Rosamund Pike (“Gone Girl,” written by KC’s Gillian Flynn). Therefore, the smart wager is on Julianne Moore, a revered actress with five Academy Award nominations and zero wins.
As an intellectual linguistics professor struggling with the onset of early Alzheimer’s in “Still Alice,” the 54-year-old star perfectly showcases the devastating toll of memory being stripped away. Her only drawback is the sheer subtlety of the performance. Even while being in nearly every scene, she delivers shockingly few “Oscar moments.” Wonder what clip they’re going to show during the telecast?
Our prediction: Julianne Moore for “Still Alice”
Typically, whoever wins the Directors Guild of America Award also takes home the Oscar (it has matched up 60 times during the 67-year history). Also, traditionally, whatever film earns best picture usually earns best director. Recently, however, there have been a few splits, such as last year, when “Gravity” director Alfonso Cuaron beat “12 Years a Slave” director Steve McQueen in this category.
There’s a strong chance that scenario is going to thwart “Birdman” filmmaker Alejandro G. Iñárritu. It won’t come courtesy of Bennett Miller (“Foxcatcher”), Morten Tyldum (“The Imitation Game”) or even Wes Anderson (“The Grand Budapest Hotel”), whose efforts are a bit overmatched in this category. The spoiler is Richard Linklater, whose “Boyhood” represents a dozen-year passion project for the Texas director.
Just as elderly actors often earn an award as a kind of career capper, the Oscars can’t help but honor a man who spent 12 years slaving to make a feature with meager funds and a “leading man” who matures from grade school to college before our very eyes.
Our prediction: Richard Linklater for “Boyhood”
The key to figuring out what wins the ultimate Oscar honor resides in understanding who is doing the voting.
Most awards are determined by national or regional organizations of film critics. The Golden Globes are selected by a mere 93 people, many of whom are glorified gossip columnists. How these groups vote is only tangentially connected to how it’s done by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
That’s because Oscars are chosen by Hollywood itself, and a huge percentage of these 6,000 “motion picture professionals” are actors. Thus, projects that tend to show moviemaking in a positive light — “Argo,” for instance, where Hollywood literally saves hostages’ lives — gain a sizable advantage.
Out of the eight nominees, only one nominee fits that description this year: “Birdman.” Fundamentally, it’s the story of a former movie star risking everything to go back to his theater roots. Any guesses what choice most actors will be marking on their ballots?
Our prediction: “Birdman”