My 2015 Oscar Picks and Wagers
It’s Oscar time!
The 87th annual Academy Awards will be shown on ABC Sunday night. I haven’t missed an Oscar presentation since 1991. So, this will keep my current streak alive at 24 straight years — and 43 shows out of the last 45 years. I’m not really that old, but I can still recall my very first Academy Award memory — which was John Wayne winning Best Actor in 1970 for “True Grit.”
What follows are my thoughts on this year’s six major awards categories. I’ve included who I think SHOULD win the Oscar, who I expect WILL win, as well as comments on the latest betting odds, after a brief consultation earlier this week with awards-show guru Matt Lessinger. By the way, Lessinger perfectly nailed the Grammy Awards a few weeks ago with his four picks (including a 10-1 shot). Unfortunately for us this time around, he didn’t see any strong values among these Oscar choices, particularly at this late stage. The betting market has already made adjustments.
[Note: For those interested, Matt Lessinger’s comments to me about the Oscars are reprinted at the end of this article]
Before we begin — I’m presenting my very own special Oscar night category. Let’s label this, “I’ll kick in my television screen if….”
— “Inherent Vice” wins for Best Adapted Screenplay. This movie was a total mess. Yeah, some of the performances were quirky and a bit fun to watch, especially Joaquin Phoenix as the doped-up lead. But Paul Thomas Anderson’s indecipherably atrocious god-awful disaster of what was a lost film script deserved a walkout and a rotten tomato instead of an Oscar nomination. What were voters thinking? Given a choice between watching this indecipherable garbage again or going to see the equally baffling “Fifty Shades of Grey,” instead I think I’d opt for playing a round of golf….in Syria.
— “Selma” wins for Best Picture. I’ve expressed my disgust with director Ava DuVernay, who blatantly ignored all the historical facts and then unnecessarily distorted the real record of events in order to sensationalize Martin Luther King’s life and struggles, which needed no embellishment. Fortunately, “Selma” has no shot whatsoever at a Best Picture Oscar. It never should have been nominated. However, “Glory” seems like a lock to win Best Song, which will be the payoff given to this film that supposedly got “snubbed.”
— J.K. Simmons doesn’t win Best Supporting Actor for “Whiplash.” I love performers who have paid their dues in both film and theater, and Simmons has a long history of playing memorable character roles. He was finally given a meaty character and a great script in which to blossom in this over-the-top portrayal of the strict musical taskmaster in “Whiplash,” one of the year’s best films.
Finally, a quick written ovation to the wonderful musician Glen Campbell who was nominated in the Best Song category this year. Many people forget what a huge star Campbell was at one time. A great songwriter and performer who played several instruments, he racked up some monster crossover hits during the 1960s and 1970s. Three years ago, Campbell was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease. So, instead of being depressed and withdrawing from the public eye, he went out on tour one last time as a way of saying farewell. This is one of is final songs, which will be performed live on Oscar night. By the way, I mentioned “True Grit” as my first Oscar memory. Campbell played in that movie as Oscar-winner John Wayne’s co-star.
Sunday night should be fun. And now, on with the show. The envelopes please:
Note: Odds courtesy of Bovada
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
It’s almost unthinkable that anyone might win year’s Oscar other than veteran character actor J.K. Simmons. I’ve seen some love for Norton and Ruffalo emerging among the critics, but that will probably split the opposition and leave Simmons standing alone onstage to capture what should be an obvious early win in the presentation. Hawke certainly did a nice job in “Boyhood” and his day as an Oscar winner should come eventually. Rounding out the field, Duvall is like a fine wine, but this was far from his best vintage. His nomination was undeserved given how bad a movie “The Judge” turned out to be.
Who will win? J.K. Simmons
Who should win? J.K. Simmons
- JK Simmons – Whiplash -5000
- Edward Norton – Birdman 12-1
- Mark Ruffalo–Foxcatcher 16-1
- Ethan Hawke – Boyhood 33-1
- Robert Duvall – The Judge 33-1
If I had to make a bet: It’s hard to imagine Simmons not winning, but Ruffalo’s understated role in “Foxcatcher” could be worth a small bet as a longshot.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Like the previous category, this prize seems locked up. However, Arquette is probably even more likely to win than Simmons given that no other contenders appear to pose a serious threat to the hardworking mom in “Boyhood.” Critics have pointed out Arquette could very well have been nominated in the Best Actress category since she’s in most of the scenes filmed over 12 years, and the movie ends up being just as much about her life as her son’s. Meanwhile, Stone, Knightley, Dern, and Streep were all fine in their respective roles. But none of those other performances were nearly as demanding as the good mother who matured onscreen before our eyes, revealing her human frailties in “Boyhood.”
Who will win? Patricia Arquette
Who should win? Patricia Arquette
- Patricia Arquette– Boyhood -5000
- Emma Stone – Birdman 14-1
- Keira Knightley – The Imitation Game 25-1
- Laura Dern– Wild 25-1
- Meryl Streep – Into the Woods 25-1
If I had to make a bet: It seems ridiculous to wager $50 to win a $1. But if you want to make a few bucks, take every dollar in your pocket and lay it on Arquette, who’s certain to win her first Oscar. Then collect, and go buy a cup of coffee.
BEST ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE
This is one of the most stacked Best Actor categories in years, with all five nominees justifiably deserving the award. The intense competition this year in male lead roles also shut out several other strong performances, most notably Bill Murray, David Oyelowo, and Ralph Fiennes. Tough to pick a standout since all performances in this category were fabulous. This is as wide open as it gets, perhaps with only Steve Carrell not standing much of a chance to win. I expect a minor surprise here, with Michael Keaton pulling off a slight upset. Eddie Redmayne was extraordinary in the very demanding role of Stephen Hawking, one of the most fascinating figures of our time, particularly since much of his acting had to be conveyed exclusively in facial expressions. I think that was the best performance of the year. But fellow countryman Benedict Cumberbatch might pull away few votes for a similar true-life period drama of a real person in “The Imitation Game.” For this reason, I think Keaton wins.
Who will win? Michael Keaton
Who should win? Eddie Redmayne
- Eddie Redmayne – The Theory of Everything -300
- Michael Keaton – Birdman 2-1
- Bradley Cooper – American Sniper 14-1
- Benedict Cumberbatch – The Imitation Game 33-1
- Steve Carrell–Foxcatcher 33-1
If I had to make a bet: Bradley Cooper gave us an intense physical and emotional performance in “American Sniper,” which was a box office smash. For some, that will be impossible to overlook. He’s been nominated three straight years in actor categories, and since lots of votes and opinions could be split among the others, he’s worth a shot at 14-1.
BEST ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE
I’ve only seen three of these five performances, so I’m least qualified to comment in this category. I’ll go with what I’ve read among critics, who think it’s finally Julianne Moore’s time to win. I liked Pike’s performance the best of those I saw (great performance in an average movie), but she’s now viewed as a longshot. Jones was also wonderful alongside Redmayne in “The Theory of Everything,” which unfortunately will be overlooked given how strong the male lead performance was. Voters in this category seem to favor women in strong independent roles rather than devoted, dutiful wives. Witherspoon had absolutely no business being nominated in the mediocre film “Wild.”
Who will win? Julianne Moore
Who should win? Rosamund Pike
- Julianne Moore – Still Alice -5000
- Reese Witherspoon – Wild 12-1
- Rosamund Pike – Gone Girl 25-1
- Felicity Jones – The Theory of Everything 40-1
- Marion Cotillard – Two Days One Night 50-1
If I had to make a bet: There are whispers among movie insiders that Marion Cotillard could pull off a shocking surprise, and since she garnered enough votes for the nomination in a film seen by virtually no one (in the U.S.), that’s an indication she might be in the race. At 50-1, certainly worth a shot if you like longshots.
I’m one of the very few passionate moviegoers who thought “Birdman” was overrated. That said, director Alejandro G. Inarritu’s extended shots without interruption were absolutely mesmerizing to watch, arguably the most complex movie choreography since the similar technique was employed in “Children of Men” ten years ago. That alone doesn’t merit the Oscar, of course. However, with multiple standout performances from a perfect cast and the limited confines of a Broadway theater as the entire film set, Inarritu is my lean over Richard Linklater. A Linklater win would also be perfectly acceptable given the obvious risks that were taken shooting a “write the script as you go” movie that spanned more than a decade. As far as making a pick at to who will win, voters seem to favor more experienced directors over first-time nominees in this category, giving Inarrito the clear edge. I also love Wes Anderson’s work which is consistently strong, and “The Grand Budapest Hotel” deserves more acclaim than it’s likely to receive on awards night. But that film came out nearly a year ago, and might not be as fresh on the minds of voters, making it more of a longshot. As for Miller and Tyldum, they are merely rounding out the category in what’s likely a two-director contest.
Who will win? Alejandro Innarito
Who should win? Alejandro Inarrito
- Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu – Birdman-175
- Richard Linklater– Boyhood +110
- Wes Anderson – The Grand Budapest Hotel 25-1
- Bennett Miller – Foxcatcher 50-1
- Morten Tyldum – The Imitation Game 50-1
If I had to make a bet: At 25-1, you have to take a flyer on Wes Anderson, who is popular in Hollywood and made a well-received movie by fans and critics alike that was fun to watch. He probably won’t get past Inarrito and Linklater, but at this price the value is too strong to pass up.
Be warned. I almost never agree with the winner in this category. Voters have been notoriously wrong so many times, that the final award of the night has almost become anti-climatic. “Dances With Wolves” over “Goodfellas” — really? “The Departed” over “The Queen” — really? “Shakespeare in Love” over “Life is Beautiful” or “Saving Private Ryan” — really? “The English Patient” over “Fargo” — really? “Forest Gump” over “The Shawshank Redemption” or “Pulp Fiction” — really? “Kramer vs. Kramer” over “Apocalypse Now” — really? Crash” — seriously!!! But I digress.
This appears to be strictly a two-movie race between “Boyhood” and “Birdman.” I’ve already expressed my less than enthusiastic response to “Birdman,” despite the gimmicky production and some excellent performances. For this reason, I’m hoping voters get it right for a change by giving the most prestigious award of the night to “Boyhood.” I’ll steal one of the best descriptions I read, which comes from Justin Chang of Variety. He wrote:
“So many films are locked in a battle against time — a mad scramble to meet deadlines and minimize risk at the production stage, followed by a long struggle to maintain their hold on the attention spans and memories of a fickle moviegoing public. If Richard Linklater’s quietly monumental, deeply transporting family epic feels unique in the pantheon of instant classics, it’s because it’s the rare work to surrender itself to time rather than fighting it, and to embrace risk as a natural, healthy consequence of living life and making art. The best picture Oscar is its just reward. The movie is ours.”
Who will win? Boyhood
Who should win? Boyhood
- Birdman -160
- Boyhood 6-5
- American Sniper 16-1
- The Imitation Game 28-1
- Selma 33-1
- The Grand Budapest Hotel 40-1
- Theory of Everything 50-1
- Whiplash 50-1
If I had to make a bet: Like the previous category, this award could break in a different direction, especially if Oscar voters split their ballots in the top two categories — director and best picture, which often happens. It’s possible “Birdman” and “Boyhood” could knock each other off which would mean either “American Sniper” or “The Grand Budapest Hotel” pulls off the upset. War movies do tend to perform very well historically in the Best Picture race, and events in the Middle East remain a hot topic. For this reason, the excruciating emotional angst of “American Sniper” makes for probably the best value with some chance to win, currently at 16-1, although a similar case could also be made for Wes Anderson’s wonderfully joyous film.
Added Note: Tonight at 7 pm, playing at several Las Vegas theaters, all of the “shorts” Oscar nominees will be shown. This includes live-action films and animation which in order qualify must run at under 40 minutes. I intend to see the “shorts” and then write about these films in tomorrow’s column.
Footnote: Matt Lessinger on betting the 2015 Oscars:
Officially I have no Oscar picks. Sorry to disappoint. Usually if there’s any value in betting them, it’s before the “lesser” awards like the Golden Globes and SAG awards, because once those winners are announced the odds change drastically.
I’m not putting any of my own money on these, so that should make it very clear that I’m not endorsing any picks, just offering observations:
I was very surprised that the odds on Birdman dropped as low as they did. It is now -200 to win Best Picture, and the Director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu is also -200 to win Best Director. That means the odds on Boyhood have risen a little, such that you can get +150 on Best Picture and +120 on Richard Linklater as Best Director. In a bubble I would probably bet Boyhood at those odds. However the money that has come in on Birdman seems like “smart” money, so I’m not going to go against it, nor am I going to bet it at such short odds.
The actor/actress categories have such heavy favorites that they are essentially worthless. And I cannot offer any useful insight on any of the truly minor categories.
Only 11 months until next year’s Grammys! 🙂