In any case, based on my post-nomination efforts to see most of the contenders, I'm going to rank-order the films and acting performances. Obviously, this is my completely subjective perspective -- and not an ideal way to think about art. Plus, I can only rank the performances I watched. That is a big limit since I failed to see one of the Oscar-nominated Best Picture nominees and I've yet to see many of the acting performances.
Keep in mind that these are not my predictions about winners in each category. Go to the Hollywood Stock Exchange if you want predictions based upon betting markets. Spoiler Alert: Birdman is the favorite for Best Picture, though supporting actor J.K. Simmons seems to be the biggest favorite in any of the major categories.
Note: Last year, if I recall correctly, Netflix had 4 of the 5 top documentaries available to stream prior to the Oscars. However, this year, their own film Virunga is nominated and that is the only one available on the service.
Note 2: Films and performances shaded in yellow below will indicate additions/edits after the Oscars (and the original blog posting).
The Imitation Game **
The Theory of Everything
The Grand Budapest Hotel **
Comment: Selma is a very powerful film, but so is Boyhood in a completely different way. Some of the writing could have been a bit sharper in Selma, but the acting was first-rate. I liked Birdman, but did not find it to be as compelling as those two other films. Ida, nominated as a foreign film, is a better movie than most of the films on this list.
Frankly, I do not see the appeal of American Sniper. Bradley Cooper did a fine job as Chris Kyle, but the film failed to reveal the FUBAR nature of the Iraq war from 2003 to 2009. Kyle's four tours during this period are noted, but without the dates or other context. There are only vague hints of the changing US tactics and public justifications for the war. Anyone learning about the war from this film might think the entire conflict was about confronting the evil of AQI, even though AQI did not exist before the US invasion. As in The Hurt Locker, the main character is quite competent at his specific job. However, that film did a fine job revealing the problematic nature of the Iraq war through the character study. American Sniper really didn't. The best Clint Eastwood war film remains Letters from Iwo Jima.
Richard Linklater (Boyhood)
Alejandro G Inarritu (Birdman)
Wes Anderson (The Grand Budapest Hotel)
Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game)
Bennett Miller (Foxcatcher)
Best actor in a Leading Role
Michael Keaton (Birdman)
Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything)
Bradley Cooper (American Sniper)
Benedict Cumberbatch (The Imitation Game)
Steve Carell (Foxcatcher)
Comment: Where is David Oyelowo? He would be my winner.
Best actress in a Leading Role
Julianne Moore (Still Alice)
Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl) **
Reese Witherspoon (Wild) **
Felicity Jones (The Theory of Everything)
Marion Cotillard (Two Days, One Night)
Best Actor in a Supporting Role
J.K. Simmons (Whiplash)
Edward Norton (Birdman)
Ethan Hawke (Boyhood)
Robert Duvall (The Judge)
Mark Ruffalo (Foxcatcher)
Best Actress in a Supporting Role
Patricia Arquette (Boyhood)
Laura Dern (Wild)
Keira Knightley (The Imitation Game)
Emma Stone (Birdman)
Meryl Streep (Into the Woods)
Best Documentary Feature
CitizenFour (Laura Poitras, Mathilde Bonnefoy and Dirk Wilutzky)
Finding Vivian Maier (John Maloof and Charlie Siskel)
Virunga (Orlando von Einsiedel and Joanna Natasegara)
Last Days in Vietnam (Rory Kennedy and Keven McAlester)
The Salt of the Earth (Wim Wenders, Juliano Ribeiro Salgado and David Rosier)
Comment: Finding Vivian Maier is on my DVR and CitizenFour premieres Monday February 23 on HBO. I'll know more about this category very soon.
Best Foreign Language Film
Comment: Ida is the overwhelming favorite and a very potent film, but I also look forward to seeing Wild Tales based on the buzz.
Update: Finally saw Wild Tales in November 2018. It's fun, though weird and unsettling.
** I saw these films in the theater.
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