By: Scott Harvey, DIVERSIONS COLUMNIST
Ah, the Oscars: the only time besides the Democratic National Convention when you can see all of Hollywood’s biggest stars gathered in one location. Whether you agree with this year’s nominations or not (and, rest assured, I do not), the ceremony is always a spectacle to behold and well worth watching. Though I have not quite reached the status of Oscar voter yet, I do feel confident in my argument that the following are the most deserving candidates in their respective categories.
Best Supporting Actress: Emma Stone, “Birdman.” This is a tough one. Patricia Arquette was wonderful and transformative in “Boyhood” and Keira Knightley has given some truly excellent performances of late (though she should have been nominated for “Begin Again” or “Laggies,” rather than “The Imitation Game”), but Emma Stone’s brilliant, soul-bearing performance in “Birdman” was a standout, even in a movie where every shot begs to be immersed in and every actor seems to be screaming “Look at me!” with each line. Stone’s performance a superb display by an actress whose future simply couldn’t be more promising.
Sample Quote: “Who are you? You hate bloggers. You make fun of Twitter. You don’t even have a Facebook page. You’re the one who doesn’t exist.”
Best Supporting Actor: J.K. Simmons, “Whiplash.” Again, this was a difficult choice. I absolutely loved Ethan Hawke in “Boyhood” and Edward Norton in “Birdman,” but J.K. Simmons is long overdue for an Oscar and anyone who saw Whiplash would find it hard to disagree that his performance is worthy of one. As Miles Teller’s ferocious, dictatorial, and borderline sadistic drum instructor, Simmons will make you forget that he ever played Juno’s dad. His performance could have easily been a caricature, but Simmons is too experienced of an actor to make his character one-dimensional. It is a truly unforgettable performance in a year full of them.
Sample Quote: “There are no two words in the English language more harmful than ‘good job.’”
Best Adapted Screenplay: Damien Chazelle, “Whiplash.” The best adapted screenplay of the year, Gillian Flynn’s for Gone Girl, was not even nominated, but Chazelle’s is nearly equal to it. Fierce, angry, and unbearably intense, “Whiplash” was a stunning independent effort from a writer-director with a bright future.
Best Original Screenplay: Richard Linklater, “Boyhood.” I was thrilled to see “Nightcrawler” nominated in this category, but there was no better screenplay this year than Linklater’s. It is one of the wisest and most profound pieces of storytelling you are ever likely to see. It is a thing of effortless brilliance.
Best Actress: Reese Witherspoon, “Wild.” Reese Witherspoon is a brilliant actress (see: “Election,” “Pleasantville,” her Oscar-winning turn in “Walk the Line”) but she has strayed off the path recently, which is why her no-holds-barred performance in “Wild” was so refreshing to see. As the only person on screen for large sections of the movie, Witherspoon’s task is a daunting one but it is one she more than rises to meet.
Sample Quote: “My mother used to say something that drove me nuts. There is a sunrise and a sunset every day and you can choose to be there for it. You can put yourself in the way of beauty.”
Best Actor: Michael Keaton, “Birdman.” Not even close. Keaton’s career-defining turn in “Birdman” was the best piece of acting that 2014 had to offer. It’s clear that his performance is an extremely personal one and it is on display in every frame of “Birdman.” “Birdman” was undoubtedly the most visually stunning movie of the year, but it’s a testament to Keaton that he was the thing you could not take your eyes off.
Sample Quote: “Give the people what they want! Some good, old-fashioned apocalyptic porn! Birdman, the phoenix rises!”
Best Director: Richard Linklater, “Boyhood.” What Linklater did with “Boyhood” should go down as no less than one of the most dazzling achievements in film history. Filming “Boyhood” over 12 years is one thing, but then channeling those 12 years into a single, generation-defining experiment with such incredible emotional impact is something far more difficult. Few other directors would even attempt such a stunt. Thank goodness that Linklater did.
Best Picture: “Boyhood.” Moving. Profound. Wise. Funny. Sad. Beautiful. Brilliant. Unforgettable.