Steve Carell as John du Pont, a mentally unstable millionaire Olympic sponsor who murders a member of the wrestling team in Foxcatcher
Bradley Cooper as Chris Kyle, a real life master marksman facing two battles; one as a sniper in Iraq and one coming to terms with the fact that he has post-traumatic stress disorder at home in American Sniper
Benedict Cumberbatch as brilliant, but difficult to work with code breaker who solved the Enigma and in the process helped to pave the way for the development of computers in The Imitation Game
Michael Keaton as Riggan Thomson, a washed-up former star of the title superhero franchise who throws his last hope for relevance on a Broadway play in Birdman
Eddie Redmayne as a young Stephen Hawking, a physicist struggling with ALS who overcomes the two year expectancy and in the process develops his famous theory of black holes’ and their effect on time in The Theory of Everything
Who Will Win?
This will be a close run between Eddie Redmayne and Michael Keaton. The up and comer vs. the veteran.
Eddie Redmayne is the more conventional choice but don’t let that undervalue the quality of his performance. With this role being Stephen Hawking, it would have been easy for any actor to just focus on the disability. In The Theory of Everything, Redmayne focuses on the man.
Hawking introduces Redmayne as a gawky, awkward young Oxford student. He is a slacker who procrastinates on his assignment of “10 impossible questions”, but he is also a genius who manages to solve nine of them. When he interacts with Felicia Day, he delivers his lines with a charming awkwardness. Redmayne gives us the man, so that we share a closer connection to him.
When it comes to Hawking’s early diagnosis of ALS, Redmayne makes the wise choice of not making it obvious at first. He leaves subtle hints of early symptoms, a curved foot and trouble holding chalk. The degradation is gradual but still heartbreaking as Hawking loses more of his motor skills and starts slurring his words. Still, Redmayne keeps reminding us of the man, even maintaining his sense of humour. He also brings out Hawking’s intelligence under the slurred words and slouched torso. The image of his eye as he watches the ember of a fireplace shows the gears of his mind going off inside his head.
But the academy usually prefers to the give the Oscar to an actor with a lot of experience under his belt. Having been in the business for decades, Michael Keaton is the forerunner for the Best Actor.
His role makes obvious references to Keaton’s own career. Like Riggan, Keaton became a star after playing a superhero, in his case Batman. And true, he has never starred in a film as big as that unless you count his voice work on Cars and Toy Story 3. Besides Beetlejuice and Pacific Heights, most films take more advantage of his name recognition than his talent. With Birdman, Keaton finally gets a role he can sink his teeth into and boy does he savour the flavor.
When you really think about it, it’s quite a challenging role. First, he has to carry nearly the whole film on his shoulders. With him playing an actor in a play, he not only has to act, but he has to act like he’s acting. And then there’s the scene he has to play Birdman and has to interact with himself, whether in physical form or in voiceover. He has to keep this all up during lengthy takes.
Keaton meets the challenge head on and goes all the way. He makes himself look as pathetic as possible, even spending many scenes running in his underwear. At one point, he runs around Time Square in white briefs. He always runs around scene after scene, changing wig after wig.
And still, he manages to make Riggan someone you can empathize with. He lives with many regrets in his life, including screwing up his daughter. You root for him to succeed with his play, especially when he calls out a snobby critic out to destroy his play.
It is awesome to see the Best Actor Oscar go to Batman.
Marion Cotillard as Sandra, a mother who finds herself laid off from her job after recovering from an illness. Now she has only one weekend to convince her former co-worker to give up their bonuses for her to keep her job in Two Day, One Night
Felicity Jones as Jane Hawking, a drama student whose love and determination helped Stephen Hawking live beyond the two year life expectancy in The Theory of Everything
Julianne Moore as Alice Howland, a renowned linguistics professor diagnosed with early stages of Alzheimer’s in Still Alice
Rosamund Pike as the Amazing Amy, the loving wife of a relationship turned sour who mysteriously disappears in Gone Girl. To say more would be giving away the ending.
Reese Witherspoon as Cheryl Strayed, a real life writer who walks the Appalachian Trails alone in an effort to overcome a drug addiction, a breakup, and her mother’s death in Wild.
Who Will Win?
This will be the long overdue Oscar for Julianne Moore. She’s one of those actresses who pull off one unforgettable performance after another without ever taking home that statue. She has made unforgettable performances that were nominated and she has made unforgettable performances that were ignored by the academy. And now she finally gets that Oscar with her performance in Still Alice.
When we first meet Alice, she’s at a high point in her life. She’s a major figure at university. She is happily married to Alec Baldwin and her children are grown up and starting their own careers. That is except for her youngest (Kristin Stewart) who is struggling to find herself. But then she starts forgetting things. She loses track of time and constantly finds herself lost. She is met with the bad news that she’s has Alzheimer’s. Throughout the film, we see Alice struggle to maintain as much of herself as possible. She notes a series of question in an attempt to maintain her memory. And she even makes a plan to trick herself into committing.
At the same time, it brings her closer to her youngest daughter, who becomes her de facto caretaker.
Julianne Moore delivers on a difficult role. She has to start out as a happy, intelligent middle-aged professor and loving wife and mother, and then she has to slowly portray the deterioration of her mind, bringing a sense of loss. She has to portray the gradual loss of herself while keeping the audience drawn in.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR:
Robert Duvall as Joseph Palmer, a strict, crotchety small town judge charged with murder in The Judge. He must face years of repressed bitterness with his estranged son (Robert Downey Jr.) who must defend him. To make matters worst, the judge is coping with Alzheimer’s.
Ethan Hawke as Mason Sr, an easygoing but irresponsible father to son Mason Jr. in Boyhood.
Edward Norton as Mike Shiner, a difficult method actor hired to costar in Riggan Thomson’s’ play in Birdman.
Mark Ruffalo as David Schultz, the elder brother of a legendary Olympic wrestling duel in Foxcatcher.
JK Simmons as Terrence Fletcher, a brilliant but tyrannical jazz music instructor watching over promising drummer Andrew (Miles Teller) in Whiplash.
Who Will Win?
As with previous best supporting acting Oscars, it’s not contest who will win this year. It’s a shoe-in for JK Simmons.
Since being the opener for the Sundance film festival, critics and audience members have appraised Whiplash non-stop. Most of the appraisal has gone to Simmons’ intense performance of Fletcher.
With JK Simmons, people usually know him as two personas. One is the warm and cuddly model of wisdom which would be for his performances as the father in Juno and doing the voice for the Air Bending monk Tenzin in the Legend of Korra. The other would be a violent sociopath. This is certainly true of his first major role as the head of a Neo-Nazi organization in Oz. Fletcher certainly falls under the latter category.
He certainly creates an indelible impression with his bullet-shaped, bald head and all black wardrobe. Whenever he enters a room, everyone stands silent. What makes him scary is his unpredictability. One minute, he’s gently telling drummer Andrew (Miles Teller) he’s rushing or dragging and then just as Fletcher seems to be getting into the groove, he throws a chair at Andrew. Plus, Simmons gets to spout off some of the funniest insults ever written; “Are you one of those single tear people?”
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS:
Patricia Arquette as Olivia Evans, a struggling mother getting a college diploma in order to provide for her children in Boyhood.
Laura Dern, Cheryl’s late, loving mother for Wild.
Keira Knightley as Joan Clarke, a brilliant code breaker who becomes a close confidante to Alan Turning for The Imitation Game.
Emma Stone, as Sam Thompson, Riggan’s bitter, former drug-addicted daughter in Birdman. What makes her performance is a monologue where she lambasts her father.
Meryl Streep the Witch, who sends a Baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt) on a quest to retrieve items from fairy tale characters in the musical Into the Woods. She also holds Rapunzel captive in a misguided idea of mothering.
Who Will Win?
Here will be the one acting win for Boyhood. Patricia Arquette will be the first and probably the only member of her family to win an Oscar. Her siblings include David and Roseanne Arquette.
Hers is a performance that proves less is more. There are no big dramatic moments for Arquette. The closest thing is the moment after she lambasts her ungrateful daughter after they left her abusive second husband, but even that is more toned down compared to most movie moments. In a way, her low key performance is what makes it so strong. The lack of flashy moments makes her seem more like a real mother, the kind you’d have next door.
The strength of the performance is how much her character changes throughout the film. It’s a reminder that the search for self and personal growth doesn’t stop the moment you turn 18. We see her go through things parents often have to go through including having to move to get a better job, to earn a college degree in order to provide for her kids and dealing with her children leaving home. There are moments that parents will certainly relate to including their children faking illness, arguments with their significant other and the devastating feeling when their children are finally off to college.
Since the film was released, it has spawned jokes about the character’s poor choice in men. I’m sure people have heard this said once; “Her choice in men is worse than the mother from Boyhood.” To be honest, except for Ethan Hawke’s Mason, her choice in men range from an inconsiderate bully to an abusive drunk. But to be fair, they start out like nice romantic guys. It takes some time for them to show their true colours. This is probably what an abusive relationship looks like. At first, they start out seeming like great guys. But in time, they start revealing their controlling behaviour. And the reason the abused doesn’t leave right away is either due to a misguided idea of security or fear of surviving on their own. And it takes a friend to give them the push they need to get out. Though these scenes are still hard to watch, they are still more grounded in reality compared to most films about abuse.
 See Far From Heaven & Boogie Nights
 Especially her role in Safe
 His take on J Jonah Jameson in the first Spider-man trilogy seems to combine both persona to create a cuddly sociopath.