This Sunday the winners of the 87th Academy Awards will be announced.
After watching all of this year's releases – more than once – the Esquire team offer their opinion on who should take the top prizes, even if the bookies say it's unlikely.
See you on the red carpet.
There are so many unseen elements and unanswered questions around this almost too incredible to be true story of eccentric millionaire John T Dupont and the Olympic wrestlers caught up in his mad world, it took director Bennett Miller, alongside screenwriters E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman, years – and years - to research. “I wanted to learn what hadn’t been known about the story and that takes time,” says Miller. “This is a story with some uncomfortable truths, everyone I spoke with seemed to be guarding some aspect of what happened.”
The resulting film delivers on pretty much every level you would hope for an Oscar nominee - a small, character-led, gripping period tale that transports you to another time and place; deals with big Oscar-friendly themes like brotherhood and what it is to be American; is brilliantly played by an unexpected cast, some of them wearing prosthetics.
Where the film stands above the rest is in the script’s devotion to detail and finding the best story that it can, a style which in Capote and Moneyball, Miller has come to describe as “fact to fiction as a vehicle back to truth”. He might never do it better than here, with this script.
– Will Hersey
Let’s put aside, for a moment, the giant screeching bird and the voices in leading man Michael Keaton’s head. The most interesting part of the story of an aging actor famous for playing a superhero two decades ago (Yes! Just like Keaton as Batman!) is the dynamic of the play-within-a-play. It’s the drama around this production that Iñárritu has the most fun with, his camera tracking the increasingly fraught cast around the bowels of the Broadway theatre in an almost continual shot, fabricating the impression that the film itself was approached as a play, shot live after months of rehearsal (it wasn’t, of course).
With a theatre critic vehemently dismissing Keaton’s character as a ‘Hollywood clown’, the whole 119 minutes approaches the film industry with a wry smile, suggesting that audiences may have been hit round the head with superhero outings for long enough. We can’t help but feel Iñárritu has a point in this skillful redemption satire, packed with career-resuscitating performances from Keaton and Ed Norton, plus a star-making turn from Emma Stone.
– Tom Ward
There's a moment in Whiplash – surely the tightest, most purely enjoyable and hard-to-pick-holes-in film of this or any awards season – when JK Simmons's vicious music teacher, Terence Fletcher, explains why he's so hard on his students – to push them to levels they never thought they could reach. "I never really had a Charlie Parker. But I tried. I actually fucking tried. And that's more than most people ever do."
That Simmons, an actor with a scroll of tough guy cameos to his CV, played what might have been a cartoonish bully with both genuine menace and believable charisma is at the heart of the film's success. Through one talented and driven student’s eyes we feel Simmons’ pull both on screen and, more tellingly off it, where Teller practices till his hands bleed. Where Simmons’ impact is concerned, ‘supporting actor’ doesn’t tell the half of it.
– Will Hersey
There is scene towards the end of Boyhood when Patricia’s Arquette’s character Olivia – the mother of Mason, whose ‘boyhood’ we trace – is sat watching her son happily pack up his things, about to fly the nest for university. To his bewilderment, she breaks down in tears. “This is the worst day of my life,” she tells him. “I just thought there would be more than this”.
It’s a selfish moment that doesn’t seem to fit the convention of the doting mother, though Olivia certainly is that. It shifts the focus from a young man opening a new chapter in life to the woman he is closing the last one on. It’s terribly sad. And it’s is probably the moment Arquette secured her Oscar nomination – though there are many moments elsewhere that make this her career best performance, and the stand out from any supporting actress this year.
Like her co-star Ethan Hawke (Mason’s father), Arquette embraces Richard Linklater’s staggered, 12-year filming method and uses it intelligently to show how her character grows and changes, from a struggling single mother to a three-time divorcee to a successful professional suddenly facing life on her own. It won her the Golden Globe. The Oscar should be a formality.
– Sam Parker
With a Golden Globe already under his belt it’s very much a case of ‘do believe the hype’ when it comes to 33-year-old Eddie Redmayne performance in couldn’t-be-more-Oscar-friendly-if-it-tried Stephen Hawking biopic The Theory Of Everything, in which we watch him fall in love as a student, discover a theory about black holes and the history of time and adapt to the life suffering from Motor Neuron Disease.
Despite spending most of the film confined to a wheelchair, Redmayne’s performance is marked by its physicality (pay attention to how he rolls his ankles as he struggles to walk up stairs and watch him grin from his wheelchair as he delivers a rude joke). But the reason Redmayne really deserves to win the Academy Award for Best Actor is because of his skill in portraying the most famous scientist – and disabled man – in the world as a father, a friend, and a husband. Put simply: a man.
– Tom Ward
In fiction as in life, it is Felicity Jones – playing Stephen Hawking’s wife Jane in the biopic of the scientist’s life – whose role is at risk of being underappreciated. At times, she carries the film’s biggest scenes practically on her own, opposite a man whose actions are limited to raising an eyebrow or curling a lip.
Jones plays Jane with quiet steel and a British, roll-your-sleeves-up resolve. A scene when – exhausted and exasperated from caring for two children and stubborn invalid husband – she escapes for a moment alone in the woods is deftly understated. Given the opportunity for a showy breakdown, she softly implodes instead.
The trickier storyline – falling in unconsummated love with family friend Jonathan (Charlie Cox) – is no less skillfully handled, as are the film’s early scenes when Jane, young but still headstrong and no dunce herself, stands by Hawking when his condition is diagnosed early in their romance at university.
It would be something of a shock if Jones won in February, but a more than worthy choice. And if it doesn’t happen this year, you sense it will only a matter of time for this exceptionally talent English actress whose career is about to go stratospheric.
– Sam Parker
If you haven’t seen Boyhood yet, chances are you know two things about it.
First that it was filmed over 12 years, meaning the cast literally age before your eyes – most starkly in the case of lead character Mason (Ellar Coltrane), whose transformation from boy to man the film follows. Second, that it has just won a Golden Globe for Best Film and is hot favourite to repeat the feat at the Oscars.
Both facts are true, but probably less connected than you think. The USP of Richard Linklater’s film is intriguing, but worn with such lightness, you almost forget to look for it. The story shifts through new stages in Mason’s life without fanfare, his deepening voice and sharpening features the only signpost. Conventional narrative landmarks – major birthdays, first days at school, lost virginities – are ignored in favour of the moments inbetween these events, camping trips and bike rides and minor family squabbles. Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke – both brilliant – play Mason’s flawed but loving parents, whose own ‘adulthoods’ are presented with just as much nuance and poignancy. Every scene has a ring of truth about it that is simultaneously comforting and unsettling.
Unsettling because, in the end, what emerges is a film about time itself – the way it falls hopelessly through out fingers, the way we try to order and understand it only to end up with a rough patchwork of memories. Life, Boyhood reminds us, is not a clean narrative arc but a messy sequence of moments and impressions.
Sad and wise and utterly unique, you find yourself thinking about the film long after the credits have rolled, and if it wins in February, as it should, it will because Boyhood is in a league of one, not just this year but full stop.
– Sam Parker