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With the Oscars about 10 days off, time for a quick rundown. I shall turn my gaze to each Oscar category and give you one ex-craps dealer’s prognostication on who will win. Good Reader, no wagering or Vegas odds offered here!

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  • BEST PICTURE

No contest. I thought this would be closer. All the nominees have virtues, passion, maybe even the poetry. So why Birdman? Because it defies analysis. (*SPOILERS!) In the end it doesn’t matter if the guy actually has powers. Yeah, the gun at the end seems like it comes out of nowhere, but it’s actually grounded firmly in the dialogue of the play, the same scene they read over and over. The structure builds suspense inevitably. I was watching for 10 minutes before I realized there hadn’t been a cutaway. This continuous shot (or the appearance of a continuous shot–he apparently did do extremely long takes but broke off seamlessly, for instance with a tilt up to the sky and fade to morning) was the most seamless I’ve seen since the one-take, 99 minute Russian Ark.  If you want to see how the hell they did it, look here. Keaton’s astonishing performance. Not a wasted supporting role. Loved Inarritu since Amores Perros. Don’t know if it’s a movie I’ll go back to twenty times like Goodfellas or The Godfather but it stayed with me for days after viewing. The movie soars.

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  • ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE

Keaton, barely. Eddie Redmayne’s transformation is unreal in The Theory Of Everything. (*SPOILERS) I had no clue he divorced his wife. And after all she did for him! Talk about pouring some dark side into a trans-formative character. Or that he could still…you know…do it. How do you pass up on Bradley Cooper in American Sniper? He’s another actor who physically transformed for the role (gaining 40 pounds and really looking like the real dude). Liked him here way better than in Silver Linings Playbook. And the politics of the flick didn’t bug me either. Again, Birdman was just that good. And Keaton…role of his life.

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  • ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE

Don’t bet on this, but I’m taking Felicity Jones. Before we buy the ticket we already know the Steven Hawking story. We expect that transformation. What we don’t know is his wife’s story. Being harsh, one could call the movie by the numbers. Straight linear storytelling with few surprises. The noble suffering wife role might seem superficial, and might have been if not for Jones’ performance. She could be a candidate for sainthood as her character bears the weight of Hawking’s illness on her day to day life. (*SPOILERS!) The scene where Hawking breaks up with her is a masterpiece of subtext- Does she say more than one line? And after a lifetime of suffering with him? That prick! The end scene is an elegant statement to their love. I’ll root for her, though Julianne Moore will probably win it.

p.s.: Yeah, I walked out on Wild. Somebody, please, tell me what that movie was about. Laura Dern takes the hard knocks here. Bringing the wrong butane fluid is not suffering!

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  • ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

Can’t go against J.K. Simmons here. As a teacher myself I’m always wondering how far to push a student–Though tossing a symbol at someone’s head in today’s world would trend on Twitter and raise a social media firestorm long before you’d be fired. That’s why we go to the movies– because people on the screen are doing shit we can’t. Truth be told, if it was just my vote, Mark Ruffalo would win it. Loved the performances in Foxcatcher, but the movie itself, not so much.

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  • ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

12 years in the making. That’s the tagline–how they’re selling the movie. They can’t sell the story because there’s not that much to it. One mother’s coming of age tale as she disentangles from a pair of loser husbands, protecting her two kids and finding herself along life’s path. What makes this film obviously unique is it was shot over 12 years. We see the child actors grow up. We see Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke physically change. We’ve never seen that and director Linklater has made me say that before with Slacker and A Scanner Darkly. I liked both those movie better, and Bernie too. This is a brave performance and though I might personally pick Emma Stone, Arquette will win it.

  • ANIMATED FEATURE

Didn’t see any of them. Shit, gotta get out more. Damn February Chicago slush puddles.

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  • CINEMATOGRAPHY

Didn’t see a couple of these movies either, but I’m giving it to the utterly seamless Birdman. The POV he gets with those endless tracking shots puts us right into Keaton’s head. Beautiful and frenzied.

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  • DIRECTOR

True story: My mother lives in the same New York city apartment building as Wes Anderson. When he moved in the movers had his beautiful ceramic hot tub laid up on its side in the elevator. As they split back to their truck I shifted up against the ceramic surface and before I knew it, I was laying in Wes Anderson’s hot tub. Who says Peditto hasn’t brushed up against greatness!

Wes, I freaking loved Grand Budapest. It has poetry my brother, but not the essential, kill me poetry of Birdman. A victory for Inarritu here.

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  • DOCUMENTARY

Protest vote. Saw Life Itself a couple nights ago and it killed me. HOW WAS THIS NOT NOMINATED??? Three question marks, bold and italicized–I must be angry. James’ best film since Hoop Dreams. Ebert’s face at the end was a mask you could barely look upon, but there he was, fighting to walk a simple staircase, blogging to 880,00 people, full of joy at, yes, life itself.

This is a screenwriting blog, so now for the big awards…

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  • WRITING- ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

Tough call. Did anyone else think Inherent Vice was ridiculously overrated? Trippy scenes, but what a mess. Whiplash will be honored when Simmons wins. Theory Of Everything and Imitation Game are strong but almost too by-the-numbers. Which leaves American Sniper– I think this one gets snubbed elsewhere, but gets honored here.

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  • WRITING- ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

Nightcrawlers got screwed too. That character ain’t Travis Bickle, as so many contend, but he’s spooky beyond belief. A great statement on the 24/7 news monster and those who feed it. That said, I’m going back to the well and calling for a Birdman win.

I’m a card-counter and ex-craps dealer, but I’m also frequently wrong. Good Reader, be advised!

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