EDITOR’S NOTE: At ESPN, Adnan Virk wears many hats but rarely does he don a tuxedo. For the second straight year, Front Row has enlisted the network’s resident movie buff to handicap the Oscars (ABC, Sunday, 7 p.m. ET). Virk has seen “every nominee for best picture and director; four acting categories; and two each in the writing and editing categories,” he said, reaffirming his seriousness on the subject. Now, decked out in a virtual tux and top hat, Virk begins his two-part “Head and Heart” picks. Today’s edition focuses on who Adnan’s heart wants to win 2015 Oscars in the major categories; tomorrow, he goes with his head and let’s his brain guide him to the winners.
Best Picture: “Boyhood”
When I saw “Boyhood” last summer in my hometown of Toronto amid the thunderous approval from critics, I was blown away. Not only a gargantuan logistical and technical achievement, gathering the entire cast and crew for one week to shoot every year for 12 years, the story is revelatory, depicting one boy’s growth from childhood into adolescence. Under the veteran, guiding hand of director Richard Linklater, Ellar Coltrane possesses remarkable self-awareness as the story resembles a documentary, only to actually work as a beautifully layered piece of verisimilitude [Editor’s Note: We told you he was good at this stuff]. It’s a story not only about fathers and sons, mothers and sons, sibling rivalries and the paths we take in life, but thanks to its naturalism, it ends up being a universal story that is wholly original.
RUNNER UP: The Imitation Game
Best Director: Richard Linklater, “Boyhood”
I didn’t relate to “Dazed and Confused” as some sort of accepted touchstone of my youth, appreciated the daring of “Waking Life” without truly embracing it, and laughed heartily at Ethan Hawke’s joke that the “Before Sunrise” trilogy is the lowest-grossing trilogy in movie history (loved the concept and the leads were fantastic but it took the word “verbose” to a whole new level). But this time, Linklater shows the command of a true cinematic artist, combining the audacity, chutzpah and patience to pull off something even the most ardent cinema lover hasn’t seen before. Some directors love to show off their finest camera tricks, but the Texan native’s camera prefers to be as unobtrusive as possible. The effect he conjures up is one of quiet grace.
RUNNER UP: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, “Birdman”
Best Actor: Michael Keaton, “Birdman”
Often, this award is either recognition of a tour de force dynamo (think Daniel Day Lewis in the marvelous “There Will Be Blood”) or a lifetime achievement award (see my favorite actor, the legend Al Pacino for “Scent of a Woman”). Rare is the actor who could fit into both slots, but that’s exactly what Keaton delivers with his ferocious and funny turn in Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s “Birdman.” Keaton is the movie. Brilliantly sending up his image as a washed-up thespian whose most lasting work was playing a superhero (Batman meet Birdman) and is now desperate to reinvent himself with a cerebral play on Broadway, Keaton is fearless. Whether it’s sending up his image or wandering through Times Square in his tighty whiteys, it’s a vanity-free work and the capper to a long underrated career.
RUNNER UP: David Oyelowo for Best Actor Selma who wasn’t even nominated!
Best Actress: Julianne Moore, “Still Alice”
With a nod to Gloria Swanson, Mr. Demille, Moore is ready for her close-up. Long a bridesmaid (this is her fifth nomination), she should’ve already won Oscars for the criminally underrated “The End of the Affair” and Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Boogie Nights.” As Alice, suffering from early onset Alzheimer’s, Moore is heartbreaking playing a fiercely intelligent woman sadly aware of her mental faculties letting her down, little by little. Her deterioration is handled with care and it’s to Moore’s credit that she doesn’t reduce the movie to one big pity party. She brings humor and pathos about her condition, which other less seasoned actresses wouldn’t have the guts to deliver.
RUNNER UP: Marion Cotillard, “Two Days, One Night”
Best Supporting Actor: JK Simmons, “Whiplash”
I loved Hawke’s sweetly affecting turn in “Boyhood” as a father whose care outdoes his inconsistency; Mark Ruffalo was the best part of the maddening “Foxcatcher”; and in “Birdman,” Edward Norton sends up the image of the self-absorbed oh-so-serious actor with glee. But it’s Simmons, who gave an indelible turn as the chilling Schillinger in Tom Fontana’s “OZ” for HBO on the small screen, who has now given a villain for the ages for the silver screen with his sadistic music teacher in Damian Chazelle’s Sundance darling “Whiplash”. Simmons, bulked up in his tight black t-shirts, seems to be channeling R. Lee Ermey drill sergeant in Stanley Kubrick’s “Full Metal Jacket.” He’s cunning, brilliant and ruthless and when he says to his protégé Miles Teller, “there are no two more damaging words in the English language than ‘good job,'” it’s a testament to his performance that you might actually believe him.
RUNNER UP: Mark Ruffalo, “Foxcatcher”
Best Supporting Actress: Keira Knightley, “The Imitation Game”
Previously nominated for her work in “Pride and Prejudice,” Knightley reaches a career peak as the deeply sympathetic Joan Clarke, a cryptanalyst who worked with Alan Turing to crack the Enigma code. The movie has to win an Oscar for its literate and heady screenplay, but it’s Knightley who brings the cipher that is Turing to life. It’s in her eyes that you see the brilliance of Turing, cloaked up as it is in his antisocial and brittle manner. Knightly humanizes the chilly Turing and, in turn, gives this prestige picture some much needed heart.
RUNNER UP: Patricia Arquette, “Boyhood”