The Towerlights Oscars Preview

Compiled by Carley Milligan, Arts and Life Editor

A brief survey of Towson students of simply asking “What was your favorite movie this year?” could generate dozens of different responses. Some slaves to the superhero genre might have a completely different answer than the true film buffs.

While there’s always going to be debates about the best movies and performances in any situation, The Towerlight set out to try to find the answers by putting together a panel to predict the winners of this year’s Academy Awards, airing on Feb. 22.

Two senior electronic media and film majors: Max Radbill and Tony Wilson, joined The Towerlight’s movie columnist Nick Salacki and electronic media and film professor Marc May, who used to be a working screenwriter in Hollywood, to talk about the nominations, their favorites from the past year and take on some wider movie topics to preview the Oscar’s.

So grab some popcorn and read their discussion. For a full video of the discussion, visit

Actor in a Leading Role

a. Steve Carell – Foxcatcher
b. Bradley Cooper – American Sniper
c. Benedict Cumberbatch – The Imitation Game
d. Michael Keaton – Birdman
e. Eddie Redmayne – The Theory of Everything

Radbill: I was really surprised when I saw this one. This came out before “American Sniper” was released, and I really thought David Oyelowo from “Selma” was going to get it. After seeing “Selma,” I think I would have switched in David Oyelowo for Bradley Cooper.

Salacki: I totally agree with you.

Wilson: [Cooper] was a surprise to a lot of people, but Steve Carell was a surprise to me too. Carell in that role, to me, didn’t feel that much different than the most famous role he’s had, which is Michael Scott. He still played a sad, lonely guy but instead of doing it for laughs he did it for sympathy. To me, it didn’t feel like anything different. I also agree that Dave from “Selma” should have made it, but I would have switched him out for Steve Carell.

May: I think the Oscar’s bring to light a lot of amazing performances, that’s their value, and there’s always something that’s going to get left off the list. The performance I really loved was [Jake] Gyllenhaal in “Nightcrawler,” I would have liked to see him get nominated. But I think Michael Keaton will win.

Wilson: I think Keaton will win too. … No one else could have played the role that Keaton played, it just wouldn’t have worked with anyone else.

May: I would have enjoyed seeing George Clooney play that role, so he could have been the “Batman and Robin” guy and Birdman could have had nipples.

Wilson: I also think Eddie Redmayne deserves some attention. … No one’s played Steven Hawking like this before. No one has played a role as disabled as this.

Radbill: There was a lot more physicality he had to put into the role than any other actors. I’m not sure exactly how he did it, but when he’s in the chair and he acts like that, it was really impressive. I didn’t love that movie as much as I did in “Birdman,” but I think Eddie Redmayne has a little bit [of an edge].

Salacki: I disagree with you. I understand where you’re coming from, but to me, he didn’t do that much. I understand how technical his performance was, but he just didn’t do much for me. It didn’t seem like much of an Oscar-worthy performance. Still, when it comes down to it, he may win because of all the buzz he has coming into it. I’m hoping for Michael Keaton. He deserves it more.

Actress in a Leading Role

a. Marion Cotillard – Two Days, One Night
b. Felicity Jones – The Theory of Everything
c. Julianne Moore – Still Alice
d. Rosamund Pike – Gone Girl
e. Reese Witherspoon – Wild

Wilson: This is the category where I have the most holes. I’ve only seen “Gone Girl” and “The Theory of Everything.”

Salacki: I think this is Julianne Moore’s. In “Still Alice” she plays a woman in her 50’s with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. You can compare it to Eddie Redmayne’s performance in some ways.

Radbill: I’ve heard the hype for Julianne Moore, but I was disappointed that this was the only nomination “Gone Girl” got. But I’m glad that Rosamund Pike got the nomination. … I thought she did a really good job playing a really complex role, and I think she deserves attention. But my favorite is Reese Witherspoon. Her performance is very raw and down-to-earth, but is still the bubbly Reese Witherspoon we all know and love.

Wilson: To me, Rosamund Pike is the only truly remarkable thing about “Gone Girl.” The only thing I remember about that movie is her performance. She would be my pick, but again, I have a limited scope on these.

May: I think the publicity machine is behind Julianne Moore, I think she wins.

Actress in a Supporting Role

a. Patricia Arquette – Boyhood
b. Laura Dern – Wild
c. Keira Knightley – The Imitation Game
d. Emma Stone – Birdman
e. Meryl Streep – Into the Woods

Salacki: Of course Meryl Streep is in here, she always finds a way to make it in. But when we look at the other nominees, Patricia Arquette really stands out. It’s an average household mother, and she creates the character beautifully. Laura Dern was a surprise for me. I wanted her to get nominated, but I didn’t think the Academy would do that. Laura Dern’s was actually just like Patricia Arquette’s…both of them were the top ones for me.

Radbill: I loved “Boyhood,” but I was surprised that it got all of these nominations, because they really only made it over like three days, and Patricia Arquette really only had to act for three days. But I thought her character drew me into the movie a lot more. She’s this single mother, and she has to deal with all of the non-fun stuff while Dad gets to have all the fun with the kids. The other performance I really loved is Emma Stone. There’s a theme when she’s really tearing her dad [Michael Keaton] a new one, and it’s a close-up shot and her eyes get so big. That was really powerful.

Wilson: I’ll echo your sentiments about Emma Stone. … The one that affected me most, personally, was Patricia Arquette. The character that she’s playing is basically my mom. Watching these events, which almost exactly mirror my life, and having very similar conversations with my mom it was very moving to me.

May: I think you can expect, Patricia Arquette’s going to win.

Many of the actors and actresses nominated this year are “newcomers” to the academy awards, why do you think this trend is emerging this year? How do you think they balance that with just getting veterans nominated because they’ve been around for so long?

Radbill: That’s how Meryl Streep got it. There were a lot of betting supporting women than her character in “Into the Woods.” I feel like Meryl Streep could star in a Seth Rogen movie and still get a nomination. … I think that played a part in her getting a nomination. There are a lot of newcomers, and that’s really nice to see, especially Felicity Jones.

Wilson: That’s a really tough thing to discuss. For me, personally, it’s something that doesn’t need to be talked about. The person who always comes to mind is Leonard DiCaprio. He’s been nominated all the time but he hasn’t won, so always being nominated doesn’t necessarily mean you’re always going to win.

May: There’s always a mix of newcomers and veterans, so I don’t think that’s anything atypical.

Salacki: It’s always great to see all of these new faces like Benedict Cumberbatch, Steve Carell and Patricia Arquette. … It’s a great surprise. I don’t catch it all year, though, when there are newcomers, but it’s hitting hard for me this year.

Keira Knightley’s nomination was considered to be surprising for some, what do you think the academy saw in her?

Radbill: Anyone could have played that character, and I’ve seen her play that character before. … I don’t think she’s going to make any splash.

What about Benedict Cumberbatch? You all didn’t mention him as much.

Wilson: Really, I feel like anyone could have played his role. Benedict Cumberbatch was amazing, but I sort of feel like other people could have played Alan Touring.

Salacki: Kiera Knightly didn’t make a splash, either.

Wilson: If I think about the movie, I don’t think about her performance first.

May: I would agree that she’s not in the forefront of things. But one of the traps I fall into as a film professor is being overly critical of an artistic work. These performances are apples to oranges. So when you say that anyone could have played that role, I don’t know if that’s necessarily true. We don’t know the director and what [he/she] had in mind.

Supporting Actor

a. Robert Duvall – The Judge
b. Ethan Hawke – Boyhood
c. Edward Norton – Birdman
d. Mark Ruffalo – Foxcatcher
e. J.K. Simmons – Whiplash

Wislon: For me it’s head-to-head with Edward Norton and J.K. Simmons. For J.K. Simmons, we’ve seen the overbearing teacher before, but we’ve never seen it taken to this level. … Also, Edward Norton is notoriously a tough actor to work with, and in this movie, he plays a difficult actor. So it was kind of handed to him.

Salacki: I’d say Edward Norton.

Radbill: I thought Simmons’ performance in “Whiplash” was amazing. The way Miles Teller plays off of him in that movie, their back-and-forth is so cool. You never know what J.K. Simmons’ character is thinking.

Wilson: The arc he goes through, even in that final scene is incredible.

Radbill: Also his monologues when he’s just cursing and saying the most offensive things are so funny and scary at the same time… I don’t think any other actor could have done it the same way.

May: I like Simmons too, I think he’ll beat out Edward Norton on this. People love him, they love him enough to sell insurance.

Salacki: I like Ethan Hawke, too, but it’s somehow not that memorable. I think it’ll go down to J.K. Simmons.

And you all didn’t mention Robert Duvall. “The Judge” wasn’t nominated for anything else.

Wilson: I feel like it’s like Meryl Streep. They kind of just threw [Duvall] in there because he’s been around so long.

Radbill: I remember when “The Judge” came out I had some interest in seeing it. But when it did come out it just kind of came and went and I never saw it. I don’t think it even made $10 million at the box office, which is interesting because Robert Downey Jr. is a huge box office draw. I wish I could speak to it but I haven’t seen the movie. But even from the trailer it didn’t seem like Duvall was giving an Oscar-worthy performance.

There is a lot of conversation surrounding the lack of diversity of the nominees in general this year. Last year’s awards featured several African American nominees and winners, and this year every actor and actress nominated is Caucasian.

May: Obviously, there’s been a little bit of brouhaha about “Selma” not getting many nominations. I don’t know if “Selma” didn’t get nominated because people didn’t think it’s a worthy film, or if it’s out of bias. I can definitely say there aren’t enough movies that star African Americans and are about African Americans that are widely seen. I can’t say specifically to “Selma,” though, because I thought it was a really, really good movie but I don’t know if it was an amazing movie.

Wilson: I think it was just a symptom of what came out this year. … I don’t think it has anything to do with what the Academy picked, it’s what they had to pick from. There just wasn’t a lot that came out in terms of diversity.

Radbill: There were so many good films that something had to get left out. I was surprised that “Selma” didn’t get more nominations. Some of it feels like they didn’t pick it just because they didn’t want to. I was surprised that Ava DuVernay didn’t get nominated for Best Director. I can’t but a specific reason why it didn’t get picked, but I think people are blowing it way out of proportion. In the end, the Oscar’s are the Oscar’s. At the same time, I think it’s kind of strange that a movie was so critically acclaimed that was so powerful and got attention in other awards, I was just surprised that the Academy didn’t pick it for more. … I think sometimes the Academy has very singular opinions.

Salacki: It’s hard to say what the Academy will do in a given year. Coming from last year with Lupita Nyong’o and Chiwetel Ejiofor in “12 Years a Slave.” Coming from that, to suddenly having a lot of the nominees being Caucasian [seems strange].

Radbill: I understand why people are getting upset, but at the end of the day, it’s the Oscar’s.

We’re moving on to Best Picture now. What is your opinion on the number of films nominated for the Best Picture category? This year there are eight. Do you feel any films were overlooked or any were unnecessarily nominated?

a. American Sniper
b. Birdman
c. Boyhood
d. The Grand Budapest Hotel
e. The Imitation Game
f. Selma
g. The Theory of Everything
h. Whiplash

Radbill: It’s one less than they picked last year. … There were a lot of good movies this year, and I think there were a lot of that got left off.

Wilson: Yeah, but I don’t know what I would swap out for them. “Nightcrawler” was one of the best things I saw this year, but I don’t know what I would swap out of it.

Salacki: I think “American Sniper” might have gotten an unfair advantage because of when it was released. I would have switched out “American Sniper” for “Nighcrawler.” I’m definitely betting that “Boyhood” is going to win.

Wilson: I think it’s a question of its artistic merit versus what it achieved. If you just look at what went into it, filming over 12 years. But I you’re looking at its narrative, it’s not that strong.

May: The Oscar’s are a commercial for Hollywood. And the fact that we’re talking about it here shows that, which is great. … Basically it’s a big party. So I would tell people just to go get some pizza and enjoy the Oscar’s. The movie I had the best time at this year was “Grand Budapest Hotel.” These are all great movies, and the fact that they’re all getting attention is a great thing.

“American Sniper” kind of snuck in at the end, and a lot of people are saying the message and the patriotic feel of the movie kind of overshadows the acting. Do you think that’s the case? And how do you think the film will fare in this category?

Radbill: I think [the patriotic feel has taken over] for a lot of people. When I saw it, I enjoyed Bradley Cooper’s performance, and that’s what it was about for me, how war can really take a toll out of it for me. I didn’t get an overwhelming patriotic feel from it. If he hadn’t been as good I don’t think it would have gotten as much attention.

Wilson: There’s actually some parallels between “American Sniper” and “Selma.” They’re both about certain times in American history that we’ve since moved past. To me, they’re both just pictures of what’s going in America’s current day.

Salacki: I think that’s why “The Hurt Locker” won a few years ago. At that time, that’s what really got to people. And now, after “Zero Dark Thirty” and “American Sniper” people pay more attention. Bradley Cooper is a great actor, but anyone could have done that, too.

Wilson: It’s interesting, you bring up the other war movies. If you look back at war movies from other times, all of the villains in movies were German, or all of them were Korean. And now, all of the villains in war movies are going to be Middle Eastern, that’s just the way it is.

May: The movie should be overshadowing the acting. I hope everyone out there is not thinking about the acting, they’re thinking about the message.

“American Sniper,” “Selma” and “Foxcatcher” are controversial films due to the fact that they are not documentaries but based on real life people and events. How accountable do you think that directors and producers of these kinds of films need to be when creating these semi-fictional but based on real life characters? For example, LBJ was portrayed in “Selma” as being more hesitant toward Civil Rights than he actually was, and in “Selma” Martin Luther King Jr.’s actual words couldn’t be used because of copyright. In “Foxcatcher,” there was also some controversy over an implied homosexual relationship between two of the characters.

Wilson: [In “Selma] it’s one of those things where you have to put a face to the oppression. You can’t just say that racism is the villain in the movie, you have to put a face to it.

Radbill: When you’re making a movie based on a true story, you don’t necessarily have to be a slave to the truth. Mark Shultz [who “Foxcatcher” was based on] was mad because in his character’s relationship with Steve Carell’s character there was kind of an implied sexual tension. But at that point, if you’re still alive and you’re giving the rights to someone to make a movie about your life, you have to accept that they’re making a movie and not a documentary. Unless you’re doing the technical feat of making a movie over 12 years, real life isn’t that interesting. You have to have those dramatic points that are essential to storytelling. That’s why we make narrative films and not solely documentaries.

Wilson: This isn’t always necessarily true, but the adage that if you want to be entertained you see a movie and if you want to be informed you see a documentary. … In regards to “The Imitation Game” there are some things that weren’t factually correct but it was still an entertaining film. … Sometimes you just have to watch to be entertained.

May: There’s an old saying that if the real story isn’t that interesting, read the legend. … There are certain things that we do in drama. This is to be expected, and sometimes people take movies as history.

Best Director

a. Alejandro G. Iñárritu – Birdman
b. Richard Linklater – Boyhood
c. Bennett Miller – Foxcatcher
d. Wes Anderson – The Grand Budapest Hotel
e. Morten Tyldum – The Imitation Game

Wilson: I appreciate the love “Grand Budapest Hotel” is getting. To me, it was just another Wes Anderson film. It didn’t stand out against the rest of his catalogue. So much like Best Picture coming down to “Boyhood” and “Birdman,” and this is going to come down to Alejandro Inarritu and Richard Linklater.

Radbill: Best Picture and Best Director usually go hand-in-hand, but that hasn’t been the case recently. Ang Lee won Best Director for “Life of Pi,” but “Argo” won best picture. Last year, Alfonso Couron won for “Gravity,” but “12 Years a Slave” won. I think between “Boyhood” and “Birdman” whoever doesn’t win Best Picture will win Best Director. … Linklater made a movie almost every year while he was making this, so he kept coming back to it, but it never lost its voice and never lost its message. “Birdman” is so intricate and so impressive, though. … “Birdman” was a story that the direction was a part of the movie. He asks you for your hand at the start of the movie and takes you for a ride. I think Linklater is going to get the Directing Oscar.

Salacki: Anderson has a good chance, but if he wins anything it’ll be screenplay. When you get down to it, I feel like “Birdman” had the artistic side. And when you get down to what it meant to the audience and what it accomplished, “Boyhood” should win best picture. I wouldn’t be surprised if “Birdman” won for Director, though.

May: It’s worth noting that Director and Best Picture are voted on by different segments of the Academy, that might be what leads to a different result. I think when it comes down to it, “Birdman” will beat “Boyhood,” but I might be wrong.

Is there anything else any of you want to add?

Radbill: For Best Animated Picture, I think it was a huge travesty that “The LEGO Movie” wasn’t nominated. It was the smartest kids movie to come out in a long time. It was such a different way of looking at an animated movie. I haven’t seen any of the ones that are nominated, but it doesn’t seem like any of them have the same charm that “The LEGO Movie” does. It had something to say, and it was relevant to today’s society and our culture.

Wilson: It was an animation style that stands out, too.

Radbill: It was disappointing to me that that movie didn’t get the nomination. Of course it’s disappointing that “Selma” didn’t get best director, though. There’s always going to be snubs.

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