In the Oscars of our dreams, when The Imitation Game’s Keira Knightley walks the red carpet and Giuliana Rancic asks her who she’s wearing, the ghost of Joan Rivers effortlessly interjects, “Those coattails are by Harvey Weinstein!” In dreams, too, Laura Dern wouldn’t also be passing through, but as layered as her performance in Wild may be, it’s impossible to shake that the film’s editing has so abstracted her character, however purposefully, that the performance itself feels only half-remembered. Meryl Streep’s turn in Into the Woods isn’t so easily forgotten. Its fantastical grotesquerie is consistent with the actress’s recent career choices, but no matter how playfully she vamps, no matter how affectingly she sings her way through “Stay with Me,” the film doesn’t possess the necessary pedigree of, say, the horrendous The Iron Lady. Prestige is something that Birdman doesn’t starve for, and at least one benefit of the film’s over-determined direction is the grace with which it pauses to let its actors express their characters’ desire to live in a less deluded world. Yes, there’s soul behind Emma Stone’s Bette Davis eyes, and yet, can this prisoner of the theater be fully trusted? If Patricia Arquette has remained a frontrunner throughout the Oscar season, it’s because her performance, like Boyhood itself, is a wistful reminder that there’s often more poetry in the real than there is in fantasy.
Will Win: Patricia Arquette, Boyhood
Could Win: Emma Stone, Birdman
Should Win: Patricia Arquette, Boyhood