Oscar Picks for 2015

Here is my annual Oscar pick list for the 87th Academy Awards. Last year I missed one. This year it was tougher call. My selections are in bold. If you see a movie italicized in a one of the categories, that’s the movie that I think should win, but I my gut tells me otherwise. Bold-italic means my heart and gut are in the same place.

UPDATE: I got 9 right out of 24, worst showing in awhile, but a lot of nice surprises. Winners are in blue. Bold-blue are the ones I got right. See you next year.

Best Picture

  • “American Sniper” Clint Eastwood, Robert Lorenz, Andrew Lazar, Bradley Cooper and Peter Morgan, Producers
  • “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” Alejandro G. Iñárritu, John Lesher and James W. Skotchdopole, Producers
  • “Boyhood” Richard Linklater and Cathleen Sutherland, Producers
  • “The Grand Budapest Hotel” Wes Anderson, Scott Rudin, Steven Rales and Jeremy Dawson, Producers
  • “The Imitation Game” Nora Grossman, Ido Ostrowsky and Teddy Schwarzman, Producers
  • “Selma” Christian Colson, Oprah Winfrey, Dede Gardner and Jeremy Kleiner, Producers
  • “The Theory of Everything” Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Lisa Bruce and Anthony McCarten, Producers
  • “Whiplash” Jason Blum, Helen Estabrook and David Lancaster, Producers


  • Steve Carell in “Foxcatcher”
  • Bradley Cooper in “American Sniper”
  • Benedict Cumberbatch in “The Imitation Game”
  • Michael Keaton in “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”
  • Eddie Redmayne in “The Theory of Everything”

Supporting Actor

  • Robert Duvall in “The Judge”
  • Ethan Hawke in “Boyhood”
  • Edward Norton in “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”
  • Mark Ruffalo in “Foxcatcher”
  • J.K. Simmons in “Whiplash”


  • Marion Cotillard in “Two Days, One Night”
  • Felicity Jones in “The Theory of Everything”
  • Julianne Moore in “Still Alice”
  • Rosamund Pike in “Gone Girl”
  • Reese Witherspoon in “Wild”

Supporting Actress

  • Patricia Arquette in “Boyhood”
  • Laura Dern in “Wild”
  • Keira Knightley in “The Imitation Game”
  • Emma Stone in “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”
  • Meryl Streep in “Into the Woods”

Animated Feature

  • “Big Hero 6” Don Hall, Chris Williams and Roy Conli
  • “The Boxtrolls” Anthony Stacchi, Graham Annable and Travis Knight
  • “How to Train Your Dragon 2” Dean DeBlois and Bonnie Arnold
  • “Song of the Sea” Tomm Moore and Paul Young
  • “The Tale of the Princess Kaguya” Isao Takahata and Yoshiaki Nishimura

Adapted Screenplay

  • “American Sniper” Written by Jason Hall
  • “The Imitation Game” Written by Graham Moore
  • “Inherent Vice” Written for the screen by Paul Thomas Anderson
  • “The Theory of Everything” Screenplay by Anthony McCarten
  • “Whiplash” Written by Damien Chazelle

Original Screenplay

  • “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” Written by Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr. & Armando Bo
  • “Boyhood” Written by Richard Linklater
  • “Foxcatcher” Written by E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman
  • “The Grand Budapest Hotel” Screenplay by Wes Anderson; Story by Wes Anderson & Hugo Guinness
  • “Nightcrawler” Written by Dan Gilroy


  • “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” Emmanuel Lubezki
  • “The Grand Budapest Hotel” Robert Yeoman
  • “Ida” Lukasz Zal and Ryszard Lenczewski
  • “Mr. Turner” Dick Pope
  • “Unbroken” Roger Deakins

Costume Design

  • “The Grand Budapest Hotel” Milena Canonero
  • “Inherent Vice” Mark Bridges
  • “Into the Woods” Colleen Atwood
  • “Maleficent” Anna B. Sheppard and Jane Clive
  • “Mr. Turner” Jacqueline Durran


  • “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” Alejandro G. Iñárritu
  • “Boyhood” Richard Linklater
  • “Foxcatcher” Bennett Miller
  • “The Grand Budapest Hotel” Wes Anderson
  • “The Imitation Game” Morten Tyldum

Documentary Feature

  • “CitizenFour” Laura Poitras, Mathilde Bonnefoy and Dirk Wilutzky
  • “Finding Vivian Maier” John Maloof and Charlie Siskel
  • “Last Days in Vietnam” Rory Kennedy and Keven McAlester
  • “The Salt of the Earth” Wim Wenders, Juliano Ribeiro Salgado and David Rosier
  • “Virunga” Orlando von Einsiedel and Joanna Natasegara

Documentary Short Subject

  • “Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1” Ellen Goosenberg Kent and Dana Perry
  • “Joanna” Aneta Kopacz
  • “Our Curse” Tomasz Sliwinski and Maciej Slesicki
  • “The Reaper (La Parka)” Gabriel Serra Arguello
  • “White Earth” J. Christian Jensen

Film Editing

  • “American Sniper” Joel Cox and Gary D. Roach
  • “Boyhood” Sandra Adair
  • “The Grand Budapest Hotel” Barney Pilling
  • “The Imitation Game” William Goldenberg
  • “Whiplash” Tom Cross

Foreign Language Film

  • “Ida” Poland
  • “Leviathan” Russia
  • “Tangerines” Estonia
  • “Timbuktu” Mauritania
  • “Wild Tales” Argentina

Makeup and Hairstyling

  • “Foxcatcher” Bill Corso and Dennis Liddiard
  • “The Grand Budapest Hotel” Frances Hannon and Mark Coulier
  • “Guardians of the Galaxy” Elizabeth Yianni-Georgiou and David White

Original Score

  • “The Grand Budapest Hotel” Alexandre Desplat
  • “The Imitation Game” Alexandre Desplat
  • “Interstellar” Hans Zimmer
  • “Mr. Turner” Gary Yershon
  • “The Theory of Everything” Jóhann Jóhannsson

Original Song

  • “Everything Is Awesome” from “The Lego Movie”
  • Music and Lyric by Shawn Patterson
  • “Glory” from “Selma”
  • Music and Lyric by John Stephens and Lonnie Lynn
  • “Grateful” from “Beyond the Lights”
  • Music and Lyric by Diane Warren
  • “I’m Not Gonna Miss You” from “Glen Campbell…I’ll Be Me”
  • Music and Lyric by Glen Campbell and Julian Raymond
  • “Lost Stars” from “Begin Again”
  • Music and Lyric by Gregg Alexander and Danielle Brisebois

Production Design

  • “The Grand Budapest Hotel” Production Design: Adam Stockhausen; Set Decoration: Anna Pinnock
  • “The Imitation Game” Production Design: Maria Djurkovic; Set Decoration: Tatiana Macdonald
  • “Interstellar” Production Design: Nathan Crowley; Set Decoration: Gary Fettis
  • “Into the Woods” Production Design: Dennis Gassner; Set Decoration: Anna Pinnock
  • “Mr. Turner” Production Design: Suzie Davies; Set Decoration: Charlotte Watts

Animated Short Film

  • “The Bigger Picture” Daisy Jacobs and Christopher Hees
  • “The Dam Keeper” Robert Kondo and Dice Tsutsumi
  • “Feast” Patrick Osborne and Kristina Reed
  • “Me and My Moulton” Torill Kove
  • “A Single Life” Joris Oprins

Live Action Short Film

  • “Aya” Oded Binnun and Mihal Brezis
  • “Boogaloo and Graham” Michael Lennox and Ronan Blaney
  • “Butter Lamp (La Lampe Au Beurre De Yak)” Hu Wei and Julien Féret
  • “Parvaneh” Talkhon Hamzavi and Stefan Eichenberger
  • “The Phone Call” Mat Kirkby and James Lucas

Sound Editing

  • “American Sniper” Alan Robert Murray and Bub Asman
  • “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” Martín Hernández and Aaron Glascock
  • “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies” Brent Burge and Jason Canovas
  • “Interstellar” Richard King
  • “Unbroken” Becky Sullivan and Andrew DeCristofaro

Sound Mixing

  • “American Sniper” John Reitz, Gregg Rudloff and Walt Martin
  • “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” Jon Taylor, Frank A. Montaño and Thomas Varga
  • “Interstellar” Gary A. Rizzo, Gregg Landaker and Mark Weingarten
  • “Unbroken” Jon Taylor, Frank A. Montaño and David Lee
  • “Whiplash” Craig Mann, Ben Wilkins and Thomas Curley

Visual Effects

  • “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” Dan DeLeeuw, Russell Earl, Bryan Grill and Dan Sudick
  • “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” Joe Letteri, Dan Lemmon, Daniel Barrett and Erik Winquist
  • “Guardians of the Galaxy” Stephane Ceretti, Nicolas Aithadi, Jonathan Fawkner and Paul Corbould
  • “Interstellar” Paul Franklin, Andrew Lockley, Ian Hunter and Scott Fisher
  • “X-Men: Days of Future Past” Richard Stammers, Lou Pecora, Tim Crosbie and Cameron Waldbauer

Relax and Think Happy Thoughts

Upon receiving annoying news that was delivered with terrorist like diplomacy this morning, my ever practical publicist suggested that I “…should go where people are not.” So I’m off to the forest to, in the immortal words of the profit Ren Höek, “relax and think happy thoughts.”

Photo by Lou Lesko, Marin County.

It’s Not a Violin

September 2004, deep in the bowels of a Venice Beach halloween party. The spirit of the holiday is represented by only half of the attendees who have donned costumes. Everyone is drinking with binge-like enthusiasm and listing side to side like rudderless lifeboats. Except for one.

I open with, “You certainly hold your liquor well.”

She responds, “I don’t drink. I’m allergic to alcohol.”

Immediately I convey my heartfelt concern. “That’s dreadful. I’m sure we’ll never be friends.”

Despite our obvious recreational beverage differences, Christen Lien and I talk for hours about murder, adultery, and the various other skills required to become successful in the entertainment industry. We also chat about how the shape of her eyes don’t quite match her last name. That’s when she slugs me, and I choose to take the conversation in a different direction.

In the following years Christen reveals a singular wit that is wrapped up in an unfathomable talent for music, art, and fabulousness. It is brilliant to watch her perform that instrument that’s not a violin. I could go on and on about how much I love this wonderful woman, but I’ve just opened the envelope that she’s given me and the denominations are smaller than I anticipated.

I wrote that for Christen Lien’s web site about five years ago. Her viola playing is truly incomparable. If you have the opportunity, I can’t recommend her music enough.

Photo: Christen Lien by Lou Lesko, Los Angeles.

Goin’ to the Shore

My girlfriend Emily called me from the east coast to tell me she was going to the shore. That geographical feature that Californians call the beach.

“You mean you’re going to the beach.” I said.

“No, the shore,” she said with east coast indignation.

“The beach?”

“The shore.”

“It’s got sand, and leads to an ocean. It’s a beach.”

She hung up the phone and sent me a picture. It’s a shore.

Photo: Emily Merrill at the shore.

Piment d’Ville

Had Minecraft muckety-muck Lydia Winters from Sweden over for breakfast the other morning. Made a scramble using a nice amount of piment d’ville. It’s a red cooking spice made with Basque chiles.

Discovered in southern France by chef Kendra McEwen of Table 128 in Boonville, she calls it the “third spice” next to salt and pepper. Personally I like it better than pepper. And so did Miss Winters, she took a tin back with her to introduce it to the Swedes and warm up the country’s winter disposition.

Piment d’Ville is available for purchase online. They ship quickly, and include a personal thank you from Miss McEwen.

20 Years Ago Before Sunrise

Before Sunrise is a magical film about a young couple who meet on train traveling through Austria. He is a young American making his way to Vienna to catch a cheap flight home. She is a student at the Sorbonne in Paris headed back to school. While they drink coffee together in the train’s dining car, he asks her to get off at his stop instead of continuing on to Paris. He wants to spend the rest of the day and evening with her until he has to get on his flight the next morning. Thus begins a wonderful wandering through the streets of Vienna.

The story unfolds at patient pace, seemingly in real time. As the couple walk and talk they encounter actors, fortune tellers, poets, and a friendly bartender. One of their conversations occurs while sitting at a cafe talking to each other on imagined phones. But the scene of the film that I love the most is when they are both at a record store listening to music on head phones stealing looks at each other. Director Richard Linklater executes the moment flawlessly. You watch it and say to yourself, oh man, I’ve been there.

Linklater is keenly aware that falling in love is a series of moments that nudge our emotions in the right direction. It takes time, which is what he gives his narrative. As the audience we are happy voyeurs quietly cheering on the couple all the while reliving our own fabulously awkward experience of meeting someone that changed our lives.

The movie was released 20 years ago this week. The indie film had moderate box office success when it opened, but it now enjoys iconic status as each year more and more people discover it. The cliffhanger ending is picked up in Before Sunset, the sequel that was released nine years later. The last movie in the trilogy, Before Midnight, was released in 2013. The 20 year anniversary of Before Sunrise is especially poignant because Linklater’s latest movie, Boyhood, which also has a real life cadence, is getting a lot of Oscar buzz.

If you haven’t seen Before Sunrise, do. I’ll never be able to explain why, but the movie will make you feel like someone took a page from your life and put it up on the big screen so you could enjoy it over and over again.

Great Coffee Table Books: Pools

I love a good coffee table book. But I am admittedly discerning about what I like to leaf through. Not from a snobbish perspective, but from a the-reason-I-go-to-a-café-his-to-have-a-café-experience perspective. For me a killer coffee table book is one that can shift the reader’s mind and senses to another time and place.

With all that in mind I’m starting a new series of posts about some of my favorite coffee table books. If you see it here in the next couple of months, then it’s worth seeking out. Additionally, if you’ve seen a fabulous book that is worth mentioning then reach out to me on twitter @loulesko.

My first entry for the series is Pools. Shot by Pere Planells it is a stunning collection of places that I’d rather be than here writing this. The books is hard to find, but it’s out there. Well printed and gorgeous to look at, it’s a perfect work companion if you need to not be at work a couple times a day.

The Art of the Matte

Jesus Diaz has a great piece on the matte paintings from the Star Wars movies. For the young or the uninitiated matte paintings were the way that the special effects folks created the wonderful scenic backgrounds from some of the best loved movies in history. The artform is a casualty of the computer graphics era, but still, even today, it is something to be admired.

For extra credit pickup The making of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. If you have any affinity for the Star Wars universe at all, this book is for you.

Self Pirating Myself

The other day I pulled from my collection a DVD entitled Bring on the Night, a Michael Apted film about the band that Sting formed after he left The Police. As much as I wanted to show it to some visiting friends, I couldn’t. I haven’t owned a DVD player in years. And, for whatever reason, this particular movie hasn’t made it into any of the digital libraries of Netflix, Amazon, or Apple TV. So I decided to rip the film from the disc.

The process is mercifully easy. Jason Snell has the definitive post on the matter. With his sage advice, some free software, and a mere modicum of effort, I had the flick in a format that I could access on my digital devices, or on my TV.

The legality of what I did is a little grey. But the way I look at it, the media that I purchased is just shy of extinct, and I made an honest effort to repurchase or rent the title from a contemporary source. So what the hell. I’m sure one day a court case will sprout from this practice as it inevitably becomes more common. Until then, I’ll be self pirating myself.


On assignment in the Outer Hebrides Islands, I connect with my editor in the U.S. via a crappy phone line from a phone booth in the middle of nowhere. He asks if I can stop by the Oban distillery on the mainland of Scotland on the way back to London. Arrive at Oban at 10 a.m. to take photos and have a quick scotch tasting. Was plowed by 10:43. A few hours later came to realize that I had missed my train to London.

That Scottish morning 25 years ago was the start of a deep lover affair for whiskey. For decades the amber drink has been spared marketing gimmickry. Then the dreadful artificially flavored whiskeys, and the Makers Mark debacle heralded the trashy corporate glamorizing of my favorite booze.

Thankfully there’s a new guidebook to take us through the bullshit. Mark Bylok’s “The Whiskey Cabinet.” Am looking forward to reading it with a large scotch next to me.


There’s a staircase of 13,043 steps that are sculpted out of dirt and reinforced with chunks of fallen trees. You can find it at the edge of the dark forest. It’s winding path ascends above the tree line up to a 500 year old priory. The view is spectacular, but getting food delivered is a total bitch.

This is where I write.

Photo: Lou Lesko, Edge of the dark forest.