What started as a predictable year has turned into one of the most contentious and unpredictable Oscar years in close to a decade. This level of uncertainty not only surpasses last year’s battle between 12 Years a Slave versus Gravity, but reduces that very battle as a tiny spectacle that is now, to use a Bob Dylan reference, blowing in the wind. What adds to the suspense of this year’s Oscars is how many of the categories, such as Best Actor, being in play for the first time in close to 10 years. However, it is the Best Picture category that truly has Oscar experts, critics, magazine editors and film viewers all divided on who will take home the ceremony’s top honor. The coveted Best Picture Oscar seemed to be Boyhood’s with a bow wrapped around it when Oscar season began. It won, as expected, the Golden Globe and was almost flaunting to audiences how they were expecting to win this year’s Best Picture Oscar. This perception increased after their Critics Choice Award win, seemingly cementing the idea that Boyhood already had this win in the bag. Then the unexpected occurred, the cynical Hollywood satire, Birdman, stole Boyhood’s thunder with an SAG win, proving the film was indeed a contender in this year’s Oscar race. Many considered this initial win to be perplexing since Boyhood was the perceived winner going into the awards ceremony. Then the one thing happened nobody saw coming: Birdman won the highly prestigious PGA award. In hindsight, the PGA is more important than the actual Oscar for Best Picture. To be honored by a panel of producers, one’s own peers, represents a level of acknowledgement that not even the Oscars can meet. Then a week later, further adding that the PGA win wasn’t a mere fluke, Alejandro González Iñárritu won the DGA, an award everyone had assumed Richard Linklater would win for Boyhood. These three guild wins effectively derailed Boyhood’s easy path to the Best Picture win. However, Boyhood did manage to grab a final precursor win at the BAFTAs awards after its string of losses against Birdman.
What does the collective wins between Birdman and Boyhood mean? It shows a complete deviation between the guilds and the ceremonies. While these awards aren’t always in sync, there has never been such a blatant separation between the two. Occasionally the PGA will favor one nominee in contrast to the Oscar’s eventual Best Picture winner, the most recent example being Little Miss Sunshine being favored over The Departed in 2006. Even the DGA’s have awarded differently than the Oscars in the past, such as Rob Marshall’s win in 2002 for Chicago that ultimately went to Roman Polanski for The Pianist at that year’s Oscars. However, it is when the PGAs and the DGAs both award the same film that an expectation of that film winning Best Picture is completely reasonable. The last time a film won both the PGA and the DGA and failed to win the Best Picture Oscar was in 1995 with Ron Howard’s Apollo 13. Therefore, if Birdman loses Best Picture this year, that would be defying 20 years of guild history and clout. Yet Boyhood has taken home all major ceremony awards, which makes this prospect not entirely unrealistic.
To further emphasize that this battle is truly between Birdman and Boyhood, the other nominees ought to be discussed briefly. While many of these nominees will take home awards in other categories, their overall chances with the Best Picture win are close to none unless the Oscars decide to completely negate every precursor award that has occurred since January. Selma is a film that normally would be widely acknowledged and appreciated, but due to its lack of nominations, especially David Oyelowo’s Best Actor snub, the film effectively has no chance of winning the night’s big award. The Theory of Everything and The Imitation Game both fall under biopic categories of individuals who defied personalized odds that would have otherwise hindered them from their genius and contribution to society. This is the sort of Oscar-bait like films that typically get nominated but rarely win. There hasn’t been a biopic win of this caliber since 2001’s A Beautiful Mind. Yet even in that year, A Beautiful Mind was an emotional experience of a film that could not be ignored. Neither The Theory of Everything or The Imitation Game have that kind of emotional core. Instead, both films are highly dependent upon its actors and the performances they provide. That can be said without Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything or Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game, both films seemingly crumble under their own weight. The one exception to this concept is this year’s nomination for American Sniper. It is Bradley Cooper that American Sniper owes its popularity and prestige to. While Cooper has a good chance of winning the Best Actor award, the same cannot be said regarding the film’s chances with Best Picture. Given the controversy American Sniper has generated, the film has become too much of a top-topic to consider as winning the biggest award of the night. American Sniper’s chances are limited to the technical awards and Best Actor.
The Grand Budapest Hotel is, without any doubt, the most artistic film of the year, as well as the most original. Normally Wes Anderson films are too adrenaline-driven or almost are too quirky to be truly appreciated. With The Grand Budapest Hotel, Anderson successfully took a step back and gave this film enough freedom to be explored by the viewer, rather than the content of the film being spoon-fed to them, as most Anderson films do. The film is mostly led by its script and Ralph Fiennes’ fantastical performance (a performance that was unfairly snubbed an acting nomination), with the other components of the film being complementary to the overall film. As far as craft goes, The Grand Budapest Hotel is a winner in each of its respective categories. However, when considering its overall construction as a “best picture,” The Grand Budapest Hotel does fall flat. Usually a Best Picture winner classifies under the question, “Is this film timeless?” While that question may come off as ridiculous, upon looking at previous Best Picture winners, each of the winners are films that maintain relevancy and can stand the test of time. In that regard, The Grand Budapest Hotel only has its imagination to keep its imagery afloat decades from now. It is possible artistic differences in the future may hinder this film from being recognized as the gem it is being perceived as now.
This leads to the ceremony’s underdog: Whiplash. While many pundits and editors are grossly ignoring this film outside of J.K. Simmons’ performance, Whiplash has a tremendous chance of pulling off what would be considered the greatest Oscar upset of all time. Most pundits have claimed that Whiplash not grabbing a Best Director nomination effectively destroys its chances of winning, but this isn’t necessarily true. Only recently Argo won Best Picture without the Best Director nomination and in 1989 Driving Miss Daisy won the award without a Best Director nomination as well. Admittingly, both of those films did win the PGA, which is something Whiplash cannot claim. However, many pundits claim that Whiplash could pull upsets in categories such as, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Editing, and Best Sound Mixing. If that happens, the Academy is essentially stating that Whiplash is the best crafted film. If that is the circumstance, it wouldn’t be farfetched to consider the film going the extra mile and winning Best Picture.
The most prevalent argument made towards a Boyhood win is that it is a film that was “12 years in the making,” which makes it a newfound type of filmmaking that ought to be recognized. This is true to a degree. Yes, Boyhood was, in fact, filmed over a 12 year period, but that doesn’t go to say each of the actors and production crew focused exclusively upon this film. Boyhood was filmed sporadically over a 12 year period whenever it suited the production and its actors. The script was formulated and expanded upon throughout these years, further emphasizing that no true working script or storyline was fully established for this film. In that regard, the manner in which Boyhood was filmed defies traditional filmmaking, yet begs to be acknowledged as a new evolution of directing and filming. On the surface, Richard Linklater is correct that this style of filmmaking should be noticed and he ought to be commended for it. It is a new kind of artistic expression that is thought provoking. But it isn’t original. Upon closer inspection of Linklater’s work, his entire career is about filming the same storyline with the same actors. His trilogy, Before Sunrise (1995), Before Sunset (2004), and Before Midnight (2013), are films deliberately made 9 years apart from each other with a continuation of the same storyline with the same actors (Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy). When taking this into account, the claim that Boyhood and Richard Linklater’s vision are revolutionary, is grossly inaccurate. However, most viewers and critics either willfully are ignoring this fact or aren’t privy to such knowledge. That doesn’t go to say that Boyhood isn’t worthy of a win, but it ought to be judged due to its content rather than how it was filmed. In that regard, the film does show a tremendous story of a child growing into adolescence and tells the story through the child-to-teenager’s eyes beautifully. However, the film does suffer from a disjointed story form, which is very distracting on a narrative level. It is up to Oscar voters to decide if that is something worth being overlooked and/or enough to warrant this film the best picture of the year.
That leaves Birdman as the only other possible winner for this year’s Oscars. Despite it losing all major ceremony awards, this film is still the frontrunner for winning all major guild awards (see also: My review on Birdman – https://playitagaindan.wordpress.com/2014/12/20/review-birdman-or-the-unexpected-virtue-of-ignorance/). As mentioned before, Birdman losing would be considered an upset with this year’s ceremony. The concept of Birdman winning isn’t entirely unrealistic since the film is a tremendous triumph. Alejandro González Iñárritu’s vision for this film, quite frankly, was the most original concept of the year. The idea of filming Birdman in long, continuous takes that mirror a stage experience is nothing short of brilliance and is a style of filmmaking that absolutely should be acknowledged when assessing the potential for this film to win Best Picture. Additionally the themes of legacy, arrogance, love and mortality feed into the canon of this film while also honoring the legacy of writer Raymond Carver, whose short story was used as the content of the stage-show within a film in Birdman. The one issue this film may have with winning does not come in the form of structure, but the film’s content. Birdman is a largely satirical film about acting, Hollywood, critics and audiences, This film essentially is holding up a preverbal mirror for everyone to see their own flaws. In a moment of honesty on this blog, Hollywood is a relatively arrogant industry and likes to live under the cloud of delusion that they are representatives of the normal middle class. A film like Birdman reminds them that all their lives and struggles are limited only to their elite class, which is typically a reality they do not like to admit. In a cruel twist of fate, Birdman is a satire whose foundation is laced with truths that Hollywood doesn’t want to acknowledge at all, yet Hollywood WILL acknowledge it on Oscar night…by not voting for it! If Birdman loses, it will have more to do with bias rather than an analysis of form.
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
The Theory of Everything
Will Win: Boyhood
Could Win: Birdman
Long shot Upset: Whiplash
Should Win: Birdman
Should Have Been Nominated: Gone Girl and Foxcatcher