Sunday, February 8, 2015

The Oscar Narrative: The Race is On...

After losing three big guild awards, the trifecta if you will (PGA, SAG, and DGA), Boyhood made a comeback at the BAFTAs winning Best Picture and Best Director. Will it be enough? We won't know till Oscar night, but no matter what, the race for Picture and Director will be nail biters. First, let's all be happy that despite most likely knowing all four acting winners (all four won at SAG and BAFTA), most of the other major races are toss ups. Director is between Linklater and Inarritu, who just split the BAFTA and DGA. Best Picture is Boyhood and Birdman, with Grand Budapest Hotel and American Sniper as dark horses. Original Screenplay is a tight three-way race between Anderson, Inarritu and Team, and Linklater. I have no idea what is going to happen in Adapted Screenplay, where Sniper, Imitation Game, and Theory of Everything are all battling it out, and in the end, I am starting to think Whiplash could be the spoiler there. Animated Feature is a dead-heat between How to Train Your Dragon 2 and Big Hero 6, and countless tech awards are still up in the air.

This is great news for the Academy, whose winners have become almost afterthoughts by the time the ceremony rolls around. It makes for an interesting last couple of weeks, and what is sure to be an exciting ceremony come February 22nd. But let's really dig into that Best Picture race. First, let me take a few minutes to rant about something that has bugged me the last two weeks or so. Boyhood and Birdman took a lot of critical prizes, Boyhood obviously coming out on top of the total count. For some strange reason, many pundits, bloggers, and critics are trying to compare this particular race to The Social Network/The King's Speech battle of 2010. The Boyhood fanatics are starting to get nervous, and they are on full attack mode, trashing Birdman as some sort of stale choice compared to daring Boyhood. First of all, let me just say this: get over 2010. The King's Speech was a wonderful film, and while it might not have been the critical favorite, it was a good movie, and certainly not even close to being one of the worst Best Picture winners. I'd also like to point out that for a film that has received so much hate from critics by the time it won Best Picture, it had 94% positive reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, and 88 on Metacritic, a 97 from the BFCA, and was nominated for 7 Golden Globes (1 Win), 11 Critics Choice Awards (2 Wins), and received nominations/wins from the Chicago Film Critics Association, Central Ohio Film Critics Association, Dallas-Ft. Worth Critics Association, Denver Film Critics Society, Houston Film Critics Society, Iowa Film Critics, Las Vegas Film Critics Society, London Critics Circle, Los Angeles Film Critics Association, National Society of Film Critics, New York Film Critics Circle, New York Films Critics Online, Online Film Critics Society, Phoenix Film Critics Society, San Diego Film Critics Society, Southeastern Film Critics Association, St. Louis Film Critics Association, and the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association. If critics and bloggers hated that film so much, they had a funny way of showing it. 

Okay, so now that I have finally gotten that rant off of my chest. Onto 2015. No this is not another 2010. Birdman may not have as many critics awards as Boyhood, but it has a lot, and Boyhood was not nearly as dominant as The Social Network was. Also, while I love The King's Speech, I will admit that it is a more traditional film, and a more Academy-bait type of movie (I still love it). Birdman is absolutely not traditional in any sense of the word, and if the top three for this prize are Boyhood, Birdman, and The Grand Budapest Hotel, then a "traditional Academy film" is not going to win the top prize this year. The only narrative that crosses over is that the biggest critical favorite did not do as well at the guilds as expected. I love both Boyhood and Birdman, and whoever wins this prize is going to be a deserving winner, and an extraordinary pick for an Academy that usually doesn't go so bold. For the record, while the BAFTA keeps its hopes alive, I think missing SAG, PGA, and DGA has put it in a close second, and Birdman is in the lead. Some would argue that 12 Years a Slave made its comeback at BAFTA, but it had tied at PGA with Gravity, and with American Hustle winning the SAG, it was basically a three-way split coming into BAFTA. Birdman won all three, no ties, no dark horse stealing from the front runners. Just outright won all three. So for now, Birdman retains its spot in the top slot. And honestly, it makes sense. Birdman is a film about the industry, acting, and fame, subjects we know Academy voters eat up. I'm just surprised it took so long for all of us to see its potential. 

So how about those other awards. Theory of Everything and Grand Budapest won the screenplay awards at BAFTA. Theory was not eligible at WGA, so that doesn't really help us sort out that crazy Adapted category. But if Wes Anderson wins at WGA (Birdman was not eligible either so it won't be a complete picture), it places him in the front runner status. In Adapted, I really don't know, as I said above, I'm starting to look at Whiplash as the dark horse that comes in and breaks up this cluster you-know-what between Theory of Everything, Imitation Game, and American Sniper. What was the most interesting sweep of the BAFTAs was The Grand Budapest Hotel taking four technical awards, along with the screenplay. I could honestly seeing it repeat all five of those wins. Production Design and Costume Design seem like shoo-ins at this point. Makeup and Hair Design is a hot three-way race, and could be the one that doesn't cross over. Alexandre Desplat might lose due to his double nomination, but his score for The Grand Budapest Hotel just won the BAFTA and the Grammy, so it looks like voters are rallying behind that score for the win. After 8 nominations, he is due for a win. Cinematography seems locked up at this point, and Interstellar's win for Visual Effects feels like it will repeat at the Oscars. The Sound races are particularly interesting this year. Whiplash's win at BAFTAs means there could be a split in those awards, as there has been a lot of crossover between BAFTA and Oscar here, and Whiplash is the semi-musical film (which do well here). That leaves Sniper and Interstellar (most likely) battling it out for Sound Editing (although don't discount voters voting for one of those films for both sound awards, because many don't understand the difference between the two. And How to Train Your Dragon swept the Annies, and Big Hero 6 the VES Awards, and I have no idea how that will shake down come Oscar night. 

There is still so much mystery in the race this year. The tech guilds coming up will sort out some categories, but most likely there will be plenty of surprises come Oscar night. I am thrilled, scared, and wrapped up in all of it all at the same time. Two weeks folks, two weeks. 

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