The interesting thing about 2004 is that two things happened that year. The first, the Academy had changed the date for the Oscars to being one month earlier. Ten years later we see that no film can really win Best Picture as a late game entry. The last one to do this was Clint Eastwood’s Million Dollar Baby, trouncing the two frontrunners – The Aviator and Sideways, which were dominating. But Clint took the DGA and Million Dollar Baby took Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor.
The early awards were divided that year. The PGA went to the Aviator, the SAG went to Sideways and of course, the DGA went to Eastwood. Sideways had almost unanimous support from the critics. But it wasn’t “important” enough and didn’t have admirable enough characters to beat the one that really did strum the heartbeats of SAG members, not to mention having Eastwood and Freeman together again. Million Dollar Baby was the kind of film that people reacted to emotionally. The Aviator was deemed too complex and problematic. To that end, this year is a precursor to Slumdog Millionaire vs. Benjamin Button. High ambition without easy emotional payoff is a tough sell for Oscar voters. They far prefer the easy payoff.