“The mark of the immature man is that he wants to die nobly for a cause, while the mark of the mature man is that he wants to live humbly for one.”
― J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye
The awards race ruins movies. It ruins every good thing about them. It turns masterpieces into forgotten wallflowers. It turns momentary fascinations into champions. It is the halo effect. It is being on the side that’s winning. It is about popularity and buzz. It is about the thrill of unpredictability going head to head with the mundane routine of repeat winners. God help us if the race becomes entertainment in itself.
The preferential ballot has turned the Oscar race into a game of cat and mouse between the film critics and the industry. No one knew if this year would be like 2011, where The Artist took everything from Cannes to Hollywood and Highland. Or would it be like 2010, where the best film of the year by a long way, The Social Network, was rejected right after the Golden Globes when the Producers Guild went balls out for The King’s Speech, which then took the whole season. Once a winner starts winning, the testosterone flows. All rational thought goes out the window and the tribe takes sides. Call it a revolution if you want but it is the one way the industry can reject everything the critics do to hold them back. SEE, it’s as though they say in mass, you don’t know everything.
This year looks like another one in the wake of the switch from five nominees for Best Picture. Birdman surprised everyone by taking the Producers Guild Award, after not having won any major awards for Best Picture – not the Globe, not the BFCA. It then won the SAG for ensemble, as it was expected to do. While some were thinking the PGA might go to The Imitation Game, no one in the business of Oscar watching thought Birdman would pull it out, though many of us felt it was close. Boyhood’s loss seemed to delight many people watching the race — a sentiment that makes me feel like I’m one of the rotten kids in Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, whose priorities are so far out of whack as to make everything seem absurd.
Birdman is a great film. There is nothing bad that can be said about it, at least not from my end. It guts the notion of film criticism, of self-reinvention, and laments a dying breed. It takes a stand against superhero movies and celebrates the Actor, with a capital A. It is a fun sit, with lively colorful characters – flawless extreme performances from top to bottom – and a showy, directorial stunt of making the film seem like it was done in one take. It is not unlike Gravity’s success from last year – the bravura direction leading the way. Though unlike Gravity, Birdman and Inarritu did not take the critics by storm. It is very much an industry movie where Gravity really wasn’t. Inarritu, like Alfonso Cuaron is one of the “three amigos,” Mexican directors flourishing in the American film industry. The foreign-born directors have now completely squeezed out the Americans – if Inarritu wins this year that will make the fifth straight year for a non-American born director winning the top prize at the Oscars.
Like Argo could have been seen as “Zero Dark Thirty light”, Birdman is also accused of being a “gimmick,” the same way Boyhood is. The whisper campaign about Boyhood is that if you take out the 12 years thing it’s an ordinary movie. Well, if you take out the gimmick of Birman’s one take thing and you essentially have a stage play – a good stage play but a stage play nonetheless. So the gimmick thing doesn’t really hold water, though it is kind of ironic that these two movies end up going to head to head when they both have that thing about them people call a “gimmick.”
Birdman, the actor, reigns supreme – he’s better than the creepy audience who worships viral videos and Twitter. He’s better than superhero movies and the crowds that love them. He’s better, in fact, than even the people he surrounds himself with. He’s so much better, in fact, that he no longer belongs in this world, walking among mere mortals.
The film cleverly winks at all of this, of course, though the nobility is there. What humanizes that arrogant depiction of a lead character is Keaton’s magnificent performance. Though the supporting players are great, Keaton is why that movie is worth watching.
Linklater’s Boyhood is not a movie for today’s consensus voters. It isn’t a movie for the cynical who rule the social networks. It isn’t a movie for people who can’t think past the gimmick, nor for people who’ve spent most of their lives having their needs served. It isn’t for the narcissists nor the pleasure seekers. It is for the underserved, unnoticed, ordinary souls who make the world go round. Mothers, teachers, careless fathers, siblings – it is the miracle of anyone being brought into this hideous, self-destructing world. Birdman is about checking out of an intolerable culture. Boyhood is about the wavering root that makes way for what hasn’t yet happened.
The wonder of Boyhood is not in the gimmick but in everything tiny thing that happens in between it. It is made by a thoughtful man who thinks nothing in life is more worthwhile than sitting across from someone and listening to what they say. We are here for each other and that is really all matters because trust me, the walls are coming down.
Birdman is not too far off Boyhood. It’s done with more easily recognizable style and flare but both films, in the end, are about other people. In Birdman, the actor doesn’t really see that because he is consumed with self. In Boyhood, a young man is raised to understand that life is about everything else.
They are two worthy films that have captivated the season. If I had a vote it would go unquestionably to Boyhood because I don’t think film awards should be about like something or even loving something – they should be about something more than that, what we talk about when we talk about “the highest achievement in film in a given year.”
Here is one thing to note, however:
Michael Keaton did not win the SAG, as Jean DuJardin did for The Artist and Colin Firth for The King’s Speech. While it doesn’t necessarily mean something, it certainly doesn’t mean nothing. It could mean that the PGA win was kind of a fluke and the actors aren’t as 100% behind Birdman as everyone thought. Or it could mean that Birdman will not be an actor’s showcase for Keaton but rather a director’s showcase for Inarritu.
Another thing to note? The ballots for the DGA and for Oscar are a ways away. That gives time for minds to be changed. Time could make all the difference here. You will feel the buzz for Birdman increase or you will feel an urge to vote for Boyhood. One way or another, it will be decided by February 17, the end of Oscar voting.
Selma should be in the conversation, but with two nominations its Best Picture prospects look as unlikely as a win for Gone Girl on a write-in vote. Thus, of the films nominated, they are all high achievements in one way or another but only one does what none of the others have: it uses time as the most dazzling special effect. I don’t know how you look at that movie and not give it the top prize no matter if it makes you feel alive for an hour and a half or not. How you “feel” should be the least of it when deciding on such things as “best.”
Right now, pundits are probably going to predict that Birdman will win Best Picture and Richard Linklater will Best Director. That’s because they won’t want to think an industry could turn so coldly on a film that was that remarkable, that praised, that admired. Surely they won’t send him (or her) home empty-handed. Oh yeah? Just watch them.
I won’t buy into the split theory because I’ve been at this bar way too long. Years like last year are rare. So far we’ve seen no industry support for Boyhood so we can’t know if there will be a split. Linklater would have to win the DGA – and I’ll bet you all the rocks in the pocket that Alejandro G. Inarritu will win.
Should be: Boyhood
Should have been: Selma
Should have been nominated: Gone Girl
Alejandro G. Inarritu, Birdman
Should be: Richard Linklater, Boyhood
Should have been nominated: Ava DuVernay, David Fincher
Eddie Redmayne Theory of Everything
Should be: Michael Keaton, Birdman
Should have been nominated: David Oyelowo, Selma
Julianne Moore, Still Alice
Gave the best performance: Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl
Should have been nominated: Hilary Swank, The Homesman; Jennifer Aniston, Cake
Best Supporting Actor
JK Simmons, Whiplash
Best Supporting Actress
Best Original Screenplay
Best Adapted Screenplay
Who knows, who cares – without Gone Girl it’s a pointless exercise
(probably Imitation Game or American Sniper or Whiplash)
Should have been nominated: Kirk Baxter for Gone Girl
Sound and Sound Editing
Should be: any of the other four
How to Train Your Dragon 2 (finally)
Grand Budapest Hotel
Or maybe: Into the Woods
Grand Budapest Hotel
or Grand Budapest Hotel
Should be: Mr. Turner
Should have been nominated: Jeff Cronenweth, Gone Girl
Makeup and Hair
Grand Budapest Hotel
Theory of Everything
Should have been nominated: Trent Reznor/Atticus Ross for Gone Girl