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When I saw the news that David Carr died it came as a brief notification on my iphone. When I touched my phone screen it disappeared. What could the New York Times have been saying about David Carr? Why would his name be on a news alert? I still refuse to believe it’s actually true. Surely he’s playing some kind of trick on all of us to illustrate how fast information travels now. It has to be a trick. He was only 58. I just spoke to him on the phone. He just moderated a Q&A with Laura Poitras on CitizenFour. He was here and then he was gone.

There are so many things that can and will be written about him. So many stories will be shared because he was that kind of person. He touched and saved and inspired and entertained and enlightened so many people. As evidenced by everything that will be written about him, you will soon see just how far his reach extended. I can only share with you how he touched my life, how he changed me, just by looking my way.

It was 2006, The New York Times had just hired an Oscar blogger to help generate, I suppose, income from those lucrative Oscar ads. He was actively trying to help save The New York Times. But he was also working for a living to support his family. The Oscar race had never seen anyone like David Carr and will never see anyone like him again. It’s sort of like driving a Ferrari to deliver the mail. Any old reporter would do but they got David Carr – whip smart, funny, fearless. His columns on the Oscars really did represent the high bar – that was as good as it gets. Even writing this now I’m thinking, why even bother if he isn’t here to read it?

That year he first worked the Oscar beat, he contacted me. I don’t know why. He liked the egghead way I covered the race, he said, but I think it was more that thing in him that always seeks out the underdog. In 2006, we hung around a bit. I first met him for coffee at the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf down in the middle of Los Angeles. He was wearing his usual thick grey coat, smoking like a chimney and drinking coffee. Always coffee and smokes. And that scarf and that coat. And that wonderful funny catbird grin. He was asking me about me, why I was running one of the most popular Oscar sites online but was working as a janitor and a teacher’s aide to make ends meet. He hired me to transcribe his interviews when he was doing research for his book, The Night of the Gun. He paid me good money for the work and kept asking me why I wasn’t making money on my site.

Transcribing those interviews I learned a lot about his life – the good, the bad and the ugly. Maybe because of that, he knew I knew a lot more about him than I probably should as a work colleague. But it didn’t really change how I viewed him or our friendship – it just meant that I knew some of the pain, saw some of the ghosts. He was honest, straightforward and one of the kindest people I’ve ever known.

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Here he is with Jill in 2010.

We went to dinner a few times, once at the Smokehouse in Burbank. Swanky. We ate with his wonderfully funny, beautiful wife Jill whom he could never stop talking about. He could drag me out anywhere, to any terrible party, to any restaurant because there was no way I was going to pass up a chance to talk to David Carr. I used to never go to parties in Hollywood, and was never invited. I remember him taking me to one at the Chateau Marmont. “David Carr, New York Times,” he would say and the crowd would part like the red sea. “This is Sasha Stone of Oscarwatch,” he would say to people and they would just stare back at me blank-eyed, having no idea whatsoever who I was. But David treated me like a somebody. He treated me like I mattered, like what I thought was important, like what I said made a difference.

Conversations with him were fluid – they went all over the place but they always went deep. We hardly ever talked business and when we did he would always say “going on the record.” He talked to me as though I understood half the names and things he brought up, as though as I was an actual professional – I did my best to keep up but knew that asking the whos and the whats was beside the point – whatever he was saying, the way he was saying it, was more important than the specifics.

One day he caught me on my cell phone as I was going to clean one of the buildings while working part time as a janitor. I told him what I was doing and where I was going. The very next time I saw him he advised me that it was time to hold my breath and take a leap of faith. I followed his advice, figuring if he thought I was capable – maybe I was capable. He completely changed the way I ran my business, and thus, changed my life. I owe him everything.

His covering the Oscar best wouldn’t last long. He stood it until he couldn’t stand it anymore. He quit being the Carpetbagger and eventually wrote the media column at the Times, which was a much better fit. Coverage of the Oscar race would never get that good again.

“Sashino!” his conversations would always begin. Even after he stopped covering the Oscars he would usually call me once a year right before the Oscars to talk about the race. I think I spoke with him once every year for eight years.

The last time we spoke he said, “You’re a Gone Girl person, right?” He asked me a few weeks ago. “Absolutely,” I said. “Me too,” he said. “You know me. I like MOVIE movies.”

He thought Boyhood would have trouble winning because it was too subtle for Oscar voters. He watched everything and was the best Oscar predictor I knew. After we spoke for a while, catching up on things like we usually do, I got the chance to thank him for turning my life around. I don’t know why I brought it up during our conversation but I know enough now that nothing should ever wait. You should not hold up a thought when you have someone’s attention. I told him how much I appreciated his giving me that advice back in 2006 and how it changed things for me and my daughter. He said, “Oh yeah?” I guess he’d never known.

“Like you, I’m at home working in my jimmer jammies,” he wrote to me a little while back. I’m sure he had the same shorthand with so many of his friends – and he has thousands of them and they probably all feel like they were this close to him. But the shorthand was so great – “see ya bye.” He would sometimes say. “love you bye.” Or the last thing he wrote “admit that you miss me. Lord knows I miss you.” He was just the kind of person who made you feel like you made their day just by saying hello.

I’m sorry that words fail me expressing what a loss this is – there are some people who can’t be replaced because they’re made of such stuff. He was an accidental combination of disasters and miracles. He was barely alive, David Carr, battled cancer and various other physical ailments and by all rights, as he always said, he shouldn’t have lived as long as he did. He was stitched together by a beating heart and a will to live because he had a family worth living for.

There are people who are lighthouses. Maybe they look almost ordinary in the daylight but once they shine a light on you, or make your path clearer and more defined. I will keep my memories of him in a place mostly out of reach, reserved for special occasions when I’m feeling low. He knew I wasn’t perfect. He watched my very public mistakes. But it never mattered to him. He was my friend and that was that. If nothing else, there was always that. I could point to my friendship with him and say, he thought I was worth knowing.

TimesTalks Presents A Conversation With George Clooney And Alexander Payne

The last time I saw him he’d flown out here to do a Times Talk with George Clooney and Alexander Payne for The Descendants. He was one of the only people who could out-Clooney Clooney. He introduced me to Clooney backstage, in fact, doing the old David Carr thing. Clooney probably thought I was some long lost cousin come to watch David do the Q&A.

The very last communication we had was about two things. The first? The Serial case. “He did it,” he wrote to me. He was the kind of person who had to know everything about everything and he was all over Serial, of course, even moderating a discussion at The New School just last week.

He also gave me some advice about engaging on Twitter with people. He wrote:

It’s got nothing to do with what you say. they want what you have and can’t stand that you have it.

just block them. easy as that. just block and move on. no drama, no dialogue, no beseeching to let you be. just leave them out there yelling down a hole.


David Carr leaves a massive footprint. Not just in the work he’s generated over the years. That he took out time to write a defense piece of Ava DuVernay’s Selma shows you who he was in his heart. He stood up for the underdog. He hated bullies. He was always up for a fight against the bad guys. There is no replacing him in any way.

But it’s worth noting that he died in the newsroom of the paper he loved.

So here’s me admitting I miss you, David. Wherever you are my dear friend, thank you for lighting the way. Thank you for the hundred thousand smart things you said, what you gifted me with, what you taught me — I am so grateful.

Love you bye. —Sashino.


There is something very wrong with the system the Academy has now put in place to choose Best Picture. Relying on Oscar voters to pick their five favorites of the year should result in five genuinely Best Picture nominees. But what they are saying, more and more, is that these are the five films already chosen for us by studios and their publicists, and from that pre-selected collection these are the ones we like best. In other words, these are the movies specifically made to cater to our tastes that we like best. The overall range of excellence is nowhere near the selections the voters used to give us when their best picture lineup better represented what most people would think of as the best films of the year.

The Academy voters are so isolated, insular and protected that they’ve mostly lost touch with what’s happening in everyday America – both in terms of culture and in terms of cinema. If they were asked to choose ten films, rather than five, perhaps they would then they would be forced to expand their ideas about what defines “best.”

An Academy voter wrote me recently to tell me that I had no business telling them that ten slots were better than five. “It would just invite more mediocrity,” said this voter, a costume designer who has been an Academy member for many decades. He told me that he doesn’t pay any attention to the news, the trades, the ads, the critics, the public – nothing. He looks at the movies put in front of him and he chooses the best among them. He claims that he and people like him are the only ones qualified to make that choice. He said, in so many words, he knows a good movie when he sees one because he is in the business of making movies.

I wrote back to tell him that regardless of how much power he thinks he has, his choices are shaped by the studios and the publicists who choose for him long before those films ever get to his doorstep. In fact, the Oscar race is predictable because the Oscar voters are predictable. They are part of a massive consensus whose particular tastes are specifically pandered to every year. The bloggers who write and predict the Oscars must continually soften the sharper edges of film selections, remove any extra spice or flair, in order to stay true to what they know “they” will like. Think of it as if you’re inviting that one guest to the party who will only eat a certain kind of food – they only like mashed potatoes on their plate. They have a sensitive stomach; that’s all they can digest. No matter what else you try to serve them it will go uneaten. But those mashed potatoes? They’ll gobble them up.

The only two viable options the Academy has at this point is to go back to five or expand to ten. Five would keep them snuggled up all nicely in their beds with nothing to really disrupt their tradition. It would guarantee that they marginalize themselves from the rest of the industry, the culture and the world as everything else evolves around them. At least then the five movies could be celebrated properly, with sweeps and no Ralph Naders to mess things up too much. Five is how they got themselves into this mess in the first place, though, when they couldn’t make room for the Dark Knight and went with The Reader instead. Would the Dark Knight have made it in with ten? Maybe. Would TDK have been a Best Picture nominee when voters were asked to chose 10 titles? Very likely. Would it have made it in with the way they vote and tabulate ballots now? Not a chance in hell.

Though I think it’s better for the Academy and better for the industry if they go back to ten – that would allow for films directed by women, genre movies and animated films — five would be better than the overly-manipulated system they have in place now. It is a failure on every level.

If the Best Picture race was down to five this year, the likely nominees would be Birdman, Boyhood, the Grand Budapest Hotel, The Imitation Game and American Sniper. The sixth would have likely been The Theory of Everything because it also had the SAG ensemble nomination. Whiplash might have come close. Without the preferential ballot, Selma would probably not have had a chance. The preferential ballot offered voters the opportunity to put Selma at the top of their ballot in order to get it in the running. But with only a song nomination it has no chance to win. Shouldn’t the other nominees have a chance to win?

The other good thing about five, as opposed to an expanded race, is the way it gives more power to the director. Without the dual unification of director and picture nominations there is less of a focus on the director and more of a focus on the producer where Best Picture is concerned. I guess this is good and bad, depending on your perspective.

If they aren’t going to expand their thinking to include different types of films what is the point of expanding at all? More of what they like doesn’t solve their problem of exclusion. It merely echoes their tastes over and over and over. Twice as much of the same old same old. When they were required to stretch and name ten films each year, they were forced to think outside the box, something they would never have otherwise done, and have rarely been known to do.

It’s not often that I get a direct message from an Academy member who’s angry about something I wrote. But this member’s letter was very telling. Perhaps he only represents a small percentage of that kind of voter but his email is definitely a good reminder of how stuck in the past some of the voters still are, how they seem to have no clue about how the Oscar race works or about their place in the growing, global film community.

In a year like last year, when so many rules were broken and with so many good films to choose from, the results of the process did not seem so bad. Other than Inside Llewyn Davis being left off the Best Picture list, the other nine were great films. It isn’t that the Academy on the whole has terrible taste collectively. It’s that their taste is so limited to one kind of film and that kind of film hardly gets made anymore.

The Oscar Movie is its own genre now. It’s always great when that definition can expand its embrace to includes films like The Grand Budapest Hotel, Boyhood and Birdman. But if I were an employee in the business of films now I would wonder why the “Oscar Movie” is such a shrinking pile and what the future might look like if that pile keeps shrinking.

As we head out of the final phase of this year’s Oscar race, it has felt more like a whimper than a bang, with some of the year’s most exciting films selected out, like Nightcrawler, Foxcatcher, Gone Girl, A Most Violent Year — and the ones that were chosen, like Selma or Whiplash appear in the race as lame duck contenders, with fragile down-ballot support that severely cripples any shot at winning Best Picture. That has to mean, ultimately, that if they aren’t going to go back to ten that they should go back to the way it was done for sixty years and limit their blinkered vision to five Oscar Movies once again.


“And now, perhaps, three times in four years. Poor Harvey Weinstein. The appalling “Honor the Man — Honor the Film” campaign he’s been running for The Imitation Game has begged voters to factor in the historical importance of subject matter when the apparent reality turns out to be that Alan Turing, Chris Kyle, Martin Luther King Jr., and Stephen Hawking are all likely to be beaten by a mirror. Like Time magazine’s 2006 Person of the Year, the Best Picture winner is now always “You.” Or, as the Academy thinks of itself, “Us.” — Mark Harris, Grantland

The early part of this year’s Oscar race had pundits swirling around films that might win because they were just that good, or those that might win because the Academy might deem them “important” or might respond to them in other ways. “Some movies you feel.” In the end, though, the pundits and and everyone else forgot about the overarching power of self-love. Just as Narcissus found himself struck by his own reflection — a love that could never be fulfilled, just an endless ache for self — so does this industry return again and again to the reflecting pool to gaze lovingly at themselves. The rest of us fade into noise as Echo herself, trying to love that which only loves itself.

Birdman is the third of these films to reach for Best Picture in recent years, a proposition proposed by the best writer on the Oscar race, Grantland’s Mark Harris. “Birdman,” writes Harris, “Is about a man trying to make a film as good as Boyhood.” Only Harris can deliver those kinds of lines — that are both truthful and astonishing in their beauty and clarity. That is exactly it. Great art is so rarely achieved and in Hollywood, if the critics love it too much, that enrages the gods. Because Birdman skewers critics and celebrates the not-very-talented everyman in the industry it is embraced by an industry that often rejects the films the critics adore. This was the case going all the way back to Citizen Kane and How Green was my Valley.

The films that embody the reflecting pool for Narcissus are the ones that gently poke fun at the industry while not exactly taking it apart. Rejected are more scathing films like The Player or Maps to the Stars, and accepted are films like Argo, The Artist and now, Birdman. Poor stupid chumps just trying to do good work in a changing, evolving, rejecting industry. Poor everyman who can’t catch a break. They see themselves — oh, do they see themselves.

Or as Harris puts it:

I’m not sure why, in the last four years, Oscar voters have suddenly become so determined to turn inward, although they certainly live in a world that encourages it. Every year now, awards season seems to be twice as noisy as the year before. Given the glut of mailings, screenings, DVDs, trade publications, and blogs that exist because of Oscar advertising, roundtables, preliminary awards, dinners, contrived festival honors, panels, and Q&As, it’s easy for people who live and work inside the bubble to start to believe, between October and February, that the bubble is all there is. When they go home for the holidays in December, it’s with a stack of screeners; when they self-disgustedly flee Hollywood in January, they get only as far as Sundance. And this winter, the scandal over the Sony hack and The Interview provided an unusual corroboration of the idea that what Hollywood does really is front-page news with real-world stakes. In that context, a vote for Birdman, which might have looked like an act of self-absorption back in November, may now feel more like a defiant act of self-affirmation: We’re here, we’re deeply flawed but sincere — get used to it!

Why, one might ask, did the British voters reject Birdman (just one award, for cinematography) and embrace Boyhood, Grand Budapest and Whiplash? For some reason, they are not as captivated by their reflection this time around as they, too, have been in the past. That has left the Hollywood industry twisting in the wind as it reaches and embraces that one movie that pushes their buttons in the right way. The Globes, the Critics Choice and now the British film industry and all of its 6,000 voters said sorry but Boyhood is the better film. Boyhood is the more brilliant work of art.

With the BAFTA it obviously wasn’t even close, not even a screenplay win for Birdman. With Hollywood though? They can’t pull themselves away. They see their changing industry and they feel protective of the true artists who, like Harris said, are hoping to make movies as good as Boyhood. The shame of it all, the sad lament, is that when it comes to rewarding films with gold statues it always has to be more about them than it is about the art of the thing.

How great would it be for the American film industry to step up and also recognize the works by their best homegrown artists, like Richard Linklater. In the end, the pundits never saw the dynamic coming. They figured Birdman was divisive — so many people “out there” didn’t get it or didn’t like what they got, while others thoroughly loved it. But Boyhood is another movie that many people don’t get. Voters heard about the reviews and all of the awards won and they watched the film and thought, really? That’s it? That’s because their expectations had put it in some kind of crazy category — they kept waiting for something to happen. They maybe even thought, this is the case of the Emperor’s New Clothes. You might think that, of course, especially if you’re not a mother and if you haven’t raised children of your own. Or if you had it didn’t really profoundly impact you. Maybe you don’t feel the passage of time thrum through your circulatory system on a daily basis. Maybe you don’t contemplate the shortness of life, the swiftness of it all, the accidental success of merely reaching the age of 20.

The Oscars aren’t really about much anymore about that self-reflecting pool. Birdman will probably win and it’s a worthy winner, to be sure. It isn’t a movie like Boyhood that you have to reach in to understand. You can pretty much get it because it’s all there on the surface with each character shouting the theme of the play/movie.

How alive and funny and vibrant Birdman is. How well connected Chivo’s camera is to Michael Keaton’s changing face. Keaton is the best thing about the film and yet he may not be winning any more awards. Birdman IS Michael Keaton. It is his actor’s showcase. How bizarre that the film would be winning yet not its anchor. A friend of mine loved Birdman so much she went back and saw it a second time. I myself love the movie too, but not that much. I don’t remember it, even after seeing it three or four times. I only remember Keaton and how badly I felt for his character. I remember the skewering of modern society and the film critic. But that’s about it. Good thing I’m not in charge of picking the year’s best.

In a year about all of the problems of men, where every single dusty corner of the white male experience is explored, where women and people of color are mostly forgotten, it sort of adds insult to injury that the big life problem the industry has decided to mourn is the death of traditional Hollywood in the face of Superhero movies. Here is Ava DuVernay making history come alive with Selma, giving voice to the voiceless, opening doors, inspiring young women to make movies, inspiring black artists to be heard. There was Gillian Flynn adapting her own novel into a screenplay, one of the few R-rated movies to hit $168 million. There is Wes Anderson making the best film of his career with the Grand Budapest Hotel and there is Boyhood, the masterpiece by one of America’s most humble and experimental storytellers, making the lament of time and age and personal evolution come alive in two hours of film. Yet here is Hollywood, gazing upon itself yet again. “Poor us. Poor sad us.”

That our industry could walk on past a film like Boyhood just because it makes a generation of older men shrug is one of the many reasons why when it comes time to walk away from the Oscar race I will do so with a smile. It isn’t that Birdman isn’t a good film. It’s as Mark Harris says, when these are the two films up for the award it’s a pretty good year. It’s that some films are worthy of gold statues because they represent what the Oscars proclaim they’re about: the highest achievements in film. I look at the short categories, the foreign language and the documentary — in all of those categories achievement and effort and execution are all taken into account. It is only the best picture that must continually dumb itself down to a consensus that doesn’t seem to understand that it is supposed to be about Miss Right, not Miss Right Now.

All the same, whatever message Hollywood is sending to itself about itself is being read loud and clear by its own ears. It knows what it wants and where it wants to be. And it’s listening. To itself. It pities itself for being caught out of time. It knows that the rest of the world is about to swallow it up and it is grasping for dear life to whatever refuse the giant ship discarded. It will hold on and while it’s clinging to life the shimmering water will appear in front of them and as their bodies start to freeze they will once again see themselves and they will once again fall madly in love. Behind them they might hear the faint echo of those who loved them that they could not see.


My predictions are going to fall into wishful thinking. I don’t think a film can win the major guilds and not win Best Picture, despite what the BAFTA did or didn’t do. Fuck it, it’s about the industry so let’s put the thing to bed, shall we? There is no turning it around once it gets to this level. But I refuse, as I did with the Social Network and Lincoln, to abandon my own stubbornness. Thus, I’m going to white knuckle it through with Boyhood and Linklater because I remain stunned that they’re actually going to reject this film for the top awards. Thus, my predictions are both a protest vote -— as I take a sad pointless stand and there is always that slight chance that the awards will once again split, with Boyhood or Linklater taking one of the top awards. Thus, if I predict both, there’s a good chance one or the other will win. But DON’T YOU BE LIKE ME. If you want to win your office pool, the smart money is on Birdman for both.

Best Picture

Best Director
Richard Linklater, Boyhood

Best Actor
Eddie Redmayne, Theory of Everything

Best Actress
Julianne Moore, Still Alice

JK Simmons, Whiplash and Patricia Arquette, Boyood

Original Screenplay
Birdman (or Grand Budapest Hotel)

Adapted Screenplay



Production Design, Costumes, Makeup and Score
Grand Budapest Hotel

Visual Effects

Glory, Selma

American Sniper

Sound Editing

Animated Feature
How to Train Your Dragon 2


Live Action Short

Doc Short

Animated Short


With the Writers Guild the last of the major awards to announce, just a few days before the final Oscar ballots are due — though how many voters will have already cast their ballots? Either way, both categories remain wide open.

Original Screenplay is a three-way race between The Grand Budapest Hotel, Birdman and Boyhood. The BAFTA chose Budapest over Birdman, which was surprising. In fact, both scripts that were disallowed by the WGA (King’s Speech and The Artist) both won the BAFTA for screenplay. Will the Academy, with all of its actors dominating final voting, go for Birdman instead? If Birdman is to win Best Picture, as all of the major guilds have dictated, will it also have to win writing?

The predictions at Gold Derby are all over the place, truth be told, with 7 predicting Birdman and 12 predicting Grand Budapest Hotel.

The Globes gave their screenplay award to Birdman because Budapest took the top prize. The BAFTA gave Birdman just one award for cinematography, a highly unusual move for a Best Picture frontrunner. In fact, it’s never happened that a film won the PGA/DGA/SAG and only won a single Bafta in the techs.

All of the films that won those three, since BAFTA shifted their date, also won a significant award at BAFTA.

That already makes Birdman breaking with precedent in a third significant way. One thing we’ve learned from our past, though, is that when they want to pick a movie they like all stats and history go out the window.

But just in terms of Best Picture we now have to add, for a Birdman win, to overcome:

Not winning the Golden Globe for comedy (it went to Budapest)
Not having an editing nomination
Not winning screenplay or actor or any major award beyond cinematography at BAFTA

All three of these things make Birdman’s potential win a long shot, even with the big three. Remember, the big three have always resulted in a major award at BAFTA, if not Best Picture. How do films with the big three stack up with the WGA?

UPDATE: Birdman is not eligible for the WGA – for some reason I forgot this when I first wrote this piece — that puts it in the King’s Speech/The Artist territory. BOTH won the BAFTA for Screenplay but Birdman did not. One won the Oscar, the other didn’t. Both in original.

2012 – Argo: PGA/DGA/BAFTA/SAG/Oscar – WGA/Oscar
2011 – The Artist: PGA/DGA/SAG/BAFTA/Oscar – was not eligible for WGA, won Oscar SILENT FILM
2010 – The King’s Speech: PGA/DGA/SAG/BAFTA/Oscar – not eligible for WGA/won Oscar
2009 – The Hurt Locker: PGA/DGA/BAFTA/Oscar – WGA/Oscar
2008 – Slumdog Millionaire (PGA/DGA/SAG/BAFTA) – WGA/Oscar
2003 – Return of the King (PGA/DGA/SAG/BAFTAs) – WGA/Oscar
1999 – American Beauty  (PGA/DGA/SAG) – WGA/Oscar
1995 – Apollo 13 – (PGA/DGA/SAG) – did not win WGA

Therefore, if you’re predicting Birdman to win Best Picture you should predict it to win the WGA.

We can’t really count BAFTA much in terms of history because of their date change (2000) and their changes in voting procedure (2012) but since 2012, the Best Picture winner has won the BAFTA for Best Picture, Argo and 12 Years a Slave.

Adapted Screenplay is also quite a toss-up. Since the Best Picture heat is in the original category, adapted is kind of up in the air.  Gillian Flynn and Gone Girl would have won this prize, I think, had Whiplash not knocked it out of the category.  The reason being the buzz would have grown every time Flynn hit the mic. She’s funny and she would have made Academy history. What a shame to see these opportunities vanish like that.

The Imitation Game has the overwhelming support over at Gold Derby. That is primarily because it won the Scripter and the predictions took place before the BAFTAS.  Clearly, the brits did not much care for the film since it didn’t even get a directing nominations. The Oscar voters and the industry DO care for the film because they have Morten Tyldum nominated both at the DGA and a the Oscars.

But now you have to factor in Whiplash, which was put in the adapted category and is very much loved by both BAFTA and Oscar.  Now we have three films to choose from and we have no precursor to go off of, not until the WGA and even then it’s a toss-up.

Other than Argo, you have to go back to 1998 to find a year when the Adapted Screenplay Oscar went to a film without a directing nomination. The BAFTA picked The Theory of Everything, which did have a directing nomination.  But the Oscars did not give James Marsh a nomination for directing, which means that The Imitation Game is the stronger of two.

Finally, Anne Thompson is predicting American Sniper to win the Oscar for Adapted. I think that’s a very strong prediction – and thus, Sniper would be a great prediction for both the WGA and the Oscar.

The bottom line: both screenplay categories are wide open and unpredictable.



boyhood family

In the most unpredictable Oscar race for Best Picture I’ve ever seen, the DGA went with Inarritu last night while the BAFTA went with Richard Linklater and Boyhood today, setting up an absolute cliffhanger. Birdman’s wins with the big guilds was something no pundit saw coming. The maxim “Nobody knows anything” has never been more apt. Even the King’s Speech had people predicting it before it took over the race with the Producers Guild.

Birdman flew high with the guilds for two primary reasons, I think: 1) it is about not only Hollywood but Hollywood being swallowed up by the Superhero tent poles. 2) it is a film about skewering film critics. Not since All About Eve has the critic been painted in a more critical light (the film’s defenders refuse to accept this basic truth about the film, however).

Film criticism and superhero movies – if only they would go away? Team Birdman.

These were the two key things pundits and critics were kind of missing in the lead up to the big guilds. We were focusing on theme and plot and divisiveness and likability and film reviews and box office – not the thing that often drives the voting in Hollywood: what makes us feel good about ourselves?

Boyhood seemed like it was going to get King Speeched out of the running – and, in fact, still might. It feels like as unpredictable year as 2000, when Gladiator, Traffic and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon were all headed into the race.

It’s been a while since we’ve had one of these. Fifteen years, in fact, only two more years than it took Linklater to film Boyhood.

The BAFTA doesn’t have the same fears as Hollywood folks do, which enabled them to do what they often do – vote with their heart. It’s funny that their awards went to Americans almost completely down the line, where the Oscars probably won’t. In fact, if Inarritu wins it will be the fifth straight win for a foreign-born director. Add that fact to the short film categories that are almost entirely occupied by foreign films and you can see how much self-loathing is going on within the industry for our homegrown product.

This is a sad lament because no country has more film schools than the USA but most countries do not have for-profit education either and thus, their citizens are not burdened with massive student loan debt. Their governments haven’t gutted arts programs at public schools. They tend to give filmmakers grants and support the arts in a variety of ways. Here in America if you aren’t rich you are basically screwed.

So what does any of this mean? Here are a few things to consider:

BAFTA didn’t really have time to catch the Birdman’s high-flying buzz which happened in a very short window of time. Buzz is built on momentum and Birdman had none of it until it won the Producers Guild. It didn’t even win the Golden Globe in the comedy category. At the BAFTA it won just a single prize, Cinematography.

In 2004, Million Dollar Baby did not win any BAFTAs because it was not nominated. The Departed won no BAFTAs. But usually, since the year 2000, the Oscar Best Picture winner won more than one BAFTA. Birdman’s single win for Cinematography is a terrible precedent, especially considering, since 2009, the BAFTA has correctly predicted Best Picture 100% of the time.

That Birdman lost the Golden Globe, doesn’t have an editing nomination and lost the BAFTA does not seem to make it the strongest Best Picture contender. On the other hand, it does have the magic combination of the three guilds. However, when those have been put together since they expanded Best Picture (2009), the BAFTA has always recognized their winner.

2009 – The Hurt Locker: PGA/DGA/BAFTA/Oscar
2010 – The King’s Speech: PGA/DGA/BAFTA/Oscar
2011 – The Artist: PGA/DGA/BAFTA/Oscar
2012 – Argo: PGA/DGA/BAFTA/Oscar
2013 – 12 Years a Slave PGA/BAFTA/Oscar

But here we have:

2014 – Birdman: PGA/DGA/SAG
Boyhood – BAFTA

You can go back further if you’d like — and you’ll find the only year where a film didn’t win any BAFTAs and won Best Picture was The Departed, which also had DGA and Globes for Director, plus Critics Choice. Birdman does not have Globes and it does not have Critics Choice.

Other than that, every other Best Picture winner had more than one BAFTA, or else the film won outright.

2008 – Slumdog Millionaire
2007– No Country for Old Men – Supporting Actor, Director, Cinematography
2006 — The Departed – Zero BAFTAs
2005 — Crash – Supporting Actress, Screenplay
2004 — Million Dollar Baby, not nominated
2003 – Return of the King
2002 – Chicago – Supporting Actress, Sound
2001 – A Beautiful Mind – Actor, Supporting Actress

You can see that since BAFTA changed its date to take place before the Oscars (year 2000) Oscar’s Best Picture either won at BAFTA or else had acting nominations except in the two cases of The Departed and Million Dollar Baby, both of which won the Globe for Director and both won the DGA. Inarritu only has one of those.

Why does this make a difference? Because it doesn’t show BROAD support for Birdman. It shows industry-specific support – not the Globes, not the Critics Choice, not the BAFTAs: Only the one area that is threatened by superhero movies is wanting to award Birdman.

There is no precedent for this year, but gun to my head, if I had to put money on it, I’d probably follow the best stat for predicting Best Picture, the DGA. That doesn’t mean Best Director will follow.

2013 – Cuaron / Gravity did not win Picture (PGA)
2012 – Argo (PGA/DGA/SAG)
2011 – The Artist (PGA/DGA/SAG)
2010 – The King’s Speech (PGA/DGA/SAG)
2009 – The Hurt Locker  (PGA/DGA)
2008 – Slumdog Millionaire (PGA/DGA/SAG)
2007 – The Coens  (PGA)
2006 – The Departed (DGA)
2005 – Ang Lee / Brokeback did not win Picture (PGA)
2004 – Million Dollar Baby (DGA)
2003 – Return of the King (PGA/DGA/SAG)
2002 – Chicago did not win Director (PGA/DGA/SAG)
2001 – A Beautiful Mind  (DGA)
2000 – Gladiator  (PGA)
1999 – American Beauty  (PGA/DGA/SAG)
1998 – Saving Private Ryan – did not win Picture (PGA)
1997 – Titanic (PGA)
1996 – English Patient  (PGA/DGA)
1995 – Apollo 13 – did not win Best Picture (PGA/DGA/SAG)
1994 – Forrest Gump (PGA/DGA)
1993 – Schindler’s List (PGA/DGA)
1992 – Unforgiven (DGA)
1991 – Silence of the Lambs (PGA/DGA)
1990 – Dances with Wolves (PGA/DGA)

In the end, the Oscar’s choice for Best Picture will be the result of a preferential ballot, and the only other group that uses it is the Producers Guild.

It seems like it will come down to the actors, who dominate the Academy, giving Birdman the edge, and anyone in the industry who loathes how Hollywood’s course has been so woefully upended by superhero movies. Also, Birdman’s directions is more showy.

I may still white-knuckle it and predict Boyhood to take both in spite of the Guild awards.  But smart money probably should follow the most reliable of all precursors, the DGA.


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Now fully grown Ellar Coltrane, whom we all watched grow up in Richard Linklater’s Boyhood, gives a moving speech as he presents his movie parents Hawke and Arquette with the American Riviera Award at the Santa Barbara Film Festival.

Hawke also talks about Robin Williams, what it was like to work with him and that strange way certain people have of hiding inside the work:

Arquette and Hawke on the reaction to Boyhood:

Ethan Hawke on the whole awards experience, “it does feel like it’s really not happening.”

Meryl Streep

Meryl Streep

Meryl Streep seems to defy any sort of constraints put upon her by our bizarre culture — by all rights she should have packed it in long ago – and yet here she is, holding the record for Oscar nominations, holding an electric guitar in 2015. Streep will star in Ricki and the Flash, written by Diablo Cody and directed by Jonathan Demme. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the film isn’t killed by critics sharpening their knives for Cody. We need more Diablo Codys in Hollywood. The pic opens in August which has all of the internet chickens clucking about, like it’s some big catastrophe. If this year proved anything it’s that it doesn’t really matter anymore when a film comes out.


People happen to us. They step in front of us, the stand behind us, they tower over us, they love us, they need us, they hate us, they remember us, they forget us, they inspire us, they help us. We are here with and for each other. It’s easy to forget about that in a disconnected culture where our closest relationships seem to be with reflected images of ourselves — or else with that brightly-lit screen that showcases refracted versions of ourselves for us to admire. It’s easy to forget our social bonds hold the whole game together.

The surprise of Richard Linklater’s approach as a filmmaker is to find the magic in the ordinary. It isn’t even that he finds the magic, it’s that he is perceptive enough to notice it. His most dazzling special effect is the sparks that drive thought, and those thoughts that turn into permanent markings on another’s experience. By choosing interesting people as his subjects, he’s taken us through his inventive cinema of ideas throughout his career, but especially in his collaborations with Ethan Hawke, the Before Series, and the twelve years that would become Boyhood.


Film at 24 frames per second turns out to be the perfect medium to record the rapid fire flashes of time that exist in our unreliable memories of who we were once. As you age you’ll discover that these memories come flooding back in snapshots. Too many of the bad ones linger, the humiliating moments, like getting caught in a precarious sexual encounter or stealing a candy bar. Linklater’s not as interested in a self-pitying take on a young man’s coming of age. This isn’t a revenge tale or a hero’s story. Maybe he gets the girl but he doesn’t ever become a “winner.”

What no one ever really tells so many young American boys growing up is that we aren’t all born winners. Too many films now, almost every film made in this country, is about how winning is everything. When you spend so much time on the end goal you miss the in between. That is what Boyhood does — it takes a series of moments in the life of a family and strings them together to fly by more quickly, in movie time, and oh my god. The sad/beautiful truth about time is that it goes by. We can’t slow it down no matter how hard we live, how much money we spend, how many activities fill our time. The sun comes up, the sun sets and we’re another year older.


For this film to have come so far in the Oscar race is nothing short of miraculous. Like its subject, its success seems almost accidental, a fragile ascent. There are so many reasons why it should not be winning any awards. It’s an independent film that screened in Sundance. It didn’t make much money. It doesn’t rely on the box-office draw of its stars and it won’t “play” in China or South Korea. It doesn’t make the actors jump up and down and it doesn’t idealize humanity. It is something entirely extraordinary that this little movie has been voted through by nearly all the industry entities — with the exception of the producers and the actors so far.

Boyhood is the best film of the year that so people have not yet seen. It is a film that will never be topped nor even attempted. All too often the awards race collapses in a gasm of likes. When tasked with the job of finding the “best,” voters tend to pick what they like the best, not what is awards-worthy. So many love Boyhood but how can it compete with a thrill ride like Alejandro G. Inarritu’s Birdman? A film that exploded into the industry for its bravura film directing (seemingly all one take) while it takes apart the two things many filmmakers loathe: critics and superhero movies. Everything that’s wrong about trying to do good work is attacked in Birdman, though the hero is also satirized for trying to tackle an intellectual endeavor. Side by side these two films are both accused of being gimmicky, successful for doing a camera trick that masks authentic storytelling. What they both are, really, is a celebration of the auteur, the writer/director whose vision is complete. They say different things. One is at life’s beginning, the other at life’s end. One is swept up in the magic of super powers, while the other is a rolling stone.

In the end, though, it gets down to two different visions of art – one by Inarritu, who relishes intensity, and the other by Linklater, who seems more inclined to draw from his actors some kind of truth — they are not symbols to Linklater but with Inarritu they feel very much like cogs in an elaborate metaphor. They are equally brilliant films that offer vastly different experiences.

That this year has been such a hard Oscar year, with so many disappointments, ending it with a celebration that the auteur is alive and well in American film is not a bad way to go. The other auteurs in the race are Wes Anderson and Damien Chazelle. They share the Best Picture lineup with collaborators like the team behind Selma, American Sniper, The Imitation Game and The Theory of Everything.

Of these only Selma is rooted in auteurism, with Ava DuVernay’s early career dedicated to it. As a writer/director formerly, DuVernay brought much of that to Selma, writing authentic facsimiles of Martin Luther King’s speeches and rewriting much of the blacklisted screenplay.

Here we can clearly illustrate the disappointment so many of us felt when Selma found its way into the race. While the same could be said for films like The Blind Side and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, when a film with this much acclaim earns only two nominations, and THOSE nominations, it’s virtually unheard of:


But the Academy’s willingness to both celebrate the auteur, which was alive on every scale this year, all the way up to blockbuster level with Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar, and to make an effort to acknowledge Selma, even though clearly it wasn’t as popular with the voters in any other category.

This year calls for an extraordinary winner in the Best Picture category. If Richard Linklater wins Best Director he’ll have broken a four year streak of directors from other countries winning the prize. With so many British imports in the acting, writing and directing category, it brings up the argument about what is happening to storytelling in this country? What is happening to our actresses? What is happening to our directors?

I don’t know many things. I don’t know what drives a consensus to align behind one movie. I don’t know why anyone would choose Boyhood over any other film but I do know that once in a lifetime movies like that don’t come around very often. When they do, and when they’re rewarded with gold statues it makes the whole ugly game seem worth it; what are awards meant for but the extraordinary?

People have told me for years not to care about the Oscars. They aren’t worth it. They’re not worth caring about because they really are, at heart, a popularity contest. Maybe that’s true. What they are more than anything, though, is a night of dreaming for the dreammakers. It’s a night when their dreams come true, when their hard work is at last recognized by their peers, when they can matter instead of the rest of us out there in the dark.


Best Picture


Best Director
Richard Linklater

Best Actor
Eddie Redmayne, Theory of Everything

Best Actress
Julianne Moore, Still Alice

Supporting Actor
JK Simmons, Whiplash

Supporting Actress

Patricia Arquette, Boyhood

Original Screenplay


Adapted Screenplay

Imitation Game (maybe Whiplash)


Sound categories
American Sniper

Cinematography, Costume Design, Production Design, Makeup 

Grand Budapest Hotel

The Theory of Everything


Animated Feature
How to Train Your Dragon 2

Foreign Language
Wild Tales (maybe Ida)

Virunga (maybe CitizenFour)

Live Action Short
Parvenah (maybe The Phone Call)

All of the Gurus of Gold’s full predictions over at Movie City News



I think we can safely say that Best Actor is now down to a two-man race. Sometimes the race can split between two favorites, leaving a third option to surge in the 11th hour. I’m not sure that is going to happen this year but we’ll take a look back at the years when it did happen.

This race is primarily down to Eddie Redmayne (Globe, SAG) and Michael Keaton (Globe, Critics Choice). Stats-wise, you have to go back to 2003 to find a year when the SAG did not match the Oscar. In 2001, Russell Crowe was winning everything for A Beautiful Mind until there was an incident at the BAFTAs where Crowe cornered a backstage PA. It wasn’t like today’s race because back then there was more time between the rush of the race and the Oscars. They were still being held in March (as they should still be) and thus, there was more contemplation time. That allowed for an historic win for Denzel Washington who won alongside Halle Berry. In 2002, the famous Daniel Day-Lewis vs. Jack Nicholas vs. Adrien Brody allowed for one of the few surprises we’ve ever seen at the Oscars in the later years. But since then and in every other year, Best Actor at the SAG matches Best Actor at the Oscars. It is one of those stats you can take to the bank.

On the other hand, this is a weird, unpredictable year, with not a lot of sure bets so far. We don’t even know what is going to win Best Picture, or Best Director. The other three acting categories do seem sewn up. It’s only Best Actor, the single most competitive category this year (insert unnecessary explanation here) that could really swing either way.

Eddie Redmayne as Stephen Hawking and Michael Keaton as Riggan could not be more different. One is a high achiever, the other a notable failure. One is in a traditional British drama that everyone tends to like, the other is decidedly American, even with its Mexican director, and a highly stylized satire. Both films are loved for different reasons. Both men are loved and pitied. Both men have difficulty with women. One man changes how we think about time, space and the universe — overcoming the obstacle of a disease that left him immobile. The other about a man trying to overcome the obstacle of a culture that has left him behind.

The problem with Keaton winning over Redmayne is that it’s difficult to put the two performance side by side and have the majority choose Keaton. It is a little like last year with Matthew McConaughey alongside Leonardo DiCaprio. One gets votes for physically transforming his body and going as deep as an actor can go – the other gets points for essentially playing themselves but doing it really really well; they succeed mostly on how popular they are with fans and industry voters. If you did not know who Michael Keaton was, what his background was, and you set that performance alongside Redmayne’s it would be a no-brainer.

This was also, incidentally, the dynamic that played out between Jack Nicholson for About Schmidt (he’d already won an Oscar by that point) who mostly played himself very well, and Adrien Brody for The Pianist, which was the more transformative performance. Side by side, it was a no-brainer. There was also Daniel Day-Lewis in the mix for Gangs of New York but not only had he also already won an Oscar but no one liked that movie. Well, except me.

Finally, the potential spoiler in the race is not likely Benedict Cumberbatch, who has been hurt by having to film Sherlock overseas. The charming Englishman might have been able to work it if he’d had the opportunity. Bradley Cooper is actually the one to really fear for being the Adrien Brody that could upset this race.

While I don’t really think it’s possible, both American Sniper and Cooper have been underestimated from day one. No one thought Sniper was a good enough film to make it into the race but so many critics and voters disagreed with that. Some thought Cooper might make it in for Best Actor but he was considered a long shot. Now, you have a situation where he could win if the other two frontrunners split the vote and Sniper has enough support in the Academy to pull it through.

If Cooper did win, that would certainly reward the heartland demographic that will likely tune into the Oscars for the first time with Sniper in the race. Cooper’s was also a transformative performance – he gained a lot of weight and became Chris Kyle, for better or worse.

But I still think it’s down to Redmayne and Keaton.

Why Keaton could win: If Alejandro G. Inarritu wins the DGA and Birdman is headed for a massive Best picture win, that could pull Keaton into the fold. Conversely, if Richard Linklater wins the DGA, there could be more votes going to Keaton to make up for the non-win for Birdman. After all, Birdman is an ensemble piece but it’s really all about Keaton. Voters might decide that Boyhood and Linklater deserve to win Best Picture and Best Director but that they will share the wealth by giving Keaton the big win.

Why Keaton might not win: If voters elect to give Birdman Picture and Director, they won’t feel obligated to pick Keaton and will go with Redmayne instead, as they did at the SAG.

Why Redmayne could win: When you put the performances side by side one is clearly more difficult and accomplished. Not everyone liked Birdman – the characters are all prickly and self-centered. That’s part of the joke, of course, but it’s a subtle shift, not an obvious one like Redmayne as Hawking. Even people voting for Keaton will likely admit that Redmayne’s is the more difficult and therefore the better performance. He’s also working the publicity circuit harder than anyone else. He’s everywhere all of the time.

Why Redmayne might not win: Voters could feel that he’s young yet. He has a bright future ahead of him, where this could be Keaton’s last chance to win. My own sympathies tend to lean in that direction since I don’t hold much value in any of these awards as meaning anything unless they mean something. A Keaton win would, to me, mean something.

Whom do you think will prevail?



The interesting thing about 2015’s Oscar race is that none of it is really going as planned. Though we always try to caution that late breaking movies simply can’t scramble back from whatever controversy hits them in time to really launch a win, the same story happens every year because the Academy’s voting window is so short, and everything happens really early and really fast. People assume there will be time. There is no time. Thus, here we are once again focusing on the movies that came out early in the year – Birdman (Venice film fest) and Boyhood (Sundance film fest). You could throw in Grand Budapest and The Imitation Game too – both are early. American Sniper is the film that could have really stolen the whole game if two things had not happened. 1) Clint Eastwood had been nominated for an Oscar for Best Director, and 2) if the film had not been hit so hard with a post-release controversy where the extreme right wingers appropriated it and called it their own.

The right wing association might have dimmed Sniper’s sex appeal to a giant consensus mostly made up of good-doer lefties who abhor what the extreme right stands for: no control, an imagined conspiracy that the President wants to take the guns, a flimsy justification to get into the war in Iraq, that Americans are born entitled to take whatever they want, whenever they want, from whomever they want – to destroy the planet if they so choose all in the name of the almighty dollar. There is no way lefty voters are going to stand behind a movie that the right wingers have used to justify their entitlement both internationally and domestically: god, guns, war.

The movie itself does none of this, of course. Its biggest crime is that it makes a hero of a questionable character who in real life said some pretty awful things.  When you listen to Chris Kyle’s articulate wife talk about his sniper shooting in Iraq she says it was about saving American lives, that he did away with the evil coming towards him. That is straight out of the George W. Bush handbook in how Americans were supposed to view all Iraqis during the (still ongoing) war. The film shows how Kyle suffered from shooting all of those people but it does not show that the real Chris Kyle admits to having had “the time of his life” doing it.

Selma’s controversy was a non-controversy – and so much smaller. Yet Selma’s enemies had friends in high places ensuring that voters who at last did get their screeners might not even bother watching a film they’d heard doesn’t tell the truth about Lyndon B. Johnson. For a thorough reading on this, see Mark Harris’ exceptional piece, How Selma Got Smeared.

Sniper will not suffer the same fate as its box office will likely win 2014’s. With a few more weeks to go before ballots are turned in Sniper could, like Selma has, turn the controversy around, especially since film critics continue to stand behind the film.  But there is no time. Thus, 2015’s Oscar race will likely be decided the same way every race is decided now since Oscar pushed its date back a month: only films that come out around or during Telluride/Toronto have a shot at the win.

The other thing that happened was that most of the films people had earmarked for the race did not hit their mark – not Unbroken nor Interstellar nor Into the Woods — and my own personal disappointments, Gone Girl, Foxcatcher and Nightcrawler.  That all of these films were shunted aside for a mostly safe and definitely “indie” lineup is what has resulted in a very surprising series of awards wins.

If Richard Linklater wins the DGA, which he should, then you are still possibly looking at a split between Birdman and Boyood (though if Linklater wins the DGA I’ll stick with Boyhood for the BP win). Boyhood’s editing win seems to still put it where The Social Network’s wins were: Globes, Critics Choice, losing PGA and SAG, winning Eddie, losing Best Picture.  But Birdman isn’t The King’s Speech, which also won Best Actor at SAG.  In this scenario, the DGA decides.

The thing to note that is significant is that Boyhood earned its first big guild win. For the little movie that could, that’s a pretty big deal. It isn’t The Social Network – it isn’t a big studio movie that is a bleak and dark look at humanity, technology and the modern world. It’s a sentimental, deeply moving film about mostly nice and loving people. Of the two, Birdman is more like The Social Network than Boyhood.  Both films are beloved for different reasons. Splitting their vote would not be a bad way to go.

While the supporting categories seem mostly sewn up – I’d bet the farm on JK Simmons, Patricia Arquette and Julianne Moore winning. Best Actor seems like it’s Redmayne’s to lose but for some reason I feel like that’s still a wide open category.

Best Picture and Best Director are open. It could go either way — the DGA may or may not decide. In a season like this one you have to simply rely mostly on gut instinct. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Stats might not help you out, though. Birdman’s win would be unprecedented because it will become only the second comedy at the Golden Globes to lose there and go on to win Best Picture. Annie Hall is the only film that ever has.  It will also become the first film in 30 years to win without an editing nomination. It’s not impossible but surely it will need the DGA to take the whole thing home.

You readers certainly had it right:

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Which film will win Best Picture?

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The shorts category is always joked about by people predicting the race because they have traditionally been only seen by the Academy voters. In recent years that has changed so that journalists get to watch and review them and they open for the public to see. They are not to be missed. They are worth a trip to the theater and worth every penny. More info on their release below.

All five are excellent choices and none are by American filmmakers. This should be worrying to people in this country when it comes to storytelling. Have Americans forgotten what a good story is? Have they forgotten how to tell them? Are they not teaching them well at the hundreds of film schools all over the country? Is it just that these directors make the kinds of films Oscar voters respond to? I don’t have the answer but I certainly can’t argue with the result.

Three out of the five center around female characters that aren’t love stories. The women are not props but actual people. All of them are surprising, unexpected, and deeply moving. I’d say that all five are better than most of the feature length films up for Best Picture. They are certainly more original and tell more compelling stories. Watching these five films you are taken all over the world – while also showing that the ties that bind are universal. Whiplash, for instance, is based on a short film and really, it should be a short film – it’s designed to be.  Yet it makes a pretty good feature. Similarly, a few of these live action shorts could really be extended to features while some fit the format of short better.

Most people are going to say Mat Kirkby’s The Phone Call will win. It stars two well known actors, Sally Hawkins and Jim Broadbent. Hawkins carries the whole thing playing a social worker on a suicide hotline trying to keep Broadbent on the phone long enough to keep him alive. It is an actors showcase but wow, is it great to watch Hawkins go through the range of emotions as she tries to reach out to this man and ultimately becomes personally involved in the outcome. It is about her, not about him, which is the reverse of how it would be told over here. Because of the big names and its accessible narrative this would be a good choice to predict for the win.

Mihal Brezis and Oded Binnun’s Aya is about an Israeli woman who is standing at the airport and is handed one of those signs drivers hold up to pick up passengers.  On the fly she picks up a man and pretends to be his driver. Most of the story is the two of them in the car – he tries to shut her out with headphones and abrupt conversation, while she tries to reach out to him, to make a connection. She isn’t hitting on him, she makes that clear, but she is wanting some kind of exceptional experience.  The two of them make for interesting opposites – their dialogue and action completely unpredictable. It’s wonderful.

Another tearjerker is Michael Lennox’s Boogaloo and Graham about two brothers who adopt two baby chickens that they fall in love with. The struggle comes when they have to get rid of the chickens. The magic in this is both the charming boys, their cute little chirping hens, and the diary entries read in voice over. It is its own kind of coming of age story but it is also about the enormous capacity we have to love both our own and our animals friends.

The other standout and major threat to win is Hu Wei’s extraordinary Butter Lamp, wherein Tibetan nomads are placed in front of various backgrounds by a photographer. Families, couples, old and young. The locations behind them are cleverly symbolic – like the Forbidden City, the Great Wall of China. Wei said of his film, “I wanted to reproduce the device to photograph characters against various backgrounds. It is a practice still very popular in China. I wanted a uncluttered movie, between fiction and documentary, reality and dream, modern civilization and traditional habits, Chinese ideology and Tibetans beliefs. Today’s world is complex, conflicts are everywhere, including Tibet, but I did not want to offer a positive or negative judgment, i just wanted to show today’s changes, in its sometimes unknown reality.” Butter Lamp is the most internationally acclaimed of the five and enters the Oscar race as one of the two frontrunners. It is unforgettable in its visual brilliance as well as the playful nature of the families being photographed.

But to me the best of the five and the one I think that should really be made into a feature is Talkhon Hamzavi’s Parvaneh. It’s about an Afghan immigrant named Parvaneh who takes the train to Zurich to send money to her family back home. She is denied because she has no ID and must ask people randomly on the street to help her wire funds. The one she selects is a punk rock teenager with ripped stockings and bleach hair named Emily, obviously the polar opposite of Parveneh. What a brilliant way to highlight the differences and the surprising similarities of two teenage girls. So much story is packed into its 40 minutes or so that it leaves you wanting to know so much more about each of them. This is the film I would urge everyone to watch — though honestly, all five are worth the time, but Parvaneh surprised me the most.

The Phone Call, Aya and Parvaneh illustrate beautifully what our Best Picture race, and our film industry here, is so sorely lacking: that willingness to be a part of the universal human experience where women and men are worthy of our time and attention.  Do not miss these five live action shorts. They really do show that story still matters and can still captivate and enthrall, no green screen required.

Today we’re looking at the Live Action Short category

ShortsHD is once again bringing the wildly popular OSCAR® Nominated Short Film program (Live Action, Animation, and Documentary) to theaters across the globe beginning 30th January.

The theatrical release of The OSCAR® Nominated Short Films has met enthusiastic audiences ever since its launch 10 years ago giving people around the world an opportunity to see the nominated films prior to the OSCAR® Awards ceremony on 22nd February.

The OSCAR® Nominated Short Films program will open in over 350 theaters throughout the US and Canada starting 30th January and will continue to expand in the following weeks. A list of participating theaters is available by clicking the DATES AND LOCATIONS tab above.

Together with the theatrical run, the nominated short films will be available on Vimeo OnDemand, iTunes® Stores in 54 countries, Amazon Instant Video®, Verizon and will be released across the US on VOD/Pay Per View platforms.



This year, it seems as though precedent could be broken in several key ways, chief among them, it might be the first year the Academy goes a different way from the Producers Guild, giving Boyhood the win over Birdman (they might settle the whole thing and just give it to Birdhood or Boyman).  Why is that such a big thing? It would mean that for the first time since the Academy expanded its Best Picture slate that the PGA’s preferential ballot disagreed with the Academy’s.

Here are a few things to consider:

1) Last year’s tie with Gravity and 12 Years a Slave could signal some wiggle room in that regard. That showed a very tight race. The Academy split them, giving 12 Years Picture and Gravity director.  Last year, though, Cuaron was winning everything and there was mostly an agreed upon split that kept happening throughout the season.

2) The last time a “comedy” lost the Globe (which Birdman has this year) and then won the Producers Guild was Little Miss Sunshine, which also won the SAG but did not win the Oscar.

3) The Academy only recently elected to shorten their date for “phase one” voting, meaning, before 2012, the Academy’s nominating ballots were turned in after the major guilds announced.  While it doesn’t seem to impact wins, it does seem to impact perception and timing.  There is something off about the consensus overall when their ballot deadlines are not in sync. Usually everything would have been pushed back to be before the Oscar ballot deadline – thus there was one long conversation. But once the Academy shifted its date back, weird things started to happen – Ben Affleck was not nominated for an Oscar but kept winning anyway — all the way to the end, where Argo took home the top prize.

This year, you see a little bit of that happening with Life Itself (not nominated for the Oscar) taking home the doc prize at the PGA, ditto The Lego Movie. I’m wondering if Gillian Flynn might rightly win the WGA and the Scripter, even though she wasn’t nominated for the Oscar – they passed on the one chance to honor a woman adapting her own novel for only the second time in Academy history.  Hopefully the WGA will not pass on that. Hopefully the Scripter won’t either.  If so, you could be seeing protests against the Academy being the be-all, end-all final say in awards season.  As a sidenote on adapted screenplay, Whiplash is always put in the original category except for the Oscars.

What I mean to say is that you can’t really use history as a guide this year.  Look at how wrong the major pundits have been from day one. Not only did no one (not Scott Feinberg, not Kris Tapley, not Anne Thompson, not Pete Hammond) see Birdman’s potential win coming, but most were divided between Boyhood and “anything but Boyhood,” meaning, they felt it was a weak frontrunner but they had not consensus on what might take it out.  The reason is a silly one: we’ve all gotten the false impression that divisive movies can’t win in a consensus/preferential vote. Birdman is divisive – yet it won. That defies much of what we knew and what we thought about the voting.  The jury is still out on what the Academy will do but suffice it to say that with 2015, all bets are off. It does not seem like a predictable race.

Will the BAFTA have any impact? It’s tough to say – wouldn’t it be funny, though, if Michael Keaton won Best Actor at the BAFTA instead of their hometown Eddie Redmayne? That would certainly shed some doubt on the Best Actor race.  I don’t think the BAFTA will matter that much unless they go for Boyhood all the way (which they and everyone else should).

As far as Best Picture goes, you can pretty much bank on the DGA. Why they — a 14,500 membership of lots of people who have no business deciding “best directing” have so much power is a mystery but they’ve correctly predicted Best Picture (or Best Director if not Best Picture or both) going all the way back to the year 2000, which really reminds me of this year more than any other.

In the year 2000 (my first full year as an Oscar blogger) you had three movies heading into the race. The Oscars were held in March, thus there was a lot of time to ruminate on it, discuss it and cause ripples in voting.  Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon won the DGA, while Gladiator won the PGA.  Traffic won the SAG and the Eddie. In the end, Gladiator won Best Picture, Soderbergh won Best Director and Crouching Tiger won a lot of the tech awards.

So far, we have one movie winning both the PGA and the SAG. We have the DGA and the Eddie still coming up but they might help clarify things.  What we do know about Boyhood is that it is really one of those movies like The Hurt Locker and The Artist that needs support from the inside because it isn’t a “big” movie from the outside – it certainly isn’t as big as the three films dominating the race in 2000. Birdman is only marginally “bigger” than Boyhood – but it appeals more to the steak eater types than Boyhood, which is probably giving it the edge. People in the business like to think that what they do is important – thus, movies about the industry tend to draw votes.  The third film in the race, The Imitation Game, isn’t really winning much so far but it’s snagged the all-important DGA and Oscar nods for Best Director.  It’s slightly “bigger” than Birdman or Boyhood.  American Sniper is bigger than all of them but it’s without a Best Director nomination at the Oscars.

But wouldn’t it be funny if—

Clint Eastwood won the DGA and Sniper won Best Picture

Eastwood’s in his ’80s and just made a movie that will be the highest grossing film of 2014, landing at around $400 million. Sure, it’s name checked by Sarah Palin in campaign speeches and brought up at NRA rallies and being used to justify the war as being on the right side of God but the film critics are standing up for Sniper, trying hard to undo the damage the right has done in appropriating the film as one of their own (“Clint Eastwood, isn’t he the guy who talked to the chair at the RNC?”)

In a year where everything is up in the air, you really can’t count on anything.

Let’s do a quick chart tracking Best Picture and Best Director since 2009 (keeping in mind the shifts in voting deadlines, and the major shifts in how the BAFTA votes, which started in 2012, I think).

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In one way, you can look at that chart and think, wow, Boyhood is headed where Social Network was — big picture on that? If I had a choice of which movie to be in 2015 I’d rather be The Social Network…the Academy looks to be stuck in the past with their choice for Best Picture of the Year. They opted out of the actual best film of the year and relied only on emotion to make that choice. This chart also tells me that one year is not like any other year. Argo had the best run of all of them because his lack of director nod at the Academy gave them urgency to vote.  But Avatar and Hurt Locker told their won story, as did The Artist and Hugo, Gravity and 12 Years a Slave. We don’t know what 2015’s story will be yet.

Perhaps this is a year that the consensus goes against that inclination to pick something other than the film that really deserves to win.  Who knows, right? The season has offered up nothing but surprises do far, thrusting the pundits to run around the hen house like chickens with our heads cut off. Some people prefer it this way.  I prefer the best to win.  All eyes on the DGA.


Josh Dickey over at Mashable has posted a great infographic showing all that went into making one of 2015’s best films. It is one of the depressing things about an indifferent awards consensus that ignores the extraordinary ambition here, the leap of faith to say – I’m going to write this and film this in the time it takes for a young man to come of age. The awards consensus falls all too easily into the silly whisper campaign that says “it’s just a gimmick” or “take out the 12 years thing and it isn’t all that.” The thing is, you can’t take out the 12 years thing because it says so much about Richard Linklater’s lifelong devotion to thinking outside the box – not to razzle dazzle them but to excavate some kind of truth in the human experience. When the smoke clears on 2015 it will be a scandal to look back at what the awards race ignored, but especially if it ignores Boyhood, which is the kind of film that film awards were invented for: to reward the highest achievement in film, not just “what makes me feel kind of giddy right now?” Extraordinary means it goes beyond the realm of what’s possible.  Are they really going to walk by this film?



“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.


Best Picture
Should be: Boyhood
Should have been: Selma
Should have been nominated: Gone Girl

Best Director
Alejandro G. Inarritu, Birdman
Should be: Richard Linklater, Boyhood
Should have been nominated: Ava DuVernay, David Fincher

Best Actor
Eddie Redmayne Theory of Everything
Should be: Michael Keaton, Birdman
Should have been nominated: David Oyelowo, Selma

Best Actress
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
Patricia Arquette

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)

American Sniper
Should have been nominated: Kirk Baxter for Gone Girl

Sound and Sound Editing
American Sniper

Doc Feature
Should be: any of the other four

Animated Feature
How to Train Your Dragon 2 (finally)

Grand Budapest Hotel
Or maybe: Into the Woods

Production Design
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

Glory, Selma


When the dust settles on Oscars 2015, when the trinkets and whistle blowers have been put to bed, few memories will remain of this year. One that will linger forever and always, though, is the love story between Hollywood-Elsewhere.com‘s Jeff Wells and Alejandro G. Inarritu’s Birdman. Jeff has been a one-man champion for the film where others were mere admirers from afar. Older women in the Academy won’t go for it, Jeff proclaimed, after he was told in Telluride that a fellow journalist’s wife didn’t like it. It’s too divisive to win, went the mantra. But Jeff was there. Day in and day out, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health – not just championing the film but predicting it to win when no one else did:

The whole thing turned around for him last night when the industry embraced the film he’s been beating the drum for all season long. He’s knocked out its main rivals – like Selma. That was easy. Didn’t take much – just the insinuation that the film was damaging the legacy of its one white hero. Press picked that up. Lock and load. Next up, Boyhood. Okay so what can you say about a film that was made from nothing but heart, a good idea and 12 long years of dedicated, careful filmmaking, that dug deeply into the characters to reveal their vulnerabilities, fears, weaknesses and ultimately, strength – life is messy. Life is about the extraordinary in the ordinary. How to make that film seem … not as good a choice?

Call it a gimmick – which is funny considering Birdman could also be called a gimmick but who’s counting. None of these rumors started with Jeff but he went along with them because, well, they weren’t Birdman. Birdman – the film to rescue the mundane drudgery of Oscar season. Birdman, with that rat-a-tat-tat drum score, the magical realism, that insane boner on Edward Norton, that breathtaking performance by Michael Keaton – two women making out, Emma Stone sleeping with Edward Norton. Birdman makes you feel alive. Birdman makes you feel. And some movies you FEEL. Yet the pundits had abandoned it for Boyhood – why Boyhood? WHY? Why not Birdman!?


I can sympathize with Jeff – I was a Gone Girl girl. Nothing but Gone Girl. Gone Girl over all other things and if it had won the PGA last night I would be dancing like Kathy Bates in Misery when she finds out Misery is alive. It would have renewed my faith that yes, awards season is worth every nasty moment – that YES by god, my taste matters. YES people heard me! Yes my choice is their choice because if 6,000 people agree with me that makes me MATTER! But alas, my choice was kicked to the curb – one, twice, and now, three times. You lose, Sasha Stone. JEFF WELLS wins.

The kiss of death, it seems, for an Oscar contender is to be 1) a critics darling – everyone knows industry voters hate the critics and have no business telling them what a great film is (except when it’s The Artist or The Hurt Locker or No Country for Old Men). 2) to win the Golden Globe heading into the big guild votes (unless you’re name is Ben Affleck and you made a movie called Argo). Boyhood – the literal definition of the “little movie that could” suddenly becomes the lumbering frontrunner. Teams start to form and call themselves “anything but Boyhood.” People repeat the awards season mantra, “critics don’t vote for the Oscars” (except when it’s The Artist, The Hurt Locker or No Country for Old Men). Pundits crawl out of the woodwork declaring “I knew Boyhood could never win! It has no plot! It’s just a gimmick! Take out the 12 years thing and it’s just an ordinary movie.” Never mind the part where if you take out the continuous take of Birdman it’s really just a play. On stage.

Anyone who doesn’t see how ugly and twisted the Oscar race is must be on good meds or either just doesn’t take any of it seriously enough. You can’t care. The trick is NOT minding.

Kris Tapley believes the problem is putting Boyhood in the frontrunner’s spot to begin with – and in fact, he and Scott Feinberg and Dave Karger and Pete Hammond had not been on the Boyhood train. They had Unbroken out front and Interstellar at one point — Boyhood, they sensed, wasn’t an “Oscar movie.” Yet Boyhood kept winning. Now people will say “Oh well, that’s just the critics.” But there was no way to tell whether you were dealing with a Social Network situation (lord help us) or The Artist – where it didn’t matter what anyone said or how much money the movie made “they” were going to vote for it.

But no one gets to take credit for Birdman’s soaring to great heights except Jeff Wells. He’s been a devoted advocate from the beginning, come hell or high water, no matter what. Team Birdman IS Jeff Wells. At last his passionate advocacy and predicting has come together where no other pundit really saw it coming.

Look at this Guru’s chart from last week:

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A few of us had Birdman in the #2 slot but no one had it to win. Over at Gold Derby before last night and even now no one has Birdman to win. In fact, I don’t think I can find a single pundit outside of Jeff Wells who WAS predicting it. It all sort of reminds me of 2005 when Jeff Wells was one of the few predicting Crash to win.

A love story like this one is worth paying attention to because it happens so rarely for us pundits. There is nothing like having the movie you love actually win against all odds. Birdman was deemed “too divisive” early on and yet I kept hearing people say how much they loved it, people I knew in “real life” not in the awards scene. I myself find it to be a very good film but after three viewings the only thing I take away from it is Michael Keaton’s performance> The rest feels like a stage play to me, and not a film I can revisit to find pockets of brilliance in it, not like Boyhood, not like Inherent Vice, not like Gone Girl. That’s just a matter of taste.

The one thing we all forgot and it’s worth mentioning for all time? The industry likes movies about the industry. What does Birdman say? It condemns critics, it laments the old world before super hero movies took over, it depicts a man who is aging out of the modern era of entertainment, a man who rejects viral videos and Twitter. It is about Hollywood clinging to its past while acknowledging it must move forward into its awful future. So many watched Birdman and forgot it was about the industry but the industry likes to look at itself in the mirror. Not the David Cronenberg or Robert Altman mirror but the mirror that strokes it gently, flatters it, takes the piss out of it in a humorous inside joke kind of way to the tune of:

The Artist
Shakespeare in Love

Birdman settles nicely into that legacy and captures Hollywood at a moment where it doesn’t want to go forward and can’t go backwards. That frustrated place between what must be and what once was.

So let’s all raise our glasses and toast Jeff Wells for a job well done and a season won. Sure, we can expect lots more bullying posts about how everyone else got it wrong but he — he was right. He will rub our noses in it and ram it down our throats until we choke on it.

When the dust settles, when the new year commences, the awards will have been won. The decisions final. Time will sort out the rest. Most of the time Oscar season gets it way wrong. I predict this will be one of those years. We’ll know soon enough – well, not for another ten years anyway.

And the best part of all? We get to turn around and start all over again in a few months.

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The Oscar race feels as disconnected from American culture than it has ever been. The discussion of film awards has turned into a discussion of art and politics. Women disappearing from the Oscar movies, a voting body made up mostly of elderly white males, Martin Luther King’s relationship to LBJ, LBJ’s image among Americans, the Civil Rights movement and what it means to today. Now that Selma’s highest awards hopes fell victim to the same types of sentiments that downed Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty (interpretations of the official story) focus has shifted to American Sniper, its accusers and its apologists, its message and its intent. How much money it will make and why. What damage its popularity might cause, and to whom. What good might come of it. The American hero everyone was talking about on Martin Luther King, Jr. day was not Martin Luther King, Jr. but Chris Kyle.

Theories are now being formulated as to why he’s the hero Americans really want and need, to the tune of a potential $350 million box office take. Critics rally in support of the film. Both it and Selma received the rare A+ from Cinemascore. The two films could not be more starkly divided up to and including King’s assassination coming at the hands of an American sniper.

At the beginning of President Obama’s first term, liberals were hopped up on the notion that Obama would end both wars (he did not promise to end the war in Afghanistan). This 15 year debacle has created its own divide among Americans and rages on to this day. A mess and a quagmire started by the Bush administration after the terrorist attacks on 9/11 by Al Qaeda, which had nothing whatsoever to do with Saddam Hussein. But the Bush administration took the shock of the moment and seized the opportunity to take out a dictator and free up the oil reserves for easy milk-shake drinking in the Middle East. We were lied to about the war, misled about weapons of mass destruction and to date the death count stands at:

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The Iraqi civilian death toll seems impossible to accurately measure but is presumed to be over one million dead since the invasion. While deaths of American soldiers have slowed since Obama took over, they are still in harm’s way each and every day we all walk around free. The toll taken on American soldiers and Iraqi and Afghani citizens is immeasurable. What American Sniper does is give many Americans the chance to grieve the fallen soldiers, and perhaps to feel as though it was not fought in vain, this useless and hopeless war.

In 2009, Kathryn Bigelow’s Iraq film’s $17 million box-office take sprung from the notion that it was a liberal, anti-war film, one that did not put enough blame on the enemy. It did not give us an enemy, in fact, because in that film Americans are defending themselves against citizens with IEDs who are fighting against the American invasion. They are undefinable, hard to locate and they are everywhere.

But we are a war-prone nation. We spend more money on defense than we do anything else. Our military is, in many ways, the backbone of our country’s economy. There are whole populations out there in the “flyover states” that are under-served by Hollywood. It took Clint Eastwood’s sensibilities to earn the prestige to get into the Oscar race, and his war sensibilities to woo the conservatives who see Eastwood as one of their own after her performance at the Republican National Convention four years ago.

The teeny tiny insular world of Oscar has now crossed over with the “silent majority” of conservative Americans who are arguing the film alongside the film people. Usually film people are written off by the majority of conservatives. Now, with Sniper in the mix, it’s brought the two worlds together. Michael Moore and Seth Rogan are getting hit with violent fury. Some critics are receiving death threats. Meanwhile, on Oscar Island, voters are simply enjoying the nice, safe films they’ve picked for Best Picture outside the two controversial ones.

The irony of the debate, though, was that when Selma’s turn came up, the conversation somehow found a way to be about anything but this American hero, someone who led the civil rights movement and drove the Voting Rights Act, along with many other brave Americans. They have been marginalized and deemed less important than maintaining the pristine image of Lyndon B. Johnson. Chris Kyle, however, doesn’t need to be deemed a hero by the mainstream press or film critics — the people are doing that for him. A badass sniper, a brave man who had 160 confirmed kills which included women and children. Some film critics are defending the movie, saying it is decidedly anti-war. Other critics disagree. It is turning out to be the kind of film that really tells you more about your own beliefs than it does make any kind of broad statements either about the war in Iraq or about who Kyle was. The overriding message of it seems to be: you can’t escape what that kind of killing does to a person.

The sentiment towards the Iraq war is changing the way the sentiments about Vietnam happened after Oliver Stone’s Platoon came out. American Sniper offer Americans the chance to redeem their forgotten and dead soldiers who are fighting a war no Americans wanted to fight in the first place (well, a lot of them surely did and still do). The scary part comes in when Obama is brought into it. Or Hilary Clinton. Here are few tweets to Michael Moore from the various tweets of his on the subject of American Sniper:

But this tweet is my favorite — in reference to Michael Moore bringing up our unjust invasion of Iraq:

What is most sadly ironic is the fear in the minds of so many who covered the media storm around Selma, the Maureen Dowds who were so insulted at the liberties were taken and what that might mean to people “not sophisticated enough” to understand that it was just a movie. IT’S NOT JUST A MOVIE, they shouted from the rooftops. History is at stake! A few of them even huffed and puffed about it being shown to schoolchildren, as though any black kid or white kid growing up in America would not benefit from seeing the story of Martin Luther King — just because of the way LBJ was portrayed.

And then those same people just brushed off what kinds of stories Sniper viewers might take home from that film. The people who will see Sniper will far outnumber those who will see Selma. No one is worried in the least bit about what that says about our American involvement in Iraq. I agree that, with both films, a sophisticated audience is required, but I’m watching how the most unsophisticated are taking the film American Sniper absolutely the wrong way.

Tonight, President Obama will give his State of the Union address to the people of America. He will have to face down an all Republican Congress, a disconnected public, continuing racial divide and the white majority’s frustration with that tension. Sounds a like the Oscar race, doesn’t it?

Has this country changed at all for the good? Hard to say. Have the Oscars changed at all for the good? Hard to say. After 16 years watching their voting I’ve seen them shift to actually pay attention to critical acclaim over box office success. Part of this was necessary because the box office has given itself over to fast food. Part of it was simply due to the Oscars changing their date by pushing it back a month. That meant that the race is no longer very interested in factoring in public opinion along with critical acclaim, but rather, it’s reverted to something decided on by studios, bloggers and critics.

The Oscar voters have such a small window to vote and many of them, by their own admission, don’t see all of the movies. They certainly did not seem to want to even things out among the sexes this year, nor among the minority contenders. Division has never been more dramatic at the Oscars and it will have never been more dramatic than it will be at tonight’s State of the Union.

One thing does seem clear, though, Americans — be they sophisticated 1%-ers, Oscar voters, or dudes who stockpile weapons and live in caves in the Pacific Northwest — they like to be on the right side of white history.

The thing no one really talks about is that Rory Kennedy’s Last Day’s in Vietnam is also up for Best Documentary. It’s about how we cut and run and left Vietnam mostly devastated. It’s an opportunity to remember the harm we cause when our wars are fought for the wrong reasons, either to secure power, grab wealth, or pursue faulty ideology.

I suspect that with all of this heat surrounding American Sniper, the Oscar voters will want to avoid all of that and will continue to do what they always have done in times of strife: put their head in the sand and wait for it to go away. That will make it easy for them to vote for the frontrunner, Boyhood. I suspect that Sniper is still a threat to win in some categories, like Best Actor or Screenplay. This was a tale of two movies both playing at the AFI fest, two very different directors, two different heroes, two different Americas. I am left with the irony of the actor playing Chris Kyle being the one who knocked out the actor playing Martin Luther King, Jr.


Best Picture
American Sniper
The Imitation Game
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Theory of Everything

Best Actor

Michael Keaton, Birdman 
Bradley Cooper, American Sniper
Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything 
Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game
Steve Carell, Foxcatcher

Best Actress
Julianne Moore, Still Alice
Marion Cotillard, 2 Days, 1 Night
Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl
Reese Witherspoon, Wild
Felicity Jones, The Theory of Everything

Supporting Actor
JK Simmons, Whiplash
Edward Norton, Birdman
Mark Ruffalo, Foxcatcher
Robert Duvall, The Judge
Ethan Hawke, Boyhood

Supporting Actress
Patricia Arquette, Boyhood
Laura Dern Wild
Emma Stone, Birdman
Keira Knightley, The Imitation Game
Meryl Streep, Into the Woods

Richard Linklater, Boyhood
Alejandro G. Inarritu, Birdman
Wes Anderson, Grand Budapest Hotel
Morten Tyldum, The Imitation Game
Bennett Miller, Foxcatcher

Original Screenplay
Alejandro Inarritu et al, Birdman
Wes Anderson, Grand Budapest Hotel
Richard Linklater, Boyhood
Dan Gilroy, Nightcrawler
E. Max Frye, Dan Futterman, Foxcatcher

Adapted Screenplay
Damien Chazelle, Whiplash
Graham Moore, The Imitation Game
Jason Hall, American Sniper
Anthony McCarten, The Thoery of Everything
Paul Thoman Anderson, Inherent Vice

American Sniper
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game

Grand Budapest Hotel
Mr. Turner

Production Design
Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
Mr. Turner
Into the Woods

Sound Mixing
American Sniper

Sound Editing
American Sniper
The Hobbit

Costume Design
Into the Woods
Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
Mr. Turner

Original Score
Theory of Everything
Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
Mr. Turner

Foreign Language Feature
Wild Tales (Argentina)
Ida (Poland)
Leviathan (Russia)
Tangerines (Estonia)
Timbuktu (Mauritania)

Documentary Feature
Last Days in Vietnam 
Finding Vivien Maier
The Salt of the Earth

Animated Feature
How to Train Your Dragon 2
Princess Kaguya
Big Hero 6
The Box Trolls
Song of the Sea

Visual Effects
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Guardians of the Galaxy
Captain America

The Grand Budapest Hotel
Guardians of the Galaxy

“Glory” (Selma) 
I’m Not Gonna Miss You “Glen Campbell…I’ll Be Me”
Everything is Awesome (Lego Movie)
“Grateful” from “Beyond the Lights”
Lost Stars, Begin Again


The world is changing so fast around the Academy – I don’t think it even realizes it yet. And why should it? This is as closed off a group as you could imagine – insulated, isolated, voting in anonymity. But in case you can’t yet figure out what the fuss is all about – here’s an easy to follow info piece [and yes we know that the Babadook was not eligible]:



There’s this funny joke that goes something like this, why does a dog lick his own balls? The answer; because he can. Why does the Academy vote the way they do? Because they can.

The Academy has made concerted efforts to diversify their membership with more voters of color and women. Of course, it’s like pissing in the ocean, truth be told, because the whiteness is overwhelming and added to every year. Look at all ten writing nominees: mostly white dudes except the Birdman writers.  Directors: four white guys and one Hispanic director. There are women in the producing category and in one in editing. There are two women directors in the documentary race.  The power seat remains white males. Something has to change. For their sake – or else they risk really being written off as an exclusive club that caters only to a certain kind of person – they no more represent the face of America than our government does.  What are their choices? Improvise, adapt, overcome. What is their alternative? Let them eat cake. We all know how well that turns out.

On Bill Maher’s Real Time last night he made several jokes about the lack of diversity of the Oscar movies, and it was clear that the audience agreed – but there was also a sense that there was an even bigger problem with the Oscars: they have become mostly irrelevant except to note their lack of diversity. As guest on the program, Kathryn Bigelow acknowledged there a big problem and that it was, frankly, “embarrassing.”

The culture is evolving around them and they’re staying the same. You can make the argument that, well, who cares? These are the films they think are best. The only problem with that is their annual telecast is supposed to be an all-inclusive event like the Super Bowl. But the Super Bowl is a game where two teams played against other teams to emerge as the best of the year. It is fair, it is not discriminatory. The Oscars reflect the singular tastes of its pampered, cut off, privileged ruling class. Why does a dog lick his own balls?

Their problem: they are too white, too male and too cut off from the people who consume their products. Their choices represent a sampling of what the studios have pre-selected FOR THEM. They were given films publicists knew they would like and so they did. They were given films the pundits knew they would vote for and so they did. The public is cut off entirely from the process as they spend their hard earned money on movies like Gone Girl, Guardians of the Galaxy and The Lego Movie, the Academy has the option to … let them eat cake while still asking us to care about their dumb TV show. Why should we care? Why should we even watch?

Change is slow and painful. Back in 1992 Kim Basinger took the stage. She was a nervous wreck, sweating, shaking but she shamed the Academy audience for shutting out Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing, a film that earned a single acting nomination for Danny Aiello, one of the few white characters. That was a long time ago. Fruitvale Station and The Butler were completely shut out last year. The only film with a black director other than 12 Years to make any dent in the Oscar race was Lee Daniels’ Precious. But Spike Lee’s Malcolm X, shut out. And now, Selma makes Best Picture but doesn’t earn actor or director or writer.  Take my word for it, this is a bad thing for Selma. It isn’t a bad thing for Ava DuVernay. It’s a bad thing for the Academy.

By this point it’s almost better NOT to be recognized by them. This whole debate has diminished the films that WERE selected, which isn’t fair. There is a certain sweet justice about their full on shut out of Gone Girl because it revealed two things about them: you pay to play. Gone Girl virtually no advertising. 2) they need bad girls to be punished, something Gillian Flynn made a joke out of in her magnificent script.  To not acknowledge that script or that film, which walked away with the zeitgeist in 2014 and will be talked about in ten years as Fincher’s career evolves, really does put them in the mostly irrelevant category. That’s bad for them and their established place in cinema, but especially American cinema, and especially studio fare.

How can they change? Two ways.

1. Shift the voting deadline so we’re not getting the Academy’s “pure” tastes.


These are not uncaring people. These are not racists. These are not sexists or misgoynists. They’re not terrible people they are simply doing what they like to do BECAUSE THEY CAN. They are most white men so they trust mostly white men to tell the kinds of stories they like.The only way to help them out of their self-pleasuring behavior is to socialize them with other dogs — make their nomination ballot come much later so that they can get a read on the public’s choices, the zeitgeist films, the history making movies like Selma that came out so late in the game it was really hard for it to do what American Sniper did – crash the race in the major categories.

The film critics aren’t much help. Their idea of activism is to rally support for Marion Cotillard. That pretty much sums up the film critics’ contribution this year and it worked. Good for them, good for her, good for the Academy. But remember, neither New York nor Los Angeles nor the National Society of Film Critics honored 12 Years a Slave for the Oscar but the Oscar voters HAD to pay attention because the chatter forced them to. Many of them admitted to not even wanting to watch the film. Many admitted they voted for it to do the right thing. However they get there it’s better than the alternative – not getting there.

If they shift their voting deadline to much later, after the DGA, after the Golden Globes, after the Critic Choice they have a chance to redeem themselves by being part of a larger conversation. Even then, we’re mostly in licking their own balls territory because it’s as much an industry wide problem as it is an Oscar problem.

2. Expand their Best Picture slate to ten nomination slots. This is key to helping them adapt to the modern world. If they go back to five, you’re going to get movies about white heroes overcoming obstacles to win the day. But for the Wolf of Wall Street or the Django Unchained. The idea is to break them of that self-inflicted cancer known as the “Oscar movie.  You do that by giving them a range of options. Back when they had ten nomination slots they were awarding movies like Winter’s Bone, District 9, Toy Story 3, Inception, and more. The had choices that didn’t have to make them choose between this movie about a hero who wins the day and that movie about an anti-hero.

Why does that matter? Because it’s the only way to stay relevant. They punish success in the Academy and certainly have this year. We know Imitation Game and American Sniper will make money but there is simply no good reason for them not to have honored one of the highest grossing films of the year, especially when the Producers Guild, Editors Guild honored the film.  We get it – if a movie like Gone Girl makes men feel like their balls are being squeezed hard mostly male industry voters ain’t going for it.  But it’s their loss to reject something everyone was talking about all year, a movie many adults paid money to see.  That is what the Oscars used to be about  – relevant zeitgeist movies – as opposed to a representation of singular preferences, aka a dog licking his own balls.

With ten you can honor the best of the independent film scene and the best of big box office. That makes your award show relevant, exciting, modern…Where will they be in ten years if they don’t figure out how to honor the way Hollywood is changing? They will be as marginalized as the Tony Awards.  They already almost are.

Finally, I  hear complaints from readers and people on Twitter from men who tired of this debate. They’re tired of feeling persecuted. Europeans especially don’t understand America’s diversity problem. When Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave won last year it was this awkward conversation about a British black man winning Best Picture for the first time. There’s a huge difference between a British black man and an American black man. They haven’t been subjugated in Britain for nearly the same amount of time.They don’t have a current and ongoing problem with racism like we do here. There is no excuse for the Academy not to have honored Ava DuVernay, nor any excuse for the DGA (although they didn’t get screeners). There is no excuse for the press to play into the hand of dirty Oscar campaigning by helping them kill Selma, giving voters a reason not to watch the screener (you know many of them did not).

What does it matter if Kathryn Bigelow gets in or Ava DuVernay or Gillian Flynn for Gone Girl? It starts to level the playing field. It gives women more power in Hollywood and it helps to diminish the image of sexism in the industry overall.  They also deserve it, though we all know from playing this game for years and years – deserves got nothing to do with it.






The Best Picture race has just got a little more interesting. Where Boyhood still has the lead, it has two movies to beat and both are very strong films in the race all of a sudden. The biggest surprise of all is the appearance of little known Morten Tyldum in the Best Director race, even when the BAFTA did not include him in theirs. They went for James Marsh instead for The Theory of Everything. But Tyldum’s appearance in the race now makes The Imitation Game a lot stronger of a competitor against Boyhood.  To win Best Picture, generally, you need the additional Directing, Editing, Writing and Acting nominations. No nominations hurts Grand Budapest Hotel – though it’s not out of the race entirely. Anyone inclined to vote for it, though, is someone who thinks outside the box and doesn’t like the three frontrunners.

Here is how it is shaking out:

Acting nominations – 2

The Imitation Game
Acting nominations 2

Acting nominations – 3

American Sniper, and Whiplash have no corresponding directing nominations.  Selma has only two nominations total. You might think that puts it at a disadvantage but back in 1932 Grand Hotel won Best Picture and that was its only nomination. It’s not outside the realm of possibility that it could win but it’s outside the realm of probability.

My instincts are telling me that Birdman is Boyhood’s biggest challenger at the moment because it is the anti-Boyhood vote. Both films are accused of being “gimmicks” — one is about an actor’s futility in a changing world. The other is a real time coming of age. Birdman should be wildly popular with the actors – it also gives people a hit when they see it. They feel invigorated, amped up, super-charged. Boyhood makes one feel reflective, somber, gazing back at one’s life with bittersweet contemplation.

But Birdman is also a movie where its only source of depth can be found in its main character’s trajectory. Everyone else in the film is mostly a hollow apparition.  There isn’t a lot of there there outside Keaton’s breathtaking performance other than bravura filmmaking, which certainly is enough but might not turn on the voters’ heart lights like Boyhood will.

Finally, Harvey Weinstein has an “important” movie and he’s going to run with it. No other film checks every Oscar box like The Imitation Game. And that fact might its biggest weakness for a win, as Grantland’s Mark Harris once explained. They might not want to play into the predictable hand.  The film is the one that has the biggest emotional punch at the end. He overcomes two obstacles – being gay in a world that rejected homosexuality and being “on the spectrum,” with an inability to communicate with people well. Finally, dude helps beat back the Nazis and stars a charismatic British super star. What more could Oscar vote want? That is their catnip.  Also, it will make a goodly amount of money at the box office to justify it being in the race at all.

Boyhood is walking a delicate line. Their publicity team has been doing their best to fly under the radar and only now pulling out the big guns. Linklater and Arquette and the whole team have given themselves over as much as they can to make sure the movie gets a fair shot in a difficult market to sell this kind of movie. They picked the right awards strategist to give it the look of a serious Oscar campaign while also continuing to sell it as the remarkable little movie that could.  They are up against the two most aggressive campaigners in the business and with these three you pretty much have how modern Oscar campaigns are run now. There’s a reason they’re called the best and you’re seeing that play out now.

Also ferocious behind the scenes are the teams behind American Sniper, Selma and Theory of Everything. We in the Oscar game know the seeds are planted early. No movie lands in the Oscar race accidentally. They are planted there, nurtured, watered and protected as long as possible. Even the critics couldn’t really knock out American Sniper or Theory or Imitation, even though they weren’t as well reviewed as the three frontrunners.

Boyhood’s biggest challenger looked like Selma for a while there. Now that Selma’s been knocked out of the race mostly, that leaves the other two to put pressure on the frontrunner.  It will be a fight to the finish – an Oscar bloodbath of the highest order.  I do not currently know who will come out on top but I suddenly feel that Boyhood could have some serious competition all of a sudden.  I didn’t think it would if the movies I hoped would get into the race, did. The darker films like Gone Girl, Nightcrawler and Foxcatcher only help boost the wonderfulness of Boyhood.  But this is like a game of chess.  With two movies coming up beside Boyhood and challenging it for the top prize things could get ugly.

Screen Shot 2015-01-16 at 10.33.39 AM

In the other categories, the Best Actor race is mostly Keaton’s.  He’s going to have major competition with Cumberbatch and Redmayne and now, Bradley Cooper.  Sniper seems destined to win maybe both Sound categories and perhaps editing, while Birdman should take home original screenplay and actor.

Best Actress is Julianne Moore’s to lose but she just got some major competition with Marion Cotillard’s sudden appearance in the race. She gave a great performance but I’ve never been on the “Cotillard nailed on a cross” train like many who write about film. The great injustice, in their minds, gathered them all together to vote for her. I never saw it that way, though she’s great in the film and worthy of a nomination.  Because they shut out Gone Girl I hope Pike takes it.  Given this silly Academy’s cliched way of picking nominees we should not expect that to happen.  But let it be known, Amazing Amy is the female protagonist the Academy has coming.

Director is still Linklater’s to lose.  I’m not buying the split prediction of Inarritu taking it and Boyhood taking Best Picture. Why would they do that to Linklater? He should get all of the credit for Boyhood. And to that, there is some rumbling that Boyhood takes director and Imitation Game takes picture.  That would be one of those wins that immediately sparks outrage, controversy and backlash agains the movie.  But if anyone can pull that out, the Weinstein Co. can.

Original Screenplay looks to be a fight between Grand Budapest and Birdman. I’m thinking Birdman takes it, especially if Boyhood takes Picture and Director.

Adapted Screenplay is now a wash without Gillian Flynn. Whatever wins there it won’t be the most deserving and not a better screenplay than the one she wrote. I’d look for Imitation Game to win there. Unfortunately, the Academy deemed Whiplash adapted, which knocked Gone Girl out of the race.  I suppose that puts Whiplash in the frontrunner’s spot to win.  The problem with the Flynn snub is that the WGA and the Scripter could not vote for her screenplay because it wasn’t nominated for an Oscar. People want to be on the winning side — thus, in the past frontrunners like Flynn that are taken early lose to screenplays that ARE nominated.  This category has no frontrunner now – any of these mostly weak screenplays could win. At the moment I’d go with Sniper or Imitation Game. You won’t know if Chazelle will win the Oscar because he’ll only be competing in original for the precursors.

Grand Budapest should take the design categories fairly easily; much of the time the winner in a category leans towards a Best Picture contender, but not always. Love for the movie amounts to love in the tech categories, especially if the film isn’t winning any of the major categories.

Probably there won’t be that many surprises, but there is no way Selma will lose Best Song. How sad that it comes to that — but Spike Lee said it best, fuck ’em, #1. And #2, the test of a great film is whether people will be talking about it in twenty years. Already, the only name that bubbled up to the top of the news cycle yesterday was the first black woman to have a film come anywhere near the Oscar race, Ava DuVernay.

Best Picture

1. Boyhood
2. Birdman
3. The Imitation Game
4. Selma
5. American Sniper
6. The Grand Budapest Hotel
7. Whiplash
8. The Theory of Everything

Best Actor

1. Michael Keaton, Birdman
2. Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything
3. Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game
4. Bradley Cooper, American Sniper
5. Steve Carell, Foxcatcher

Best Actress

1. Julianne Moore, Still Alice
2. Marion Cotillard, 2 Days, 1 Night
3. Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl
4. Reese Witherspoon, Wild
5. Felicity Jones, The Theory of Everything

Supporting Actor

1. JK Simmons, Whiplash
2. Edward Norton, Birdman
3. Mark Ruffalo, Foxcatcher
4. Robert Duvall, The Judge
5. Ethan Hawke, Boyhood

Supporting Actress

1. Patricia Arquette, Boyhood
2. Laura Dern Wild
3. Emma Stone, Birdman
4. Keira Knightley, The Imitation Game
5. Meryl Streep, Into the Woods


1. Richard Linklater, Boyhood
2. Alejandro G. Inarritu, Birdman
3. Wes Anderson, Grand Budapest Hotel
4. Morten Tyldum, The Imitation Game*
5. Bennett Miller, Foxcatcher

Original Screenplay

1. Alejandro Inarritu et al, Birdman
2. Wes Anderson, Grand Budapest Hotel
3. Richard Linklater, Boyhood
4. Dan Gilroy, Nightcrawler
5. E. Max Frye, Dan Futterman, Foxcatcher

Adapted Screenplay

1. Damien Chazelle, Whiplash
2. Graham Moore, The Imitation Game
3. Jason Hall, American Sniper
4. Anthony McCarten, The Thoery of Everything
5. Paul Thoman Anderson, Inherent Vice


1. American Sniper
2. Boyhood
3. The Grand Budapest Hotel
4. Whiplash
5. The Imitation Game


1. Birdman
2. Grand Budapest Hotel
3. Mr. Turner
4. Unbroken
5. Ida

Production Design

1. Grand Budapest Hotel
2. The Imitation Game
3. Mr. Turner
4. Into the Woods
5. Interstellar

Sound Mixing

1. American Sniper
2. Birdman
3. Whiplash
4. Interstellar
5. Unbroken

Sound Editing

1. American Sniper
2. Interstellar
3. Birdman
4. Unbroken
5. The Hobbit

Costume Design

1. Into the Woods
2. Grand Budapest Hotel
3. Maleficent
4.  The Imitation Game
5. Mr. Turner

Original Score

1. Theory of everything
2. Grand Budapest Hotel
3. Interstellar
4. The Imitation Game
5. Mr. Turner


The Academy has a problem. It’s a big problem. It’s a problem that is hurting American film, dividing movielovers from the industry, setting itself up to be no more relevant to the changing world at large than the Tonys, a niche awards show that only people who are interested in theater care about. Great if you care about theater. The Oscars are now becoming that. The reason? Their choices for what they like has become so limited they are literally writing themselves out of film and cultural history as we speak. The Golden Globes matter more. The Critics Choice, dare I say it, matter more. Why? Because they do not continue year after year to confirm the notion of the outmoded “Oscar movie.” We all know what that is. People joke about what that is. Yet, they can’t help themselves. They pick what they like and what they like, now, are movies about people they like – and that means, more and more, it comes down to movies about white men.

Last year, Harvey Weinstein brought forth Fruitvale Station and The Butler. He dressed Ryan Coogler up in a nice suit, gave him the full Weinstein treatment with the best publicity money could buy. The Butler made money. It was a film about civil rights, a subject not often brought into the Oscar race. Sure, the critics were MEH on The Butler but they liked Fruitvale Station, not that it matters much. Not that it ever matters because all it took was a return to form for the Weinstein Co with the pre-packaged for Oscar Imitation Game. Importance? Check. A persecuted gay man. A period film involving Nazis? Oh, yes. CHECK and CHECK and CHECK! Heartfelt story with a man who overcomes obstacles? CHECK. Disability? CHECK. So the Weinstein Co. rises once again after being taught an important lesson about what kinds of movies Oscar voters like. Lesson learned. If you want to rise to power in this town, you mostly have to make a movie that makes the white guys who dominate them look good.

Still, nothing could really prepare people for the weird stuff that happened with the Oscar announcements – some of it good (Marion Cotillard, Song of the Sea, Beyond the Lights, Selma for Best Picture, Bennett Miller for Best Director) some of it unbearably bad and disappointing, so many doors closed, so many missed opportunities.

Just make us look good.

What you are seeing play out is the damage the preferential balloting system the Academy put in place in 2011 because voters complained that they could not find 10 films to honor in the years when they offered voters ten slots for nominations. That should have been their first clue something was deeply wrong. If they couldn’t even find ten movies they liked as the independent and foreign film world exploded around them. Because the industry enables Oscar voters in every way, from dumbing down our own choices in the pundit world to fit “The Oscar Movie” mold, to the way the Academy, a respectful and well-run establishment, deals with its members. You can see how dramatically their choices have impacted the Oscar industry by looking at the years when they had ten slots to fill for nominations — where they could step outside their comfort zones and vote for films that weren’t necessarily in their “wheelhouse” and the years since. Read it and weep, folks.

You can see that the new system never includes any animated film, nor does it include, except for Gravity, any genre movies. It reinforces the worst character weaknesses of the Academy’s voting body by emphasizing them, highlighting them, creating an unfair landscape to compete because voters picking five is the same old way voters used to vote for decades, you know, back when Oscar movies weren’t only about white dudes? Expanding to ten nomination slots allowed them to move with the times at least, to pick movies that didn’t exist simply to confirm that they’re well meaning good guys who overcame obstacles to succeed.

Choosing ten opened up the possibilities, not just for women filmmakers but for subject matter. Do you think in the new system Winter’s Bone would have gotten in? How about District 9? Not a chance in hell. Not even Inception, probably. Every so often a movie cracks through and breaks the mold because frankly, their directors are kings in Hollywood, like Scorsese, like Tarantino, like Eastwood. But do they really want it to be a boy’s club? Did they not like having An Education, The Kids Are All Right, Winter’s Bone in the mix for Best Picture? What in god’s name is the plan here?

It’s one thing to have shut out Kathryn Bigelow in 2012 for Zero Dark Thirty. After all, the Academy already did the “woman thing” in 2009 – giving her Best Director. What more did women want? It’s a whole other thing to shut out Ava DuVernay for Selma, who would have been the first black director to not only hit really big with critics, not only tell the story of Martin Luther King, Jr. but also to really break through and attempt to build a bridge between black and white audiences. The Academy found it in their hearts to give Selma a Best Picture nomination, which it richly deserved. But in almost every way down the line this morning they went with the white guy/good guy dynamic, shutting out all sociopaths – Foxcatcher, Nightcrawler and Gone Girl. Complex narratives about complicated people. They like good people who make them good, which partly explains why Marion Cotillard, playing someone heroic in Two Day and One Night took the place of Jennifer Aniston, playing a not so likable character.

The reason it’s harder for movies about unlikable characters to get into the Oscar race now is the preferential ballot. It’s really time for them to dump it and go back to five, or preferably a solid ten, just to encourage them to overcome their own ingrained preference, which is the thing that is killing them from the inside out. They are selecting themselves out from the broader culture at large by sticking to the traditional “Oscar Movie” model which doesn’t reward daring, nor does it allow for them to reward films about the darker sides of the human experience. So they are, in effect, one big Stanley Kramer award for heroic films about heroic people. They no longer lead the industry. The industry must coddle, placate and enable THEIR choices. They set certain movies aside for their older white leaning voters and they go about their business making films the public likes.

Imitation Game and American Sniper will make money. And for a while it will look like everything is running as it should. Until you bend down and look closer and see how it all really works. Then you start think, huh, what is really going on here? What’s going on? The “Oscar movie” continues to thrive inside an industry that accepts their limitations.

The preferential ballot has actually make the Oscars a less daring and interesting group than the Hollywood Foreign Press and the Critics Choice. We also know that it’s more profitable to win a Globe than an Oscar — see this stat:

Screen Shot 2015-01-14 at 12.53.07 PM

The two awards shows that are really showing up the Oscars these days – The Golden Globes and the Critics Choice have an advantage because they aren’t beholden to the preferential ballot, for one thing, and because their members are tapped in to what’s happening around them. Very little in the Oscar race this year, in the Best Picture lineup, is going to tell you a single thing about American culture.

They are cut off from the ticket buyers because — except for movies like Gone Girl — the industry has given itself over to tent poles that play well in South Korea and China – places where they’re making their own movies at home that are independent or romance or dramas but from America, they mostly like the popcorn movie. They are competing with an international market that wants movies to be amusement parks – can you blame them, really? I certainly can’t. Why should they give two shits about the turmoils of the American experience? They make more money off people who only go to the movies to escape and have fun.

They are cut off from the changing demographics pulsating through American independent film and foreign language films — which are kicking our ass. One of the best things to happen to the Oscar race this morning, not that I agree with the Jennifer Aniston snub, was Marion Cotillard in for Two Days, and One Night. Why does it matter? Because the Dardennes made a film where a woman is the hero. She is the one who really drives the plot and she does so not because she’s married to a guy but because she’s fighting for her job and the survival of her family. The film manages to explore the crippling economic woes in Europe while giving a woman the chance to actually show that she’s a human being first. That’s incredible. And rare and certainly hasn’t happened in American film in a very very long time. Probably the reason Cotillard got in are all of the Europeans that make up part of the actors branch in the Academy.

The Best Picture race is a sad and sorry affair, I’m afraid to report. Only one Best Picture nominee has a Best Actress nominee in it and that’s The Theory of Everything. Gone Girl would have been the other, Wild might have been another, but no. Forget it.

The demographics don’t change much because you see this slate of nominees today? Count the demographics for the ugly truth – more of the same…

Screen Shot 2015-01-14 at 12.51.41 PM

They closed the door on the first black woman to be nominated for Best Director, and the first woman to adapt her own novel into a screenplay, something that has never happened in 87 years of Oscar history. Gone Girl made $168 million at the box office. It brought adult ticket-buyers out to the movies. It had everyone talking. It made an impression. It showed that the shrinking world of adult dramas at the movies aren’t dead, that it isn’t only about tent poles. It gave women like me – grown women with thinking brains – something to think about. Why did it get shut out? Because it was the cinematic equivalent of a kick in the balls, because it made men feel small, because they could not buy Ben Affleck staying with Rosamund Pike because they don’t want to admit what they all live with every day. They want to escape from that to a world where they can matter.

When you are born into white male privilege you are taught from birth that you matter. Movies reinforce this by always putting the under-confident loser in the winner’s seat. That plays out again and again in Hollywood movies. Ava DuVernay made the mistake of making her film Selma about the black savior for once, not the white savior. In fact, her movie was perceived as diminishing the memory of LBJ while celebrating the memory of Martin Luther King, Jr. She was “punished” for breaking the code of “make us look good.” All of the movies that ever get in to the Best Picture race mostly make the white guys look good – look what happens if you don’t: Do the Right Thing, The Color Purple, Fruitvale Station. But if you do? Mississippi Burning, Gone with the Wind.

The preferential ballot with 5 to 9 nominees has failed. It’s failed the Academy. It’s failed women. It’s failed people of color. It has cost them their reputation as the American public has just gotten one step closer to writing them off.

If voters have the option of reaching beyond their “previous 5” they will surprise you with what they’re capable of honoring, I promise.

And now, on to the race for the win where Boyhood will stare down Birdman and the Imitation Game will rally to upset them both.

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