Although the films that have won Best Picture out of Toronto after winning the People’s Choice award played first to critical acclaim at the Telluride film festival it is no doubt a big deal to win that prize from one of the larger voting groups ahead of the industry votes. The critics offer up their own awards next but they are a much smaller group of voters, roughly 100 to 200 at the most. Thousands vote at the Oscars, and the DGA, PGA and SAG. Thus, the People’s Choice can sometimes be a good harbinger for a majority vote. But that’s usually only a reliable indicator if the film that is going to be its main competition is there also, as was the case last year when 12 Years a Slave surprised everyone by beating Gravity. It went on to do the same at the Oscars.
First, a quick history of the People’s Choice awards. Oscar winners in red. Nominees in blue.
2014 The Imitation Game (2014)
2013 12 Years a Slave (2013)
2012 Silver Linings Playbook (2012)
2011 Where Do We Go Now? (2011)
2010 The King’s Speech (2010)
2009 Precious (2009)
2008 Slumdog Millionaire (2008)
2007 Eastern Promises (2007)
2006 Bella (2006)
2005 Tsotsi (2005)
2004 Hotel Rwanda (2004)
2003 Zatôichi (2003)
2002 Whale Rider (2002)
2001 Le fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain (2001)
2000 Wo hu cang long (2000)
1999 American Beauty (1999)
1998 La vita è bella (1997)
1997 The Hanging Garden (1997)
1996 Shine (1996)
1995 Antonia (1995)
1994 Priest (1994)
1993 The Snapper (1993) (TV)
1992 Strictly Ballroom (1992)
1991 The Fisher King (1991)
1990 Cyrano de Bergerac (1990)
1989 Roger & Me (1989)
1988 Mujeres al borde de un ataque de nervios (1988)
1987 The Princess Bride (1987)
1986 Le déclin de l’empire américain (1986)
1985 La historia oficial (1985)
1984 Places in the Heart (1984)
1983 The Big Chill (1983)
1982 Tempest (1982)
1981 Chariots of Fire (1981)
1980 Bad Timing (1980)
1979 Best Boy (1979)
1978 Girlfriends (1978)
You can look at the win for Imitation Game and conclude that this makes it the frontrunner to win Best Picture and you might not be wrong. But I’d say it wasn’t up against Richard Linklater’s Boyhood, and it wasn’t up against Birdman, a competition that would surely shift the dynamics of the race. It also wasn’t up against the films we’ve yet to see.
But to put the film in your number one spot, as many pundits will now do, is not a bad move particularly. The Imitation Game has much going for it, not only because it’s a crowd pleasing film but also because it features what will be among the best performances of the year from Benedict Cumberbatch.
The Imitation Game comes at the race with two big issues sitting behind it. One, the horror of a society criminalizing homosexuality. The second, a rumination on what it is to be an adult with Asperger’s or Autism. The film makes that plainly clear, even if the words are never spoken out loud. Those in the spectrum community will surely recognize it and those who aren’t yet schooled on spectrum disorders will surely learn something. These two factors greatly improve the film’s chances to be important enough to win.
It is also an easier plot to fall into than Richard Linklater’s profoundly moving Boyhood. One must really be invested with Boyhood or it will never have the same impact. With Imitation Game, it is likely the movie that anyone can be moved by.
But Imitation Game will come up against (so far, at least) two visionary directors in Linklater and in Alejandro G. Inarritu for Birdman. Both have advanced the craft of filmmaking to a significant degree. Both are going to be remembered for drawing audiences into the theater to check out the wonder of cinema without the use of CGI (for the most part). They will both be in contention to snatch the director prize away from the Imitation Game’s fairly unknown director Morten Tyldum. Get used to saying that name out loud.
The People’s Choice award in this case gives The Imitation Game a ticket to the Big Show (which it already had) but its eventual landing point remains a mystery. There are simply too many unanswered questions. At the top of that list of questions is this — is the industry really going to watch a film like Boyhood, which took 12 years to make, pass by unnoticed? I doubt it. Is the industry really going to reward something so traditional in the face of films like Birdman and any other visionary work upcoming? That is certainly possible, given their recent history.
The Imitation Game and Boyhood are both already beloved films. I would have to say that they are positioned as the top two to win at this point, with Boyhood slightly ahead.