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:
Which film will win Best Picture?