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.