“I talked to my friends in the Academy and none of them are voting for Boyhood,” an Academy member told me. Actually, I don’t think of him as an Academy member but a smart, funny, engaged, curious filmmaker. His information greatly disappointed me. I tried not to be an asshole about it but you know, some things really can’t be kept in. The thing about the awards race that will always confound me is that people don’t vote on it like they’re choosing “the best” or the “highest achievement.” They pick what they like best. It’s as simple as that. Everything else they characterize as “noise.”
“I’m picking Whiplash for number one, Selma for number two and Birdman for number three,” he said.
“Why don’t you just put Birdman at number one and be done with it,” I said, knowing that neither Whiplash nor Selma will ever get near enough votes to put them over the top. With a preferential ballot it’s a two, sometimes three, picture race. Whichever comes in at number 1 or 2 or three tends to stay there. Isn’t it funny how Unpredictable people are?
No one voting for Boyhood? This again? It seems like every year there is the film voters SHOULD pick and the film voters just pick because they don’t want to pick the frontrunner. We’ll never know if everyone thought Birdman would win coming out of Telluride, or if the Globes and the Critics Choice had picked Birdman, thrusting it into the spotlight as “the frontrunner” whether it would still be a done deal.
Somehow, Birdman became the little movie that could that industry voters liked and Boyhood became the MEAN OLD FRONTRUNNER easily taken down as multitudes of men chanted quietly, to each other, “if you take out the 12 years thing it isn’t anything special.” To my mind, if you take out the camera trickery in Birdman you essentially have a very good stage play. Back in the 1980s that wouldn’t have been thought of as cinema but in 2015, it’s the closest thing show people have to seeing the selves they recognize and like. As good as Birdman is, and it is very very good, it simply can’t top Boyhood in terms of ambition or execution.
But it isn’t for me to say. This voter, this friend of mine, believed Birdman to be the better film in terms of cinema. The whole industry seems to agree from producers to actors to sound people and tonight, to cinematography. I don’t even know the results of the ASC but I know how it will go. I’m not sure how much longer the self-congratulation thing is going to go on but I console myself with the BAFTA having open out. Now I know for a certainty that British people, if they aren’t smarter than Americans, are certainly less self-absorbed than the American film industry which can’t seem to break free of its own image in the mirror.
You want to win an Oscar? Make a movie about show people. Make it funny. Make it sexy. Make them look really really good — or if not good, at least noble. They are fighting the good fight, standing up for true art and all of that. At least, that’s what they want the awards to be about: themselves. If they really admired standing up for true art they would reward the true art itself, and not the one about the artists trying to make true art.
“How many did you talk to,” I asked, wondering just how many precious minutes of my short life I was going to have to spend thinking about what these people are going to do with their votes. “About fifteen,” he answered back.
The same week, the Los Angeles Times had posted a cock tease article that said two voters WERE voting for Boyhood. One was voting for Grand Budapest Hotel. Not a Birdman supporter in sight. But faithful to the notion that they can’t really be doing this to Richard Linklater, and that they can’t really walk by one of the most beautifully made American masterpieces of naturalist cinema, here is Entertainment Weekly, putting their faith that Boyhood WILL win and Inarritu will keep up the tradition in the directing category. The Gurus of Gold put on a brave face and do that wonderful thing we pundits do when all hope is lost – grab onto the rope and hang on more tightly.
Boyhood is not winning this thing and Linklater isn’t winning director. They have put their full and unanimous support around Birdman and that, really, is that. I do love the moment when hope is kept alive. Hope is a beautiful thing. Emily D put it best:
“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –
And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –
I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.
So when I read that Dave Karger and Anne Thompson and Peter Travers are still predicting Boyhood to win it gives me hope – that tricky thing with feathers. Boyhood would be a great thing for the Academy to stop staring at themselves and look upward and outward at life and art and all beautiful things that can be made by someone who took such care to make them.
I won’t predict Birdman but you should. The question is, how many Oscars is it going to win? When Grand Budapest won the Writers Guild it seems to have enough momentum to carry on through to the big night. That would leave Birdman with:
Picture, Director, Cinematography, one of the sound awards maybe.
And then the Oscars might look like:
Birdman: Picture, Director, Cinematography, Sound Editing or Mixing
Theory of Everything: Actor, maybe score, maybe adapted screenplay
Grand Budapest: Original Screenplay, Production Design, Costumes, Makeup, maybe score
Sniper: Maybe editing, maybe sound
Imitation Game: Maybe adapted screenplay
Whiplash: Maybe adapted screenplay, maybe editing, supporting actor
Boyhood: Supporting Actress, maybe editing
And with that, I’m ready to dub this year among the worst years of Oscar watching I have personally ever had. Never have the Oscar voters and the industry voters seemed to narrow-minded and closed off from everything else happening and evolving around them. Never have they seemed so small.