The 87th Academy Awards will take place on Feb. 22, 11 days from today.
Quite simply, the Directors Guild of America Awards are the most predictive Oscar precursor, not just for the Academy Award for Best Director but also for Best Picture. So when Birdman’s Alejandro Iñárritu took the prize in a surprise win over Boyhood’s Richard Linklater on Sunday – following the film’s win in late January at the PGA – the race was presumed over.
Let’s look at history.
According to Nate Silver’s model, the DGA has a 76% success record when it comes to the Academy Award for Best Picture. (PGA is at 68% and BAFTA is at 58%.) Even more impressive: “Over the last 66 years, the winner of the top prize at the DGA Awards went on to win the best director Oscar on all but seven occasions, and his or her film went on to win the best picture Oscar on all but 14 occasions.” True, the past two years were not bullseyes — in 2013, Alfonso Cuarón won for Gravity, but the film did not repeat at the Oscars, and in 2012, Ben Affleck won for Argo, and he was not even nominated at the Oscars — but overall, it seemed, the party was over.
Birdman headed into the British Academy of Film and Television Arts awards on Sunday with large amounts of momentum. It also boasted the second-largest number of nominations after The Grand Budapest Hotel. So it was a huge shock, at least to me, when it lost Best Director and Best Picture to Boyhood. This was a much-needed victory for the film that has been the presumed favorite since day one. After losing SAG, PGA and DGA, Boyhood needed a win, and this one put it back on the map.
For those that like morbid metaphors: “Just hours after Birdman’s big win at the DGA Awards — hot on the heels of the dramedy’s PGA and SAG wins — seemed to seal the coffin on all of its Oscar competition, Boyhood, which was once thought to be the Oscar frontrunner, reached out from beneath the soil and across the pond to collect the top two BAFTA Awards and wag a finger at those who had written it off for dead.”
Let’s look at history.
For the past six years, the BAFTA winner for Best Picture has won the Oscar. The last time that it was wrong, it gave its highest award to Atonement in 2008. That’s a pretty good track record itself. Birdman, on the other hand, emerged almost empty-handed. It won Best Cinematography…and that’s it. This is highly unusual of an eventual Best Picture winner. It has only happened twice in recent memory: Neither Million Dollar Baby nor The Departed won a single BAFTA award before taking the Best Picture Oscar. But it’s a warning sign for Birdman that at least the Brits are not amused.
Other winners that night were the expected four: Julianne Moore for Still Alice, Eddie Redmayne for The Theory of Everything, Patricia Arquette for Boyhood and J.K. Simmons for Whiplash. Yes, their wins are not guaranteed (Redmayne is the weakest, with a loss to Birdman’s Michael Keaton a distinct possibility), but let’s just say all of them have prepared their Oscar speeches.
The Grand Budapest Hotel almost swept the below-the-line categories, with wins in original screenplay, production design, costume design, score and makeup and hair. Count this movie out at your own peril. Harvey Weinstein’s The Imitation Game won nothing, a huge shock given how British it is. (It lost Outstanding British Film to The Theory of Everything.) As one AwardsDaily commenter put it, “The Theory of Everything bitchslapped The Imitation Game.”
And the directors of The Lego Movie proved they had a sense of humor. After winning Best Animated Feature on Sunday, they referenced their Oscar snub. “You are our favourite Academy by far,” they told the audience. “You guys win the award for best academy.”
What does this mean?
Oscar voting is taking place at this very moment. It began on Friday and will continue until February 17, until all voting members of the Academy have sent in their ballots and chosen who they think deserves to head up to the podium on Oscar night. The Boyhood vs. Birdman fight will play out in silence, by aging white men who saw the films months and months ago.
Each film has some major advantages and drawbacks.
Birdman won the trifecta of DGA, PGA and SAG. The only film that won those and still lost Best Picture at the Oscars was Apollo 13 in 1996 (which lost to Braveheart). It is an ambitious movie that talks about Hollywood’s favorite topic: Hollywood. Look back on previous winners, like Argo and The Artist, and you’ll notice some level of self-obsession. This movie about a superhero actor making a comeback is what Oscar voters want to see. One of the more critical lines I’ve read was from Grantland’s Mark Harris: “Birdman, after all, is a movie about someone who hopes to create something as good as Boyhood.” But there are some reasons for concern. As previously mentioned, Birdman lost the Golden Globe to what some say is relatively weak competition in The Grand Budapest Hotel. It is missing an Oscar nomination for Best Film Editing. (The last time a film in that situation won was Ordinary People two and a half decades ago.) And it bombed at the BAFTAs.
Boyhood has gained some level of momentum with its BAFTA win and picked up a number of the earlier awards (like the Golden Globe and a vast majority of critic awards). It is also ambitious, but in a very different way — rather than showing off, Linklater seems to take a back seat on the 12-year ride. But without any of the major guild awards, it is unclear if it can pick up speed in time.
In short, the race seems too close to call. Sasha Stone calls it “an absolute cliffhanger” and “most unpredictable Oscar race for Best Picture I’ve ever seen.” Which means that this year’s Kroll Poll will be fun.
Spotlight on Boyhood bashing
Boyhood backlash has a name, and it is Mary Jo Murphy.
The New York Times weekend culture editor wrote a highly critical article about the film on Feb. 6, calling it a “one-trick pony,” calling Linklater a “lawn mower,” making a lot of metaphors about mirrors and ponies and lawns and never really reaching a point.
“It’s a pretty neat trick, to film a boy’s life intermittently over 12 consecutive years using the same actors to play the boy and his parents and sister,” Murphy wrote. “But is it the wrong pony? If Richard Linklater wins an Oscar in a couple of weeks for directing “Boyhood,” should someone wrest it away and hand it to Michael Apted?”
Apted is the creator of a series of Up documentaries which catch up with 14 Brits every seven years. The eighth iteration came out last year. Murphy believes that “Mr. Apted is the true groundbreaker.”
Scott Feinberg and Sasha Stone had a lot of feelings about this. Feinberg brought up the fact that (1) “Linklater has openly and repeatedly acknowledged that Up and other temporally creative films influenced him” and (2) “Apted himself has cheered on Boyhood. He told Entertainment Weekly back in July, ‘It’s terrific. … What he [Linklater] did was really remarkable and quite different.'” He also criticized that Murphy’s review was written not when the film came out (in July) but during Oscar voting. Stone called it petty and attacked Up as inferior: “Murphy seems upset or miffed that people love Boyhood but don’t lavish the same praise on Up. Well, you know why? Because Up is depressing as shit. It’s about how life comes to an end not with a bang but a whimper…It’s interesting in the same way that watching your own face age in the mirror is interesting.”
Spotlight on this year’s ceremony:
On Monday, Anna Kendrick tweeted Monday, “Excited to announce @TheAcademy has invited me to be part of a special performance at the #Oscars on Feb. 22nd!” Academy Awards show producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron said the star of Into the Woods “will be performing something special that is sure to be an ‘Only on the Oscars’ moment.” Count me in as excited.
Jennifer Hudson will be performing in one of “several musical sequences” and Jack Black will be in “a very special sequence” as well. (Kind of makes you think that Hudson is not considered special.) Tegan and Sara and The Lonely Island will perform “Everything Is Awesome,”
Additionally, John Travolta will be presenting at this year’s Oscars. Clearly, the Academy is begging for him to do another “Adele Dazeem” slip-up, which did great things for the Academy’s social media presence and Idina Menzel’s career.
Spotlight on Desperation:
The Imitation Game does not seem to realize that it has a slim-to-none chance at Best Picture. Important people keep writing articles and Harvey Weinstein keeps trying new tactics. According to the Hollywood Reporter, “on Feb. 12, The Weinstein Co. will kick off a special college screening program of The Imitation Game at top computer science universities around the country, beginning with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.” Eric Schmidt, the executive chairman of Google, writes an entire article about how Alan Turing is super important and therefore we have to reward a movie about him. The Turing family has also been brought out of the shadows to kvell.
- Charlie Chaplin: The first of three Oscars won by Charlie Chaplin (for “versatility and genius in acting, writing, directing and producing” The Circus in 1929) was stolen in a “targeted break-in at the offices of the Chaplin Association” just blocks from the Louvre. It is reportedly valued at over $1 million.
- Unhappiness: According to the Hollywood Reporter, “all the characters played by the 20 actors nominated in Oscar’s four acting categories face problems — from unhappy marriages to debilitating diseases (or both), midlife crises to fairy-tale wishes that don’t come true.” Nine of the 20 acting nominees play real-life people, which helps the case that theirs is the most “agonizing” role – and simultaneously the most Oscar-worthy. Eddie Redmayne and Julianne Moore are called out for fighting illness.
- Feminism: At this year’s SAG awards, Julianne Moore, Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Aniston refused to walk their fingers “like a runway” through the Mani Cam. This was the latest “development” in a feminist counter to red carpet sexism, as actresses are increasing their criticism of full-body camera shots and “Who are you wearing?” (Upworthy recently began a #AskHerMore campaign.
- Humor: Weird Al goes Whiplash and kids reenact the Oscars.
- Neil Patrick Harris: It appears NPH used to do his own version of the Kroll Poll. In a blurb in the New York Times, Harris wrote, “When I used to watch the Oscars at home with my family, we would print out ballots, write down our predictions and see who won. As I got older, our viewing parties had more of a gambling slant — same ballot, different stakes. Now they just involve more drinking, and when it’s at my house, there’s a lot of Velveeta and Pace Picante.”