E: There’s something a little deflating about an Oscarcast when you don’t really like the film that wins. I don’t expect it to be my favorite film of the year (though obviously that’s the ideal), but it’s still good to like the movie. It’s been since No Country For Old Men that I’ve felt so deflated; this year might be a little more disappointing, even, because while I liked Birdman more than No Country, I loved Boyhood, and was hoping against hope that it could pull out a better showing. Maybe it was that the marvelous Neil Patrick Harris wasn’t as consistently funny as I hoped, or maybe it’s just that the mad season of trying to see all the nominees is done with, but I’m feeling a lot tired, and a little melancholy.
E: This year’s Oscar nominees, all of them, are born along on a relentless tide of ambition. Be someone; do something; make your mark. Figure out how to live, and live up to your promise. Struggle against your ultimate irrelevance to history. Each of the 8 stories nominated for Best Picture show men (and a few women) struggling to better their own lives or impact the lives of others, from a civil rights leader on the verge of historic change to a lobby boy turned hotelier, from a professor’s wife and caretaker to a college drop out turned professor, from a once-famous actor trying to change his creative legacy to a drumming prodigy hoping to make good on his promising talent, from a scientist attempting to stop a war with a computer to a soldier trying to protect his brothers-in-arms with a sniper’s scope.
Though the critics have been united in their favorite picture of the year, Richard Linklater’s beloved Boyhood, the guilds have spread the love around. Each of the acting winners will come from a different film, and it’s quite possible that the film that takes best picture could lose all the acting awards and director. This we know going into the awards ceremony; the acting awards feel pretty solidly set, at least three of the four, but Best Picture and Director are up in the air. Last year, we waited the entire season for confirmation that Gravity and Twelve Years A Slave‘s picture/director split really would go through; it was an odd separation, but very clear from the critics and guild awards who was going to take home which hardware. This year, on the other hand, it’s a real toss up. There’s no consensus, and that makes things pretty interesting.
For your reading pleasure, I have created for you below a comprehensive discussion of the most prestigious Oscar categories. Who’s going to win the acting awards? Who will win Best Picture? Which desperate dreamers, reaching out their hands, will grasp their own little piece of theater immortality?
E: Looks like there’s a little uncertainty left in this year’s awards race! Here were all were thinking that the BAFTA — Britain’s Academy Awards — would put the nail in Boyhood‘s coffin, would prove it to be 2015’s version of The Social Network, and show us definitively that Birdman had almost inexplicably won the love of every guild and would sweep the Oscars. And what happens? Boyhood, virtually given up for dead, nabs BAFTA’s best director and best picture. Don’t let my brother and his talk of American Sniper‘s box office ascendancy fool you; this is the race right here. And with all the major precursor awards given, there’s no saying which way Oscar’s going to go.
It’s a little less clear why this is so. Boyhood has dominated the critics groups, and that type of movie rarely wins best picture; all season I’ve been looking for the film that would replace it, thinking perhaps epic Selma or cerebral British dramas The Theory of Everything or The Imitation Game. Sure, the whole “filmed over 12 years/labor of love” headline is a compelling one, but is this gentle film really writ large enough for Oscar? On the other hand, Birdman‘s the type of backstage story about the Artistic process and Artistic integrity (and the lack there of) that actors love, but that’s not generally the type of film that wins best picture, either: you tend to get a more popular beast, something more sentimental and accessible that audiences will enjoy like The King’s Speech or A Beautiful Mind. Mostly Oscar-winning films are crowd-pleasers or something that screams Important Cinema, like 12 Years a Slave and Schindler’s List. Birdman just doesn’t fit either bill. Though I can’t explain it’s rise, however, there’s no denying that it’s a top contender for the big prize.
Perhaps, like last year, we’ll see a split between director and film. Two years ago, Ben Affleck’s snub in director guaranteed his film the best picture win but put Ang Lee over the top for the directing prize. Last year, though 12 Years was a shoe-in to win best picture, voters couldn’t resist showing their love for Alfonso Cuaron’s effects marvel Gravity by giving him the direction prize. Perhaps this year Richard Linklater will get rewarded for his lengthy commitment to Boyhood without the film itself taking the big prize; I don’t think we can even be sure once the winning director takes the stage just which picture will triumph. And there’s a lot of fun in that.
BAFTA did give us a little bit of clarity, though. Michael Keaton, veteran though he be, seems destined to make way for fresh faced Eddie Redmayne losing his body to the ravages of ALS. Much as Hollywood loves a good comeback story (and Keaton’s is almost embarrassingly on the nose) they’re just as fond of physical transformations. After taking home the SAG and the BAFTA, Redmayne has to be considered the frontrunner. He may not be a prohibitive favorite like Arquette, Simmons or Moore, but he’s almost as inevitably got his fingers locked around the award. Will it stay a fight until the end? I can’t wait to see.
E: Readers old and new, welcome to the February movie preview!
M: Now wait. Before we get to the February, a quick note on a potentially major development from January. For those not up with the usual cycles of movie releases, there are typically only a few big movie months out of the year. The summer (which, in Hollywoodland, starts in May and ends somewhere around the start of August), October (horror movies) and the holiday season (November through Christmas). However, that all may be changing. In recent years movies like The Hunger Games and Divergent have come out in March, and done exceptionally well, making the early spring more viable.
E: Let me stop you there: there have always been outliers in March. Silence of the Lambs — the rare blockbuster and thriller to also win the top five Oscars — opened in March.
M: Yes, that’s fair, but recently March seems more a target than just having occasional outliers.
C: And last year, The Lego Movie came out in February. Or do kids’ movies not count, even when adults go to see them?
E: It totally counts as an outlier.
M: Moving on to my point, though, the last couple weeks have seen what could be a seismic shift. Oscar contender American Sniper has been put into wide release (it technically opened in December, but that was in literally FOUR theaters) and has shattered January box office records. Not only did it shatter the single-weekend monthly record, but it put up the 8th biggest second weekend of all time. Not January all time, all time all time.
E: I’m not willing to call it a shift; lots of Oscar movies open to wide release in January, and plenty of them make money. It’s just that American Sniper happens to be making a lot of money.
C: Unlike — no offense — most “Oscar movies” (aka depressing critical favorites of the sort that usually went wide in January).
M: Obviously it’s too early to say for sure, Miss Not Willing. The question is, what does this mean for January moving forward?
E: I’ll admit, if it were a shift, I’d be pretty happy about it. There should be good movies out all year long, and the fact that people are willing to brave the terrible weather much of the north has been having to see American Sniper ought to show the studios that. It’s ridiculous to compress them all into a few months, and you’d think the great box office slump of 2014 — not to mention the massive competition movie theaters face from home theaters — would help convince the industry that they can’t take time off from giving us good options. What a revolution that would be!
M: So say we all. Okay, on to February, and another crapshow of new releases.
C: But sort of a fun crapshow!