If the last two days demonstrate proof of anything, it’s that none of us can know anything for sure.
This past weekend marked the last significant pre-Oscar stops on the industry guild circuit, with the Director’s Guild of America (DGA) and the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) holding their respective annual ceremonies and firing off the last loud warning shots as the Oscar voting window soon draws to a close. The Writer’s Guild announces winners next weekend, but their exclusionary rules ultimately hinder the organization’s ability to accurately “predict” the Oscar winners in the screenwriting categories (as if that was the WGA’s stated purpose in the first place, which it isn’t), since each year, a handful of the Oscar contenders are ruled ineligible for the WGA prize. In terms of scoping industry factions to procure patterns, tendencies, preferences, or clues, this past weekend was our last, best chance. And true to form for this season, we were thrown for another loop.
The result for Birdman was a guild season trifecta, a dominant performance carried off by previous Best Picture winners such as Argo, The King’s Speech, Slumdog Millionaire, and No Country for Old Men.
Ultimately, it was the combination of the disparate DGA and BAFTA results that resulted in said loop, since on the basis of Saturday’s DGA announcement alone, the season appeared on its way to a swift and decisive conclusion. After taking the top awards from the Producer’s Guild and the Screen Actors Guild, Birdman was the big winner with the DGA, as Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu was named Best Director of the Year. The announcement came down like a thunderous shock, if only because Inarritu was largely ignored for the bulk of a season dominated by discussion of Richard Linklater’s anointing as the future Best Director winner. As I’ve discussed in earlier columns, it always struck me as odd that Inarritu’s clearly more visionary and infinitely more complex work was essentially ignored, and apparently the industry’s directors felt the same way. The result for Birdman was a guild season trifecta, a dominant performance carried off by previous Best Picture winners such as Argo, The King’s Speech, Slumdog Millionaire, and No Country for Old Men. The last film to win Best Picture at the Oscars without winning any of those Big Three guilds? Braveheart in 1996. The other significance of the 1996 awards season? It’s also the last time a film won PGA, SAG, and DGA but failed to win the Best Picture Oscar – sorry, Apollo 13.
On that basis, we are in a situation where Birdman would have to be this year’s Apollo 13 and Boyhood would play the role of Braveheart – neither comparison fits, to be honest. And yet, that possibility lingers, and new life was breathed into said possibility during Sunday’s BAFTA awards, in which Boyhood won Best Film and Best Director. Birdman was completely ignored in the major categories, earning only the Best Cinematography award for Emmanuel Lubezki, in a contest that wasn’t really a contest. Boyhood took home three statues, the third being another foregone conclusion: Patricia Arquette’s Best Supporting Actress win. (By the way, if we want to bring BAFTA into the earlier 1996 argument…Sense and Sensibility won Best Film at the BAFTAs that year, and neither Apollo 13 nor Braveheart were even nominated. Go figure.)
There were other developments of interest on Sunday. The Grand Budapest Hotel was the biggest BAFTA winner in terms of quantity, winning five awards it could conceivably also win at the Oscars: Original Score, Production Design, Costume Design, Makeup, and the biggest one, Original Screenplay. Whiplash was another big winner, earning an expected Supporting Actor win for J.K. Simmons, but also two others, for Sound and Film Editing. I find the Whiplash wins more interesting than the Grand Budapest wins, since whereas Wes Anderson’s film was acknowledged as a player in most of its winning categories, Damien Chazzelle’s was largely considered an also-ran (in spite of being clearly deserving in both the Sound and Editing categories). Perhaps this BAFTA approval indicates broader Academy support and/or plants the seed for Oscar voters to look past Simmons’ performance and see the film’s clear technical strengths.
Eddie Redmayne won Best Actor for The Theory of Everything, in another resounding victory over Birdman’s Michael Keaton, which would appear to cement the young Brit as the Best Actor winner-in-waiting.
Eddie Redmayne won Best Actor for The Theory of Everything, in another resounding victory over Birdman’s Michael Keaton, which would appear to cement the young Brit as the Best Actor winner-in-waiting. However, that “young Brit” label provides the slightest window for doubt. Of course the British Academy is going to hand Best Actor to their boy. They LOVE Redmayne in general, and apparently they dug the film as well, considering it also took home Best British Film (over The Imitation Game, which was shut out entirely on its home turf) and Best Adapted Screenplay. So there is room –a very slim amount, but room nonetheless – for an eventual Keaton win. He’s the respected veteran, surely Redmayne will have more chances in the future, and Birdman would appear to have broader industry support than Theory. But truth be told, his window is even smaller than Boyhood’s.
I have much more to say on the subject of that Boyhood window and all the assumptions that surround it coming up this week in another Projection: Oscar column. But as preview to that is a simple statement that brings this piece full circle: this weekend confirmed a two-film race with no definite answer, in spite of all possible conjecture. No one can know for sure – and for that we should be thankful.