In less than 9 hours, the 87th Academy Awards will be upon us, and there will be no amount of grousing or second-guessing that will help us stop the inevitable. Those envelopes will be opened and we will all be given a swift slap across the face. Oscar will remind us who is boss.
All we can do now is cling our sweaty, shaking hands to our final prediction sheets while we wait, watch, and soak in the results.
But before we do that, a look back at an unexpectedly unexpected season…
The Fall Festivals kicked the season off in earnest, and Birdman and Foxcatcher rose to the top with raves from critics and Oscar pundits alike. The Theory of Everything became a sensation for Eddie Redmayne’s performance alone. Collectively, we looked back to Boyhood and The Grand Budapest Hotel as likely early-year contenders while looking ahead to films like Unbroken and Selma, which we assumed would figure prominently in the race.
On the basis of that initial assessment, we did alright. All of those films can count themselves as Oscar nominees, though the odd film out is Unbroken, which only scored a few tech nods. And in spite of its Best Picture nomination, is Selma really the odd film out? It only scored two nominations, whereas Unbroken landed three. Imagine that. Interstellar netted five. But I guess the Academy must still love Selma since they gave it a Best Picture nod, right? Just like they obviously loved 12 Years a Slave since they gave it Best Picture, even though it only won two other trophies and all other significant wins went to Gravity, right? “Oscars So White” became a hashtag this season, for good reason…and for reasons that date back to last year and even further back, to be sure.
The onslaught of Critics Group precursors put the race into clearer perspective – to the extent that it basically called the race early and often for Boyhood, which was more dominant in the critics circuit than any other film in recent memory – and that’s saying something. So dominant was Boyhood with the critics that it created a saturated atmosphere by which no one could even fathom another film coming out on top. It just seemed like a given.
But the guilds had something to say about that.
The first plot twist arrived via the Producers Guild of America, who awarded their Best Film prize to Birdman. Twitter had a heart attack…and I fully admit that I was part of said heart attack. The next night, the Screen Actors Guild also awarded Birdman its equivalent of Best Picture – the Best Cast award – further solidifying Birdman’s status but still throwing in one more twist…in spite of a big Birdman win, Michael Keaton lost the Best Lead Actor award to Theory of Everything’s Eddie Redmayne. I’ve talked frankly in the past about the “Power of SAG,” and so if one was to believe that Birdman was, indeed, the Best Picture frontrunner, one must also cede that its leading man and driving force was, somehow, not the Best Actor frontrunner.
If that wasn’t enough, the Directors Guild of America also opted for Birdman, awarding Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu as the Best Director of the year, and all of a sudden, what seemed like a lopsided race for Boyhood turned into a lopsided race for Birdman. And thus, our collective panic set in.
Only one film in history won the PGA, SAG, and DGA awards, only to lose Best Picture – Apollo 13 in 1996. And that was an odd year in which its director, Ron Howard, was curiously absent from the Best Director category, and also a year with a much longer award season trajectory, giving voters more time to ponder options and reverse their preferences. It’s a different case for Birdman.
Also a different case for Birdman is its quirky editing situation. Many naysayers have continued to cite the film’s lack of a Best Editing nomination, and how no film has won Best Picture without said Editing nomination since Ordinary People in 1981. But Birdman’s editing is purposely and purposefully invisible. And, since the film consists almost exclusively of extended takes, its editing is also minimal. Does a lack of cutting somehow mean the film cannot win Best Picture? That logic isn’t logical at all.
And yet, there is still Boyhood, and our residual perceptions about its perceived dominance. That’s enough to throw a wrench in this race and leave several categories in remarkable doubt. Add to that the fact that Boyhood won Best Film and Best Director at the BAFTA awards. That a quintessential American film could be so embraced by the British Academy has to indicate a certain degree of strength, does it not?
What we’re left with is a race even more in doubt than last year’s, and if you followed last year’s race from beginning to end, you know how significant a statement that is. Last year was also a tight two-film race to the end, but we also knew that one of those films was a tech giant that would dominate below the line. This year, so many categories could go one of two ways (at least), which makes it difficult to determine how a chosen Best Picture winner would piece together a “winning tally” of Oscars. Perhaps the notion of a Best Picture winner requiring a significant group of supporting trophies – which has always been based on a fallacy of groupthink, anyway – will be thrown out the window this year, once and for all.
For this uncertainty, maddening as it can be from a punditry perspective, we should be entirely grateful.
To call this “the home stretch” is an understatement. We are home. It’s Oscar Night. Time to let it ride, pour a cocktail, and sit at attention behind our iPad screens feverishly tweeting about winners and the ceremony for hours and hours, until the show finally comes to a close.
Wait, maybe that’s just me.