In the final part of my exhaustive Predictions series, I reveal my takes on the two surprisingly competitive Writing categories, Best Directing and Best Picture.
BEST WRITING – ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Birdman (Alejandro González Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr., Armando Bo)
Boyhood (Richard Linklater)
Foxcatcher (Dan Futterman & E. Max Frye)
The Grand Budapest Hotel (Wes Anderson & Hugo Guiness)
Nightcrawler (Dan Gilroy)
Even with Whiplash being (wrongly) relegated to the adapted screenplay category, this an extremely formidable slate of nominees. Each one would make a very fine winner. That being said, Academy voters tend to be biased towards Best Picture nominees in this category. Only one film in the last decade has won this award without also being nominated for Best Picture—Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind—and that was a game-changing screenplay that the WGA ranked as one of the 25 greatest of all time only one year after it opened. That said, Foxcatcher and Nightcrawler are both at a significant disadvantage over here. In other words, they’re out. While Boyhood may be one of the year’s best, it’s free-flowing, naturalistic screenplay isn’t its strongest hand. This is more of a directing achievement than anything, especially compared to the remaining two nominees—Wes Anderson’s BAFTA and WGA-winning screenplay of The Grand Budapest Hotel and Golden Globe screenplay winner Birdman. Birdman wasn’t eligible at the WGA Awards so it’s difficult to say whether it would have won had it been nominated. But this is Anderson’s third nomination in this category (his sixth overall) and his quirky, hilarious and melancholy screenplay is just the type of work that gets rewarded here (see: Her, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Lost in Translation, Juno, Almost Famous).
WILL WIN: The Grand Budapest Hotel (Wes Anderson & Hugo Guiness)
COULD WIN: Birdman (Alejandro González Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr., Armando Bo)
SHOULD WIN: The Grand Budapest Hotel (Wes Anderson & Hugo Guiness)
SHOULD HAVE BEEN HERE: A Most Violent Year (J.C. Chandor)
BEST WRITING – ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
American Sniper (Jason Hall)
The Imitation Game (Graham Moore)
Inherent Vice (Paul Thomas Anderson)
The Theory of Everything (Anthony McCarten)
Whiplash (Damien Chazelle)
You know that statistic about Best Picture nominees winning Best Writing – Original Screenplay prize? It’s even more prevalent in the Best Writing – Adapted Screenplay field—19 out of the last 20 winners in this category were Best Picture nominees or winners. That means perennial nominee Paul Thomas Anderson (Inherent Vice) will be sitting this one out yet again. American Sniper may be the year’s most successful movie but it’s also a wildly polarizing picture that’s received a crap-ton of criticism for its rosy portrayal of the late Chris Kyle. Academy members aren’t going to want to reward that. The Theory of Everything won this corresponding award at the BAFTA a couple of weeks ago over similar competition but Graham Moore’s tight screenplay for The Imitation Game (which it beat out) was the big winner at the USC Scripter Awards and the WGA Awards. Conventional wisdom would dictate it to be the winner in this category. But when the Academy classified Whiplash as an adapted screenplay, it effectively threw a massive wrench into the race. The passion for Whiplash obviously runs high. Yes, its screenplay isn’t its strongest aspect but its surprising nominations in Sound Mixing and Film Editing are proof that this movie is LOVED! But The Imitation Game has eight nominations and they’ll want to reward it somewhere too, right? Then again, maybe not (see: American Hustle). Argh! This is a really difficult category but I’m going to take a risk here and go with Moore’s film over Chazelle’s (even though nothing would make me happier than Whiplash winning this category).
WILL WIN: The Imitation Game (Graham Moore)
COULD WIN: Whiplash (Damien Chazelle)
SHOULD WIN: Whiplash (Damien Chazelle)
SHOULD HAVE BEEN HERE: Gone Girl (Gillian Flynn) – seriously, WTF?
Birdman – Alejandro González Iñárritu
Boyhood – Richard Linklater
Foxcatcher – Bennett Miller
The Grand Budapest Hotel – Wes Anderson
The Imitation Game – Morten Tyldum
Bennett Miller’s nomination in this category was probably the biggest anomaly on Oscar nomination morning. It wasn’t a shock because his nomination was unexpected. No, the nomination was a eyebrow raiser because he became the only filmmaker since the Best Picture field was expanded in 2009 to get a Best Director nomination without his film also scoring a corresponding Best Picture nomination. You’d have to go back to 2007 to find the last director who netted a nomination while his film didn’t (Julian Schabel for The Diving Bell and the Butterfly). That said, lone director nominees never win here. History has proved that you can win Best Picture without a directing, acting, screenplay or editing nomination but winning Director without a Best Picture nomination? Forgetaboutit! Like Miller, Morten Tyldum is just happy to be invited to the party because this one’s going to be between the two Texans and the Mexican. Wes Anderson would be my pick but I think most Academy members will be content with rewarding him in Original Screenplay. Richard Linklater should have had this sewn up months ago, and if it weren’t for the sudden surge of Birdman at the Guilds, I would have placed my bet on him winning the Oscar too. Boyhood is a directorial triumph; a mad risk that paid off magnificently. This is just the type of filmmaking the Academy should reward but more often than not, ignores. Unfortunately, he’s going up against the MOST directed movie of the year. Like Boyhood, Birdman is a high-wire act—a triumph of style and vision that must have been a pain in the ass to pull off. That nature of difficulty is what got Alejandro González Iñárritu’s friend Alfonso Cuaron his Oscar last year for Gravity, and it’s also what netted Ang Lee his in 2012. Although the Academy has chosen to stray from the DGA winner seven times prior to this, it’s gone with their choice in 58 of the last 65 years. I’m not completely ruling out an upset by Linklater but I think Iñárritu’s got this one.
WILL WIN: Alejandro González Iñárritu – Birdman
COULD WIN: Richard Linklater – Boyhood
SHOULD WIN: Wes Anderson – The Grand Budapest Hotel
SHOULD HAVE BEEN HERE: Damien Chazelle – Whiplash
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
The Theory of Everything
The most unpredictable and suspenseful Best Picture race I’ve ever followed comes to an end on Sunday night when some big shot opens the envelope at 11:25 pm EST. It’s been a crazy fun year, and a bit of an exhausting one too, considering all the ups-and-downs. Of the eight films nominated this year for Best Picture, three made my top 10 (The Grand Budapest Hotel, Whiplash, Boyhood) while another (Selma) made my list of honorable mentions. I’m a fan of both Birdman and The Imitation Game but the less said about the uneven American Sniper and The Theory of Everything, the better.
Remember, with Best Picture, the Academy employs a weighted ballot system in which voters have to rank the nominees from 1 to 8. Passion counts, but so does second and third place votes. With only two nominations to its name, and nothing in acting, writing and directing, Selma’s road ends here. You’d have to go all the way back to Grand Hotel in 1932 to find a film that won Best Picture without support in those three key branches. The Theory of Everything may come out on top in the heated Best Actor race but it’s an also-ran in this field. I also have a hard time picturing many members placing The Imitation Game on top of their weighted ballots, or even in number two or three. Whiplash will fare much better but I think it’s too small a movie to win. American Sniper will receive plenty of number one votes but it’ll also receive a massive share of number eight votes. It’s that kind of movie. The Grand Budapest Hotel is the co-nomination leader with nine nods and it’s more than likely going to finish the night as the movie with the most wins (yay!) but Best Picture isn’t going to be one of its wins. For all his fans, Wes Anderson is still an acquired taste.
This leaves us with the final two nominees: Boyhood and Birdman. Boyhood was the big victor with critics groups in December with Birdman close behind (the latter won the FFCC’s top prize). Richard Linklater’s film proceeded to win Best Film and Best Director honors at the Critics Choice, the Golden Globes and, more importantly, the BAFTAs. But for all its success, it still came out empty with U.S. industry guilds, which are year-in and year-out, the most accurate barometer of Oscar success. Birdman was the big victor with these groups. And big is an understatement. It absolutely swept the guilds taking the trifecta of SAG, DGA and PGA on the way. Only one film, Apollo 13, has lost the Best Picture Oscar after winning those three guilds. Birdman could become the second to do so but I think its subject matter (an actor struggling to stay relevant), acting showcase, and technical bravura will be a little too much for the Academy to resist, especially when the alternative is a sweet and emotional but slow-moving movie about a lower middle class kid growing up in a red state.
It’s going to be a very close one but whatever the result, always remember that time is the ultimate judge of these things. Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo is considered by many to be one of the, if not the, greatest film of all time but back in 1958, it wasn’t even nominated for Best Picture! The winner that year was Gigi, a musical that’s mostly remembered today for being the answer to the following trivia question: What film won the Best Picture Oscar of 1958?
WILL WIN: Birdman
COULD WIN: Boyhood
SHOULD WIN: The Grand Budapest Hotel
SHOULD HAVE BEEN HERE: Gone Girl
Enjoy the show!