Thursday, February 19, 2015

Oscars 2014: Best Picture and Director — Boyhood vs. Birdman

And here we are. Thus far in the Manifesto's Oscar analysis, we've looked at the technical categories, including the ones that really matter and the ones that matter a little less; the supporting actor and actress fields; the screenplays; and the lead actors. And now, we come to the two big ones. In a refreshing change of pace from the Oscars' usual predictability, they're two of the more uncertain awards of the night.


Wes Anderson—The Grand Budapest Hotel
Alejandro González Iñárritu—Birdman
Richard Linklater—Boyhood
Bennett Miller—Foxcatcher
Morten Tyldum—The Imitation Game

Given how much low-hanging fruit The Grand Budapest Hotel is likely to scoop up over the course of the evening, Anderson has a theoretical shot. But this is really a faceoff between Iñárritu and Linklater, the helmers of the two Best Picture favorites. As it result, it really comes to what Academy voters value in this category. The argument for Linklater is more conceptual than technical; there's obviously never been a movie like Boyhood, and it took its director's incredible vision to make it happen. But as recent wins for Gravity's Alfonso Cuarón and Life of Pi's Ang Lee suggest, the Best Director award is increasingly becoming tied to technical achievement. And as astonishing as Boyhood is in its scope and its storytelling, it's fairly ordinary in its technical execution, whereas Birdman is a showy and dazzling piece of cinematic artistry. On that score, Iñárritu is the pick. (He also has the guild nod, which hardly hurts.)

Anderson. The Grand Budapest Hotel is the work of an undeniably gifted filmmaker. That it unfolds with an aura of quiet melancholy only makes Anderson's technical achievement more impressive.

Wes Anderson—The Grand Budapest Hotel
Damien Chazelle—Whiplash
David Fincher—Gone Girl
Doug Liman—Edge of Tomorrow
Christopher Nolan—Interstellar

Aside from Anderson, the latter four directors here made my four favorite movies of the year, which is hardly a coincidence. Each film features a director elevating his material, whether it's through rigorous control (Chazelle), playful genre manipulation (Fincher), robust and clear-eyed action scenes (Liman), or pure ambition (Nolan).

My ideal winner: Christopher Nolan—Interstellar.


American Sniper
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
The Theory of Everything

I just can't do it.

Look, I want to pick Boyhood here. I really do. And it certainly has a legitimate shot. But first, let me make something clear: If you pick a movie other than Birdman or Boyhood here, someone had better be giving you odds. Sure, it's possible that the two top dogs could somehow split votes, leaving room for an interloper like the zeitgeist-hitting American Sniper or the trophy-gathering Grand Budapest Hotel. But if you're just trying to predict who's going to win the Academy Award for Best Picture of 2014, you need to take either Birdman or Boyhood.

And again, the case for Boyhood isn't entirely manufactured. It's as critically beloved as any movie in recent memory, with a nonsensical 100 Metacritic score. It's startlingly original. And in terms of Oscar-centric statistics, it has two hugely valuable wins at the BAFTAs and the Golden Globes. (The latter win was for Best Drama—Birdman actually lost the Best Musical/Comedy race to The Grand Budapest Hotel.) If you want to reach, you can even point out that Birdman lacks a Best Film Editing nomination, and no movie without one has won Best Picture since Ordinary People in 1980. This is not an unreasonable case.

But here's the thing: Birdman won at the Producers' Guild, the only voting body that uses the same (insanely complex) preferential ballot system as the Academy. It also won the Best Ensemble Cast award at the Screen Actors' Guild (their equivalent of Best Picture), and actors make up more voters in the Academy than any other occupation. Oh, and it won at the Directors' Guild as well. The only movie to have won all three and fail to triumph at the Oscars is Apollo 13 in 1995 (the first year of SAG's award), when it lost to a little movie called Braveheart.

Critics love Boyhood. But critics don't get a vote with the Academy. You know who votes? Actors, directors, cinematographers, composers, costume designers, sound mixers, and gaffers. They all seem to love Birdman. And that's why Birdman is your Best Picture winner.

(To be clear: I hope I'm wrong. But I'm afraid I might be right.)

Not quite my tempo.

For this, I can refer you to the first 10 titles on my year-end list.

And that's a wrap of the Manifesto's 2014 Oscars predictions. Go here for a full roundup of all our picks. We'll be back on Monday with a quick recap of the show.

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