I'm not going to do a run-down of the entire slate. For most of us, our predictions are going to come down to Boyhood and Birdman in both categories (with maybe a few gutsy souls willing to bet against the odds that The Grand Budapest Hotel storms through the ceremony to a degree that seemed unimaginable when the movie opened).
In Boyhood/Linklater's corner: NY, LA, Broadcast, Globe, and BAFTA prizes.
In Birdman/Iñárritu's corner: Guild prizes.
One thing that's struck me looking over this division of awards: no splits. (Even at the Globes, when those voters could have picked both movies in best Picture, Birdman still ended up a loser in both categories.) And yet...I've seen a lot of predictions for a split, most commonly Boyhood/Iñárritu, but also some for Birdman/Linklater (as Nate Silver's site did today). And I must say, this strikes me as an exceedingly unlikely outcome -- there's nothing in the season so far that has established a narrative for awards groups splitting the top prizes. Evidence suggests that when Boyhood is the favorite, Linklater wins too, and when it's Birdman, ditto for Iñárritu. (Apropos of nothing, I'd personally vote for a split, so I understand the impetus aesthetically, but I don't see any evidence this will be the majority opinion for Oscar.)
Of course, I argued against a split last year, and was wrong, so I could very well be repeating past mistakes. But...last year a split was far more ingrained in the DNA of the year's race. 12 Years/Gravity split at Broadcast, the Globes, BAFTA, and at least partly with the Guilds given the PGA tie, before splitting one final time at Oscar. 12 Years was just in every way the Best Picture frontrunner despite Cuarón repeatedly being singled out as the year's Director triumph, and Oscar followed suit. This year seems a lot closer to King's Speech/Social Network -- which actually DID split at BAFTA -- only to have the PGA/DGA winner prevail in tandem with Picture & Director Oscars.
Another thing that's interesting, in comparison to that year's race, is that, while plenty of people predicted King's Speech/Fincher on Oscar night, virtually no one held on to The Social Network as their Best Picture prediction after it had lost PGA/DGA. Predictions for Boyhood, though, seem to be about even with those for Birdman. I wonder if this has to do with the kind of movie Birdman is -- as Mister Tee said the other day, it was pretty easy to view The King's Speech as the more vanilla alternative to Social Network, and once the Guild prizes went its way, it seemed clear the Academy would too. But Birdman is, at least to me, a decidedly LESS accessible movie than Boyhood -- darker, weirder, more open-ended, more stylistically radical. It may be that some just haven't bought the "tide is turning for Birdman" argument simply because what's on screen feels even less likely to cop the Best Picture Oscar than Boyhood.
So, acknowledging the Social Network/King's Speech dichotomy isn't an exact correlative to this year's race, it's also worth noting that on Oscar night, the evening was NEITHER the smackdown for Social Network many thought it would be, NOR the sweep for King's Speech some anticipated. As for Social Network's prizes, Aaron Sorkin's screenplay award was a gimme, but Editing seemed at least in play, and Original Score was a surprising-to-me outcome I had bet against -- though its losses in the top categories were disappointing to fans, the movie very much seemed in play through much of the night. On the flip side, I had thought King's Speech a very possible winner in Score, Production Design, and Costume Design, only to see the movie not really pick up steam until the final moments of the ceremony.
This precedent would suggest that both Boyhood and Birdman should have a decent enough night, as other hotly contended match-ups have panned out in fairly even-handed ways, like Shakespeare/Private Ryan, Gladiator/Crouching Tiger/Traffic, Aviator/Million Dollar Baby, Brokeback/Crash. But doesn't it seem like both movies could conceivably have a BAD night if they don't end up being the favorite? If the top prizes go Birdman's way, and either Birdman or Budapest win Original Screenplay, and either Sniper or Whiplash win Editing, Boyhood ends up with a sole Supporting Actress trophy as the culmination of its Oscar dreams. But if Boyhood/Linklater prevail, Redmayne snags Actor, and Screenplay goes to Boyhood or Budapest, then Birdman is looking at a Cinematography prize as its biggest triumph, and even THAT seems like a not-totally-certain outcome to me given what we've discussed here about its lack of pretty images. I don't think either movie will experience this kind of tumble, but when it comes to making predictions, it seems trickier than usual to imagine just WHICH prizes these favored movies will take. If Michael Keaton takes Best Actor, is that a bellwether for it winning Picture/Director, or the consolation prize? Ditto for Boyhood winning Editing -- a sign of overall strength, or a major place to give the movie another award somewhere before it stumbles above the line?
Interestingly, I could see a couple OTHER Best Picture nominees having very good evenings, even better than these two, without making a run at best Pic. Grand Budapest could handily win Original Screenplay, Production Design, Costume Design, Original Score and (though I'm still doubting it but can't deny it's possible) Makeup, making it the big winner of the evening. Whiplash looks like it could very well prevail for every one of its nominations BUT Best Picture. And American Sniper could win its trio of tech prizes and Adapted Screenplay for a pretty solid night too. (Oddly, the 8 nominations for The Imitation Game -- including the not unimportant Director nod -- don't seem to suggest any great strength for that movie. At this point, it seems like Harvey will be lucky to hold on to Adapted Screenplay.)
Personally, I'm leaning toward predicting Birdman/Iñárritu -- betting on the Guild surge served me pretty well last time -- but as with many categories this year, it seems an extremely close race.
For the films of 2014
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