erik lundegaard

Thursday January 15, 2015

Hurriedly Handicapping Best Picture: Are We Down to 4, 3 or 2?

2015 best picture nominees

The likeliest candidates. But one of these things is not like the others. 

Before the nominations came out, I thought we were down to four candidates for best picture: “Birdman,” “Boyhood,” “The Grand Budapest Hotel” and “The Imitation Game.” So where are we now that the Academy has released the Kraken?

Here are the Academy's eight nominees for best picture, along with nominations in other relevant categories:

Movie Director Editing Screenplay Acting Noms
American Sniper   x x 1 6
Birdman x   x 3 9
Boyhood x x x 2 6
The Grand Budapest Hotel x x x   9
The Imitation Game x x x 2 8
Selma         2
The Theory of Everything     x 2 5
Whiplash   x x 1 5

It's rare when a movie wins best picture without its director being nominated (although it happened two years ago with Ben Affleck and “Argo”), so we do seem down to those four.

However, it's even rarer when a movie wins best picture without its editor being nominated (last time: “Ordinary People” in 1980). So if that's the case, then we're down to three.

Screenplay is a wash. It eliminates nothing save “Selma,” which is nominated nowhere else but song. Acting matters since the Academy is mostly made up of actors, and that favors “Birdman,” with three, over “Grand Budapest” with zero. (Although two films this century, “Slumdog Millionaire” in 2008 and “Lord of the Rings: Return of the King” in 2003, won best pic without an acting nomination.)

Let's look at that recent history. These are the nominations for each year's best picture winner this century:

Year Movie Director Edit Scrnply Acting Total noms Most noms?
2013 12 Years a Slave x x x 3 9  
2012 Argo   x x 1 7  
2011 The Artist x x x 2 10  
2010 The King's Speech x x x 3 12 x
2009 The Hurt Locker x x x 1 9 x
2008 Slumdog Millionaire x x x 0 10  
2007 No Country for Old Men x x x 1 8 x
2006 The Departed x x x 1 5  
2005 Crash x x x 1 6  
2004 Million Dollar Baby x x x 3 7  
2003 Lord of the Rings: Return of the King x x x 0 11 x
2002 Chicago x x x 4 13 x
2001 A Beautiful Mind x x x 2 8  
2000 Gladiator x x x 2 12 x

I was surprised that “Most noms” is a meaningless category—just six of 14 this century—but it helps to be at least near the top. Last year, both “Gravity” and “American Hustle” had 10 noms, one more than “12 Years.” “Lincoln” had 12 in 2012 (not a bad slogan, actually), while “The Artist” was only one off of “Hugo”'s total of 11 nominations in 2011.

So what does it all mean? 

Under normal circumstances, the lack of an editing nomination should end “Birdman”'s chances. Except voters may give it a pass since it's essentially one long single shot. It's an actors' movie, almost like a play (hence the three acting nominations), and the Academy's acting body should appreciate that.

“Boyhood” has fewer overall noms, but it's got director, editing, two acting, and, perhaps most importantly, heart.  

“The Imitation Game” has all its nominations in a nice, neat row. It's just not a very good movie. It's also the most conventional among the four. “Grand Budapest” is two-dimensional, Andersony and funny, “Boyhood” is episodic and took 12 years to make, “Birdman” is pungent, attacks Hollywood for giving awards “for cartoons and pornography” and ends with a question mark.

My thought? We're down to three. “Birdman,” “Boyhood” and “Imitation Game.” 

My hope? That 12 years of work, and a lot of heart, give “Boyhood” the win.

My fear? The unconventional voters will split among the American indies, allowing the lesser film, “Imitation Game,” to win. 

We'll find out Feb. 22.

Posted at 09:44 AM on Thursday January 15, 2015 in category Movies - The Oscars  
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Twitter: @ErikLundegaard