Now it's time to round up the very confusing options we have this year for Picture and Director. In some ways it seems like a wide open year with no clear frontrunner, yet in other ways it reminds me of 2011, when voters didn't love any of the nominees enough to prevent The Artist from sweeping everything as a kind of default, least disagreeable winner. This year, that option looks like Boyhood to me, but let's see where we end up.
Oh boy. This category is the toughest to suss out. The directors branch of the Academy is the most idiosyncratic of the major branches and they tend not to pay any attention to things like precursors and buzz (not even the Directors Guild necessarily influences them). Yes, strong Best Picture contenders usually have their directors nominated as well, but there also tends to be out of left field moves no one saw coming, such as in 2012, when the branch snubbed the two people everyone thought were the only safe bets that year, Ben Affleck and Kathryn BIgelow, in favor of auteur choices Behn Zeitlin and Michael Haneke. This year looks to me like a potential shocker along those lines, because aside from two seemingly surefire nominees (you never know with this group), I don't really know who else will make it in.
The two locked in look like Richard Linklater for the Best Picture frontrunner Boyhood, and Alejandro Inarritu for Birdman, both seen as heavily artistic directorial achievements in line with what the branch tends to admire. After that it's tough. Many think Ava Duvernay is another lock for Selma, but I'm not so sure. The movie has gotten stellar reviews and many assume she will be nodded because she'd make history as the first black woman ever nominated in Director, but I do wonder if stats like making history hold much sway over this branch, which includes many foreign directors only concerned with the achievement at hand. Still, Duvernay is a member of the branch, so that would presumably work in her favor.
Then it's kind of a crapshoot. The Imitation Game is presumed to be a top 2-3 picture contender, which usually means the director gets in too, but the unknown Morten Tyldum hasn't been nominated in non-industry places like the Golden Globes or BFCA. We'll see if Bafta and the DGA go for him though- if they do it bolsters his chances. Then there's the respected David Fincher, a two-time nominee for Gone Girl, which was a huge hit this year, and Wes Anderson, never nominated but now up for the very popular Grand Budapest Hotel (but does this branch like his films at all?). Mike Leigh is a strong possibility I think, for Mr. Turner, even if the movie doesn't show up in many other above-the-line categories- he's enormously well respected within the branch, nominated twice before, and this film may be the pinnacle of his directing career. Finally, newbie Damien Chazelle directed Whiplash this year, which got great reviews, is reportedly loved by the Academy and would be a very Behn Zeitlin-esque nomination- but will they pull that same hat trick twice?
My predicted 5:
- Ava Duvernay, Selma
- Alejandro Inarritu, Birdman
- Mike Leigh, Mr. Turner
- Richard Linklater, Boyhood
- Morten Tyldum, The Imitation Game
I didn't even mention possible contenders Clint Eastwood for American Sniper (a veteran two time winner and four time nominee) and Bennett Miller for Foxcatcher, but they're in there too. Basically I think this is the hardest category to predict this year and I fully expect to be wrong. I certainly don't feel strongly about anyone but Inarritu and Linklater (of course, watch them get snubbed now). We'll definitely know a little more when Bafta and the DGA weigh in here, but even then this branch can often go its own way. There's less suspense when it comes to the win- I don't see how anyone can take this away from Linklator and the 12-year project he accomplished.
So now we come to the big prize. This is a very strange year, because most would argue it's a weaker year for movies, and in this case it's hard to predict what makes up a list of nine or ten nominees. It would certainly be a year like this one that argues for going back to only five, because even then it's hard to see what would ultimately make the cut this time. I'm just going to go ahead and lay out what I've predicted will get in, based on the various precursor noms given so far, even though we are missing two crucial ones in Bafta and the PGA- maybe I shouldn't predict before hearing a bit more from the industry, but oh well- here we go.
Predicted 9 in alphabetical order:
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
The Theory of Everything
There's a couple of films that could slide in here, and to my surprise Nightcrawler is definitely an option. It could have enough passion to force the nominee count to ten, which would be the first time that's happened under the preferential ballot system they've been using for the last three years. The movie has defied all predictions and made a great showing all over the place, starting with the critics, then the NBR, AFI, and the ACE Eddies yesterday. Again, seeing if it shows up at Bafta and the PGA will be the real test, and at the expense of what movie. I think the weaker films on this list that could theoretically be knocked out are Sniper, Theory and Gone Girl, but I'd only give any of them the slightest chance to be snubbed. I actually feel better predicting the BP nominees than I do director at this point. And I suppose there's still a small chance that Unbroken could land a slot despite the bad reviews (box office helps sometimes), but as of now I think that's only a remote possibility. We'll see how close I am come Jan 15th- I actually predicted all the nominees last year, but given the uncertainty this year, I don't expect that to happen again. And for the win, well- I continue to think it's Boyhood unless/until another movie wins the top prize at a major guild. If something else wins the PGA, Bafta or even the Globe, I'll take it seriously, but right now it looks like this movie's going all the way.