Oscar Beat: So Is the Best Picture Frontrunner BIRDMAN or BOYHOOD?

     February 9, 2015

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If you’ve been following this Oscar season closely, this weekend’s series of events was like a roller coaster ride. Over the past few months, Boyhood or “The Little Indie That Could” emerged as the clear frontrunner in the Best Picture race. What at first seemed like an underdog destined to be overshadowed by flashier candidates soon garnered some serious steam, and boosted by an overwhelming embrace by the critics groups, it took the top position in the hunt for Best Picture. And then the guild awards began.

The guilds are significant because, while not all members of a particular guild are Academy voters, all Academy voters are members of the guilds. When we see which films win the top prizes from the guilds, we get an early preview of what some of the Academy members may be thinking when it comes time to fill out their ballots.

boyhood-ellar-coltrane-ethan-hawkeBoyhood wasn’t necessarily expected to win the big prize from the Screen Actors Guild, and indeed the group of actors opted to award the Best Ensemble trophy to the movie about actors, Birdman. Then came the Producers Guild. The PGA Award for Best Picture has a strong track record of matching up with the Oscar for Best Picture, so this decision was a big one. That award, handed out a couple of weeks ago, again went to Birdman. Oof, things weren’t looking great for Boyhood.

But it wasn’t out of the race yet. There was still the one guild in which Boyhood had the greatest chance of winning: The Directors Guild of America. Surely this group of filmmakers couldn’t pass up the chance to honor Richard Linklater for doing something that has literally never been done before? And then, just like that, Birdman pulled the rare hat trick. The top prize at the DGA Awards went to Alejandro G. Iñárritu for crafting Birdman.

The fact that Birdman picked up the SAG, PGA, and DGA awards is significant. In the seven times that a film has swept all three guilds since 1995, only one failed to win the Oscar for Best Picture, Apollo 13. When looking at Birdman’s sweep and those statistics, the odds of Birdman losing the Oscar become slimmer and slimmer. And that’s not even accounting for the fact that a Birdman win totally makes sense. The Academy handing “Best Picture” to a movie about film, creative passion vs. commercial appeal, etc. is kind of a match made in heaven, not to mention the fact that they’ve given Best Picture to two Hollywood-centric movies in the past three years (The Artist and Argo).

birdman-edward-norton-michael-keatonBut just when Birdman surged to the head of the pack to become the “inevitable” Best Picture winner, a glimmer of hope for Boyhood fans arrived in the form of the BAFTAs. Now the British Academy of Film and Television Arts members don’t have the same degree of membership overlap with the Oscars as the guilds, but they do have some cross-pollination with Academy voters and, notably, show us what happens when a large body votes on all categories. At this year’s BAFTA Awards, Birdman took home only the award for Best Cinematography, while Boyhood was honored with Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Supporting Actress.

The Birdman trifecta with the guilds is incredibly formidable, but Boyhood’s win for both Picture and Director at the BAFTAs keeps things interesting. A lot of years the Best Picture Oscar winner is pretty much solidified in the weeks leading up to the ceremony, but this month’s awards—just like last year’s—looks to be giving us a real, honest-to-goodness race in the top category.

I’m just beginning to put together some of my final predictions (they’ll be posted here on the site over the course of a few days next week), but I sit here pretty torn on what’s going to happen in the big category—just days after I was fairly certain it was Birdman’s to lose. Right now, Birdman still seems to be the frontrunner from a statistical standpoint, but Boyhood can’t be counted out just yet.

Look for full coverage of my final Oscar predictions for this year’s ceremony here on Collider next week. The Oscars will be held on Sunday, February 22nd.

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