Sunday, February 8, 2015

Countdown to the Oscars: BAFTA, DGA set up showdown

Michael Keaton and Edward Norton put up their dukes and prepare for a fight in Birdman.

I have said it already this year, but it bears repeating: It is refreshing to have a genuine race in the top category at the Oscars. I have been following the Academy Awards more closely than a healthy person ought to for more than a decade now, and only twice in that time have I been unsure what title would be called for Best Picture – last year and the first year I followed, when Crash beat Brokeback Mountain to the prize.

Now, we have a real two-horse race between Richard Linklater’s labor of love Boyhood and Alejandro González Iñárritu’s showbiz satire Birdman. All conventional wisdom has been blown out of the water this year. There is no precedent to point to, no stat to refer to that explains the Oscar race this year. We just do not know which way it is going to go, and I could not be happier.

Two weeks ago, Birdman took a couple big steps toward the big prize with wins from the Producers Guild and the Screen Actors Guild. Last night, Iñárritu won the feature directing award from his peers at the Directors Guild of America. In any other year, with those three awards on the mantle, Birdman would be a virtual lock for Best Picture – only Ron Howard’s Apollo 13 in 1995 won all three and failed to win the top prize – but this is not just any other year.

On the other side of things, you have Boyhood, which is the most critically acclaimed film of the year and duly has won the lion’s share of critics’ awards. It won the Golden Globe for best drama at a ceremony where Birdman faltered, losing best comedy to Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel. Then, tonight, with Birdman seemingly running away with the season, the British Academy of Film and Television had its say. The call: Boyhood for best film and Linklater for best director.

So, where does that leave us? For one, it places us square in the middle of a very exciting race to the finish line. Academy members received their ballots Friday. Most members vote early, which means they will have picked a winner by early this week if they have not already. The most influential guilds and awards-giving bodies have had their say. Now, it is up to the Academy.

Other than Boyhood, The Grand Budapest Hotel was the big winner with BAFTA, taking home five awards, including best original screenplay. Anderson’s fantastical war comedy is undoubtedly a below-the-line player as the director’s films are always a sumptuous delight in the design arena. This is the first time an Anderson film has gained much traction with the Academy, so expect voters to reward the body of work as much as this specific film.

For all the intrigue in the Best Picture and Director categories, the four acting awards have seemed sewn up for a while now, and the BAFTAs have done nothing to change that perception. If anything, Eddie Redmayne looks to be on even surer footing now than he was before the weekend for his transformative work as Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything.

There could be a groundswell of support for Michael Keaton’s aging actor in Birdman, but with the Globe, BAFTA, and SAG awards in the bag, it does not look as though anything is stopping Redmayne’s march to the podium. In the Best Actress and best supporting categories, Julianne Moore, JK Simmons, and Patricia Arquette are mortal locks, so if you are looking for a place to score some easy points in your Oscar pool, there it is.

With two weeks left to go until the big night, Last Cinema Standing will be there every step of the way, bringing you breakdowns of each category, predictions, wishes, and critiques as we get closer and closer to that world-famous red carpet.

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