But these last two years have been anything but ordinary.
A mere twelve months ago, many pundits, stunned by the unprecedented PGA tie between Gravity and 12 Years a Slave, were calling it arguably the closest race in Oscar history. Flash forward and we have another Oscar race that, while perhaps not the closest of all time, is certainly not at a lack of suspense when it comes to the top prize. It's a good thing.
Traditionally, I've broken down the Best Picture contest by analyzing which films have the requisite trifecta of nominations; Best Editing, Best Screenplay, and Best Director. This year, for reasons that will be discussed, I have to throw all that out the window. The preferential ballot has made it possible for a movie to win without being cited in all three of those categories. A film-by-film rundown seems more appropriate.
Let's start by turning the clock back a year, when The Grand Budapest Hotel premiered at the Berlin Film Festival. Spurred on by great reviews, Wes Anderson's sweet-and-sour period caper went on to tear up the specialty box office throughout the early spring months, becoming the idiosyncratic auteur's biggest hit to date. But I never envisioned that the March release would be so beloved and well remembered by awards season that it now stands to win more Academy Awards than any other film from 2014. While its stylized whimsy and sudsy tone will ultimately keep it from topping enough ballots to win, there's no way you could call this anything but a huge Oscar success. Think about it: A March release winning upwards of five Oscars... When are we gonna see this again?
The campaign strategy pictured below (tweeted by Mark Harris earlier this month) is disgusting even by Weinstein standards...
I don't think I've ever hated a modern Oscar campaign tactic as much as this one. (h/t @raysubers) pic.twitter.com/atOAIEUxAZ... and the scary thing about it is that it might work. Like The King's Speech before it, the film is just good enough to find high placement on a lot of ballots over top of more critically celebrated yet less accessible works. Here's hoping that Boyhood and Birdman can hold it off.
— Mark Harris (@MarkHarrisNYC) February 3, 2015
And then there are the late breakers: A pair of movies that played at Hollywood's AFI Fest in November, banking on heavy Oscar attention to fuel their January box office performance. That evening in Tinseltown was, as it turned out, laced with ironies just waiting to be discovered over the ensuing months...
a stirring interpretation of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s marches in Alabama during the heated summer of 1965. Instantly, critics declared it a serious awards player; An artfully made, fact-based docudrama with a progressive political slant and excellent performances. Many thought it might even be the one to beat. But there was trouble in the water. Paramount had already been planning a major push for Christopher Nolan's Interstellar, and with a tight January release planned for Selma, they hadn't enough time to get an adequate campaign together. As it missed guild after guild due to not sending out screeners (exacerbated by a nasty smear campaign targeting its depiction of president Lyndon B. Johnson), it became dreadfully apparent that it was being set up to fail. It's sort of a miracle that it scrounged up this Best Picture nomination at all, one of only two that it received in total. It may be worth considering that industry groups haven't had a chance to vote for Selma at any point this season, and if they've finally gotten around to seeing it, there's a slim chance it could pull off the biggest upset in Oscar history. Let's call it the wild card, but of course the odds are heavily stacked against it.
Here is my mostly arbitrary ranking of who I think will win, in order of probability:
3. The Imitation Game
4. The Grand Budapest Hotel
5. American Sniper
7. The Theory of Everything
Should win: (tune in tomorrow for the Awards-Nazi Award winners!)
Should have been nominated: Foxcatcher