24 hours on, and the dust has settled on the nominations for the 87th Academy Awards. Amongst all the various snubs and surprises, we now know the answer to one of the biggest questions: which films would be up for the biggest of the Oscar prizes, Best Picture.
For the first time, it’s a field of eight (rather than the nine we’ve had the last few years), ranging from Sundance indies to a big-budget war movie from an industry legend. But now, a new question emerges: who’s actually going to win the thing? More than any other year in recent memory, it remains a wide-open race in our opinion, and there’s still potential for plenty of surprises to come. With a little over a month to go, we’ve run down each Best Picture nominee, and talked about the pros and cons of whether or not they can take home the biggest award. Take a look below, and let us know your thoughts in the comments.
Why It Could Win: For one, the film is going great guns (sorry…) at the box-office: it racked up over $3 million in only four theaters so far, and broke its own screen average record (the second-best ever recorded for a live-action movie) in its second week, somehow. The film goes wide this weekend, and the Oscar nods should only help the film to become one of the biggest January openers ever, and is likely to end up the top-grossing of all the nominees. Personnel wise, it has both an industry legend (Clint Eastwood) and one of Hollywood’s hottest stars (Bradley Cooper receiving his third nomination), and the film’s six nominations, from sound to screenplay to acting, suggest it has a broad swathe of support across the branches. More than anything else here by a mile, it also appeals to the so-called Steak Eaters that make up a large faction of Academy membership too. “Million Dollar Baby” surfed a similar late-breaking surge to the win only a decade ago.
Why It Might Not: Clint Eastwood missing a nomination as Director is problematic — “Argo” broke the you-don’t-win-Best-Picture-without-a-directing-nomination duck a few years back, but it remains a rarity. It’s also one of the least well-reviewed of the Best Picture nominees. Perhaps most importantly, the film has a giant target on its back, with factual liberties and potentially controversial omissions that dwarf the kind that might have sunk “Selma.” Expect a ton of hit pieces in the weeks to come.
Why It Could Win: Sharing the largest number of nominations with its studio-mate “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” “Birdman” has killer reviews, precursor support, and a wide range of nominations, including three acting nods (more than any other film), but crucially, two unexpected sound nominations, plus cinematography too. Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu is probably a front-runner to win the Directing Oscar, and by focusing on the life of an actor, it appeals directly to the largest branch of Academy members too. Additionally, with its certain “you kids with your Twitters and Tumblrs” attitude towards millennials, it ticks some boxes with the older demographic too.
Why It Might Not: No film has won Best Picture without an Editing nomination since “Ordinary People,” and that’s a record that “Birdman” will have to overcome to get the big prize. It’ll also suffer a little from Inarritu’s absence from the campaign circuit as he returns to finish shooting “The Revenant,” and some might find the movie to be a little insubstantial, in terms of real-world concerns, compared to some of the competition. It lost the Golden Globe, too, if that’s any indication of anything (it’s probably not…).
Why It Could Win: Well, for one, it’s the bookie’s favorite: Betfair currently have the movie at the odds of 1/16, which is the kind of money that it’s just not worth putting down because the return would be so slim. Richard Linklater‘s film has been the little indie that could, dominating precursors and critics’ groups alike. Add to that a much respected filmmaker making his masterpiece, a near-unique central conceit, and the film’s status as probably the big talking-point movie of 2014, and you can start to see why those gambling folk are tipping this as the big winner. It’s also a tricky one to campaign against: without historical inaccuracies or similar to throw at it, the film’s essentially immune to negative campaigning in a way that some of its rivals aren’t.
Why It Might Not: Front-runner status is always a little difficult, and going into the final phase at the head of the pack could mean problems, especially if people assume the film’s already going to win, and use their votes elsewhere. Those catching up on the film late in the day could also risk being underwhelmed by what’s ultimately a modest movie (this is a compliment). But the biggest question here has always revolved around the distributor: IFC Films don’t have the deepest pockets in town, and though they’ve done incredibly well to get the movie this far, it remains to be seen if there’s a point when the expense account runs dry.
“The Grand Budapest Hotel”
Why It Could Win: The earliest-released movie to contend for Best Picture since “Silence Of The Lambs,” Wes Anderson‘s latest wasn’t taken seriously by many as a contender even a few months ago. But after a smart campaign by Fox Searchlight, broad support from the guilds, and just being really well liked, the film has become, with “Birdman,” the most-nominated film this year. And dammit, we wonder if it could continue to gain momentum and actually win the thing. Light, and yet substantial, finally giving voters the chance to acknowledge one of the most lauded filmmakers of his generation, opulently cinematic, and with a stacked cast, it’s also, at present, the biggest-grossing of the eight nominees (“American Sniper” will overtake it by the time the awards come around, barring unexpected disaster). Is this the disruptor that people have been waiting to appear for months? It seems like it could potentially unite voters in a way that, say, “The Imitation Game” doesn’t.
Why It Might Not: Fox Searchlight now have to split their attentions between this and “Birdman,” and might find the other film an easier bet. That said, this has the Directing nomination in its favor, but it doesn’t have any acting nods, and it’s relatively rare for a film to pick up the big prize without them (that said, this century has seen two such films, “Return Of The King” and “Slumdog Millionaire,” though only eleven have done it in total). Does the expansive cast, and beloved, if unnominated performance from Fiennes, counter that with the actor’s branch? Anderson also has a spotty record with the Academy, with only screenplay nominations before now, and with “Moonrise Kingdom,” he ultimately came up short. Did the Academy come round to him with this film, or is there enough suspicion of his hipster ways to rule it out as a serious contender?
“The Imitation Game”
Why It Could Win: Learning his lesson from last year’s uncertain, shaky season, Harvey Weinstein got behind “The Imitation Game” and “The Imitation Game” alone early, and he got behind it big, and it’s paid off: the film got eight nominations, split between above-the-line and below-the-line, and has been a consistent performer with the guilds and precursors. You and I might not know anyone that loves this movie (and indeed, find it baffling that a film as weirdly downbeat as this is considered a crowdpleaser), but that doesn’t mean that the film doesn’t have fans — hence the eight nominations. Also, in a year where artsier fare (“Birdman,” ‘Budapest,’ “Boyhood”) are its main competition, “The Imitation Game” could be the one that mainstream voters are able to get behind, and could be seen as more “important” than some. Given the average age of the Academy voter, this feels like the one that they’d naturally gravitate to. Crucially, it also received votes for Editing and even Director, despite helmer Morten Tyldum being little-known in the U.S. until now.
Why it Might Not: We admittedly find it hard to imagine that anyone would look at the wealth of options that cinema had to offer in 2014, look at “The Imitation Game” and decide that it was the best film of the year. But as we said above, that’s less important, because Academy voters seem to go for it. That said, the film’s rivals are more of a threat than “The Social Network” was to “The King’s Speech” in 2010 — Fincher’s film was talking about Facebook, which some voters had no idea about, whereas “Birdman” and “Boyhood” seem more universal. Furthermore, the film’s treatment of Turing, and history, should come in for fresh targeting in the weeks to come (assuming others are playing by Harvey’s playbook), which is certainly the film’s biggest hurdle to overcome. It’s also worth noting that the movie didn’t get a Cinematography nomination, which “The King’s Speech” did manage. Still, it’s very much in the hunt.
Why It Could Win: It’s been dealt some blows in recent weeks, but we wouldn’t count out “Selma” entirely just yet. Sure, it was bypassed in most categories, and had a rough run with the precursors, but some have suggested that a lot of the film’s luck has been somewhat circumstantial: the film, which only shot in the late Spring, was rushing to get ready even after its AFI semi-work-in-progress premiere, and as such, Paramount only had a certain amount of time to manufacture screeners, meaning that the guilds didn’t get them, and even BAFTA and AMPAS got them relatively late. Now that it’s a nominee, those who hadn’t seen the film might check it out and love it. It’s adored by both critics and audiences, and more importantly, the film’s been all that everyone’s been talking about since the nominations, sparking off debate about the Academy’s diversity, or total lack thereof. Could this receive a similar rebound that “Argo” had a few years ago, where Ben Affleck‘s snub in the Best Director race in many ways helped to lead to its Best Picture win, by reshaping the conversation?
Why It Might Not: The film only got two nominations, and the last film to win Best Picture with this few nominations was “Grand Hotel” in 1932. Records are made to be broken, but that’s a really tough stat to overcome. Furthermore, Academy members did mostly get screeners, and so it’s possible that they just didn’t respond to the film. We know first hand of BAFTA voters, at least, who respected the movie but found it a little dry. Is “Selma” just too good for the Academy (or at least refuses to pander to them enough?).
“The Theory Of Everything”
Why It Could Win: If we’re honest, this feels like the least likely of the eight to take the prize. It does at least have the backing of Focus Features, who are experienced in the game, and arguably the Best Actor front-runner in Eddie Redmayne. It’s clearly been enough of a hit to register with the Academy enough for five nominations, including the big prize, and its inspirational, beautifully acted tale is right in the wheelhouse.
Why It Might Not: Maybe without “The Imitation Game” in the race, it would have more of a shot, but that film’s likely to suck up the oxygen that this would have benefited from (including votes from the Academy’s sizable British contingent). Five nominations is nothing to be sniffed at, but it doesn’t have a lot of below-the-line support (Score was the only category where it picked up a nod there, though it has a decent shot at winning), and it missed key categories like Editing and Directing. While Redmayne could well win, that’s not necessarily helpful for Best Picture: the two categories have only matched up twice in the last decade, and they were both movies (“The King’s Speech” and “The Artist“) that swept the board, which won’t be the case this time around. Oh, and while Focus are terrific, they’ve never won a Best Picture trophy. To be honest, a nomination, and a trophy for its leading man, were always the potential victories here, not the big prize.
Why It Could Win: Like “The Theory Of Everything,” this is very much a long shot. That said, it’s not totally impossible. Without nominations in this category for ‘Foxcatcher” and “Mr. Turner,” Sony Pictures Classics can focus their efforts on the film entirely (though, like Focus, they’ve never won the big prize). More importantly, this is a film that, unlike “Imitation Game” or “Theory Of Everything,” we’ve seen palpable passion for — our screening in Cannes finished with about the loudest reaction we’ve heard for any movie ever, something that’s been replicated in theaters everywhere, and only “Selma” and “Boyhood” have better reviews this year. It also is a movie about art, and what it takes to become great, and that’s something that Academy voters should respond to.
Why It Might Not: That said, some might suggest that a film that mostly functions as an attack on mediocrity might not be entirely simpatico with the tastes of the Academy… That aside, the film is likely just too small to register as a possible winner: it’s essentially a two-hander, without scope or scale, and that’s great, but doesn’t tend to lead to a film winning the top prize. It’s also the lowest-grossing nominee (or at least will be after “American Sniper” lands a killer haul this coming weekend) by some distance, which isn’t very helpful. Perhaps we might think of it as more of a threat if Damien Chazelle had snuck into the Best Director line-up (and the film did get an editing nod, which is important). Unfortunately he didn’t, but that the film isn’t a serious contender to win shouldn’t be taken as a bad thing: “Whiplash” already has an extraordinary Cinderella story by making it this far.