You could practically feel the air go out of Film Twitter last night as it became increasingly clear that “Birdman” was going to win Best Picture and “Boyhood” would go home nearly empty-handed. First “Boyhood” lost Best Editing, usually considered a bellwether for the top prize, to “Whiplash” (the simulated single-take “Birdman” was not nominated), and then original screenplay and director, at which point the resentments that had been building for weeks came into full flower. It may not be the Academy’s “worst mistake in 20 years” — it hasn’t been that long since “The Artist” — but for those who aren’t Bird-fans, it represents the triumph of flashy artifice over modest dedication, or at least, as Tom Carson put it in the New Republic, the recognition of a gimmick that doesn’t work over one that does.
Read more: ‘Birdman,’ or The Drawbacks of Obvious Greatness
Numerically speaking, “Boyhood” wasn’t Oscar night’s biggest loser. That would be “The Imitation Game,” which won only one of the eight categories in which is was nominated. But there was an even greater omission from the winners’ ranks: Hollywood blockbusters. As the Oscar ceremony’s ratings have dropped, critics have attacked the Academy for favoring boutique productions over popular entertainments, and while that shift has as much if not more to do with changes in box office patterns than the voters’ tastes — try to imagine the present-day equivalent of “Out of Africa” grossing over $100 million — they’ve usually managed to find a way to recognize movies like “The Bourne Ultimatum” and “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” in the technical categories.
“American Sniper,” the highest-grossing Best Picture nominee and the third-highest-grossing in any category, did take home the prize for sound editing, but it lost sound mixing to “Whiplash,” whose $12 million box-office take is a drop in the bucket next to “Sniper’s” $428 million. “Interstellar,” which in spite of lukewarm domestic response has made nearly $700 million worldwide, was justly awards for its visual effects, but in doing so, it beat out the even more successful “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” ($709 million global) and “Guardians of the Galaxy” ($774 million). The prevailing sentiment in interviews with Oscar voters seemed to be that they wanted to give “Guardians” something, but it left empty-handed, also losing best hair and makeup to “The Grand Budapest Hotel.”
Other than “American Sniper” and “Interstellar,” the only movie in the top 40 domestic grossers to take home an Oscar was “Big Hero 6,” which beat out “How to Train Your Dragon 2” for Best Animated Feature. Also among the box-office winners and Oscar losers: “The LEGO Movie,” which was omitted from the animation category altogether, “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies,” “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” “Gone Girl,” “Into the Woods” and “Unbroken.”
With a domestic take of only $37 million, “Birdman” is the second-lowest-grossing Best Picture winner in decades; only “The Hurt Locker,” with $17 million domestic, made less. But with rare exceptions like “The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King,” the Academy has been trending away from box-office champions for decades. What’s more noteworthy is that on a night when every one of the eight Best Picture nominees went home with at least one award, the movies more people actually saw ended up with nothing to do but count their money.