Narrowing the Field
Why am I calling this year's Oscars, on February 22nd, the "Caucasian Consensus," when Selma is one of the eight nominees for Best Picture? Because that landmark film about Martin Luther King Jr.'s 1965 civil-rights march has only one other nomination, for Best Song. Not one person of color appears among the 20 nominees for acting. Apparently, the Academy thought it gave last year when it awarded 12 Years a Slave the gold. The message from white voters? Don't get uppity. So scratch Selma and the other three Best Picture nominees whose directors didn't make the cut. That's you, American Sniper, The Theory of Everything and Whiplash.
OK, Sniper boasts a box office ($300 million and climbing) that pulverizes the presumptive favorite, Boyhood ($25 million), and its other rivals. But Michael Moore and a fat chunk of liberal Hollywood don't cotton to a film that, they think, celebrates a Navy SEAL for a record 160 kills in Iraq. Nonetheless, American Sniper is clearly the people's choice in this race. But please remember, the 6,000 or so Academy voters aren't people. They're industry types invested in using the Oscars to reflect a pumped-up and pompous image of themselves to the globe. That's why comedies rarely win Best Picture. Bad news for The Grand Budapest Hotel. Despite tying Birdman for the most nominations (nine), Hotel will have to settle for a congeniality prize. But, hey, isn't Birdman a comedy? Yeah, but it's edged with disillusion, despair and suicide. That, Hollywood can relate to.
Since 2009, the Academy has allowed itself up to 10 nominees for Best Picture. And yet this year, it chose only eight, suggesting a thin field. Really! Foxcatcher is nominated for acting, directing and writing, but it's not worthy of Best Picture? Indelible indies such as Under the Skin, Nightcrawler, Snowpiercer, Locke, Mr. Turner, A Most Violent Year and Dear White People got shafted, along with studio releases of fierce intelligence (Interstellar, Inherent Vice, Gone Girl).
In the race between Boyhood and Birdman, I see only one dark horse in the bunch. That would be The Imitation Game, nominated in all the right categories (picture, director, writer, actor, supporting actress and editor). More crucially, Harvey Weinstein has put all his company's marketing weight into turning an Academy vote for The Imitation Game into a vote for Alan Turing, the computer pioneer and gay martyr played by Benedict Cumberbatch. Gay leaders and technocrats are featured in the ads. Google chairman Eric Schmidt is quoted as saying, "Every time you use a phone or a computer, you use the ideas that Alan Turing invented." Too much? Weinstein knows the Oscar game better than anyone, bringing home The King's Speech over The Social Network in 2011 and The Artist over The Descendants the following year. Never discount the Harvey factor.
Boyhood. Richard Linklater filmed this story of a Texas boy (Ellar Coltrane) growing up over 12 years, from six to 18, with the same cast and the same artistry. The naysayers claim it's a gimmick. They're wrong. It's a classic.
The signs point to Birdman. The Producers Guild and the Screen Actors Guild put it on top. Director Alejandro G. Iñárritu's tale of a washed-up actor (Michael Keaton) making a comeback explodes with creativity. The naysayers claim it's style over substance. They're wrong. It's a classic. But Boyhood has my heart, for keeps.