I suppose I should feel like I have more of a shouting interest this year’s Oscars. After all, my no. one and no. two films of the year — The Grand Budapest Hotel and Birdman — are up for Best Picture. And, yes, I will be over the moon if Grand Budapest wins (improbable as that is). For that matter, I will be pretty darn happy if Birdman takes the big prize. The trick is that Grand Budapest is a comedy — one with a deep undercurrent of sadness, but still it is a comedy, and that’s generally not a plus with the Academy. Technically, Birdman is kind of a comedy, but a very…well, odd one. Even its admirers are divided, it seems, as to what is good about it and what isn’t. (Personally, I don’t think there is anything about it that isn’t good — even great, though I hesitate to use that word on a movie I’ve known for less than a year.)
Then there are six other titles under consideration here — and most of them are, by and large, much safer choices. Even the supposedly daring Boyhood is relatively safe. Strip it of its 12-years-in-the-making “real life” gimmick and what do you have? An adequately made — but hardly inspired — very long dysfunctional family drama with mostly marginal performances. At bottom, it’s as safe as the almost painfully safe Theory of Everything — a romantic biopic that might have been made just about the same way by MGM in 1940. Equally safe, but a much better film, is The Imitation Game. It might have been this year’s The King’s Speech (2010), but the fact that it ends with a kind of slap in the face may play against it. If it wins, though, I’ll just shrug it off with, “Forget it, Jake, it’s Oscartown.” Flawed though it is, I’d rather see Selma win, but I think that’s a long-shot.
Even more of a long-shot is the somewhat mystifying presence of Whiplash on this list. I’ve heard it called “the annual nod to the indies.” Maybe so, but if you want to get technical about it, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Birdman, Boyhood, The Theory of Everything, Selma, and even The Imitation Game can be called indies. That leaves American Sniper as the only full-blown mainstream candidate. It is also the one that will put me in “take a hostage” mode if it wins — less because I find it morally dubious (though I do) than because I think it is a very mediocre film — and that’s at the best of times.
The rest of the categories…well, giving Best Director to anyone other than Wes Anderson or Alejandro González Iñárritu strikes me as absurdity. Of course, it’s not like the Oscars are unknown for their absurdities. It looks like Julianne Moore is all but a bet certain to win for Best Actress. Now, if that happens and Bradley Cooper wins Best Actor (I sincerely hope not), it will offer a new clue to Things Oscar Voters Like. (More on that after the awards are over.) We already know they like fake noses, which might be the very thing that pushes Steve Carell into Best Actor award, even though his at first creepy performance in Foxcatcher seems more zomboid as the film wears on.
This year, I’m going to try something a little different. Rather than doing a late night/early morning post mortem (you have to be as tired of reading those as I am of writing them), I’m going to use the Comments function to remark on the wins as they occur in something like real time. (I hope.) This, of course, means that readers can weigh in throughout the festivities, too. We’ll see how this works out.