Did “Birdman” just soar into the lead of the Oscar race?

Birdman Alejandro González Iñárritu Michael Keaton
Barely more than 48 hours ago, it seemed like almost a foregone conclusion that Richard Linklater’s Boyhood was going to basically walk away with the top Academy Awards this year. Then, the guilds began to chime in and boy do we now have an Oscar race. Over the weekend, the Producers Guild of America and the Screen Actors Guild bestowed their top prizes not on Boyhood, but on Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Birdman. This sets up a new dynamic in the awards race, as the guilds have favored Birdman over Boyhood. The season is far from over, but the impending Directors Guild of America pick will perhaps say a lot about if Iñárritu and Birdman are now in the lead for Oscar. Simply put…we’ve got a race.

How did we get here? Well, it basically is just the change in season. We’ve gone from critics groups and non Academy related voting bodies like the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (only one voter for the Golden Globes casts a vote for the Oscars) to guilds that have a high crossover with Oscar. Both PGA and SAG could have basically made this a coronation for Boyhood, but they’ve chosen to throw their weight behind Birdman, making for a much closer race. While the early stages of the season saw Boyhood take almost everything, all but burying The Imitation Game and Selma in the process (while seeing American Sniper and The Grand Budapest Hotel have late breaking surges), the past week has shown a sea change. Boyhood is still heavily in it, but Birdman might very well be slightly in front now. They’ve put everyone else in their rearview mirror, making for a two horse sprint to the finish.

Sure, you can make a case that in the big category American Sniper and The Imitation Game are still hanging in there, along with a long shot for The Grand Budapest Hotel, it’s really down to Birdman or Boyhood. You can cross off Selma (barring essentially a protest vote that I don’t see happening), The Theory of Everything, and Whiplash from having any chance. What makes this interesting is how unusual these contenders are and how non-traditional they would be as Best Picture winners. That’s pretty cool in my book, beyond seeing just how close this Oscar race has gotten as we finish up with the guilds and begin the waiting game for the Academy Awards to finally make their pick.

I’ll be updating my predictions at the end of the week, but right now I’m inclined to actually be considering a split between Best Picture and Best Director. Now, I’m not sure at all if that means that Birdman wins Picture and Linklater takes Director, or if Boyhood is what takes Picture while Director goes to Iñárritu, but that’s how close things are. This doesn’t even take into account Best Original Screenplay, where they’ll be competing as well, along with potential spoiler The Grand Budapest Hotel. Having Boyhood nominated in Best Film Editing while Birdman was snubbed there gives me some pause about the latter taking Picture, but two guilds in a row are hard to argue with. At worst, it’s almost a tie.

One thing is for sure, and that’s the fact that we have a hell of a race to the finish on our hands. Early on, it seemed like we had no clue what would win Best Picture (Foxcatcher and The Imitation Game were popular picks), at least before the fall turned to winter. Then, it looked like Boyhood had a legitimate chance, though Selma crashed the party and looked like it was poised to run away with the big win. That was short lived though, as Boyhood racked up precursor win after precursor win, establishing itself as the one to beat. That was where we were right up until this past weekend, when Birdman showed its strength with the guilds. This reminds me a bit of when The Social Network won all the critics groups before seeing The Kings Speech take the guilds and wind up winning it all on Oscar night. These films don’t compare at all, and I’m not saying that’s what’s going to happen, but it’s a template that the Oscar season could now wind up following. We shall see…

Stay tuned to see if Birdman winds up pulling off the come from behind victory!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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