BAFTA and DGA continue to suggest a tight race between “Birdman” and “Boyhood”

82nd Annual Academy Awards - Red Carpet Activities - March 3, 2010
For about 12 hours there over the weekend, it looked like the Oscar race had been settled. Once Alejandro González Iñárritu had taken the Directors Guild of America top prize late on Saturday night, it appeared that Birdman had locked itself in. After all, the film had basically swept the guilds. Then, yesterday saw the British Academy of Film and Television Awards flipped the switch, opting to heavily reward Richard Linklater and Boyhood, while also going with The Grand Budapest Hotel and The Theory of Everything in certain categories instead of Birdman. Now, we’re more or less back to square one. Birdman and Boyhood are fighting it out for Best Picture and Best Director at the Academy Awards, with no one sure which movie will emerge victorious.

There are now two distinct narratives at play. One puts Iñárritu’s Birdman out in front by a decent margin, while other has Linklater’s Boyhood still holding on to the frontrunner status with Oscar by a thread. Both have validity and both have holes that can be poked in them. Whichever is actually in the top spot right now, it’s by a slimmer margin than anyone could have rationally expected. You almost can flip a coin. That’s led a lot of people to talk about predicting a split, and while that could easily happen, it’s never smart to predict one. I’ll address that in a future column though, much like I mentioned it last year.

In favor of Birdman, we really have to look at the guild wins. While we saw Boyhood mostly run away with the early critics awards, when it got past the Golden Globes, Birdman got to shine. The groups that have crossover with the Academy cited Iñárritu and his film (particularly DGA, PGA, and SAG), which is a big deal. Movies with the precursor wins that Birdman has almost never lose Best Picture, though at the same time comedies almost never win in Best Director, let alone in Picture. That leads me to believe that while Birdman is probably in the number one slot, it’s by only a tiny margin, if a margin at all (Michael Keaton falling behind Eddie Redmayne in Best Actor gives me pause, for example). That could easily change too, in the next week and change.

In favor of Boyhood, you want to look at BAFTA, as well as what Oscar voters traditionally go for. The British voting block that’s always so important at the Academy Awards went with Linklater and his film, suggesting strength for Boyhood in that regard. That’s a plus, while at the same time Birdman wasn’t as well liked as either The Grand Budapest Hotel or The Theory of Everything when it comes to BAFTA voters. Make of that what you will, but Boyhood needed this in a big way. Had this precursor not come through for it, the race would have been over, which is insane considering how dominant it was, from the start of the precursors, right through the Golden Globes. Right now, I have no clue how this ultimately goes, but I think Linklater might have a slightly better chance in Director than Boyhood does in Picture. That’s just a hunch though. I’m really still simply scratching my head, more than anything else.

Can something else swoop in at the last minute with the upset? I highly doubt it, especially since there hasn’t been a true third place contender to really hang your hat on. At different points we’ve had The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Imitation Game, and Selma lay claim to that number three spot, while now you can potentially argue that perhaps The Theory of Everything should be considered there too. Regardless, none of them have coalesced the wide support necessary to really give it the chance to slip through the cracks and win. In another lifetime, Selma might have been that contender, but that ship seems to have very much sailed by now. I’d be genuinely shocked if it wound up pulling that upset off. It’s very much down to just Birdman or Boyhood at this point. All others need not apply, at least in Best Picture/Best Director.

It’s truly been a precursor season for the ages. I’ve never been less confident in my predictions than I am this year. Short of the locked up races in major categories like Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, and Best Supporting Actress, almost anything could happen. Hell, I expect that there will be at least one more surprise in store for us at the very end. Maybe it’s Whiplash pulling the upset in Best Adapted Screenplay? Maybe Original Screenplay works out with Picture and Director to make sure that Iñárritu and Linklater both go home with Oscars? Who knows? I just know that the Academy Awards are going to be fascinating and full of tension later on this month, and that’s a lovely change of pace…

Stay tuned to see how it all turns out!

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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