Will we have a split between Best Picture and Best Director?

Oscars envelope 600x340

As Oscar voting ends later on today, one of the big questions that remains in my mind is…will there be a Best Picture/Best Director split? Aside from trying to figure out whether Birdman or Boyhood takes the top prize, there’s also the possibility that they each go home with one of them. That leads us to the issue of how likely this is, and which film/director would go home with which statue. Will Alejandro González Iñárritu turn his Directors Guild of America win into a Best Director victory while Boyhood takes Best Picture? Will Richard Linklater wind up winning Director while Birdman transitions its Producers Guild of America win into Picture at the Oscars? It’s all up in the air, but Academy Award voters are finalizing their decisions today, so it’s getting sorted out, basically as you read this.

First of all, there’s the matter of if we’ll get a split at all. I think we have the likeliest situation perhaps in history in terms of this, at least where both major contenders are up for both categories. It was different, for example, when Ben Affleck was snubbed for Argo but the film itself was almost a lock for Best Picture. Voters here could easily pick either Iñárritu or Linklater as well as their films for both prizes (or even Best Original Screenplay too, though that seems more likely to go to The Grand Budapest Hotel now). Historically, I almost never predict splits, since they don’t often happen and you run the risk of picking the wrong combination, etc. Last year that caused me to pick Gravity to win Picture even though I knew 12 Years a Slave was ultimately going to go home with it. This year though…I’m actually contemplating the split. Regardless of that, I think it’s at least a 50/50 shot that one happens.

Now, if there’s a split, what does it look like? There’s one camp that sees Boyhood winding up with the Picture win while Iñárritu gets Director as a consolation prize. I actually think that the more likely scenario has that flipped, with Linklater getting Director and Birdman taking home Picture, but either is definitely possible. The thing is, Academy members don’t engage in group think, as it were. They vote as individuals, so you can’t quite plot a scenario where everyone goes home happy. For example, a split, along with The Grand Budapest Hotel winning Original Screenplay, gives Wes Anderson, Iñárritu, and Linklater all their first Academy Awards. That sounds lovely (and if Whiplash upsets in Best Adapted Screenplay, filmmaker Damien Chazelle gets one too), but Oscar voters aren’t planning it out like that. It’ll just be a happy accident, of sorts. That’s part of why I hesitate in predicting a split, since voters themselves aren’t actively trying to make one happen. Gun to my head though, Birdman would be the one with Picture under its belt and Boyhood/Linklater settle for Director, if said split actually goes down.

Just to play devil’s advocate, if we don’t wind up with a split, who does that favor? A normal reading of the precursors would suggest Birdman, but normalcy should be thrown out the window this year. Boyhood might be the slightly more Academy friendly picture, but neither are in their traditional wheelhouse. I’ve seen more than a handful suggest that Boyhood could still wind up winning both categories like we all predicted a month or so ago, but I find that slightly unlikely now. If there’s no split, it seems like the guilds are what to look at. In that case, Birdman takes both. Keep in mind, they both are still in play for Original Screenplay as well, though the aforementioned Anderson and Hugo Guinness seem to be the clear frontrunners there now. Iñárritu and his co-writers would be who could beat them out, but clearly the focus now is on Picture and Director.

We ultimately won’t know until Oscar night which film the Academy fancies more, but the hints might already be there. If the guilds were a true indication, Iñárritu’s film seems poised for a very good evening this weekend. If the early critics buzz sustained in voters’ heads, then it could be Linklater’s movie instead. It’s going to be a photo finish though, no doubt about that. I’m pulling my hair out trying to figure it all out (and won’t be finalizing my predictions until Friday, just to be safe), but as I’ve been saying, there’s something kind of nice about this too. Uncertainty is a pretty new thing for awards season prognostication, so I’ll take it…

Stay tuned to see if we have a Picture/Director split!

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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