Who to Bet on Come Oscar Night

Best Director – In recent years, Best Director has become an easy way to knock off a few of the Best Picture candidates from serious consideration.  Since in years past Best Picture winner invariably took Best Director as well, the theory goes that those without a Director nod are unlikely to take home the Academy’s big prize.  But the reverse is also true; Best Director nominees without a Best Picture nod will be hard-pressed to make up for that disadvantage.  So while Selma, The Theory of Everything, Whiplash and American Sniper are unlikely to upset their competators for Best Picture, Foxcatcher is likely not much of a ringer for Best Director.

The Imitation Game also seems like an unlikely winner in this category.  Despite its chillingly patient direction that easily moves through the years and parallel threads of one extraordinary man’s life, it is unequivocally an actor’s movie: carried by the warmth, nuance and depth of its principle cast and especially Benedict Cumberbatch.


The Grand Budapest Hotel succumbs to the same faults as The Imitation Game: drawing too deeply from Academy voters who aren’t members of the directing branch.  In its case, it, along with all of Anderson’s films, predominately appeal to writers.  While quirk and newness can go along way in any of the categories, the directing branch tends to award either scope (ala Gravity), or emotional intensity (ala The Artist), neither of which is Anderson’s aim here.

The remaining two nominees – Boyhood and Birdman – may very well be a toss-up: what one particular voter happens to feel like on the day that the ballots are due.  Boyhood, which was shot intermittedly over a twelve-year period to allow its cast to age in real-time throughout the film, has the ambitious scope and breadth that the branch tends to prefer.  Birdman, however, plays to the branches love of style (oftentimes over substance).  Not only does it incorporate tracking shots and hidden edits to create the illusion of a continuously filmed narrative (much like the stage play it depicts), it blurs the lines of delusion and reality until the two become inseperable on screen (and within the mind of its protagonist).  If I had to choose, however, Boyhood‘s status as the clear front runner makes it a much safer bet between the two.

Who to bet on:  Boyhood

Best Original Screenplay – As I have already mentioned, Anderson is the writing branch’s poster-child.  He’s fun, quirky and just off-beat enough to be a breath of fresh air among more formulaic nominees.  Even though his script is squaring off the two front runners in virtually every other category – Boyhood and Birdman – neither hits the same notes as strongly as The Grand Budapest Hotel.

While both Nightcrawler and Foxcatcher hit on a dark intensity that will invariably energize their supporters within the branch, I can’t help but feel that it will resonate strongly with enough voters.  Neither script has the precedent that Anderson’s work has nor the profile that all three of their competitors have.

Who to bet on:  The Grand Budapest Hotel

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Best Adapted Screenplay – Unlike Original Screenplay, Adapted Screenplay is a wide-open race, with no clear front runner in sight.  Conceivably, any one of the five nominees can walk away with the prize.

American SniperThe Imitation Game and Whiplash at least have the distinct advantage of being Best Picture nominees, although that alone won’t win over this particular branch of the Academy.  American Sniper is more of a Clint Eastwood film than a Jason Hall one.  Hall’s previous work inspire little love among likely voters and his work will almost certainly be overshadowed by its director and lead actor.

The Imitation Game stands a fair chance, given how its script seamlessly weaves between three different time periods of Alan Turing’s life (his childhood at boarding school, his struggles at breaking the Nazi’s Enigma code, his latter days of persecution by the British government for homosexuality).  Whether that alone can muster up the votes needed to win out against its competition remains to be seen, however.

What The Imitation Game wins with finesse, Whiplash wins with sheer ferocity.  Its engrossingly energetic screenplay could potentially whip voters into a passionate frenzy that drowns out support for the other four films.  It really depends on how strongly that intensity resonates with other writers and how much of it is dismissed as unsubtle.

Inherent Vice

The Theory of Everything‘s inclusion baffles me here even more than it did as a Best Picture candidate.  I could at least understand eeking into the previous category on the strength of its performances, but I have not heard one word of praise for its script.  If anything, it’s been dismissed as dull, if not outright boring.  I wouldn’t bet on an upset at the Oscars, though.

Inherent Vice is the real wild card of the bunch.  Film is an inherently extroverted art form: outwardly expressing actions and visuals for others to see.  Unlike novels, which can afford to be more introverted – to delve more deeply and more completely into the minds of their characters, films, by their very nature, have to operate at more of a surface level.  Thomas Pynchon’s novels are among the most extreme examples of introverted writing.  Everything comes down to how well the novel’s structure and dialog translate onto the screen, which is a dubious proposition at best.

Who to bet on:  The Imitation Game

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