We’re just days away from the 2015 Academy Awards. Before host Neil Patrick Harris does a little soft-shoe and belts out an opening number, and trophies are (possibly) handed out to American Sniper, Boyhood, and Birdman, The Daily Beast’s resident film nerds, Marlow Stern and Kevin Fallon, debate who they think will win and should win in the major categories.
In the third and final installment of the series, they take on the Best Picture and Best Director races.
Marlow: OK. Here we are. The big kahuna(s). We’ve already waxed philosophical about the female and male Oscar suitors, boldly predicting that there is a 100 percent chance someone white will win in either category. Let’s start with Best Director here. My vote (and everyone’s) has to go to Richard Linklater for his 12-year opus, Boyhood. That Boyhood has somehow lost momentum in both the Best Picture and Best Director races to a film like Birdman is beyond me. Take this bizarre hit piece by the New York Times’ culture editor two weeks ago slamming Boyhood as a rip-off of Michael Apted’s 7-Up series—a patently ridiculous claim on so many levels, and one that’s been refuted by the “paper of record’s” own gaggle of critics, all of whom named Boyhood their favorite film of 2014. No film last year affected me the way Boyhood did, inspiring Proustian flashbacks to those halcyon days of blissful naiveté and self-discovery. And Linklater directed this behemoth over a dozen years. A DOZEN YEARS.
Kevin: I’m with you. The patience, imagination, vision, intelligence, and mastery of the film medium required to shoot a film over the course of 12 years and have the finished product not be either a rambling slog or schizophrenic, but instead a complete, sharp piece of work, are astonishing. So for the love of god, why am I seeing Alejandro González Iñárritu pop up on so many pundits’ predictions? Linklater pieced together the story of a family’s entire 12-year existence while Iñárritu only had to cover a day in one man’s life—and yet it’s Birdman that had me checking my watch and squirming, bored in my seat at points, not Boyhood. Don’t get me wrong. That single-take gimmick that Iñárritu employed was awesome to watch. But it was also a gimmick. What Linklater did was honest, transformative, gimmick-free filmmaking. Why is this even a conversation?
Marlow: It shouldn’t be a conversation, and it’s straight up loco that it is. Most of the clever gimmick of Birdman wasn’t even Iñárritu’s doing! It all came courtesy of master cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki—the man who took home the Oscar last year for shooting Gravity and famously shot that riveting 5-minute single-take car chase in Children of Men (the one where Julianne Moore gets shot through the windshield and Chiwetel Ejiofor loses his shit). Without “Chivo” Lubezki reeling Iñárritu in, as well as the airtight editing, the director is prone to long, boring lulls in his films that have the cumulative effect of sucking the energy out of them (see: Babel, Biutiful). Iñárritu is often saved by both his editor and a fine stable of scenery-chewing actors, as in 21 Grams. Without the fine ensemble of Sean Penn, Naomi Watts, Benicio Del Toro, and Melissa Leo, 21 Grams would be reduced to the most heavy-handed drama imaginable.
Kevin: Brief interruption to remember how great Naomi Watts is in Birdman. “We share a vagina.” Teehee!
Marlow: Linklater, on the other hand, is arguably the most criminally underrated American filmmaker of the last 25 years. Slacker. Dazed and Confused. The Before Sunset trilogy. Waking Life. School of Rock. He’s a master at examining temporality and its effect on the human condition, and the man deserves some hardware…but I’m afraid he won’t get it, which is stressing me out.
Kevin: But is that stressing you out as much as the fact that Boyhood might not win Best Picture is stressing me out? Because it might not win Best Picture and I can point to three gray hairs on my head that I blame this for. Seriously, Boyhood might not win Best Picture! What the literal f---? If we’re going on Oscar history here, which is pretty convincing, Birdman should statistically win. Birdman has won the DGA, the SAG, and the PGA—all indicators that an Oscar win is looming. The last time the PGA winner didn’t repeat at the Oscars was 2006. That’s not good for Boyhood! Guys, if Boyhood doesn’t win Best Picture at the Oscars on Sunday night, we are all going to be very embarrassed. (Almost as embarrassed as this person who wrote this piece headlined, “Why The Imitation Game Should Win the Best Picture Oscar.”)
Marlow: Nothing is more embarrassing than that piece championing the sappy, paint-by-numbers The Imitation Game for Best Picture. And in The Washington Post? The paper that exposed Watergate? How the mighty have fallen. But back to reality. The fact that Boyhood may not win Best Picture is really stressing me out and also making me lose faith in this whole Oscar thing. People were so optimistic last year when 12 Years a Slave won Best Picture, Alfonso Cuarón took home Best Director for Gravity, and several actors of color not only received nominations—Chiwetel Ejiofor, Barkhad Abdi, and Lupita Nyong’o—but Nyong’o upset “America’s Sweetheart” Jennifer Lawrence to win Best Supporting Actress. This year, with no acting nominees of color—for the first time since 1998, as you previously covered—the Oscars seems like it's taken a big step back.
Kevin: “The Oscars are racist and voters are stupid and everything is awful.” —Kevin Fallon. It’s frustrating because the Academy has an opportunity to reward, for once, a movie that is absolutely groundbreaking in completely unexpected ways. There’s a high-tech arms race going on in Hollywood. There’s so much fawning over, by the Academy and critics alike, directors and films that find a way to transport us to different worlds—or more explosive versions of our own—using the latest special effects, visual trickery, and technical wizardry. But here is Boyhood, a movie that has managed to change the way we think about filmmaking and the ways in which we can use film to tell a story, but has found a way to do it entirely through exploring the human experience and our emotional truth. No CGI required. There were many great, important, entertaining movies this year, some that got Best Picture nominations—Selma, Whiplash, and even Birdman—and then some that never stood a chance—Gone Girl, Guardians of the Galaxy, The LEGO Movie. But Boyhood is a cinematic masterpiece. It is, literally, a BEST Picture.