Oscar Predictions Round-Up #1: How Will Genre Films Fare with the Academy This Year?
Genre films tend to get short shrift with the Academy; sci-fi, fantasy, and comic book films are not often in contention for an Oscar, even when they are widely acclaimed. The most egregious and highly cited example is Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight, whose exclusion from the Best Picture category was criticized to the point that the Academy was inspired to expand the race from five to up to ten films. And that trend continues today; Deadline recently published an article that explored the reasons why Captain America: The Winter Soldier, which was extremely well-received by critics, is not even included in the Oscar conversation. After scouring the Internet's Oscar predictions, we've only found six "genre" movies that are serious contenders in this year's race, and we're cheating, because only two of them (Interstellar and Gone Girl) are unabashedly genre. The Imitation Game and The Theory of Everything are prestige biopics, which the Academy always loves, that just happen to follow people of interest to sci-fi fans. Fury is a war drama and Birdman is a strange little indie drama, which are also not stretches for the Academy. Birdman is somewhat "genre" in the sense that it depicts a washed-up actor who played a superhero, but in doing so it actually criticizes superhero movies as much as it does intellectual snobbery.
But here are our predictions anyway, starting with the most genre movie in contention this year (which just so happens to be helmed by the director of The Dark Knight):
[Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures]
The Oscar race has changed considerably with Interstellar's premiere yesterday. Before this weekend, before anyone had actually seen the movie, it was predicted to be a top contender for all the top awards, including Best Picture, and there were even whispers of a possible win, which would be a first for a science fiction film. The early reviews were positive enough that the film can likely still count on a nomination, but they weren't nearly positive enough for a history-making win. All the critics praised it as technically astounding, so expect it to clean up in the below-the-line categories, but many found the story overly sentimental and mawkish, claiming that the weaknesses of the writing prevented the film from realizing its lofty ambitions. One could compare it to last year's Gravity or even Avatar, two other beautifully filmed technical marvels that were criticized (not enough in Gravity's case, in my opinion) for their weak dialogue and unsophisticated storylines. One could also compare the film's trajectory to Nolan's Inception, which was a widely admired blockbuster that was a lock for a nomination but didn't stand a chance in hell of winning. All of these films were nominated but didn't win, and Interstellar seems destined to follow in their footsteps.
But what about the other categories? Nolan wasn't nominated for either The Dark Knight or Inception, which may make it more likely that he will be nominated for Interstellar (remember when Argo won Best Picture, partially as penance for failing to nominate Ben Affleck?). But, unlike the Best Picture category, there's only room for five, and there are several other directors of films that are more conventional by Academy standards who are considered to be locks. As of now, he's definitely a contender, maybe even a top contender, but not at all a given.
And now for the acting categories: reviewers tended to agree that Anne Hathaway and Michael Caine were mostly wasted in their respective roles, with several claiming that both characters were given the most cringe-inducing dialogue in the film. They are both considered to be outside contenders as a result of their pedigrees, but don't expect to see them nominated. Matthew McConaughey's performance was predictably acclaimed, but the combination of tepid reviews and an unbelievably strong Leading Actor field means that he is not at all guaranteed a nomination. The surest thing for Interstellar is actually Jessica Chastain, whose performance was almost as acclaimed as McConaughey's and who has the advantage of a relatively weak Supporting Actress field.
[Credit: Fox Searchlight Pictures]
Like we said, Birdman is not a superhero movie, it's decidedly an anti-superhero movie, but it's definitely a genre-bender, so we'll include it anyway. This film has been met with near-universal acclaim for every single aspect: the writing, the acting, the cinematography, the distinctive direction (it's cut to look like one long take), but most of all the weirdness, which walks a perfect tightrope between a light and dark tone. As of now, Alejandro González Iñárritu is predicted to win Best Director (with a possible spoiler of Richard Linklater for Boyhood), while Birdman and The Imitation Game are neck-and-neck for both the Best Picture and the Best Actor races, while Ed Norton and Emma Stone are all but guaranteed nominations in the Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress categories, respectively. Ed Norton is a top contender and could possibly win, but will likely be beaten by J.K. Simmons for Whiplash.
The Imitation Game
[Credit: The Weinstein Company]
It's a toss-up whether The Imitation Game or Birdman will win Best Picture or Best Actor, and while Morten Tyldum will almost certainly be nominated for Best Director, he likely won't win. But if The Imitation Game does lose those three categories to Birdman, it could still win in the Best Supporting Actress Category, as Keira Knightley will almost definitely be nominated and is much more likely to win than Emma Stone (although Knightley could still lose to Patricia Arquette in Boyhood). Either way, Birdman, Boyhood, and The Imitation Game will definitely be the films to watch this year, as one of them will most likely achieve the distinction of most nominations and/or most wins.
The Theory of Everything
[Credit: Focus Features]
The Theory of Everything was considered to be more of a contender earlier in the year, but as time has passed it has dropped in favor considerably. While it has often been compared to The Imitation Game, as they are both biopics of scientists with amazing acting pedigrees on their side, The Theory of Everything is much more sentimental, with the major focus on the relationship between Stephen and Jane Hawking. The Imitation Game, on the other hand, incorporates World War II and a touch of homosexuality, which are both historically much more popular with Academy voters. While The Theory of Everything still has a reasonably good chance of being nominated (although it's no longer considered to be a top contender), its trajectory will likely be much less like The Imitation Game's and much more like 2005's relationship-centric biopic Walk the Line. Walk the Line was popular and critically acclaimed, but wasn't even nominated for Best Picture and mostly functioned as a showcase for its actors, garnering Joaquin Phoenix a nomination for Best Actor and Reese Witherspoon a win for Best Actress. Similarly, Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones are both widely considered locks for nominations, although neither are projected for a win.
[Credit: 20th Century Fox]
Predictions have been slightly inconsistent on this David Fincher thriller, with some placing it squarely in the top five and others citing it as one of many contenders for the last few spots. However, the vast majority list it in top ten contenders, so with the expanded Best Picture field it can likely expect a nomination. David Fincher is one of the directors in contention for a nomination, and in fact he and Christopher Nolan may be duking it out for the last spot. Ben Affleck would be one of the top contenders in almost any other year, but the crowded Best Actor race has all but crowded him out, and he's now considered to be a dark horse contender. Rosamund Pike, on the other hand, who benefits from a more widely acclaimed performance and a weaker race, is virtually guaranteed a nomination, but will likely be beaten by Julianne Moore in Still Alice. Tyler Perry and Neil Patrick Harris's names have both been mentioned for the Supporting Actor Race, but their chances seem relatively slim.
[Credit: Columbia Pictures]
This Brad Pitt vehicle got plenty of Oscar buzz before its release as a result of its Academy-friendly subject matter and impressive acting pedigree, but its mixed-to-negative reviews following last week's opening have relegated it to "dark horse" status in the Best Picture and Best Actor categories, with Logan Lerman an extremely long shot for a Best Supporting Actor nomination.
Other Oscar News
-Jennifer Aniston's indie vehicle, Cake, will officially be released this year, which makes her a very strong contender in the Best Actress race.
-Can we talk about the Academy's obsession with biopics? We don't consider biographical drama to be "genre" in the way we're talking about, unless the person on which it is based is of interest to genre fans for some reason. But if we did consider it a genre, it would clean up. Of the twenty or so films that are in the conversation this year, a whopping seven are biopics (Imitation Game, Theory of Everything, Unbroken, American Sniper, Foxcatcher, Big Eyes, and Mr. Turner).