Watching it is like finding money in the pocket of a coat that you haven’t worn in years.
The Producers Guild of America announced their set of ten nominees for the Best Picture of the Year on Monday—“American Sniper", "Birdman", "Boyhood", "Foxcatcher", "Gone Girl", "The Grand Budapest Hotel", "The Imitation Game", "Nightcrawler", "The Theory of Everything" and "Whiplash"—and Ava DuVernay’s “Selma” was a notable exclusion. The good news for the film's supporters is that the PGA has never been a perfect predictor for Oscar, statistically paralleling the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences at nearly an 80% success rate. So the awards season question now lingers—which two films won’t make the cut and will “Selma” replace them?
One could be “American Sniper.” The PGA historically loves Eastwood, going so far as to nominate 2009's "Invictus," which at the time was considered a much stronger Oscar candidate than "American Sniper". Clint's latest film has revved up the ad campaign in advance of its impending wide release on Jan. 16 but it has not found a lot of love in the awards game until recently (also garnering technical nods in both the Editors and Art Directors' guilds.) Before its PGA nod, the film had not received a single nomination for Best Picture amongst any critics group. The last film to pull off that trick and still get a Best Picture nomination was "The Blind Side" in 2009 and that was a considerable box office smash by then. Though it also did not have a Producers Guild nomination.
The other shaky contender on the PGA list is Bennett Miller's "Foxcatcher." It has done a bit better than "American Sniper," mostly thanks to an abundance of mentions for Mark Ruffalo's supporting performance. Other than that it has received only a couple nods for Steve Carell's dramatic turn as John du Pont and a Golden Globe nom for Best Dramatic Motion Picture (it's only one before the PGA.) Outside the hopes it might still be able to swing a BAFTA nomination on Friday, no film in this time period has received such little support (again, aside from "The Blind Side" anomaly) and been nominated for Best Picture. Even the lambasted "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close" had more precursors in its favor.
With seven or perhaps even all eight of the rest of the PGA nominees looking like solid contenders, the speculation now goes the other way into what is missing from PGA but won’t be from the Academy. The obvious answer would still seem to be Ava DuVernay's "Selma," which some even consider the favorite to win it all. It seems a tough fight though. Since the inception of the PGA in 1989, only eight films to win their award have not gone on to win Best Picture. (This includes last year's tie when "Gravity" eventually lost to "12 Years a Slave".) “Selma” is in the precarious position of not even being nominated by the PGA, and only one film in history pulled off the feat of PGA Snub to Oscar Glory—Mel Gibson’s “Braveheart,” nearly twenty years ago. First, “Selma” has to be nominated though, and it still seems a good bet that it will.
This week’s Writers Guild of America nominations didn’t help. DuVernay's film, along with notable contenders such as "Birdman" and "The Theory of Everything," were ineligible from contention. As were the scripts for "Mr. Turner" and "Calvary," which could have used a shot to boost its chances in the category. But favorites "The Grand Budapest Hotel", "Boyhood" and "Nightcrawler" were all nominated on the Original side, while "Gone Girl", "The Imitation Game" and "Wild" all remained firmly in the game on the Adapted front. Besides "Theory"'s ineligibility, also absent from the adaptations was Paul Thomas Anderson's "Inherent Vice" which has become a player as of late. Those final two slots were instead taken by "American Sniper" and Marvel's summer blockbuster "Guardians of the Galaxy".
Due to the numerous disqualifications over the years, the Writers Guild nominees have hardly been an accurate predictor of what the Academy will go for. In the past five years, "The King's Speech", "Django Unchained" and "12 Years a Slave" were all WGA-ineligible and their screenplays ended up winning Oscars. Further muddying up the works is the late admission that Damien Chazelle's "Whiplash" will now be considered an Adapted Screenplay rather than an Original. This despite the fact that the short film was created as a mini-version of the feature to secure funding, using the full screenplay as its basis. Will that kill it altogether or simply turn it into a favorite to secure a nomination amongst the adaptations? If it does, "Inherent Vice" and/or "Theory of Everything" likely does not make the cut. "Birdman" is almost certain to pop up on the Academy's list for Original Screenplay but that absentee slot left by "Whiplash" could then make room for J.C. Chandor's "A Most Violent Year", Mike Leigh's "Mr. Turner", John Michael McDonagh's "Calvary", or, most likely, Paul Webb's script for "Selma".
The film's first real hurdle occurs this weekend at the Globes. While many would rather not put any true stock in the legitimacy of what this weekend's awards represent, the sad fact is that many eyes will be on it, and this is a time when the race can take a turn.
J.K. Simmons and Patricia Arquette will likely begin an almost unanimous string of victories and legitimize themselves as the odds-on favorites in the supporting categories. "Birdman" should take home a pair of awards in the Comedy category for Michael Keaton and Best Picture. Keaton's status as a frontrunner for the Oscar will be directly challenged by whoever walks away with the Best Actor trophy on the drama side. Will voters split their vote between the two British genius films or will the added physical acumen of Eddie Redmayne give him the edge over Benedict Cumberbatch? If Jake Gyllenhaal wins, it will only confirm that he has gone from an underdog that critics pushed for recognition since "Nightcrawler"'s premiere at the Toronto Film Festival to a legit candidate for a sure Oscar nomination next Tuesday. A victory by him would also provide Keaton some breathing room since anyone else is likely a greater direct threat to win the Oscar.
A Golden Globe victory for David Oyelowo would certainly put "Selma" in the spotlight but make note that no actor has ever won the Oscar without being nominated by the Screen Actors Guild, which Oyelowo was not. In fact, the only actor to win Golden Globes Dramatic award without being nominated for SAG was Jim Carrey in "The Truman Show." Then he was snubbed by the Academy too. "Selma" itself is probably best hoping to have a split year, aiming for Best Picture while the well-respected Richard Linklater gets his due for putting 12 years into a project and making roughly eight other films during that period too. "Selma" is getting recognized but has not won any Oscar-centric awards from any voting body aside from the African-American Film Critics Association. This is the period when "The King's Speech" began the momentum shift over "The Social Network" in 2010. “Selma” needs to make that shift over “Boyhood” this weekend.
As for the actress categories, Best Actress in a Comedy or Musical is the most difficult one to call. Amy Adams may be the favorite just for having the best shot at getting another Oscar nomination of the group, but this category seems to have little eventual impact on who will win the Oscar. The speculation is that the Academy Award is Julianne Moore's to lose. Many felt that Meryl Streep was in line for her third Oscar back in 2009 as well for playing Julia Child in "Julie & Julia". Then "The Blind Side" happened. There is no major box office hit at the end of the year to challenge Moore in this way, but there is a film that only select voters have seen and it could shake things up in a way that should be held as very suspect.
The film in question is "Cake" and it is Jennifer Aniston's dramatic turn that has turned into surprise nominations from not only the Golden Globes and the Broadcast Film Critics Association, but also SAG. The film premiered in Toronto to mixed reviews at best. (It currently holds a 44% rating at Rotten Tomatoes and a 46 score at Metacritic.) It received a small qualifying run and has received not a single nomination outside of the three groups mentioned. Would screeners have improved its chances with other voting bodies? Those scores suggest otherwise. What about the cupcake batter that was sent to some voters along with the film? Will that be the extra nudge for Aniston to steal the Golden Globe and maybe the Oscar from the soon-to-be five-time nominee Moore? Or will the whole discussion be proven moot if Reese Witherspoon wins for "Wild"? Be ready to join the debate either way as the Globes telecast proves to either be a game changer or just be a preview of what many prognosticators have been assuming for weeks.
Best Motion Picture (Drama): "Boyhood"
Best Motion Picture (Comedy or Musical): "Birdman"
Best Actor (Drama): Eddie Redmayne "The Theory of Everything"
Best Actor (Comedy): Michael Keaton "Birdman"
Best Actress (Drama): Julianne Moore "Still Alice"
Best Actress (Comedy): Amy Adams "Big Eyes"
Best Supporting Actor: J.K. Simmons "Whiplash"
Best Supporting Actress: Patricia Arquette "Boyhood"
Best Director: Richard Linklater "Boyhood"
Best Screenplay: Wes Anderson "The Grand Budapest Hotel"
Best Original Score: Antonio Sanchez "Birdman"
Best Original Song: "Glory" from "Selma"
Best Animated Feature: "The Lego Movie"
Best Foreign Language Film: "Ida"