With the Academy Awards ceremony several months away and many of the major contenders still unseen, I’ll admit that I have very little confidence in my current Oscar predictions. Six months from now, I’m sure that I’ll look back and laugh at my ridiculous early picks. (Of course, I’ll probably look back and laugh at my ridiculous final picks, too. You can look forward to more hilarious podcasts with my eternal nemesis, the terrible Tom O’Neil.)
But there’s one thing that I do feel fairly strongly about at this point.
“Boyhood” probably won’t win the Best Picture Oscar.
Before anyone gets all bent out of shape, please hear me out. And know that this has nothing to do with my own personal feelings about the film. I loved “Boyhood” and would be delighted to see it clean up at the Dolby Theater in February. However, it appears to me that history is simply not on its side. Below, here are five reasons why I don’t see “Boyhood” winning Best Picture of 2014.
Reason One: It’s such a small film.
When it comes to Best Picture, bigger is usually better. Historical settings, enormous casts, elaborate production design and sweeping cinematography often bode well. (Think of everything from classics like “Gone with the Wind,” and “Lawrence of Arabia” to the more recent “Titanic,” “Gladiator” and “12 Years a Slave.”) Even more modest Best Picture champions typically pack significant energy, conflict and action. (See “American Beauty,” “Crash” and “Slumdog Millionaire.”) “Boyhood” provides a thoughtful, intimate cinematic experience, but it’s very quiet one without major impact. Will a large number of academy voters rank this number one on the final ballot? Looking at the list of the 86 Best Picture winners, “Boyhood” seems like an unlikely choice for number 87.
Reason Two: It will receive a limited number of nominations.
Generally speaking, the more nominations a film reaps, the better its Best Picture prospects are. How many nods can a movie like “Boyhood” really expect at most? The general consensus appears to be six: Picture, Director, Supporting Actress (Patricia Arquette), Supporting Actor (Ethan Hawke), Original Screenplay and Film Editing. What’s especially troubling is that “Boyhood” will likely be shut out of most of the craft categories. With all academy members voting for Best Picture using a preferential ballot, widespread support is critical. How much support will “Boyhood” really receive from the technical branches, especially going up against extravagant films like “Foxcatcher,” “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” and “Unbroken?” Those movies combine show performances with strong technical achievements – the traditional formula for earning the Academy Award. If “Boyhood” receives significantly fewer nominations than other films, it may simply be out of its league.
Reason Three: The critical darling doesn’t usually win Best Picture.
I suspect that many pundits are probably predicting “Boyhood” due to its stellar reviews – currently 99% on Rotten Tomatoes. It won’t be at all surprising if “Boyhood” is named best picture by the New York Film Critics Circle, the Los Angeles Film Critics Association and numerous other critics’ groups. However, that doesn’t necessarily translate to Oscar success. Look at “Saving Private Ryan,” Sideways,” Brokeback Mountain” and “The Social Network.” All of them took several major critics’ prizes, but failed to win the Academy Award. My theory is that critics look at what they take away from a movie, whereas Academy members consider the work that goes into making a movie. Those are two very different things. The critical praise for “Boyhood” might win it awards from the movie reviewers, but it doesn’t guarantee it Oscar votes.
Reason Four: It might lose several of the key precursor awards.
Regardless of how the critics vote, “Boyhood” will face its first big test at the Golden Globes (assuming that it gets nominated.) The Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. typically goes for glitz and the glamour…how likely is it that the group will select “Boyhood” over the likes of “Unbroken” and “Foxcatcher?” Then there are the SAG Awards. If it’s in contention, does “Boyhood” have any chance of defeating the large ensembles in “The Grand Budapest Hotel” and “Into the Woods?” Finally, how about BAFTA? Can we expect those in the British film industry to embrace a small film about growing up in America, over other films with much more international appeal? If “Boyhood” loses all these races, it’s difficult to imagine it still winning the Oscar.
Reason Five: Family drama is no longer the popular Academy genre that it once was.
There was a time when family dramas fared very well at the Oscars. Consider the Best Picture wins by 1979’s “Kramer vs. Kramer,” 1980’s “Ordinary People,” and 1983’s “Terms of Endearment.” Those films were based on acclaimed novels and boasted big-name stars. They focused heavily on serious social issues, like divorce, suicide and cancer. And they each had their signature scenes, like Meryl Streep reuniting with Justin Henry in Central Park in “Kramer” and Shirley MacLaine screaming “Give my daughter the shot!” in “Terms.” “Boyhood” feels different in so many ways. An original script, it doesn’t have the literary prestige of those other films. While Arquette and Hawke are respectable enough, they’re not Oscar favorites like Dustin Hoffman, Robert Redford and MacLaine were when their respective films won. And even though “Boyhood” touches on issues like alcoholism and domestic violence, they’re not really central themes of the picture. “Boyhood” just isn’t your ordinary Oscar winner, in terms of the classic family drama.
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