Oscar nominations analysis: ‘Imitation Game’ up, ‘Birdman’ down

To win Best Picture at the Oscars, you usually need to pick up nominations in directing, writing and editing. Those are a given: few films win the top prize without them. But they’re not the only categories to watch out for.

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Consider 2010, when “The King’s Speech” swept the nominations, including an unlikely bid for Sound Mixing. Sound categories tend to favor thrillers, action movies, epics, and musicals, so the inclusion of a smaller character-driven drama indicated how much support there was for the film across the board.

The same year, “The Social Network” did well, earning eight nominations, but its canary in the coal mine was probably Andrew Garfield, who had received Best Supporting Actor plaudits throughout the season – including nods from the Golden Globes and BAFTAs – but was left out at the Oscars. Maybe that should have been our biggest clue that the academy just wasn’t that into it.

Based on the nominations, this year’s Best Picture Oscar looks like it will go to one of four films: “Birdman,” “Boyhood,” “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” or “The Imitation Game.”

Who was helped and who was hurt? Let’s consider their respective nominations.

HELPED

The Imitation Game
The film might have just positioned itself as this year’s “King’s Speech.” It exceeded our expectations with eight total nominations. Besides “Boyhood” it’s the only film also represented in directing, acting, writing, and editing fields, which are the biggest indicators for a Best Picture win, and that Director nod for Morten Tyldum was hardly a sure thing.

Like “Boyhood,” we saw “Social Network” dominate the critics and Golden Globes, only to be overthrown by another Harvey Weinstein-backed British biopic about a heroic figure during World War II. If history repeats itself, we might see the tide suddenly turn in favor of “Imitation Game” when the industry guilds start to announce their winners.

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HURT

Birdman
Along with “Grand Budapest,” it’s the most nominated film with nine. That’s exactly as many nominations as we were predicting, and it’s up for writing, directing, and acting … but not editing.

No film has won the Best Picture Oscar without a corresponding Editing nomination since 1980. Even “Argo,” famously snubbed for Best Director (Ben Affleck), won Editing when it was claimed Best Picture in 2012.

“Birdman’s” absence from that key category is especially surprising given how showy its editing is, which usually makes this nomination a slam dunk for a top Best Picture candidate. The movie is filmed and cut to look like one continuous shot from beginning to end. That’s no mean feat. Did the academy snub it because they couldn’t see the seams? And does that rule it out for a potential Best Picture upset?

ABOUT THE SAME

“Boyhood”
Richard Linklater‘s innovative coming-of-age drama is probably still the frontrunner. It received all the nominations it was expected to get – save Best Song, which hardly an indicator for Best Picture –and contends for directing, writing, acting, and editing.

Sure, with six bids it’s only the fourth most nominated film this year (tied with “American Sniper“), but the small-scale indie was never expected to be a contender in most crafts categories, and “Crash” and “The Departed” won with fewer. If it was the favorite before, it’s still the favorite now, pending the guilds.

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The Grand Budapest Hotel
It did better than expected; we had predicted six nominations and it got nine. We’ve been underestimating the film all season, and then it dominated the Critics’ Choice and BAFTA nominations and won a surprise Golden Globe for Best Musical/Comedy Picture against “Birdman” (more on that film below).

I myself overcompensated; I thought “Budapest” would score Oscar nominations in the double-digits, including for Ralph Fiennes, who has starred in several Oscar-friendly movies since his last nomination for “The English Patient” but can’t seen to get back into the race himself (“The End of the Affair,” “The Constant Gardener, “The Reader”). His absence isn’t a deal-breaker for the film, but a nomination for the esteemed vet might have indicated greater strength for the film overall.

What did you think of this year’s nominations? Could the guilds bring about a major shift? Or will “Boyhood” win in a walk?

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