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.


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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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?


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?

4 thoughts on “Oscar nominations analysis: ‘Imitation Game’ up, ‘Birdman’ down

  1. “The Imitation Game” just seems to be sort of…sitting there. What can it actually win? Maybe it can take Best Screenplay, but beyond that I dont see anything unless its period aesthetics pull a “Lincoln” with a surprise Production design win. The race would have to change dramatically in this second phase for it to come near a best picture win. Which would be entirely disappointing considering the other three films are much more unique offerings.

  2. Yes, I do think Birdman got snubbed from editing because they couldn’t see the seams. Even with the seams though, weren’t the takes in that movie quite long? The editing in that film was a magic trick for sure, but it was also kind of minimal. Maybe they just wanted to see more editing to give a film a nomination in that category? I think Birdman is still in the top 3 to possibly win best film, for sure. I think the two sound nominations are kind of telling in how much they liked it too. Is Birdman really a great feat of sound editing and sound mixing or did it just get nominated in those categories because they liked it so much?

  3. I am a big fan of Birdman and think the visual concept of one long shot for the film was brilliant. It is indeed a wonderful magic trick, but one the film editor had relatively little to do with. The heavy-lifting was done by the director and the cinematographer. They created these very long takes through extensive planning and hard work and turned them over to the film editor. What did the editor have to do? Match the shot at the end of one take with the shot at the beginning of the next take. That’s it! Why would you give someone an Oscar nomination for that?

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