Boy oh “Boyhood,” for the past few days I’ve been trying to search for clarity in the Oscars race for Best Picture.
“Boyhood” started as the early frontrunner winning the critics’ awards. Then “Birdman” took flight claiming the top prize from PGA, SAG and DGA and scoring at a slew of other guilds as well. Important gongs for the challenger, because these groups represent many branches of the academy. But then “Boyhood” rallied at the BAFTAs, which could be telling as there is a sizable British contigent among Oscar voters.
In one corner, a film that shows the struggles and joys of a boy embarking on a journey to the beginning adulthood. In the other, a film about a man at the end of a career reflecting on the life he’s left behind. It’s a boy taking on a man; both trying to find meaning and hope at opposite ends of their lives. It’s a showdown perfect for a Hollywood that has a propensity to not just celebrate youth but also a good comeback story.
The problem with a close race like this is you can find precursors to justify either taking the top prize and you can find records or stats to argue against either prevailing. But the facts are these — no record is unbreakable and no precursor is a lock.
At the end of the day, I’m banking on “Boyhood” and here’s why:
1. In a close race, I always go with the more sentimental film as with recent champs “Slumdog Millionaire” (2008) and “The King’s Speech” (2010). Oscar voters love their heart strings tugged and “Boyhood” does that as we watch these children grow up. “Birdman,” while brilliant (and it is brilliant!), is a cynical film with less likable characters. Two such dour films without happy endings that have prevailed in recent years have been “No Country for Old Men,” which was largely competing against similar fare in 2007, and 2006’s “The Departed,” which had a criminally overdue Martin Scorsese at the helm.
2. Being filmed over the course of 12 years gives “Boyhood” a hook that makes it feel special. Much as being a black and white silent film helped “The Artist” stand out in the crowd.
3. And “Boyhood” is more likely to benefit from the preferential ballot. In such a close race it is unlikely any film will receive enough votes initially, which means the least popular nominee’s ballots will be redistributed. “Boyhood” has broaded appeal and even if it does not have quite as many #1 votes as “Birdman,” it is more likely to be people’s second or third choice.
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