The Wags Wire: Golden Clarity

by Steve Wagner

The Oscar-mometer just peaked at tepid, and that is where it is likely to stay through the end of Oscar 2015. This year looked to be a pile of question marks, with a few somewhat front-runners, but most categories in serious play. Last night’s Golden Globes, aside from once again delivering a fun, breezy, exciting awards show—with the best comedy team (Tina and Amy) in America—truly put the Oscar race in perspective, and answered nearly every pertinent question. Not even sure we need to watch the show now—there may be a couple of surprises, sure, but most of the major races seem to be more or less decided.  Unless the dragon awakes, which we’ll address shortly.

To summarize: Boyhood now has a very sunny and clear bike path through the woods for Picture and Director (Richard Linklater), and the film’s Patricia Arquette is essentially locked to win supporting actress. Birdman’s wing, however, got seriously clipped last night…and all the Oscars it will be vying for look suddenly vulnerable, save Original Screenplay, which may turn out to be the only Gold Man the Alejandro Inurritu film snags this year.

Because…well, The Grand Budapest Hotel—which won Picture comedy/musical at the Globes—is now open for business. And it may take all the kinetic art-film energy in the world to keep Michael Keaton from being caught from behind by the guy in the wheelchair. Birdman can now chirp a sigh of relief that Selma, looking very strong just a few hours ago, seems to have landed with a thud into “not quite” territory. Ditto, The Imitation Game, Foxcatcher, and Gone Girl.

But, not quite so fast with The Theory of Everything, which could potentially be the one big spoiler of the night. While Keaton, who won Actor comedy/musical at the Globes, may still be the Oscar front-runner, Eddie Redmayne’s win in the dramatic category is a very bad-for-Birdman omen, to be sure. With this award, Redmayne leaps onto the A-list and becomes a formidable contender for Best Actor. Don’t get me wrong, I still think this is Keaton’s year…but it is going to be much tighter than anticipated. Beware, Michael, Theory is Oscar’s kind of movie, and Redmayne is Oscar’s kind of actor.

Likewise, Julianne Moore (Still Alice) seems poised to finally win her Actress Oscar—she took home the Globe in the dramatic category—and she’s been the clear chosen one for months now. But, Amy Addams’ win last night for Actress comedy/musical signals her likely inclusion into the Oscar race…and, if so, she will be the one Moore has to beat. Rosamund Pike and Felicity Jones are too new; Reese already has her statue. But Amy Adams is both a respected actress AND a classic movie star, and she is spectacular in Big Eyes. While Moore has been around longer, and is probably seen as owed by the academy, Adams has been nominated more—five times in ten years. The actress Oscar is certainly still Moore’s to lose at this point, but if she does, it will be to Amy Adams.

The supporting categories are essentially sewn up: Patricia Arquette and J.K. Simmons seem very strong on the heels of their Globe wins. Arquette is very affecting in Boyhood, and the honesty of the performance and the momentum of the film should carry her through to her first Oscar. Simmons, though, in particular, really deserves it. He is the definition of “character actor,” the type that gives strong support in every film they make. The other likely actors in this category are usually leading men—Edward Norton, Mark Ruffalo, Robert Duvall—and Whiplash is just the role of a lifetime for the gifted Simmons. Count on it.

In terms of the other major Oscar races, that leaves the Screenplay awards. Adapted could go anywhere—Gone Girl, Theory, Imitation Game, Wild are all equal contenders—and there will be no shocks there in any case. Original Screenplay is Innuritu’s to lose, but Birdman’s loss last night in the Picture comedy/musical category is extremely telling.

For months now, the critical consensus suggested that this year would boil down to a battle between Boyhood and Birdman, but that flew out the window on Sunday night. Basically, it comes down to this: If Birdman is too edgy for the Globes, it is probably waaaay to harsh for Oscar. And this opens the gate wide for a new challenger to Boyhood, and it’s not The Grand Budapest Hotel, I assure you. Are you kidding? Budapest is as Arty as Birdman, and, anyway, in case no one is paying attention, Boyhood has Arty completely covered this year.

That leaves Big and Important, and there lurks a very formidable Oscar dragon. If The Theory of Everything arises up from its peaceful slumber it is likely to scorch just about everything but Boyhood.

To say The Theory of Everything is Oscar bait would be to state the obvious, but to ignore its achievement—or its potential resonance with Oscar voters–would be naive. It’s Period, it’s British, it’s an important biopic, it’s about love overcoming hardship and spirit overcoming illness, it’s a true story, and it features a BIG ASS performance at its center. Up until now, Theory has been sort of quiet, but now it seems wide awake, and just might be peaking at the right time.

Though Boyhood seems quite sturdy and is likely to hold off all comers for Picture and Director, a Theory avalanche everywhere else would be the “Oscar surprise” this year—and we might expect a semblance of it in any case. Would anyone really be that surprised if Theory won adapted screenplay, cinematography, film score, set design, costume design, and make-up? How about Actor? Redmayne is simply extraordinary in Theory—this is Daniel Day Lewis territory. Oscar voters LOVE this kind of showy, moving performance.

Birdman may still fly high, but it is starting to feel like one of those Pulp Fiction vs. Forrest Gump—Fargo vs. The English Patient—L.A. Confidential vs. Titanic years, where the edgy film takes original screenplay and maybe an acting award and the commercial romance wins everything else.

If Richard Linklater were to lose Director—to anyone—it would be the biggest snub in modern Oscar history. People would forget all about Ben Affleck. But that’s not going to happen. If, on the other hand, The Theory of Everything won everything else, would anyone really be that surprised?

Author: Steve Wagner

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