The party’s over! The dust has settled on the red carpet and the 87th Oscars – but surely not on the golden boys whom we assume are being lovingly polished and cradled by the winners as we speak. As for the losers, they’re spared all that effort of polishing and trying to decide where in the house or office to display Oscar. And of course there’s always next year.
But for the winners, it’s the successful culmination of months and months of relentless campaigning and pressure as their movies jockeyed for position with Academy voters. And ultimately it was Birdman that soared highest, as it scored the big prize – Best Picture, along with the prestigious Director, Cinematographer and Original Screenplay awards.
But Oscar spread the wealth and love, and each of the eight Best Pic nominees won something: The Grand Budapest Hotel also won four Oscars — in the below-the-line categories — and Damien Chazelle’s low-budget, psycho-drama Whiplash — the Sundance favorite which was shot in just 19 stressed-out days — was honored with three, including a Best Supporting Actor award and one for Editing. American Sniper, Boyhood, Selma, The Imitation Game, The Theory of Everything and Interstellar all won single Oscars.
Here we take a look at the results and examine why voters embraced some films and nominees, while remaining indifferent to the charms of others.
The Academy can nominate up to 10 movies now, double the number voted on between 1944 and 2008, but — surprising many pundits — it stopped short with eight this year: American Sniper, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Boyhood, Birdman, Selma, The Imitation Game, The Theory of Everything and Whiplash. And as usual, none of the nominees — apart from American Sniper, the biggest hit (over $312 million and counting) of Clint Eastwood’s long and storied career — seemed to really connect with the general public.
It’s noteworthy that American Sniper was the only traditional studio production in the whole list; the others are largely indie productions, dealing in issues and drama — the stuff Hollywood studios used to do before they began focusing on comic books, superheroes and blockbuster franchises. It’s also noteworthy that all eight noms made their debut at one of the festivals, suggesting that Sundance, Cannes, Toronto, AFI Fest et al are more important strategically than ever in terms of a high-profile, buzzy launch.
Conspicuously missing from the list? Foxcatcher, although its director Bennett Miller got a directing nomination, Interstellar, Gone Girl, the musical Into the Woods and Angelina Jolie’s Unbroken.
And the Oscar went to Birdman, surprising many insiders who felt certain that the frenetic, offbeat, magical realism-infused film was just too arty and quirky for the Academy’s notoriously conservative voters, and that the experimental ‘real life’ of Boyhood or the traditional biopics would appeal far more. But Boyhood, which initially seemed to have the momentum behind it, stumbled towards the end of the race at the DGA and Producers awards, and was ultimately shut out of five of its six noms, winning only for Patricia Arquette and Best Supporting Actress. Meanwhile, Fox Searchlight, the ‘indie’ division of Fox, ran a strong campaign, building on Birdman’s adoring reception at the Venice Film Festival, and repeating its 12 Years a Slave success from last year. And it was an even more noticeable victory when you consider that Birdman, a kinetic tour-de-force, which pokes fun at Hollywood’s obsession with superheroes and comic book characters, has so far made barely $40 million, making it the lowest-earning Best Picture winner since The Hurt Locker in 2009.
The five directing nominations — Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (Birdman), Richard Linklater (Boyhood), Bennett Miller (Foxcatcher), Wes Anderson (The Grand Budapest Hotel), Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game) — raised some eyebrows when they were announced, with many asking, “Where are the women?” But Oscar snubbed Ava DuVernay for Selma and Angelina Jolie for Unbroken, instead giving Anderson his first ever directing nomination (he was previously nominated for Best Screenplay) and Miller a coveted slot, even though his film was excluded from the Best Picture category (and he was the only nominee not nominated by the DGA, who gave the nomination to Clint Eastwood for American Sniper). And while Miller and Inarritu are previous Director nominees, it’s interesting to note that all five directors are iconoclasts, largely doing their own thing outside the Hollywood studio machine.
And the Oscar went to Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu — again surprising many who thought that Linklater was going to win for Boyhood, especially after he won the Golden Globe. But then Linklater lost traction when he lost to Inarritu at the DGA awards (one of the top indicators of likely Oscar voting, as since 1948 all but seven DGA winners have gone on to win the Oscar), and Fox Searchlight again ran a masterful campaign for Birdman and Best Director, and the voters increasingly embraced the intense, ground-breaking dramedy.
Another banner year for DPs and a varied range of beautifully-shot films, with Oscar honoring Emmanuel Lubezki for Birdman,
Robert D. Yeoman for The Grand Budapest Hotel, Dick Pope for Mr. Turner, Roger Deakins for Unbroken, and Lukasz Zal and Ryszard Lynzewski for Ida. It’s been a close race, with a sentimental favorite like Deakins up for his 12th nomination (with no wins so far), Pope up for his second, Lubezki also up for his second (he won for Gravity last year), and Yeoman scoring his debut nom. And then there was dark horse Ida, the Polish drama set in the ‘60s, also nominated for Foreign Language Film. It was shot in luminous B&W by Zal and Lynzewski, who also were nominated for the first time.
Interestingly, although snubbed in the Best Picture, director and acting categories, Unbroken finally got some Oscar love here, along with nods for Sound Editing and Sound Mixing.
And the Oscar went to Emmanuel Lubezki for Birdman, another shocker to some, given that the DP also won just last year for his work on Gravity, and that sentimental favorite Roger Deakins again did sterling work on Unboken. But given that Lubezki had already won such key indicators as the ASC, BAFTA and Spirit awards, along with most of the major critics awards, he was always the heavy favorite in the race.
Always a tricky category to predict, and often full of surprises, both in terms of the nominees and the eventual winner. This year’s chosen five were no exception, as Oscar chose to honor Joel Cox and Gary D. Roach for American Sniper, Sandra Adair for Boyhood, Barney Pilling for The Grand Budapest Hotel, William Goldenberg for The Imitation Game, and Tom Cross for Whiplash. But while all are highly deserving of Oscar attention, many in the editing world were scratching their heads over the glaring omission of editors Douglas Crise and Stephen Mirrione and their stunning work on Birdman. Creating a seamless flow that fooled many into thinking that the film was largely shot in one continuous take, it may be that the editing magic they worked ended up working a little too well, obscuring all the skill that they deployed to create the film’s carefully choreographed dance of actors and their egos.
And the Oscar went to Tom Cross for Whiplash, surprising many insiders who reasoned that the likely winner would be Adair, the ACE award drama winner for Boyhood. Adair has cut all Linklater’s films for 25 years now, and she faced the most obvious challenges in taking on footage from 12 years of shooting and making it seamless. But Cross’ editing obviously captivated Oscar voters with its beautifully-calibrated rhythms, which made the music and the visuals inseparable.
Maybe Oscar was blind when it came to Birdman and the film editing category, but it heard the work of Martin Hernandez and Aaron Glascock loud and clear, giving them a coveted slot. They were joined by Alan Robert Murray and Bub Asman for American Sniper, Brent Burge and Jason Canovas for The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, Richard King for Interstellar, and Becky Sullivan and Andrew DeCristofaro for Unbroken. It’s noticeable that this was the only nomination for Peter Jackson’s final Hobbit installment, and that the box office giant has never matched the love Oscar had for his Lord of the Rings trilogy. It’s also worth noting that, to be honest, the vast majority of Oscar voters are relatively clueless when it comes down to really evaluating what sound editing entails — and the same can be said for sound mixing.
And the Oscar went to Alan Robert Murray and Bub Asman for American Sniper, giving the big box office hit a deserved win for its subtle and realistic treatment both of the sounds of war and the sounds of domesticity.
In one of the tightest races of the night, and almost duplicating the Sound Editing category in terms of films, Oscar honored John Reitz, Gregg Rudloff and Walt Martin for American Sniper; Jon Taylor, Frank A. Montano and Thomas Varga for Birdman; Garry A. Rizzo, Gregg Landaker and Mark Weingarten for Interstellar; Jon Taylor, Frank A. Montano and David Lee for Unbroken, and Craig Mann, Ben Wilkins and Thomas Curley for Whiplash.
And the Oscar went to Craig Mann, Ben Wilkins and Thomas Curley for Whiplash, following in the footsteps of other recent music-based winners such as Les Mis, Dreamgirls, Ray and Chicago.
Visual effects are not just a separate category but a universe unto itself, as it’s the one area in the entire awards show where Oscar could care less about classy dramas or soul-searching explorations of tormented and conflicted characters. All that stuff goes out the window as Oscar usually votes like any excited fan-boy and goes for the truly spectacular blockbuster action film and superhero extravaganza. And Oscar always votes for a Best Picture nominee in the group, when there is one. But this year’s different, as none of the nominations were Best Pic noms. Instead, all the noms are global eye-candy hits: Guardians of the Galaxy (Stephanie Ceretti, Nicolas Aithadi, Jonathan Fawkner and Paul Corbould), X-Men: Days of Future Past (Richard Stammers, Lou Pecora, Tim Crosbie and Cameron Waldbauer), Interstellar (Paul Franklin, Andrew Lockley, Ian Hunter and Scott Fisher), Captain America: The Winter Soldier (Dan DeLeeuw, Russell Earl, Bryan Grill and Dan Sudick) and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (Joe Letteri, Dan Lemmon, Daniel Barrett and Erik Winquist).
And the Oscar went to Paul Franklin, Andrew Lockley (they both won an Oscar for Inception), Ian Hunter and Scott Fisher for their work on Interstellar. This was another big upset, as many were predicting that Dawn of the Planet of the Apes would be victorious following its three wins at the Visual Effects Society awards, including top honor Best VFX in a VFX-driven film (Interstellar only won for Created Environment). But Nolan’s 35mm/IMAX sci-fi epic, with its otherworldly vistas, black holes and pioneering effects work done by Double Negative — and input from revered Caltech professor Kip Thorne — swept all before it.