Seeing as tomorrow's Oscar column is (perhaps refreshingly) not focused on the precursor awards, I figured I would get a few thoughts out on how things have gone so far. And if you're a supporter of “Boyhood,” they've gone very, very well.
With the LAFCA Best Picture win today, Richard Linklater's film joins a select group of movies that won top honors from both the Los Angeles and New York elite critics organizations. Those films are: “The Social Network,” “The Hurt Locker,” “Sideways,” “Saving Private Ryan,” “L.A. Confidential,” “Leaving Las Vegas,” “Schindler's List,” “Goodfellas” and “Terms of Endearment.” Of immediate note: this isn't particularly helpful for Oscar prospects it seems, as only three of those eight films went on to win the Best Picture Oscar.
Why is that? A good possibility might be the tendency for saturation. Last year the LA and NY critics might have done “12 Years a Slave” a big favor in eschewing it for other options in the best film arena. It was of course busy conquering the regional critics group awards, but those don't have the same level of general coverage in the media. There wasn't really a sense that it was dominating, but in point of fact, it was.
This year, “Boyhood” is going to continue to be this film, just like “The Social Network” and “The Hurt Locker,” that absolutely obliterates the competition throughout the critics phase of the precursor season. Today alone it won four awards, including an international prize at the British Independent Film Awards. But how will that affect its perception? It's certainly not a done deal with the Academy; you hear as much “what's the big whoop?” as outright praise from voters, though it's very secure for nominations, I think. The point is, if it feels so overtly rewarded by the time phase two rolls around, any “little engine that could” or “David vs. Goliath” narrative is going to have a hard time being as effective. Then again, for a campaign saving a lot of its firepower and campaign dollars for post-nominations, a big early showing has been part of the plan. So you take the good with the (potential) bad.
I'm also intrigued by the lead actress win for Patricia Arquette today. I'm sure the LA critics are patting themselves on the back for digging in on that (I see both arguments for her category placement, but ultimately think it's supporting, with Ellar Coltrane the true, solitary lead). However, what happens if that just muddies the waters in terms of perception by voters, leaving her ballots split two ways? I'm not saying that it could necessarily be so strong as to leave her without a nomination – I'd be shocked, particularly in this thin a year for the category – but it's just worth understanding how these things start to affect the race. Voters pay attention to these two critics groups, and particularly LA.
That said, good for Tom Hardy, but it would be sort of a surprise if he, even now, insinuated himself into the Best Actor conversation. This read as a “don't forget how good this guy was” thing to me more than anything else, and valid at that. But that field is crazy deep. Nevertheless, that's the job of the critics groups, I feel, to broaden that conversation, not shrink it. And LA has done that today with quirky wins like that.
But getting back to “Boyhood,” its domination so far, to me, serves to help “Birdman” a little bit. Movies like “The Imitation Game,” which are major Academy plays, are not critics movies. But “Birdman” is, and it's obviously been close with runner-up stuff. If it came out as a big force with tons of wins, I think it could have been even more harmful with the “what's the big whoop”-ers. But it hasn't. It's maintaining an even keel. It's highly present, but there's nothing overt or saturated there.
One area, though, where nothing can quite help “Birdman” is in the Best Supporting Actor race. Yeah, Edward Norton continues to come in right behind J.K. Simmons, but I imagine the Oscar win will be a cakewalk for the “Whiplash” star. When you ask around, well, let's just say Norton isn't the most popular guy in the industry. It's a shame, as I do think he deserves it, but I won't take anything away from Simmons. Dude's been in the trenches. Good on him for his moment.
Anyway, just some quick and dirty thoughts on where we're at. There will be tons more of these announcements over the next couple of weeks, and as ever, we'll keep annoyingly tedious track of them at your one-stop shop, The Circuit.
What do you think critics dominance by “Boyhood” will mean for its Oscar prospects? Sound off in the comments.