Handicapping This Year’s Oscar Race Based On’s ‘How To Win An Academy Award’

The Academy announced their 87th Academy Awards nominees this morning, and aside from a long overdue nod to Dick Poop, it’s even worse than I feared. A near total shutout for Nightcrawler (Jake Gyllenhaal should win Best Actor going away and he’s not even nominated, but I’ll stop saying that), four out of the five best actor nominees coming from biopics, and even amidst the Academy’s biopic love, they somehow snubbed far and away the best one, Selma, in every category but Best Picture. ¯_(ツ)_/¯

Today, we are all Shruggy Man.

The silver lining here is that at least Gyllenhaal won’t split the Michael Keaton vote. More importantly I was freshly re-reminded of a two-year-old essay from (written by Omer Mozaffar) called How To Win An Academy Award, and I couldn’t help but note how applicable it still was.

First the premise, in case you think I was just talking crazy yesterday.

American Cinema is so limited in its imaginative and emotional possibilities, especially compared to films of other lands, that I hope this essay compels voters and moviegoers to change things.

Specific Categories:

Best Actress:

The Academy Award winner for Best Actress always goes to a performance for whom gender and/or sexuality is a major part of the character’s story. If you remove the sexuality aspect or the importance given to gender in the character’s narrative, then you will fundamentally change the character.

This year’s nominees: Marion Cotillard, Two Days One Night; Felicity Jones, The Theory of Everything; Julianne Moore, Still Alice; Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl; Reese Witherspoon, Wild

Favorites based on this criteria: Reese Witherspoon, Rosamund Pike.

Will it bear out? In this case, probably not. The sexuality aspect is a frequent favorite, but nothing trumps a perennial awards favorite playing a character with Alzheimer’s. Put your money on Julianne Moore. She pretended to overcome so much!

Best Actor:

The Academy Award for Best Actor will go to a performance about a man who is pushing against a very difficult, un-accepting, maddening world. That man has some trait that makes him a square peg in the circle of society.

This Year’s Nominees: Michael Keaton, Birdman; Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything; Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game; Steve Carell, Foxcatcher; Bradley Cooper, American Sniper

Favorites based on this criteria: All of them to a certain extent, but certainly Benedict Cumberbatch. One wonders if The Imitation Game would receive so much awards love if it had gone with my original title, “The Gayest Codebreaker.”

Will it bear out? Nope. Keaton is a stone cold lock. Acting nominations are so often lifetime achievement awards, and this one’s a perfect fit. Hell, Robert Duvall got a supporting actor nom for The Judge, and that movie was straight up terrible.

Best Picture:

The biggest category might overtly seem to be the most American. The Academy Award Best Picture is, generally speaking, a liberation story. The Oscar goes to a film that involves someone in some sort of prison, seeking and achieving some sort of freedom, though death often takes place in the process (along with some sort of love interest, usually).

This Year’s Nominees: American Sniper, Birdman, Boyhood, The Grand, Budapest Hotel, The Imitation Game, Selma, The Theory of Everything, Whiplash.

Favorites based on this criteria: It’s tempting to say American Sniper since it has “American” in the title, but I’d say Birdman, Boyhood, and Selma most fit the “liberation story” mold. They’re all about protagonists seeking liberation, from artistic constraints, childhood, and Jim Crow, respectively.

Will it bear out? Yes, in one way or another. The smart money is on Boyhood, but don’t count out a “we swear we’re not racist!” vote for Selma, once the 94% white, 74% male Academy realizes how bad it looks that one of their best picture nominees magically got there without worthy directors, actors, actresses, or screenplays. Haha, oops! But, I stand by my “bet-on-Boyhood” conclusion, because that 94% white, 74% male Academy also has a median age of 62, and one thing old people are great at is not giving a sh*t. Frankly, it’s their best quality.

So there you have it. To be honest, I started writing this post not realizing that piece hadn’t actually been written by Ebert himself and I almost scrapped it once I realized. With all due respect to Omer Mozaffar, “” just doesn’t have the same ring to it. In any case, I stand by my initial conclusion, that the Oscars are so predictable that a guy who’s been dead for two years could pick them.