Oscar Watch, charting the ups and downs of the award season, comes to you every Monday from now through the end of February. With the Producers Guild and Screen Actors Guild weighing in this weekend, we have a bit more clarity — and craziness — to sift through. Let's get to it ...
For the last few months, Richard Linklater's micro-budgeted, experimental coming-of-age drama, "Boyhood," has reigned supreme as the least likely best picture front-runner in the history of the Oscars, winning the Golden Globe, multiple critics prizes and a boundless supply of goodwill.
That kingpin status changed this weekend as "Birdman," the dark, dazzling comedy about an actor attempting reinvention, took top honors with the Producers Guild of America and the Screen Actors Guild. Suddenly, that "Boyhood" party at the Chateau Marmont earlier this month, the one with the valet line stretching down Sunset Boulevard for blocks, seems a little less like the coronation it did when Linklater and company were greeting long lines of well-wishers.
Today, pundits are jumping off the "Boyhood" bandwagon, and not without reason. "Birdman's" SAG/PGA victories make it a formidable contender. While only about 500 of the PGA's 6,500 voters also belong to the academy, the guild uses the same preferential balloting system as the Oscars. And since the group shifted to that system, mirroring the academy in 2009, every PGA winner has gone on to win the best picture Oscar.
The fact that actors, who make up one-fifth of the academy's membership, also like "Birdman" obviously bodes well for its chances. And while you could (and some have) dismiss the "Birdman" acclaim as an act of movie industry self-love, the film's themes — battling ego, aspiring to a better self — are universal. "All of us have a Birdman," Alejandro G. Inarritu, the movie's director and co-writer, said at the Producers Guild breakfast Saturday. That's a great hook, reaching beyond neurotic actors to neurotic people in general. Which, in Hollywood, pretty much encompasses everyone.
No, "Boyhood" did not have a good weekend. But its camp isn't going all Chicken Little, either. Linklater could well win Directors Guild of America honors in a couple of weeks, an award that also goes a long way in predicting the best picture race. (If Inarritu wins, forget it. "Birdman" will own the Oscars.) And even if Linklater's name isn't called, "Boyhood" could still win. Just last year, Alfonso Cuaron ("Gravity") took the DGA and the director Oscar, but "12 Years a Slave" still prevailed for best picture.
And "Boyhood" wasn't completely shut out. Patricia Arquette won supporting actress honors at SAG, joining Julianne Moore ("Still Alice") and J.K. Simmons ("Whiplash") as award-season stalwarts who will soon become newly minted Oscar winners. With just four main actors, "Boyhood" was always a long shot to take SAG's ensemble award, but Arquette's win shows some strength. Now its backers will just have to be a bit more aggressive in reminding the academy why they clogged Sunset a few weeks ago.
The last 10 SAG lead actor winners have gone on to win the Oscar. (Johnny Depp's Captain Jack Sparrow in '03 was the last one to lose.) So, in a race that has flipped back and forth between Redmayne and "Birdman's" Michael Keaton, Redmayne jumps back in front.
But it's not a done deal. The academy usually honors veteran actors. At 33, Redmayne is four years older than Adrien Brody, the youngest actor to win the lead category ("The Pianist," 2003). But Redmayne looks like he's about 15, which plays well to the adolescent girls singing along with the "Les Miserables" soundtrack, but not necessarily to male academy members in their 60s.
Bradley Cooper also has his backers for his intense, inward turn in "American Sniper." Benedict Cumberbatch would probably have more if maybe a couple of those "Imitation Game" ads mentioned how great he was at playing Alan Turing instead of focusing solely on the greatness of Turing himself.
But Harvey Weinstein long ago realized that his movie had a better chance than its lead. And despite the weekend's events, the best picture race remains a work in progress, one whose outcome will remain in doubt until the envelope is opened 27 days from now.
Twitter: @glennwhippCopyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times