ENVELOPE
Gold Standard

Oscars 2015: Best picture, director and script front-runners

To win best picture, you almost always need nominations for director and editing, writes @GlennWhipp

The day after Oscar nominations, while clearing away the "Lego" rubble, award season consultants began calling, repeating the same fear-soaked refrain: Beware the Phase Two Harvey.

For the uninitiated: Phase One of the Oscar campaign is earning nominations. Phase Two is winning Oscars. And nobody has cut a swath through the later portion of the season more than Harvey Weinstein, whose company has taken best picture honors for "The English Patient," "Shakespeare in Love," "Chicago," "The King's Speech" and "The Artist."

FULL COVERAGE: Oscars 2015

Can Weinstein pull off another win this year for "The Imitation Game," a British period drama possessing many elements — British accents, World War II, a social consciousness — that academy members find hard to resist? Let's take an early look at that race along with the categories for director and screenplay. Other categories will follow in the coming weeks.

PICTURE

The nominees:

"American Sniper"

"Birdman"

"Boyhood"

"The Grand Budapest Hotel"

"The Imitation Game"

"Selma"

"The Theory of Everything"

"Whiplash"

And the winner is: "Boyhood." To win best picture, you almost always need nominations for director and editing. (The last best picture winner without an editing nom: "Ordinary People," 1980.) "Argo," of course, defied that rule two years ago when the film won without a nomination for its director, Ben Affleck, but that was a freak occurrence brought on by a combination of the academy being charmed by Affleck and indifferent to giving Steven Spielberg ("Lincoln") any more reason to feel like he's king of the world. (A screenplay nomination helps too, but that didn't sink "Titanic.")

Using that metric leaves three contenders: "Boyhood," "The Imitation Game" and "The Grand Budapest Hotel." I've written at length as to why "Boyhood" will likely prevail. Its 12-year journey to the screen makes for a terrific hook — both for storytelling and as a narrative for voters wanting to reward something special. It's an intimate movie, but, given its span, it's epic in scope. And actors — who make up 20% of the academy — love the passion behind the project, wishing that writer-director Richard Linklater had offered them a chance to craft a character over the course of a dozen years.

It has also won best picture prizes from groups that love to tout their ability to predict the Oscars (the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. and Broadcast Film Critics) and those who simply love film (the Los Angeles Film Critics Assn. and the New York Film Critics Circle).

"Budapest Hotel" became the first Wes Anderson movie to receive a best picture nomination, a long overdue honor that the academy extended to include nods for Anderson as director and writer. The film possesses all the signature whimsy you expect from the filmmaker, but it also has a deep sense of melancholy and purpose. It's a comedy, yes, a genre that the academy doesn't embrace, but its humor comes in the service of battling tyranny and oppression. That's going to win some votes.

"The Imitation Game" rails against tyranny and oppression too. But, despite Benedict Cumberbatch's lovely lead turn, the movie has struggled to find the same regard as "The King's Speech," a film it's often compared to. "Speech" scored an 88 with the review aggregator Metacritic; "Imitation Game" rated a 72. It's a respectable grade but also reflective of a relative lack of passion academy members feel toward the film. It's not the kind of movie that's going to land in the No. 1 spot on a ton of ballots.

Then there's "American Sniper," a cultural phenomenon breaking box office records. Unlike Affleck, nobody is crying "snub" over the academy's omission of its celebrated director, Clint Eastwood. And some voters will be disinclined to champion the film because conservatives have so ardently embraced it. But "Sniper" is the movie dominating the conversation at the moment, giving it a momentum that the other contenders don't have. It's a definite wild card in this race.

Unless: "Phase Two Harvey" has another ace up his sleeve.

DIRECTOR

The nominees:

Wes Anderson, "The Grand Budapest Hotel"

Alejandro G. Iñárritu, "Birdman"

Richard Linklater, "Boyhood"

Bennett Miller, "Foxcatcher"

Morten Tyldum, "The Imitation Game"

And the winner is: Linklater, for all the reasons I've already mentioned, as well as a way to (finally) salute one of film's most influential and talented directors. Linklater has long reveled in revealing truths great and small through moments and not plot, and "Boyhood" represents the fullest expression of his knack for pulling this off. The scope of the project has led many to call it his crowning achievement, but I wouldn't sell him short. He's just getting started.

Unless: With Miller's movie not being nominated and Tyldum being something of an unknown, it'd be either of the auteurs — Anderson or Iñárritu. Both are deserving.

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

The nominees:

"Birdman," Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris Jr. and Armando Bo

"Boyhood," Richard Linklater

"Foxcatcher," E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman

"The Grand Budapest Hotel," screenplay by Wes Anderson; story by Wes Anderson and Hugo Guinness

"Nightcrawler," Dan Gilroy

And the winner is: Anderson, nominated for screenplay in the past for "Moonrise Kingdom" and "The Royal Tenenbaums," will likely receive his first Oscar here for the immaculately constructed "Budapest."

Unless: "Boyhood" sweeps the night or voters veer toward the audacious "Birdman." The latter scenario seems more likely as the academy loves showbiz movies and "Boyhood" might get dinged because its script evolved over 12 years. Also, with Linklater probably honored elsewhere, voters might see this as a spot to tip their hats to another lauded film.

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

The nominees:

"American Sniper," Jason Hall

"The Imitation Game," Graham Moore

"Inherent Vice," Paul Thomas Anderson

"The Theory of Everything," Anthony McCarten

"Whiplash," Damien Chazelle

And the winner is: Chazelle for "Whiplash." The academy's surprising decision to move "Whiplash" (which Chazelle initially shot as a short film to convince financiers he could do the job) from original to adapted gives a young filmmaker a much better chance to become a young, Oscar-winning filmmaker. The movie has won acclaim from all quarters since its premiere at Sundance last year.

Unless: Phase Two Harvey!

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
71°