This past weekend we were able to feast on our annual junior varsity Hollywood masturbation exhibition, otherwise known as the Golden Globes. As fans and critics alike now see it, the Globes award show is a pre-Oscar predictor and sort of warm-up show where we get to see an ostensibly less polished gathering of Hollywood elites patting themselves on the back.
This year is a bit different than most, in that there are no “sure things” in contention. Last year we had 12 Years a Slave, Dallas Buyers Club, Gravity, and Wolf of Wall Street, all four of which were considered locks for Oscar contention from the moment they were released. Then there was also American Hustle, Philomena, and Nebraska, which were all carrying so much heat going into award season, they were also pretty much locks despite having less unified critical slobbering at their feet.
Part of the reason for that was the pedigree those films were flaunting. Scorcese, David O. Russell, Alexander Payne, and Alfonso Cuarón were all previously lauded Academy favorites in the director’s category. Which is to say nothing of the insane star power of the nominated films: George Clooney, Sandra Bullock, Leonardo DiCaprio, Matthew McConaughey, Michael Fassbender, Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Judi Dench, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Bruce Dern, Brad Pitt, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Robert DeNiro among them.
And of course lastly is the topicality of the films. Last year we had the AIDS epidemic, slavery, the sins of the Catholic Church, and of course, the new AIDS: capitalism run amok. These topics are like catnip to Academy members. Seriously, make a movie about a former slave with AIDS trying to outwit a hedge fund manager in Rome and the Academy voting members will all start purring and rolling around on their backs, tripping balls. The only thing the Academy likes more than that is biopics, of which there are indeed a few this year, but not of the compelling-enough nature to be locks.
This year, we have a crop of excellent films as usual, but no obvious contenders. The nominees for best dramatic feature were Foxcatcher,Selma, The Imitation Game, Boyhood, and The Theory of Everything. Of them, only Selma, which is about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., can claim enough built-in pathos to be a no-brainer of a nominee. And it didn’t even win. The winner, Boyhood, is a slow and uncontroversial family drama whose claim to fame is that director Richard Linklater filmed it over 12 years as a real kid grew up before our eyes on screen. It’s innovative, well-made, and beautifully acted.
In the Best Picture, Musical or Comedy, category, Wes Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel, a fun and gorgeously realized adventure, took home the top prize. Anyone who has actually seen it can attest to its… decentness. It’s a fine film, but again, like Boyhood, it’s just nothing that special and probably won’t receive a nomination for best picture at the Oscars. The only other film in the running at the Globes that even has a prayer come Oscar time is the brilliant Birdman, which has acting, writing, and directing pedigree coming out its cloaca. Still, the story of a washed-up actor going bananas on Broadway is a little too insider-y and just not as chock-full of pathos as the contenders of 2013.
All this tells me a couple things: first, that in the recently expanded, but undefined, Best Picture category at the Oscars we won’t be seeing 10 nominees as we have the past couple of years. I predict five to seven. Secondly, I predict this will be a low-rated Academy Awards show in terms of TV viewership, and one where the winner afterward will be hotly contested. Here’s my best guess as to how it will play out: Best Picture nominees will be Selma, The Theory of Everything, The Imitation Game, Foxcatcher, American Sniper, Unbroken (because those six are biopics, and thus automatically must be nominated), and then Birdman and maybe Boyhood rounding out the field. Your winner will be Selma or American Sniper, and your most undeservedly ignored film will be Inherent Vice, Paul Thomas Anderson’s adaptation of the Thomas Pynchon novel, which is probably the best film of the year, but feels like too much of a cross between Boogie Nights and The Big Lebowski to get its proper love and affection from the Academy of old and dusty people Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. Also getting snubbed will be Whiplash, Wild, that cell phone video I shot of my niece singing Chanukah songs, because seriously, it’s the cutest thing in history and deserving of a statuette.