Birdman vs. BoyhoodBy: Yehudit Mam
As of this writing, the Best Picture Oscar odds are leaning for Birdman in England. In Vegas, they are going for Boyhood. These two movies are duking it out at the 2015 Academy Awards for some of the top categories: Best Picture, Best Director and Best Original Screenplay. One is about growing up in Texas and the other one is about aging in Hollywood. Will the members of the Academy vote for a contemplative coming-of-age story that took 12 years to make, or will they vote for the flashier saga of a washed-up movie star (played by washed-up movie star Michael Keaton)?
This is a purely subjective analysis. Use it at your own peril for your Oscar pool.
Imagine if Boyhood’s Mason, the artistic boy who grows into a young man poised on the brink of adulthood, ends up becoming Riggan Thomson, the aging movie star filled with regrets of Birdman. Perish the thought, though I’d sure love to see the movie in the middle.
And that is the difference between both tours de force. Boyhood is a transcendent coming of age journey, whereas Birdman is a spectacular rollercoaster ride through an actor’s self-redemption.
Even with a female African-American president and hundreds of recent voting members (including renowned auteurs like Jennifer Lopez and Danny Trejo), the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is 93% white and 76% male. This may explain why Selma, an excellent movie about Martin Luther King, Jr., only got a Best Picture nod. Ignominiously ignored were David Oyelowo’s fantastic turn as MLK, and director Ava DuVernay.
Because the nominee field this year resembles a blanket of snow (#OscarSoWhite), guilt-voting may be involved.
Regardless of the pallor of the vast majority of its participants, Boyhood is a magnificent achievement. It is a modestly made, impeccably crafted film with an ambitious narrative span. It is a beautiful, hopeful movie. And it does have one minor Mexican character who moves up in life.
Yet the cynic in me thinks that Birdman has the odds because there’s nothing the Academy likes better than self-referential navel-gazing disguised as a journey of self-fulfillment. Birdman is about the anxieties of monster egos, which the voters relate to. It name-drops actors and it is technically astonishing. Plus, Hollywood loves a comeback, and Michael Keaton as Riggan Thomson makes it a double. Now, actors comprise the largest voting branch of the Academy with 1,176 members. Everybody in Birdman is white, but the writer/director, Alejandro González Iñárritu, and its cinematographer, also nominated, are Mexican, and two of the three cowriters are Argentines. You do the math.
But... rewarding self-absorption may not look good, and the Academy likes to look good. They like to pretend they are inclusive. Last year, winners included 12 Years a Slave, Lupita Nyong’o and Alfonso Cuarón. In 2007, The Year of the Three Amigos, saw almost 10 different Spanish and Latin American nominees. Philadelphia won Best Picture the Year of the Gays. Maybe the Academy feels they have atoned for their sins, and f**k it, this is the Year of the Whites.
Who knows? To make everyone happy, Boyhood could win Best Picture and Iñárritu could get Best Director. Or exactly the opposite. Good luck with your Oscar pool.