Tue. Oct 20th, 2020

The Oscar Race: Can The Imitation Game Beat Boyhood?

As Boyhood and The Imitation Game battle it out, it’s going to take more than an Enigma machine to solve this puzzle

A funny thing happened with the Oscar nominations this morning. The Grand Budapest Hotel racked up a bunch of mentions in all major and tech categories, except no acting nods. Birdman also grabbed a ton, including three acting nominations, but not one for Film Editing. Boyhood got six; Picture, Director, Original Screenplay, Film Editing and both Supporting categories. Then The Imitation Game subverted many expectations and hit everywhere; not just Best Picture, Adapted Screenplay, Actor and Supporting Actress as expected but director Morten Tyldum repeated his DGA nom today with a director mention. Add to that a Film Editing nomination (and a wealth of tech nods) and The Imitation Game is at eight nominations and a clear competitor to Boyhood‘s frontrunner status.

The funny thing is is that even though Boyhood is perceived as the frontrunner we haven’t had any industry awards yet. Those all start in a little over a week when the Producers Guild and Screen Actors Guild reveal their winners on the 24th and 25th, respectively. Sure, Boyhood just won the Globe and Linklater won director and it’s dominated the critics’ awards leading up to Oscar season but now I can’t help but feel that Harvey Weinstein’s desire for a repeat of The King’s Speech‘s success might be coming true. The Weinstein Company‘s rollout of The Imitation Game at the box office followed TKS‘s almost to the letter yet TIG has massively over-performed there. People love it and these nominations are going to send people flocking to the theater this weekend.

So, are we in for a repeat of 2010 when the critic favorite The Social Network was bested by the feel-good middlebrow-pretending-to-be-highbrow The King’s Speech came in and stole the crown? Granted, Boyhood isn’t as cold or distant as The Social Network and it’s at least guaranteed an acting win in Patricia Arquette on Oscar night. But maybe that ends up being its only win. I mean, Keira Knightley isn’t winning that, right? RIGHT? The vultures are already circling the little indie that could, picking it apart. The Grand Budapest Hotel or Birdman could take Original Screenplay, J.K. Simmons is winning Best Supporting Actor for Whiplash and then The Imitation Game can finish it off with Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay (unless Whiplash takes that too) and Film Editing. The King’s Speech only squeaked by with four wins so it’s certainly possible.

Boyhood has been embraced pretty much across the board as a film that’s difficult to dislike; it has a small, simple story. It’s human and humane. But maybe it’s too passive. Maybe IFC Films doesn’t have enough in the bank to back it. The Imitation Game is cut from the Oscar playbook like films rarely succeed at. World War II. Nazis. A learning disability. Very old guard Academy favorites. Combine that with the gay element (for the part of the Academy that fancies itself progressive, as long as we don’t have to see any icky gay stuff, eww) and you have Time, Place and Opportunity. While I had thought early in the year that Unbroken was going to check off those Academy boxes (save the gay one) and be the rousing, classic film they used to reward that didn’t pan out. It also didn’t have Harvey Weinstein backing it. The campaign for The Imitation Game has been one for the books. Getting it into every film festival from Toronto to Peoria and “winning” every Audience Award they had to offer. I put winning in quotes because when I saw the film at the Mill Valley Film Festival in October the forcefulness with which the ushers at the door shoved ballots into your hands and didn’t leave your side until you’d completed it was unmatched, and unnerving to say the least. No other film at the festival stood a chance, as I imagine was the case across the continent. Now Weinstein gets to tout his “17 film festival awards” in every FYC ad. That has impact. It’s also on a speed train to that magic $100M mark, something Boyhood won’t be able to get.

A lot remains to be seen in the coming weeks and you can be assured that each film’s campaigns will kick into high gear now. Benedict Cumberbatch will perform an emergency birth in an elevator, Patricia Arquette will find herself saving a child from a burning building. You know the drill, it’s Oscar season.

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