A day of big surprises confirmed Boyhood, Birdman and The Grand Budapest Hotel as front-runners for the best picture Oscar at the 87th Academy Awards.
Boyhood remains the slender favourite to win the prize on February 22, given that the lauded coming-of-age epic also earned best director and screenplay nods for Richard Linklater and, crucially, editing recognition for Sandra Adair.
The Grand Budapest Hotel has nominations for the same four categories but this feels like Boyhood’s Year. The IFC Films coming-of-age saga is the front-runner for best feature and director honours, with a likely win too for supporting actress favourite Patricia Arquette and quite possibly a triumph for Adair.
The roster of Oscar contenders seems right, given that awards season has delivered yet another emphatic show of strength by independent cinema and studio specialty divisions, earning a record 20 nods for Fox Searchlight films and a record 18 for Sony Pictures Classics.
The Fox Searchlight pair of The Grand Budapest Hotel and Birdman — both earning nine nominations, the latter co-financed by New Regency — Bold Films’ Whiplash released by Sony Pictures Classics, Black Bear Picture’s The Imitation Game released by The Weinstein Company and Focus Features/Working Title’s The Theory Of Everything are among Thursday’s nominees that proudly earn their place in the sun alongside Boyhood.
Linklater definitely looks like the one to beat in the directing category, despite fierce competition from Wes Anderson for Grand Budapest and Alejandro G Iñárritu for Birdman. David Fincher’s habit of under-perfomring with the Academy continues as he was left out of consideration for Gone Girl.
Anderson is looking good for the original screenplay statuette although the category is populated with strong contenders, among them Iñárritu and his co-writers, as well as E May Frye and Dan Futterman for Foxcatcher and of course Linklater.
Despite two unexpected, albeit deserved, additions in the lead acting race – Steve Carell for Foxcatcher and Marion Cotillard for Two Days, One Night – the favourites remain the same.
Best actor is a two-horse race between Golden Globe winners Michael Keaton for Birdman and Eddie Redmayne for The Theory Of Everything, even without the lauded David Oyelowo for Selma and Timothy Spall for Mr. Turner.
Julianne Moore’s lead performance in Still Alice is perhaps the clearest call of the entire contest, as are predicted supporting acting victories for Arquette for Boyhood and JK Simmons for Whiplash.
All three prevailed at the Globes last weekend and while that is by no means a guarantee of Academy Awards success, their triumphs will be high in the minds of Oscar voters, whose final ballots are due on February 17.
The general exclusion of Selma will keep tongues wagging for many days to come. Pathé’s film is no classic but one would have thought its worthiness would have held greater sway over the Academy, which relishes the role of purger-in-chief when it comes to Hollywood guilt over dark episodes in history.
But it was not to be this year as the film remained mired in controversy. Alleged historical inaccuracies did not help and neither did the decision by US distributor Paramount not to send screeners to Guild members at the DGA, PGA and SAG. The film was ineligible for WGA recognition.
That oversight rankled those voting groups no end, because members are lazy about leaving their homes to attend theatrical screenings, despite frequent proclamations about the need to honour film-makers by viewing their work on a large screen.
It is little surprise to see a lack of support in the senior categories for Unbroken, Interstellar and Inherent Vice, although the overall snub to Nightcrawler is a surprise.
Bold Films’ acclaimed drama drew a single nod for Dan Gilroy’s original screenplay but nothing for Jake Gyllenhaal’s widely admired anti-hero.
Bold will be immensely heartened by support for Whiplash, which earned five nods overall including supporting actor nod for Simmons, best feature, best adapted screenplay for Damien Chazelle and editing for Tom Cross.
Golden Globe winner Leviathan looks like a strong contender to claim the foreign language prize although it will be pushed all the way by Ida.
Citizenfour must be the favourite to scoop the documentary prize, while the animation category is tough to call given that The LEGO Movie was snubbed.
Jeremy Kay is US Editor at Screen International