Well, there you go. With the Academy Awards, sometimes you just never know. Or, rather you do, if you know where to look.
The victory lap for “Birdman” at the Oscars on Sunday night, scooping best picture and director, presumably away from “Boyhood,” made sense to people well versed in the Academy’s ways. The organization often is deaf, even resistant, to the inclinations of critics, many of whom crowned “Boyhood” the year’s best. Entertainment Weekly’s January cover story anointing the film as “this year’s Oscar front-runner” probably didn’t help the film’s cause (or, since we’re on the topic, a not-so-flattering piece in The New York Times the weekend voting opened).
“Birdman” had so many elements for actors and below-the-line craftspeople to chew on: the ballyhooed long shots, which won the cinematographer an Oscar; the actors having to work with clockwork precision; the storyline itself. Seasoned Oscar watchers said they knew it was over for “Boyhood” when “Whiplash” took the editing award: the Academy’s respect for how Richard Linklater’s film was sewn together by the editor would have to be paramount in order for the picture to win. There was some surprise that Mr. Linklater didn’t collect best director, but as others have noted, the Directors Guild Award – which went this year to Alejandro G. Iñárritu – is often the bellwether of where that Oscar will land.
But it was clearly the night for “Birdman” – to the great joy of the folks at New Regency and Fox Searchlight, who were behind last year’s winner, too, “12 Years a Slave.” “Birdman” even won best original screenplay, a surprise, since Wes Anderson’s “The Grand Budapest Hotel” had a story line that was at once more sweeping and more delicate, and collected a Writers Guild Award. Yet every film that had been nominated for best picture collected some kind of award, a nice outcome.
And, hurrah, Alexandre Desplat finally won an Oscar for best original soundtrack, for his yodeler-laced compositions for “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” this after getting nominated eight times. (Mind you, two of those nominations were from this year; even he was worried they’d cancel each other out.)
It’s good to note, for those still mourning the losses of “Boyhood,” that a small independent film about the passing of time wouldn’t have had a chance in many other years, something Mr. Linklater noted on the red carpet.
“I think if ‘Birdman’ and ‘Boyhood’ are duking it out,” he said, “that’s pretty amazing.”