They Shoot Oscar Prognosticators, Don't They?

Interstellar, The Theory of Everything, Fury and the Shifting Oscar Race

By J. Don Birnam

December 1, 2014

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Christopher Nolan’s latest blockbuster, Interstellar, seemed destined to make noise in the 2015 Oscar race, but a tepid reception may have doomed its chances. The Theory of Everything is also here, and is a mortal lock for a Best Actor nomination. Meanwhile, Brad Pitt’s Fury could make some noise in the “below the line” technical categories. Finally, Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Birdman continues to wow critics and audiences alike. So where exactly does the Oscar race stand approximately a week before the New York Critics start it all off?

Let’s review what we mortals don’t know yet: most potential contenders have been seen at least by critics, but remain a mystery to audiences. Thus, Unbroken, Selma, and American Sniper have been seen by critics and could crash the race when they are screened to broader audiences, given how wide open Best Picture seems right now. All three provide strong Oscar bait and have serious industry names associated with them. For what it’s worth, critics seem dazzled by Selma, are currently embargoed from talking about Unbroken, and have dismissed American Sniper as a serious contender.

Here’s what we do know: Interstellar has received mixed audience support and critical reviews, but it has garnered positive reviews from at least some influential critics across the country (the New York and LA Times come to mind). And because of its technical achievements, it should still have a shot at a Best Picture nomination as support among the guilds and craft groups within the Academy could propel it to a slot. Oscar pundits elsewhere disagree, but I refuse to believe Interstellar will go quietly into that gentle night.


We also know that Gone Girl won the top prize at the Hollywood Film Awards on November 14th. “The what?” you may ask, and you have a point. Among the glut of awards wannabes, these publicity-driven awards are more like stunts meant to push nomination bids forward rather than predict them. Thus, the HFA handed out awards to actors in The Theory of Everything, The Imitation Game, Birdman, and Wild (the Reese Witherspoon movie). Regardless of the merits of an HFA award, the publicists for the movies that received prizes demonstrated that they are serious about pushing these projects through the awards season. Finally, we know that respected movies like Boyhood and The Imitation Game remain strong in the game (no real challengers have come along) so those two are likely cruising to a Best Picture nod as of now.

For the rest of the column, let’s focus more on what we have learned since we spoke about the Oscar race last month: the true qualities and audience receptions of Interstellar, The Theory of Everything, Fury, and Birdman. Please note that my discussion of all four movies contains significant plot spoilers.

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