With the Oscars ceremony just around the corner, film fans will desperately be pondering which is the best predictor as to who the big winners could be. Should we look at Golden Globe Winners, Bafta Winners, The Director’s Guild of America Award winners, for clues? Or should we perhaps delve deeper into the history of the OSCARS?
The nominees for the academy’s biggest accolade, Best Picture, this year are; American Sniper, Birdman, Boyhood, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Imitation Game, Selma, The Theory of Everything and Whiplash.
Critics and bookies have spent weeks providing their analysis and predictions as to who will win the prize this year. Some are calling it the tightest race in years, with the potential for any one of the nominees to triumph, such is the quality of work on show.
With this in mind, I present an analysis of the history of the winners of the Academy Award for Best Picture in order to deduce the winner of this year’s prize.
It is extremely difficult to categorise and label the past eighty-six winners of the Academy Award for Best Picture, however it is worth noting that historically the most common winners have been dramas. To clarify, when I say drama, I mean movies that a purely propelled by their stories and the drama that lies therein. I separate these movies from other genres such as musicals or those concerned with telling biographical tales etc.
The majority of Best Picture winners have been pure dramas ranging from the influential and multi-layer Grand Hotel (1931) to the emotionally moving Ordinary People (1980) to the more modern social commentary that was a feature of Crash (2005). Dramas have historically been the big winners at the Oscars.
Many argue that other genres tend to go largely ignored, namely musicals and comedies. An analysis of previous winners counters this viewpoint; Best Picture winners that fall into the combined genre of musical/comedy command the second largest amount of wins in history. The comedy genre has never had the same level of success in the category as musicals. The heyday of musical Best Picture winners began in the 1930s and lasted until the late 1960s which included the likes of It Happened One Night (1934), The Sound of Music (1965) and Oliver! (1968). With the exception of Chicago (2002) there have been no recent musical winners.
The next most frequent winners have been in the biopic genre closely followed by those in the crime/thriller genre. Midnight Cowboy (1969) although strictly a drama, signalled a new approach to film making. It gave birth to the gritty realism of seventies cinema which saw an influx of movies exploring crime, policing, war, politics and America itself. Many of the Best Picture winners during the seventies were expertly crafted crime stories including; The French Connection (1971) and The Godfather (1972).
The Academy also appears to reward well-made biographical movies with a significant amount of winners falling into this category including; Lawrence of Arabia (1962), Patton (1970), Ghandi (1982), The Last Emperor (1987), Schindler’s List (1993) and Braveheart (1995).
Action and War Movies have had a handful of notable Best Picture Wins including; The Bridge On the River Kwai (1957), Platoon (1986), Gladiator (2000) and LOTR: Return of the King (2003). Westerns have had the fewest wins. The two most memorable being in the revisionist mould of Western; Dances with Wolves (1990) and Unforgiven (1992).
It is not just genre that dictates the Best Picture winner, the themes explored by these movies are wholly relevant. The Academy is a body with international membership but it is a thoroughly American beast. It is no coincidence that movies that explore American values, history or the American dream are popular winners. Whether it’s Sidney Poitier investigating a murder in the hostile south in In the Heat of the Night (1967) or Morgan Freeman and Jessica Tandy’s relationship in Driving Miss Daisy (1989) or Robert Zemeckis’ retelling of American history through Forrest Gump (1994).
The Academy also rewards movies that feature whether by circumstance or design characters who are flawed, conceited or tragic; Hamlet (1948), All About Eve (1950), On the Waterfront (1954), One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) and A Beautiful Mind (2001) to name but a few.
Therefore based on the hypothesis presented I believe the Academy Award for Best Picture 2015 will go to Birdman. I believe it will be a close this year but Birdman wins out for me because despite its associations with the superhero genre it is a wonderfully crafted well-acted story about a flawed character who is chasing the dream of being relevant in America. It says a lot about fame and the desire for instant gratification the internet has created.
Out of the other nominees; The Imitation Game, American Sniper, Selma and the Theory of Everything represent essentially well-crafted biopics. As far as the formula goes they tend to run second to pure drama with the Academy. I expect Whiplash to give Birdman the greatest run for its money with Boyhood and The Grand Budapest Hotel (the curse of being comedy) coming in a close third and fourth.
I may indeed be wrong, perhaps even over analytical about how the Academy hands out its best picture awards but as in all things in life the more things change the more they stay the same.
Image Rights; Academy of Motion Sciences