Academy gives us all the bird

First Posted: 2/24/2015

My heart sank a little when Sean Penn plucked “Birdman’s” name out of the envelope at the end of the 87th Academy Awards last week.

By my count, at least four of the other films nominated for Best Picture were superior to director Alejandro González Iñárritu‘s vitriolic comedy about a washed-up movie star who attempts to resuscitate his crumbling career with a Broadway show.

So a bunch of actors voted for a movie about acting? How about that.

Easy gibes aside, I’ve got no beef with “Birdman.” I enjoyed the film, though it was never quite as clever or cutting as it seemed to think it was.

But I do feel that “Boyhood,” which appeared the obvious frontrunner for Best Picture until “Birdman” started picking up momentum with big wins at lesser-awards shows, was robbed.

Director Richard Linklater famously spent an unprecedented 12 years making his naturalistic spin on the classic coming-of-age story, but that’s not why “Boyhood” deserved to win.

The reason “Boyhood” was such a breath of fresh air is because it was bracingly honest about the way we grow up. Linklater understands how seemingly innocuous little moments can sneak up on us to become formative experiences.

Not that I expect any of this to matter to every reader, since there’s a good chance many of you didn’t even watch the telecast.

According to Variety, viewership of this year’s ceremony dropped by about 6 million people, marking a six-year low for Hollywood’s Biggest Night.

It’s easy to see why. As host Neil Patrick Harris pointed out during his opening monologue, the highly politicized “American Sniper” has raked in nearly as much money as the combined box office for the seven films it was running against for Best Picture.

As of this writing, “American Sniper” has earned about $430 million, a measly sum when stacked against the $716 grossed by “Gravity,” that sci-fi survival film nominated for Best Picture during last year’s ceremony — the most watched in Oscars history.

This year’s batch of Oscar-nominated movies was among the least seen in recent memory, and it’s hard to get pumped about watching a three-hour awards show when you don’t have a dog in the fight.

Thankfully, a nearby sanctuary for independent film lovers kept me in the loop.

Of the eight films nominated for Best Picture, six were screened at the Cameo Art House Theater in downtown Fayetteville. That’s more nominated films than any theater within a three-hour drive of Lumberton.

On Oscar Sunday, I attended a private shindig at the theater to watch the ceremony projected on the big screen. When Penn revealed “Birdman” as the winner for Best Picture, no one in my audience seemed as upset about it as I was.

But when I got home and started reading critics’ reactions to the win, I realized that my position was comparatively mild.

Minutes after the announcement, Slate’s Dan Kois wrote, “this one’s an epochal Oscar travesty,” describing “Boyhood’s” snub as the Academy’s “worst mistake in 20 years.”

During an interview with BBC News, Mark Kermode said, “There will be a pub quiz question in 10 years’ time, and the question will be: ‘What won the Oscar for best picture the year that Boyhood didn’t?”

Sheesh.

I’m reminded of this really great dinner table scene in “Whiplash” — my personal favorite film of 2014 — where the driven-to-the-brink drummer protagonist played by Miles Teller is asked by his cousin, “How do they know who wins in a music competition? Isn’t it subjective?”

“No, not really,” Teller says.