We could make this one easy on ourselves and buy the narrative that every film nominated for best picture will win at least one Oscar next Sunday and call this one for The Imitation Game. But this presupposes that AMPAS members actually fill out their ballots with the intent of “spreading the wealth around” (how many Oscars did American Hustle win again?), and that Graham Moore’s adaptation of Andrew Hodges’s Alan Turing biopic isn’t one of the dullest soft balls to be pegged as a frontrunner in this category since Jason Reitman’s screenplay for Up in the Air, which lost—shockingly, if only in retrospect—to Precious.
Just about all the nominees here have had to shoulder some kind of controversy in regard to taking ostensibly the wrong kind of liberties with their source material: The Imitation Game for its spayed depiction of Turing’s sexuality; Inherent Vice for its baroque, largely audience-annoying narrative curlicues; and American Sniper for not sufficiently demonizing Chris Kyle, at least for those who believe films must flatter our political biases. So, when you consider the Academy’s predominantly liberal makeup, and their propensity for material that mostly keeps things on the straight and narrow, The Imitation Game would appear to be on top.
But The Imitation Game not only has to compete against another square-peg biopic, The Theory of Everything, but the impossibly brash Whiplash. Courting what we feel is the right kind of controversy, Damien Chazelle’s screenplay is, by most accounts, an original one, but it appears here on a technicality because an 18-minute scene derived from a scene in the film was shot and screened at Sundance for investors. Which is the sort of category confusion that no one outside the academy’s writer’s branch is going to get too hot and bothered about—especially given how easy it is to get hot and bothered about what our own Eric Henderson says is, like Precious before it, dialogue “so putrid that it refuses to be ignored, no matter the dipshit plot contrivances.” Given the choice between the autistic reticence of Benedict Cumberbatch’s Turing and the pyrotechnic words of abuse flung about by J.K. Simmons’s Fletcher, Chazelle perseveres for exuding the sort of writerly ambition that would make him just as much of a threat if he’d been nominated in the correct category.
Will Win: Whiplash
Could Win: The Imitation Game
Should Win: American Sniper