In the race for best picture of the year, the first three prizes were a draw between “Boyhood” (New York Film Critics Circle), “Birdman” (Gotham Awards) and “A Most Violent Year” (National Board of Review). But these scattered results only play to the advantage of “Boyhood,” Richard Linklater’s paean to growing up that was 12 years in the making. Here are 12 reasons why “Boyhood” will probably be the best picture winner at the Academy Awards next February.
(1) The Early Frontrunner Theory
In Oscar seasons with no late-breaking favorite, the early frontrunner wins by default (see 2006’s “The Departed,” 2009’s “The Hurt Locker” and 2012’s “Argo”). “It’s a s—ty year for the Oscars, like it was a s—ty year at the box office,” says a member of the Academy, talking about this year’s race. The fact that “Unbroken,” “Selma” and “The Imitation Game” are all opening at around the same time, to some acclaim but without the kind of universal support that made “Million Dollar Baby” the 2004 champ, will help “Boyhood.”
(2) The Reviews Were Great
The critics and Oscars don’t always line up, but strong reviews can help sway voters. “Boyhood” opened in July to a 99-percent fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, and a perfect score on Metacritic. No other best picture nominee will be able to top that.
(3) The Weighted Ballot
Since the Oscars expanded the best picture race to up to 10 nominees in 2010, the ballots in this category are now counted differently — based on a plurality, not a majority. Voters are asked to rank their choices, so if a single movie doesn’t get 50 percent of the vote, they can throw out the last-place finisher and keep tabulating until one picture crosses that threshold. As a result, the most-liked film (“Argo”) wins over movies that are more divisive (like “Birdman”). “Boyhood” has widespread fans. The ballots that don’t rank it as No. 1 will probably list it as No. 2 or No. 3.
(4) The Best Behind-the-Scenes Story
When it comes to Oscar voting, the narrative of the making of the best-picture winner can be as important as the movie itself. Richard Linklater toiled for 12 years, making a single movie on a shoestring budget. It’s fun to hear stories about how he and his cast — Ellar Coltrane (who was 6 when he landed the role), Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette — shot the Obama scenes, for example, while Obama was still running for president, knowing full well they were capturing a moment of history in a capsule. Which brings us to…
(5) The Most Likeable on the Campaign Trail
In a year with so many biopics, some of the Oscar lunches have been sounding like history class. But not the “Boyhood” actors, who really come across as lovable family members as a result of spending so much time together. And their affection for each other is contagious. On Monday afternoon, at a Peggy Siegal gathering on the Upper East Side, Patricia Arquette was more excited about Richard Linklater’s award from the New York Film Critics Circle than her own prize for best supporting actress.
(6) Richard Linklater Will Win Best Director
Even though Oscar nominations haven’t been announced yet, the closest thing to a sure bet is that Richard Linklater will win the Oscar for best director for “Boyhood.” In the last 10 years, best picture and best director have gone to the same film seven times — two exceptions, strangely, involved Ang Lee (for 2005’s “Brokeback Mountain” and 2012’s “Life of Pi”); and last winter there was a split between Alfonso Cuaron (“Gravity”) and “12 Years a Slave.” Nevertheless, a Linklater win in director boosts the odds of a “Boyhood” sweep on Oscar night.
(7) It Was an Indie Box Office Hit
One of the concerns about “Boyhood’s” early Oscar odds was if the movie could make enough money. It has — $24 million for IFC isn’t astronomical, but it’s better than the grosses of “The Hurt Locker” ($17 million domestically). This is going to be another year in which indie films dominate the best picture race, so it makes sense for a limited release to win the best picture prize.
(8) “The Imitation Game” Might Suffer from Deja Vu
Perhaps the biggest obstacle in “Boyhood’s” path is the Alan Turing drama starring Benedict Cumberbatch, backed by the Weinstein Co. It’s never wise to underestimate Harvey. But “The Imitation Game” might be a little too on-the-nose for a best picture victory. It feels so similar in tone to “The King’s Speech,” Academy voters might feel like they’ve already been down that road before.
(9) Tearjerker Factor
If a movie makes you cry, it triumphs at the Oscars.
The universality of the film’s themes won’t be lost on Oscar voters. At the event this week, Patricia Arquette explained: “Having been the daughter of a mother who is already gone, you can no longer apologize for taking it for granted.” And Ethan Hawke said that the positive reception for the film is proof that “we must like our life more than we let on.”
(11) It Deserves to Win
New York Times critic Manohla Dargis was correct in calling “Boyhood” a “masterpiece.” And on second viewing, “Boyhood” plays just as powerfully, thanks to the nuances in storytelling and performances.
(12) Even Joyce Carol Oates Loves “Boyhood.”
There have been a handful of celebrity moderators at this year’s Q&A’s (George Stephanopoulos did “Unbroken,” and Anderson Cooper will be stumping for “American Sniper”). And IFC tirelessly retweeted all the well-known names who tweeted that they loved the movie. But perhaps the greatest coup of awards season was getting the celebrated novelist to moderate a lunch with the cast. “I think we all thought we were looking at real life,” Oates said. “It was startling to learn it was written.”