Academy Awards 2015: Past winners reflected
It's usually an easy game, comparing best picture nominees to previous winners as a way to gauge their chances for the big O. There's almost always a current film that can be likened to such classics as "Rocky" or "The Sting." Until this year. The remarkable, original entries in this year's best picture category make our annual look at the resemblance to past winners challenging. "My Fair Lady" still wields influence, as does the great "Gandhi." But a few reaches and mash-ups were required this time, along with one double dip that couldn't be helped. So what does all that say about their Oscar chances? Probably nothing, but it's fun to consider.
‘Boyhood’ — ‘Cinema Paradiso’
At first, “Boyhood” proved a stumper, with its unusual approach of filming the same cast over 12 years. But “Cinema Paradiso,” 1990’s foreign-language film winner, bears some striking comparisons. Both show the cumulative effects of time’s passage on the life of an observant, curious boy being raised with a sister by a single mom. Quotidian moments at home, school and play guide both stories, rather than large plot contrivances. But, by the end, those moments add up to pack an unexpected punch.
‘Birdman’ — ‘The Artist’
“Birdman” was another technical wonder, seemingly using one very long take to underscore the tension building around an actor wrestling with his demons. But thematically it has much in common with 2011’s winner, “The Artist,” which also used unusual filmic techniques — black and white, silent — to reveal a performer’s rise, fall and ultimate flight.
‘The Theory of Everything’ — ‘A Beautiful Mind’
The story of Stephen Hawking’s brilliant work, unfolding alongside overwhelming limitations, conjures up 2002’s winner, “A Beautiful Mind.” In both, the love of a great woman gave the scientist a new lease on life.
‘The Imitation Game’ — ‘Lawrence of Arabia’
The story of Alan Turing’s brilliant work, unfolding alongside overwhelming limitations — OK, so it also conjures up “A Beautiful Mind” just a wee bit. As portrayed in “The Imitation Game,” Turing is practically incapable of interacting with other people, but the support of his only friend, Joan, helps him, for a time anyway. Let’s also throw in a dash of “Lawrence of Arabia,” 1963’s best picture about a brilliant misfit who ignores his commanders’ orders to blaze a bold new path they can’t understand. Both feature a dishy Briton in the lead role to boot.
‘Selma’ — ‘Gandhi’
Brilliant, charismatic men abound this season. “Selma” takes a powerful look at the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s campaign for voting rights, using nonviolent noncooperation against virulent opposition. An exceptional, pragmatic leader, he learned from another such peaceful warrior, Mohandas K. Gandhi, whose campaign against British oppression in India was depicted in 1982’s “Gandhi.”
‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ — ‘Grand Hotel’
In its depiction of a sumptuous hotel on the verge of catastrophe, “The Grand Budapest Hotel” harks to “Grand Hotel,” which won in 1931-32, complete with a cavalcade of stars and a glorious tapestry of plotlines — even a murder to solve. A few of those threads, involving clever escapes and duplicity in an exotic locale, also evoke memories of 1942’s “Casablanca.”
‘American Sniper’ — ‘The Hurt Locker’
“American Sniper” takes a hard but sympathetic look at the effects of war and the specialty work of Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper), just as 2009’s “The Hurt Locker” observed the effects of war and the specialty work of a bomb disposal soldier on its hero. Both are seen as masters of their respective skill as well as victims of the unbearable pressures caused by the work and the battlefield.
‘Whiplash’ — ‘My Fair Lady’
Too bad “The Hurt Locker” is already taken. The brutality depicted in “Whiplash” between a jazz professor and his drumming student could easily cause post-traumatic stress disorder. Instead, we’re going to have to go out on a limb here to 1965’s winner, “My Fair Lady.” In both films, a young raw talent falls under the tutelage of a teacher whose methods border on sadism. (Mouthful of marbles, anyone?) To top it off, they both have unforgettable soundtracks. You can almost hear “Whiplash’s” Andrew (Miles Teller) singing, “I could have drummed all night … ”
Credits: "American Sniper"/"The Hurt Locker": Warner Bros. / Summit Entertainment | "Boyhood"/"Cinema Paradiso": IFC Films / Miramax | "Birdman"/"The Artist": Atsushi Nishijima/Twentieth Century Fox / The Weinstein Company | "The Theory of Everything"/"A Beautiful Mind" - Liam Daniel/Focus Features / Eli Reed/Universal Studios | "The Imitation Game"/"Lawrence of Arabia": Jack English/The Weinstein Co. / Columbia Pictures | "Selma"/"Gandhi": Paramount Pictures / Columbia Pictures | "The Grand Budapest Hotel"/"Grand Hotel": Fox Searchlight / L.A. Times Archives