TIME movies

Birdman Flies Ahead in Oscar Race

Press Room - 21st Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards
Actors Michael Keaton (R) and Edward Norton (2-R) and cast members of 'Birdman' hold the award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture at the 21st Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards ceremony at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles on Jan. 25, 2015. Paul Buck—EPA

The trick-shot dramedy snags the top awards from the Screen Actors and Producer guilds. Can anyone snipe—we mean stop—the Birdman Express?

The man who becomes a bird is flying high in the Oscar race. The boy who becomes a man fell to Earth. And the SEAL with a sniper rifle remains an outsider, and may be out of ammunition.

The fast-evolving competition for the Academy Award for Best Picture took another Darwinian leap this weekend with the Producers Guild awards on Saturday night and the Screen Actor Guilds ceremony on Sunday. The two industry guilds, many of whose members also vote for the Oscars, presented their top prizes to Birdman or (Whatever the Silly Subtitle Is), making Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s dramedy about a desperate actor the front-runner for the most coveted Oscar. No film that won the SAG and the PGA awards has failed to win the Academy’s Best Picture since 2007, when Little Miss Sunshine lost out to The Departed.

In a mild upset at SAG, Eddie Redmayne took Best Actor for his role as Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything, nosing out Birdman leading man Michael Keaton. But Keaton did share in his film’s Ensemble award, so the SAG members may have figured they were spreading the wealth.

The other acting Oscars reached mathematical certitude when SAG named Julianne Moore as Best Actress for Still Alice, J.K. Simmons as Best Supporting Actor for Whiplash, and Patricia Arquette for Boyhood. That Richard Linklater drama of Texas family life, shot over a 12-year period as lead actor Ellar Coltrane grew from first-grader to college freshman, has been the critics’ darling since it premiered a year ago at the Sundance Film Festival, But losing the SAG and PGA benedictions means it’s a slightly longer shot for Best Picture.

The Screen Actors, who traditionally reward movies with large casts—such as Crash over Brokeback Mountain in 2006, presaging the Crash Oscar win—had been expected to favor Birdman, with its powerhouse acting team, above Boyhood, which has an essential cast of four, two of whom are kids. But the Producers, whose top choice has coincided with the Academy’s in every year since 2009, when the Best Picture Oscar expanded from five finalists to as many as 10, certainly gave a thumbs-up to Birdman and a time-out to Boyhood.

SAG and the PGA also agreed in ignoring the colossus in the room: Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper, which went into wide release just 10 days ago and has already earned $200 million. That’s a record-breaking debut for any R-rated film or, for that matter, any movie without a fantasy superhero—though the Sniper critics might say that Chris Kyle, the Navy SEAL sharpshooter played by Bradley Cooper, is too good to be believably true. The film was a PGA finalist, and Cooper shortlisted for SAG’s Best Actor prize, but won nothing except the hearts and minds of the mass movie audience. These are not the People’s Choice Awards.

Birdman, which has never played in as many as 1,000 North American theaters, just crossed the $30-million threshold this weekend. But box-office popularity has rarely been a factor in the decisions of SAG, the PGA or the Academy.

What all three groups love is movies about acting with a capital A: the process of creating a work about the agonies and ecstasies of performance. Consider the 2011 winner The King’s Speech, detailing King George VI’s rehearsal for a radio speech against Hitler; the 2011 champ The Artist, a virtually wordless valentine to a silent movie star; and the 2013 recipient Argo, in which a CIA agent tutors U.S. Embassy personnel in Teheran how to act their way out of Iran.

Birdman is basically All About Eve—the 1950 comedy about rehearsal rivalries in a Broadway show, and another Best Picture laureate—reimagined as a Batman suicide mission. The movie couldn’t be actor-ier.

And at least four weeks before the Academy Awards, it couldn’t be Oscar-ier.

TIME movies

“We’re the People”: John Ford’s The Grapes of Wrath at 75

The Grapes of Wrath.
Getty Images

As an incendiary novel and as a daring film, this tale of Dust Bowl Okies speaks passionately to today's migrants and underdogs

In 1939, this seemed the most topical of novels: the story of one Oklahoma family, the Joads, leaving their devastated Dust Bowl home in Oklahoma to find work picking fruit in California and finding more misery and pricked hopes when they get there. But John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath also speaks urgently to today’s concerns: the cratered trail of dreams for Mexican immigrants seeking a promised land in the Western U.S.; the perfidy of banks in foreclosing on poor people’s homes; and the insurgent urge of the book’s protagonist, Tom Joad, to speak truth to police power. “Wherever there’s a cop beatin’ up a guy,” Tom promises, “I’ll be there.” In Salinas, Cal., Ferguson, Mo. or Staten Island, N.Y., Tom’s truth goes marching on.

TIME, in its April 1939 review, called the book “Steinbeck’s best novel, i.e., his toughest and tenderest, his roughest written and most mellifluous, his most realistic and, in its ending, his most melodramatic, his angriest and most idyllic.” That anger resonated through the decades and throughout popular culture—from, say, the 1941 Woody Guthrie ballad “Tom Joad” to Bruce Springsteen’s 1995 “The Ghost of Tom Joad.”

The echoes haven’t faded. In 2010, choosing The Grapes of Wrath as one of the all-TIME 100 Novels (published since 1923), Lev Grossman wrote of the Joads: “their indomitable strength in the face of an entire continent’s worth of adversity makes Steinbeck’s epic far more than a history of unfortunate events: It’s both a record of its time and a permanent monument to human perseverance.”

The same can be said of the film version of The Grapes of Wrath. Starring Henry Fonda as Tom Joad and directed by John Ford, it had its world premiere in New York City on Jan. 24, 1940—75 years ago today.

The movie, which would be named the year’s Best Film by the New York Film Critics Circle, was greeted with hosannahs from pertinent reviewers. One was Frank S. Nugent of the New York Times, who wrote that the movie deserved a place on that “small, uncrowded shelf devoted to the cinema’s masterworks, to those films which by dignity of theme and excellence of treatment seem to be of enduring artistry, seem destined to be recalled not merely at the end of their particular year but whenever great motion pictures are mentioned.” Years later, Nugent would write screenplays for 11 Ford films, including their joint masterpiece, The Searchers. But his Times review was no preemptive apple polishing for a future employer, simply the expression of the majority opinion.

The man who reviewed The Grapes of Wrath for TIME had a more complex career biography. Before coming to the magazine in 1939, Whitaker Chambers had already written journalism and fiction for the Communist paper The Daily Worker, translated Felix Salten’s Bambi into English and served as a spy for the U.S.S.R. against the U.S. government. Riven by news of the 1938 Moscow Trials, Chambers defected from the Party and was hired by TIME. Toward the end of his tenure as Senior Editor, he was the star witness testifying against Alger Hiss in the most prominent espionage trial of the postwar years. TIME has harbored some famous movie critics—James Agee, Manny Farber, Richard Schickel—but none so notorious.

Chambers poured a vat of his conflicted political passions into his rave review of the Grapes of Wrath movie, which he saw as an improvement on the Agitprop aspects of the book:

It will be a red rag to bull-mad Californians who may or may not boycott it. Others, who were merely annoyed at the exaggerations, propaganda and phony pathos of John Steinbeck’s best selling novel, may just stay away. Pinkos, who did not bat an eye when the Soviet Government exterminated 3,000,000 peasants by famine, will go for a good cry over the hardships of the Okies. But people who go to pictures for the sake of seeing pictures will see a great one. For The Grapes of Wrath is possibly the best picture ever made from a so-so book. It is certainly the best picture Darryl F. Zanuck has produced or Nunnally Johnson scripted. It would be the best John Ford had directed if he had not already made The Informer.

Read TIME’s Feb. 1940 review of The Grapes of Wrath, free of charge, here in the archives: The New Pictures

The 1930s birthed two great agrarian novels: Gone With the Wind from the viewpoint of the ruling class, The Grapes of Wrath for the underclass. And both were turned into movies that dared to be true to the books’ controversial themes. Just six weeks after David O. Selznick’s epic adaptation of the Margaret Mitchell novel premiered in Atlanta on its way to becoming the most popular film of all time, 20th Century-Fox hosted the New York City opening of The Grapes of Wrath. The property had gone from first printing of the book to finished film adaptation in about nine months. Everything happened faster back then.

Gone With the Wind, the decade’s best-selling novel, had been a natural for the movies, though its rosy view of slavery seems a harsh delusion today. Hollywood had long romanticized the antebellum South as a home of vanished gentility; D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation, depicting the Ku Klux Klan as Arthurian knights freeing Southern gentlewomen from their black oppressors, was the first blockbuster feature film exactly 100 years ago.

In 1939, though, Steinbeck’s migrants’ tale was much more immediate: a scorched-earth headline, a suppurating wound. The book had been banned in Kern County, Cal., the end point of the Joad family’s travels, and burned in Salinas, Steinbeck’s home town. Some California theater owners didn’t care much for the real Okies either: they made anyone who looked like a migrant worker sit in the balcony’s “colored section.”

So why should Fox boss Zanuck go where no Hollywood film had gone before: to expose the inequities of capitalism as the Great Depression staggered into its second decade? Because Steinbeck’s book was an enormous popular and critical success; and because Zanuck was hungry for a prestige hit.

A staunch Republican from Yahoo, Nebraska, and the only gentile then in charge of a major movie studio, Zanuck had produced socially incendiary films (I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang, Wild Boys of the Road) in his early-’30s job as head of production at Warner Bros. At Fox he got rich on Shirley Temple movies and nostalgic musicals starring Alice Faye but had never got near Oscar hardware. Now Zanuck would assign Ford (already an Academy Award winner for The Informer) and producer-screenwriter Johnson to make the film of 1940.

At first, Zanuck and Steinbeck circled each other warily. Determined to red-check the book’s charges of official brutality, the mogul sent private detectives to the migrant camps and found that conditions were even worse than Steinbeck had portrayed. The author, for his part, was troubled that Fox was owned by the Chase National Bank, whose president, Winthrop Aldrich, was the brother-in-law of John D. Rockefeller Jr. In one of those improbable twists that are supposed to happen only in the movies, Aldrich’s wife Harriet told her husband she loved the book—and that was enough for the banker. Zanuck got the green light and sealed a $100,000 deal with Steinbeck. Ford shot the movie, which cost $750,000 to produce, in an efficient 43 days.

Johnson, who had written The Prisoner of Shark Island for Ford and the 1939 Western hit Jesse James, quickly fashioned a script that distilled the 473-page book and wove some of Steinbeck’s descriptive chapters into the narrative. (Virtually all the film’s dialogue is from the novel.) Fonda, who had already starred for Ford that year in Young Mr. Lincoln and Drums Along the Mohawk, was Ford’s choice for Tom Joad; Fonda wanted it too. But Zanuck insisted that the actor sign a seven-year contract with the studio before giving him the part.

In return, Fonda gave a perfect performance, revealing the idealism that grows inside desperation. Tom, who has killed a man before the story begins and kills another at the end, is a dead man walking. As illuminated by cinematographer Gregg Toland’s low-key lighting, Fonda’s face is that of a spirit haunted by crimes and warmed by possibilities. He is both Guthrie’s Tom Joad and Springsteen’s Ghost of Tom Joad.

In a family saga with zero romantic interest, the towering female figure is Ma Joad, a dominant life spirit incarnate. Ford considered Beulah Bondi for the role, then gave it to the more maternally configured Jane Darwell. The young Orson Welles, in Hollywood in 1940 to make Citizen Kane, said that by emphasizing Ma’s role Ford had turned The Grapes of Wrath into “a story of mother love. Sentiment is Jack’s vice.” But the movie needs Ma’s flinty optimism. If Tom is the firebrand of the family, Ma is the hearth. And Darwell brings a truculent warmth to the film. Somebody has called her one of the all-time great movie mothers.

Ford filled out his cast with a character actors’ Hall of Fame: sepulchral John Carradine as the itinerant preacher Casy; John Qualen as poor Muley, the Oklahoma landowner who must watch a tractor turn his shack into tinder; and Ward Bond, the director’s favorite supporting star, as a California cop. Dorris Bowden, Nunnally Johnson’s wife, was the pathetic Rosasharn, who in the novel’s conclusion is so overwhelmed with grief at losing her infant baby that she feeds her mother’s milk to a dying stranger. That scene didn’t get into the movie (no surprise, since Steinbeck’s editors had wanted it out of the book) nor did several scenes of political fingerprinting.

In fact, the film’s famous ending was not shot by Ford.

Anyone who’s seen the movie remembers the two final speeches. The first is Tom’s, when he leaves his mother to become the floating conscience of working-class America’s threats and promises: “I’ll be all around in the dark. I’ll be everywhere, wherever you can look. Wherever there’s a fight, so hungry people can eat, I’ll be there. Wherever there’s a cop beatin’ up a guy, I’ll be there. I’ll be in the way guys yell when they’re mad. I’ll be in the way kids laugh when they’re hungry and they know supper’s ready. And when the people are eatin’ the stuff they raise and livin’ in the houses they build—I’ll be there, too.”

Tom and Ma kiss—the movie’s one fervent expression of emotion—and we see an image of Tom walking away on a hill crest toward an uncertain future. That, Ford thought, should be the final shot. “I wanted to end on a down note,” he said later. “And the way Zanuck changed it, it came out on an upbeat.” A meticulous and dominant craftsman on the set, Ford usually left his films to be cut by Zanuck, whom he greatly admired as an editor; and this time, Zanuck wanted to show that, for the Joads, to survive was to triumph. So he pulled a speech from earlier in the book (and from an earlier draft of the screenplay) to express an affirmation of almost Constitutional grandeur. Instead of “We the People,” “We’re the people.”

The family finds a government camp that treats migrants decently and informs them of 20 days’ work nearby. And in their rickety car, Ma tells Pa Joad (Russell Simpson) about the indomitability of the poor: “Rich fellas come up an’ they die, an’ their kids ain’t no good an’ they die out. But we keep a-comin’. We’re the people that live. They can’t wipe us out, they can’t lick us. We’ll go on forever, Pa, ’cause we’re the people.” The scene is filmed in a single two-shot of about 1min.45sec. And Zanuck directed it himself.

Steinbeck, who saw the movie about a month before it opened, might have balked at some ellipses and euphemisms. But he loved it. “Zanuck has more than kept his word,” he wrote in a letter read by Ford historian Joseph McBride in an illuminating commentary on the film that appeared in the 2007 box set Ford at Fox. “He has [produced] a hard, straight picture to which the actors are submerged so completely that it looks and feels like a documentary film. And certainly it has a hard, truthful ring. No punches are pulled. In fact, with the descriptive matter removed, it is a harsher thing than the book by far. It seems unbelievable but it is true.”

Nearly as incredible is that, the following year, the film lost the Oscar for Best Picture to Selznick’s romantic mystery Rebecca. Only Ford and Darwell received Academy Awards. In 1941 Ford left Hollywood for four years to shoot war documentaries in the Pacific (his The Battle of Midway is a classic), eventually rising to the rank of Admiral. Fonda also joined the Navy, earning Lieut, JG stripes and a Bronze Star; and Zanuck was commissioned as a Colonel in the Army Signal Corps. Steinbeck, whom the FBI had investigated for Communist leanings around the time of The Grapes of Wrath, was not allowed to join the Armed Forces. He became a war correspondent for the New York Herald-Tribune and was informally involved in the OSS, predecessor of the CIA.

If The Grapes of Wrath speaks with eerie eloquence to Americans today, it had an immediate effect on two prominent viewers across the Atlantic. Seeing the movie several times in 1940, Adolf Hitler was convinced by its dramatizing of downtrodden Anglo-Saxon farmers that U.S. soldiers from such a debased stock would be a pushover in any war against the Third Reich. Turned out Hitler was misinformed, or a dupe of American propaganda. He must have turned the movie off before the “We the people” speech.

And in 1948 Joseph Stalin allowed the film to be shown in theaters in the U.S.S.R., believing that audiences would be enlightened by the misery of the proletariat in the so-called Golden State, the self-described America the Beautiful. Stalin was wrong too. Soviet moviegoers gazed enviously on the jalopy that took the Joads from Oklahoma to California. The message Russians took from The Grapes of Wrath: even the poorest capitalists have cars!

TIME movies

Review: Chris Hemsworth in Blackhat: Thor Takes Up Typing

Film Title: Blackhat
Tang Wei and Chris Hemsworth star in Blackhat Frank Connor—Legendary Pictures

The Marvel-movie stud plays that rarest of heroes — a hunky hacker! — in Michael Mann's dreamlike crime drama

Nicholas Hathaway has the name of a plutocrat with a stable of polo ponies, and the body of a movie superhero. The body part makes sense, since he’s played by Chris Hemsworth, who is the outlandishly sculpted Thor in Marvel movies and was recently chosen as PEOPLEs Sexiest Man Alive. Think of the young Brad Pitt, but pumped up, stripped down and hanging in a slaughterhouse. Sirloin beefcake.

The WASP moniker is to alert you that Nicholas, currently doing time in a federal penitentiary for cyberhacking, is a Hamilton Fish out of water. He keeps to himself, exercises in his cell and — to judge from his sheaf of books — is prepping for a Harvard correspondence course in 20th-century French philosophy. Living in what might be called voluntary solitary confinement, he is a Michael Mann kind of guy.

From his 1979 TV movie The Jericho Mile, about a Folsom lifer who runs at Olympic speeds around the prison yard, through the big-screen dramas Thief, Manhunter, Heat and Public Enemies and the innovative TV shows Police Story, Crime Story and Miami Vice, Mann has compiled a résumé that reads like a rap sheet. So often his protagonists are superior loners, bringing the dedication of high priests to jobs that happens to be illegal. Nicholas, in the new Blackhat, is one of these underworld aristocrats. Hemsworth may have the least likely physique for a genius hacktivist who spends much of his time typing — but, as any Mann production constantly reminds you, plausibility is for simps.

You might expect a cyberterror movie c. 2015 to trade in conspiracy theories about certain powerful or deranged Asian nations bolloxing U.S. Defense Department computers, but that’s not Mann’s way. Shooting a script by first-timer Morgan Davis Foehl, the director springs Nicholas from jail to send him and the Chinese-American brother-sister act Dawai and Lien Chen (Wang Leehom and Tang Wei) jetting from L.A. to Hong Kong, Indonesia and Malaysia in search of one rogue hacker with a nefarious scheme to… corner the world markets in soy and tin.

Blithely deflecting any audience anticipation of headline relevance or, really, human connection, Blackhat also abandons its own plot for long, closeup studies of bodies in rest or motion. The movie makes space for a romance between Nicholas and Lien, which it anatomizes in a series of languorous attitudes, like a Calvin Klein commercial without the briefs. (Tang Wei, who sizzled as the heroine of Ang Lee’s sexy drama Lust, Caution, is virtually invisible here.) The love scenes can’t match the erotic heat Mann applies to shots of the hackers’ traveling computer code. Those montages make malware a fashion statement: “our spring collection of malwear.”

Viola Davis — looking as if she were not cast in the role of Nicholas’s federal minder but sentenced to it — is replaced halfway through the film by the chief villain’s thugs: bad-guy character actors whose hard, gnarled faces hint at biographies more fascinating than those of the leads. The synching of words and lips is almost random, as if lines of dialogue had been rewritten in postproduction and dubbed in. The final chase scene involves deadly fights during a ceremony involving hundreds of people who pay no attention to the mayhem around them.

By this point, viewers will either give up or go with the slow flow, as if swimming through the most picturesque sludge. Surrender to the images and to the score (some of it by Atticus Ross, Trent Reznor’s collaborator on the most recent David Fincher films), which lends the murky proceedings a thrumming undertone that soothes as it menaces, like Gitmo Muzak. Blackhat is not so much a movie as a hallucination — which should please the Mann coterie and leave Hemsworth fans scratching their heads and biding their time for Avengers: Age of Ultron this May.

TIME movies

Oscars 2015 Nominations Analysis: Who Will Take Home the Awards?

IFC Films

Boyhood, Birdman and Budapest lead the nominations board in a year when the august members of the Motion Picture Academy played the Imitation Game and tried to be the Independent Spirit Awards

Correction appended: Jan. 16, 2015

This time, the Motion Picture Academy decided, eight was enough. After five years when the Best Picture category allowed for nine or 10 nominees, the Oscars went for a svelter look this year, which it achieved by saying no to those rich meals that audiences love: hit movies. No Gone Girl, Interstellar or, heaven forbid, Guardians of the Galaxy. The pure-nutrition platter the Academy provided this morning will make Oscar Night (Feb. 22) just another Independent Spirit Awards.

The finalists include four biopics — American Sniper, The Imitation Game, Selma and The Theory of Everything — plus the fiction films Birdman, Boyhood, The Grand Budapest Hotel and Whiplash. The leaders in nominations, with nine, were Birdman and The Grand Budapest Hotel (though Budapest got none in the acting categories), followed by The Imitation Game with eight.

This was an unusually schizophrenic shortlist — a reminder that some 6,000 Academy members fill out ballots and have trouble agreeing with each other or possibly themselves. American Sniper cadged nominations for Picture, Actor (Bradley Cooper) and Adapted Screenplay (Jason Hall) but not for Clint Eastwood, its legendary 84-year-old director.

Foxcatcher, the bleak true-life tale of zillionaire John DuPont and the Olympic Gold-medal wrestlers Mark and Dave Schultz, earned citations for director Bennett Cooper, writers E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman and stars Steve Carell (DuPont) and Mark Ruffalo (Dave Schultz) but not for Best Picture. Selma, which portrays Martin Luther King Jr.’s organizing of the Alabama marches that spurred President Lyndon Johnson to press Congress to pass the Voting Rights Act of 1965, got a nomination for Best Picture, but not for its star (David Oyelowo), screenwriter (Paul Webb) and director (Ava DuVernay).

Life Itself, the Roger Ebert biography that is the year’s definitive portrait of heroic movie love, got left off the Documentary Feature list. And in a Fraud at Polls shocker, The LEGO Movie, which any critic or child could tell you was the year’s best Animated Feature, got shut out of that category’s five nominees. No candy, kids. Eat your spinach and watch Whiplash.

Here’s our analysis of the nominees in six major categories, with the early pick for the winner in bold.

J.K. Simmons as Terence Fletcher in Whiplash Sony Pictures Classics

 Nominees: Robert Duvall, The Judge. Ethan Hawke, Boyhood. Edward Norton, Birdman. Mark Ruffalo, Foxcatcher. J.K. Simmons, Whiplash.

If your jock friends ask you who J.K. Simmons is, tell them he’s the friendly guy in the Farmers Insurance commercials that have saturated every NFL playoff game of the past few weeks. He’s also a terrific actor who has shone on Broadway (Captain Hook opposite Kathy Rigby in Peter Pan), in movies (Peter Parker’s newspaper editor in the Tobey Maguire Spider-Man trilogy) and every kind of television (including as a pompadoured host back when AMC lived up to its full name: American Movie Classics). Whiplash, which also earned director Damien Chazelle an Adapted Screenplay nomination, earned only $6 million at the domestic box office, but those who saw it audience knew that Simmons gives an explosive, finely calibrated performance as the sadistic teacher to Miles Teller’s drummer prodigy.

Simmons, who turned 60 last week, now finds himself a newborn star. After winning this category in 75% of all critics groups, he snagged a Golden Globe last weekend and has no, repeat no, serious competition for the Oscar. It’s his. In a Simmons-less year, Norton might have won. His wily work as Michael Keaton’s chief rival in Birdman is at once funny, scary and sexy.

Snubs: Albert Brooks as the wise old consigliere in A Most Violent Year? James Brolin as the splenetic cop in Inherent Vice? Maybe Channing Tatum, who plays Ruffalo’s wrestling brother in Foxcatcher? I’m floundering, really. It was a thin category this year.

Patricia Arquette as Olivia Evans in Boyhood IFC Films

 Nominees: Patricia Arquette, Boyhood. Laura Dern, Wild. Keira Knightley, The Imitation Game. Emma Stone, Birdman. Meryl Streep, Into the Woods.

Expect another runaway winner: Arquette for allowing herself to age, not gracefully but naturally, over the dozen years of shooting Richard Linklater’s family saga, and for making her character the movie’s narrative fulcrum; another name for the film could have been Momhood. Other shortlisters included Dern as Reese Witherspoon’s doomed, adoring mother, Stone as Michael Keaton’s rehabbing daughter and Knightley as Benedict Cumberbatch’s “love interest.” Streep was the Into the Woods Witch — first an aged crone, then a sexy young thing — and she sings, too. But she’ll be part of the choir on Oscar night, when Patricia gets a statuette named Arquette.

Snubs: The Academy ignored fine actresses in knottier, more driven roles: Jessica Chastain as Oscar Issac’s scheming wife, an ’80s Lady Macbeth, in A Most Violent Year; Vanessa Redgrave as Steve Carell’s cold-bloody mama in Foxcatcher; and Rene Russo as Jake Gyllenhaal’s TV-news abettor in Nightcrawler.

Golden Globes 2015 - Birdman
Michael Keaton stars as Riggan Thomson in Birdman Fox Searchlight

 Nominees: Steve Carell, Foxcatcher. Bradley Cooper, American Sniper. Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game. Michael Keaton, Birdman. Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything.

Two distinguished young Brits have been locked like accidentally conjoined twins as the stars of their complementary biopics: Cumberbatch as Alan Turing, the maths genius who helped win World War II by breaking the Nazis’ Enigma Code, and Redmayne as later Cambridge University cosmologist Stephen Hawking. They both made the cut, along with Cooper, as Navy SEAL sharpshooter Chris Kyle, and Carell. In competition with four biopic stars, Keaton ought to triumph — especially since his Birdman character, a has-been movie actor who long ago played a comic-book movie hero, reflects Keaton’s own bioperse as the star of Tim Burton’s Batman movies more than 20 years ago.

Snubs: Jake Gyllenhaal seemed a dead cert as the creepy news-cameraman in Nightcrawler, but lost out to Carell’s nutsy plutocrat and his funny nose. David Oyelowo not only brought a politician’s canniness to his Dr. King role, he brought DuVernay in to direct it. Yeah, well, boo-hoo, says the Academy — which for only the second time in 14 years nominated no actor or actress of African heritage.

A brief note on some other white people: With Hawke and Arquette nominated for Boyhood, didn’t Ellar Coltrane, who devoted two thirds of his life (ages six to 18) to this project, deserve not only love but respect for carrying the movie that is now the frontrunner for Best Picture?

Still Alice
Julianne Moore stars as Alice Howland in Still Alice Sony Pictures

 Marion Cotillard, Two Days, One Night. Felicity Jones, The Theory of Everything. Julianne Moore, Still Alice. Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl. Reese Witherspoon, Wild.

Cotillard is one of only two women to win a Best Actress Oscar for a performance in a foreign language: as Edith Piaf in La vie en rose seven years ago. (The other was Sophia Loren in Two Women, 1962.) She finished second in the critics-groups’ year-end tabulation, just behind Pike, but was thought a long shot for the Academy shortlist as the Belgian worker pleading to get her job back. Cheers to the members for watching a movie with subtitles — and for recognizing the delicate power in Jones’ role as Stephen Hawking’s wife Jane. Witherspoon, an Oscar winner in 2006 for Walk the Line, was an easy pick in a virtual one-woman show about a Pacific Coast hiker on a painful inner journey.

Pike, the little-known English blond whom director David Fincher gave a shot at stardom in Gone Girl, is the only representative in any acting category of a movie that became a popular hit ($167 million at home, nearly $200 million more abroad). But that’s unlikely to vault her, or the other finalists, over Moore. With four previous Oscar nominations, she’s due. Moreover, as a college professor suffered from early-onset Alzheimer’s, she’s great.

Snubs: I hope Amy Adams enjoyed her Golden Globes party — and Comedy of Musical Actress win, as painter Margaret Keane in Big Eyes — because the five-time Oscar nominee got stiffed this morning. Emily Blunt deserved a nomination for lending voice and plangent heart to the Baker’s Wife in Into the Woods; boo-hoo for her. Jennifer Aniston had strenuously deglamorized herself for her role in Cake as a woman with chronic pain syndrome in a little-seen drama that somehow pulled a Golden Globe nomination. The Academy members were less impressed by Aniston’s performance. On Oscar night, they said, let her eat Cake at home.

Golden Globes 2015 - Boyhood
Ellar Coltrane as Mason Evans Jr. in Boyhood IFC Films

 Nominees: Wes Anderson, The Grand Budapest Hotel. Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Birdman. Richard Linklater, Boyhood. Bennett Miller, Foxcatcher. Morten Tyldum, The Imitation Game.

Recently, the five Director nominees have been drawn from the larger list of Best Picture finalists. That didn’t happen this year, as Miller nudged out (I’m guessing) Eastwood. The wild, verdant imaginations of Anderson and Iñárritu will not win them this award: Budapest may get Best Original Screenplay, and Birdman might have to settle for Keaton’s Best Actor award. Linklater should win for Boyhood.

Snubs: With eight nominations for Best Picture and only five for Director, this is the Academy’s truly elite category. And, like a gentleman’s club with a restricted membership, it still doesn’t admit black women. Ava DuVernay surely proved her bona fides with Selma: she pushed a stalled project into production, got an epic vibe on a $20-million budget, expertly managed dozens of speaking parts and marshaled hundreds of extras — all that stuff usually considered the job of real men. But the Academy must have thought this achievement wasn’t as hard as Tyldum’s. The Norwegian director got Benedict Cumberbatch to give a really good performance!

BEST PICTURE Nominees: American Sniper. Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance). Boyhood. The Grand Budapest Hotel. The Imitation Game. Selma. The Theory of Everything. Whiplash.

As a critic who likes to see his personal prejudices validated by others, I can’t complain about this Gang of Eight: six of the movies made my lists of 10 best films or performances. But basically the Academy served up one unabashedly Hollywood movie, American Sniper, and seven art-house films. Of these, the most cinematically wondrous is The Grand Budapest Hotel. And the marathon of warmth, growing pains and family values is Boyhood: your Oscar winner for Best Picture.

Snubs: Foxcatcher, one of the year’s few Oscar-y biopics that didn’t aim for inspiration, won a Director’s prize for Miller at Cannes last year, and a Director’s nomination here, but was too chilly and remote to find either a substantial audience — only $8.8 million at the domestic box office — or a rooting interest from the full Academy membership that votes for Best Picture. Angelina Jolie’s Unbroken, perhaps the most eagerly anticipated of the late-year biopics, did connect with paying customers: $103 million in its first three weeks of release. But this epic of a soldier’s endurance on land and sea in World War II disappointed most critics and, obviously, the Oscar voters. And Nightcrawler was the only end-of-year contender that was not a biopic. Its deft portrait of a sociopath on the rise may have troubled Academy viewers. Not being able to embrace Gyllenhaal’s winsome creep, they punished him and the movie. These are the Oscars, Jake and writer-director Dan Gilroy. Next time, mind your manners and wear tuxedos.

Read next: Oscars 2015 Best Picture Nominees: Read the Original Reviews

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the nationality of the director Morten Tyldum. He is Norwegian.

TIME movies

Great Storytelling Was the Real Winner at the Golden Globes

72nd Annual Golden Globe Awards - Season 72
Richard Linklater, "Boyhood", Acceptor, Best Motion Picture, Drama at the 72nd Annual Golden Globe Awards held at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on Jan. 11, 2015. Paul Drinkwater—NBC

Innovative fiction triumphed in an evening that balanced the pert comedy stylings of hosts Tina Fey and Amy Poehler with heartfelt declarations of solidarity with fallen French cartoonists

In the early 1980s young Richard Linklater moved from Houston, his home town, to the state capital, where he founded the Austin Film Society as a hub for classic movies. One day a student from UT Austin, also a Houston native, walked into the Society’s theater and asked how he could help. “Grab a broom,” Linklater said. And that’s how he helped launch Wes Anderson’s career in movie love.

More than 30 years later, the two cinephiles swept the 72nd Golden Globe awards. The Hollywood Foreign Press Association chose Linklater’s Boyhood as Best Motion Picture Drama and Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel as Best Motion Picture Comedy or Musical. The first prize was widely expected; Boyhood has won more than half of all the year-end critics groups’ citations for Best Film. But the second was a lovely upset over that category’s favorite, Birdman, which settled for two other awards: Best Comedy and Musical Actor for Michael Keaton and Best Screenplay for the quartet of writers headed by director Alejandro G. Iñárritu.

Amy Adams was named Best Comedy or Musical Actress as the subjugated painter Margaret Keane in Big Eyes, and Julianne Moore Best Dramatic Actress as a professor suffering from early-onset-Alzheimer’s disease in Still Alice. Eddie Redmayne, who played Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything, took Best Dramatic Actor. Boyhood‘s Patricia Arquette and J.K. Simmons of Whiplash won their utterly expected Supporting Globes, while Linklater shocked no one by being chosen Best Director. (All the winners are here.)

The Academy Awards, which air on Feb, 22, don’t have separate prizes for comedies and dramas — no matter how far the definition of comedy has to be stretched to include movies about a suicidal actor (Birdman), an abused artist (Big Eyes) and a hotel overrun in turn by Nazis and Stalinists (Budapest). All the Globe laureates in the acting and Picture categories will have six weeks to slug it out for single statuettes. Winner take all, losers be damned.

But last night, the movie globe revolved on a Houston-Austin axis that encompassed two very different and splendid achievements (and this critics’ top two movies of the past year). Boyhood: a romantic-realistic movie, shot in 12 consecutive summers, that traced a boy’s life from first grade to college freshman. Budapest: a lush, crackpot reimagining of European history made by a filmmaker whose taste is so fanciful that, as the show’s co-host Amy Poehler said of Anderson, he came to the Globe ceremony “on a bicycle made of antique tuba parts.”

Aside from Anderson’s triumph, viewers had to dig for real surprises — unless they had looked at the Goldenglobes.com web site Fri. and seen a brief posting that announced Selma and Into the Woods as the Drama and Comedy-Musical winners. (Just a little Obamacare-style glitch, folks.) How to Train Your Dragon 2 upset The LEGO Movie as Best Animated Feature — ouch, says one abashed prognosticator — and the Russian drama Leviathan caused a mild jolt in its Best Foreign Film win over the Polish Holocaust film Ida.

More seismic shifts occurred in the TV awards, where The Affair trumped Orange Is the New Black, and Fargo took the Miniseries award over True Detective and Olive Kitteridge. But that’s James Poniewozik territory — and besides, do movie people care about television? The HFPA placed the TV people so far in the rear of the Beverly Hilton ballroom that the winners seemed to have been bussed in from Santa Monica. The big suspense was whether they’d be too exhausted by their 10k jog to the stage to give their acceptance speeches.

In a three-hour ceremony amiably presided over by Poehler and Tina Fey, the glamour center was George Clooney (wearing his wedding tuxedo) as he graciously accepted the Cecil B. De Mille award and gave voice to the evening’s abiding non-entertainment concern with world threats to journalists and hacked film companies.

Whatever jokes can be made about the qualifications of the HFPA members as film arbiters, and we’ve made a lot of them, you have to admit these foreign journalists have a memory. Big year-end awards typically go to films released in the last quarter of the calendar year: 12 Years a Slave and American Hustle were the Globe winners in 2014, Argo and Les Misérables in 2013. But Boyhood received its world premiere at Sundance last Jan. 17, and The Grand Budapest Hotel at the Berlin Film Festival on Feb. 6.

These movies have been around for a while. They stuck in movie watchers’ minds and couldn’t be dislodged by late arrivals of the inspirational biopic genre: The Imitation Game, The Theory of Everything and Selma. Linklater and Anderson — Iñárritu too — followed the oldest, most creative movie tradition: they made up stories and made people believe in them. That’s reason enough to applaud them — and, for a change, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association.

TIME movies

If Critics Chose the Oscars: 2015 Edition

Golden Globes 2015 - Boyhood
Ellar Coltrane as Mason Evans Jr. in Boyhood IFC Films

They're not members of the Academy, and they don't vote as Oscar handicappers. But the consensus selection of critics groups indicates wins for Boyhood, The LEGO Movie, J.K. Simmons and Patricia Arquette

The Hollywood Foreign Press Association, sponsor of Sunday’s Golden Globe show on NBC, isn’t the only bunch of movie people to pick the year’s finest films and filmmakers. Real critics do, too. Beginning Dec. 1, when the New York Film Critics Circle jumped in, and continuing well into January (Denver and Houston are still to be heard from), groups of local, regional and national reviewers have announced their prizes for the movie year 2014.

Critics are not Vegas handicappers; they mean their selections simply as an aggregate of their annual opinions on movies, not as predictors of the Oscars. Yet each year, the consensus of their favorites is a close forecaster of the Academy Awards. The overwhelming votes this year for Boyhood, The LEGO Movie, Richard Linklater, J.K. Simmons and Patricia Arquette, for example, strongly suggest the Oscar winners for Picture, Animated Feature, Director, Supporting Actor and Supporting Actress.

So, for the sixth consecutive year, TIME has tabulated the votes of awards-giving movie societies — 34 this time, listed at the bottom*. Canvassing Kristopher Tapley’s In Contention awards blog, I assign one point to the winner in each category from each group; ties get a half-point. No points for runners-up or for subsidiary actor categories such as Breakout, Ensemble or Youth in Film.

We won’t know whether the Academy agrees with the critics until Oscar night, Feb. 22. For now, check out all the winners and contenders in 10 categories, plus my speculation on how the members of the Academy might vote.

Best Actor: Michael Keaton, Birdman, 16½; Jake Gyllenhaal, Nightcrawler, 7; David Oyelowo, Selma, 3; Tom Hardy, Locke, 2; Timothy Spall, Mr. Turner, 2; Ralph Fiennes, The Grand Budapest Hotel, 1; Brendan Gleeson, Calvary, 1; Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything, 1; Oscar Isaac, A Most Violent Year, ½.

Keaton, the critics’ consensus fave, should get a lot of love from the Academy for his gutsy performance as a worn-out actor at career crisis. Gyllenhaal finished strong as a creepy cameraman and is assured an Oscar nomination. In the battle of actors playing real-life Cambridge math geniuses with disabilities, Redmayne’s Stephen Hawking is a flashier and, oddly, cuddlier turn than Benedict Cumberbatch’s Alan Turing in The Imitation Game. The Screen Actors Guild, which has many members among Academy voters, nominated Cumberbatch, Gyllenhaal, Keaton, Redmayne and, for Foxcatcher, Steve Carell. Fingers crossed that fifth place goes to Fiennes’ grandly mannered performance in the most substantial box-office hit on this list.

Best Actress: Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl, 11; Marion Cotillard, Two Days, One Night and/or The Immigrant, 8; Julianne Moore, Still Alice, 5; Reese Witherspoon, Wild, 4; Essie Davis, The Babadook, 2; Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Belle, 2; Patricia Arquette, Boyhood, 1; Tilda Swinton, Only Lovers Left Alive, 1.

The Oscar shortlist should be Moore (a four-time nominee), Witherspoon (winner for Walk the Line in 2006) and the English back-bencher Pike, promoted to Cabinet status as Amy the Gone Girl, plus Felicity Jones as Hawking’s wife Jane in The Theory of Everything and maybe Jennifer Aniston in Cake; those are also the five SAG finalists. Cotillard, a 2008 Oscar winner for playing Edith Piaf in La vie en rose, has little chance of getting the Oscar benediction for either of her 2014 roles. Plaudits to the Central Ohio and North Carolina critics for fêting Davis as the beset mom in The Babadook. The L.A. critics named Arquette in this category, which you can slide into Supporting Actress to pad Arquette’s enormous lead.

Best Supporting Actress: Patricia Arquette, Boyhood, 20½; Tilda Swinton, Snowpiercer, 4; Jessica Chastain, A Most Violent Year, 3½; Carmen Ejogo, Selma, 1; Keira Knightley, The Imitation Game, 1; Agata Kulesca, Ida, 1; Rene Russo, Nightcrawler, 1; Octavia Spencer, Black or White, 1; Emma Stone, Birdman, 1.

The Oscar is already Arquette’s. She has a signature role in a movie the Academy will want to honor several times, and her competition is slim-to-none. Chastain has a shot at an Academy nomination for a late-screening film, though she didn’t make the SAG shortlist. The final five there: Arquette, Knightley, Stone, Meryl Streep in Into the Woods and Naomi Watts in St. Vincent.

Best Supporting Actor: J.K. Simmons, Whiplash, 25½; Edward Norton, Birdman, 7; Mark Ruffalo, Foxcatcher, 1; Tyler Perry, Gone Girl, ½.

The lopsided lead for career utilityman Simmons accurately reflects his status as prohibitive favorite in this year’s Oscars. If he had any serious competition, and he doesn’t, it would be Norton, who does the gaudiest, most enjoyable work in Birdman. SAG filled out its card with Ruffalo, Robert Duvall in The Judge (arguably a leading performance) and Ethan Hawke as the dad in Boyhood.

Original Screenplay: The Grand Budapest Hotel, 13; Birdman, 7½; Nightcrawler, 3; Selma, 2; Boyhood, 1½; Beyond the Lights, 1; Calvary, 1; The LEGO Movie, 1.

The first five titles here could be the Academy quintet of nominees — unless the members blame the Paul Webb script for Selma‘s treatment of Lyndon Johnson as the challenger, not the champion, of Martin Luther King Jr. in the push for voting rights. The Writers Guild of America, whose stringent rules excluded both Selma and Birdman (a sure Oscar screenplay nominee) from eligibility, chose these five finalists: Boyhood, Foxcatcher, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Nightcrawler and Whiplash.

Best Adapted Screenplay: Gone Girl, 12; Inherent Vice, 2½; Guardians of the Galaxy, 1; The Imitation Game, 1; Obvious Child, 1; Whiplash, 1; Snowpiercer, ½.

Not much competition for Gillian Flynn, who wrote the Gone Girl novel and screenplay. The WGA nominees were American Sniper, Gone Girl, Guardians of the Galaxy, The Imitation Game and Wild. The script for The Theory of Everything, which the WGA deemed ineligible, is a likely Oscar finalist. And if you’re wondering why Whiplash got an Original Screenplay nomination from the WGA and an Adapted award from the Indiana critics group, it’s because director Damien Chazelle made a short version of his movie to raise money for the feature.

Best Documentary: CITIZENFOUR, 16; Life Itself, 12; The Overnighters, 2; Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me, 1; Keep On Keepin’ On, 1.

It’s a battle between two dominant personalities: one in the world of film (critic Roger Ebert for Life Itself), the other in the whole world (whistleblower Edward Snowden for CITIZENFOUR). Both films made the preliminary round of 15 features chosen by the Academy, which also includes The Overnighters and Keep On Keepin’ On.

Best Animated Feature: The LEGO Movie, 20; The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, 3; The Boxtrolls, 2; Big Hero 6, 1; How to Train Your Dragon 2, 1.

Again, the critics’ majority favorite will snag an Academy Award. With a $257-million score at the domestic box office (fourth best for 2014), The LEGO Movie is also the year’s only blockbuster likely to win an Oscar.

Best Director: Richard Linklater, Boyhood, 22; Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Birdman, 6; Ava Du Vernay, Selma, 3; Dan Gilroy, Nightcrawler, 2; Clint Eastwood, American Sniper, 1.

Linklater, shooting his movie over 12 consecutive summers, and Iñárritu, pretzeling his cast and crew into executing labyrinthine shots lasting 10 mins. or more, would get Oscar-nominated just for pulling off impossible stunts. But what about the other three? I’d say Eastwood stands the best chance of earning a place in the Academy’s fave five — and that, in several categories, American Sniper will register more impressively with the Academy than it did with the reviewers. James Marsh (The Theory of Everything) and Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game) might fight for a slot or each get one. But Linklater, as his overwhelming victory with the critics’ groups indicates, will be the one giving a speech on Oscar night.

Best Film: Boyhood, 17; Birdman, 6; The Grand Budapest Hotel, 3; Selma, 3; Gone Girl, 1; Goodbye to Language, 1; A Most Violent Year, 1; Nightcrawler, 1; Snowpiercer, 1.

With wins in fully half of the critics’ groups, Boyhood is also the leader in the Oscars’ Best Picture race. Birdman, Gone Girl, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Nightcrawler and Selma, plus American Sniper, The Imitation Game and The Theory of Everything, could fill eight other slots in this bounteous Academy category. The Producers Guild of America, another industry group that overlaps significantly in Academy membership, chose eight of those nine — minus Selma, and adding Foxcatcher and Whiplash — as its 10 nominees. SAG, which choses five films to compete for its Outstanding Performance by a Cast award, boiled the list down to Birdman, Boyhood, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Imitation Game and The Theory of Everything. Again, Selma was excluded; it’s said that Paramount didn’t get screeners of this Christmas Day release to the guilds on time. So don’t expect the critics’ year-end favorite to provide an insurmountable obstacle to Linklater’s patient story of the boy who grew up.

*The 34 organizations surveyed: local or regional critics’ groups from Austin, Boston, Boston Online, Central Ohio, Chicago, Dallas–Fort Worth, Detroit, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas City, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Nevada, New York, New York Online, North Carolina, North Texas, Oklahoma, Phoenix, San Diego, San Francisco, Southeastern, St. Louis, Toronto, Utah, Vancouver and Washington, D.C.; plus the African American Film Critics Association, the Black Film Critics Circle, the National Board of Review, the National Society of Film Critics and the Online Film Critics Society.

TIME movies

Who’ll Win the Golden Globes — Besides Michael Keaton and Boyhood?

Birdman (Best Motion Picture - Comedy or Musical) Fox Searchlight

A surfeit of celebrities and a few surprises are in store for Sunday's installment of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association's annual star schmooze

It’s the biggest awards show put on by people you don’t know. The Golden Globes, the 72nd edition of which NBC will air on Sunday with hosts Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, crams a couple hundred movie and TV stars and their handlers into the Beverly Hilton Hotel ballroom for three hours of hijinks, lojinks and the bestowing of prizes by… who? The Hollywood Foreign Press Association, a coterie of journalists for international newspapers and magazines. Their job the rest of the year is to get interviews with the very celebrities they’ll soon be showering with trophies. But the HFPA’s provenance doesn’t matter. The idea is to stage a full-dress rehearsal for the Oscars (Feb. 22), with free drinks and thus more fun.

This year, several of the movie categories seem stone-cold locks: Michael Keaton as Comedy or Musical Actor in Birdman, J.K. Simmons as Supporting Actor in Whiplash and Patricia Arquette as Supporting Actress in Boyhood. And the received wisdom of the savants over at the Gold Derby awardophile website suggests that only two of the races — Actress in a Comedy or Musical and Director — are at all close.

Still, you never know until the envelopes are opened and the winners proclaimed. Meryl Streep, nominated for her 29th time in 37 years, could glean Best Supporting Actress for her Into the Woods Witch. The LEGO Movie could fail to take its widely predicted prize for Best Animated Feature. And this part-time prognosticator would be deeply pleased if some of the movies he loves were to sneak up and beat out some of the movies he has put his money on here. So let’s look at six of the movie categories in contention.

ACTOR IN A DRAMA: The early line promised a war of conjoined twins: Eddie Redmayne as Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything vs. Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing in The Imitation Game. Each man plays a brilliant Cambridge mathematician achieving great things in the face of daunting odds: Hawking’s ALS, Turing’s secret (and, at the time, illegal) homosexuality. But Redmayne’s performance is warmer, more physical within crippling limits, and looks to be set for a Globe. His other stiff competition: David Oyelowo as Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma, Steve Carell as the plutocrat and wrestling fancier John DuPont in Foxcatcher and — the only fictional character in this quintet — Jake Gyllenhaal as the conniving newshawk in Nightcrawler. We’d pick Cumberbatch or Gyllenhaal for sheer, acute audacity, but Redmayne’s is certainly the cuddliest of the five.

ACTRESS IN A DRAMA: The linguistics professor played by Julianne Moore in Still Alice could be a cousin to Redmayne’s Hawking: a brilliant scholar whose functions are breaking down. Alice, at 50, is beset by early Alzheimer’s; she is both the victim of her disease and its analyst. Moore’s beautifully calibrated performance should win her this category. (She’s also nominated for Actress in a Comedy or Musical for her crazy-amazing turn as a desperate actress in Maps to the Stars. A double win would be unprecedented and fully earned.) Reese Witherspoon, as the hiker in search of herself in Wild, provides Moore’s chief competition.

ACTRESS IN A COMEDY OR MUSICAL: The Comedy or Musical category dates back to the 1940s and ’50s, when the musical genre was dominant and the winners actually sang on screen. For the first time since 2007, two of the nominees here are the leads in musicals: Emily Blunt in Into the Woods and Quvenzhané Wallis in Annie. The 11-year-old stands no chance; Blunt’s real rival is Amy Adams as the painter Margaret Keane in Big Eyes. With her sixth Golden Globe nomination, and a win last year for American Hustle, Adams is the safe choice in a role that allows her to enact women’s progress in the 1960s from caged bird to roaring lion. But we’ll go with Blunt, not known primarily as a singer — and, in all, not nearly so well known as she should be — who becomes the emotional heart of a surprise year-end hit.

DIRECTOR: Some folks would like to see a rematch of last year’s battle between Steve McQueen for 12 Years a Slave and Alfonso Cuarón for Gravity — the sweeping epic of race relations vs. the imaginative experiment in long, long camera takes. This year’s combatants would be Ava DuVernay, nominated for Selma, and Alejandro G. Iñárritu for Birdman. Those latecomers have an uphill battle against Richard Linklater, whose Boyhood premiered nearly a year ago at Sundance. Linklater spent a dozen years shooting Boyhood, 15 or 20 minutes of usable footage each summer, as his subject and lead actor, Ellar Coltrane, blossomed from first-grader to college freshman. Sustaining a mood and a film tempo for all that time should earn Linklater his citation over four very worthy contenders, including this particular Globe-watcher’s favorite: Wes Anderson, for The Grand Budapest Hotel. But that’s why TIME has its Best Movies list each year and the HFPA members have theirs.

COMEDY OR MUSICAL: This category really should be called Comedy, Musical or Whatever, since it’s a catch-all for movies that aren’t quite the sort of uplifting true-life adventures that win most of the official awards. To venerable cinephiles, the phrase “Keaton comedy” might mean a Buster Keaton silent classic, or maybe Annie Hall. Now, thanks to the HFPA, moviegoers who may have been impressed but perplexed when they saw Birdman now know that this study of an actor’s suicidal depression was really a rollicking laff riot. Or, as we’d designate it, a Whatever. Up against one musical (Into the Woods) and two modest social comedies (Pride and St. Vincent), Birdman has only The Grand Budapest Hotel to worry about. Which is no worry at all. This Keaton-Iñárritu collaboration will win for degree of difficulty — shooting the movie in 10-minute takes that required insane preparation from the directors, actors and crew — and because it’s the kind of inside-showbiz comedy-trauma that gets cherished by movie people, including the journalists who interview movie people and give them prizes at a big party on TV.

DRAMA: This is the slot traditionally reserved for a trenchant bio-pic, as in three of the past four Golden Globe years (The Social Network, Argo, 12 Years a Slave). But it appears as though the twins, The Imitation Game and The Theory of Everything, will cancel each other out; and that Foxcatcher is too glum, grim and withholding to be proclaimed the definitive drama of 2014. What about Selma? Questions of its historical veracity in portraying the relationship of Dr. King and President Lyndon Johnson might have slowed its awards momentum; we’ll see next Thursday when the Motion Picture Academy announces its Oscar nominations. But this looks like an evening, indeed the year, for Boyhood: Director, Supporting Actress and Golden Globe Drama.

TIME movies

Review: Selma Is the Film of the Year — But 1965 or 2014?

In Ava DuVernay's retelling of Martin Luther King's leadership in the Selma-to-Montgomery marches and the passage of the Voting Rights Act, we see how much King achieved — and how little we have advanced

Correction appended: Jan. 12, 2015

“I speak tonight for the dignity of man and the destiny of democracy,” said Lyndon Johnson, in his nationally televised address to a joint session of Congress on March 15, 1965. “At times history and fate meet at a single time in a single place to shape a turning point in man’s unending search for freedom. So it was at Lexington and Concord. So it was a century ago at Appomattox. So it was last week in Selma, Alabama.”

The President was referring to the “Bloody Sunday” confrontation in Selma, Ala., on March 7, when Dallas County Sheriff Jim Clark and his deputies met about 600 peaceful marchers on the Edmund Pettus Bridge with nightsticks, tear gas and charging horses. The naked brutality of this assault — just nine days after the young, unarmed black Baptist minister Jimmie Lee Jackson had died from an Alabama State Trooper’s gunshot — spurred LBJ to bring the Voting Rights Act to Congress. A Texas Democrat who knew his party could lose the South for decades if he championed equal rights for blacks, Johnson nonetheless boldly declared, “There is no Negro problem. There is no Southern problem. There is no Northern problem. There is only an American problem.

His comments reverberate eerily today, when police again can kill unarmed black men and face no legal punishment — and when the Voting Rights Act, which Johnson signed on August 6, 1965, with Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks and John Lewis by his side, gets effectively defanged 48 years later by the Supreme Court. So Ava DuVernay’s Selma, a vivid retelling of the months leading up to the three historic marches from Selma to Birmingham, carries a message that has lost none of its heroic, tragic relevance. If not quite in quality then certainly in import and impact, this is the film of the year — of 1965 and perhaps of 2014.

The film, currently playing on 19 screens in New York and Los Angeles, opens in the rest of the country January 9 — the week before the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend. This solid, expertly managed drama, with its stark images of good men standing up to entrenched government evil, has earned critical hosannahs and could be the breakout favorite among year-end contenders for the Academy Award.

With Oscar night falling on February 22, just two days before the 50th anniversary of Jimmie Lee Jackson’s death, Selma could be propelled to a Best Picture win as much by the Academy members’ political consciences as by the film’s undeniable power. It’s creepy even to speculate about this, but one more unjustified police killing of an unarmed black could assure the movie of an Oscar sweep: for Picture, for David Oyelowo as King in the Best Actor category and for DuVernay, who would become the first black woman chosen as Best Director.

Dr. King would appreciate that awful conundrum: that violence can be a goad to good. In Georgia, he had attempted voter-registration drives that, as NPR critic Bob Mondello noted, “received little media coverage because the authorities there had met nonviolent protests with nonviolence.” Alabama promised more fertile ground for telegenic confrontation. Its Governor, the pint-size pit bull George Wallace, had proclaimed, “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow and segregation forever!” (Would Wallace be rooting this year’s University of Alabama top-ranked football squad, dominated by black players?) And Jim Clark’s rambunctious police force was a good bet to be rough on pacifist marchers with dark faces. King, no less than the video newshound played by Jake Gyllenhaal in Nightcrawler, knew the dictum of editors in the nation’s press and TV news: If it bleeds, it leads.

King wasn’t a cynic or a sadist; he was a political realist. And Selma, from a cogent, concise script by the British screenwriter Paul Webb, is all about realpolitik in the service of social idealism. In his March 15 speech, Johnson said he had summoned the Special Session of Congress in response to “the cries of pain and the hymns and protests of oppressed people.” Yet his understanding of the urgent need for a Voting Rights Act was sown in secret meetings between the President (Tom Wilkinson) and the preacher. Johnson knew, from King’s August 1963 March on Washington, that the Rev. Dr. was not just the eloquent voice of the civil rights movement; he was, in showbiz terms, its director and impresario.

Selma shows King’s mastery at maneuvering and manipulating. He must woo Johnson — whose immediate priority is his War on Poverty, and who tells King, “This votin’ thing is gonna hafta wait” — even as he and his Southern Christian Leadership Conference cohort Rev. Ralph Abernathy (Colman Domingo) wage negotiations with the younger, more restless leaders of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, including John Lewis (Stephan James), who had been mounting challenges to Alabama’s racist restrictions on voting long before the SCLC came on the scene.

DuVernay, like King, came late to the Selma project. Michael Mann and Stephen Frears had considered directing Webb’s script. Lee Daniels (Precious) got so far as announcing his leading actors: Oyelowo as King and a gaudy supporting cast of Liam Neeson as LBJ, Hugh Jackman as Jim Clark and Cedric the Entertainer as Ralph Abernathy. When Daniels moved on to direct The Butler, Oyelowo recommended DuVernay, who had directed two low-budget films and worked on Precious as a publicity adviser, for the job. She worked on the script, sheared the budget to a bankable $20 million and impressively managed a huge cast with dozens of speaking roles and, in the scenes shot on Edmund Pettus Bridge, hundreds of extras. No less than King, or the current U.S. President, DuVernay proved herself a wizardly community organizer.

Not exactly a hagiography of King — whose life, works, oratory and death certainly deserve all reverence — Selma tiptoes around the delicate issue of the preacher’s infidelities. The movie traces the monitoring of King by the FBI and its boss J. Edgar Hoover (Dylan Baker), who calls him a “political and moral degenerate.” But it raises the widely documented charges of adultery only as slurs, concentrating instead on the symbiotic love of King and his wife Coretta (Carmen Ejogo). King does make one furtive late-night call to a woman: gospel thrush Mahalia Jackson (Ledisi Young), whom he asks to raise his troubled spirits by singing the spiritual “Precious Lord Take My Hand.” The fascinating chapter of King’s balancing act, of his sacred mission with his sexual appetites, will have to await another film — for, astonishingly, this is the first King biography made for the big screen.

Given that Dr. King’s quarreling children did not give DuVernay permission to quote their father’s speeches — recall that they charged more than $800,000 for King’s words to be chiseled into the monument statue on the National Mall — Oyelowo wisely didn’t try to mimic the soaring of King’s tremolo. This is a movie set not on great lawns but mostly in back rooms, where a forceful whisper can have more effect than a pulpit homily. Born in Oxford, England, to Nigerian parents, Oyelowo gives a warm, not fevered performance, and lends King a presence that makes everyone from LBJ to Selma’s most devout parishioner (Oprah Winfrey) feel the power of his argument, the singe of his soul.

If King had not been assassinated in 1968, just three years after the Selma marches, he would be 86 on January 16, the memorial holiday that Americans celebrate with extra shopping and skiing. What would he have to say, in majestic cadences that once called America to tolerance, about the wrongful deaths of young black men? In a way we know, because he said it all a half-century ago.

A movie like Selma should be a relic in a time capsule from 1965, a clue to how well we heeded King’s words and how far we have advanced. Instead it is a reminder that the “American problem” has yet to be solved.

An earlier version of this story misstated the route of the march. It was from Selma to Montgomery.

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