Three days from now, the Academy Awards will give its top prize to one of eight nominees, with Richard Linklater‘s Boyhood and Alejandro González Iñárritu‘s Birdman currently leading the pack as favorites to take home Best Picture. But there’s a Not-So-Little Engine That Might in this illustrious group, a dark horse that could sneak across the finish line in first before the night is done, decimating scores of pundit predictions in the process. Clint Eastwood’s Chris Kyle biopic American Sniper remains a long shot to pull it off, and yet as Sunday approaches, there are many reasons to believe that the Iraq War drama has a chance at pulling off a stunning upset. We’re not saying it willwin, but given the reasons below, it now definitely has a shot at Oscar’s most coveted statuette.
1. It’s the Popular Choice
At $309 million strong just in the U.S., American Sniper is already the second-highest-grossing R-rated film in movie history,and its $16.4 million haul last weekend means that it isn’t ready to slow down just yet—and, in fact, it may benefit from a post-Oscar telecast boost. Primed to be one of 2014’s most lucrative films, it exists in a different stratosphere than the rest of the Best Picture nominees, and its A+ CinemaScore rating means that audiences actively love it. While the Oscars rarely award films simply because they’ve made boatloads of cash, American Sniper is the one contender that boasts both a resounding critical and commercial endorsement. It’s the people’s choice.
2. The Indie Split
Further helping American Sniper’s odds is the fact that, while it stands as the natural mainstream choice for Oscar voters, its two main competitors both occupy a quirky-arty-indie space. Consequently, Boyhood and Birdman (and even, to a lesser extent, The Grand Budapest Hotel) may find themselves directly battling each other for votes, rather than American Sniper. If those two smaller-scale efforts split the “indie” vote just enough, it may allow American Sniper to surpass them both in the final tally.
3. Old Hollywood Eastwood
As usual, much has been made this awards season about the demographics of the Academy, which is heavily skewed toward older, white members. That may also wind up aiding American Sniper, considering the film’s pedigree as the latest work from 84-year-old Clint Eastwood. One of Hollywood’s old guards, Eastwood has a living-legend aura about him that could very well prove endearing to Academy voters disinclined to bet on younger auteurs with long careers still in front of them. True, Eastwood has already helmed two Best Pictures (1992’s Unforgiven, 2004’s Million Dollar Baby), but it’s not a crazy stretch to imagine some voters trying to further augment his legacy with a third winner. Read the rest of this entry »