So, in a couple of days, movie lovers will know who takes home the golden statuettes. After a day-long marathon of fashion, film stars and style hits and flubs, the entire operation will be dissected, analysed and examined threadbare on TV, Twitter, Facebook, Reddit and every other form of social media.
I must confess that it’s a fun ride. The dieted-to-death megastars posing on the red carpet, the emotional acceptance speeches, the frozen smiles of the losers, it all makes for good viewing. But there’s one thing that’s a sure bet: a biopic will either win the big prize, or bestow one on its leading man or lady.
This is no mentalist-style prediction. Regular Oscar watchers will recall that every time there’s a biopic (biographical movie on a real person); it’s almost always a shoo-in for an Oscar nomination. From Michelle Williams as Marilyn Monroe in My Week with Marilyn, to Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher in Iron Lady, Leonardo di Caprio as Hoover in J Edgar and Howard Hughes in The Aviator, to way back to when Barbra Streisand won as actress-singer Fanny Brice in Funny Girl (1968), biographies rule. And how can one forget Katherine Hepburn as Queen Eleanor in The Lion in Winter, Forest Whitaker as Idi Amin in Last King of Scotland, Russell Crowe as tortured mathematician John Nash in A Beautiful Mind, Joaquin Phoenix as Johnny Cash in Walk the Line and Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles? Oh, and Ben Kingsley bringing Indian history alive in Gandhi.
So what makes biopics appeal so much to the Academy voters? According to movie analysis website filmsite.org, “Films inspired by real-life individuals (especially when they face adversity) usually do well in terms of nominations and often win – especially if they are of epic proportion or intense character studies.” If you can “live the role” like Robert de Niro did when he put on 30 kgs to portray self-destructive boxer Jake La Motta in Raging Bull, how can you lose? Late film critic Roger Ebert once put his finger on it when he said, “The Best Actor will go to a performance about a man who is pushing against a very difficult, un-accepting, maddening world.” Sound familiar? When I asked Technicolor country head and mega film buff, Biren Ghose, he said, “They are safe (like sequels) and make life easy for the studios; they are ‘celebrities playing celebrities!’ Despite a gazillion ‘free’ YouTube videos, audiences paid $119M to see Johnny Cash’s story and $79M to see Ray Charles’s story in theatres alone. The Oscars have mirrored this syndrome for generations!”
This year, we see Eddie Redmayne’s sterling performance as ALS-ridden genius Stephen Hawking in the biopic The Theory of Everything, up against Benedict Cumberbatch’s role as World War 2 scientist Alan Turing in The Imitation Game. Will either biopic prevail? Or will lower-key biopics Selma, about Martin Luther King Jr, or American Sniper about a US Navy Seal, sneak in? After all, as Ghose says, “It is the ‘theory of everything’ about great personalities but in ‘an imitation game’!”