The case for and against ‘American Sniper’

The race is almost over. The end is in sight. With less than a week until the big ceremony, and for the second year in a row, we truly don’t have a clear frontrunner for Best Picture. So, just like last year, I’m here to make a case for and against each nominated picture before ultimately revealing my final prediction for which one I think will walk away with it.

First cab off the rank – Clint Eastwood’s divisive and controversial American Sniper.

Why it could win Best Picture:

They love it. Six nominations is nothing to sneeze at. After all, former-frontrunner Boyhood has the same number of noms to its name. That figure shows the film was well-received by the Academy, particularly given it slipped into categories no one was really predicting like Adapted Screenplay, Editing, and even the extremely crowded Lead Actor race. In my final Gold Derby nominations predictions, I only had it down to be nominated for Picture and nothing else, so clearly there is much more love for this film than most people thought. While a large number of nominations doesn’t always equal glory (hello, American Hustle), you would very rarely see a film take Picture without a swag of other nominations behind it.

The box-office result. This film is making the kind of cash at the American box-office you normally don’t see for anything other than a franchise film these days. It’s made more money than films like Skyfall, all three The Hobbit chapters, and it’s highly likely to out-gross The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 and become the highest grossing film of 2014. Whether you loved the film or not, it’s impossible not to admire that achievement. Original films are severely struggling at the box-office these days, so this kind of result is an astonishing accomplishment. The Academy could very easily give it the ultimate congratulations with the Best Picture prize, just like they did with other box-office winners like Avatar and Titanic.

Clint Eastwood. He’s an American treasure. The Academy loves him. Four competitive Oscars are in his possession. As a director, he’s even swept the Oscars twice before in his illustrious career; something few directors have managed to achieve in the last few decades. It could very easily happen again. American Sniper is even following a very similar path to the last film of Clint’s to triumph, Million Dollar Baby. Just like American Sniper, that film was released very late in the game, and seemingly came out of nowhere to steal the Best Picture race, along with three other statues. It seems entirely plausible for the same to happen here, and if so, Bradley Cooper could snatch Actor right out of Eddie Redmayne’s hands.

Why it won’t win Best Picture:

They hate it. Sure, there’s a lot of love for this film, but there’s equally just as much hatred too. It’s been labelled pro-war propaganda. It’s been accused of ignoring the serious issue of veteran PTSD. And it’s been heavily criticised for essentially making a hero out of a man who, by his own words, enjoyed killing dozens of people. This kind of divisiveness and controversy never bodes well for a film’s Best Picture chances. For those undecided voters who can’t quite work out how they feel about the film’s message, it’s enough to push them away from voting for it. After all, nobody wants to feel dirty when they submit their final ballot, and there’s a lot of dirt where American Sniper is concerned.

The box-office result. The Oscars and box-office dollars don’t often go hand-in-hand. Of the last ten winners, only one was financially successful. These days, the Academy seemingly hates to follow and reward films that are big with audiences. Generally, if something is a winner with the public, it’s usually deemed to be nothing more than commercial fluff. A lot of voters will be put off by American Sniper‘s huge box-office success, particularly its success in areas of America with very different political views to those in Hollywood. Many will also be thinking the box-office gross is the film’s real reward, so why does it need a trophy too? This is the Oscars, not the MTV Awards.

Clint Eastwood. He may be a national treasure, and a four-time winner, but he also has the ability to rub a lot of people the wrong way. Do we really need to mention the time he “spoke” to Barack Obama at the Republican National Convention? Or the bordering-on-racist tripe that was Gran Torino? Ultimately, it’s very difficult to separate Clint’s political views from the art he’s making, particularly when he’s injected so many of those views into his final product. His film doesn’t let you decide on how to feel about the war, Chris Kyle, or America in general. It more or less demands you agree with it or get the hell out of the cinema. That kind of film doesn’t sit well with voters. Sure, they’ll nominate it, but they won’t dare let it win. While it’s true American Sniper is traveling a similar path to Million Dollar Baby, it’s facing much stronger competition from its fellow nominees. 2004 wasn’t exactly a stellar year for film. After all, Finding Neverland was deemed one of the five best films of the year by the Academy, so it wasn’t exactly difficult for Million Dollar Baby to snatch the race at the last minute. American Sniper does not have that luxury, plus Clint isn’t even nominated for Director, like he was then.

As you can see, the exact same points for why it could win are the exact same points as why it won’t win. Confused? Welcome to this year’s circus.

Will the one-two punch of Clint and Cooper be enough to steal this year’s race? Is Oscar ready for another war film to take out their top prize? Am I actually predicting American Sniper to win? Find out when I reveal my final Oscar predictions this Sunday February 22.