One of the last films to officially enter this year’s Oscar race will be J.C. Chandor’s “A Most Violent Year” — which A24 announced would get a qualifying run, just a few days before AFI FEST set the film for its opening night slot.
The joint news made it clear that the two year-old company is taking on its first major awards campaign. Which is not to take away from the clever go at it they had last year with “Spring Breakers,” though I’m sure even they knew James Franco’s performance — as deserved a nominee as it would have been — was a long shot. On paper, “A Most Violent Year” looks anything but.
The film follows the life of an immigrant (Oscar Isaac) and his wife (Jessica Chastain) as they attempt to capitalize on the American Dream during statistically one of the most crime-ridden years of New York City’s history: 1981. Period crime dramas have fared well with Oscar voters in the past, and this one comes with considerable pedigree. Besides Issac and Chastain, there’s Chandor — making his third film after “Margin Call” and “All Is Lost.”
“We’ve been following J.C. for many years now and he’s a filmmaker we’ve always wanted to work with,” A24 co-founder David Fenkel told Indiewire. “We read the script a year ago and we got involved a little bit before principal production.”
Fenkel says he and his team saw “a very rough cut” in the summer and they “were blown away with the material.”
“The film told us a fourth quarter release is not only deserving but essential,” Fenkel said. “It’s a powerful drama and a character study about a couple building an empire and having crises along the way… People are going to be really surprised by. We knew that awards voters and journalists are going to be really
appreciative. This is going to be a movie people are going to be talking
about, not just for the acting but the filmmaking.”
The timing of the release was dictated by the production schedule. Chandor is “close” to finishing the film now, but it’s already too late for Venice, Toronto, Telluride or New York, which makes AFI the clear best bet. Films have successfully launched campaigns there before (most notably “Doubt” in 2009), and it can be fairly assured that “A Most Violent Year” will be at the top of the festival’s anticipated list, whereas at a more crowded festival the attention would be divided.
We won’t know until then whether “Year” sincerely has the goods to enter this year’s race in a big way, but it helps that so far things remain relatively murky. There are lot less “sure things” right now then there were by the beginning of October last year. It also helps that there might be some sentimentality toward making up for the snubs voters made at both Chandor and Isaac last year (“All Is Lost” was only nominated for sound editing at the Oscars, while Isaac was left out cold). Chastain also could have considerable momentum this year given she has three films that could put her in contention: “Year,” “Interstellar” and “The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby.” If “Year” is voters most wanted Chastain performance, it’ll be helped by her other achievements.
If the film does end up making the cut, it’ll be an impressive feat for A24 among many. It’s been less than two years since they released their first film, and have since seen the likes of “Spring Breakers,” “The Bling Ring,” “The Spectacular Now,” “Under The Skin” and “Obvious Child” win strong reviews, strong box office, or both. For them to start off 2015 with some major Oscar love would hardly suggest a most violent third year for A24.
Peter Knegt is Indiewire’s Contributing Editor and awards columnist. Follow him on Twitter.
Check out Indiewire’s latest chart of Oscar predictions (which includes “A Most Violent Year”) here.