Back to IndieWire

The 2015 Oscar Race: Which Film Festivals Came Out On Top

The 2015 Oscar Race: Which Film Festivals Came Out On Top

Paul Reiser, Austin Stowell, Miles Teller, director Damien Chazelle, Melissa Benoist

Paul Reiser, Austin Stowell, Miles Teller, director Damien Chazelle, Melissa Benoist

Daniel Bergeron

With the Sundance Film Festival kicking off this week, it seems like a good time to look back on how last year’s festival circuit ended up factoring into the ongoing Oscar race. Because from “Boyhood” and “Whiplash” premiering at the aforementioned Utah festival to “American Sniper” and “Selma” kicking off at AFI Fest, film festivals played an unprecedented role in the films that ended up dominating the Oscar nominations.

For the first time since the Academy Awards expanded its list beyond five Best Picture nominees, every single one of them had a world premiere at a major film festival. Clearly “Interstellar,” “Into The Woods” and “Unbroken” had been the favorites to stop that from happening — but they all ended up falling short. You have to go back to 2007 to find a Best Picture slate entirely made up of festival premieres, when “Atonement” (Venice), “Juno” (Toronto), “No Country For Old Men” (Cannes), “Michael Clayton” (Venice) and “There Will Be Blood” (Fantastic Fest) made up the category.

So what festival ends up with bragging rights when it comes to this year’s particularly festival-friendly Oscars? Every year, festivals around the world vie for the hope that the best such-and-such Oscar winner debuted at their festival. A year or so ago, Telluride, Venice and Toronto largely split things up in that regard, with “12 Years a Slave” (Telluride), “Gravity” (Venice) and “Dallas Buyers Club” (Toronto) dominating top honors. If our current predictions with regard to who might win this year hold true, a whopping five of the “big 8” Oscar winners will hail from Sundance premieres, with “Boyhood” taking Best Picture, Best Director and Best Supporting Actress honors, and “Whiplash” winning Best Supporting Actor and Best Adapted Screenplay. If that were to be the case, it would be the first time ever that a film that world premiered at Sundance won Best Picture.

That’s getting ahead of ourselves a bit, though. While the films of Sundance 2014 definitely impressed when it came to the Oscar nominations, other festivals were major players as well. Here’s our rundown:

AFI FEST
World premieres that went on to Oscar
nominations: “American Sniper,” “Selma”
Total nominations: 8
Total Best Picture nominees: 2
Overall impact: The last festival on the calendar with generally arguable awards clout, November’s AFI FEST made a major stamp on awards season — probably more so than ever before. The festival has struggled to land films with major Oscar potential in the past (2008’s “Doubt” is a rare exception to that rule — and that film didn’t even get a Best Picture nomination), but this year they landed not one but two Best Picture nominees in Ava DuVernay’s “Selma” and Clint Eastwood’s “American Sniper,” both of which premiered back-to-back on the same night at Hollywood’s Egyptian Theater, no less. That night resulted in considerably more Oscar buzz for “Selma” than “Sniper,” but ultimately it was Eastwood’s war thriller that was the festival’s Oscar MVP. It took six nominations including Best Picture, while “Selma” was shut out save Best Picture and Best Original Song. Either way, future Oscar hopefuls should no longer “doubt” AFI FEST’s potential as a major awards season launching pad.

Berlin International Film Festival
World premieres that went on to Oscar
nominations: “The Grand Budapest Hotel”
Total nominations: 9
Total Best Picture nominees: 1
Overall impact: February’s Berlin International Film Festival has tended to be a major Oscar player almost exclusively in the Foreign Language Film category, where this year it came up entirely empty handed. But that was hardly something to complain about given the unexpected Oscar juggernaut the festival had in its opening night film, Wes Anderson’s “The Grand Budapest Hotel.” Exploding from a dark horse to a major Oscar player, “Hotel” tied “Birdman” to lead the nominations, something nobody would have predicted last winter when it debuted in Berlin. While likely more of a one-off occurrence than something we should expect from future Berlinale slates, it definitely upped the festival’s profile going into next month’s 2015 event.

Cannes Film Festival
World premieres that went on to Oscar
nominations: “Foxcatcher,” “Mr. Turner,” “The Salt of the Earth,” “Two
Days, One Night,” “Leviathan,” “Timbuktu,” “Wild Tales,” “The Tale of
Princess Kagyua”
Total nominations: 14
Total Best Picture nominees: 0
Overall impact: For the first time in four years, no film that premiered at the Cannes Film Festival ended up with a Best Picture nomination. But that didn’t stop the festival from leading the way when it came to overall nominations from their films. Between their trio of Best Foreign Language Film nominees and the handful of nods “Foxcatcher” (which had oddly enough originally been intended as an AFI FEST premiere) and “Mr. Turner” collectively got, Cannes had a respectable showing at the Oscars. But it definitely was no 2012, when “The Artist,” “Midnight in Paris” and “The Tree of Life” definitely made Cannes the Oscar hopeful festival du jour.

New York Film Festival
World premieres that went on to Oscar nominations: “Gone Girl,” “Inherent Vice,” “Citizenfour”
Total nominations: 4
Total Best Picture nominees: 0
Overall impact: Considering the New York Film Festival typically only hosts a handful of world premieres, the fact that it had three films end up in this year’s Oscar race remains impressive. But given they have launched the likes of “The Social Network,” “Life of Pi,” “Hugo,” “Captain Phillips” and “Her” in the last couple years — it’s relatively an Oscar related disappointment that NYFF didn’t have a Best Picture nominee in the mix. But that’s really Oscar voters’ fault for not embracing “Gone Girl” and “Inherent Vice” as much as they should have. And the festival still seems very likely to at least have one big winner from their 2014 slate if Best Documentary Feature frontrunner “Citizenfour” lives up to its current Oscar expectations.

Sundance Film Festival
World premieres that went on to Oscar nominations: “Boyhood,” “Whiplash,” “Last Days in Vietnam”
Total nominations: 12
Total Best Picture nominees: 2
Overall impact: Sundance has had many films go on to make big Oscar plays in recent years, from “Beasts of the Southern Wild” to “The Kids Are All Right” to “Winter’s Bone.” But the collective Oscar glory that has ultimately met Richard Linklater’s “Boyhood” and Damien Chazelle’s “Whiplash” has to be a new benchmark for the festival. As noted earlier, the festival has never had a Best Picture winner premiere at the fest, and “Boyhood” is definitely looking to change that. Add that to both J.K. Simmons and Patricia Arquette all but sure things when it comes to acting trophies (doubling the amount of acting wins from Sundance premieres in the last two years — Alan Arkin and Mo’Nique being the other two), and you have some very heavy shoes for 2015’s upcoming festival to fill at next year’s awards.

Telluride Film Festival
World premieres that went on to Oscar nominations: “The Imitation Game,” “Wild,” “Ida”
Total nominations: 12
Total Best Picture nominees: 1
Overall impact: There was a major rivalry between the last three festivals on this list in 2014. Generally seen as the major trio when it comes to launching Oscar films, five of the six last Best Picture winners have premiered at either Telluride, Toronto or Venice — festivals which occur with a few weeks of each other and definitely compete for premiere status. But last year, Toronto made the new rule that films that premiere in its first few days must at least be North American premieres. This seemed like could hurt Telluride the most, but in the end the Oscar hopefuls still ended up being split fairly evenly between the festivals. Telluride still ended up with “The Imitation Game” and “Wild,” which gave them a Best Picture nomination and four acting contenders. They also had “Ida,” which had premiered at the previous year’s festival but managed to be Oscar’s biggest foreign language player almost a year and a half later.

Toronto International Film Festival
World
premieres that went on to Oscar
nominations: “The Theory of Everything,” “Nightcrawler,” “Begin Again,”
“The Judge,” “Finding Vivian Maier,” “Song of the Sea,” “Still Alice”
Total nominations: 11
Total Best Picture nominees: 1
Overall impact: Despite Toronto’s new rule, it arguably ended up with the weakest Oscar slate of the three festivals. “The Theory of Everything” definitely ended up TIFF’s MVP, while “Still Alice,” “Nightcrawler” and festival opener “The Judge” each managed a single nomination in one of the Oscar’s “big 8” categories. That said, Eddie Redmayne and Julianne Moore could very well end up winning for “Theory” and “Alice,” respectively — which would give both lead acting Oscars to Toronto world premieres.

Venice Film Festival
World premieres that went on to Oscar nominations: “Birdman”
Total nominations: 9
Total Best Picture nominees: 1
Overall impact: Like Berlin, Venice had just one world premiere — its opening night film — go on to get any Oscar nominations. But also like Berlin, it just so happened to lead the pack. Tying “The Grand Budapest Hotel” with nine nominations overall, “Birdman” went from launching Venice to becoming a darling of the 2014-15 awards season. “Budapest” and “Birdman” — both oddly enough released by Fox Searchlight — battled it out for the Golden Globes’ top comedy/musical honors (“Budapest” won) and are battling it out for Best Original Screenplay at the Oscars (where “Birdman” beat “Budapest” at the Globes). Neither are seen as frontrunners in the Best Picture race at this point, but given how well both films have sustained themselves over the season, they should not be counted out just yet.

Peter Knegt is Indiewire’s Contibuting Editor and awards columnist. Follow him on Twitter.

This Article is related to: Awards and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , ,