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For Your Consideration: A Mid-Year Stab at the Oscar Race

For Your Consideration: A Mid-Year Stab at the Oscar Race

It’s been roughly four months since Indiewire’s coverage of the mammoth 2013-2014 awards season came to an end. Our For Your Consideration column has laid dormant ever since, its most recent edition a year-in-advance stab at what might become of the next awards season. But with the Venice Film Festival and Toronto Film Festival just two months away (we’ll have a preview of what they might have in store in the next few days), “next” is soon to be now. Thus, we welcome you to a special mid-year edition of our For Your Consideration column, which will run regularly beginning in September. 

The focus of this particular column is not a preview of what’s to come, but what we already know from the year’s first six months whether via festival screenings or theatrical releases (which can be pretty hard to gauge some years). A year ago, it seemed like “All Is Lost,” “Fruitvale Station” and “Inside Llewyn Davis” were strong bets to get some major Oscar love, but none of them ended up going the distance. In fact, the only major Oscar nominee we’d seen by last year’s mid-way point was Alexander Payne’s “Nebraska.” Though that said, in 2012 we’d have seen two of the best picture nominees by now (“Beasts of the Southern Wild” and “Amour”), and in 2011 we’d seen three (“The Artist,” “Midnight in Paris” and “The Tree of Life”). Either way, that suggests we’ve at least seen one of the best picture nominees by this point in 2014. The last time that didn’t happen was 2008, but that was back when there were only five nominees… So let’s turn the conversation to this year’s possibilities.

Cannes, Sundance and Berlin — which
often all offer an Oscar contender or two — gave us the majority of possibilities so far.  Cannes arguably was the most generous, with Bennett Miller’s “Foxcatcher” and Mike Leigh’s “Mr. Turner” both genuine possibilities for best picture nods, among others.  The former was a highly anticipated potential fixture in last year’s awards race that was pushed to 2014 at the last minute because director Miller didn’t want to rush things. But considering how crowded the Oscar race was — and how well-received “Foxcatcher” was in Cannes — it looks like that decision was for the best.

The film tells the true story of Olympic Wrestling Champion brothers Mark (Channing Tatum) and Dave Schultz (Mark Ruffalo) and their relationship with the eccentric John du Pont (Steve Carell), heir to the du Pont Chemical fortune that led to murder. It might end up all feeling a bit cold for the Academy’s tastes, so it’s no sure thing, but it’s still hard to imagine at this point that it doesn’t at least get one of the best picture slots — though that also depends on how many there are.

If there are nine or 10 slots, we wouldn’t just bet that “Foxcatcher” makes the cut, but also “Mr. Turner.” In addition to being a consistent fixture at Cannes, Mike Leigh has done pretty well for himself at the Oscars, too — especially considering how his work generally doesn’t bait such attention. He’s received screenplay nominations for four of his last five films (“Topsy-Turvy,” “Vera Drake,” “Happy-Go-Lucky” and “Another Year”) and saw his Palme d’Or winning “Secrets & Lies” manage the rare feat of both winning Cannes’ top prize and getting an Oscar Best Picture nomination. So there’s no reason to count him out for this biopic about the life of controversial 19th century British painter and printmaker J.M. Turner (Cannes best actor winner Spall), especially after it got such strong reviews.

Then there’s Sundance. Three of the past five years have seen the festival’s Grand Jury Prize for best U.S. dramatic film get a nomination for best picture (“Precious” in 2009, “Winter’s Bone” in 2010, and “Beasts” in 2012 — “Like Crazy” and last year’s “Fruitvale Station” did not). Does that suggest this year’s very affecting winner,  Damien Chazelle’s “Whiplash,” will continue the streak? Maybe, given its major sale to Sony Pictures Classics and across-the-board acclaim.  But the film — the story a young jazz drummer (Miles Teller) who attends one of the best music schools in the country under the tutelage of the school’s fearsome maestro of jazz played by J.K. Simmons — would have to be a breakout hit to make the increasingly mainstream ranks of Oscar’s big category. It’s not impossible and definitely as far as we’re concerned the most likely to succeed. Richard Linklater’s epic undertaking “Boyhood” is the better possibility from the fest. It has been building buzz ever since, and its theatrical release next week is being met with some intense anticipation. It’s gonna need to at least be a minor box office hit, but that seems likely at this point anyway.

And then there’s Berlin, which scored a major coup this year by having Wes Anderson’s “The Grand Budapest Hotel” open the festival.  We didn’t know then it would turn into the critical and commercial juggernaut it did ($165 million worldwide and counting — a new Anderson record), and Mr. Anderson is overdue: “Moonrise Kingdom” and “The Royal Tenenbaums” arguably came very close to Oscar’s highest ranks, but ended up with screenplay nominations as consolation.  Can “Budapest” go all the way? It’s clearly too soon to tell, but at this point it’s definitely looking like the strongest contender of his career.

Beyond those four, there’s definitely a slew of other films that have good shots of popping up here or there. But before we get to that, let’s call eight nominations right now, as risky a proposition as that might be:

  • “Foxcatcher” will be nominated for best picture, best director and best original screenplay.
  • Steve Carell and Mark Ruffalo will both be nominated for the film as well.
  • “The Grand Budapest Hotel” will be nominated for best picture and best original screenplay
  • “The LEGO Movie” will be nominated for best animated feature.

Of those, “LEGO” is really the only one that hell would essentially have to freeze over to keep from happening. But unless the rest of 2014 is jam-packed with worthy contenders (which it very well could be), most of the rest seem like pretty strong bets. And as for acting possibilities beyond the noted Carell and Ruffalo,

there’s quite a few folks that are almost certain to be fixtures in the conversation from
films we’ve
already seen, it’s just that there are so many performances still to come
it would be too questionable to call them sure things — Timothy Spall (“Mr. Turner”), Channing Tatum (“Foxcatcher”), Ralph Fiennes (“The Grand Budapest Hotel”), Marion Cotillard (“Two Days One Night”); Julianne Moore (“Maps To The
Stars”); Shailene Woodley (“The Fault In Our Stars”); Jessica Chastain and/or James McAvoy
(“The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby”); J.K. Simmons (“Whiplash”); Philip Seymour Hoffman (“A Most Wanted Man”); Alfred Molina or John Lithgow (“Love is Strange”); Ethan Hawke and/or Patricia Arquette (“Boyhood”). It’s a mighty group.

In the interest of keeping this first column from excess, we’ll
stop here. The rest of the story can be told through the list on the
following page. In 11 major categories, it details the chances of films
that have officially screened at either a festival or in theaters. Keep
in mind the difficulty of picking candidates in the categories of best
foreign language film and best documentary feature, both of which are notoriously unpredictable even at the end of the year
(with regard to foreign language, we don’t know which films will even be
submitted for consideration).

At the end of the summer, this column will relaunch with thoughts on
what Venice and Toronto could soon tell us about Oscar. Until then,
continue to the next page to see what we might already know about the eventual nominations (and here’s updated charts featuring guesses in the top categories — that indeed include the films no one has seen yet).

Best Picture:
Safe Bets: “Foxcatcher,” “The Grand Budapest Hotel”
Reasonable Maybes: “Boyhood,” “Mr. Turner”
Dark Horses: “The Fault In Our Stars,” “Love Is Strange,” “Whiplash,” “The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby,” “A Most Wanted Man”

Best Director
Safe Bets: None
Reasonable Maybes: Bennett Miller (“Foxcatcher”), Wes Anderson (“The Grand Budapest Hotel”), Mike Leigh (“Mr. Turner”), Richard Linklater (“Boyhood”)
Dark Horses:  Ira Sachs (“Love is Strange”), Damien Chazelle (“Whiplash”), David Cronenberg (“Maps To The Stars”)

Best Actor
Safe Bets: Steve Carell (“Foxcatcher”)
Reasonable Maybes: Timothy Spall (“Mr. Turner”), Channing Tatum (“Foxcatcher”), Ralph Fiennes (“The Grand Budapest Hotel”)
Dark Horses: Ellar Coltrane (“Boyhood”), Miles Teller (“Whiplash”), John Lithgow (“Love is Strange”), Alfred Molina (“Love is Strange”), Bill Hader (“The Skeleton Twins”), Tom Hardy (“Locke”)

Best Actress
Safe Bets: None
Reasonable Maybes: Marion Cotillard (“Two Days One Night”), Julianne Moore (“Maps To The Stars”), Shailene Woodley (“The Fault In Our Stars”), Jessica Chastain (“The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby”)
Dark Horses: Scarlett Johansson (“Under The Skin”), Kristen Stewart (“Clouds of Sils Maria”), Juliette Binoche (“Clouds of Sils Maria”), Anne Dorval (“Mommy”), Jenny Slate (“Obvious Child”), Hilary Swank (“The Homesman”)

Best Supporting Actor
Safe Bets: Mark Ruffalo (“Foxcatcher”)
Reasonable Maybes: J.K. Simmons (“Whiplash”), Philip Seymour Hoffman (“A Most Wanted Man”)
Dark Horses: Ethan Hawke (“Boyhood”), Ciaran Hinds (“The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby”)

Best Supporting Actress
Safe Bets: None
Reasonable Maybes: Vanessa Redgrave (“Foxcatcher”), Patricia Arquette (“Boyhood”)
Dark Horses: Laura Dern (“The Fault In Our Stars”), Dorothy Atkinson (“Mr. Turner”), Marion Booth (“Mr. Turner”),  Suzanne Clement (“Mommy”), Chloe Grace Moretz (“Clouds of Sils Maria”)

Best Original Screenplay:
Safe Bets: “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” “Foxcatcher”
Reasonable Maybes: “Boyhood,” “Mr. Turner”
Dark Horses: “Whiplash,” “Love Is Strange,” “The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby,” “Mommy,” “The LEGO Movie,” “The Skeleton Twins”

Best Adapted Screenplay:
Safe Bets: None
Reasonable Maybes: “A Most Wanted Wan,” “Maps To The Stars”
Dark Horses: “The Fault In Our Stars”

Best Animated Feature:
Safe Bets: “The LEGO Movie”
Reasonable Maybes: “How To Train Your Dragon 2,” Mr. Peabody & Sherman”
Dark Horses: “Rio 2,” “The Nut Job”

Best Foreign Language Film:
Safe Bets: None (you’d be a fool to call anything in this category so early)
Reasonable Maybes: “Mommy” (Canada), “Winter Sleep” (Turkey”)
Dark Horses: “Wild Tales” (Argentina), “The Wonders” (Italy), “Two Days One Night” (Belgium or France), “Goodbye To Language” (France), “Still The Water” (Japan), “Party Girl” (France)

Best Documentary Feature:
Safe Bets: None (this category is pretty tough to call, too)
Reasonable Maybes: “The Case Against 8,” “Fed Up,” “Life Itself”
Dark Horses: “Finding Vivien Maier,” “The Overnighters,” “Rich Hill,” “The Battered Bastards of Baseball,”  “Last Days in Vietnam,” “The Internet’s Own Boy,” “Ivory Tower”

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

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