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For Your Consideration: The Four Films That Jumped Into the Oscar Race This Past Week

For Your Consideration: The Four Films That Jumped Into the Oscar Race This Past Week

It’s pretty incredible how much can go down — awards season-wise — in the six days between the Venice Film Festival kicking off and the Telluride Film Festival shutting down. Last year for example, it was during that time period that we first saw both “12 Years a Slave” and “Gravity,” the two films that would go on to lead the Oscar race (winning 10 between them, including best picture and best director). And though there’s still a lot about to transpire once Toronto kicks off Thursday (where last year we got our first taste of “Dallas Buyers Club” and “August: Osage County,” among others), let’s just take a breather and look at what just happened. We’ve updated our Oscar prediction charts to reflect just that, but here’s a closer look at the four films that appear to have broken into the race to varying degrees this past week. Though they’ve obviously got to hold on for the six long months left until Oscar night…

Birdman (Fox Searchlight)
Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu
Starring Michael Keaton, Emma Stone, Zach Galifianakis, Edward Norton, Naomi Watts, Amy Ryan, Lindsay Duncan, Andrea Riseborough
When/where did it premiere? It opened Venice a week ago tomorrow.
When is it getting released in theaters? October 17
What were the reviews like? Pretty out of this world (the word “masterpiece” was thrown around a few times). Definitely the critical darling of the quintet listed here, “Birdman” has offered director Iñárritu and star Keaton the best reviews of their respective careers (read Indiewire’s take here). Rave after rave met its Venice debut, and then they continued when the film hit Telluride a few days later.
What could we expect, Oscar-nomination wise? While there is indeed six months left until Oscar night, it is very hard to imagine a film with this kind of love behind it missing out on a best picture nomination. Or a comeback performance like Keaton’s not making the cut (though ask Robert Redford about that). We’d wager a nice handful overall, including best original screenplay, best film editing, best cinematography and maybe additional acting nods for Edward Norton (probable) or Emma Stone (less so).
What does it need to do to hang in there? For one, it needs the dozen or so major potential Oscar contenders left to come not to all be worthy, especially since there’s already a few that came before it (“Boyhood” and “Foxcatcher” most notably). But more importantly the team at Fox Searchlight needs to work to carefully maintain this initial buzz. Being the first major contender out of the fall festival gate can be tricky, but if anybody knows a thing or two about handling that, it’s Fox Searchlight (they managed nicely with “12 Years a Slave” last year).

The Imitation Game (The Weinstein Company)
Directed by Morten Tyldum
Starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Matthew Goode, Keira Knightley, Mark Strong, Rory Kinnear
When/where did it premiere? At Telluride this past weekend.
When is it getting released in theaters? November 21
What were the reviews like? They weren’t quite “Birdman”-level, with some critics callling out its lack of depth (including our own Eric Kohn). But they were still largely positive, and we should keep in mind that critical consensus isn’t always as important as how a film might play to Oscar voters, and this biopic (about British mathematician Alan Turing) seems right up that particular alley (on paper it looks like it could be in the dictionary under “Oscar bait”).
What could we expect, Oscar-nomination wise? Even the mixed reviews were quick to note how fantastic Benedict Cumberbatch is as Turing, and he seems like the film’s MVP. Best picture isn’t out of the question, though it’s still very much a question mark, and the folks at The Weinstein Company will definitely be campaigning for Keira Knightley’s well-received supporting performance, as well as a slew of artistic and technical categories.
What does it need to do to hang in there? Cumberbatch already has some serious competition thanks to Ralph Fiennes, Steve Carell, Timothy Spall and the aforementioned Keaton (this could end up being an epic year for the best actor category), so it’s not going to be an easy ride to a nomination no matter how much everyone loves his performance. Basically, the Weinsteins need to continue drumming up buzz on the festival circuit (the film screens again at TIFF and London BFI, surely among others) and then make some money when it comes out at Thanksgiving.

Rosewater (Open Road)
Directed by Jon Stewart
Starring Gael García Bernal, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Jason Jones, Haluk Bilginer, Nasser Faris, Andrew Gower
When/where did it premiere? At Telluride this past weekend.
When is it getting released in theaters? November 7
What were the reviews like? Pretty mixed. Indiewire said it “suffers from the director’s underwritten screenplay and several misconceived narrative devices,” and we weren’t alone. But then when it had its official screening at Telluride, audiences appeared to eat it up and gave it a standing ovation.
What could we expect, Oscar-nomination wise? Compared to “Birdman” and “The Imitation Game,” this is much farther from a sure thing. It could really go either way, though if future audiences (and Oscar voters) like it as much as the Telluride crowd did, a couple major nods are not out of the question.
What does it need to do to hang in there? Distributor Open Road is not well-seasoned in the Oscar game, so it’ll have to step up to the plate this year (it also has TIFF premiere “Nightcrawler,” which could mean they will have to do some juggling to boot). But the key is probably Jon Stewart himself. A two time Oscar host, he’s likely pretty beloved by a lot of Oscar voters who would be happy to see him succeed. He just needs to play the self-promotion cards right once “Rosewater” begins to hit theaters in November.

Wild (Fox Searchlight)
Directed by Jean-Marc Vallée
Starring Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern, Thomas Sadoski, Michiel Huisman, Gaby Hoffmann
When/where did it premiere? At Telluride this past weekend.
When is it getting released in theaters? December 5
What were the reviews like? Generally mixed. Our own Eric Kohn said the film “has beautiful visuals and a great central performance, but doesn’t trust those ingredients to carry the story.” Some critics were kinder, but overall it seems like Fox Searchlight’s second Oscar contender to debut within a span of a couple days has the least potential of the two. Which is not to say it should be counted out…
What could we expect, Oscar-nomination wise? Witherspoon is basically in. Unlike best actor (as is sadly often the case), best actress has very few contenders at this point, and the Oscars love to reward previous winners with another nomination — especially after a bit of a career slump. Best picture and best adapted screenplay are certainly possible too, but it all depends.
What does it need to do to hang in there?Wild” is likely much more of an audience film than a critic’s darling. Creating word of mouth over the new few months on the festival circuit and then getting some box office love when the film comes out in December are key.

Check out Indiewire’s latest chart of Oscar predictions here.

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

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