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For Your Consideration: Breaking Down the 2014 Oscar Race, Distributor by Distributor

For Your Consideration: Breaking Down the 2014 Oscar Race, Distributor by Distributor

It’s mid-October and the quartet of major Oscar launching pad film festivals — Venice, Telluride, Toronto and New York — have now all come and gone. So Indiewire has decided to break things down, distributor by distributor. Before the onslaught of For Your Consideration ads and screeners hits (which should happen pretty much any minute now), here’s a rundown for 16 studios or specialty distributors (in alphabetical order), each with at least a minimal shot at a major nomination:

Track record: This is the upstart indie distributor’s second year at bat. Their first year saw a clever campaign for James Franco’s (deserved) supporting actor bid for “Spring Breakers,” which while that didn’t go anywhere gave A24 their first participation in the overall awards conversation.

2014 MVP: “A Most Violent Year.” We’ve yet to see JC Chandor-directed film, but it sure looks good on paper. 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 in Chandor, Isaac and Chastain.

Other possibilities: Best actress pushes for Scarlett Johannson in “Under The Skin” and Jenny Slate in “Obvious Child” are warranted, though with hopes more directed at other ceremonies like the British Independent Film Awards (for Johannson) and the Indie Spirit Awards (for Slate).

CBS Films
Track record: Four year old CBS Films has had a few more shots at awards season than A24, but it’s never quite worked out. The closest they ever came was “Inside Llewyn Davis” last year, which sadly ended up only getting two nominations in technical categories — much to the disappointment of the film’s passionate supporters.

2014 MVP: “Pride,” but don’t hold your breath. The crowdpleasing British gay rights drama seems exactly like the kind of thing the Academy embraced regularly a decade or so ago (think “The Full Monty” and “Billy Elliot”), but it’s unlikely to be any sort of throwback to that.

Other possibilities: None.

Track record: Last year Disney saw their MVP “Saving Mr. Banks” become a major awards season disappointment, though they made up for it with two Oscars (and a bajillion dollars) for “Frozen.” Though notably this was the first year since 2008 that the company did not have a best picture nominee.

2014 MVP: “Into The Woods” We still haven’t actually seen it, but the Rob Marshall directed musical (starring Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt, Anna Kendrick and Johnny Depp, no less) is still sight unseen Disney’s best Oscar bet.

Other possibilities: The animated feature category should once again have a major Disney player (“Big Hero 6,”), while “Maleficent,” “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” should manage a few tech nods. But if anythings getting into the major races, it’s “The Woods.”

Focus Features
Track record: As Focus says goodbye to its remarkable James Schamus era, it leaves behind a legacy that included multiple best picture nominees including “Atonement,” “Brokeback Mountain,” “The Kids Are All Right,” “Lost in Translation,” “Milk,” The Pianist” and last year’s swan song “Dallas Buyers Club.”

2014 MVP: “The Theory of Everything.” James Marsh’s Stephen Hawking biopic came out of a world premiere in Toronto a pretty sure bet for actors Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones, and a strong contender for a best picture nod as well.

Other possibilities: “The Boxtrolls” is a strong contender for an animated feature category.

Track record: Though its indie-focused sibling Searchlight has had better luck as of late (and should again this year — see below), big Fox had a best picture nominee (and best director winner) two years ago with Ang Lee’s “Life of Pi” before missing out last year with failed contender “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.” Its last winner in the category was 1971’s “The French Connection (though it internationally distributed best picture winners “Braveheart” and “Titanic” back in the 1990s).

2014 MVP: “Gone Girl.” Fox looks pretty set to make up for last year with David Fincher’s critical and commercial hit as at this point nominations for at least best picture, best actress and best adapted screenplay all look locked in.

Other possibilities: The animated feature category could be all about Fox thanks to “How To Train Your Dragon 2,” “The Book of Life,” “Mr. Peabody & Sherman” and “Rio 2,” while the likes of “Exodus,” “X-Men” and “Planet of the Apes” should be fixtures in the tech races. A weak best actress category also means a push for “Fault In Our Stars” star Shailenne
Woodley is certainly warranted.

Fox Searchlight
Track record: Little Fox has had 10 best picture nominees in their 20 years of existence — “127 Hours,” “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” “Black Swan,” “The Descendants,” “The Full Monty,” “Juno,” “Little Miss Sunshine,” “Sideways,” “Slumdog Millionaire” and “12 Years a Slave.” The latter two of course won, including last year with “12 Years.”

2014 MVP: “Birdman or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance.” Alejandro González Iñárritu’s extraordinarily well-received take on a washed up actor once known for playing an iconic supehero is a sure thing for a handful of major nominations (including best picture, and nods for actors Michael Keaton, Emma Stone and Edward Norton).

Other possibilities: “Wild” is a sure bet to get Reese Witherspoon a nomination for best actress, though beyond that is a bit more of a question mark. Still, between it and “Birdman” Fox Searchlight could be looking at a nod in each acting category (a company first). And there’s also their big hit “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” which is a dark horse for some major mentions as well.

IFC Films/Sundance Selects
Track record: Nominations have generally been rare for IFC, though “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” “Y Tu Mama Tambien,” “In The Loop” all nabbed screenplay nominations (while a handful of others factored into the foreign language or doc races).

2014 MVP: “Boyhood.” Exclamation point. Exclamation point. It would be pretty shocking if Richard Linklater’s epic coming-of-age opus did not get IFC Films its very first best picture nomination (not to mention best director and best supporting actress). And it definitely shouldn’t be counted out as a possibility to win the whole thing.

Other possibilities: “Finding Vivian Maier,” “Elaine Stritch: Just Shoot Me” and “Dancing in Jaffa” have shots in the best documentary category, while “Two Days, One Night” could definitely score a foreign language nomination for Belgium (marking the first Oscar nod ever for the Dardenne Brothers).

Track record: Magnolia won the best documentary Oscar for “Man on Wire,” and has many other nominations in the category (“Enron,” “No End In Sight,” “Food, Inc,” etc).

2014 MVP: “Life Itself.” What, did you think we were gonna say “Nymphomaniac”? Magnolia could be looking at another doc win for Steve James’ take on Roger Ebert’s life — which is definitely among the category’s frontrunners right now.

Other possibilities: Swedish submission “Force Majeure” could definitely get a foreign language feature nomination.

Music Box Films
Track record: Despite having the second highest combined foreign language US box office total since beginning in 2008, Music Box only has a single nomination in the corresponding Oscar category (for “Monsieur Lazhar” in 2011).

2014 MVP: “Ida.”
A critical fave and box office hit with a $3.7 million (and counting), the film could land Poland its first Foreign Language Oscar.

Other possibilities: Music Box also has Israel’s submission “Gett” and Germany’s “Beloved Sister,” as well as a few potential doc nominees in “The Green Prince” and “Watchers in the Sky.”

Track record: The studio had two best picture nominations last year with “The Wolf of Wall Street” and “Nebraska,” though neither film won any trophies. Back in the 1990s, they won the big prize three times in four years thanks to “Forrest Gump,” “Braveheart” and “Titanic.”

2014 MVP: “Interstellar.” Paramount has three major options for this year’s race, but we haven’t seen any of them yet. Though it’s hard to argue against the strongest bet among them being Christopher Nolan’s hugely anticipated space odyssey.

Other possibilities: December releases “The Gambler” and “Selma” both look strong on paper, which could very well mean Paramount has more than one best picture nomination two years running. There’s also Chris Rock’s “Top Five,” which blew Toronto Film Festival audiences away and could end up in the conversation.

Track record: The Weinstein Company’s new division won the best documentary Oscar in its first year of existence last year for “20 Feet From Stardom.”

2014 MVP: “Citizenfour.” Could RADiUS go two for two in the doc race? Laura Poitras’ whistleblower film sure gives it a fighting chance after its extremely well received debut at the New York Film Festival.

Other possibilities: RADiUS has quite a few docs that could manage noms alongside “Citizenfour” in “Fed Up,” “Keep On Keepin’ On,” “The Great Invisible” and “Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon.”

Roadside Attractions
Track record: “Winter’s Bone” is definitely Roadside’s biggest Oscar success story in its six year history, though they also managed to factor in with “Margin Call,” “Biutiful,” “Albert Nobbs,” “All Is Lost” and “The Cove.”

2014 MVP:  “The Homesman.” Roadside is teaming with Saban Films to release Tommy Lee Jones’ Cannes film “The Homesman,” which stands an outside chance at a best actress nomination for Hilary Swank.

Other possibilities: Xavier Dolan’s “Mommy” is a strong bet for a foreign language film nod, while well-received indie hits “A Most Wanted Man” and “The Skeleton Twins” should manage some mentions here and there — though probably at the Indie Spirits and not the Oscars.

Track record: “The Social Network,” “Moneyball” “Zero Dark Thirty,” “American Hustle” and “Captain Phillips” have helped give Big Sony four best picture nominations in five years, though they haven’t won the big prize since “Gandhi” back in 1982.

2014 MVP: It’s not looking so good this year, unfortunately. Despite mixed reviews, David Ayer’s World War II drama “Fury” is probably their best bet. But it would be surprising if that film factored into many races outside the technical categories.

Other possibilities: Maybe musical re-vamp “Annie” will surprise us all and be a major player?

Sony Pictures Classics
Track record: “Midnight in Paris” and “Amour” have gave SPC two straight best picture nominations in 2011 and 2012, and then last year the company was behind Cate Blanchett’s best actress win for “Blue Jasmine.”

2014 MVP: Tough call. While big Sony is gonna have a sad year, their indie sibling has a ton to work with. We’re gonna call likely best picture nominee “Foxcatcher” their MVP, but that could change…

Other possibilities: It could change thanks to “Mr. Turner,” “Whiplash” and “Still Alice” — all very well-liked festival hits with strong chances at acting nominations for Timothy Spall, JK Simmons, Julianne Moore and Kristen Stewart. Whether or not they can make it into the biggest race has a lot to do with how the films we haven’t seen yet pan out. But either way, SPC has a lot of campaigning to do — for these four films and strong foreign language options like “Leviathan” and “Wild Tales.”

Track record: The studio is coming off a tough go at it last year, as both “Rush” and “Lone Survivor” did not make much of a stamp on awards season in the end. Can they make up for it?

2014 MVP: That all depends on Angelina Jolie. Her directorial effort “Unbrokenis sight unseen Universal’s strongest contender here. Written by no less than the Coen brothers, the film details the story of Louis “Louie” Zamperini, a former Olympic track star who survives a plane crash in the Pacific, spends 47 days drifting on a raft, and then more than two and a half years living in several Japanese prisoner of war camps. If that doesn’t spell Oscar, what does?

Other possibilities: None really, but we’d love if Rose Byrne somehow got a best supporting actress nomination for “Neighbors.”

Warner Brothers Pictures
Track record: WB led the way two years ago with “Argo,” and then came pretty close last year with “Gravity.”  They have notably had a best picture nominee every year since 2005.

2014 MVP: “American Sniper.” Clint Eastwood’s last minute entry into the race is likely to be Warner Brothers’ best (and only) shot at continuing their streak. No one’s seen it yet, but if Clint can hand WB this sold — they’ll surely forgive him for “Jersey Boys.”

Other possibilities: “The Hobbit: The Battle of The Five Armies” and “The LEGO Movie” should help WB up their overall nomination count, while how voters react to Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Inherent Vice” will definitely be interesting.

The Weinstein Company
Track record: Harvey and company have been on a roll lately, winning two of the last four best picture races and four lead acting trophies in the last three years (for Colin Firth, Jean Dujardin, Meryl Streep and Jennifer Lawrence, respectively). Last year was not their finest hour however, as “August: Osage County” and “Philomena” ended up their only big contenders — and neither won anything.

2013 MVP: “The Imitation Game.” It doesn’t quite seem like the Weinsteins have the kind of slate to fully make up for last year, but they at least have a safe bet for best picture, best actor and best supporting actress nominations in this Alan Turing biopic, which just won the Toronto Film Festival’s People’s Choice Award.

Other possibilities: Tim Burton’s “Big Eyes” is TWC’s only remaining question mark.  Early word is Amy Adams is the film’s best bet which could definitely shake up the best actress race given Adams is overdue. But can it factor into other categories too? Beyond “Eyes,” “Begin Again” is a favorite in the best original song category… but that’s about it.

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

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

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