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For Your Consideration: Which Films That We’ve Already Seen Will Make Oscar’s Cut?

For Your Consideration: Which Films That We've Already Seen Will Make Oscar's Cut?

It’s been roughly six months since Indiewire’s coverage of the mammoth 2014-2015 awards season came to an end. Our regular 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, Telluride Film Festival and Toronto Film Festival just days away, “next” is soon to be now. So: Welcome to the first edition of this season’s For Your Consideration column, which will run regularly every week from this point forward.

The focus of this particular column is not a preview of what’s to come (you can check that out here), but what we already know from the year’s first eight months — whether via festival screenings or theatrical releases. A year ago, it seemed like “Boyhood,” “The Grand Budapest Hotel” and “Whiplash” were varying degrees of iffy when it came to gaining major Oscar momentum, but all of them ended up going the distance (they won eight Oscars between them, including two of the four acting trophies).

While last year was a standout example for films released earlier in the year, it wasn’t a full-on exception to the rule. In 2012, we had already 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”). That much suggests we may already encountered one of the upcoming Best Picture nominees for this season. The last time that didn’t happen was 2008, but that was back in the days 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 Todd Haynes’ period romance “Carol” and Pete Docter’s Pixar outing “Inside Out” both genuine possibilities for Best Picture nods, among many others. “Carol” would mark Haynes’ first film to get a Best Picture nomination, while “Inside Out” could become only the fourth animated film to do so — after “Beauty and the Beast,” “Toy Story 3” and Docter’s own “Up.” If there are nine or 10 slots, we’d bet both make the cut.

Cannes also offered up a trio of films that are — at this point — somewhat bigger question marks than “Carol” and “Inside Out.” That would be competition titles “Youth” (from Paolo Sorrentino) and “Sicario” (from Denis Villenueve), as well as George Miller’s “Mad Max: Fury Road,” which screened out of competition (though it arguably did better than most films that did). “Youth” and “Sicario” will both be screening again in Toronto (and potentially Telluride), and if buzz mounts they could definitely be contenders, particularly for the performances of Michael Caine, Harvey Keitel and Jane Fonda in the former, and Emily Blunt and Benicio Del Toro in the latter.

“Mad Max,” meanwhile, has already been released in theaters. It won rave reviews and did fine at the box office, both of which help keep it in the conversation. Working against it: the fact that it’s a post-apocalyptic action film. That genre definitely doesn’t scream “Oscar,” at least outside of technical achievement categories. But “Mad Max” has what it takes to fight to become an exception to that rule, as does its lead actress Charlize Theron — who could pull a Sigourney Weaver and become a extremely rare example of an action heroine who gets a Best Actress nod.

Then there’s Sundance. Four of the past six 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, “Beasts” in 2012, “Whiplash” last year). Does that suggest this year’s winner, “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” will continue the streak? Probably not, given the film’s tepid box office and lack of overall buzz.  However, some films that weren’t in competition could make up for that. John Crowley’s “Brooklyn” — which, like “Carol” is a historical romance set in 1950s New York City — is definitely the MVP among them. Glowing reviews met the film in Park City, and a comparable example would be “An Education,” which just so happened to have been a premiere at Sundance and shares a screenwriter with “Brooklyn” in Nick Hornby. Could “Brooklyn,” like “An Education,” find itself nominated for Best Picture, Best Actress (Saoirse Ronan) and Best Adapted Screenplay? It’s not unthinkable.

Sundance also premiered Paul Weitz’s “Grandma,” which is currently doing very well at the box office in limited release. Though it’s a long shot for Best Picture, the film stands a very good chance at giving Lily Tomlin her first Oscar nomination since 1975 for her lead role as a lesbian poet who takes her granddaughter on an abortion-themed road trip. The 75-year-old actress would bring some refreshing variety to a category that typically rewards younger actresses, and she could be joined by contemporary Blythe Danner, who at 72 has never been nominated for an Oscar. Her performance in another Sundance breakout, “I’ll See You In My Dreams,” was very well-received and turned out to be one of summer 2015’s rare indie box office hits (taking in $7.4 million).

The Berlin Film Festival scored a major coup last year by having Wes Anderson’s “The Grand Budapest Hotel” open the festival and then go on to win more Oscars than other film.  This year’s opener — Isabel Coixet’s “Nobody Wants the Night” —  is extremely unlikely to factor into this year’s awards race, but some other Berlin premieres could. Andrew Haigh’s “45 Years” should find itself in the conversation for the performances of its leads Tom Courtenay and Charlotte Rampling, while out of competition premiere “Cinderella” is all but certain to land nods for Best Production Design and Best Costume Design.

Last but not least is a film that didn’t screen at any festivals but definitely will play a role in this awards season’s conversation: F. Gary Gray’s NWA biopic “Straight Outta Compton” rode critical acclaim to three straight weeks (and counting) atop the box office, and its discussion of race relations in America through the story of the pioneering hip hop group is certainly timely. If it succeeds, it would be the third straight year a biopic about African-Americans received a Best Picture nomination, after “12 Years a Slave” and “Selma.”

Beyond those eleven films, there’s definitely a slew of other titles that have good shots of popping up here or there. But before we get to that, let’s take a stab at 13 serious contenders, as risky a proposition as that might be:

  • “Carol” will be nominated for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay.
  • Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara will both be nominated for the film as well.
  • Lily Tomlin will be nominated for Best Actress.
  • “Inside Out” will be nominated for Best Original Screenplay and Best Animated Feature.
  • “Brooklyn” will be nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay
  • “Cinderella” will be nominated for Best Costume Design and Best Production Design.
  • “Mad Max: Fury Road” will be nominated for Best Sound Editing and Best Sound Mixing.

Of those, “Inside Out” getting an Best Animated Feature nomination is the only one that would basically require hell to freeze over not to happen (though many said the same thing about “The LEGO Movie” at this point last year). But unless the rest of 2015 is jam-packed with worthy contenders (which it very well could be), most of the rest seem like pretty strong bets. Time will certainly tell soon enough.

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). So 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: “Carol”
Reasonable Maybes: “Brooklyn,” “Inside Out,” “Straight Outta Compton”
Long Shots: “45 Years,” “Far From The Madding Crowd,” “Mad Max: Fury Road,” “Sicario,” “Youth”

Best Director
Safe Bets: Todd Haynes (“Carol”)
Reasonable Maybes: George Miller (“Mad Max: Fury Road”), John Crowley (“Brooklyn”), F. Gary Gray (“Straight Outta Compton”)
Long Shots:  Pete Docter (“Inside Out”), Denis Villeneuve (“Sicario”), Paolo Sorrentino (“Youth”), Laszlo Nemes (“Son of Saul”)

Best Actor
Safe Bets: None
Reasonable Maybes: Michael Caine (“Youth”), Jake Gyllenhaal (“Southpaw”)
Long Shots: Tom Courtenay (“45 Years”), John Cusack (“Love and Mercy”), Jesse Eisenberg (“The End of the Tour”), Michael Fassbender (“MacBeth”), O’Shea Jackson, Jr. (“Straight Outta Compton”), Ian McKellen (“Mr. Holmes”), Peter Sarsgaard (“Experimenter”)

Best Actress
Safe Bets: Cate Blanchett (“Carol”), Lily Tomlin (“Grandma”)
Reasonable Maybes: Saorise Ronan (“Brooklyn”), Charlize Theron (“Mad Max: Fury Road”), Blythe Danner (“I’ll See You In My Dreams”)
Long Shots: Emily Blunt (“Sicario”), Charlotte Rampling (“45 Years”), Meryl Streep (“Ricky and the Flash”), Alicia Vikander (“Ex-Machina”), Carey Mulligan (“Far From The Madding Crowd”), Juliette Binoche (“Clouds of Sils Maria”)

Best Supporting Actor
Safe Bets: None
Reasonable Maybes: Paul Dano (“Love and Mercy”), Benicio Del Toro (“Sicario”), Harvey Keitel (“Youth”), Jason Segel (“The End of the Tour”)
Long Shots: Emory Cohen (“Brooklyn”), Paul Giamatti (“Staright Outta Compton”), R. Marcus Johnson (“Straight Outta Compton”), Oscar Isaac (“Ex-Machina”)

Best Supporting Actress
Safe Bets: Rooney Mara (“Carol”)
Reasonable Maybes: Jane Fonda (“Youth”), Julie Walters (“Brooklyn”), Rachel Weisz (“Youth”)
Long Shots: Marion Cotillard (“MacBeth”), Cynthia Nixon (“James White”), Parker Posey (“Irrational Man”), Winona Ryder (“Experimenter”), Kristen Stewart (“Clouds of Sils Maria”), Mya Taylor (“Tangerine”)

Best Original Screenplay:
Safe Bets: “Inside Out”
Reasonable Maybes: “Sicario,” “Straight Outta Compton,” “Son of Saul,” “Youth”
Long Shots: “Ex-Machina,” “Grandma,” “Trainwreck,” “Tangerine”

Best Adapted Screenplay:
Safe Bets: “Brooklyn,” “Carol”
Reasonable Maybes: None
Long Shots: “The End of the Tour,” “The Diary of a Teenage Girl,” “MacBeth,” “Mad Max: Fury Road,” “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl”

Best Animated Feature:
Safe Bets: “Inside Out”
Reasonable Maybes: “The Little Prince,” “Minions”
Long Shots: “Home,” “The Spongebob Squarepants Movie: Sponge Out of Water,” “Shaun The Sheep Movie”

Best Foreign Language Film:
Safe Bets: None (you’d be a fool to call anything in this category so early)
Reasonable Maybes: “Son of Saul” (Hungary), Mia Madre (Italy), “Dheepan” (France)
Long Shots: “Aferim!” (Romania), “The Assassin” (Taiwan), “Body” (Poland), “Labyrinth of Lies” (Germany), “Iraqi Odyssey” (Switzerland), “Mountains May Depart” (China), “Mustang” (Turkey), “Rams” (Iceland), “The Second Mother” (Brazil), “Taxi” (Iran — though it’s unlikely they’ll submit it).

Best Documentary Feature:
Safe Bets: None (this category is pretty tough to call, too)
Reasonable Maybes: “Amy,” “He Named Me Malala,” “Iris,” “The Look of Silence,” “The Wolfpack”
Long Shots: “Batkid Begins,” “Best of Enemies,” “Cartel Land,” “Going Clear,” “The Hunting Ground,” “Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck,” “Listen To Me Marlon,” “Meru,” “What Happened, Miss Simone?”

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

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