This column is a few days late this week, but then this was a particularly busy few days. The first three of the actual awards precursors finally arrived this week, including the New York Film Critics Circle, the National Board of Review and the Gotham Independent Film Awards.
What’s the verdict? This is still anyone’s race. 12 Years a Slave was already proclaimed the winner this time last year, even if there were grumblings that Gravity could pull off an upset. Past years have been two-horse races between Old Hollywood establishment storytelling and New Hollywood edginess. Right now it’s unclear whether we’ll still have nine Best Picture nominees by January, or which presumed frontrunner suddenly falls out altogether.
Boyhood and Birdman both seem strong, with The Imitation Game becoming the broad consensus choice should critics and audiences split on the first two. And yet The Theory of Everything shares The Imitation Game’s narrative, Selma is becoming a massive critical hit with its finger on the nation’s pulse, A Most Violent Year claimed a key early victory, and Gone Girl is the box office smash that still has everyone talking.
Here’s to the next few months!
How is it that Boyhood could feel like both the frontrunner and the underdog in the same Oscar season? The film’s small scale charm and yet critically acclaimed hype is virtually unprecedented, and it is giving it a remarkable leg up in a complex season. Now that it has picked up a New York Film Critics Circle prize for Best Film, it’s the first major victory the film needs on a long road to the Oscars. It’s also quickly becoming the consensus favorite among critics in early Top 10 lists, attention that movies like Birdman, Selma, A Most Violent Year, Foxcatcher, Inherent Vice and The Grand Budapest Hotel all need in spades in order to remain in the conversation.
The second of three major precursors this week were the Gotham Independent Film Awards, a voting branch that likewise nominated Boyhood but opted for Birdman in both Best Picture and Best Actor Michael Keaton. Birdman continues to play as a movie that will appeal to industry sensibilities and a dominant acting branch.
3. A Most Violent Year
Now here’s your spoiler! A Most Violent Year surprised everyone by winning the third of the precursors this week, the National Board of Review prize for Best Film. Most would’ve thought Selma or Birdman could steal a prize away from Boyhood, but not this, J.C. Chandor’s Sidney Lumet inspired crime drama. Oscar Isaac even tied with Keaton for Best Actor, and the film seems like Jessica Chastain’s most likely bet.
Citizenfour may just be the most important movie of the year. It puts a Hollywood face on a scary sensation involving the US Government, Edward Snowden, the NSA and the American people, and it should be nominated for Best Picture. It shouldn’t matter that it’s a documentary, and Variety seems to agree. If nominated, it would be the first documentary ever to crack that group, even with the expanded nominees. Citizenfour did however clear one hurdle: it made the shortlist of Oscar Documentary features and looks like a strong frontrunner ahead of Jodorowsky’s Dune and Life Itself.
Though it missed out on the NBR’s Top 10, Selma is straddling the line of the critical darling and the one that will have the pulse of the nation. Currently on Metacritic with a formidable 98, Kyle Buchanan seems to think it can become the easy Oscar frontrunner if it manages a Screen Actors Guild Ensemble Prize or an upset at the Golden Globes. But moreover, Ava DuVernay has found her way into a Best Director’s branch that’s looking increasingly competitive.
How quickly everyone turned this film from a foregone conclusion into an also-ran. That doesn’t mean it’s out of a Best Picture nomination, but it no longer looks like the runaway winner it was positioned as before anyone even saw it.
Angelina Jolie’s film fared somewhat poorly with critics this past week. Eric Kohn more politely wrote, “Jolie’s sophomore outing breaks no new ground, but manages to convey its real-life odyssey with a largely agreeable, celebratory tone. At over two hours, the movie’s galvanizing spirit grows weary. But Jolie keeps the narrative afloat thanks to first-rate craftsmanship, a few well-honed moments of bonafide suspense, and a terrifically restrained Jack O’Connell in the lead role.”
Meanwhile, Variety’s Justin Chang wrote, “For all its scenes of intense deprivation and extreme brutality, the film never quite manages, over the course of 137 carefully measured minutes, to reproduce the feeling of a sustained endurance test. Nor does it succeed in dramatizing the human need for faith and forgiveness, one of its more baldly stated themes, in more than perfunctory, platitudinous terms.”
Kyle Buchanan speculates Angelina Jolie faces the biggest uphill battle toward a Best Director nomination, marking the first time two female Best Director nominees would come in one year. Supporting Actor Miyavi is much more likely in an uncertain field, and Buchanan adds that nods for Makeup, Editing, Sound and Cinematography are likely sure things.
7. Julianne Moore
If there’s one surefire front-runner in the entire Oscar race, its Patricia Arquette in Boyhood. But if you’re looking for a second surefire front-runner, the consensus is now leaning towards Julianne Moore. Moore is the proud winner of a Gotham and NBR award for Best Actress for Still Alice, and she also holds one of the most coveted of all Oscar narratives: the actress who is long overdue. Moore has four nominations and no trophy, a feat only topped by another likely nominee, Amy Adams.
8. Timothy Spall and Marion Cotillard
Mark Harris pointed out that if the New York film critics revealed anything, it isn’t a bad idea to look outside the box of the consensus favorites. While Best Actor is stacked, Cannes Best Actor winner Timothy Spall now has yet another prize under his belt with the New York critics and could be a plausible spoiler for any of the favorites. Meanwhile, Marion Cotillard has just as much Oscar love as any of the “consensus” favorites, but has been conspicuously absent from the conversation. Much of that has to do with the fact that Harvey Weinstein seems to hate The Immigrant. Take a look at the Weinstein Company For Your Consideration page, where The Immigrant and Snowpiercer are conveniently absent. Two Days, One Night is a performance in French, but then Cotillard won for La vie en Rose for doing just that.
9. The LEGO Movie
Not only is The LEGO Movie one of my favorites of the year, its starting to look a lot more (forgive the mild pun) put together than a lot are giving it credit for. NYFCC first gave it the Animated Prize, the Annie Awards gave it a nomination, and though it lost to How To Train Your Dragon 2 in the NBR, Peter Knegt pointed out it beat out some serious contenders for Best Original Screenplay. Not to mention, it likely still has a Best Original Song nomination in its back pocket. Anne Thompson reported from a Bricksburg event promoting the film this week and was reminded why it is such a treat
10. The Imitation Game
In terms of press, The Imitation Game is not getting the attention of some of its contemporaries. But The Gurus ‘O Gold still have this film comfortably slotted at Number 2 of the movies most likely to win Best Picture. So far, all I see on its mantel are an Audience Choice Award and now a Palm Springs Ensemble Award. The one question is if anyone truly loves The Imitation Game enough for it to win, perhaps even enough to nominate it? But history tells us the movie that plays broadly enough wins out in the end.
Falling off the charts
Positive reviews, a good box office and a few precursor prizes could make Reese Witherspoon the most plausible challenger to Moore, and if some of the Best Picture contenders are weaker than they appear, it could slip in at one of the low spots.
Once the surefire on-paper contender, now a movie that got drowned in a sea of press, backlash and scrutiny; Interstellar now seems like a scientist on a planet without a colony.
David Fincher’s film is quietly holding firm as a strong contender, even if not everyone seems to think it can win. But it’s the biggest box office draw by far, so expect a comeback in a big way.
Like Gone Girl, buzz has died down somewhat over the last few weeks, awaiting critics groups and other prizes to come back and champion it.
Late in the year spoiler conversation has shifted from American Sniper to Selma and A Most Violent Year, but Bradley Cooper still seems like a plausible Best Actor bubble choice, and Clint Eastwood got a much needed boost from NBR as Best Director.
You almost fooled me there Academy! Plenty of critics seem to love this like they would any other PTA movie, even if Academy voters don’t. And yet even its chances are far from dead.
The Grand Budapest Hotel
If critics don’t come out to support this movie in a big way, Wes Anderson may want to rethink releasing any of his movies in March if he cares at all about the Oscars. Here’s hoping Ralph Fiennes chances aren’t dead just yet.