The Hype Cycle: Contenders Arrive in Theaters


Excuse the absence in this column for the last few weeks. I’ve been covering the Chicago International Film Festival, catching up with a few of the Foreign Language Oscar contenders while there. Now however, many of these movies are finally making their ways into theaters, providing an extra wrinkle into the race as both critics and fans weigh in on their quality.

1. Birdman

Birdman has finally arrived, and it’s everything the critics and the public have imagined. The film had a solid opening on just four theaters in its opening weekend, earning half a million dollars, and Michael Keaton, Zach Galifianakis and more have all been making the talk show rounds to promote this weird, goofy film everyone loves.

Kris Tapley went right out and handed Keaton the Oscar for Best Actor, writing “The emotional spectrum of this character, Riggan Thompson — who all actors will identify with at the end of the day, whether they’ll admit it or not — is like a fireworks display. But it’s never graceless or baroque. It comes from such an internal place, like a fed furnace of insecurity and creative desperation.” Not only that, Keaton was the first to pick up honors from the Santa Barbara Film Festival as a “Modern Master”.

At the same time, the film is seeing some pushback from critics. Scott Tobias at The Dissolve was the most convincingly vocal. “It helped clarify why Iñárritu, for all his technical bravado, is such a terrible filmmaker: He’s incapable of modulation. He deals in intensity, in conflict, in grand poetic flourishes. He’s a goddamn artist!”

Pundits will tell you critics don’t matter as much as they used to, but when a film like Birdman, Boyhood, Whiplash or Gone Girl needs the critics’ awards support to give it that final push later in the year, Birdman might be surprisingly left out. Also check out Sam Adams’s piece on the drawbacks of “greatness”.

2. Interstellar

Of all the unreleased, unseen Oscar contenders so far, American Sniper, Selma, Big Eyes, Into the Woods, A Most Violent Year and Exodus: Gods and Kings, the only one with nerd cred and hype on its side is Christopher Nolan’s movie.

Gregory Ellwood says it hasn’t really been touted as an awards movie but the next big pop culture moment movie to overtake Gone Girl, and that could end up working in its favor. Anne Thompson additionally reported its early raves from industry insiders like Brad Bird and Edgar Wright, explaining how Paramount is smartly building hype while keeping everything under lock and key from critics.

Whiplash 1

3. Whiplash

Once thought to be a “lucky to win at Sundance” contender, Whiplash may now have the legs to earn an Oscar nomination for Best Picture. The film is earning fiery raves from critics, though it missed out on a Best Picture nod at the Gothams (see below). While there’s a lot of love for Miles Teller, everyone is really talking about J.K. Simmons.

Simmons is a legacy character actor still without a nomination, and he seems to be the only contender in the Supporting Actor category people feel confident about (see below again). Indiewire ran an interesting profile on the actor, in which he’s got the “stern, malleable face” you should know even if you don’t know his name.

4. Gone Girl

Not only has Gone Girl held firm as the movie people are talking about (try to the tune of $110 million and two weeks at Number 1), it’s also a movie that’s raising a lot of questions. Gone Girl has some questionable subject matter designed to stoke the fire of gender writers and Op-Ed Columnists, and it’s typically these sort of things that can sink a movie’s Best Picture chances (expect to see controversies following multiple other films in the weeks to come). Gone Girl however has remained firm.

Sasha Stone wrote about how important it is that Gone Girl is the only film written by a woman in this year’s lead contenders. But she also says its creating real conversations about culture and society, not just thumbs up/thumbs down ratings. “No one can really believe the amount of in depth think pieces on David Fincher’s Gone Girl except that it points to how few adult movies there are to talk about at all. How many think pieces can a person write about Guardians of the Galaxy?”

top five2

5. Top Five

Chris Rock’s film made a huge splash at Toronto, and with a first trailer having finally arrived and a confirmed December release date, it’s a below-the-radar contender you need to consider. Gregory Ellwood says to believe the hype, even if the trailer underwhelms you. He calls attention to the fact that it’s a surprisingly raunchy affair, that there’s an extended sequence featuring Leslie Jones and Tracy Morgan destined to become a classic and that it’s a who’s who of huge comedy names.

6. Best Supporting Actor Race

Of all the Oscar races, the most interesting and nebulous right now is the Best Supporting Actor category. Variety points out that there’s an awful lot of arguable category fraud going on, be it Christoph Waltz in Big Eyes, Steve Carell in Foxcatcher or Ralph Fiennes in The Grand Budapest Hotel. The Playlist feels performances by Josh Brolin, Albert Brooks and the supposedly fiery work by Miyavi, a Japanese pop star featured prominently in Unbroken, will edge out the less showy work of someone like Ethan Hawke. They also acknowledge however that just about any of the performances in the sight unseen Selma could make a splash. Also check out In Contention’s round-up.

The Tale of Princess Kaguya - Isao Takahata

7. The Tale of Princess Kaguya and the Animated Feature race

The Best Animated Feature race is surprisingly stacked this year, even without a Pixar movie. How to Train Your Dragon 2 and The Lego Movie both seem like solid bets, The Boxtrolls and The Book of Life could be strong contenders especially when you consider other films have gotten in for less, and Big Hero 6 looks kind of great.

But now seemingly out of nowhere is what is possibly the last Studio Ghibli film and the last film by Isao Takahata, The Tale of Princess Kaguya. The movie aside, that’s a great narrative, what with The Wind Rises following the same formula to a nomination last year. But the reviews have been staggeringly good; Awards Daily has a roundup of some of the raves. But the film’s success also calls into question what it might mean for hopefuls like Rio 2, Mr. Peabody and Sherman or the GKIDS entry Song of the Sea.

8. The Gotham Independent Film Nominees

The Awards Calendar has finally begun. The Gothams are the first up in the grand scheme of a long season leading up to the Oscars, and nominations were announced today. Though these don’t have major bearing on the complete race as many non-Oscar movies tend to show up (Under the Skin!), an Oscar contender that fails to do well here or at the Indie Spirits might be a sign of being in bad shape.

Birdman, Boyhood and The Grand Budapest Hotel made strong showings in the Best Picture category, with underdogs Miles Teller showing up for Whiplash and Mia Wasikowska showing up for Tracks. Awards Daily has the full list.

9. Documentary Shorts

The shortlist for the Documentary Shorts category has arrived! This list of eight will be whittled down to five on nomination day, so find them if you can. Here’s the list via Deadline:

“Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1,” Perry Films
“Joanna,” Wajda Studio
“Kehinde Wiley: An Economy of Grace,” Show of Force
“The Lion’s Mouth Opens,” Tree Tree Tree
“One Child,” New York University
“Our Curse,” Warsaw Film School
“The Reaper (La Parka),” Centro de Capacitación Cinematográfica
“White Earth,” Weary Traveler

Falling off the Charts

The Imitation Game

Suddenly that TIFF People’s Choice isn’t looking so hot on this movie’s mantle. This will be back with a vengeance when it finally opens in November, but for now it’s being drowned out. Never a good sign for an early frontrunner tasked with weathering the storm.


Like The Imitation Game, Reese Witherspoon’s film is getting lost in a sea of talk about Patricia Arquette, Julianne Moore and Rosamund Pike. Wild’s reviews were never as strong as The Imitation Game, but it too will be a big audience hit when it finally opens.


Fury, despite the push from Between Two Ferns, is hardly looking like an awards play any more, what with middling reviews and an overcrowded Best Picture and Best Actor field. Its best bet is for Supporting Actor for standouts Logan Lerman or Shia LaBeouf.

Scroll to Top