The Oscar Warrior: So Where Are We At?

ON

file_115498_0_oscarstatueheader

The Oscar Warrior’s been a bit busy with other things this awards season, but we’re just a month away from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announcing the nominees for the 87th annual Academy Awards, which will be handed out on February 22, 2015, about a week earlier than usual.

So far, we’ve had a number of critics groups announcing their annual awards as well as nominees for the 21st Screen Actors Guild Awards (SAG), the 72nd Annual Golden Globes handed out by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA) and the 20th Critics’ Choice Movie Awards given out by the Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA).

The movies we’ve been seeing the most mentioned in these precursors include Richard LInklater’s Boyhood, Alejandro Inarritu’s Birdman and Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel, with the other movies having scattered support from different groups. We’ll get to those later as we look at the acting categories first.

It’s very rare that an actor is nominated for a SAG Actor, a Golden Globe and a Critics’ Choice awards without being nominated by the Academy, but it’s happening more frequently. Last year, three actors received all three precursory nominations but didn’t receive an Oscar nomination. Tom Hanks received nominations for his leading role in Captain Phillips, while his Saving Mr. Banks co-star Emma Thompson received nominations for her performance in that movie, but neither was recognized with an Oscar nod. Similarly, Austrian actor Daniel Bruhl got a lot of attention for his supporting role in Ron Howard’s Rush, which was also snubbed by the Academy.

So far, exactly six leading actresses have been getting all the awards and nominations: Jennifer Aniston (Cake), Marion Cotillard (Two Days, One Night), Felicity Jones (The Theory of Everything), Julianne Moore (Still Alice), Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl) and Reese Witherspoon (Wild). The BFCA nominated all six, but Marion Cotillard is the only one not to be nominated for a Golden Globe or SAG award though she also received a number of important critics group honors, so she shouldn’t be ruled out. Amy Adams’ performance in Big Eyes, thought to be a possible nominee, received a Golden Globe nomination but in the comedy/musical category, which puts her even further back in terms getting her sixth Oscar nomination. 

The one actress who was thought to be worthy of Oscar attention but has yet to receive one precursor is Laura Dern, who plays Cheryl Strayed’s mother in Wild. No group so far has included her in their supporting actress category. Instead, SAG went with the odd choice of Naomi Watts in the comedy St. Vincent, which seems like a joke considering how bad she is in that movie (That’s just this writer’s opinion.) If you take her out of the mix, the four actresses who have gotten the most mentions are Patricia Arquette (Boyhood), Keira Knightley (The Imitation Game), Emma Stone (Birdman) and Meryl Streep (Into the Woods) with Jessica Chastain (A Most Violent Year) and Tilda Swinton (Snowpiercer) getting attention as well. Chastain received the supporting actress award from the National Board of Review (NBR) and Swinton was chosen by at least one critics group. Chastain has a better chance with the Academy because she’s proven her merit and A Most Violent Year is a serious drama rather than a genre flick like Snowpiercer. Right now, Patricia Arquette is thought to be the frontrunner in this category.

file_123710_4_whiplashww1Supporting actor has basically been the exact same names in what is one of the weaker categories with Robert Duvall (The Judge), Ethan Hawke (Boyhood), Edward Norton (Birdman), Mark Ruffalo (Foxcatcher) and J.K. Simmons (Whiplash) being the five names most commonly mentioned. The BFCA added Josh Brolin from Inherent Vice for their sixth slot, although he has the weakest chances despite his past nominations. Most people feel that Simmons’ performance in Whiplash is the one to beat although he’s going up against a lot of strong previous nominees, including previous winner Duvall.

The last acting category, Lead Actor, has been one of the toughest races in recent memory with so many great male performances. Benedict Cumberbatch (The Imitation Game), Michael Keaton (Birdman) and Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything) have been getting the most buzz for their respective roles. David Oyelowo’s portrayal of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma is a late-comer to the race, having missed out on a SAG nomination but getting support from the other two groups. That would leave just one slot open and right now that looks very likely to go to Jake Gyllenhaal for his transformative performance in Dan Gilroy’s Nightcrawler. His biggest competition may be Ralph Fiennes for Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel, a movie that came out way back in March but has been gaining traction during award season much like the movie has. At this point, there’s no real frontrunner although many feel that it will either go to Keaton or Redmayne. Chances are they will each win a Golden Globe so the one who wins the SAG and Critics’ Choice Awards will move ahead.

The lack of a nomination by the BFCA, despite having six slots available, is a bad omen for Steve Carell and Bennett Miller’s Foxcatcher, which debuted at Cannes back in May and hit the fall festival circuit like a ton of bricks, but it’s already losing a lot of ground with Ruffalo being the only consistent mention. At one point, it was thought that Foxcatcher could be a Best Picture candidate and its director Bennett Miller might get a third nomination but those hopes seem to be slipping away as other movies come to a forefront. 

That should give you a pretty good idea what to expect from the Oscar nominations in those four categories, but what about Best Picture?

A lot of the movies mentioned above are definitely in the conversation but one has to remember that there’s almost no overlap in membership between the HFPA, the BFCA, the critics groups and the industry people in the Academy who nominate for the Oscars. That may be why there are often surprises, especially when you realize that the Academy might have anywhere between five and ten Best Picture nominations compared to the ten slots that many groups allow.

For a clearer “picture” about that race, we should first look at the SAG Ensemble nominations, since those are picked by actual actors who make up the largest group of the Academy. Mind you, they often pick movies with larger casts of fellow actors rather than movies that have overall quality, which is why big Oscar winners like Gravity and Avatar and The Life of Pi were never mentioned in the category. This year, SAG is going with Birdman, Boyhood, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Imitation Game and The Theory of Everything. All but Grand Budapest received nominations by SAG in other acting categories as well, but one has to figure that these five movies are also in the running for an Oscar Best Picture nomination.

boyhoodawardsarquetteThe fiercest competition at the Oscars will be between Boyhood and Birdman with the film’s directors Richard Linklater (who has never been nominated) and previous nominee Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu being neck-and-neck to win their first Oscar. Movies like The Imitation Game (the film backed by Harvey Weinstein) and Ava Duvernay’s Selma (the movie with the most relevance and timeliness) are looking to make a leap into the race if they can get more support. The latter’s lack of a SAG Ensemble nomination is worrisome but they also didn’t nominate David Oyelowo, so there’s a chance that not enough members saw it in time to include it in nominations.

So far, The Imitation Game director Morten Tyldum hasn’t received a single previous nomination either from the Golden Globes or Critics’ Choice awards, which would certainly help that movie’s chances. If Tyldum gets a Directors Guild (DGA) nomination, then he has a chance at carrying that over to an Oscar nod, but other names like Selma’s Ava Duvernay and Unbroken director Angelia Jolie have received more preliminary support. Wes Anderson has also been getting more mentions than anyone expected for The Grand Budapest Hotel, but he’s also a director long overdue for an Oscar nomination in the directing category having only been nominated for writing in the past.

That also brings us to two of the most successful movies in terms of box office, Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar and David Fincher’s Gone Girl, both of which have been thought of potential Oscar nominees. Both films have as many fans as they do detractors. Some even thought at one point that Interstellar could be Nolan’s shot at finally getting an Oscar nomination as a director… but then they saw the movie. Nolan’s out and the movie probably won’t get a Best Picture nomination unless the Academy’s technical members choose it as their top movie. (The BFCA didn’t include it in their Top 10 movies of the year and it didn’t receive a Golden Globe nomination either.)

Gone Girl, while it didn’t receive a Golden Globe nomination for drama or a SAG Ensemble nomination, has received support for Fincher’s direction and Gillian Flynn’s screenplay, which does give it a better chance at a Best Picture nomination, similar to The Grand Budapest Hotel, but that would mean ignoring the directors of other strong movies including James Marsh for The Theory of Everything and Tyldum, as we mentioned earlier. Anderson and Fincher do have support from journalists and critics as seen by the Golden Globes and Critics’ Choice nominations, but we’ll have to see how their industry peers feel when they have to offer their own opinion.

The last thing we’ll take into consideration for now are the announced screenplay nominations. Golden Globes only have five: The Grand Budapest Hotel, Gone Girl, Birdman, Boyhood and The Imitation Game. All five of these received nominations from the BFCA who separate their screenplays into adapted and original categories similar to the Academy. Those nominations give more support to those five movies being Best Picture frontrunner and the lack of a nomination for the screenplay for Selma is somewhat daunting. (That powerful drama really needs to get support from the rest of the guilds if it wants to stand a chance on Oscar night.) Other possibilities for screenplay nominations include Dan Gilroy’s NIghtcrawler and Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash in the original category and The Theory of Everything, Wild and Unbroken in the adapted category. Support there could also help them into the Best Picture category but they’ll also need more guild support to be taken seriously.

That’s it for now and we’ll have more thoughts in the new year.

 Nominations for the 87th Annual Academy Awards will be announced on January 15, 2015 with the awards show airing on ABC on February 22, 2015.