“The official start to Oscar season.”
That is a phrase that is often tossed around in reference to different landmarks in an annual movie calendar. For most, the official start of Oscar season is right now with the first major fall film festivals in Venice, Toronto, and Telluride giving us a glimpse at the films that studios will be campaigning this year. For more casual followers the season doesn’t start until December or January when the first awards shows take place and nominations are announced. For some die-hards, the season probably begins the day after the previous year’s ceremony.
Over the years my opinion of the official date of Oscar season has gradually been pushed closer to the actual ceremony. Part of this is because I prefer to spend my limited free time talking about current movies instead of speculating about movies that are months away. Another reason for this is because early spring Oscar predictions are wildly inaccurate and often highlight films that don’t even have release dates or distribution yet. The main reason, however, is that spending time early in the year talking about mainstream studio movies that are coming in the fall ignores the great small movies that come out in the Spring and likely won’t be getting much awards attention.
For more detailed thoughts on a relationship with an evolving relationship with the Oscars that is similar to my own, read Duncan’s excellent piece Playing from the Bleachers: Reentering Oscar Season from a Safe Distance. In the meantime, let’s get to this year’s races shall we?
With the year half over already there is already a semblance of a narrative beginning to emerge in the cinema. It seems like this Summer, blockbusters have been less relevant than ever with small movies like Fruitvale Station and Lee Daniels’ The Butler dominating more of the mainstream conversation. Articles about race have been dominating news feeds as Americans reexamine the challenging and constantly evolving class system in our country. Hollywood has stepped forward to reflect the zeitgeist and the Oscars, always striving for relevance, will likely recognize films that contribute to this discussion. Along with the aforementioned films, look for titles like Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave and Justin Chadwick’s Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom to factor into this year’s awards season. If films like these catch on like I expect, this may turn out to be the least white Academy Awards ceremony in history.
There are plenty of established filmmakers with projects this year that will appeal to the more conservative members of the Academy, who tend to have favorites that they recognize frequently. David O. Russell’s last two films (The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook) have received Best Picture nominations and some would argue that both were the runner-ups in their respective years. His latest film American Hustle is packed with stars and likely to be another winner for the upcoming Academy favorite. Bennett Miller has only directed two narrative films (Capote, Moneyball) and both have received Best Picture nominations. His latest film Foxcatcher tells a true-life, Oscar-friendly story about a wrestler whose brother is killed by a man with paranoid schizophrenia. Will the third time be the charm for either of these directors?
A few films have already been seen by a limited number of critics at festivals, so we have some initial reactions to them and can speculate based on that. The Coen Brothers, who rarely miss, received raves for their newest film Inside Llewyn Davis at the Cannes Film Festival. That could be a multiple category monster with reportedly great performances, script, and direction. Margin Call director J.C. Chandor also received positive notices for his sophomore effort All is Lost, which features a highly praised performance from Robert Redford.
It’s hard to discount The Wolf of Wall Street from Martin Scorcese, who seems to get an Oscar nomination every time the studio positions him for one. Leonardo DiCaprio will seek his first Oscar with what appears to be a bold performance in Scorcese’s film and the film has a slew of actors who could end up with supporting nods.
Two films that are directed by their stars will be premiering in the festival circuit and looking for some awards buzz. Ben Stiller takes the helm for an adaptation of the classic tale The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, in which he also stars as the title character. George Clooney also will direct himself for the World War II drama The Monuments Men. The Academy has a long history of nominating stars who direct their own movie (and vice versa), but I have not bought into these two yet. Both Clooney and Stiller are capable directors with friends in the Academy, but early buzz on these aren’t strong enough to inspire me to raise their profiles.
Chances are good that some of the Oscar nominees are films that we haven’t even heard about yet. Now that the festivals are underway, we will be getting endless information and Film Misery will be keeping you updated throughout. We have edited our Oscar pages this year so that each category has its own page with a small amount of analysis. Check out the ones that are up so far:
Stay tuned for more category updates throughout the week.