Oscar Preview: Precursor Winners & Losers, Week 1

As the precursor awards continue unabated until Oscar night, I’m going to be providing a weekly update highlighting the films that have won and lost momentum through the precursor awards (and in some cases other outside influences).

There was only one item this week, the Spirit Awards Nominations. The group has become more consistent in picking out Oscar nominees in recent years, but it’s no means a perfect predictor (like all others).

But, before we get into this week’s winners and losers, let’s take a look at what’s coming up this week:

Week 2

Monday, Dec. 1 – Annie Awards Nominations
Monday, Dec. 1 – PGA Documentary Nominations
Monday, Dec. 1 – Satellite Nominations
Tuesday, Dec. 2 – National Board of Review Awards (guesstimate)
Tuesday, Dec. 2 – New York Critics Awards (guesstimate)
Friday, Dec. 5 – Grammy Nominations
Sunday, Dec. 6 – DC Critics Nominations (guesstimate)
Saturday, Dec. 6 – Boston Online Critics Awards (guesstimate)
Sunday, Dec. 7 – Boston Critics Awards
Sunday, Dec. 7 – Los Angeles Critics Awards (guesstimate)
Sunday, Dec. 7 – New York Online Critics Awards

Big Winners

Birdman is the top nominee this year was Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s surreal exploration of fleeting fame and an attempt to resuscitate one’s career. The film may not have made it into the screenwriting category, but none of the major players did. The Spirit Awards are just that weird. Michael Keaton certainly needed this triumph, but Emma Stone and Edward Norton were also bolstered by the decision.
Boyhood was a certain pickup for this group as Richard Linklater is an indie darling. It may not have picked up a Best Actor nomination, but the film showed up in all the expected categories (except screenwriting). With this and the film’s placement at the top of the Sight and Sound poll, it could be a strong challenger for multiple nominations at the Oscars this year.
Nightcrawler didn’t seem like a film the Academy could embrace, but that was before it picked up far more nominations than anyone expected. Going in with five, including Best First Feature, Best Male Lead and one of the few screenwriting nominations may give it a slight boost, but it will need more help from critics to get farther.
Selma came out late in the game, but it came on fast and strong securing Best Film and Best Director nominations along with Male Lead and Supporting Female mentions. It seems to be peaking at just the right time, but will momentum continue?
Whiplash also did better than expected this year, picking up its expected nomination for J.K. Simmons, but also appearing in the Best Film and Best Director categories.

Big Losers

The Imitation Game was completely eligible for this year’s awards, at least from what I’ve heard, but you couldn’t tell that by the Spirit Awards nominations where it was completely skunked by the nominating committee. Perhaps they finally got tired of Harvey nudging eligibility for his films (like the definitely-not-indie Silver Linings Playbook) and decided to pass this time around. Who knows precisely why, but this kind of failure won’t sting for long.
Wild was an obvious indie, but was still ignored by the Spirit Awards. Not even Reese Witherspoon, who’s earning plenty of chatter for a Best Actress nomination at the Oscars, didn’t make the list. Nor did Laura Dern and she seems like just the kind of actress the Spirit Awards like to recognize.
A Most Violent Year didn’t walk away empty-handed. It picked up nominations in Best Supporting Female (Jessica Chastain), Best Screenplay and Best Editing. Yet, the film didn’t make it into the Best Male Lead race, nor any other category. Unlike the aforementioned two films, such an failure is going to hurt the film’s ultimate chances.
Foxcatcher wasn’t eligible, but it was given a Special Distinction Award. Like Harvey Weinstein, many studios are positioning small films with big studio names as indies that barely qualify and thus make it seem like the Spirit Awards are chumming up with the Hollywood community instead of recognizing the true bedrock of its founders. This is a way to recognize the small budget work without playing entirely into Oscar campaigners’ hands.
Inherent Vice faced the same hurdles as Foxcatcher and pulled off the Robert Altman award, which is presented to an ensemble cast. Perhaps they didn’t have enough big casts to recognize this year (though, I’m sure Selma might have something to say about that), but they decided to give two non-competitive awards to films that, while budgetarily may have been small enough, they weren’t specifically independent.

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