Oscar Preview: Precursor Winners & Losers, Week 2

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).

The flood of precursors has been with some of the big names in criticism weighing in with their nominations and awards. I’m beginning to work on my Precursor Tallies page so you can keep track of what’s making the rounds, but until then, enjoy this peak at the best and worst of this week’s Oscar performers.

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

Week 3

Wed. 09 – Screen Actors (Nominations) (Official)
Thu. 10 – Golden Globes (Nominations) (Official)
Thu. 10 – St. Louis Critics (Nominations) (Unconfirmed)
Fri. 11 – Chicago Critics (Nominations) (Unconfirmed)
Fri. 11 – Detroit Critics (Nominations) (Official)
Fri. 11 – San Diego Critics (Nominations) (Unconfirmed)
Sun. 13 – San Francisco (Simultaneous w/Winner) (Nominations) (Unconfirmed)
Sun. 13 – Kansas City Critics (Awards) (Unconfirmed)
Sun. 13 – San Francisco Critics (Awards) (Unconfirmed)
Sun. 13 – Toronto Critics (Awards) (Unconfirmed)
Mon. 14 – Chicago Critics (Awards) (Unconfirmed)
Mon. 14 – Dallas Area Critics (Awards) (Unconfirmed)
Mon. 14 – Indiana Film Journalists (Awards) (Unconfirmed)
Mon. 14 – Broadcast Critics (Nominations) (Unconfirmed)
Mon. 14 – Online Critics (Awards) (Official)
Mon. 14 – San Diego Critics (Awards) (Unconfirmed)
Mon. 14 – St. Louis Critics (Awards) (Unconfirmed)

Big Winners

Spotlight picked up several Best Picture prizes over the last week, giving it a strong push into Oscar season. It might surprise you that none of the big media-related films Spotlight best compares to ever won the Oscar. Not All the President’s Men. Not Network. Not Broadcast News. Whether that bodes well for Spotlight or not remains to be seen, but it’s doing quite well this season, even if its actors are getting minimal traction individually.
Mad Max: Fury Road may not have seemed like an Oscar contender when it debuted to rave reviews earlier this year, but the National Board of Review started the conversation that might result in it being the first sequel ever nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture without the original or prior films having garnered attention. It still has a long way to go as its support has been mostly as a runner-up in subsequent prizes, but George Miller is demanding significant attention in Best Director while the techs (Editing & Cinematography) are starting to line up as well.
Saoirse Ronan subtle performance in Brooklyn wasn’t something many considered would make a run through the critics awards. It was a pretty safe bet that she’d be Oscar nominated, but she’s won a significant portion of the precursors so far and, if she remains on that track, could become a heavy favorite to win the Oscar.
Inside Out is your standard Pixar powerhouse earning plenty of attention in Best Animated Feature. What makes its victory so impressive, though, is that it’s beating out a genuine critics’ darling directed by Charlie Kaufman. That should have given plenty of groups pause to consider where to give their prize, but Inside Out has not only been a consistent winner in Best Animated Feature, losing only once to Anomalisa, but it’s also showing up in Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay slates as well. This could give it a significant boost towards Oscar recognition outside of Best Animated Feature where it’s certain to appear.
Category Fraud is that pesky concept that emerges every year where studios want to bump down children, lesser known actors and actors with slightly less screentime than a lead counterpart to the supporting categories. This year seems an especially grievous case with no fewer than five (possibly more if you consider non-contenders) cases of category fraud being perpetuated. Rooney Mara is the most significant case of this. Harvey Weinstein is pushing her in support with Cate Blanchett in lead in spite of similar screentimes; a significant, dominant role in the plot (one might even say she’s the central figure of the film); and being the romantic equal of her screen partner. Were she a man, she’d be pushed as Best Actor and not Best Supporting Actor. Is it heterosexist? That’s debatable, but it’s a valid concern. Then again, there’s Alicia Vikander being pushed in support for a co-lead role; Michael Keaton in Spotlight earning attention in both lead and support for an ensemble role that’s considered on par with co-star Mark Ruffalo, also being pushed in support; Jacob Tremblay, the ostensible star of Room; and Paul Dano getting dumped into supporting actor for Love & Mercy. The madness may never end until more situations like that of Kate Winslet in The Reader and Keisha Castle Hughes in Whale Rider occur, with the Academy thumbing its nose at egregious cases of gerrymandering.

Big Losers

Late-Year Releases: Although they started screening just before many ballots were coming due, The Revenant, The Hateful Eight and Joy have been barely seen so far this precursor season. The Revenant is branching out enough to gain some traction, but Quentin Tarantino and David O. Russell’s films are struggling with critics. Sure, those three films will probably be Oscar contenders without critical support, but few films that have come into play late have successfully leveraged themselves against earlier releases for major victories at the Oscars.
Steve Jobs was once thought to be one of the key players for the Oscars this year, but after its incredibly weak box office performance, the film was thought to be fading. While Michael Fassbender and the film itself have made some inroads with critics so far, it isn’t doing nearly as well as would have been expected for a film with this kind of pedigree.
Bridge of Spies didn’t get the most ecstatic of reviews, but it did well enough with critics and at the box office, though some thought Spielberg’s name alone would carry it into Oscar consideration. And perhaps this is true since War Horse made it to the final derby even though it was nowhere to be seen in the precursors. However, this film has a more prestigious background and has much better reviews than War Horse. So far, the film has done fairly well. It just hasn’t been as ever-present as some thought, including what others felt would be a sweeping run by Mark Rylance in Supporting Actor, which so far hasn’t happened.
Beasts of No Nation is the first Netflix film competing in the feature film categories at the Oscars. Netflix has made significant advances in the Emmy races, winning several prizes and dominating several nomination contests. On the big screen, its influence is significantly muted and this has been no less obvious than its virtual absence from the precursors. Apart from the strong recognition it received from the Spirit Awards, the regular critics haven’t been giving it as much attention as some might have thought, especially since it’s been fairly well reviewed.
Anomalisa is a Charlie Kaufman-helmed film featuring stop-motion animation that has earned quite a bit of buzz for its originality and cleverness. The Academy does like clever in terms of animation, but for winning, it needs to be more broadly appealing. That fact aside, the critics groups are typically where a film like Anomalisa should emerge as a dominant competitor. Yet, time and again, it’s been a runner-up to Inside Out. It’s tied Inside Out and won one prize so far, but that’s not enough to create a Pixar-destroying narrative, as many thought might occur. It might also breed enough weakness to let the Academy bypass the film in favor of more traditional, and happier, animated achievements.

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