Oscar Preview: Precursor Winners & Losers, Week 7

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).

This article was delayed due to the Golden Globe Awards and includes thoughts on those winners and losers. There were a lot of events this past week, including several guild nominations and the British Academy’s selections. There are a disproportionate number of winners this week compared to losers as those who’ve failed to impress were already failing before this week got rolling.

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

Week 8

Tuesday, Jan. 13 – Audio Society Nominations (Official)
Tuesday, Jan. 13 – Directors Guild Nominations (Official)
Wednesday, Jan. 14 – Sound Editors Nominations (Official)
Wednesday, Jan. 14 – Visual Effects Society Nominations (Official)
Thursday, Jan. 15 – Academy Awards Nominations (Official)
Thursday, Jan. 15 – Broadcast Critics Awards (Official)
Sunday, Jan. 18 – London Critics Awards (Official)

Big Winners

Boyhood continues its surprising ascent to an Oscar for Best Picture by winning over the normally populist Golden Globe voters. With critics lining up and mainstream groups following a similar path, the only question is: will this be the Oscar juggernaut that dominates the rest of the season or will something more popular make its way into the Oscar race like The Imitation Game or Selma or maybe even The Grand Budapest Hotel?
The Grand Budapest Hotel. Speaking of Wes Anderson’s unlikely awards magnet: who would have thought earlier this year that one of the few sure things would be The Grand Budapest Hotel? Never before has the eclectic Anderson been so in favor with critics and awards-giving bodies that this film being so popular suggests that it may be more than a touchstone in his career, but could be a possible spoiler? Like Robert Altman before him, Anderson has taken the art of the small ensemble to amazing heights and he’s finally getting recognition for that work, making him a more dominant force in the Oscar race than anyone thought possible. The past week has shown more and more than his film has more going for it than most movies this year. Its nomination-leading showing at BAFTA only helps support its strong candidacy.
Michael Keaton has had an amazing week, capped by a Golden Globe win over weak competition, but his speech was something of such beauty that voters are sure to catch onto him as a possible future Oscar winner. It’s not a terribly teary performance, but it’s chaotic, bold and expressive. It’s career-best work and this awards trajectory could only help him.
The Theory of Everything doesn’t seem to be letting up its Oscar trajectory. A film that didn’t exactly ignite the box office and has received good, but not great, notices from critics, continues to show up everywhere, including several prominent nominations at the British Academy’s nominations. With a win at the Golden Globes, Oscar voters are sure to take even more note of the film, giving Eddie Redmayne and the film enough trajectory to enter several high profile Oscar races.
Amy Adams had a similar showing last year when no one was certain she would make it through to the Oscars. While he co-stars were quietly making inroads to nominations, everyone thought she was the weakest contender and wouldn’t get nominated. Yet, in the end, she pulled off some high profile appearances and secured a nod at the Oscars. This year could be the same with her very prominent win at the Golden Globes.
Nightcrawler received several nominations at BAFTA, including Jake Gyllenhaal, another actor everyone thought would be the odd-man out this year, but has shown to be a more likely nominee than some of the frontrunners are, and Rene Russo, who has quietly built support and may be a surprise Supporting Actress nominee. The film has done well with many groups, including the foreshadowing American Cinema Editors awards, so I have little doubt the film may end up in a strong position for Oscar.
Whiplash has long been a contender for J.K. Simmons’ supporting performance, but with strong support from critics, it has become a much stronger overall candidate. Consider its appearance in several BAFTA categories, it’s American Cinema Editors nomination and its Producers Guild citation. That alone puts it into the thick of things for a Best Picture nomination and possibly even a Best Director nod.
Guardians of the Galaxy may not be trending enough to earn a Best Picture nomination, but it’s gotten a lot of strong support in recent weeks in categories that weren’t previously in play. With mentions from the American Cinema Editors, Art Directors Guild and Costume Designers Guild along with the Make-Up & Hair Stylists Guild, the film is shaping up to be a strong below-the-line contender for several nominations. If it gets enough support, it might be able to sneak in over several dogfighting Best Picture contenders.
American Sniper reminds me of Letters from Iwo Jima. After Clint Eastwood’s Flags of Our Fathers received good, but not great, reviews, it seemed like his Oscar chances were dwindling. Then came along his Japanese-language drama to swoop into several categories. A similar trajectory has occurred this year where Jersey Boys got awful reviews and many expected American Sniper to be another in a long string of disappointments, the film has quietly amassed strong notices from critics, lots of precursor attention (including several guild mentions) and is now poised to secure a Best Picture nomination along with a Best Adapted Screenplay mention if nothing else in the upper tier categories.

Big Losers

Selma won’t be thanking Paramount for its painful and disgraceful slide out of the Oscar race this year. What sounded like a film that should have hit Oscar in its sweet spot and dominated, going so far as to potentially even win Best Picture, has suddenly become a bumbling example of how not to run an Oscar campaign. Ava DuVernay was editing into early December and so Paramount didn’t get screeners together, yet even after they had everything in order, they failed to send out screeners to most guilds and only sent them to Academy members. Thus, the film has been virtually absent from every precursor race their possibly is. Failing to get a single nomination from BAFTA or a nomination from the Producers Guild was the nail in its coffin. Not only is it now no longer a threat for Best Picture, its potential for a boatload of nominations is in jeopardy.
Interstellar went from sure thing to also-ran as the precursor season arrived, but even in the seventh week of precursor season, it seems to have found new ways to be shunted into nowhere. It didn’t show up on the Producers Guild list of best films of the year and received an embarrassingly low number of nominations from BAFTA. On top of that, it failed to get a nomination from the American Society of Cinematographers, where many thought it was a shoo-in. The film seems to keep taking its lumps as it fades from memory. While I doubt it’s future Oscar for Best Visual Effects is in much danger, disappearing from the conversation could strip away enough votes for another film to sneak in there and elsewhere.
Unbroken has gone the way of the dodo bird, a primary contender for Oscars that flopped with critics, but was buoyed by its box office, has met with further troubles in the lead-up to Oscar. It got the nomination from the American Society of Cinematographers it was expected to get, but the Producers Guild passed, and picking up zero nominations from BAFTA has to sting quite a bit. The film just doesn’t have the momentum left to make it into most Oscar races and voters are certainly more likely to bolster fading Selma over crumbling Unbroken if a film has to be bolstered.
Birdman lost the Golden Globe for Best Comedy/Musical to The Grand Budapest Hotel. In spite of a strong showing from critics and a Best Actor in a Comedy/Musical trophy for Michael Keaton, the film seems to be struggling for acceptance in the main stream, which could translate into depressed popularity with the Academy. Still, I’d say this is a minor loser at best, since it’s still pulling strong attention in all corners of the precursor kingdom and even picked up plenty of nods from BAFTA.
Belle was never much of a contender for the Oscars, but one place it would have fit perfectly was Best Costume Design. It has period details that have frequently gone on to secure surprise nominations at the Oscars. What keeps it from becoming part of the conversation is the fact that even the Costume Designers Guild couldn’t find room in its 15 total nomination slots to recognize it. That won’t help the film nudge into the Oscars at all.

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