They Shoot Oscar Prognosticators, Don't They?

The Calm Before the Storm: The Early Contenders

By J. Don Birnam

September 8, 2014

Remember an hour ago when I was a little boy?

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Can you believe it? It’s that time of year again.

Following and covering the Academy Awards as closely as I do can be an emotional ride akin to watching a Disney movie where the second half has been replaced by a depressing Aronosfky flick. One starts out bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, excited for what the season may bring in cinema, for which one of your favorite stars may finally catch the golden statute, and for the excitements and thrills of the opening of the envelopes. As September and October turn into January and February, however, the mood darkens considerably. After six months of wrong guesses, predictable, safe, and boring outcomes, and awards funerals for all of your favorite picks as they give way to the Academy’s pedestrian and taciturn choices, one is left pleading “No more.” Like at the end of a sinister movie, you are left feeling stunned and defeated, yet somewhat elated and secretly wanting more.

Every year one strives to avoid some of the ebbs and flows of awards season - and ideally, following this column will help by weeding down the surplus. Yet, I wager most people do not start paying attention to awards this early or even realize that the race officially begins now. But indeed, Oscar prognosticators have already begun licking their chops as major film festivals get under way.

To catch everyone up, let’s first look back at the first half of the year and try to divine from there what movies have a realistic chance of making it to the podium at the Kodak Theater in February, and then take a look at what potentially lies ahead.

The State of the Race So Far: What We Have Already Seen

The quick answer is that movies released in theaters before September rarely make it all the way through. It is not hard to understand why: although obsessive Oscar prognosticators may endeavor to see movies as early as the film festivals, most Oscar voters have jobs/lives and do not start paying attention until they have to - that is, when ballots for the various guilds and organizations start becoming due. That doesn’t happen for a while. So, barring a Hurt Locker-type phenomena, do not count on anything you have seen so far having a great chance at Best Picture.


To be clear, I’m talking right now only of movies that have been released to movie theater audiences. There are a number of movies that have been seen at the Cannes and the Telluride Film Festivals that have garnered much buzz, and I expect some will ride the wave through. But of what has been seen so far in screens across the country, there is little to discuss.

Indeed, it arguably all boils down to one word:


Richard Linklater’s 12-years-in-the-making story about a kid growing up right now starts a better-than-even chance of landing a Best Picture nod. The movie is impressive not only because it was filmed over the course of so long, but because of its incredibly realistic and moving portrayal of childhood as it yields to adolescence and adulthood. Patricia Arquette’s turn as the lead character’s flawed yet loving mother is refreshing in its frankness - Arquette is not afraid to show herself as she ages and uses that to her artistic advantage. The script, perhaps the movie’s strongest element, is engaging and thought-provoking.

The hardest thing about predicting this far in advance is that we don’t know yet how many other of the movies around which there is buzz will resonate with American audiences and critics. In a year with little competition or with 10 nominees, I would say Boyhood is a shoo-in for a Best Picture nod, occupying, say, An Education’s slot. But we don’t know much yet other than critics in the United States have given it essentially perfect scores, so as the race stands today it has a good chance of major nominations.

Potential Nominations: Best Picture, Best Supporting Actress (although she is lead, the studio is going for Supporting), Best Original Screenplay, Best Editing (simply for the impressive feat of working with the 12 years worth of material).

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