A-List: Top Five Contenders for Oscars 2016

By J. Don Birnam

March 5, 2015

Leo is tired of the Academy constantly keeping him down.

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The ink is barely dry on Birdman’s four Oscars statuettes, which means it’s time to look forward to what movies from 2015 will have a chance to take the stage at the Dolby Theater in 2016.

This column may very well be called “Top Five Movies We Know Will Not Be at The Oscars in 2016.” As we know by now, having the “Oscar bait” label affixed to your movie is like the mark of death. Simply ask Angeline Jolie’s Unbroken or Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar. Their status as highly regarded and anticipated potential Oscar movies arguably hurt their chances - the expectations were too high to begin with.

To get a seat at the table, you essentially have to pretend you don’t want to be there - or, as another Oscarologist has put it, you have to sneak past the Alien quietly. Release quietly somehow, make a splash. Don’t build anticipation beforehand. This is perhaps why some strategists opt for the “super late release” strategy like American Sniper and Selma last year, but the problem with that approach is that there is not enough time for a movie to be thoroughly vetted so that “they” feel comfortable voting for it. It’s a hard balancing act.

Another reason is that critics, thumbing their nose at the Oscars as they do, smell blood when a movie poses as an Oscar contender. They really dislike that and, despite Boyhood’s ultimate loss, it is very hard to get into the Oscar race today without significant critical support. Yes, movies like American Sniper or Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (both of which received lukewarm or devastating receptions from the critics), can every once in a while get in. But you’re not going to win, and getting in will be hard. So, to please that first gatekeeper into the Oscar Promised Land with how the race works today, you have to please the critics. (The irony!)




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This does beg the question: whose fault is it that a movie gets that mark of death “Oscar contender” on it? Well, it’s obviously the prognosticators fault in part. Sure, the studios know what they’re doing and market movies as Oscar contenders. But prognosticators, hungry for stories and predictions to pour over, will look at the names of the players involved in a movie (i.e., Angelina Jolie, Christopher Nolan), or the topic (World War II, saving the world, etc.), and will label those movies as Oscar bait, perhaps against the filmmakers’ wishes, setting them up for failure as it were.

It’s a cruel world. That’s show biz, folks.

So with that intro aside, the rules for this one are simple. If it is currently slated for a release in 2015, it is fair game as a potential Oscar contender. Part of the difficulty in this, of course, is that movies slip all the time. A prediction about it 10 months away from nominations is like a monkey throwing darts at the wall.

Honestly the fun thing about this exercise is that there is a lot of potentially great movies to look forward to. And that’s just of what we know now. Surprises are inevitable and welcome, and it’s always fun to see it all start to develop.


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