It’s never too early to start talking Oscar, right? We’re officially at the midway point of 2013, and while the bulk of awards season is normally concentrated towards the latter third of the year, there have been some strong contenders in the past that were released closer to the beginning of the year—Silence of the Lambs is probably the most famous example, having won Best Picture after being released in February of 1991. The first half of 2013 has seen at least a couple of potential Best Picture contenders, and in addition to more than a handful of standout performances in smaller indie fare, we may very well have already seen the release of the film that will go on to take home the Oscar in technical categories like Best Visual Effects or even Best Production Design.
Hit the jump to read on as we examine the possible Oscar contenders from the first half of 2013.
First off, a caveat: A couple of films that won’t see nationwide release until later this year have already debuted at festivals to positive response, but I won’t be discussing these films because A) they haven’t officially been released yet and B) early festival buzz, be it positive or negative, doesn’t always translate to how the film will be received when it opens in theaters.
The early portion of the year usually sees the release of genre-oriented fare, romantic comedies, and—as part of a new trend set off by The Hunger Games—YA adaptations geared towards teen audiences. As May approaches we start to see the tentpoles, and it’s not until the fall that studios normally start busting out their awards-contending dramas. That being said, there have been a number of indies and/or small-scale films that have been released in the first half of 2013 that warrant our attention with regards to Oscar potential.
Director Jeff Nichols’ fantastic drama Mud opened this past April to stellar reviews (it currently sits at 99% on Rotten Tomatoes) and marked yet another step in the Matthew McConaughey renaissance. I caught the pic at Sundance and absolutely loved it, and while McConaughey is indeed very good in the film, the pic belongs to its young lead actor, Tye Sherdian. Mud has an outside shot at a Best Picture nomination, but the awards race looks to be rather crowded at the end of this year and I’d be surprised if it made it all the way. That being said, stranger things have happened.
McConaughey will almost definitely be a contender in the Best Actor race for the AIDS drama The Dallas Buyers Club, which opens in December, so he would have to submit in the supporting category for Mud. There’s also the possibility that McConaughey is even better in this November’s The Wolf of Wall Street, which would make that his priority Best Supporting Actor entry. Nevertheless, Nichols has a decent shot at a Best Original Screenplay nod, and I sincerely hope that voters keep this film in mind going forward.
Probably the other best-reviewed release of 2013 so far is Richard Linklater’s extraordinary Before Midnight. The film marks the third entry in the most unlikely trilogy ever, and critics fawned over a chance to revisit the unique relationship between Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy). The pic is almost a shoo-in for a Best Adapted Screenplay nomination for Linklater, Delpy, and Hawke given that the previous entry Before Sunset earned the same nod back in 2004, and Midnight has received a similar—if not more intense—amount of praise. Depending on how the rest of the year shakes out, the pic could also be a contender in the Best Picture race, and I consider Delpy a serious possibility for a Best Actress nomination.
Writer/director Noah Baumbach’s delightful comedy/drama Frances Ha charmed the pants off of audiences earlier this summer, and an enthusiastic reaction from critics could net the pic at least one Oscar nomination. Baumbach and star/co-writer Greta Gerwig have an excellent shot at a nomination for Best Original Screenplay, and Gerwig could possibly fill the “indie” slot amongst the Best Actress nominees, though we don’t really know how crowded the category will be at this point. Much will ride on how the awards race shapes up later this year and how aggressive IFC Films is with its campaign, but Frances Ha stands as one of the most adored films of the first half of this year.
When Derek Cianfrance’s epic drama The Place Beyond the Pines premiered at the Toronto Film Festival last year, many pegged the film as a very strong awards contender. It came as a surprise, then, that Focus Features slated Pines for release this past March, instead of holding the film until the more awards-friendly fall calendar where the pic would surely draw serious attention. Nevertheless, Pines garnered effusive—albeit not universal—praise from critics, and still stands as one of my favorites of the year.
Given the story’s triptych nature, acting nods seem unlikely for Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, etc., but Gosling would probably have the best shot at a Supporting Actor nomination from the film’s cast. Cianfrance also has a shot at an Original Screenplay nomination, and he’s worthy of Best Director consideration in my book. The film’s Best Picture prospects are less certain, but it’s admittedly very early and we don’t yet know how Focus plans to handle the film’s awards campaign later this year when the marketplace will be flooded with other dark, moody dramas.
While tentpoles rarely get major awards recognition, some of the films released in the first half of the year could garner some attention in the technical categories. The Great Gatsby was a bit of a surprise success for Warner Bros. given Baz Luhrmann’s ambitiously frenetic vision, but the extensive visual effects work and lavish costumes could nab the film nominations in Best Visual Effects and/or Best Costume Design, with Best Production Design and Best Makeup and Hairstyling also possibilities.
Elsewhere in the visual effects category, Iron Man 3, Man of Steel, and Oz the Great and Powerful seem like serious contenders, though I’d say Man of Steel stands head and shoulders above the others as far as the quality of effects goes. The former two also seem like safe bets for Best Sound Editing and Best Sound Mixing, and depending on whether he opts to participate in the campaign, one presumes composer Hans Zimmer is a contender in the Best Original Score category for his excellent work on Man of Steel. Don’t rule out the Superman redo for Best Costume Design either. Disney’s Oz the Great and Powerful seems destined to nab multiple nominations in the technical categories, with production design, costumes, and makeup & hairstyling also possibilities, and dare I say Evil Dead deserves recognition in the makeup category?
Also on the production design front, the impressive work on the Tom Cruise-fronted Oblivion could warrant notice from the Academy, especially given that director Joseph Kosinski used minimal CG to capture the film’s gorgeous visuals. I actually think that Oblivion stands a fair chance of nabbing multiple technical nominations, as the film’s craftsmanship was pretty impressive.
With regards to animated films, Monsters University earned fairly strong marks from critics and could net Pixar back-to-back wins in the Best Animated Feature category. The Croods was a major box office draw in March, but we’ve yet to see the reaction to Despicable Me 2, Turbo, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2, and Disney’s Frozen.
It’s admittedly very early to start talking Oscar, but we get so bogged down with the bevy of awards contenders in the fall that it’s sometimes easy to forget some of the standout films from earlier in the year that are equally deserving of attention. Whether any of the aforementioned titles can make it through the long haul to Oscar glory is unknown, but we’ll definitely have a better idea of the big Oscar picture around November when the fall festival titles have had a chance to shine.
For now, sound off in the comments below with what you think has a shot at the Oscars from the first half of 2013, and I’ll meet you back here in a few months or so when the race really starts to heat up.