Oscar Beat: What Awards Prospects Does the First Half of 2014 Have to Offer?

by     Posted 16 days ago

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We’ve now passed the halfway point of 2014, and while we dusted off our awards column Oscar Beat to rundown the post-Cannes Film Festival atmosphere back in May, the Oscar season doesn’t begin in earnest until September.  That said, given that fall isn’t the only time of the year that’s considered eligible for awards notice, I thought it fitting to take a look back at the last six months to see what films might pop up in the Oscar conversation later this year.  Read on after the jump.

the-lego-movie-oscarsThe barren wasteland that is January gave us nothing of note with regards to awards consideration, but February provided a serious contender in the Best Animated Feature field: The LEGO Movie.  Given its massive commercial success and wildly positive reviews, the pic is considered a top player in the Best Animated Feature category (and rightly so) and could indeed go all the way.  Might we also see a Best Original Song nod for the infectious “Everything Is Awesome”?

George Clooney’s The Monuments Men, unfortunately, was a non-starter, but then March brought us The Grand Budapest Hotel.  Writer/director Wes Anderson managed a Best Original Screenplay nod for 2012’s Moonrise Kingdom, and while Grand Budapest also received rave reviews, Moonrise opened at the end of June.  Will voters remember Grand Budapest nearly a year after it’s release?  I imagine its prospects will come down to how hard Fox Searchlight campaigns, but a Best Original Screenplay nomination seems possible, and Alexandre Desplat’s score is certainly worth notice (though he will have scored a total of five films this year).  Ralph Fiennes is undoubtedly delightful in the lead role, but it’ll be tough for him to squeeze into the Best Actor race.  Again, the Academy has a short memory, and this fall is sure to be filled with plenty of striking performances.

grand-budapest-hotel-ralph-fiennes-saoirse-ronanThe stellar Locke features a phenomenal performance from Tom Hardy, who carries the film as the only character onscreen, so he’s certainly one to keep in mind.  Should A24 Films decide to launch a heavy campaign, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Hardy land in the Best Actor race.  The same can be said for Denis Villeneuve’s thriller Enemy, though the pic may be a bit dense for the Academy’s taste despite Jake Gyllenhaal’s standout performance(s).  There’s also Under the Skin, but mixed reviews and an odd structure don’t exactly make the film heavy “Oscar bait”.

Larger-scale spring movies like Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Noah, and The Amazing Spider-Man 2 won’t crack any of the major categories, but technical nods are possible—especially when it comes to sound design and visual effects.  The same can be said for May’s Godzilla, X-Men: Days of Future Past, and Edge of Tomorrow, but again, any “above-the-line” consideration is unlikely.  As for Maleficent, director Robert Stromberg has two Oscars under his belt as a production designer, and it’s conceivable that Maleficent’s art directors Dylan Cole and Gary Freeman could land a nomination themselves.  The Academy seems keen on Disney’s CG-filled aesthetics.

transformers-age-of-extinction-optimusAnd then there’s Transformers: Age of Extinction, which is sure to pick up at least one nomination.  The previous three films have a combined seven Oscar nominations, all in Sound Mixing, Sound Editing, and Visual Effects.  The abysmal Revenge of the Fallen even managed one nod (Sound Mixing), and the flashy robot re-designs in Age of Extinction are likely to result in a Best Visual Effects nomination; I imagine Sound notice will follow as well (for my money, Godzilla takes the cake in that category thus far).

The “surprise hit” of June was Fox 2000’s low-budget drama The Fault in Our Stars, which drew big box office and positive reviews.  Some have wondered if Shailene Woodley might be a contender in the Best Actress race, and while she does indeed turn in a fine performance in the pic, I’m not sure it’s destined for Oscar consideration.  There’s a slight possibility that Michael H. Weber and Scott Neustadter could be in the Best Adapted Screenplay race, but it’s too early to tell how crowded that field will be.

I’d love to see the delicate and very funny Obvious Child get some attention, but it may have come out a little too early to garner any serious awards consideration for either Jenny Slate or the film itself.  As for Clint Eastwood’s Jersey Boys, despite the fact that the Academy has an infatuation with the filmmaker even when he turns in mediocre work, this musical adaption was D.O.A.

how-to-train-your-dragon-2-jay-baruchelAlso in June was DreamWorks Animation’s How to Train Your Dragon 2.  The franchise is an outlier in DWA’s oeuvre in that it eschews the studio’s cheeky, joke-heavy tone in favor of compassion and organic humor.  Reviews for the sequel were solid, but the box office has been disappointingly soft.  Regardless, given the dearth of animated films to choose from this year, How to Train Your Dragon 2 remains a serious contender for the Best Animated Feature trophy and, for my money, deserves consideration for Best Picture.  Additionally, composer John Powell was previously nominated for his incredible score on the first film, and I imagine his spectacular work on the follow-up will be in the Best Original Score conversation this year.

Though it’s a July release and technically past the halfway point, I will say that I saw Boyhood at Sundance and it is our first bona fide Best Picture contender of 2014.  Unique, masterful, and immensely affecting, the pic has been gathering rave review after rave review and I’d be shocked if it wasn’t part of the Best Picture (and Best Director and Original Screenplay) conversation later this year.

That about does it for 2014: Part One.  It’s become increasingly difficult for non-animated films that come out early in the year to stay relevant during the fall awards onslaught, but we could see a couple of nods here and there for the aforementioned features.  We still don’t know just how crowded this Oscar season will be, but you can be sure that Oscar Beat will be covering every aspect of the awards race.

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