As the summer movie season winds to an end, the multiplex prepares to undergo a shift from explosions and dinosaurs to talky dramas and smaller scale storytelling. The big fall film festivals will be underway in less than a month, with Venice and Toronto already unveiling some formidable slates. But while the Oscars generally favor films that open in theaters post-August, that doesn’t mean the other seven months of movies is entirely out of the running. In fact, at this point last year we had already seen the release of two future Best Picture nominees, one of which—The Grand Budapest Hotel—was a big winner on Oscar night.
I’d be lying if I said it didn’t irk me that every year, studios try to cram all of their “quality” films into a four-month corridor at the end of the calendar year (fun fact: there’s plenty of space for good movies in all 12 months!) But alas, that’s not the world we live in, so “serious” Oscar talk doesn’t traditionally begin until September or so.
Nevertheless, statistically speaking we’ve already seen some of the 2016 Oscar nominees hit theaters, so with the festival season imminent, I feel like now is a good time to take a look at what potential awards contenders 2015 has given us so far.
A full seven months in, we’ve probably only seen one serious Best Picture nominee, and that is director Pete Docter’s wonderful animated film Inside Out. This is Wall-E Pixar, not Cars 2 Pixar (though even Brave won the Best Animated Feature Oscar), and critics and audiences alike fell hard for Docter’s sensitive, emotion-filled adventure. It’s the specific kind of crowd-pleaser that Oscar likes to recognize, and given that plenty of folks have favorably compared Inside Out to the quality of films like Toy Story 3 and Up—both Best Picture nominees—the odds are looking pretty good that Inside Out will land a Best Picture nod. A Best Animated Feature nomination is a given, and I also wouldn’t be surprised to see composer Michael Giacchino land another Best Original Score nomination; he won for his previous collaboration with Docter on Up, after all.
Elsewhere, Best Picture possibilities aren’t looking too strong. Mad Max: Fury Road is undoubtedly one of the best and best-reviewed films of the year, but we all know how the Academy feels about genre filmmaking. If anything could change their tune it’s Fury Road, and if we have a particularly weak field of dramas at the end of the year that would certainly help Mad Max’s chances, but I’m not necessarily holding my breath. Same goes for a Best Director nomination for George Miller, even though Fury Road is as pristine an example of phenomenal direction as you’re gonna get.
However, Mad Max: Fury Road is certainly a contender in a number of other categories—especially Best Cinematography. John Seale has been nominated for four Oscars in his lifetime, winning in 1997 for The English Patient, so he brings history to the table on top of his impeccable lensing; he’s a very strong possibility to at least land a nomination. Look for recognition in the Best Editing, Sound, and Visual Effects categories as well, as Mad Max: Fury Road is an incredible technical achievement on top of every other reason it’s so fantastic.
Obviously the Oscars’ technical categories will likely be filled out by plenty of summer blockbusters, so look for Avengers: Age of Ultron, Furious 7, Ant-Man, Jurassic World, etc. to be in the mix for Best Visual Effects, Best Sound Editing, and Best Sound Mixing. And Disney’s gorgeous, lavish Cinderella is a serious contender for Best Costume Design and Best Production Design.
As for some of the year’s smaller fare, critically acclaimed films like Ex Machina and Love & Mercy could be in the mix. Ex Machina is certainly deserving of consideration for Best Original Screenplay, Best Actress for Alicia Vikander, and in my mind Best Director for Alex Garland, and the Brian Wilson biopic Love & Mercy makes a case for Best Adapted Screenplay and dual Best Supporting Actor/Best Actor nods for John Cusack and Paul Dano. There’s also James Ponsoldt‘s excellent The End of the Tour, for which star Jason Segel has drawn considerable praise. The odds of these films having legs comes down to how crowded the field gets this fall, and whether their respective studios can launch successful campaigns that keep these films fresh in voters’ minds. A pre-September release is tough for any film to seriously get into the Oscar race these days, let alone smaller indies.
As you can see, there’s no obvious Grand Budapest Hotel-sized hit or Boyhood-esque, zeitgeist commanding film in the mix—though at this point last year I would’ve said Grand Budapest had slim chances of landing nine nominations, let alone four wins. But it would certainly be wonderful if the Academy felt ambitious and recognized spring/summer indies like Ex Machina and Love & Mercy, or the very best that blockbuster filmmaking can be with the challenging, thrilling Mad Max: Fury Road. Again, we’ll have a much clearer picture of the field once festival season kicks into gear later this month, so look for more frequent Oscar Beat updates very soon as we enter the thick of awards season once more.