It seems like it happens almost every year; the main precursors announce their nominations in the acting categories and we can see the future of the Academy Awards. Or do we? New frontrunners emerge or existing ones maintain or build on their buzz, hype and lead. Our picture of the final five becomes clearer but in almost every category remains the one, elusive prediction…5th place.
The Screen Actors Guild, the Golden Globes and the Broadcast Film Critics Association all announce in quick succession and this year saw a lot of crossover in these categories among the three groups. When all is said and done it’s always SAG that has the most impact. It’s the only industry group of the three and has by far the largest voting block (2000 in the nominating committee alone compared to 90 at the Globes and less than 300 at the BFCAs) and has the only crossover with the Academy. That said, it’s rare for SAG to have a 5/5 crossover with the Academy. Someone always benefits from a studio with a good screener game, SAG screenings with Q&As with the stars or an early release. BAFTA, the British Association of Film and Television Arts is also a crucial precursor with Academy crossover. They announce their nominees on January 9th and could really throw some of this year’s races into chaos. Once those are announced I’ll factor in their impact with the current roster of frontrunners.
Let’s look at how this year’s crop of Oscar acting hopefuls has started.
In Best Actor we see that that Michael Keaton (Birdman), Benedict Cumberbatch (The Imitation Game), Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything) and Jake Gyllenhaal (Nightcrawler) have snagged nominations from all three groups. Steve Carell (Foxcatcher) managed nominations at SAG and the Golden Globes but missed out on BFCA, even in a category with six nominees. David Oyelowo (Selma) missed out on SAG but hit the Globes and BFCA. Selma was finished just a week before SAG nominations came out and they didn’t have time to get screeners out to voters. Ralph Fiennes (The Grand Budapest Hotel) missed out on SAG but showed up at the Globes and BFCA. As everyone knows, the Globes separate Drama and Comedy, which opens the door for a wider net of nominees.
It’s probably safe to assume (of course we all know what happens when you assume…) that, at this point, Michael Keaton, Benedict Cumberbatch and Eddie Redmayne are in. Jake Gyllenhaal came out of nowhere to score the three major nominations and his film is only one of four that hit the NBR and AFI top 10 lists. He seems a safe bet too. Steve Carell has a solid pair of nominations and Oyelowo missing SAG might not be as bad as you think. Timing and eligibility have thwarted SAG nominations in the recent past only to have them turn up at Oscar anyway. Quvenzhané Wallis in Beasts of the Southern Wild immediately comes to mind. Plus, Oyelowo’s British background and Selma’s rapturous reception there should put him in play at BAFTA. Where does that leave NYFCC and Cannes winner Timothy Spall? His Mr. Turner is one of the biggest critical hits of 2014 yet he hasn’t managed a single precursor. Can BAFTA turn that around for him or is it too late? It seems he’s been usurped by Ralph Fiennes whose film has massively overperformed so far this season. He could easily commandeer that 5th spot. Then there’s two-time Oscar nominee Bradley Cooper (American Sniper). Even though Cooper has missed out on all precursors his film exploded at the box office this weekend and now emerges as a real threat. Plus, Cooper now has the Kirstie Alley blessing so, there you go. Something we always have to remember with this category to is that 80+ year stat of a no all-first-timer batch of nominees. Sure, stats are only stats until they aren’t but it’s a pretty solid argument for Cooper or Gyllenhaal to make it. What this category speaks to is an overabundance of solid contenders and strong male roles and performances this year…
…the same of which can’t be said about Best Actress. Often this category is as barren as The Baker’s Wife from Into the Woods but this year is especially bleak. Now, to be sure, I’m talking about likely Oscar contenders as the Academy sees them. Great performances from Scarlett Johansson in Under the Skin or Essie Davis in The Babadook don’t have a chance here, unfortunately. It’s too bad the Academy doesn’t take as many risks with inspired and deserving choices as it could. But I digress.
Right now, like Best Actress, we have four solid contenders. Julianne Moore (Still Alice), Felicity Jones (The Theory of Everything), Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl), Reese Witherspoon (Wild) have hit SAG, the Globes and BFCA. Then there’s the curious case of Jennifer Aniston in Cake. To go from a film with a modest Toronto reception with no studio pickup (the producers formed their own distribution company, Cinelou) to suddenly emerging with nominations at all three precursors shocked everyone. The Globe and SAG winning star of Friends became a real contender in a space of about a week. But is the hype real? As I mentioned before, SAG rarely goes 5/5 so it seems like someone will miss out and right now Aniston seems the most likely to fall.
Two other actresses round out this list; 5-time Oscar nominee Amy Adams (Big Eyes) and Oscar winner Marion Cotillard (Two Days, One Night). Adams has only gotten a Globe nom (in Comedy) but she’s already twice bucked the odds by missing at SAG yet appearing at the Oscars. Cotillard has so far just managed BFCA. She’s stormed the critics’ awards though, with wins at New York, Boston Online, San Diego and Toronto. New York was a combined win with The Immigrant, San Diego and Boston Online was only for Two Days, One Night and Toronto was for The Immigrant. Is it these dual roles that have diluted her chances? It was just two years ago that Cotillard managed the seemingly undefeatable combination of SAG, GG, BFCA and BAFTA for Rust and Bone only to miss out on the Oscar nomination. She’s in even less strong shape as she was then so her chances feel pretty bleak.
In Best Supporting Actor it seems all but settled that J.K. Simmons (Whiplash) is winning this. Edward Norton (Birdman) will give him chase, to be sure, but it feels pretty locked and loaded right now. Both have hit all three precursors but Simmons has won New York, LA, Boston, Chicago, Toronto, Florida, Nevada, Utah, Phoenix, Austin, Washington DC and the Southeastern Film Critics Association awards to Edward Norton’s National Board of Review, Kansas City and San Francisco triumphs. After those two Mark Ruffalo (Foxcatcher) and Ethan Hawke (Boyhood) are in good shape, having showed up at SAG, the Globes and BFCA and surprisingly, Robert Duvall (The Judge) has showed up at all three as well. Benefitting from being one of the first screeners sent out last fall and a role that is as baity as Oscar baity can get, he’s looking very solid. Then again, the previous Oscar winner’s performance in Get Low (2009) garnered him SAG and BFCA noms only to miss out in the final lap and that was for a far more respected role and film. The Judge sits at a stinky 48% on Rotten Tomatoes right now. If he makes it in he will have the lowest scoring nominated performance in quite some time.
Josh Brolin’s role in Inherent Vice has been lauded as the best in the film and as awards-worthy but he’s only showed up at BFCA, with its six nominees. What about Tom Wilkinson? Like his Selma co-star and Best Actor contender David Oyelowo, the former two-time Oscar nominee didn’t benefit from an early screener to get him a SAG nod but he also didn’t show up at the Globes or BFCA either. Could BAFTA be his saving grace? This is looking a category that could run in line with SAG as these outliers might be just too far outside.
Best Supporting Actress seems pretty clear to be a runaway race for Patricia Arquette (Boyhood) where’s she won everything imaginable. That said, there are still a healthy group of ladies battling for a nomination (more so than in Lead) with Emma Stone (Birdman), Meryl Streep (Into the Woods) and Keira Knightley (The Imitation Game) all grabbing the three precursors. Previous Oscar nominee Naomi Watts showed up at SAG for St. Vincent, to absolutely no one’s predictions. But Jessica Chastain (A Most Violent Year) managed the Globe and BFCA noms. She also managed a National Board of Review win, one of the few things that didn’t go Arquette’s way. For a while it seemed previous Oscar nominee Laura Dern would be able to coattail in on Reese Witherspoon for Wild but even after showing up at every event, at every film festival and the goodwill from her campaign for her father Bruce Dern (Nebraska), she hasn’t showed up at any of the major precursor and her chances seem all but dead. Wild would have to way overperform in total nominations for that to happen at this point. What I’m wondering is…does former Oscar winner Tilda Swinton (Snowpiercer) have a shot? A longshot, sure. Ok, LONG shot. Sure, she didn’t get SAG or the Globe noms but she did show up at BFCA ahead of Watts and Dern. Ultimately it feels as if she’ll suffer the same fate as Marion Cotillard though. A former winner who then hit every precursor for a small film and then misses out on Oscar. She’s probably too peripheral in a small, weird film in a category that seems close to solid.