Off the Carpet: It's half-time in the 2014-2015 Oscar race
We've officially reached the half-way mark of 2014. This time a year ago the only Oscar players on the table were Sundance debut "Before Midnight" and Cannes debuts "Nebraska" and "Inside Llewyn Davis," give or take a "Croods," "Great Gatsby," "Lone Ranger" or an "Iron Man 3" that would pick up support outside of the major categories. So what does the year have to show for itself so far this time around?
Sundance feels like it might have an off year this season, though screenplay hopes and more abound for films like "Boyhood" and "Dear White People." "Whiplash" could find a stride depending on how Sony Pictures Classics' slate shakes out for them, but as ever, the year's first big splash for new films will make more of an impression in the documentary feature category than anywhere else.
Not long after things wrapped up in Park City, Warner Bros. released Phil Lord and Chris Miller's "The LEGO Movie." Fans of this one are loud and proud and probably in favor of screenplay recognition. At minimum we can expect it to figure into the animated feature film race, while the studio could have fun with a Best Original Song campaign for earworm "Everything is Awesome."
In February, the Berlinale brought the premiere of Wes Anderson's "Moonrise Kingdom" follow-up, "The Grand Budapest Hotel," with a commercial release not long after. A critical smash that played like gangbusters at the art house box office, the film was pegged early on as the year's first serious Oscar player. But is it part and parcel of a fresh new spirit from Anderson (which has yielded awards love for films like "Fantastic Mr. Fox" and the aforementioned "Kingdom"), or is it too far on the filmmaker's unique spectrum to register in a number of categories? I have some doubts myself.
"Boyhood" also popped back up at the Berlinale, landing Richard Linklater the Silver Bear (Best Director) prize. The film is a July release, so more in due time, but is IFC Films ready to really put in what it takes to stand out in the awards season? Or can the film survive on its already mythical stature? Questions…
March brought Paramount's "Noah" from director Darren Aronofsky. A noble effort from a filmmaker who struggled greatly with yet another studio to produce his ambitious vision, the film will get some campaign firepower from the studio. Already Paramount has set screenings specifically for Academy members, particularly to spotlight the craft accomplishments. The film seemed to be divisive on arrival, but mostly the strong opponents and proponents were just really vocal on their opposing fringes. Critics more or less went with it without a lot of fuss, so there is a playing field to work with here.
The summer movie season starts earlier and earlier as of late, and this year it was "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" firing the first shots way back in the first week of April. The Marvel sequel proved to be one of the studio's most well-received productions to date, but none of these films has sparked outside of the crafts categories and that doesn't look likely to change any time soon.
Jonathan Glazer's "Under the Skin" finally hit in April, too, after a Telluride 2013 debut. A24 surely sees the writing on the wall where a film like this is concerned — it's not exactly up the Academy's alley. But critics groups could keep it in a few conversations, at least, come year's end. If they feel so bold, of course; lately it seems these groups just line up behind the same handful of players. And speaking of A24, Steven Knight's "Locke" also hit theaters in April. There could be a Best Actor campaign for Tom Hardy worth playing with there.
The summer blockbusters "officially" arrived in May with films like "The Amazing Spider-Man 2," "Godzilla," "X-Men: Days of Future Past" and "Maleficent." These films historically register in categories like Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing and Best Visual Effects, if at all. The summer season is the octane period for the industry, flexing a lot of craft muscle while looking to pay for some of the riskier efforts under the tent. But few were worth writing home about. I remain convinced that "Godzilla" is one of the events of the year, a visionary piece of blockbuster filmmaking. But it will be lucky to break out of the summer actioner Oscar box and skirt the conversations of Best Film Editing and Best Original Score, let alone reach greater heights.