STUDIO CIRCUIT: Can Fox Searchlight take back-to-back Best Picture Oscars?

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Fox Searchlight is likely still bathing in the joy of their successful (if not stressful) Best Picture campaign from 2013, where they managed to take the crown while only winning 3 Oscars. But how will they fare without having the word “important” to campaign upon? Fox Searchlight has seemingly always been in the Oscar race, having a Best Picture nominee every year since 2010, winning twice (2008’s Slumdog Millionaire and 2013’s 12 Years a Slave), and boasting a ton of acting wins and nominations. I don’t expect their luck to suddenly run out, especially when their top pony has already been called a masterpiece.

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The Grand Budapest Hotel
Director: Wes Anderson

If there’s one strong contender for awards love from the first half of 2014, it’s assuredly Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel. Originally slated for a late 2013 release, Fox Searchlight moved the film to early 2014, where it received very positive reviews. The lion’s share of the praise was given to two-time Oscar nominee Ralph Fiennes, who’s in the running for Lead Actor (despite early rumblings that he might be campaigned supporting). The AMPAS has never given a warm embrace to an Anderson film (Fantastic Mr. Fox has the most nominations of any Anderson film: two). Perhaps a strong showing at the Golden Globes in Musical/Comedy can help jog people’s memories. Oh, and that production design is aces—expect a ton of love for that throughout the season.  However, considering Fox Searchlight has both Wild and Birdman on its hands, will it have time to give its full faith to The Grand Budapest Hotel?

MOST LIKELY MENTIONS IN AWARD SEASON:
Best Picture
Best Director
Best Actor – Ralph Fiennes
Best Original Screenplay
Best Score
Best Production Design
Best Costume Design
Best Cast Ensemble

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Calvary
Director: John Michael McDonagh

Every so often, Brendan Gleeson collects some low-level Oscar buzz for one of his performances.  However, they never pan out even slightly, sadly.  In John Michael McDonagh‘s Calvary, Gleeson plays a man of the cloth who undergoes an emotional and spiritual struggle in the wake of a threat being placed on his life.  My gut tells me this is just too small of a performance to capture the attention of even the most anti-mainstream critics group, let alone any organization that gave Christian Bale an Oscar nomination for American Hustle.  But, never say never.  It sure would be interesting to see father (Brendan) and son (Unbroken‘s Domhnall Gleeson) both up for Oscars in the same year.

MOST LIKELY MENTIONS IN AWARD SEASON:
Best Actor – Brendan Gleeson
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Belle
Director: Amma Asante

On paper, the ideal of Belle seems very interesting for a modern audience. However, the reception was positive-to-mixed, with most of the praise being directed to breakout star Gugu Mbatha-Raw. This is just the type of role to garner of critics’ mentions and perhaps even a Globe nod. Beyond that, expect to see it mentioned occasionally in tech races.

MOST LIKELY MENTIONS IN AWARD SEASON:
Best Actress – Gugu Mbatha-Raw
Best Breakthrough
Best Costume Design
Best Production Design
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Wild
Director: Jean-Marc Valle

Many were a little skeptical of Jean-Marc Valle’s Dallas Buyers Club follow-up, Wild. The internet has not been kind to 2005 Best Actress champ Reese Witherspoon since she won her Oscar; and frankly, neither has Hollywood. The reviews out of Telluride an TIFF were strong for both the film and for Witherspoon. On we hot on the tail of this year’s McConnaissance? The Reeseurgence? Only time will tell, but this could be a contender.

MOST LIKELY MENTIONS IN AWARD SEASON:
Best Picture
Best Director
Best Actress – Reese Witherspoon
Best Supporting Actress – Laura Dern
Best Adapted Screenplay
Best Film Editing
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EmmaStone_Birdman

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Director: Alejandro G. Iñárritu

Have you heard about this? In the unlikely chance you haven’t heard about Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s comedic drama Birdman, you will very, very soon. Fox Searchlight managed to take massive “we have our Best Picture winner” buzz from Telluride and ride it all the way to Oscar in 2013 and 2008. Shot in what appears to be one take (assisted by the wizardry of editing), this meta career comeback features a slew of big names from Michael Keaton to Edward Norton to Emma Stone to Naomi Watts. Not to mention, if Emmanuel Lubezki isn’t your frontrunner for Best Cinematography, what are you doing? This is the type of film that could follow in the steps of Life of Pi and Gravity (winning Best Director and threaten for Best Picture)…or Inception and Hugo (winning “just” techs). The one difference is that Birdman seems to be an acting showcase along with a technical one, thus giving us a combination of a “visionary director” film and an actor-friendly film. Can it go all the way? We shall see.

MOST LIKELY MENTIONS IN AWARD SEASON:
Best Picture
Best Director
Best Actor – Michael Keaton
Best Supporting Actor – Edward Norton
Best Supporting Actress – Emma Stone
Best Cast Ensemble
Best Original Screenplay
Best Film Editing
Best Cinematography
Best Sound Mixing
Best Sound Editing
Best Visual Effects