At this stage of awards season, most early predictions defer to larger scale films. They have the prestige factor, the A-list talent in front of and/or behind the camera, and the conversation surrounding them. To solely refer to those films, however, would mean sleeping on independent cinema with the chance to leave an impression on audiences and voters. This week, one such independent feature, “The Peanut Butter Falcon,” opens with the chance to be a crowd pleaser, but also act as a potential surprise Oscar contender.

The film is a mixture of buddy comedy and Mark Twaininspired journey. Written and directed by the duo of Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz, “Falcon” centers on a young man with Down syndrome named Zak (Zack Gottsagen) who runs away from the nursing home where he lives in order to realize his dreams of becoming a professional wrestler. Running into the troubled outlaw Tyler (Shia LaBeouf), the two form a bond as they venture across America to help fulfill Zak’s wish, aided by Eleanor (Dakota Johnson), Zak’s caretaker. The familiar supporting cast includes strong turns from Jon Bernthal, Thomas Haden Church, Bruce Dern, and John Hawkes, among others.

Debuting earlier this year at the SXSW Film Festival, the movie received wide praise, similar to fellow potential contender “Booksmart.” It currently sports a rating of 100% on Rotten Tomatoes, something that often can accompany an independent feature hoping to get on the Academy’s radar (i.e. “Lady Bird”). AwardsCircuit’s Mark Johnson shared a rave review following a screening at this year’s Nantucket Film Festival, writing the following, in part:

“The Peanut Butter Falcon” is an uproarious, odd-couple buddy flick that is laced with so many laugh-out-loud moments. It is a remarkable achievement and certain to go down as one of the best films of the year. Imagine if Mark Twain had written “Rain Man.” That’s what this film is. And it works exceptionally well.

“The Peanut Butter Falcon” should be the film that distributor Roadside Attractions puts its efforts behind. A focused effort in Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay could pay dividends. The Academy’s Best Picture category has made room for smaller independent features like this previously; look at nominations for Benh Zeitlin’s “Beasts of the Southern Wild” and Debra Granik’s “Winter’s Bone,” both of which also scored accompanied screenplay nominations.

Lighter than the aforementioned intense nominees, “Falcon” would represent a celebration of independent cinema in the sought after category. It will take, however, precursor attention to find it’s way to Oscar night. If that happens, the cast and creatives behind the picture could prove an additive attraction to potential voters.

On AwardsCircuit’s Aug. 6 prediction updates, the film was sitting in the “unranked section” of the Best Picture predictions for the Academy Awards but Editor-in-Chief Clayton Davis has shared that the film will be moving upwards into the Top 50 for the first time this season.  Make sure to check it out on Monday, Aug. 12.

“The Peanut Butter Falcon” has the possibility to overcome the odds and contend for some major nominations this year as a smaller, lauded independent feature. In recent years, the Academy has opened up to smaller, more challenging and introspective features, and members are starting to find value outside of standard fare. “The Peanut Butter Falcon” could add variety to the pace of the evening and awards season at large. It’s not the highest-profile of nominees, but that element hasn’t stopped similar films in the past.

Do you think “The Peanut Butter Falcon” can be a surprise Oscar player? Let us know in the comments below!