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First Quarter Round-Up – Are There Any Oscar Contenders?

The Oscar Tracker gets its first update…

BeforeMidnight_ImageAs April has completely come out of nowhere and become fully present, I’ve updated the new Oscar Tracker to keep in mind everything that has already been released this year so far or have screened at major festivals like Sundance, SXSW, and Tribeca.

There’s no super-duper “out there” contender that looks like it can go all the way as of today with the exception of Richard Linklater’s Before Midnight.  While the film is an absolute marvel, it won’t be determined until the autumn if it can sustain throughout the summer and become a leading contender like last year with Moonrise Kingdom and Beasts of the Southern Wild.  Obviously, the latter was the only film to crack the Best Picture lineup but if we’re in store for a change like AMPAS going back to five Best Picture nominees, as some have speculated, a small indie film like Linklater’s could get lost throughout the summer and fall months.  As of now, Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy could show up with Linklater in Adapted Screenplay but on their performances alone, they will warrant some consideration. Both are superb in their roles and will have their champions throughout the year.

After winning big at the Sundance Film Festival, Ryan Coogler’s Fruitvale is listed on the tracker for Picture, Director, and Lead Actor for Michael B. Jordan.  An unknown like Jordan cracking a Lead Actor five seems far-fetched especially since his filmography so far have included Chronicle (2012) and Red Tails (2012).  Octavia Spencer gets a mention from the same film even though her role is said to be quieter than other works in the film.

Matthew-McConaughey-MudScreening last year at the Toronto Film Festival, Matthew McConaughey gets listed for his performance in Jeff Nichols’ Mud.  Though there are many, including our own Joey Magidson, that believe McConaughey fits the bill for a supporting player, top-billing and the title role should land him a campaign in lead.  There is a possibility for a shift especially since his other work as Ron Woodroof in the highly buzzed Dallas Buyers Club will be talk of the fall with his massive weight loss.  McConaughey will also have a role in Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street opposite Leonardo DiCaprio.

The last (supposedly) film from Steven Soderbergh opened to strong reviews back in February with shout outs for stars Jude Law, Rooney Mara, and Channing Tatum.  If it is in fact his final film, Oscar may feel inclined to reward Side Effects somewhere with a nomination.  For now, Best Picture and the Original Screenplay by Scott Z. Burns are listed.  The big downside for the film is typically films released in February have no real shot with Oscar.  Films like Shutter Island from Martin Scorsese and even last year in Joe Carnahan’s The Grey, couldn’t build any momentum outside of their release date.  You have to go back to Jonathan Demme’s The Silence of the Lambs (1991) to find a Best Picture winner released in February.  You have to go back to Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994) to find a nominee released in March.  An uphill climb is very much in front of it.

Speaking of Mara, her newest film Ain’t Them Bodies Saints by David Lowry got lots of buzz from the Sundance Film Festival.  Academy Award Nominees Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara were both highly praised for their turns in the film and with the right push, could end up with some mentions along the way.  Though Terence didn’t rave about it back in Utah, with only eight reviews counted, the film sits at 100% on Rotten Tomatoes.  Affleck and Mara, for the time being, are worth considering.

The talk of last year was Wayne Blair’s The Sapphires, the story of four aboriginal girls during 1968 that form a singing group and entertain the troops in Vietnam.  The film was a huge hit overseas, winning big at the Australian Oscars including citations for lead Chris O’Dowd, best known for his role as the love interest of Kristen Wiig in Bridesmaids (2010).  Though the film has opened limitedly by the Weinstein Company, the word-of-mouth tactics to get the film seen by more audiences hasn’t really come to fruition.  As of now, Chris O’Dowd remains the only hope for the film on the awards front.  A possible Golden Globe nomination could kickstart a campaign with a well-placed DVD release.

Another film that screened at Toronto was Ariel Vromen’s The Iceman with Michael Shannon.  Though the film received mixed responses from critics, praise came for Oscar-nominee Michael Shannon who plays Richard Kuklinski, a convicted serial killer.  The film is set to bow before audiences sometime this March.

The raves keep coming in for Dane DeHaan who seems to be positioning himself to have a big breakout year with two terrific performances in Derek Cianfrance’s The Place Beyond the Pines and later this year in John Krokidas’ Kill Your Darlings as Lucien Carr.   While his performance in Pines is getting lots of praise, with Gosling looking to get a Supporting campaign, DeHaan is a part of a large ensemble where he doesn’t stand out as much as his other co-stars.  Even if Gosling is pushed to a lead status, co-star Bradley Cooper will surely steal votes.  His performance in Darlings was highly publicized and praised out of Sundance and could be his winning ticket to a nomination.

When Oscar introduced the ten possible Best Picture nominees in 2009 and then a sliding scale two years later, it was thought that the expansion would offer a possibility for more eclectic choices to be cited among the Best Picture nominees. Blockbusters, foreign films, and documentaries could benefit from an expanded scale.  Even though the first two have had their day in the spotlight with Oscar, a documentary has yet to make the Best Picture lineup.  Even last year, which I quietly (though loudly) dubbed the “Year of the Documentary,” Oscar found no wiggle room for powerful films like Searching for Sugar Man (2012) or How to Survive a Plague (2012).  This year, Sarah Polley tries to bring her beloved film from TIFF to the Oscar circuit, Stories We Tell.  Polley, who’s been nominated for adapting the beautifully underrated Away from Her (2006), has garnered praise, acclaim, and respect for her directorial efforts.  Perhaps this year, she can land on Oscar’s radar for not only directing her film but for her screenplay as well.  Speaking of documentaries, A Place at the Table gets a shout out for the time being.

In the technical categories, Walt Disney’s Oz the Great and Powerful didn’t produce the reviews necessary to break into any major category.  It’s possible merits will likely come in Production and Costume Design, categories that past flops like Alice in Wonderland (2010) were able to manage.  It also helps that its the highest grossing film of the year so far.  Jack the Giant Slayer is a similar situation but as of now, Visual Effects could be its only mention if any.

Make sure to check out the Oscar Tracker page, which you can also access from the Main Menu up top.  I’ll revisit more contenders as they become available throughout the Spring months.  If you think a film or performance should be listed under a specific category, put it in the comment section or send an e-mail.


What do you think?


Written by Clayton Davis

Clayton Davis is the esteemed Editor and Owner of Born in Bronx, NY to a Puerto Rican mother and Black father, he’s been criticizing film and television for over a decade. Clayton is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association where he votes and attends the kick off to the awards season, the Critics Choice Awards. He also founded the Latino Entertainment Journalists Association, the first Latino-based critics’ organization in the United States. He’s also an active member of the African-American Film Critics Association, New York Film Critics Online, International Press Academy, Black Reel Awards, and the Broadcast Television Journalists Association. Clayton has been quoted and appeared in various outlets that include The New York Times,, Variety, Deadline, Los Angeles Times, FOX 5, Bloomberg Television, AOL, Huffington Post, Bloomberg Radio, The Wrap, Slash Film, and the Hollywood Reporter.


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