Let The Oscars Race Begin!


That special time of the year is upon us! And no, I’m not talking about those obscenely early Christmas advertisements and décor, I’m referring to the Oscar season, my fellow film fanatics! (more about why I’m writing about the Oscars later)

You might think (like those ridiculous Christmas decorations) that October is a little too early to start calling Best Picture (seeing as the actual Academy Awards ceremony only takes place at the end of February!) and for a long while, this was definitely the case. Film makers, and their distributors, know when they have a film that is “Oscar worthy” and often make plans two or three years in advance to release these films towards the end of the year, and this year is no different. But before we look into this year’s race, perhaps it will help to give a brief overview of how the Oscars (officially called the Academy Awards), actually works.

Oscars 101

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) holds its annual awards ceremony honouring the best in motion pictures for the given year. For a film to be legible for these awards it must have been released in the Los Angeles County area between 1 January and 31 December of the previous year – except for Foreign Language Film nominees, such as our beloved Tsotsi, where one film from each country is submitted to the Academy.

A list of all these eligible films is then mailed to each individual member of the Academy – which numbers more than 6 000 people as of this year. The Academy is made up of various artists that work in the film industry. These ‘artists’ range from actors to sound editors, or make-up artists to casting directors, and each one has to be invited to join the academy – this usually happens when a person is nominated for an Oscar for the first time, but is not a hard and fast rule. But I digress. Back to the lists…

From these lists, the Academy members select films they would like to nominate in each category, and (for the most part) members do not vote outside of their field – so directors only nominate other directors – however, all members are allowed to nominate their Best Picture. These are then all mailed back to the academy and the top five nominees in each of the 24 categories become official nominees for their awards. There are a few exceptions to this, however, as is the case with Best Picture which allows for anywhere between 5 and 10 nominees, and Best Make-up, Song, or Animated Feature which can have between 3 and 5 nominees each. The official nominees are then announced to the public in early January and ballot papers are then issued to each member of the Academy to vote for a winner!

Seems simple enough, right, well… not quite. As with life in general (unfortunately) this is one giant popularity contest and film companies will spend crazy amounts of money to make sure academy members see their films. A great way of doing this is showcasing your film at one of the many prestigious film festivals held around the world throughout the year.

The Festival Circuit

In January, there is the Sundance Film Festival where the next batch of “Oscar Worthy” films are often shown, even before the previous year’s Oscar season has wrapped up! Some of these films are able to stay imprinted in the minds of Oscar voters until the end of the year (anyone remember Beasts of the Southern Wild from 2012?), but very few make it to the end. Then there’s the world-famous Cannes Film Festival in France, where films from all corners of the globe are shown. More films are able to go from here to Oscar glory such as 2011’s Best Picture winner The Artist.

The second half of the year brings with it the Venice, Telluride, Toronto, New York and London Film Festivals, all of which bear a reasonable amount of weight in showcasing these “Oscar worthy” films; and when someone wants to suss out the most probable Oscar nominees (and winners), here’s the best place to look. New York premiered Life of Pi in 2012, and last year’s film about Walt Disney and the author of Mary Poppins, Saving Mr Banks, premiered in London. Venice also produced an Oscar champion last year in Gravity, which went on to win 7 Oscars, but the two T’s (Telluride and Toronto) are the ones that have screened the Best Picture winners every year since 2004 when Million Dollar Baby won by not screening at any of these above. Bottom line: Winners don’t have to be screened at festivals, but lately, it sure helps!

The 2014 Race

Now, with all that being said, let’s get back to the year at hand, shall we? So far, there are a handful of films that look to be heading for the Oscars that have already been released. The only ones that I have seen happen to be the one’s making waves at this stage in the game: The Grand Budapest Hotel and Boyhood. Budapest is yet another brilliant piece of work by quirky writer/director Wes Anderson (see my full review here). But the Academy is not always interested in quirky – especially when it comes to Best Picture. They prefer what you could call “nuts and bolts filmmaking”, that is, films that don’t rely on heavy special effects or trickery (anybody remember Avatar losing to The Hurt Locker or Life of Pi losing to Argo? It is for this reason that you will never find a big-budget blockbuster like The Avengers winning, or even being nominated for Best Picture!

What is very much “nuts and bolts filmmaking” is Richard Linklater’s Boyhood. This film is one for the history books folks! If you haven’t heard about it yet, this ambitious film project started in 2002, when Linklater cast an 8 year old boy, and decided to, literally, film him growing up, by shooting for a few days a year over the next 12 years! Insane, right? I can hardly finish my four year degree without losing interest somewhere along the way. The film itself is quite long and boring to the average film viewer – it’s literally just a boy growing up, with few OMG moments – but its mere ambition puts it front and centre as a Best Picture contender this year.

Films attracting much praise and/or curiosity from “oscarologists” from around the world are:

  • Fury
  • American Sniper
  • Interstellar
  • Into the Woods
  • Gone Girl
  • Inherent Vice
  • The Imitation Game
  • The Theory of Everything’
  • Foxcatcher
  • Into The Wild
  • Birdman

The first set of films will bypass the festival circuit, mostly because these films are guaranteed greater box office revenues than the typical ‘artsy fartsy’ (“Oscar worthy”) films.

The second set of films is currently making its way around the end-of-year film festival track, garnering much praise and Oscar attention along the way. Only time will tell whether this translates into nominations (wins) in February.

The Imitation Game just won the audience award at the Toronto Film Festival last month. Previous winners here included 12 Years a Slave and Argo – both of which went on to Best Picture Oscars glory. This World War 2 flick stars Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing who cracked the Nazis’ Enigma code, and basically helped the allies win the war. World War 2 is a soft spot for the academy members, so the film has some great potential in this year’s race.

Because most of these films are released in The States at the end of the year, us South Africans, only get to see most of them early in the following year – sometimes as late as April/May, as was the case with Best Picture nominee, Philomena, this past year. So when you find yourself saying, “But I don’t know half of these films” when they are announced as nominees or winners, at least now you will know why. The good news is that Gone Girl and Interstellar already have release dates for this year – 10 October and 7 November – so we don’t have too much waiting to do… for now.

The season is more than just one night of glitz and glamour, good/bad speeches and vying for your favourites. Its four months of gruelling behind-the-scenes excitement! Guessing game, after guessing game – first who’s going to grab a nomination, then who’s going to win. Its awards leading to other awards way before the Oscars even announce their nominees. Its actors and producers and song writers and visual effects supervisors and independent film makers all shouting “PICK ME! PICK ME!”

The Oscars Season has begun, people and as long, tedious, strange and confusing as it may be, I love every moment of it! So, stick with me, and The Vent, as we continue to bring you updates all along the way.

Important dates to mark off on your calendar:

29 December 2014 – voting begins for nominations

15 January 2015: Oscar nominations announced live @ 16:30 CAT (youtube streaming available)

6 February 2015 – Final Voting Begins

22 February 2015 – Oscars!! (03:00 on the 23rd for South Africans brave enough to wake up then!)

Article by:

Thomas Reist @FilmFanaticZA

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