An awards consultant, complaining she already was exhausted even though we have four months until the Academy Awards, asked me the other day: “Didn’t we just finish the last season? How did it come around so fast?” It’s a good question, but the answer seems to be that, in the current state of things, planning your Oscar campaigns really is a year-round task that never ends, even with movies that haven’t yet been shot.
While Academy members and guild and critics group voters believe they make their own determinations on what should be in and out of contention, it really is the studios and distributors that are the kingmakers. And they plan year-round in many cases, deciding strategically which films to nurture and push and make that additional financial commitment to campaign. It’s not even-handed. A studio isn’t going to politic and push every single one of its films in Academy members’ faces, just the Oscar bait. So don’t look for screeners of Dumb and Dumber To or Horrible Bosses 2 anytime soon.
Quite frankly, this kind of long-haul studio and distribution support is almost required to survive the increasingly extended journey a movie must take these days to win one of those golden statues. It has become more and more like a presidential political campaign, only reversed, starting in the sunny climes of the south of France at Cannes in May and moving on through the early primary festivals of Venice, Telluride, Toronto, New York and AFI in the fall. The last trudge through the winter months and endless awards dinners finally arrives at election night—in this case Sunday, February 22, when the Oscars again will be held at the Dolby Theatre. Deadline and AwardsLine are integrally a part of that journey now as well, with the popular The Contenders event, held this year on November 1 at the DGA Theatre, where many hopefuls from 13 studios and distributors took to the stage to talk to me and my colleagues about their (hopefully) awards-worthy efforts this year. And, like everything else, it was those studios that made the decisions on just who those contenders are.
Every now and then a true dark horse can slip in and try to upset Hollywood’s apple cart and prove you can break through the clutter and get into the hearts and minds of voters on sheer talent and will alone, but it ain’t easy. The days of paving your own independent path on the road to Oscar are pretty much long gone. It doesn’t mean some won’t try, but they’d better have deep pockets. Awards season has become big business. Yes, the goods have to be there, but money doesn’t hurt.
Increasingly, the personal touch has become really helpful. If you have an actor who can plant him- or herself in Los Angeles and/or New York to do meet-and-greets during crucial voting periods, you have a better shot of making an impact. I have talked to many weary nominees at the end of the long process who have shaken so many hands, attended so many dinners, done so many Q&As and talk shows and receptions that they look like those guys in the tank at the end of Fury.
And that brings me to this year’s class of Oscar contenders. Fury is one of them, of course. Brad Pitt could be one of 30 or so leading men this year competing for those prized five best actor slots, the most competitive race I can remember for a category that increasingly seems to be drawing a large crowd. There’s bound to be a lot of heartbreak come Oscar nomination morning. And there’s sure to be a lot of newcomers to Oscar’s roll call as well, including Michael Keaton, Eddie Redmayne, Benedict Cumberbatch, Miles Teller, Timothy Spall, Steve Carell, David Oyelowo, Jack O’Connell, Chadwick Boseman and Ellar Coltrane. This isn’t to leave out past nominees such as Bradley Cooper, Mark Wahlberg, Robert Downey Jr., Ben Affleck and, of course, reigning champ Matthew McConaughey. The race is becoming tighter on the actress side, as well, as late entries including Julianne Moore and Jennifer Aniston join those who’ve been on the radar for a while, such as Rosamund Pike, Reese Witherspoon, Felicity Jones, Jessica Chastain, Marion Cotillard and Amy Adams.
Then, of course, there is the ever-developing race for best picture, the most wide open one in many years. In terms of simply intense Oscar campaigning, this could turn out to be a most violent year indeed.