So it begins. The Oscars may be a little under five months away, but every studio head knows that’s less than 150 days to convince the 6,000 or so members of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences to bestow their films with gold.
Oscar campaigns are already in full swing. The Toronto and Telluride film festivals, held this month, mark the unofficial kick-off of award season, and history shows that films that premiere here are also likely to dominate Academy nominations when they’re announced in January.
Screenings are underway for members of the Screen Actors Guild and Producers’ Guild of America, whose awards have long been seen as a predictor of Oscar glory. And studios are busy dispatching “For Your Consideration” DVD screeners to Oscar voters (in plain packaging, with no advertising or promotional material, as per Academy rules), copies of which have kept the pirate movie trade afloat for years.
For a serious shot at gold, an Oscar campaign requires a hefty marketing budget and a director and stars willing to commit to months of glad-handing, flesh-pressing and baby-kissing long before they walk the red carpet in February. But the rewards are great: an estimated $14 million bump in box office receipts for a Best Picture win, according to industry analysts IBIS World.
So what films are generating early buzz for 2015 and how are their campaigns faring? We take a look at some of the contenders.
With Amores Perros and Babel director Alejandro González Iñárritu at the helm, Birdman stars Michael Keaton as a has-been actor who once played an iconic superhero and is now trying to revive his flailing career. The studio will be hoping the art-imitates-life redemptive arc appeals to fanboys and Oscar voters alike (think Mickey Rourke’s nomination for The Wrestler) and that it can build on its early momentum when it closes the New York Film Festival next month. Edward Norton, Emma Stone and Naomi Watts round out the high-profile cast.
Richard Linklater’s critically-acclaimed story of a boy’s transition from childhood to adolescence was twelve years in the making, a feat that should alone secure it a nomination. While the studio behind it, IFC, has little experience staging a big-league Oscars campaign (it’s never won a Best Picture gong) it’s drafted veteran PR guru Cynthia Swartz to take the reins. Influential trade paper Variety has already thrown its weight behind the film, championing Linklater (Slacker, Dazed and Confused, the Before Sunrise series) as “the most influential director of his generation” whose recognition is “long overdue”.
The Imitation Game
Already shaping up as the Oscar favourite, this historical thriller by Norwegian director Morten Tyldum took out the People’s Choice Award in Toronto, joining the ranks of past Oscar winners Slumdog Millionaire, The King’s Speech and 12 Years a Slave. Benedict Cumberbatch stars as mathematician Alan Turing, who cracked the German Enigma code during World War II and was later convicted on “indecency” charges for his homosexuality. Cumberbatch already has a huge following thanks to his star turn on the series ‘Sherlock‘. Most importantly for its Oscar chances, the film’s PR juggernaut is being steered by the stop-at-nothing Harvey Weinstein, the man who invented the modern Oscar campaign, has secured more than 300 nominations for his films, and received this Golden Globes shout-out from Jennifer Lawrence: “Harvey Weinstein, thank you for killing whoever you had to kill to get me here.”
The Theory of Everything
Oscar loves a biopic and Eddie Redmayne’s (My Week with Marilyn, Les Miserables) performance as Stephen Hawking has seen him “leap to the head of the Oscar pack”, according to The Hollywood Reporter. The more cynical observers say Redmayne would appear to have the nomination sewn up: after all, he plays a real-life and much-admired public figure, he undergoes a dramatic physical transformation to depict Hawking’s experience of motor neuron disease, and he’s British, which never hurts. Art house studio Focus Features is backing the film, fresh off its success picking up two acting gongs for Dallas Buyers Club (Matthew McConaughey, Jared Leto) this year. Director James Marsh already has an Oscar under his belt as a documentary maker for Man on Wire, making him something of a directing double-threat.
The only name you need to know here: Angelina Jolie. Oscar loves to reward actors-turned-directors, and Jolie already has a best supporting actress Oscar, a side project as a roaming global diplomat and approximately one million volts of star power. The story of WWII prisoner-of-war survivor and Olympic track star Louis Zamperini was adapted for the screen by Oscar favourites the Coen Brothers. With no big names in the cast, the publicity campaign is putting Jolie front and centre, drawing heavily on her real-life friendship with Zamperini. Unbroken also has an Australian connection: it was filmed in New South Wales and Queensland late last year.
The 87th Academy Awards will be held on February 22, with nominations announced on January 15.