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Monday, January 14, 2013
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Which Film Festivals And Release Periods Were Most Effective For This Year’s Oscar Nominees?

By Joey Magidson
Film Contributor

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If you’re like me, you’re still recovering from the surprises that the Academy threw us on Thursday. In an attempt to try and move away from figuring out the “why” of the Oscar nominations last week, I decided to look at the “when” and “where” of the films and performances that were nominated. I’m curious to see which release period of the year and which film festivals were the most effective launching pads for award nominees in 2012.

It’s no secret that certain periods of the year and certain festivals are lighter than others. Fests like Tribeca and months like January just don’t jive with Oscar. In fact, I recently looked at the festival season in a previous article (found here) to see which ones contributed the most awards players this year. Likewise, when I removed the late-season releases a week or so ago from the Oscar race (found here), I found just how many contenders are from the last few months of the year.

Now that we have the nominees for the Academy Awards at our disposal, we can look at the main categories and see if there’s anything more we can learn. Did any one film festival wind up doing especially well? Was there a choice period of release for the movies and performances that were cited by Oscar voters? Let’s take a look …

In Best Picture, the films nominated are Amour, Argo, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Django Unchained, Les Miserables, Life of Pi, Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook and Zero Dark Thirty. There is a distinct late-year slant to these movies, with only Beasts of the Southern Wild being from the first half of the year. The others are mostly from November and December, with Argo being the earliest of the late releases by coming out in October.

As for the festival pedigree, Amour came from the Cannes Film Festival, while Beasts of the Southern Wild came from the Sundance Film Festival during the first part of 2012. Later on, Life of Pi and Lincoln came from the New York Film Festival, with Argo being a Telluride/Toronto Film Festival debut, and Silver Linings Playbook also coming from Toronto.

Best Director features Michael Haneke, Ang Lee, David O. Russell, Steven Spielberg and Benh Zeitlin competing against each other. This one will obviously be very similar to Best Picture, so bear with me.

Haneke’s flick Amour is a late-year release (in fact, it’s one that isn’t even out in all of America yet) and a Cannes debut. Lee’s movie Life of Pi came from the end of the year and was an NYFF bow. Russell has his film Silver Linings Playbook just now opening wide, and he did the Toronto thing. For Spielberg, Lincoln is another late release and also was the surprise screening at NYFF. Finally, Zeitlin’s Beasts of the Southern Wild is the lone early release and made its splash back at Sundance.

For Best Actor, Bradley Cooper, Daniel Day-Lewis, Hugh Jackman, Joaquin Phoenix, and Denzel Washington are the nominees. Cooper and Day-Lewis are a part of Silver Linings Playbook and Lincoln, respectively, which we’ve detailed a few times already. Jackman’s the lead in Les Miserables, which didn’t have a festival debut but was released on Christmas day.

Our first mention of The Master comes via Phoenix, and that was from September, right before the late-season deluge of contenders. Our other contender is Washington, who has Flight, another NYFF debut. That one was a November release.

Best Actress is a race between Jessica Chastain, Jennifer Lawrence, Emmanuelle Riva, Quevenzhane Wallis and Naomi Watts for the Oscar. Chastain (for Zero Dark Thirty), Lawrence (for Silver Linings Playbook), Riva (for Amour) and Wallis (for Beasts of the Southern Wild) have been mentioned already, but we still have a new film to mention in Watts’ The Impossible.

That movie happened to be another Toronto bow, and a late December theatrical release at that. Sensing a bit of a trend so far? You wouldn’t be the only one if you did.

In terms of Best Supporting Actor, it’s between Alan Arkin, Robert De Niro, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Tommy Lee Jones and Christoph Waltz. All of them are from works we’ve mentioned already, as Arkin is from Argo (and a Telluride/Toronto debut, along with an October release), De Niro is from late release Silver Linings Playbook (and Toronto), Hoffman is The Master (and a September release), Jones is from the NYFF debuting Lincoln, plus Waltz from Django Unchained…a December release.

Best Supporting Actress features Amy Adams, Sally Field, Anne Hathaway, Helen Hunt, and Jacki Weaver locked in battle for the prize. Adams (The Master), Field (Lincoln), Hathaway (Les Miserables), and Weaver (Silver Linings Playbook) have their history and pedigree well documented already, but Hunt is from The Sessions, which we have yet to mention. This is the other Sundance release of note here, and it was a end of year film as well, hitting in November.

Moving on to the Screenplay categories, the nominees are Argo, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Life of Pi, Lincoln and Silver Linings Playbook in Adapted. It’s a close race between Amour, Django Unchained, Flight, Moonrise Kingdom and Zero Dark Thirty for Original Screenplay. The only new title to mention here is Moonrise Kingdom, which happened to debut at Cannes and hit during the summer of 2012.

With Best Animated Feature, it’s a real mainstream lineup of Brave, Frankenweenie, ParaNorman, The Pirates! Band of Misfits and Wreck-It-Ralph. None of them had any festival debuts of note, and they came from all over 2012. The Pirates! Band of Misfits was from the spring, Brave and ParaNorman are the summer, Frankenweenie had an obvious Halloween-esque release, and Wreck-It Ralph was the only real late release.

Best Foreign Language Feature features Amour, Kon-Tiki, No, A Royal Affair and War Witch butting heads for the Oscar. We’ve mentioned Haneke’s work already, but the others are first-timers for this piece. Kon-Tiki is a Toronto graduate and has no release scheduled yet. No is a Cannes alum and will be hitting theaters next month. A Royal Affair started at the Berlin Film Festival and came out in November, while War Witch is also Berlin, but with no current release date yet.

Finally, Best Documentary Feature is a race between 5 Broken Cameras, The Gatekeepers, How To Survive a Plague, The Invisible War and Searching for Sugar Man. All except The Gatekeepers (which premiered at Telluride) started life at Sundance, and all are late-year or 2013 releases.

So what can we take away from these major categories and the nominees found within them? I’d say that the trend simply favored late-year releases again and really split things up between films that had festival debuts and those that didn’t. The decision to move up the voting dates didn’t really prevent December films from getting in whatsoever.

Despite all of the changes and surprises, the Oscar race is still predominately a contest between late-season releases, many of which debuted at Toronto. We expected some new trends to emerge, but it’s been rather traditional. I suppose the more things change, the more they stay the same.

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