As the final days of 2014 tick away and we get set to begin anew with 2015, I’ve been thinking about how the precursor season, especially in the past few weeks, has changed the Oscar race slightly. Notably, a few contenders that weren’t on everyone’s mind for one reason or another have doubled back as the year comes to a close. Some were long shots that became contenders, while others were already viable Academy Award players that have seen their stock shoot up. There are a half dozen that I’m going to cite below, but they’re hardly the only ones. It goes both ways too…perhaps later this week or next (which is technically next year) I’ll do the inverse of this and look at a few of the contenders that have stumbled during this same time period.
Here now are the six best examples among the 2014 releases vying for Oscar attention:
1. Jake Gyleenhaal in Best Actor for Nightcrawler – Up until the most recent precursors began citing him, Gyllehnaal was thought to be a too cool for school long shot for Nightcrawler. Now, he’s clearly in the top seven for Best Actor, if not the top six or arguably already in the nominated group of five. That category is clearly going to be a bloodbath, so Gyllenhaal has only made things harder. The performance is top notch though, so it just makes for an embarrassment of riches for the Academy to sort through. Don’t sleep on Gyllenhaal, as he could certainly pop up in Best Actor.
2. The Grand Budapest Hotel in Best Picture – Even though I’m citing this film as a late breaking major player in Best Picture, it could easily be mentioned for Wes Anderson in Best Director and Best Original Screenplay as well (the two categories I’m missing here from having the big eight all represented). The Grand Budapest Hotel now is looking like a top seven contender in each of those categories, something I wouldn’t have believed going into the precursor season. I’m not sure it ultimately makes the Director lineup, but Picture and Original Screenplay nominations seem locked in with Oscar.
3. Jennifer Aniston in Best Actress for Cake – I’ve said it a few times already, but there are folks who need to eat some crow on this one. A nomination for Cake on the part of Aniston was almost a joke during the fall, but at this point she’s basically locked in. The films is probably the smallest in play this year, which can hurt, but Aniston has been running a great campaign and has almost all of the buzz right now. Some are even putting forward a narrative that she can be the dark horse for a win in Actress. I’m not sure that’s realistic, but an Academy Award nomination seems all but a foregone conclusion as of the final days in December.
4. Inherent Vice in Best Adapted Screenplay – After the debut screening at the New York Film Festival, many (myself included) crossed Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest off of their predictions in most categories. That still remains true, but it appears that Inherent Vice is making a play in Adapted Screenplay now. The other big eight (or rather the remaining seven) categories seem to be beyond reach for PTA and company, but the writing citation could happen. Some of that is due to a weak field, but Anderson is hardly an Oscar neophyte. Stay tuned here.
5. Jessica Chastain in Best Supporting Actress for A Most Violent Year – Initially, it appeared that Chastain’s best shot would be for Interstellar, not A Most Violent Year. Both are top notch turns, but with the former a player struggling to keep its head above water and the latter sort of holding steady, the odds favor Chastain being cited for the smaller flick. I wouldn’t be shocked if it turned out to be for Interstellar (or even if a vote split leads to a snub), but A Most Violent Year is clearly the safer bet of the two films right now.
6. Robert Duvall in Best Supporting Actor for The Judge – This was always considered a placeholder nomination, if that makes sense. Duvall getting cited for The Judge made sense until a better contender came along, but lo and behold, no one else has come along. The movie wasn’t well received, but Duvall was rightly praised, so it’s not a question of performance quality. Unless a last minute contender emerges, and it doesn’t look likely, then Duvall is going to get another Oscar nomination to his credit.