A third of the way through 2014 and there are no Oscar contenders

the OscarsGolden Statuettes

Well, this is a bit of a bummer. It just dawned on me how rare it is that we’re basically at the start of the summer movie season and we’ve yet to have a real Best Picture contender debut anywhere, even at a film festival. It’s now May and a third of the year has passed…usually by now either the Sundance Film Festival or the Tribeca Film Festival has been home to at least one or two likely contenders, alongside whatever early year releases catch our attention. That really hasn’t been the case this time around, likely leading to another situation where the final months of the year will be a logjam of movies hoping to crack the Oscar lineup.

The closest we’ve had to a contender is Richard Linklater’s Boyhood, which debuted at Sundance, but that’s such a hard film to figure out. I’m very high on it, and spoke glowingly of its potential just a matter of days ago, but there’s a strong possibility that Oscar voters will ignore it. That seemed to be Park City’s only major option, which is not the norm. Usually there’s a handful of titles hoping to transition from there to the Oscar race. Just last year we had Before Midnight, Fruitvale Station (then just called Fruitvale), The Spectacular Now, and Stories We Tell, to name most of the major awards hopefuls from that fest. This year, it seems to be Linklater’s flick or bust.

Tribeca had even slimmer pickings, with none of their debuts being on that level and only Jon Favreau’s Chef seeming like anything worth mentioning in passing as an awards player. I’m a huge fan of the film, but it’s very light and probably too simple of a movie to catch on with voters in any sort of a major way. That’s a shame, but it’s also the truth.

As for the wide releases, the best chances would have been George Clooney’s The Monuments Men and Darren Aronofsky’s Noah, but both of those movies were met with very mixed reviews, even if both are box office success stories. The films needed to be critical darlings, and neither came close to that, so the technical categories will really be the only places where they can make a mark. A shut out is just as likely for each though, especially considering the early release dates they were stuck with.

I will say that among the independent films to hit theaters so far, Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin would be the one with a shot, especially for Scarlett Johansson’s performance, but it’s such a small and challenging flick, I’m pessimistic that it’ll do much. Anything is possible, but if we’re discussing such an art film for mainstream awards, that usually means we’re stretching.

Basically, we’re stuck hoping for the summer movie season to contain some kind of indie counter-programming that Academy members will fall in love with. Maybe it’ll be something like The Fault in Our Stars that becomes the first Best Picture contender of the year? Could it be the Roger Ebert documentary Life Itself? Hey, maybe I’m underestimating Boyhood? Anything is possible, but right now, it’s looking like another year where all of the late releases make the biggest mark, for better or worse.

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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