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The tenuous nature of being an early Academy Award frontrunner

Unbroken Angelia Jolie Louis Zamperini

It’s hardly a brand new sentiment to express, but you really can never script Oscar season. No matter how you think the awards race is going to go, at least to some degree it always turns out different. This year is obviously no exception, so today I wanted to take a look at how the various frontrunner have changed throughout the season. In some cases, we’ve seen top tier contenders hold strong all year, but the frontrunners have shifted for sure. In a few instances, the early favorites didn’t wind up nominated at all. That’s just how the season goes. We’re deep into phase two now, so it’s a perfect time to look back at what things were like at the start of 2014.

Obviously, you never truly know what’s going to happen during an Oscar race, especially when you start out in the early days of the season basically just going on log line or pedigree. Every so often you can hit on one fairly early on (like Argo in my case, which was the rare occasion when I was out front on something), or at least suspect that it could turn into a winner (with 12 Years a Slave), but most of the time the ones you think will be nominees don’t even come close. It’s the uniqueness of trying to predict what a voting body will like a year in advance. As you’ll see below, some of the main Academy Award categories this year could have had a very different look to them than we ultimately had.

"Maleficent" Costume and Props Private Reception - Arrivals

Take a look:

Best Picture – There was a time when Unbroken was thought to be almost unbeatable in the Best Picture category. Other non nominees heavily spoken of early on were Big Eyes, Fury, Gone Girl, Interstellar, Into the Woods, Jersey Boys, and so on. Of course, once Cannes hit we all thought Foxcatcher was a surefire nominee, and we all saw what happened then. Boyhood was something I and many others figured would get in, but the frontrunner? Never in a million years would that have been a smart bet. Go figure.

Best Director – It’s pretty much the same her with Best Director. Names like David Ayer (Fury), Tim Burton (Big Eyes), Clint Eastwood (Jersey Boys), David Fincher (Gone Girl), Rob Marshall (Into the Woods), and Christopher Nolan (Interstellar) were bandied about, but this appeared to be Angelina Jolie’s to lose early on. Then of course, we had a moment of Ava DuVernay being a big thing for Selma. There certainly could have been a different look to the lineup.

Best Actor – A decent amount of the top tier sustained throughout the year here, but Best Actor was once upon a time going to be led by Jack O’Connell (Unbroken). Also, we spoke of Robert Downey, Jr. (The Judge), Brad Pitt (Fury), Jeremy Renner (Kill the Messenger), and Christoph Waltz (Big Eyes), to name a few. It always appeared to be a stacked lineup, but the names changed throughout the year.

Best Actress – Early on, it appeared like we were setting up a coronation for Amy Adams (Big Eyes). She was due and the role was baity, so why even have a lineup? It just goes to show the folly of writing off a race early. We also had Jessica Chastain getting in for either The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby or Miss Julie, as well as Hilary Swank for The Homesman, Michelle Williams for the then delayed Suite Francaise, and Shailene Woodley for The Fault in Our Stars. They all wound up falling short, though Williams could appear again in early predictions for next year’s lineup…

Best Supporting Actor – Mark Ruffalo still managed a nomination, but in the early stages of the year he seemed like the safe bet to win for Foxcatcher, with J.K. Simmon’s only a hopeful nomination for Whiplash. Among the soon to be discarded names, there was Johnny Depp (Into the Woods), Ralph Fiennes (The Grand Budapest Hotel, before he went lead), Adam Sandler (Men, Women & Children), and others. Once again, none of them came even close, give or take how Fiennes did in Best Actor.

Best Supporting Actress – It seems like Patricia Arquette was always the frontrunner here, but there were other names spoken of in hushed tones. They all fell short, but they included Jennifer Garnder/Judy Greer (Men, Women & Children), Anna Kendrick (Into the Woods), and Kristen Scott Thomas (Suite Francaise, which again was delayed). As such, Arquette has basically run the table.

Stay tuned to see what this looks like next year!

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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