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Can early year releases truly compete for Oscar attention?

One of the more unfair aspects of the awards season is that it truly isn’t a 12 month season. Only certain months tend to have Oscar contenders released in them. If you want Academy Award consideration, the early months of a given year are essentially no man’s land. The list of films nominated from January, February, and/or March is a short one. It can happen, but the odds are nowhere near if you’re a September, October, November, and/or December release. There’s just no contest. That got me thinking…will it change? Has there been progress lately? Why does it happen? Follow along as I ponder all this and more today.

Historically, the biggest early year release, Oscar wise, is The Silence of the Lambs. Other nominees include Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, a few Woody Allen pictures like Radio Days, etc. They’re not all of the ones, but they’re some of them. The Silence of the Lambs even won Best Picture (among others), while Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind took home an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. They’re among the early year success stories and what gives other contenders some degree of hope. If an overt genre picture and one of the more unique tales in memory (no pun intended) can do it, why not them as well?

Last year, nothing from the beginning of the year was able to catch on, despite recent success for contenders like The Grand Budapest Hotel. That begs the question of if there’s been any progress and why this happens. Progress wise, there’s been more attention paid, as you’ll see below, but as for the why…that’s more complicated. The simple answer is that the movie quality is different. There are exceptions, but by and large, studios aren’t releasing worthy flicks then. As such, it’s only strong independent films getting buzz, and sustaining that buzz for almost a full year is borderline impossible to do.

This year, films like Get Out, Logan, and Split have gotten some degree of awards buzz, despite the first quarter release date. Split mainly has a small selection of folks hoping that James McAvoy can pull a surprise Best Actor nomination. Get Out is brewing its buzz and probably looking to campaign in Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay for Jordan Peele when the time comes. The odds aren’t in its favor, but stranger things have happened. As for Logan, getting over the superhero hump will be hard, but an across the board campaign will almost certainly be waged during awards season. If any of them succeed, that definitely will further the argument to take this section of the calendar more seriously.

Will this ever change? Will early year releases ever be on the same page as winter ones? Well, it’s not a simple yes or a no here, though it’ll never be as fertile ground, obviously. Summer counter programming has been making some strides, a la Hell or High Water last year, so there’s some degree of progress being made to not have all the nominees be winter releases. It’s a process, one that will continue to evolve over the years. If studios get brave enough to put more prestigious fare before the summer or even spring, that would help. One step at a time though, I suppose. For now, what we know is that it’s not impossible to turn an early release date into an awards vehicle, but it is rather difficult. Sit tight as the year progresses. Maybe 2017 can trump 2016 in that way? We shall see…

Stay tuned to see if any early year releases can turn into Academy Award nominees in 2017!

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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