Studios campaign for months and months for their films to receive major awards season nominations. Sometimes the buzz even starts while the film is still being shot (like “The Fabelmans” last year). But what I really love to see are movies that take EVERYONE by surprise. They end-up on awards ballots, and earn statues, with sudden, late in the game attention. They were not made to be “Oscar Bait”.
The most recent example is “Drive My Car”. The buzz for Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s three-hour drama from Japan was steadily growing at the end of 2021 and into early 2022, as more and more people discovered its power. “DMC” secured Best Picture, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar nominations (along with an International Feature win).
Next to no one expected “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” to dominate the Best Animated Feature category until the first footage was shown at New York Comic-Con in early October 2018. I was there. The place erupted in joy. Suddenly Pixar (“Incredibles 2”), Disney (“Ralph Breaks the Internet”) and Wes Anderson’s stop-motion “Isle of Dogs” were no match for the power of Sony’s Spidey sensation. Sony Pictures Animation received an Oscar for 2002 short “The ChubbChubbs!” and nominations for features “Surf’s Up” (2007) and “The Pirates! Band of Misfits” (2012, a co-production with Aardman). But to many, Sony was never considered a true awards and animation player until “Spider-Verse”.
When I went to an early nationwide screening of “Knives Out” the weekend before its November 2019 release, I remember being enthralled in the mystery along with everyone else. No one went to the bathroom the entire time. Suddenly, and unexpectedly to the general population, awards predictors and even Lionsgate, an all-star murder mystery comedy from the guy who just directed a “Star Wars” movie that divided fans was getting glowing attention. Golden Globe and Critics Choice Awards nominations followed, along with a Best Original Screenplay Oscar nomination for Rian Johnson. Now who says The Academy doesn’t like comedies?
Sometimes, it’s early in the year, anti-“heavy dramas” that receive attention, remain popular, and are recognized at the end of the year. Look at May 2011 release “Bridesmaids” and star Melissa McCarthy — the role and Oscar nomination that sent her career into the stratosphere. Or “Logan” getting into the Best Adapted Screenplay Academy Awards category nearly a year after its March 2017 release. (Who says The Academy doesn’t like superhero movies?)
“Hell or High Water” opened in August 2016. It was the perfect time for this action/drama to get noticed. And awards groups didn’t forget it. Taylor Sheridan soon became a household name thanks to this, “Wind River” and many TV projects, including a little show called “Yellowstone”.
It’s the middle of November. Netflix (taking over for Lionsgate) is positioning “Knives Out” follow-up “Glass Onion” as a prime awards contender. Probably too late for an end of year, avant-garde release to sneak in and shake-up everything. But who says there isn’t room for David Harbour’s R-rated Santa action blood-fest “Violent Night”? 🙂