Who is leading the Race for the 2015 Awards Season?

Who is leading the Race for the 2015 Awards Season?

The red carpet race track from Cannes to the Academy Awards

By Norah Bradford

Speculation surrounding who will take home the coveted statues during the 2015 Awards Season starts as early as the Festival du Cannes located in the South of France in May, and from there takes many unpredictable twists and turns during the festivals as film producers and companies seek to attract the eye of the Awards Season voters. With the Academy Awards still months away, the Awards Season itself started unofficially this year with the 18th Annual Hollywood Film Awards, held on November 14, 2014 in Los Angeles. This year was the first year the AFI's were televised from the Hollywood Palladium, giving fans their first glimpse at who may win big next year.

The early awards-buzz kicks off with the Festival du Cannes , held in the Cote D'Azur, which sets the tone for others to follow (including notably La Biennale de Venice,Telluride Film Festival, and Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF)), making it a target for early award campaigners. Cannes is a magnet for the "Oscar bloggers" eager to get an early pulse on the Awards Season contenders. This year's 67th Cannes Film Festival, held from May 14th-25th, 2014 saw the prestigious Palme d'Or from Jane Campion's jury awarded to Turkish film "Winter Sleep", directed by Nuri Bilge Ceylan. Bennett Miller won the best director award for "Foxcatcher," (Sony Pictures Classics) a crime-drama starring Steve Carell as eccentric billionaire John Du Pont, plus Mark Ruffalo and Channing Tatum as Olympic champions.

 Then the next stop before Awards Season is the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), held in September, which has also gained a reputation for being a key indicator of Oscar success. Previous winners of its audience award have gone on to win Best Picture, including last year's "12 Years a Slave", and in previous years, "Slumdog Millionaire" and "The King's Speech". A large number of Award-friendly films featured at this year's TIFF, including "The Imitation Game", which won People's Choice Award; and Stephen Hawking biopic "The Theory of Everything," (Focus Features) starring Eddie Redmayne as the celebrated physicist. "St. Vincent" (The Weinstein Company) was also featured, with a post-screening Q-and-A session with lead-actor Bill Murray. "Wild", which premiered at Telluride and received its Canadian premiere at TIFF, moves Reese Witherspoon solidly into Oscar race in the best actress category. "Wild" is an adaptation of Cheryl Strayad's memoir about her 1,000-mile hike is scripted by Nick Hornby and directed by Jean-Marc Vallée ("Dallas Buyer's Club").

Then of course, there are the films who are not premiered at major festivals, but on paper look sure to impress. "Unbroken," the survival story of Olympic and World War II hero Louis Zamperini, directed by Angelina Jolie, is set for release in the U.S. on Christmas Day, priming it for Oscar contention along with a few other requisite ingredients like a script that credits the Cohen brothers. David Ayer's well-executed World War II film "Fury," starring Brad Pitt and Shia LaBeouf, also missed the festival circuit but is scoring well with critics and audiences.

At the Hollywood Film Awards (HFA), Ben Affleck accepted the biggest honor – the best movie of the year – for the David Fincher-directed thriller, "Gone Girl" (20th Century Fox), and "The Imitation Game" (The Weinstein Company) – a biopic of homosexual mathematics prodigy Alan Turing, played by much-adored "Sherlock" star Benedict Cumberbatch – took home four awards. Christopher Nolan's sci-fi epic "Interstellar" (Paramount Pictures) was shut out of every award, losing out on cinematography to "Birdman," (Fox Searchlight Pictures) starring acting contenders Michael Keaton, Edward Norton and Emma Stone who are all in top form. Richard Linklater's coming-of-age story, "Boyhood," (IFC Films) which arguably has lost awards momentum since its release in July, also didn't receive a single award, but is still largely tipped for a Best Picture nomination next February.

Ava DuVernay's civil rights film "Selma" (Paramount Pictures) became an instant Oscar contender after its premiere at the American Film Institute (AFI) Fest, held on November 6th to 13th, 2014. "Selma",which features David Oyelowo playing Martin Luther King, Jr. and follows him through the tactics and truths of a historical civil rights protest march he led from Selma, Ala., to Montgomery in 1965. "American Sniper," (Warner Bros.) helmed by Clint Eastwood, also burst onto the scene as a strong contender in across-the-board Oscar categories after its AFI Fest premiere. Starring Bradley Cooper, "American Sniper" will be released on Christmas Day. The festival also showcased some contenders that had premiered at other fests, including "The Homesman," "Inherent Vice," "Mr. Turner" and "Still Alice."

The major Awards Season kicks off with the 72nd Golden Globes on January 11, 2015, followed by the 87th Academy Awards airs on February 22, 2015.

So which films look likely to be Oscar frontrunners at this stage in the race? My top five picks: "The Theory of Everything"; "Boyhood"; "Foxcatcher"; "The Imitation Game"; and "Selma".

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