Usually a film released early in the year, before August in most cases, has a tough time making it to the Oscar race, though it does happen, certainly not as often as it should. The fall film festivals seem to be the launching ground for studios and the indies these last few years, meaning good films that might have been released before August do not have a chance. Both Boyhood (2014) and The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) were early releases and managed to stay in voters minds all the way through Oscar season, each earning multiple nods including Best Picture and Best Director. The Hurt Locker (2009) was a summer release, screened at TIFF the year before, and of course went all the way, as was Crash (2005), a surprise Best Picture winner.
However for the most part, the nominees and winners will not come from films released before August –before festival season if we are being entirely honest.
This year, three performances from early releases continues to make noise for potential Oscar consideration, and at least one looks very strong.
Sally Field, a two time Oscar winner for Best Actress, her work in Norma Rae (1979) stunning audience and critics, remaining one of the screens greatest performances, and Places in the Heart (1984), a strong powerful piece of work, is a potential nominee this year for her funny, sad, and lovely performance in Hello! My Name is Doris (2016) a gentle little love story about a sixty something falling hard for a much younger man she works with. Field is luminous in the film, a but goofy, a little out of touch with the world having cared for her mother the last years of her life, and does not know how to behave, which often gets her in trouble, but her personality is so winning, she is so real, all is quickly forgiven. Everyone I have spoken about the film, loves Field, believes she is deserving of at least a nomination, but agrees that the field for Best Actress is so crowded she might be overlooked, not snubbed, because I believe if the truth be told, she is in the mix, but it is a year with a bounty of great leading performances from the ladies. The years between her last Oscar win and this have been mighty lean for Field despite strong performances in films such as Steel Magnolia (1989), Not Without My Daughter (1991), Forrest Gump (1994), and most recently Lincoln (2012) for which was Oscar nominated for supporting actress and won the New York Film Critics Circle Award for that category.
Viggo Mortensen, nominated in 2007 for his superb work as a Russian enforcer in Eastern Promises (2007) is one of those gifted actors, who should have so many more nominations but has always fallen through the cracks. With two words…for Frodo…he summed up the loyalty of the fellowship in the masterpiece The Lord of the Rings – The Return of the King (2003) and was deserving of a nod for supporting actor. A few years later he was brilliant as a small town man with a secret in A History of Violence (2005), his first collaboration with Canadian director David Cronenberg, and was deserving of a Best Actor nomination for his riveting performance as a former mob hit man who found peace away from that life. That he was NOT nominated for that mesmerizing performance was downright criminal. Eastern Promises (2007) finally got him invited to the party, superb as a Russian hitman who is so much more, again directed by Cronenberg, and not their last work together. Mortensen’s best performance, to this day remains his superb work in The Road (2009) which should have won the Academy Award and not be just nominated. Startling as a father trying to save his son in the aftermath of a nuclear war, frightened, haunted by a past, it is a deeply emotional performance but also a great physical performance, as his body gradually wears down from the impact of radiation and starvation and betrays him. Two years later he again worked with Cronenberg and again should have been a nominee for supporting actor for his performance as Freud in A Dangerous Method (2011). And now he finds himself being discussed as a potential nominee for his terrific work as a hippy father struggling with new widowerhood and a brood of children who need an education and a parent in Captain Fantastic (2016). It’s a breathtaking piece of acting, one that deserves to be a nominee, and one I hope is a nominee.
Last but far from least is Meryl Streep, hoping to garner her 20th nomination for acting, for Best Actress for her funny, moving, sublime work in Florence Foster Jenkins (2016) a surprise hit this summer. Streep has enjoyed a late renaissance at the box office since turning sixty, with several box office hits and a slew of recent Oscar nominations. She won her third in 2011 for The Iron Lady (2011), and to give some idea of how great her accomplishment of twenty nominations is, the nearest to her is actor Jack Nicholson with twelve. No one else is even close. She won her first two Oscars very early in her career, the first for supporting actress in Kramer vs Kramer (1979), the second for what many, myself included consider the greatest performance ever given, Sophie’s Choice (1982). An entire generation would pass before she would again win Best Actress, but she racked up the nominations and awards from the critics in the time in between. She won the LA Film Critics Award for Best Actress for Out of Africa (1985), along with a Golden Globe, while the New York Film Critics Circle honored with wins for Sophie’s Choice (1982), Out of Africa (1985), A Cry in the Dark (1988), Julie and Julia (2009) and The Iron Lady (2011). The Screen Actors Guild honored her for Doubt (2008), and she collected countless awards in the time between that first Oscar and the third. It is a tight race this year, it is the kind of year that could see a Streep-less Oscars (a rarity), but she is beloved enough to make the race, and her performance is among the years best.
Nomination day will tell, but let me state that each is more than deserving.