Don't look now, but while you were cooking your turkey or watching "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire," the 2014 Oscar race kicked into high gear.
Two events in November had all the hopefuls stepping up their Oscar game: the Academy's 2013 Governors Awards and the 2014 Independent Spirit Award nominations. Both helped put this year's Oscar race into sharper focus.
The Governors Awards are the honorary Oscars for career achievement and humanitarianism, which were presented during the main Academy Awards ceremony up until five years ago. Since then, the Academy has handed out these trophies in November instead, in an untelevised ceremony, so awards-hopeful schmoozing can go on away from the prying eyes of the press. (Although Deadline's Pete Hammond took notes on who schmoozed with whom.) On November 16, as honorary Oscars were handed out to the likes of Steve Martin (a frequent Oscar host who, amazingly, has never been nominated in competition), Angelina Jolie (for her philanthropy), and Angela Lansbury (who was nominated for the first time 69 years ago for "Gaslight"), numerous stars and executives from current movies showed up to pay homage and, by their sheer presence, to remind Academy voters that they're eligible for trophies at the big show on March 2.
As for the Independent Spirit Awards, the nominations were announced on November 27, giving some lucky folks an extra reason to be thankful on Thursday. The indie honors used to exist in a parallel universe to that of the Oscars; they're handed out the day before the Academy Awards, usually to movies that only played art-houses and are fairly obscure to moviegoers at large. But in recent years, as the major studios have all but abandoned the pursuit of excellence for the pursuit of profit, the Independent Spirit Awards have come to overlap with the Oscars, with many shared nominees between the two.
Indeed, on the indie side, there's been some grumbling that the nominees are too mainstream, dominated by prominent films with decent-sized budgets and big stars. Among the Best Picture nominees -- "12 Years a Slave," "All Is Lost," "Frances Ha," "Inside Llewyn Davis," and "Nebraska" -- all but "Frances Ha" are likely contenders for Oscars as well, since they feature famous stars, veteran directors, and strong box office prospects. For Best Actor, the Spirits squeezed in six names -- Bruce Dern ("Nebraska'"), Chiwetel Ejiofor ("12 Years a Slave"), Oscar Isaac ("Inside Llewyn Davis"), Michael B. Jordan ("Fruitvale Station"), Matthew McConaughey ("Dallas Buyers Club'"), and Robert Redford ("All Is Lost") -- at least four of whom are on everyone's Oscar shortlist. (Academy voters are expected to swap out Jordan and Isaac and replace them with Tom Hanks -- for either "Captain Phillips" or "Saving Mr. Banks" -- or Forest Whitaker for "Lee Daniels' The Butler".)
It's good that the Spirit nominations can remind Oscar voters of movies that came out earlier this year that they may have forgotten, like "Spring Breakers," "Mud," and "Before Midnight." But otherwise, it's a list of movies and performers who are probably already on Oscar voters' minds.
And those reminder lists are only going to pile up in the coming weeks. For some Oscar-watchers, awards season begins in earnest today, December 3, when the New York Film Critics Circle becomes the first critics' group to announce its year-end honorees. Over the next two weeks, they'll be joined by the National Board of Review, critics' groups from Boston and Los Angeles, and the nominations for the Golden Globes. Even as moviegoers are waiting for the last eligible movies to show up at the local multiplex or art-house, these groups will be busy trying to scoot the Oscar race along while placing their own stamps on it. Ready or not, here they come.