Oscars: The early front runners forgotten in the race for Academy Awards glory

Initial buzz surrounding likes of First Man and Widows falls silent as new challengers emerge

First Man trailer

This year’s Oscars are fast approaching, with industry watchers eagerly speculating on which films will walk away with the top prizes.

The Academy Awards will finally unveil their nominations on Tuesday 22 January, with The Favourite, A Star is Born and Vice expected to lead the pack.

But what about those films whose chances appear to have mysteriously fallen by the wayside?

After debuting at Cannes last year, First Man – a biopic of Nasa astronaut Neil Armstrong – was handsomely reviewed, with director Damien Chazelle and lead actor Ryan Gosling both widely tipped for awards season glory. A Best Picture nomination seemed assured.

However, come the Golden Globes, neither La La Land alumni were listed. While Justin Hurwitz’s score did win an award (and could yet take home an Oscar), the film’s only other nomination was Best Supporting Actress for Claire Foy – and she lost out to Regina King for If Beale Street Could Talk.

Although British awards voters appear to have taken more of a shine to First Man, with the film picking up seven Bafta nominations, these are largely in technical categories.

Some analysts have put the First Man slump down to its being released too far in advance of awards season, leaving the film much less fresh in the minds of Academy voters. And yet A Star is Born, released in cinemas a week before First Man, has not suffered the same decline in interest.

Another reason could be the controversy that swelled around the film's initial release. Chazelle elected not to depict Armstrong plunging the American flag into the surface of the moon, which upset fellow astronaut Buzz Aldrin and perhaps offended patriotic audiences.

Steve McQueen’s Widows has faced a similar disappointment. The Turner Prize-winner’s first film since the highly-decorated 12 Years a Slave was released in November to glowing reviews. Yet, despite a stunning turn from Viola Davis, the film has barely registered with voters.

Again, some analysts have put the dissapointing awards haul down to timing. Others have pointed out that, despite Widows being an impressively-executed heist caper, the Academy rarely rewards genre films, prefering more conventional romantic subject matter.

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In offering a tortured love affair, A Star is Born is much closer to the Academy's ideal. Lady Gaga's performance in her first lead role certainly proved a draw at the box office.

But the film is not expected to sweep the board. Sam Elliott, the purring Western character actor best known as the cowboy narrator of The Big Lebowski (1998), was initially cited as a probable best supporting actor candidate, but that first burst of enthusiasm has since been sadly forgotten.

Conversly, there are some actors who are almost guaranteed nominations by virtue of their stature – Nicole Kidman for her central performance in Karyn Kusama’s Destroyer, Timothee Chalamet‘s contribution to Beautiful Boy – while the films themselves have otherwise made little impact. Other examples of this phenomenon include expected acting nods for Melissa McCarthy and Richard E Grant for Can You Ever Forgive Me? and Glenn Close for The Wife.

Meanwhile, some classic Oscarbait appears to have failed in its overtures.

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Mary Queen of Scots, starring Academy favourites Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie, is exactly the sort of prestige film that normally finds itself the subject of much hype on the awards circuit. And, with a 18 January release date, the producers clearly expected their historical drama would be in contention. But thanks to a spate of negative reviews, Josie Rourke's debut seems to have fallen short.

As for Joel Edgerton’s issue drama Boy Erased, the Keira Knightley-starring Colette and Jason Reitman’s political biopic The Front Runner, all risk being overlooked altogether and joining the likes of Diana (2013), Grace of Monaco (2014), and I Saw the Light (2015) in streaming site oblivion

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