Anatomy of a Fall

Source: Neon

‘Anatomy of a Fall’

Heading into Sunday’s 96th Academy Awards on March 10, Screen takes a look at where and how each of the best picture nominees premiered.

The most influential festival on this year’s crop of best picture Oscar nominees was Cannes, where three of the films vying for the top prize received their premieres. See the chart below.

Justine Triet’s eventual Palme d’Or winner Anatomy Of A Fall first screened on the Croisette and picked up five Oscars nominations in total (Neon distributes in the US; mk2 handles international sales), along with Jonathan Glazer’s Grand Prix winner The Zone Of Interest (A24), which also has five nods, and Martin Scorsese’s Killers Of The Flower Moon (Apple Original Films) on 10. 

Two best picture selections premiered in Venice – Yorgos Lanthimos’ Golden Lion winner Poor Things (Searchlight Pictures) which has 11 Academy Award nominations, and Bradley Cooper’s Maestro (Netflix) on seven.

Sundance, Telluride and Toronto festivals each premiered one eventual best picture nominee – respectively Celine Song’s Past Lives (A24) on two Oscar nods, Alexander Payne’s The Holdovers (Focus Features) on five, and Cord Jefferson’s American Fiction (Amazon MGM Studios) on five.

Two best picture contenders – which happen to be the most nominated film Oppenheimer (Universal) on 13 nods and last year’s North American box office champion Barbie (Warner Bros) on eight – bypassed festivals and launched theatrically on the same day last year, July 21.

These two tentpoles combined for the ‘Barbenheimer’ effect, drawing audiences to cinemas in their droves as they went on to gross respectively $329.1m and $636.2m – the latter from Barbie delivering the highest box office of any film in North America in 2023 – and $957m and $1.45bn worldwide.

Oscars update

Source: Screen International / Datawrapper

Going back over the last five years Cannes and Venice emerge as the champions of launching best picture Oscar nominees, each having premeried nine.

This confirms both Venice’s popular status as a key fall festival and awards season launchpad for multiple prestige titles.

It also shows how strong films backed by astute awards campaigns can prosper from a Croisette berth and go all the way – Bong Joon Ho’s South Korean Oscar winner Parasite being the prime example of that after it premiered in 2019.

Like Venice, Toronto and Telluride are vital fall festivals and have each produced six and five best picture nominees over the past five years, respectively.

The calculation involves listing Searchlight Pictures’ 2021 best Oscar winner Nomadland as having premiered at Venice and Toronto after the festivals adopted a collegiate spirit during the pandemic and it was agreed Chloe Zhao’s film would premiere simultaneously at both festivals on September 11.

Sundance too has delivered six and is something of an anomaly given it occurs so early in the calendar and typically falls around 14 months prior to the next eligible Oscars. That can represent a challenge to marketing and awards teams, yet a number of notable titles have found success.

Celine Song’s current nominee Past Lives premiered in Park City, while Sian Heder’s 2022 best picture winner CODA – the first ever winner from a streamer, in this case Apple Original Films – was a 2021 Sundance selection that screened on the festival’s portal after organisers pivoted to a virtual edition during the pandemic.

The previous season was the most affected by Covid and anointed Chloe Zhao’s Nomadland (Searchlight Pictures) best picture winner at a scaled-down 2021 Oscar ceremony which had been pushed back to April 25.

A total of four best picture nominees that season hailed from Sundance and the high yield can be attributed to the fact that Park City was one of the few major festivals that actually took place in person in 2020 before lockdowns severely limited other festivals that year. Cannes cancelled and Toronto and Venice staged scaled-down versions.

Oscars festival launch total

Source: Screen International / Datawrapper

That season saw the Academy push back the qualifying period beyond the normal December 31 deadline to February 28, 2021. This meant that Shaka King’s 2021 Sundance selection Judas And The Black Messiah was able to get a late nomination and compete at the Academy Awards two months later.

SXSW has produced only one nominee in the last five years and did so in style. A24’s Everything Everywhere All At Once co-directed by the Daniels premiered in the Austin, Texas, festival and went on to win the best picture Oscar last year along with six other wins.

In terms of best picture Oscar winners, the last four have come from SXSW (Everything Everywhere All At Once), Sundance (CODA), Venice and Toronto (Nomadland), and Cannes (Parasite).

This year the clear favourite Oppenheimer could deliver victory for a film that opened on general release, breaking the festivals’ grip on the top prize.