Though we all know that the bulk of Oscar nominations come from the last quarter of each and every year, have we seen any awards players yet? Here's a tricky thing about punditry -- if you start too early people say you're part of the problem in "narrowing" the field but if you don't start early how are you going to be of service in keeping the entire year in play and offering perspective on which film should be watched so that it's not all about "cramming" at the end of the year which leads to all that last quarter focus. So we start early. Here are first quarter possibilities if the Academy has longer memories than usual this year and if they surprisingly generate excitement later in the year by way of top ten lists or second wave releases (Bluray, streamin, etc...)
Kung Fu Panda 3 (Animated Feature)
Both of the previous films about the round warrior "Po" (Jack Black) were nominated for Best Animated Feature. Will Dreamworks go 3 for 3 with this series? The reviews are right in line with those of the previous films but franchises often outstay their welcome when it comes to "Best of Year" accolades.
Deadpool (Visual FX, Makeup and Hairstyling)
Hail Caesar! (Original Song "No Dames" and Any Category, really)
The WWitch (Sound, Supporting, and Any Category, really)
Deadpool will surely surface for the Saturn Awards but good luck with the standard awards bodies considering that superhero films don't fare well even in VFX nominations... and Deadpool is a bit bargain bin aesthetically, however popular it may be with audiences. An extreme longshot but it will surely attempt Oscar recognition in both VFX and Makeup bakeoffs.
As for Hail, Caesar! and The VVitch, they're the most prestigious of the year's mainstream releases thus far by way of being from beloved filmmakers or inspiring critical fervor, respectively. But will any voters remember them or take them seriously enough given traditional resistance to comedy and horror? The first step in taking any film seriously is to actually watch it; conscientous voters should watch these two films.
April and the Extraordinary World (Animated Feature)
Batman v Superman (Visual FX)
Krisha (Best Actress)
Zootopia (Animated Feature)
Hello My Name is Doris (Best Actress)
Zootopia is by far your best bet for early bird Oscar glory given the outstanding reviews and audience love and Disney being a power player in the animated feature category. Can Sally Field's Doris generate good Golden Globe will? Will Krisha develop a following (it won the Cassavettes at the Spirit Awards for 2015 but the Spirit Awards have different eligibility rules -- festival showings sometimes count for them).
Of the two attempts at reviving the Superman franchise (Superman Returns in 2006 and Man of Steel in 2013) only Returns won Oscar favor (Visual FX nomination). Will Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice be ignored or embraced for its effects? It all depends on its future competition but it's worth noting that, for whatever reason, Batman is the favorite superhero of groups that traditionally resist superheroes. Batman films have won 3 Oscars from 15 nominations.
What will you hope for or count on from the first quarter?