Will ‘Boyhood’ and Other Early-Birds Stay Top of Mind?

Awards talk tends to focus on movies that debuted at fall festivals, from Venice through New York. But that raises a question: What happens to the BFFs — Before Festival Frenzy films?

In most years, they fall by the wayside: In 2013, for example, all nine best-picture contenders were fourth-quarter launches.

But this year, the prognosis looks good for a pair of early releases: IFC’s “Boyhood,” and Fox Searchlight’s “The Grand Budapest Hotel.”

Boyhood,” which opened in July, is one of the biggest critical favorites of 2014, receiving more attention from media members than films with 20 times its gross (and 50 times its budget). Can it go the distance this awards season? Definitely. The IFC film has three key assets: It’s from a respected but often underappreciated filmmaker (Richard Linklater); its backstory is unique (12 years in production); and, most crucial, it touches the heart and stays there.

The coming-of-age drama looks like a contender in multiple categories, including supporting nods for Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette, and recently led the Gotham Award nominations with four nods.

Sources tell Variety that IFC is eyeing a re-release in 2015. In the meantime, the distrib has been aggressively screening “Boyhood” at pre-nomination events around town and will continue doing so through awards season.

“Budapest,” meanwhile, also could have staying power. Six months ago, the film’s fans worried it might be too fun for awards. Now, that seems like an advantage: In a year of ultra-serious films, it’s the closest thing to a feel-good movie. It could replicate the 2011 success of “Midnight in Paris,” although that film had a slight edge in terms of buzz. One of its biggest assets is star Ralph Fiennes, who delivers a wonderful performance as hotel concierge M. Gustav. The only issue, of course, is vacancy in such a crowded race.

Having released “Budapest” on DVD in July, Fox Searchlight is reviving interest in Wes Anderson’s drama via screenings and Q&A’s, including some with Fiennes as well a few “exciting voter events” that the distributor is expected to reveal in the coming weeks.

“Boyhood,” which opened in July, will be available for digital purchase Dec. 9, then goes to Blu-ray Jan. 6. Of course, voters will receive screeners for both.

Conventional wisdom says early-year films have an uphill struggle. But conventional wisdom could very well be upended this year.

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