Oscars: Specialty Distributor Fox Searchlight Beats Out the Big Studios

Steve Gilula and Nancy Utley - H 2014
AP Images

Steve Gilula and Nancy Utley - H 2014

Sony Pictures Classics is close behind.

It was a big morning for the little guys — or at least the specialty film distributors that are usually overshadowed at the box office by the big studios. The tables were turned, though, as the Academy announced its nominations for the 87th Oscars. Fox Searchlight, Fox’s specialty film division, led the list of victorious distributors with 20 nominations, while Sony Pictures Classics, Sony’s specialty arm, was close behind with 18.

Searchlight, led by co-presidents Stephen Gilula and Nancy Utley, triumphed with the two biggest contenders, Birdman and The Grand Budapest Hotel, which each collected nine nominations. And the distributor topped that off with two acting nominations that went Wild. While Alejandro G. Inarritu’s Birdman has been considered one of the season’s top awards players ever since it debuted in Venice and then went on to play Telluride, Wes Anderson’s Budapest has steadily crept up on its competitors. Budapest, which has grossed $175 million worldwide to become Anderson’s biggest hit, was released way back on March 6 — earlier in the year than any of this year’s other best picture contenders — but it hung in there to overshadow more recent arrivals. Birdman, which didn’t hit theaters until Oct. 6, has grossed $34 million so far.

Sony Pictures Classics, meanwhile, also can boast of three films with multiple nominations — best picture nominee Whiplash with five, Foxcatcher with five and Mr. Turner with four. SPC, headed by Michael Barker and Tom Bernard, amassed another four nominations that include Julianne Moore’s best actress nomination for Still Alice, the best feature documentary nom for The Salt of the Earth and foreign-language film nominees Leviathan, from Russia, and Wild Tales, from Argentina.

Among the studios, Warner Bros. posted the strongest showing. It has one best picture nominee in Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper, which attracted six nominations, including a best actor nom for Bradley Cooper. It picked up two more for Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice, and also got single noms for The Lego Movie, The Judge and The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. Paramount ranked second among studios with a combined seven nominations — five for Interstellar and two for Selma, one of which is for best picture.

Perennial awards powerhouse The Weinstein Co. corralled a collective 10 noms, including its best documentary nominations for Laura PoitrasCitizenfour, which is being distributed by its Radius-TWC label. Most of TWC’s noms came from the The Imitation Game, which, with eight nominations, was second only to Birdman and Budapest. And it found another nomination in the song category for the tune “Lost Stars” from the film Begin Again.

IFC Films — thanks to its six nominations for Boyhood — also enjoyed a strong showing. It had a combined eight nominations, which included Marion Cotillard’s best actress nom for Two Days, One Night and a documentary nomination for Finding Vivian Maier, two films that are being distributed by IFC’s Sundance Selects label.

Focus Features pulled in a total of six noms — five for The Theory of Everything and one for The Boxtrolls. Disney had five from a group of films that included The Guardians of the Galaxy, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Maleficent and Big Hero 6. Fox got four, with single noms each going to Gone Girl, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, X-Men: Days of Future Past and How to Train Your Dragon 2. And Universal had three, all for Unbroken.

The indie distributor Music Box can point to two noms for the Polish film Ida. And Netflix, which entered the Oscar jousting for the first time last year with the documentary The Square, is back in the documentary race again this year with the film Virunga.