'By The Sea' Seeks Oscar Nom With AFI Fest Place

by Katherine Cusumano

Los Angeles's premiere film festival, the AFI Fest, has long been an indicator of Oscar potential. Situated just before the close of Oscar submissions, the festival gauges reception and gives films a forum for exposure — and this year, the AFI Fest will open with By the Sea, the new Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt feature. Opening night will be November 5, and the festival will conclude November 12. The closing night feature has not yet been announced.

By the Sea marks the first time Pitt and Jolie have starred in a movie together since Mr. and Mrs. Smith that brought them together. It's also a rare and welcome occasion in which a woman directs her husband in a film, rather than the reverse scenario. Jolie's third appearance as a director (the first two being In the Land of Blood and Honey and Unbroken, neither with the potential of By the Sea) could prove to be her best yet — the opening and closing films of the AFI Fest have a particularly strong history of earning Oscar nods, if not winning the prizes outright. We’ve gone back through the past 10 years of AFI opening and closing gala features to predict how the film might fare with awards season rapidly approaching.

2005: Walk the Line / Casanova

Johnny Cash biopic Walk the Line opened the 2005 festival, while Heath Ledger's Casanova closed the lineup. Casanova was pretty widely panned, but Reese Witherspoon walked away with a Best Supporting Actress award the following year

2006: Bobby / Curse of the Golden Flower

Closing night film Curse of the Golden Flower was China's selection for entry to the Academy Awards that year, but it failed to receive the nomination. Similarly, Bobby Kennedy biopic Bobby was nominated for a handful of Golden Globes but failed to make the Oscar cut.

2007: Lions for Lambs / Love in the Time of Cholera

Robert Redford directed Lions for Lambs, a war drama that is one of Meryl Streep's very few missteps. Closing night selection Love in the Time of Cholera fared poorly among critics, though its Shakira song was nominated for an Oscar.

2008: Doubt / Defiance

2008's AFI Fest was rife with drama — shortly before the festival was set to bow, The Soloist backed out of the opening night slot. So much the better for the festival, because it obtained the incredible Philip Seymour Hoffman film Doubt in its place, a film that earned five Oscar nominations. The film closed with war epic Defiance, which received an Oscar nomination for Best Original Score, but Doubt easily overshadowed it.

2009: Fantastic Mr. Fox / A Single Man

Wes Anderson's foray into animation, Fantastic Mr. Fox, opened the AFI Festival in 2009. Unfortunately, the film competed against Up in awards the following year, and everyone knows that you can't hold a candle to Up. A Single Man, the dark comedy starring Julianne Moore and Colin Firth, earned First a Best Actor nomination, though he didn't quite pull that one out either.

2010: Love & Other Drugs / Black Swan

Romantic comedy Love & Other Drugs wasn't exactly prime Oscar bait (unlike AFI Fest openers of the past), but it still managed to receive a Golden Globe nomination for both Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway. In contrast, Black Swan was one of the biggest films of that awards season, coming away with an Oscar for Natalie Portman and four other nominations.

2011: J. Edgar / The Adventures of Tintin

Clint Eastwood directed and scored the FBI godfather J. Edgar Hoover's biopic J. Edgar, which starred Leonardo DiCaprio, Naomi Watts, Judi Dench, and Ed Westwick — Oscar bait if I've ever heard it. Yet the film failed to receive any nominations. Closing night film The Adventures of Tintin didn't do a whole lot better: It got a single Oscar nomination, though it was the first non-Pixar film to win the Golden Globe for animated feature, according to Variety.

2012: Hitchcock / Lincoln

In 2012, though both opening and closing films at the AFI Fest were biopics, it was the closer that was truly surrounded by Oscar buzz. Between Lincoln's all-star cast of Daniel Day Lewis, Sally Field, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Tommy Lee Jones, its impressive foundations in the book Team of Rivals, and its high-powered production team helmed by Steven Spielberg, it's no wonder Lincoln came away with 12 Oscar nominations. It came away with two prizes, including Best Actor for Daniel Day Lewis as Lincoln himself.

2013: Saving Mr. Banks / Inside Llewyn Davis

Drama in the year 2013: Though the buzz around Saving Mr. Banks, the Mary Poppins period piece, seemed certain it would earn the Best Picture prize, it was not even nominated. Its closing-night counterpart, the Coen brothers' Inside Llewyn Davis, starring Oscar Isaac, has a 94% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and only earned two nominations, so it was a tough year.

2014: A Most Violent Year / Foxcatcher

Oscar Isaac was back at AFI Fest in 2014 with A Most Violent Year on the opening night. Again, no Oscar nominations for Isaac (but how wonderful will it be when he finally earns the award with which he shares a name?) — but Foxcatcher, the closing night film, earned five nominations (still, winning none of the prizes).

A prime spot at the beginning or end of the AFI Fest by no means indicates that a film will win a prize, but it's certainly a sign of potential. The opening and closing nights of the festival are red carpet events, giving it the aura of a trial run for the bigger events to come. Though By the Sea is still untested, its selection to the AFI Fest definitely means that it has a chance at even more prestigious accolades next year.

Image: Universal Pictures