In the pantheon of film festivals, the AFI Fest ranks a few notches below Cannes and Sundance in the public’s imagination. As an incubator for awards season buzz, however, the fest has had a bigger impact than its reputation would suggest.
In 2012, the AFI Fest hosted screenings of Life of Pi, Silver Linings Playbook, Lincoln, The Impossible, Amour, and, in a secret screening, Skyfall, each of which ended up being nominated for an Oscar (with Life of Pi, Lincoln, and Skyfall each taking home multiple statuettes). Plus, four of the five films nominated for Best Foreign Film (Amour, Kon-Tiki, A Royal Affair, and War Witch) were shown at the fest.
The 2011 fest wasn’t quite as jam-packed with future Oscar winners, but it still sported a pretty decorated lineup that included eventual Best Picture winner The Artist along with nominees My Week with Marylin and Pina and three of the five Best Foreign Film hopefuls (A Seperation, which won, along with Bullhead and Footnote). On the other hand, the 2010 lineup was a veritable murderer’s row of films that garnered Oscar noms, including The King’s Speech, Black Swan, Rabbit Hole, Blue Valentine, and The Fighter.
Of course, not every AFI Fest selection goes on to earn awards season glory; for every Life of Pi, there are films like J Edgar, Love and Other Drugs and Hitchcock that earn polite reviews but no hardware. It will be interesting to see how this year’s lineup fares come Oscar season; we wouldn’t be surprised if Idris Elba or Christian Bale get Best Actor noms for Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom and Out of the Furnace, respectively. Or if Meryl Streep or Judi Dench get Best Actress nods for August: Osage County and Philomena. Or if Bruce Dern is up for Best Supporting Actor for his turn in Nebraska. Or if Spike Jonze gets a Best Screenplay Oscar for Her.