Road to the Oscars

Lupita Nyong’o appears for 12 Years a Slave.

BESIDES INTRODUCING the world to indie treasures like Strictly Ballroom and Stand and Deliver, the Mill Valley Film Festival has a notable Midas touch for picking future Oscar wins. Five of the last six Best Pictures previously showed here, with directors and actors attending, and Variety recently called the festival “a strategic pit stop en route to the Academy Awards.” Indeed, 2013’s Oscar winner, 12 Years a Slave, drew prior festival representation here by director Steve McQueen and actors Chiwetel Ejiofor and Lupita Nyong’o, who won the best supporting actress prize. Here’s a look at the latest finds, in the festival’s famously noncompetitive showcase, that went on to win the industry’s most competitive contest of all.


Slumdog Millionaire, 2008. Also won for best cinematography, director (Danny Boyle), screenplay, editing, original score, sound mixing, song. A Mumbai slum boy aces India’s version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire — only to be arrested and skeptically interrogated for his trouble. Autobiographical flashbacks prove he didn’t cheat. Like its hero, a true sleeper hit, and it won eight Oscars — the most for any movie that year.

The King’s Speech, 2010. Also won for best actor (Colin Firth), director (Tom Hooper), screenplay (David Seidler). Historical drama about England’s stammering King George VI, who, thrust into the throne, engages a speech therapist (Geoffrey Rush) in order to orate in his new job. Major gig: radio declaration of war on Germany in 1939. Director Hooper appeared at MVFF that year.

The Artist, 2011. Also won for best director (Michel Hazanavicius), best actor (Jean Dujardin), original score, costume design. Silent film star meets ingénue dancer in this French comedy-drama; when the talkies arrive, their career paths diverge. First all-blackand- white Best Picture since The Apartment in 1960.

Argo, 2012. Also won for screenplay (Chris Terrio) and editing. Proving that truth is stranger than a Hollywood science- fiction film, Ben Affleck directed this real-life thriller about a CIA agent posing as location-scouting movie producer to rescue diplomats in the 1980 hostage crisis in Iran. Tense, even though we kind of know how it ends. Bryan Cranston appeared for the MVFF screening.

12 Years a Slave, 2013. Also for supporting actress (Lupita Nyong’o), screenplay (John Ridley). Wrenching drama based on a memoir by a free African-American man abducted into slavery in 1841. His ordeal puts him in the path of plantation owners, overseers and other troubled Southerners (Benedict Cumberbatch, Michael Fassbender, Paul Dano) before his eventual release.


Patrick Argast

Helen Mirren shares a laugh with Mark Fishkin. She later took home a Best Actress award for The Queen.

IN 2013 THE MILL VALLEY FILM FESTIVAL held a special tribute to Costa-Gavras, whose 1969 film Z rivaled the best anti-establishment films of its day, including Easy Rider and Midnight Cowboy. That’s fitting, since, as Variety noted, the Greek-born director of political (and Oscar-winning) thrillers is famous for “truly revolutionary” films. Marin’s cutting-edge festival has always proudly presented films that take the bigger worldview — embodied by its issues-oriented Valley of the Docs, World Cinema and Active Cinema programing categories, introduced respectively in 2000, 2001 and 2008. Those films, too, have won Oscars and brought high-profile stars to Marin, including Michael Moore. In a surprise guest appearance and Q&A after 2002’s Bowling for Columbine, Moore used a question from actor Ed Asner as an opportunity to thank him for being the only one to respond — with a check — to early funding pleas for Roger and Me. Here are the beyond-Hollywood Oscar winners screened at MVFF:


Cinema Paradiso, 1988

No Man’s Land, 2001

The Barbarian Invasions, 2003

Amour, 2012


Common Threads: Stories From the Quilt, 1989

Into the Arms of Strangers: Stories of the Kindertransport, 2000

Bowling for Columbine, 2002

Born Into Brothels: Calcutta’s Red Light Kids, 2004


Scores of other Mill Valley Film Festival selections later got Oscar nods, in one or more categories. Some of the best-known contenders:

  • Agnes of God, 1985 Matewan, 1987
  • The Accused, 1988
  • Longtime Companion, 1989
  • Reversal of Fortune, 1990
  • Short Cuts, 1993
  • The Piano, 1993
  • Heavenly Creatures, 1994
  • Red, 1994
  • Mighty Aphrodite, 1995
  • Breaking the Waves, 1996
  • Secrets and Lies, 1996
  • Shine, 1996
  • The Sweet Hereafter, 1997
  • The Wings of the Dove, 1997
  • Gods and Monsters, 1998
  • Little Voice, 1998
  • Pleasantville, 1998
  • Snow Falling on Cedars, 1999
  • Billy Elliot, 2000
  • Requiem for a Dream, 2000
  • You Can Count on Me, 2000
  • Amélie, 2001
  • In the Bedroom, 2001
  • Y Tu Mamá También, 2001
  • City of God, 2002
  • Frida, 2002
  • Spellbound, 2002
  • Girl With a Pearl Earring, 2003
  • In America, 2003
  • The Barbarian Invasions, 2003
  • Finding Neverland, 2004
  • Pride and Prejudice, 2005
  • Transamerica, 2005
  • Babel, 2006
  • The Queen, 2006
  • The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, 2007
  • Gone Baby Gone, 2007
  • I’m Not There, 2007
  • Into the Wild, 2007
  • Michael Clayton, 2007
  • Happy-Go-Lucky, 2008
  • Precious, 2009
  • Up in the Air, 2009
  • Blue Valentine, 2010
  • Margin Call, 2011
  • My Week With Marilyn, 2011
  • Life of Pi, 2012
  • Silver Linings Playbook, 2012
  • 12 Years a Slave, 2013
  • August: Osage County, 2013
  • Nebraska, 2013
  • Philomena, 2013