Taylor Sheridan‘s “Wind River” opened on August 4th to rave reviews (an 87% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes and a score of 73 on Metacritic), making it a sleeper contender at the Academy Awards. This Weinstein Company release stars Jeremy Renner as a small-town game tracker who teams with an FBI agent (Elizabeth Olsen) to investigate a murder that occurred on a Native American reservation. Sheridan earned his first Oscar nomination last year for his original script to David Mackenzie‘s “Hell or High Water,” and could find himself back in that race, as well as in Best Director.
Sheridan, who got his start as an actor (“Veronica Mars,” “Sons of Anarchy”), shifted into screenwriting with Denis Villeneuve‘s “Sicario,” which earned him a WGA bid. Much like “Hell or High Water,” which competed for Best Picture, “Wind River” is a tightly-wound thriller with deeper themes. While the former dealt with how the big banks ravage the little guy, the latter starkly looks at the high rate of Native American women whose murders go undocumented. If “Hell or High Water” could survive a late-summer release date and reap four Oscar noms (including Best Supporting Actor for Jeff Bridges and Best Film Editing), this can too.
Renner could return to the Best Actor race for the first time since “The Hurt Locker” in 2009 (he reaped a Supporting Actor bid for “The Town” in 2010). Olsen has been on the hunt for her first Oscar nom since “Martha Marcy May Marlene” (2011), which earned her a BFCA bid; with the Best Actress field still fairly open, this could be her best chance yet.
As far as supporting players go, former Oscar contender Graham Green (“Dances with Wolves”) may be competing as the sheriff aiding in the investigation. Watch out though for two actors who make big impressions in small roles: Gil Birmingham as a grieving father or Jon Bernthal as a protective boyfriend.
Below-the-line, editor Gary Roach could earn votes for keeping the suspense high throughout (he previously competed for Clint Eastwood‘s “American Sniper” in 2014). Cinematographer Ben Richardson, who shot “Beasts of the Southern Wild” (2012), may earn his first nom for his pictorial landscapes. And composers Nick Cave and Warren Ellis could contend as well for their haunting score.