By David Poland

19 Weeks To Go

20 Weeks To Oscar
It’s a commercial movie… it’s an Oscar movie… it’s both a commercial movie and an Oscar movie.
It’s been niche theme week at The Hot Button and the discussion extends here today, as the business of chasing Oscars has become a very distinct niche in recent years. The Lord of the Rings films did not choose December so they could chase the Academy Awards. And the phenomenon of the Rings was powerful enough to break almost every rule of Academy nomination forecasting.
Harvey Weinstein, aka The Master, has played the game with skill and absolutely no hesitation. Last year, The Aviator producer Graham King bet on Weinstein’s skills to get his movie nominated and it worked, even as the old Miramax team positioned Finding Neverland early and often, getting a mediocre movie seven nominations.
Sideways changed strategies mid-release and slowed itself down for almost three months before going all in with a big TV budget and wide release in January after getting Oscar nominations.
Ray launched out of the Toronto Film Festival, released in October, and rode show pony Jamie Foxx all the way to a come-from-behind Oscar nomination.
And Million Dollar Baby slingshotted from a next-year release to a contender to a front runner in less than two weeks in early December, parlaying the whole thing into a $100 million-plus gross.
The year before, the only film not using a classic Oscar strategy was Focus’ Lost In Translation, which took off beyond expectations in Toronto and reverberated all season. But there was the Big Serious Summer Movie in Seabiscuit and The Irresistible Force of The Rings. And Clint Eastwood had a very specific plan for Mystic River as well, skipping Toronto in favor of The New York Film Festival after premiering quietly at Cannes and really holding back on screenings all summer long.
Eastwood is an odd-on favorite for next year already for his double feature of Iwo Jima movies. Another year, another winning strategy.
In the 2002/3 season, all four nominees were released in December. But that was before the Oscar date change that shortened the season dramatically.
But in the same way that actors rarely get nominated without asking for it, movies seem less and less likely to be nominated unless they offer a clear signal that they are looking for an Oscar.
This year, there are already some premature casualties. Recovery is possible. But it’s not terribly likely.
Cinderella Man was marked as a box office flop by its own studio in a New York Times story.
The Constant Gardener was not only released in late August… a release period with absolutely no nominations of any kind in recent years… but it also was sold as a thriller, allowing the romantic side of the film, which is really why it is Oscar worthy, to be lost in the minds of many who saw and didn’t see the film. Instead of Casablanca, it was sold as an African thriller. The business decision to release the film in a period otherwise devoid of adult-themed movies worked to the tune of $35 million. But does it offer a seat at the Oscar table?
A History of Violence went after the thriller market in October. It’s hovering in the low 20s right now and will probably crack $30 million. But is it enough to overcome the thriller sell of this complex intellectual picture? How influenced were some to dismiss is as a knockoff of a graphic novel (eeewww!) by the thriller sell? How much did critics think the film was predictable based on ads that gave away the second act turn?
Just last week, Fox moved The Family Stone from early November to December 16, where it will compete with King Kong. Why? There have been many reasons offered and perhaps the most valid of them is that the studio simply did not get the kind of traction a movie that has gotten such a positive reaction deserved for a November release. But there is also this… HFPA announces the Golden Globe nominations on December 13… BFCA nominates a few days earlier. Fox clearly expects kudos from both groups which can be used to sell the movie through the insanely busy December season. And that’s the rule of thumb, if Family Stone can get past $40 million before Oscar nominations go in, it has its best shot of getting nominations there.
Can the slow opening, low grossing Capote and Good Night, And Good Luck make the run all the way to Oscar nominations? We’ll see.
Studios have figured out that if their fortune is in Oscar gold, eliminating the box office element from the equation by waiting for December to release their films – even while screening all fall – is a solid strategy. Critics and hacks can be controlled more easily than people who have to come to the theater to buy tickets.
$20 million before nominations seems to be the bottom number for a film to find its way into the group of nominees, unless you are one of those movies that really drags its heels though December and well into January. That alone brings the legitimate candidates down to about 100 films. And many of those are not remotely realistic.
Of course, the best strategy is to have a great movie that people want to see and which people take seriously.
Good luck.

2 Responses to “19 Weeks To Go”

  1. Bruce says:

    I don’t think anyone was thinking Lord of the Rings for Oscar gold when those release dates were announced.

  2. James says:

    What about Hustle & Flow, do you like its chances?

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“Well, actually, of that whole group that I call the post-60s anti-authority auteurs, a lot of them came from television. Peckinpah’s the only one whose television work represents his feature work. I mean, like the only one. Mark Rydell can direct a really good episode of ‘Gunsmoke’ and Michael Ritchie can direct a really good episode of ‘The Big Valley,’ but they don’t necessarily look like The Candidate. But Peckinpah’s stuff, even the scripts he wrote that he didn’t even direct, have a Peckinpah feel – the way I think there’s a Corbucci West – suggest a Peckinpah West. That even in his random episodes that he wrote for ‘Gunsmoke’ – it’s right there.”
~ Quentin Tarantino

“The thought is interrupted by an odd interlude. We are speaking in the side room of Casita, a swish and fairly busy Italian bistro in Aoyama – a district of Tokyo usually so replete with celebrities that they spark minimal fuss. Kojima’s fame, however, exceeds normal limits and adoring staff have worked out who their guest is. He stops mid-sentence and points up towards the speakers, delighted. The soft jazz that had been playing discreetly across the restaurant’s dark, hardwood interior has suddenly been replaced with the theme music from some of Kojima’s hit games. Harry Gregson-Williams’ music is sublime in its context but ‘Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots’ is not, Kojima acknowledges, terribly restauranty. He pauses, adjusting a pair of large, blue-framed glasses of his own design, and returns to the way in which games have not only influenced films, but have also changed the way in which people watch them. “There are stories being told [in cinema] that my generation may find surprising but which the gamer generation doesn’t find weird at all,” he says.
~ Hideo Kojima