By David Poland email@example.com
20 Weeks To Oscar Special: London Film Festival & Oscar
I would argue, always, that world premiering a movie at a film festival with limited media access is a terrible idea if you are trying to get into the awards race—specifically Oscar—unless you figure out a way to embrace all of the awards press and mainstream media in the US at the same time or earlier.
Why? First, because by avoiding the mainstream festival circuit in early September (Venice/Telluride/Toronto), you are putting a target of presumed limitations on your film to start. In other words, if it is so good, why can’t it compete with the number of big movies at the big September festivals.
But that is a problem that can be overcome by a strong showing at New York in late September/early October or AFI in November. The New York Film Festival, in particular, has stepped up as a launching pad in the last two years, premiering 3 awards chasers in both of those two years, after having their first world premiere in quite a while with The Social Network in 2010. (In 2011, NYFF opened with Carnage, which was at Venice, but not at Toronto, and closed with The Descendants, which had launched at Telluride/Toronto.)
Second problem is, the media that cares about such things—whether they claim to or not—is then anticipating the first screenings of the film. So you drop it into London and then make American writers who are not in London via the handful of outlets that have UK correspondents, or are willing to pay a freelancer to review an important movie out of the country, wait a couple weeks. Until today, only three films had actually put American writers in this position… and all three were soft at the box office and in the awards game, in spite of being quite good.
Going back to NYFF for a moment, two of the three films premiering at NYFF this year chose to go the smart route and played their films pretty much at the same time for L.A. writers, avoiding any delay or bad feelings. The third was screened in NY and LA before and during the week of Toronto, also avoiding conflicts. Two of the three films got mixed reviews, but interestingly, there is not a lot of negative energy out there for the two mixed films. Any negativity was somewhat diffused.
Back to London, this is only the 11th London Film Festival to take place in October. Before that, it was in November and not a player of any kind in the award season. Moving to October gave the film festival an opportunity for world premieres that connect to the American award season that it really didn’t have before.
In 2008, Frost/Nixon opened the festival without screening in the U.S. and never quite recovered. Was this because of the London premiere? That seems silly. But it certainly one of the factors that took away from anticipation of the film in a crowded field where every edge counts.
(By the way… for those of you who are given to Harvey negativity overhype… that is his real secret… every stone turned… every idea worth trying tried. Lots of people work their asses off in this game and The Movie is The Movie is The Movie, but relentlessness is a powerful thing.)
In 2009, Fantastic Mr. Fox opened the festival, but Fox Searchlight took the opportunity to junket the film in London, bring a lot of press overseas, and to stay ahead of the negativity. Closing the festival that year was Nowhere Boy, a movie I quite like, which never got off the ground in the U.S., even though its star and director have both been hot commodities since.
No World Premiere until 2012, when Newell’s Great Expectations closed London and never really opened in the U.S.
And now, Saving Mr. Banks.
Everything in the anticipation of award season suggests that this film will break the curse of awards movies premiering at London and not even getting nominated. Maybe such things just don’t really matter anymore. Maybe Tom Hanks and the joyous return of Emma Thompson to a movie lead, and Disney in every way helps this title rise above those that have crashed and burned (surprisingly and not) in the past.
Pretty much positive reviews from both trades (which I didn’t read enough to do anything but ascertain whether the reviews were positive or negative for the purposes of this piece). Presumably positive stuff from others (whose reviews mean even less). And now, two and a half weeks of waiting until a real consensus can begin to exist.
The subtext here is that while people will get irritated by being forced to wait, causing some negativity where none was needed, there is a worse problem…
Problem Three: Will anyone care in 2.5 weeks? Has the balloon stayed inflated, not being burst by London reviews, but not rising in importance in this period either? Ambivalence is the only award season killer as deadly as hatred/discomfort.
In the end, if Disney effectively plays to Academy members, nothing that happens in the press will matter. That is another advantage of launching late in the season. You don’t have to feed the maw for month after month. But if people aren’t getting buzz from London that makes them really excited about seeing Saving Mr. Banks right NOW… well, the movie has lost. In this case, the loss may be incremental. But so are the margins in Academy nomination voting.
(The full list of London openers and closers since 2003, from the BFI, after the jump)
Opening: In the Cut (Jane Campion)
Closing: Sylvia (Christine Jeffs)
Opening: Vera Drake (Mike Leigh)
Closing: I Heart Huckabees (David O. Russell)
Opening: The Constant Gardener (Fernando Meirelles)
Closing: Good Night, and Good Luck (George Clooney)
Opening: The Last King of Scotland (Kevin Macdonald)
Closing: Babel (Alejandro González Iñárritu)
Opening: Eastern Promises (David Cronenberg)
Closing: The Darjeeling Limited (Wes Anderson)
Opening: Frost/Nixon (Ron Howard)
Closing: Slumdog Millionaire (Danny Boyle)
Opening: Fantastic Mr Fox (Wes Anderson)
Closing: Nowhere Boy (Sam Taylor-Wood)
Opening: Never Let Me Go (Mark Romanek)
Closing: 127 Hours (Danny Boyle)
Opening: 360 (Fernando Meirelles)
Closing: The Deep Blue Sea (Terence Davies)
Opening: Frankenweenie 3D (Tim Burton)
Closing: Great Expectations (Mike Newell) (played Rio first)
Opening: Captain Phillips (Paul Greengrass)
Closing: Saving Mr. Banks (John Lee Hancock)