Movies are dropping like flies from the Oscar season this year. Or rather, that seems to be the conventional wisdom out there as a handful of pictures have moved out of the awards season, switched dates or been punted into 2014. And you’ve heard time and time again that it’s a crowded season this fall and winter. And it is, but it’s really no more crowded than any other year—this prestige season is always busy and there are always casualties and movement. Sure, the Oscar landscape is changing, but there’s been seismic shifts under our feet. George Clooney’s “Monuments Men” is now landing in February, what everyone thought was a surefire Oscar nominee in “Foxcatcher,” has moved to unknown lands in 2014 and several other pictures thought to be 2013 Academy contenders have also adjusted plans.
So, what’s going on exactly? We thought we’d look at all the “pushed, failed, dropped-out, etc.” movies and parse the reasons behind some of these decisions. So, pull out your pencils and paper and keep score along with us ...
The writing was on the wall for this one for a while, and we don’t necessarily mean that pejoratively. “Monuments Men” originally had a very Oscar-friendly release date of December 18th. The George Clooney-directed film is based on a true story, and gathers up Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin, Bob Balaban, Hugh Bonneville, and Cate Blanchett (along with himself) to tell the true story of a daring Allied plan to rescue art looted by the Nazis. It’s a hell of a cast and Clooney has already successfully directed awards prestige pictures like "Good Night, and Good Luck" and "The Ides of March" that went on to lots of acclaim, nominations and awards. Feels like a no brainer, right? But early trailers evinced that “Monuments Men” looked more akin to Clooney’s “Leatherheads” than Oscar-bait drama. He himself hinted for months that the movie was lighter on its feet than many assumed and the trailers echoed the sentiment. And Clooney was falling behind to finish on time, what’s a studio to do?
Well, if you have the more awards-friendly “American Hustle” on the way that seems more of an Oscar-shoo-in, why not just do the logical thing and maximize your airtime? And thus, Sony moved “Monuments Men” to February 7, 2014 so ‘Hustle’ can get its proper Oscar-campaign breathing space (it has been moved up to December 18th, getting out of the way of "The Wolf Of Wall Street") and Clooney’s picture can find new life outside the awards season ... While there were whispers of tone issues, Clooney quickly squashed that talk down last night.
In fact, repositioning “Monuments Men” is a canny move, one that mimics Paramount’s maneuvering with “Shutter Island” in 2010. That movie was bumped out of the 2009 Oscar season because it wasn’t deemed to be an awards-friendly entry (the studio was correct in their assessment), and the genre picture was released in February 2010 instead. And with almost no competition facing it, the movie earned $294 million worldwide—a fantastic number and Scorsese’s highest grossing film to date worldwide. “I don’t know how many movies are opening, but it’s got to be the toughest December in recent memory for box office,” Clooney told Deadline last evening. “We said, where’s another good place to land? And we looked at February and the ‘Shutter Island’ slot.” Smart play.
The story of Olympic Wrestling Champion Mark Schultz and how the relationship with his paranoid schizophrenic coach, the eccentric John du Pont, heir to the du Pont Chemical fortune, led to murder looks like a winner on paper. Especially when directed by Bennett Miller who has been at the awards table already with “Capote” and “Moneyball." And with Steve Carell in the lead in one of his first dark dramatic roles, with Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo in support, plus that teaser trailer that leaked earlier in the year looked utterly chilling and totally terrific, “Foxcatcher” smelled like Oscar-bait from minute one. But Sony Pictures Classics quickly punted the movie in 2014 shortly after it hit. Why?
Well, it wasn’t quality or the reception to the trailer which was overwhelmingly positive. Rumors had started that Miller was not going to be ready with the movie even before the announcement of its since canceled AFI Film Fest premiere in November. There could be numerous reasons for the delay, but assuming they're negative isn’t really fair to the filmmaking process. Carefully created movies need time to craft the absolutely correct tone with editing, score and more. (Look at Spike Jonze who completely overhauled “Her” with a new voice actor because the movie wasn’t hitting its marks.) Sony Pictures Classics can now focus on “Blue Jasmine” and “Before Midnight,” the former of which is a shoo-in for Best Actress and Original Screenplay, the latter probably just gunning for the screenplay category (though we’d love to see Julie Delpy earn a supporting nomination, we kinda doubt it will happen). So when does “Foxcatcher” come out? Let’s face it, the date will be the final proof. If it’s held for an entire year until the 2014 Oscar race, SPC has all the confidence in the world. If not, then perhaps it’s got problems.
“Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit”
The answer to this one is pretty simple and straightforward. Paramount’s rebooted Jack Ryan prequel “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” could either be a tentpole December smash a la “Mission: Impossible 5” or a weaker also-ran like “Jack Reacher." It's still a bit of gamble, and doesn't boast the star power of Tom Cruise, so getting it out of a busy December, to a less crowded early 2014 can only help the movie.
However, Paramount’s true concern is Martin Scorsese’s “The Wolf Of Wall Street” which despite rumblings to the contrary, will be ready in time for a Christmas Day release (a month later than previously planned). Paramount doesn’t want two wide releases going out on the same day because that puts a strain on their marketing team, so better to bump ‘Shadow Recruit’ into 2014. Additionally, it'll allow the studio to go full throttle on 'Wall Street' to make sure it's both a box office hit, while they also work the circuit hoping for an Oscar payoff too. (Paramount’s “Labor Day” does come out on Christmas Day, but it’s a limited release and the company probably realizes that due to mediocre reviews it’s not going to be a huge Oscar contender so no harm, no foul.)
But, even with more breathing room, a newly announced January 17, 2014 date for ‘Shadow Recruit’ doesn’t bode well for the quality of this Kenneth Branagh-directed, Chris Pine-starring reboot. Think about it, if ‘Jack Ryan’ is that good, it can be rolled out at any time, perhaps March, the early pre-tentpole season or summer itself. One can argue Paramount’s schedule is mostly fixed for 2014 and January is open season for them to rake in the dough against weaker horror fare and the other crud that typically gets released in January, but if a movie is really good, a studio will want to maximize profits, not conveniently fill an empty spot on the calendar.