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The Amazing Race: Is Hiding Your Films Until Dec, The New Anti-Film Festival Circuit Buzz Builder?

by Oliver Lyttelton
August 29, 2011 3:02 AM
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Plus Why 'Apes' Actor Andy Serkis Has No Shot At Oscar & Why 'The Help' Is Not A Lock

Summer is fading away, and we're gearing up for festival season right now: we're packing our bags for Venice, Telluride, Toronto and New York as we speak. And the inevitable consequence of the films that will be making their debuts means that the awards season will start to crystallize a little more. Up to now, most of the films have been under wraps, but we'll soon find out if heavy hitters like "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy," "The Descendants" and "My Week With Marilyn" will continue to figure into the conversation. But all that is for another time. What interests us this week is those films which won't hit the festivals at all, and won't be seen until the very end of the year.

Maintaining your momentum, particularly when you've been appointed the front-runner, is a tricky thing. Almost six months pass between a film's debut at, say Telluride, and the Academy Award ceremony in February. Last year, "The King's Speech" managed it, thanks no doubt to its underdog status and a Thanksgiving release, while "The Social Network" was an early front-runner, but hit theaters early in October, and couldn't keep the heat up all the way. Perhaps more importantly, last year saw Paramount hold two of their big films, "The Fighter" and "True Grit" from festivals, and releasing them in December, and got a fistful of nominations, and huge box office totals between them.

And they seem to be continuing their technique this year. "Young Adult," from director Jason Reitman -- whose last two films, "Juno" and "Up in the Air," both took the route from Telluride and Toronto -- will skip the fest circuit entirely to go straight into theaters in December. There are likely a couple reasons for this. Firstly, "Up In The Air" was tipped as a huge front-runner but couldn't maintain its momentum with fatigue setting in far before the Oscar broadcast and secondly, unlike Reitman's previous efforts, "Young Adult" is a decidedly darker, less crowd-pleasing affair and Paramount will likely want to focus on getting the message right themselves rather than leave the reaction in the hands of festival audiences. Meanwhile, Warner Bros.' "J. Edgar" is skipping Clint Eastwood's usual NYFF haunting grounds and keeping fingers crossed that it'll pick up good notices on its November 9th release.

And to be honest, all the really big hitters -- films like "War Horse" and "Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close" -- are being kept under wraps until November and December. But, it's not that movies can't use the festival route productively. "The Artist" used Cannes as a launchpad, and is now using the "The King's Speech" route, hitting every festival it can -- an essential move, considering its lack of names, unfamiliar director and the little-film-that-could status that the Weinsteins would like to bestow on it. Fox Searchlight are going old school with "The Descendants," the same tactic that they used on Alexander Payne's last film "Sideways:" Telluride (almost certainly), then Toronto and NYFF. But both movies won't go into limited release until the end of November, leaving George Clooney's "The Ides of March" -- which premieres in Venice -- as the sole real contender to hit theaters first in October (and our gut says that the film, regardless of quality, is too modest in scope to be a true Best Picture candidate; we'll find out next week).

But it seems like, this year at least, the concept of a first-quarter release like "The Silence of the Lambs" or "Erin Brockovich" getting big awards love is an unlikely one. There's an inherent bias against anything that doesn't hit in the fall, regardless of quality: while there's no way of proving it, we'd bet good money that, had Focus held "Jane Eyre" for the fall, it could have been a contender. Instead, it's destined for ''most overlooked' lists, but little beyond that. Aside from "Midnight In Paris," even summer releases look unlikely to make the Kodak Theater this year, a definitely change from 2010 which saw Best Picture nominations for "Toy Story 3," "Inception" and "The Kids Are All Right."

Of late, awards-watchers have, for lack of anything else to talk about, started floating the possibility that one of the two August surprise hits might find their way to the Kodak. The idea of a nomination for Andy Serkis' performance-capture turn in "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" has already gone viral, with some even suggesting that the film might follow in the footsteps of "District 9" and sneak a Best Picture nomination. Meanwhile, "The Help" is on its way to becoming a true box-office phenomenon, and with generally positive reviews and Oscar-friendly subject matter, it's certainly entered the conversation.

But the thing is, we're not sure either will manage it. Partly it's because of the big rule-change: in a year with ten nominees, it might have happened, but we cant see either picking up a lot of first choice votes. Partly, it's that time gap: they might have control of the narrative now, in the dead of summer, but it'll be difficult to sustain in the face of so much late breaking competition. They also have individual problems. Unless Fox are able to educate the actor's branch in a way that didn't work on "Lord of the Rings" or "King Kong," Serkis doesn't have a chance: many actors are still afraid of the CG-happy technique, and in the face of, say, a human turn like Christopher Plummer in "Beginners," they're not going to give it more than an effects award (which the film is close to a lock for).

As for "The Help," for one thing, it doesn't have that much critical love on its side. Its likely to be popular with older Academy voters, but films like "War Horse" and "The Artist" will be more fresh in the mind, and its thunder could be stolen (crucially, Disney/DreamWorks are behind both Tate Taylor's film and Steven Spielberg's, and we know who they'd rather keep happy...) . Furthermore, Academy membership is gradually becoming younger and hipper, relatively speaking, and the make-up is no longer the same that brought "Driving Miss Daisy" to a Best Picture win, although let's not forget "The Blind Side" got in a couple of years ago, albeit in a field of ten. The tricky racial issues have already been raised in a few dozen articles, and the more the film looks like a threat, the more they'll be brought back. It's not that "The Help" won't have a presence on Oscar night: Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer should both be big players, and it's likely they'll race in Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress categories respectively.

Next time we talk, we'll be fresh from Venice and Telluride so some of the big question marks will have been filled in, so we're going to hold off on our next chart until then.

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  • Proman | August 30, 2011 3:37 AMReply

    Mary, the problem with people like you is that you are anable to assess the situation objectively and without exxagerations. You comment is so wrongheaded it is painful to read. Let me break it down:

    "I feel that “The Help” have HUGE chance to win the Best Picture award at Oscar, just like what happened to “Crash” (which also didn’t have very strong critical support) ...."

    What that you don't understand that Disney should have no problem trying to push both pictures through the first round of voting. Indie labels do it all the time(!!!). Another thing everyone seems to forget is that DreamWorks made "The Help" and that Spielberg certainly wouldn't mind it doing well, without any it being any real competion. I also think that Spielberg will push for "Tintin" will get a Best Picture nod. The more the marrier.

    And don't pretend that "Crash" wasn't well reviewed. Plnety of important critics liked it and the majority approved of it. Sadly, this great film received a lot of flack from a relative moronity.

    "Steven Spielberg and DreamWorks should had learned their lesson from “Amistad” (almost no one at DreamWorks believed in “Amistad” except Spielberg); they will give more support to the film which has more chance to win the Best Picture award at Oscar."

    What lessons? And from who, you? Spielberg directed more Best Picture nominees than any other director out there. Amistad is a multi-Oscar nominated, PGA (Best Picture), DGA (Best Director) and SAG nominee. It certainly got plenty of Awards attention that year. And it is absoultely masterful. Have you even seen the film????

    Never mind the fact that you haven't even seen "War Horse". I'd say Spielberg will do just fine without your "advice".

  • Maxim | August 30, 2011 3:27 AMReply

    The Academy membership may be becoming younger but I resent and find tottally wrongheaded to say that's it automatically becoming "hipper". At least in the absolute sense.

  • mary | August 29, 2011 7:02 AMReply

    I feel that “The Help” have HUGE chance to win the Best Picture award at Oscar, just like what happened to “Crash” (which also didn't have very strong critical support) ....

    Steven Spielberg and DreamWorks should had learned their lesson from "Amistad" (almost no one at DreamWorks believed in "Amistad" except Spielberg); they will give more support to the film which has more chance to win the Best Picture award at Oscar.

  • cirkusfolk | August 29, 2011 6:46 AMReply

    Have people already forgotten Tom McCarthy's Win Win? I don't understand all this buzz for Midnight in Paris when the real gem already released this year was that film. It has a higher score of RT (94%) and lets not forget starst critic's darling, Paul Giammati. Yes it is slight. but not anymore than The Visitor which I think it is better than.

  • shark | August 29, 2011 5:45 AMReply

    The early year film most likely to receive nominations is Rango. It's at this point the prohibitive favorite for the Animated Feature Oscar, and I can easily see it getting into several technicals (IT DAMN WELL FUCKING DESERVES TO), especially Score, which has Hans Zimmer at the best he's been in maybe ten years. I think people will appreciate the risks Rango took, the use of CGI in a more artistic and stylized way.

  • Koto | August 29, 2011 4:48 AMReply

    I just hope "Ashes"(it has great cast. will be released this year.I'm sure it will be strong Oscar contender at least for acting categories.

    Good news for “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,” .Probably it's not crowd pleasure type of film,but Empire magazine gave 5star review to TTSS.And it has new date now.

    [i]A five-star rave of Tomas Alfredson's Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, written by Empire's Angle Errigo, hasn't been posted on the Empire website. But it's been scanned and posted by Romangirl88. Sum-up verdict: "Utterly absorbing, extremely smart and -- considering this is a sad, shabby, drably gray-green world of obsessives, misfits, misdirection, disillusionment, self-delusion and treachery -- quite beautifully executed."[/i]

    [i]I have just learned Focus has switched its stateside debut from the previously announced date of Nov. 18 to the heart of the holiday (and Oscar) season Dec. 9.[/i]

    >“The Ides of March”—which premieres in Venice—as the sole real contender to hit theaters first in October (and our gut says that the film, regardless of quality, is too modest in scope to be a true Best Picture candidate; we’ll find out next week).

    Unfortunately I also heard the early word for the film are not great...

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