By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood January 17, 2014 at 12:09PM
As sometimes happens, this year the calendar smashed together Oscar nominations and the 30th Sundance Film Festival. Thus Robert Redford got up early to find out that he did not land a Best Actor nomination for "All is Lost." And the Sundance founder expressed his unhappiness with distributor Roadside Attractions' marketing campaign at his opening day Film Festival press conference. "We suffered from little to no distribution," he said. "I don't know what they were afraid of. They didn't want to spend money or they were incapable...We had no campaign to cross over into the mainstream."
When MovieCityNews' Gurus 'O Gold weighed in before the nominations, most of them suspected Redford might not win a nod. On one level Redford is right. While in the past Roadside has mounted effective indie campaigns for Jennifer Lawrence in "Winter's Bone" and Javier Bardem in "Biutiful" without spending too much money, both of those films, while equally well-reviewed, were able to grab media attention and Oscar nods.
In this case, Best Actor was a far more competitive category. Tom Hanks didn't get in either, for the best performance of his career in "Captain Phillips." And while press-shy Redford made himself far more available than is his wont--traveling to Cannes, Telluride and New York--he didn't do enough campaigning to compete with the full-court Sony and Paramount press for late-breaking Christian Bale ("American Hustle") and Leonardo DiCaprio ("The Wolf of Wall Street"). They stole Hanks' and Redford's thunder, with brand-new buzzy movies hitting theaters over the holidays.
Roadside couldn't change what "All is Lost" was--even Redford admitted early on that he wasn't sure audiences would go for it. Well, they didn't. (More on "All is Lost"'s box office trajectory to come.) "All is Lost" is an innovative well-made low-budget survival thriller that didn't play well on screeners; there was no dialogue; and people were reluctant to take the harrowing man at sea journey. It just didn't catch fire with Academy voters. When Redford didn't land a SAG nomination that was telling. Writer-director J.C. Chandor, at least, was chatting happily with Roadside's Eric d'Arbeloff at the Indie Spirits brunch last weekend.
I approached Howard Cohen at the Eccles Theatre in Park City opening night, which was packed with talent (Rory Kennedy, Mark Ruffalo, Lucy Walker and Katie Couric) press (Scott Foundas, Ty Burr and Amy Taubin) and distributors (Lionsgate/Summit, Sony Pictures Classics, IFC Films, Magnolia) for the unveiling of hot acquisitions title "Whiplash," written and directed by Damien Chazelle and starring an incendiary J.K. Simmons (who's already getting Oscar talk) and Miles Teller ("The Spectacular Now"). Cohen and d'Arbeloff wisely opted to take the "no comment" high road, because as off-putting as Redford's comments were, they could not win by responding. He's Robert Redford. They're moving on to the business at hand. Buying movies.
Several have already been taken off the table. CNN and Lionsgate picked up "Dinosaur 13" (review here) after its debut, while Magnolia and Paramount acquired Joe Swanberg's "Happy Christmas" before the festival. Sony also picked up various foreign territories for "Whiplash." At least ten buzzy titles are expected to sell to theatrical distributors, along with myriad VOD acquisitions--the subject of some debate generated by the NYTimes' Manohla Dargis, who was also at the "Whiplash" screening Thursday night. Maybe this one deserves a New York Times review.