Because the wily operators at Sony Pictures Classics, co-presidents Tom Bernard and Michael Barker, have thrown countless movies into the awards season market over the decades, they have mapped out what works best for lower-profile films. They are well-positioned now, for example, to take full advantage of the boost that Paul Giamatti's Golden Globe best actor comedy win gives Canadian dramedy Barney's Version. After a qualifying late December week's run, SPC opened the film this holiday weekend and did decent business. "I hope people will go to see it now," said Giamatti at the HBO Globes party.
And Susanne Bier's foreign-language Golden Globe winner In a Better World will gain some buzz when she flies to Park City to do press at Sundance, where she's jurying with Kimberly Peirce, Matt Groening and Jason Reitman. The foreign Oscar nominees will be announced on January 25 during the festival. The Sony subsidiary is following the same release model as last year's The Secret of Their Eyes, which few had heard of when it was nominated for best foreign language film, much less when it won. SPC opened the film in April and milked the win to $7 million.
Why not screen it sooner? (The Bier film did play the fest circuit, including Toronto.) "We wait for people to be ready to see the movie," says SPC co-president Michael Barker, who hates going up against films generating noise in December. "It needs cachet. We start screening in January if it's not going to open until April."
SPC still has a shot at several nominations, including long-shots Lesley Manville and Mike Leigh for Another Year, and foreign nominees Of Gods and Men (which will open at the end of February, as Oscar nominee A Prophet did), Oliver Schmitz's Life, Above All and Incendies (also showing in Sundance), from France, South Africa and Canada (April 1), respectively.
Meanwhile, SPC is in the hunt for Sundance acquisitions. They have just eight films scheduled for release in 2011. They usually wind up with 20.