The biggest news Oscar-wise of the past week has involved a film that, as it turns out, won't play into the season at all, Baz Luhrmann's "The Great Gatsby," which Warner Bros announced on Monday was being delayed, with the studio shifting the movie from its Christmas Day release to summer 2013. A spokesman for the studio said: "Based on what we’ve seen, Baz Luhrmann’s incredible work is all we anticipated and so much more. It truly brings Fitzgerald’s American classic to life in a completely immersive, visually stunning and exciting way. We think moviegoers of all ages are going to embrace it, and it makes sense to ensure this unique film reaches the largest audience possible.”
And while some have suggested that the date shift is an indicator of the film being problematic, we're inclined to give the benefit of the doubt here. This isn't "G.I. Joe: Retaliation," this is a film being moved off an insanely crowded date (including the release of another film starring its lead), months in advance. And let's not forget, exactly the same move was made with Luhrmann's "Moulin Rouge." Originally slated for a Christmas 2000 release, it premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in May 2001 and wound up with eight Oscar nominations, including Best Picture. Our gut says that we'll see "The Great Gatsby" as a contender in next year's Oscar race.
But it got us thinking about release dates, and the point at which studios and mini-majors decide to unveil their films, and effect this has on the awards race. 'Gatsby' looked like it was going to be one of the last films of the season to be premiered. Instead, it'll be one of the first films of 2013 to show its wares. Each approach has its advantages, and it's impossible to say which would have been the most successful. But what time of year proves the most fruitful for awards fare (and does it even matter)?
Historically, awards fare has been crammed into the last few months of the year, with the idea that voters would forget about anything that had been released earlier in the year. And indeed, in the last decade, only two Best Picture Winners, "The Hurt Locker" and "Crash," were released in theaters before October. But that being said, one consequence of the Best Picture field being widened is that there seems to be more room for non-fall movies.
In the ten ceremonies between 1999 and 2008, only six Best Picture nominees — "The Sixth Sense," "Gladiator," "Erin Brockovich," "Moulin Rouge!," "Crash" and "Little Miss Sunshine" — were released in the summer or earlier. That's a little over 10% of nominees — no wonder studios felt more comfortable piling releases up in November and December. But in 2009, when ten Best Picture slots were up for grabs, there were four summer releases, in "The Hurt Locker," "District 9," "Inglourious Basterds" and "Up." The following year, another four: "Inception," "The Kids Are All Right," "Toy Story 3" and "Winter's Bone." Last year, with nine nominees, there were three films from earlier in the year: "The Help," "Midnight In Paris" and "The Tree Of Life."
That's a fairly significant upswing in all cases, and almost certainly a by-product of the broadening of the field, allowing more nominations for films that weren't quite so fresh in the mind to stay in the fray. There is still the risk of a film being labelled a front-runner too early, or struggling to stay in the conversation over months and months, but what you might lose in terms of being the exciting new kid on the block can be made up by getting a second wind of publicity when the DVD release comes around, and by being able to get copies into Academy hands early. Last year, for instance, Summit's "A Better Life," which virtually no one saw in theaters, was the first screener to land on Academy doormats. Months later, relatively unknown lead Demian Bichir won a Best Actor nomination. All of this bodes relatively well for this year's early-year contenders — "Best Exotic Marigold Hotel," "Moonrise Kingdom," "Beasts Of The Southern Wild" and "The Dark Knight Rises" — and certainly suggests that "The Great Gatsby" shouldn't be counted out for the 2014 ceremony any time soon.
But ultimately, the majority of films that prove to be contenders come later in the year, and that's likely to be the case in 2012 as well. And generally speaking, the later the better. Venice, Telluride and TIFF are all key launching pads for the awards calendar, but the films that premiere there tend to wait a few months before heading out to the general public. Last year's "Moneyball" was the first Best Picture nominee to get a September roll-out since "American Beauty" thirteen years earlier, a firm indication that it's a tricky month for awards fare. It can be hard to find the oxygen of publicity within all the festival fare, and it's something of a no man's land in terms of the awards narrative: the conversation is already underway, yet it's too early to shake up the race.
Now, this doesn't mean that the September 14th release for "The Master" isn't going to work: with Venice and TIFF premieres, it's clear that the Weinsteins hope the film will be kept aloft by critical support, and last week's screening indicated that could well be the case. And Warners certainly have their hopes that a near-identical date to "Moneyball" will help their own baseball movie, "Trouble With The Curve." But it's also telling that having fallen short in recent years with "The Informant!," "The Town" and "Contagion," none of which got major legs with the Academy, the studio moved their big grown-up hope, "Argo," into October.
That month is traditionally a little more successful, awards-wise, with films like "The Departed," "Lost In Translation," "Michael Clayton," "An Education" and "The Social Network" all using festival springboards before their October releases, leading to Best Picture nominations. As these films demonstrate, October tends to be better suited to smarter, adult fare for more discerning audiences. That said, the tenth month of the year was something of a washout in 2011. Despite a number of potentials, including "The Ides Of March," "Like Crazy," "Martha Marcy May Marlene" and "Anonymous," most releases underperformed in the awards season (with the exception of "Margin Call," which used an innovative VOD release to pick up a surprise screenplay nod).
More films are trying their luck in October this year, most notably "Argo" and the start of the limited roll-out for "The Sessions," although "Cloud Atlas," David Chase's "Not Fade Away," "Killing Them Softly," "Smashed" and "Seven Psychopaths" all have some hope of being in the conversation. It's a smart move for "Argo," which could risk being overshadowed by bigger, less cerebral fare if it went later in the year, but it's riskier for "The Sessions," given the way that fellow Sundance grads "Like Crazy" and "Martha Marcy May Marlene" failed to make dents in anything but the Independent Spirit Awards last year.
November is when the heaviest hitters often start to come out. The three biggest contenders last year, "The Artist," "Hugo" and "The Descendants" were all released within ten days of each other in the run up to Thanksgiving last year, and recent winners "No Country For Old Men," "Slumdog Millionaire" and "The King's Speech" all landed within the eleventh month. It lets movies play over Thanksgiving, one of the biggest moviegoing weekends of the year, and is just before critics awards and Top 10 lists start to emerge, but it's also still early enough that films have time to build a little traction over the coming weeks, especially crucial for limited release fare (which all of the above, bar "Hugo," were). That said, a lukewarm reception, like those for "J. Edgar" and "A Dangerous Method" last year, can still kill a film stone dead, awards-wise, especially if other, better-regarded fare hits around the same time. This year, November is especially stacked. The month kicks off with "Flight," Spielberg's "Lincoln" rolls out the next week, "Anna Karenina" and "Rust & Bone" the one after, and "Life Of Pi" (in a slot clearly following the template of the similarly three-dimensional "Hugo") and "The Silver Linings Playbook" closing things off over Thanksgiving weekend.
December is, traditionally, more of a mixed bag. Both "War Horse" and the critically-reviled "Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close" last year benefited from being the last films to be revealed, seemingly making the Best Picture shortlist less because of quality, and more because they were simply the most recent film in voters' memory ("The Iron Lady" and "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo" missed out on the big nomination, but still picked up key awards and nominations, so could probably be deemed successes too). It's not difficult to imagine that had Warners swapped Daldry's film over with Clint Eastwood's "J. Edgar," it might have been the latter that ended up with the Best Picture nod. But at the same time, it proved a disappointing month for limited releases: "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy," "We Need To Talk About Kevin," "Young Adult" and "In The Land Of Blood & Honey" all started roll-outs in December, and all failed to live up to expectations, awards-wise. With little time to build momentum before ballots are due, and often bowing too late to figure on Top 10 lists and critics' groups awards, it's a real risk for films that need to unfold more organically.
This latter point might bode poorly for "Amour" and "The Impossible," which are both set to begin roll outs late in the month, but at the same time, both will be well-established from festival premieres by that point, so should have gotten the critical momentum going ("Hyde Park On Hudson" hits right at the start of the month, which gives it a little more time, and again is a TIFF premiere). More interestingly, much of the wider December releases are films that we're unlikely to see much before Thanksgiving, and could turn out to be either awards juggernauts or principally commercial fare: "The Hobbit," "Les Miserables," "This Is 40," "Zero Dark Thirty" and "Django Unchained." The Kathryn Bigelow and Tom Hooper films are the best bets, but none seem to have the same potential to float through to a nod purely because they look like Oscar movies, like 'Extremely Loud' did last year. Make no mistake, it'll be brutal throughout the month, and even a sniff of box office disappointment might see a film drop off fast.
Ultimately, release dates only matter so much — a film like "Lincoln" would be an awards contender even if it was released on February 1st. But knowing exactly when to roll out a film can be the difference between a Best Picture winner and a movie that never gets into the conversation, and it'll be sort of fascinating to see how one of the most competitive seasons in recent memory ends up playing out.
Best Picture Chart: 28 Weeks To Go
(last week's positions in brackets)
1. "Lincoln" (2)
Still playing its cards close to its chest, but that first image of Daniel Day-Lewis in character from earlier in the week certainly emphasized what a juggernaut this could be. Expect to see a trailer soon, which should be more telling.
2. "Les Miserables" (3)
It's been pointed out that no dramatic musical has won an Oscar since "Cabaret" (assuming you take "Chicago" as a comedy, which we're unconvinced by). But that said, virtually no dramatic musicals have been made (those that have, like "Dreamgirls," did pretty well in terms of nominations), and certainly few with this kind of prestige. The shadow of "Phantom Of The Opera" still lingers, but Tom Hooper is certainly more talented than Joel Schumacher.
3. "Argo" (5)
Probably benefiting more than anything else from "The Great Gatsby" dropping out, this now looks like Warner Bros' major awards hopeful. We've had commenters compare it to "Syriana," but it's a much more accessible, human story than that film, and could please crowds as well as critics.
4. "The Master" (1)
While it's a little depressing that virtually every reaction out of that secret Santa Monica screening last week led with the film's Oscar chances, rather than its quality, it is, obviously, useful for our purposes. And opinion seemed to be split; acting nominations are clearly going to happen, but is the film too difficult? We suspect the same voter block that got "The Tree Of Life" in last year will see it through, but that does depend on other factors…
5. "Beasts Of The Southern Wild" (6)
Given the propensity to nominate early-year fare of late, we think this has a damn good chance of making it to the shortlist. Could it even be a contender to win? "Slumdog Millionaire" it's not, as a crowd-pleaser, but we can certainly see it connecting with the Academy.
6. "Life Of Pi" (4)
One could argue that the fate of this and 'Beasts' are tied together — both magic-realist, waterbound tales of children, but one's a big-budget 3D take, and the other a microbudget indie. We flicked through the book recently and were reminded that it's absolutely not the film that Fox are selling — will that hurt it come nominations time?
7. "Zero Dark Thirty" (12)
The teaser trailer isn't giving much away, but it got us excited anyway. It gives off a bit of a "United 93" docu-drama vibe though, and that film didn't get much Oscar traction bar a nomination for director Paul Greengrass. Will a more triumphal subject matter help it do better?
8. "The Sessions" (7)
The better 'Beasts' looks, the trickier a job "The Sessions" will have of getting similar attention from Fox Searchlight, although the company have manged multiple Best Picture nominations before. It'll have to get past the more prudish Academy members first, though.
9. "Moonrise Kingdom" (9)
The more we think about it, the more this seems like this year's "Midnight In Paris," but that film benefited as other contenders fell down. Wes Anderson can't pull a Woody Allen and stay away, though; he'll have to campaign for the film, and campaign hard.
10. "The Impossible" (8)
That late-December limited release isn't going to help, as we discuss above, and Summit should probably get an English-language trailer out soonish, otherwise it's going to get lost. Unless, of course, reviews from TIFF are raves.
11. "The Promised Land" (10)
It looks like we're not going to hear anything firm about a release for this one for a while — probably not until after festival season closes up a month or so from now. But if the film comes anywhere close to working, it shouldn't be sniffed at.
12. "Cloud Atlas" (13)
Another film benefiting from Warners' extra attention now 'Gatsby' is a summer picture. The studio still, we suspect, will have an uphill battle, and the nature of the material might make it tricky to win acting nominations. But whatever happens, technical nods look very likely.
13. "Hyde Park On Hudson" (11)
Bill Murray, and to a lesser extent Laura Linney, are definitely the ones to watch here; whether the film is a "King's Speech" or a "My Week With Marilyn" will answer whether it has a play at the big prize too.
14. "The Silver-Linings Playbook" (15)
Harvey's given it his prime slot in the release calendar, suggesting he's got high hopes for it, but the trailer makes it look like "Garden State" territory. Still, "The Fighter" was David O. Russell's entry into the awards establishment, and this has a good chance of matching the three acting nominations for that film with Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence and Robert De Niro.
15. "Flight" (-)
A film that we've perhaps undervalued so far in the season. The premise has great potential, but the trailer makes it look like it's about five different movies wrestling for attention. For what it's worth, the word is that the ensemble is superb, with Kelly Reilly and John Goodman said to be nomination possibilities alongside Denzel Washington.
16. "The Dark Knight Rises" (16)
For all the talk of the film underperforming compared to its predecessor, it's at $750 million after less than three weeks in theaters, and stands a good chance at outgrossing its predecessor internationally (if not at home). That certainly helps its case, and again, "The Great Gatsby" falling out means more attention from Warners too.
17. "To The Wonder" (18)
The relatively brisk sub-two-hour running time and star-laden cast, plus the personal subject matter, suggests that this might be more accessible than "Tree Of Life," but that does run counter to hints that it's actually even more experimental. Either way, it needs a distributor willing to put it out in 2012.
18. "Anna Karenina" (20)
We've heard some good word from UK screenings, particularly about Knightley's performance, which is said to be her best yet. But with the similarly non-traditional "Great Gatsby" out of the running, does that help or hurt Joe Wright's film?
19. "Django Unchained" (19)
For all the pointing to "Inglourious Basterds" as proof that Tarantino can be a big awards player, that film's WW2 subject matter was bound to enthuse voters more than a racially-charged Western. Don't forget, this is the organization that nominated "Driving Miss Daisy" over "Do The Right Thing."
20. "This Is 40" (-)
Another new entry thanks to the promising recent trailer: if Apatow ever cracks the Oscars (after something of a breakthrough with "Bridesmaids"), this'll be the film to do it. Or it could be as brittle as "Funny People," or as botched as fellow Paul Rudd-starred "How Do You Know." Either way, our gut's always said that Albert Brooks is one to watch in the Supporting Actor category, after missing out with "Drive" last year.
"Best Exotic Marigold Hotel," "Trouble With The Curve," "Amour," "Killing Them Softly"
"The Great Gatsby"
We weren't even entirely convinced that Baz Luhrmann's film was an Oscar home run, but it certainly had the potential. Looks like we'll be talking about its Oscar prospects for another 18 months or so…
"Inside Llewyn Davis"
Scott Rudin told the New York Times this week that it was "very unlikely" that the Coen Brothers' latest will be ready for this year. There's still a slim chance, we suppose, but Rudin's probably not dicking around, so look for this at Cannes 2013 at the earliest, we imagine.