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.
“Grace Of Monaco”
Nicole Kidman starring in a biopic of Grace Kelly as directed by Olivier Dahan who took Marion Cotillard to Oscar gold in her terrific lead performance for “La Vie en Rose“—smells like Oscar-bait all the way, no? But, maybe not so much. The ruthless Harvey Weinstein doesn’t want to overspend on something he doesn’t have to during the awards season and he’s pushed the movie into the spring of 2014 which suggests it’s a good indie-drama, but perhaps not simmering Oscar material. What’s more, he’s currently fighting with the director over the final cut. Dahan recently publicly cried about Harvey’s scissorhands and called the studio mogul’s changes and suggestions a “piece of shit.” Regardless of whatever version hits screens, compromised or otherwise, it appears that Weinstein has no Oscar confidence in the movie and if he did, he would have found a way to release it, pronto. Plus with a final cut still needing to be negotiated, the movie will need further time to finally coalesce, so spring obviously gives a few more months of breathing room (we’ll surely hear of more drama) and time enough for both parties to hopefully compromise. TWC will instead put their Oscar eggs in the basket of “Philomena,” “Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom,” “Fruitvale Station” and “Lee Daniels’ The Butler” basket (which is why the myriad movies TWC bought at TIFF are being held for next year).
These last two films were never guaranteed for a 2013 release, but they’ve come up in conversation often, we thought they’re worth discussing. So, why was James Gray’s “The Immigrant” held for next year? For one, what the film is on paper is different from what the film is in practice. Harvey Weinstein and The Weinstein Company bought the film back in Cannes 2012, because Joaquin Phoenix, Marion Cotillard and Jeremy Renner in a James Gray-directed drama smells like Oscars to Harvey. And hell, to be fair, that does smell and sound like Oscar bait to anyone. But Gray’s films are never traditional dramas anyhow, at certainly not in the expected Oscar season mold. They’re often tragedies, trafficking in moral compromises and corrosion. And Gray’s movie while being quite good—a slow-burning period drama about redemption that’s reverse engineered to have an emotionally resonant climax—just doesn’t have the kind of scene-chewing acting sparks that Oscar season loves. It’s a subtle, restrained film with an elegant melodrama to it that’s not melodramatic. Set for an spring 2014 release by Radius-TWC, The Weinstein Company’s VOD arm, the movie will hit theatrically and VOD likely around the same time in April. While that’s not the prestigious Oscar season, spring in general is becoming a terrific season for quality indie movies (think “Frances Ha,” “Mud,” “The Place Beyond the Pines,” “Spring Breakers” and more) so really, the lovely drama will be right at home during that slot.
This high-concept sci-fi thriller by South Korean auteur Bong Joon-ho was never going to be an Oscar-film, let’s get that out of the way now, but lots of people were hoping it was going to hit this fall regardless. In truth, when The Weinstein Company bought the U.S. rights to the film ages ago, they pegged it for a summer 2013 release, but that was almost a year before it was complete. Starring Chris Evans, Song Kang-ho, Go Ah-sung, Jamie Bell, Ewen Bremner, John Hurt, Tilda Swinton, Octavia Spencer, and Ed Harris, the movie has a terrific international cast, but it always smelled too smart for summer tentpole season. This is a film that feels like it will fit perfectly during March—the pre-tentpole season that has been home to movies like “The Hunger Games,” “Wrath of the Titans,” “Oz the Great and Powerful” and “G.I. Joe: Retaliation.” And it also kind of feels like “Elysium,” a would-be smart sci-fi film that was originally pegged for a March release, but was bumped into August because of studio release date horse trading (it was completed and ready to go in March).
Then there’s the fact that Harvey Weinstein obviously doesn’t wholeheartedly love it. At least not the director’s cut and he’s planning a version that’s rumored to be 20 minutes shorter and apparently easier on American audiences (and yes, he had final cut in the first place, which was part of his deal when he bought it, but note the director’s cut is being released in many non-TWC claimed territories internationally). So what’s the deal? Well, at this point Harvey’s probably working with Bong Joon-ho on the edit, but to be honest, he probably doesn’t really care about the bad press. He’s been through this before, and the average audience member isn’t paying attention to the interwebs noise from genre fans anyway, so to them it won’t make much difference. And as for a release date, once he’s done with focusing his energies on the 2013 Oscar season, he can then probably determine what’s the best season for “Snowpiercer.” Until then, we’ll wait and see what ultimate fate awaits the film but here’s a new poster.