Every year, a much-anticipated Christmas release provokes speculation about whether it can be finished in time at all. Think Quentin Tarantino’s “Django Unchained” in 2012, followed a year later by Martin Scorsese’s “Wolf of Wall Street.” These movies screened for the first time dripping wet over the Thanksgiving weekend. They came within a hair’s breadth of missing the deadlines for Golden Globes, National Board of Review, the New York Film Critics Circle, the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, and the Screen Actors Guild Awards.
This year’s late-breaking movie is “Cats,” and at this writing it appears that the film will blow multiple awards deadlines. Members of the New York Film Critics have been told by the studio that it shouldn’t expect to see the film before mid-December, after the group votes December 4 — and leaving little lead time before opening December 20. However, the final Globes screening is also December 4. National Board of Review announces its winners December 3. SAG nominations close December 8, and the list goes on.
Directed by Tom Hooper, who won an Oscar as Best Director in 2011 for Best Picture-winner “The King’s Speech,” “Cats” is a furry VFX musical extravaganza that’s engendered plenty of curiosity — as well as a decidedly mixed response to its promo materials. Based on the T.S. Eliot poetry-turned-global musical phenomenon, Universal is counting on “Cats” to drive the level of attendance achieved with “Mamma Mia!” and its sequel (a combined $1 billion worldwide), not to mention Hooper’s own “Les Miserables” ($442 million worldwide).
Even if the film is finished in time for SAG, breaking late can hurt the chances for the starry “Cats” ensemble, which includes Jennifer Hudson, Judi Dench, Ian McKellen, Taylor Swift, and Idris Elba. On the other hand, given the right support in other quarters, a strong entry can usually catch up where the later-voting Oscars are concerned.
But of all the years to be tardy, this is not a good one: The Oscar timetable is moved up, earlier than they’ve ever been, with nominations due January 7 (inspiring the Academy to make online screeners available for everyone) and the telecast held on February 9.
While veteran filmmaker Clint Eastwood is notorious for his late-year entries, including Best Picture and Actress-winner “Million Dollar Baby,” Warner Bros. will start screening this year’s “Richard Jewell” (Warner Bros.) on November 20, the night it screens at AFI Fest, following the Oscar-bound playbooks for Eastwood’s “American Sniper” and Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln.”
On the other hand, “Cats” may be a strictly commercial play with no need of an awards boost. In which case, an onslaught of ads should pull moviegoers into multiplexes.