Why Al Pacino Isn't Heading Oscar

Case in point: An email exchange with a Producer’s Guild member comparing “Birdman” and “The Humbling.” See our email thread below.

Producer: Curious if you’re hearing comparisons between “Birdman” and “The Humbling”? Also a movie about an actor cracking up in the theater and with some identical scenes.  

Producer: ps:  have just noticed trade story about “The Humbling” being bought for Academy campaign for Al Pacino. This ought to be interesting with he and Keaton.  There are similarities that are mentionable! Be a good one to write about…

Me: Nobody liked it though at Venice and Toronto, bad reviews. 
Producer: Do you think they’re really gonna campaign Pacino?
Me: They may try but it’s already dead in the water. Check the Rotten Tomatoes reviews.  This is why you can’t believe everything you read in the trades. 

Producer: So now I’m fascinated by why a distributor would announce buying a movie to do an Academy campaign for an actor if there’s no way for the campaign to be successful. Is it a demand of the actor and picture that whoever buys it finances the award effort? Even after the reviews ensure it can’t succeed? Once they’ve announced publicly they’re doing it, they have to follow through, don’t they, or it damages the release? Is it some kind of group delusion they’re all under? Is it positioning the movie in some way that is going to get them more success at the box office?  

Me: Good questions. Here’s the deal. Deadline’s Mike Fleming is doing a favor for Barry Levinson, who is spinning festival acclaim in Venice and Toronto–those are quotes from his POV– but is ignoring the Rotten Tomatoes score. Which could improve over time. But not dramatically enough to push even a beloved Oscar-winning veteran like Pacino into a competitive Best Actor race. 

Fleming is not an Oscar promoter. That headline helps Levinson get traction with Bill Lee who is running indie distributor Millennium– whose investor/cofounder/supplier Avi Lerner produced the movie –and is now committing to open the movie this fall for the awards season. Lee will not push it hard–much less mount a costly full awards campaign–unless the movie gets some buzz. Oscar provides a headline and increased traffic as readers believe that the movie is a serious Oscar contender.

Pacino wants that to be so, of course, along with his wily manager Rick Nicita, who is orchestrating a masterful Pacino push that moved from Venice to Toronto to London. Of course any extra PR and attention for Pacino’s films (including “The Humbling,” David Gordon Green’s”Manglehorn” and Pacino’s “Salome/Wild Salome” double bill that just played in the UK) would serve to boost audience attendance, which plays into the overall perception of a successful film with awards potential. 

Comparisons to “Birdman” are not necessarily a good thing if “The Humbling” comes out less than. That said, I did not slot the Pacino film into my Toronto schedule. Why? Because of its low review score (11 critics averaged 45%, way lower than most Oscar contenders, which are usually in the 70s or higher) and this Venice review from Tom Christie comparing “The Humbling” and “Manglehorn”:

Can there be too much Al Pacino? Not in Venice, apparently, where he was the man of day three with two major films premiering – Barry Levinson’s “The Humbling” and David Gordon Green’s “Manglehorn.” But as much as I love the guy, after his two performances as old, sad, deranged men I was ready to kill myself and after the two press conferences I was ready to kill him.

For further evidence of the lay of the land, check out the Gurus ‘o Gold’s post-festival panel of predictions. No Pacino in sight. What Deadline’s distribution announcement does is to make “The Humbling” something that people, including PGA members, we Gurus, and awards voters, feel they need to check out. Pacino means that much. 

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