Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Post-People's Choice/PRE-Golden Globes


Oscar calendar

Dec. 29
Nominations ballots mailed

Dec. 31
Awards year ends at midnight

Jan. 21
Nominations polls close

Jan. 31
Nominations announced

Feb. 8
Final ballots mailed

Feb. 13
Nominees Luncheon

Feb. 18
Scientific and Technical Awards

Feb. 28
Final polls close 5 p.m. PST

March 5
78th Annual Academy Awards Presentation

Hopefuls' slow builds on Oscar fast track
By Anne Thompson
This Oscar year, slow and steady wins the race. The movies that took the longer, old-fashioned route to Oscar glory are holding strong while the 5,798 voters of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences are in the process of filling out their ballots. The films with modest expectations that opened to good reviews and gradually built their way to solid business, picking up critics' groups nods, 10-best lists, Golden Globes nominations and this week, guild recognition, are the ones to beat in the Oscar race.
According to one veteran Oscar campaigner, "Every worthy movie deserves an aggressive campaign, (which) positions the achievement as worthy, and most importantly, gets people in to see the film. You can't do more than that."
It doesn't help with the Oscars, however, if your movie isn't worthy in the right way: Such popular genre hits as "King Kong," "Harry Potter and the Goblet Fire," "Batman Begins" and "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe" will likely be settling for technical Oscar slots. EDITOR'S NOTE: AMAZING WHAT NOTORIOUS SNOBS THE OSCAR VOTERS ARE. DO THEY THINK THE PRETENSE OF HIGH-FALUTIN VALUES WILL MAKE US BELIEVE THEY ARE INTELLECTUALS?
Right now, Ang Lee's "Brokeback Mountain" and George Clooney's "Good, Night, and Good Luck" are leading the Oscar pack. Focus Features and Warner Independent Pictures, respectively, did everything right to turn both movies from small smart-house critical hits into national must-sees.
"Brokeback" boasts impeccable craftsmanship, the epic scale of the American West and a heartbreaking performance by Heath Ledger. And it breaks new ground as a gay love story.
While the Academy may be dominated by older men, it is still a group that prides itself on being politically correct. After all, they voted a documentary Oscar to Michael Moore for "Bowling for Columbine."That also helps "Good Night," which appeals to senior Oscar voters who not only remember the McCarthy era and newscaster Edward R. Murrow but also approve of the film's avowedly liberal producer-director-writer-actor, George Clooney. The son of anchorman Nick Clooney and the nephew of the late singer Rosemary Clooney, he knows his way around both show business and public relations. Clooney could land an unprecedented number of Oscar nominations because he could also grab a supporting actor slot for his second fall movie, "Syriana" (which could also land a screenplay nomination for writer-director Steve Gaghan).
Also appealing to the liberal Academy is "Million Dollar Baby" writer Paul Haggis' directing debut, "Crash," a Bob Yari-funded indie that Lionsgate acquired at the 2004 Toronto International Film Festival. It didn't hurt the intense, racially charged drama to open back in May because when the DVD hit stores in September, it soared to the top of the sales charts.
Judging from their best ensemble nominations from SAG, both "Crash" and Sony Pictures Classics' "Capote" should receive serious support from the Academy's powerful actors' branch.
"Capote" has several things going for it: one of the year's best-reviewed movies, it had well-known literary figure Truman Capote as its subject, and that supplied Philip Seymour Hoffman with the role of his career. Commercial director Bennett Miller had waited a long time to find the right project for his feature directing debut, and he jumped at the chance to shoot his high school pal Dan Futterman's first screenplay. "Capote" is one of several carefully crafted successes from the studio independent subsidiaries (it went from United Artists to Sony Pictures Classics after MGM/UA was bought by a consortium led by Sony)."Capote" also benefited from being one of the first screeners sent out in September by Sony Pictures Classics.
Last year, Clint Eastwood's "Million Dollar Baby" went on to win the best picture Oscar even though it arrived very late in the 2004 season, but that may have sent the wrong message to some 2005 Oscar campaigners. At the end of the day, the last three films to be screened for critics and Academy members, Steven Spielberg's "Munich," Terrence Malick's "The New World" and Woody Allen's "Match Point," may have delivered too little, too late.
"Coming out late is a riskier strategy in some ways," Warner Bros. Pictures marketing president Dawn Taubin says. "A lot of these movies, like 'Syriana' and 'Good Night, and Good Luck,' need to be screened, find champions, be worked and talked about in the right context. 'Million Dollar Baby's' are rare."
"Million Dollar Baby" came out of nowhere and delivered the emotional goods. It had no expectations going in, unlike "Munich," which was saddled with being a front-runner before anyone had seen the film. "Munich" also was hampered by a misguided strategy of announcing that Spielberg would do no press -- even though he then did a Time cover story, along with several later interviews.
"They took the position of doing no publicity, which then put enormous pressure on the movie," one Oscar strategist says, "when it was clear that the movie badly needed to be explained."
"Munich" also was hammered on the Internet in the weeks before it opened, so that by the time many critics weighed in favorably, it had already been damaged. While Spielberg landed a DGA nomination, the writers and producers overlooked the film, which suggests that "Munich" could be struggling to land the fifth Oscar slot.
Its competition could be dark-horse critics' faves "The Constant Gardener" and "A History of Violence," which were both nominated by the writers, while "Munich" was not.
"Gardener's" Rachel Weisz landed a supporting actress SAG slot, too, while the "Munich" ensemble was overlooked.
Likely settling for Academy acting slots are "Cinderella Man," which landed Globe and SAG nominations for Russell Crowe and Paul Giamatti (but no SAG ensemble or DGA noms); "Walk the Line" for Reese Witherspoon and Joaquin Phoenix (the film scored with SAG but picked up no writing or directors guild noms); and "Hustle & Flow" for Terrence Howard, if it ends up being seen by enough Academy members.
Credit for the exemplary PR campaigns on "Hustle & Flow," "Syriana," "Crash" and "The Squid and the Whale" (a WGA nominee) goes to ex-Miramax Oscar campaign ace Cynthia Swartz, now at the Dart Group.
Ignored by the writers, producers and directors, Rob Marshall's too-cool, overhyped and overpriced "Memoirs of a Geisha," whose star Ziyi Zhang was recognized by SAG, will likely wind up with technical Oscar mentions, including one for composer John Williams. EDITOR'S NOTE: WHATEVER ELSE YOU FEEL ABOUT THIS FILM (I HAPPENED TO LIKE IT, BUT THERE'S BEEN SOME SNIPING AT IT), THE SCORE IS A LESSON THAT ALMOST EVERY OTHER MOVIE COMPOSER FROM THIS FALL SEASON SHOULD STUDY TO HEAR WHAT THEY DID WRONG IN THEIR OWN SCORINGS.
Also too cold to warm up the guilds was "Match Point," hailed by critics as Allen's best film in years, which may also not have been seen by enough people. "The New World" would have had a better shot if it had opened as originally planned in November, run two hours and earned decent reviews. New Line Cinema postponed its release to year's end to give Malick more editing time, but the movie ran 149 minutes, and only in the past few weeks has Malick cut it down by 20 minutes.
Academy voters got the long version on DVD during the holidays, along with their "Match Point" and "Munich" screeners. Clearly this year, being seen and remembered is better than being late.


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