There is a somewhat snide term in Hollywood industry circles known as “Oscar bait.” It’s basically a project set up with the intention of getting awards attention even if that’s part of the larger scheme to make money. Most serious studio dramas (the few that are greenly lit these days) actually have that in mind for planning purposes. Sometimes it works out (“The Departed”) and sometimes it doesn’t (“Nine”). In fact, a good number of this year’s Academy Award contenders were categorized as Oscar bait before production began. Now, we’re at the time of year where the bait pictures for 2011 start to come to light.
Roman Polanski had already recruited “Inglourious Basterds” best supporting actor winner Christoph Waltz for his big screen adaptation of the Tony Award winning play “God of Carnage,” but now he’s upped the ante by casting Oscar winners Kate Winslet and Jodi Foster in the picture. Plus, he’s also cast Oscar nominee Matt Dillon in the drama. The controversial filmmaker is an Academy Award winner himself for directing “The Pianist” so the prestige factor is at an impressive level.
The original Broadway production starred James Gandolfini, Marcia Gay Harden, Jeff Daniels and Hope Davis and centered on a meeting between two sets of parents after their sons are involved in a school yard fight. Unfortunately, the sit down goes disastrously wrong and ends up as an attack on both couple’s parental skills and the state of their marriages. The story is set in modern day Brooklyn, but according to Deadline, Polanski and his production company will shoot in Paris this February as the director is still famously bared from entering the United States.
Adapting plays is nothing new for Polanski. He helmed an adaptation of the play “Death and the Maiden” in 1994, but the picture was rightly criticized for being too stage-y (a fault that also hurt another Oscar bait flick, “Doubt” two years ago). Making “Carnage” feel more cinematic will be an interesting challenge for the filmmaker.
Foster is currently pushing for her own directing effort, “The Beaver,” to be released for awards consideration this year. Unfortunately, the fact tabloid sensation Mel Gibson is the picture’s leading man is obviously complicating those efforts.
Winslet has the HBO mini-series “Mildred Pierce” in the can and is about to begin production on Steven Soderbergh’s new thriller “Contagion” with Matt Damon, Marion Cotillard, Gwyneth Paltrow and Jude Law. And yes, that’s an Oscar bait picture too.