I was all set to write something in this space last week, with Toronto having wrapped, etc. But then I just stopped. It seemed like it all needed a moment to sit, and what could I add to the conversation that hadn’t been hammered home for two weeks already by the time “12 Years a Slave” predictably won the festival’s audience award?
What I’m noticing this year is that the media is, more aggressively than ever, trying to dictate the conversation. From the call-off-all-bets aplomb of Best Picture proclamations at Telluride and Toronto to trying to force a supporting campaign on a very strong lead actor hopeful, the whiff of being authoritative is so much stronger than usual this time of year. But I’ve covered that. Let’s attempt to progress things a bit here; there is this and that to consider.
For instance, what’s going to happen to Martin Scorsese’s “The Wolf of Wall Street?” Word is Paramount execs were getting their first look at the movie over the weekend, but almost no one has seen it yet as the director has been hard at work whittling down a typically massive first cut (with elements that would easily yield an NC-17 rating, by the way). At this point, a release date bump is looking very likely. But does it go to 2014 or to December?
The studio smartly moved Scorsese’s “Shutter Island” from Oct. 2009 to Feb. 2010 a few years ago, a decision that netted nearly $130 million in box office for the film and did wonders for Paramount’s first quarter that year. This year they have a pretty back-heavy 2013, including a pair of movies that should be commercial successes: “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues” and “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit.” Something ought to give, but it most likely won’t be “Wolf,” given the marketing dollars already allocated. I suppose it could still make the Nov. 15 release date (a date that, by the way, the studio recently earmarked for rolling out “Nebraska” — an increasingly viable Best Picture play). But more sensible would be a move to December for “Wolf” with Christmas-slotted “Jack Ryan” shuffled off to first quarter 2014. We’ll see how it all plays out.
Elsewhere, the first Academy screener of the year went out this weekend, and as mentioned in this morning’s roundup, it’s Jeff Nichols’ “Mud.” It’s crucial to be the first DVD in voters’ hands, particularly for a movie like this, because it means they can actually get to the film without having a pile of movies staring them in the face. Recent examples of films that hit first include Sony Classics’ “Frozen River” (Best Original Screenplay and Best Actress nominations), Summit Entertainment’s “A Better Life” (Best Actor) and The Weinstein Company’s “The Intouchables” (zilch).
At Telluride, a number of Academy members were talking up Nichols’ triumph. Going into this year’s awards season, it was a film dominating any sort of Oscar conversation, but the question is, how will the glut of prestige product at the end of the year overshadow it? A good way to keep that from happening is to get the screener to voters very early, so hopes for an original screenplay nomination or even a supporting actor nomination for Matthew McConaughey (to go along with his sure-fire lead nod for “Dallas Buyers Club”) remain high.
It’ll be interesting to see how this weekend’s big commercial debuts, “Prisoners” and “Rush,” will be received on the circuit. Both are well-liked with passionate supporters and that could go a long way, particularly if they make big box office splashes. But we’re about to transition to October, when the real onslaught begins. How long is “12 Years a Slave” going to stay on its frontrunner perch? Something is bound to come along and shove it off the steep cliff the media has set before it.
It might be “Gravity,” ready to open next week and dazzle everyone as a truly unique player in the season. It might be “Captain Phillips,” premiering at the Academy on Sept. 30 with Tom Hanks leading the way. Speaking of Hanks, it might just be “Saving Mr. Banks,” set for an AFI Fest bow and likely to play more comfortably to the Academy audience. And that’s just the next wave. There is a whole other batch waiting after that.
The last films to show this season look to be Sony’s “American Hustle” (David O. Russell always finds his movies in the editing) and “The Monuments Men” (which, despite whispers that it’s “just” commercial, could end up a major player). By the end of November, all of the pieces will be on the board. Then we’ll see just how locked up or wide open this thing really is.
The Contenders section has been updated.