Weinstein sets Oscar season release dates for three awards hopefuls

The Weinstein Company has a pretty tight slate of prestige titles this year, a number of them likely set for the upcoming Oscar circuit. And indeed, today we're getting word that three of them are all lined up for prime awards season real estate on the release calendar, setting the stage for another slew of months in the trenches for Harvey and his team.

Still, even a packed slate bursting with potential can be a bit of a burden. After all, the indie distributor is coming off a pretty busy but still skin-of-their-teeth Oscar season where a lack of overall campaign focus nearly cost them; for a while there, it was looking like none of TWC's many baity 2013 contenders was going to land a Best Picture nomination. But “Philomena” pulled it out, and I couldn't help but to congratulate Harvey at the Critics' Choice Movie Awards on the night of the Oscar nominations back in January for dodging that bullet.

I'm really intrigued by the fact that Weinstein is working with director Tim Burton this year. “Big Eyes” marks a much-needed breather from high concept gobbledygook for the auteur, with Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz in key roles. The script, based on real-life feuding artist couple Walter and Margaret Keane, was written by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, who penned the Burton-directed “Ed Wood” 20 years ago. You can expect the director to do even more press and glad-handing than usual, seeing as Weinstein has a way of getting talent fiercely out there on the circuit.

“Big Eyes” has secured a release date of Christmas Day, which puts it toe-to-toe with Angelina Jolie's “Unbroken,” Rob Marshall's big Disney musical “Into the Woods” and Cameron Crowe's still-untitled latest. However, recent history proves that December releases just don't gain the traction to win Best Picture at the Oscars: Clint Eastwood's “Million Dollar Baby” 10 years ago was the last to do so.

I imagine studios eager to be in the awards game this year may be looking to last season for a few cues, though. The two last films to drop on press and public last time around, “American Hustle” and “The Wolf of Wall Street,” landed a bunch of nominations before the hangover eventually wore off (neither won an Oscar). Sometimes the goal is just the monetary boost of being in that conversation; that's long been part of Weinstein's overall strategy with his films.

The bigger play for Harvey this year might be Morten Tyldum's “The Imitation Game,” starring Benedict Cumberbatch as early computer technology pioneer Alan Turing. I read this script, which was raved up one side and down the other when it was making the rounds a few years back, and it's a fantastic role for Cumberbatch that will likely find him in the thick of the Best Actor race. Plus, it has a much more Academy-friendly release date: Nov. 21.

When you look back over TWC's recent Oscar successes, the Thanksgiving corridor has paid dividends. “The King's Speech,” “The Artist,” “Silver Linings Playbook” and “Philomena” all hit theaters in late-November before marching on to Best Picture nominations. I would expect this to be pretty good bet, depending on how the “Headhunters” director navigates the material in his first English-language gig. Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode and Mark Strong also star.

Finally there's “The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby” starring James McAvoy and Jessica Chastain, which Weinstein picked up at the Toronto Film Festival last year where it played as two films seen from each character's perspective. Alas, “Harvey Scissorhands” has cut it into one film, which will screen at the Cannes Film Festival next month, so the binary experiment may never again see the light of day. But with a Sept. 26 release date, it could spark on the circuit nevertheless.

Elsewhere of course there is “The Railway Man” with Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman, which opened last month to mixed reviews. There's Sundance pick-up “The One I Love” as well as James Gray's “The Immigrant.” And then there's Cannes opener “Grace of Monaco,” which Weinstein may disown when all is said and done. Festival pick-ups at Cannes and Toronto are certainly possible, but for the moment, a solid few movies mark Harvey's upcoming awards season squad.

How far will they go in the end? We'll know soon enough!