And we’re off… I received emails and calls from a couple of recently inducted Academy Award voters who reported that the first two screeners of the season arrived in their mailboxes Wednesday from Sony Pictures Classics. The studio beat the competition by sending out the Australian crime thriller Animal Kingdom and the multi-story drama Mother And Child to all of the nearly 6,000 members. It’s a repeat of a familiar strategy employed by SPC in the past when they were first out in 2008 with Frozen River and in 2005 with Junebug. These small earlier-in-the-year releases clearly benefitted from separating themselves from the glut of November/December arrivals — and in the case of Frozen River landed Best Actress (Melissa Leo) and Best Original Screenplay nominations while the little-heralded Junebug pulled off a supporting actress nod for Amy Adams.
With Animal Kingdom trying to stay alive at the box office since its August 13th release, SPC co-presidents Michael Barker and Tom Bernard recently told me they plan to aggressively go after a supporting actress nomination for the acclaimed performance of Jacki Weaver, whose dynamic turn in the film would probably be a slam dunk if it could generate any Oscar heat. It’s exactly the kind of gritty character role that actors love to reward. The early screener gambit is a way to start.
As for Rodrigo Garcia’s heartfelt SPC film Mother And Child, which seemed to open and close rather quickly in May, its lower profile makes it a long shot for any nominations, but at the very least the screener’s Academy exposure certainly can’t hurt Annette Bening who is terrific in a supporting role that will only help her gain added traction among the actors’ peer group for her more likely nomination as lead actress in Focus Features’ The Kids Are All Right.
Bening, with husband Warren Beatty sat at the Academy’s table at Monday’s 36th annual Southern California Chapter MS Society Dinner of Champions held at the Hyatt Century Plaza and chaired for the 18th consecutive year by Academy President Tom Sherak, whose daughter Melissa suffers from the disease. He has been a tireless crusader in trying to find a cure by helping to raise $40+ million through this event over the years. Universal Co-Chairman Adam Fogelson was honored with the Dinner Of Champions award this time and the entire studio seemingly turned out to support him from Ron Meyer on down. If you’re wondering about Bening’s Academy connection, she serves on the Board Of Governors representing the actors branch and was also recently elected Secretary. With The Kids Are All Right in contention, it’s probably safe to say she will be hitting this same hotel ballroom and others a few times before the season is finished.
This week, both Disney and Fox trotted out special presentations of their holiday season 3D visual effects extravaganzas (and Oscar hopefuls in that category) with selected footage from the Mouse House’s Tron: Legacy shown on Wednesday in Burbank (along with the work-in-progress animation entry, Tangled) accompanied by an intro from Walt Disney Studios Chairman Rich Ross. On Tuesday on the other side of town, Twentieth Century Fox threw a press cocktail party to unveil 30 minutes of its December 10th release, The Chronicles Of Narnia: The Voyage Of The Dawn Treader with commentary in-between scenes from director Michael Apted. The studio had done the same dog and pony show in New York the night before. Of course, this is the franchise Disney let go after releasing the first two Narnias: The big hit The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe and the not-a-big-hit Prince Caspian. Elizabeth Gabler told the crowd she tried to get rights to Narnia 7 years ago but lost them to Walden Media. So Fox is pretty hyped about finally getting a chance to team with Walden and release this one. Producer Mark Johnson told me he thinks people are “really going to be surprised” by this edition and praised his new director who took over from Andrew Adamson, helmer of the first two chapters. Apted says the 2D version will be ready in about 3 weeks with the 3D’er in about a month and a half.