Hammond: Can GOP Help Oscar Hopeful?

Can Presidential politics actually boost the profile of an under-the-radar Oscar hopeful? That could be a scenario the multitudes of awards consultants working on Summit Entertainment’s summer indie, A Better Life starring Demián Bachir might consider as they try to draw voter attention to this well-reviewed June release which grossed less than $2 million in its domestic release. Because the film puts a very human face on the hot button issue of illegal immigration. This is really a touching father-son story about an undocumented Los Angeles laborer trying to forge a better life for his kid while keeping him away from gangs. Its reps hope to gain recognition not just for the pic but also for Bichir in an uphill campaign against much higher profile Best Actor contenders like George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio, Gary Oldman, Ryan Gosling and others. Year-end recognition from critics groups could really help Bichir and this film which now stands at 86% positive on Rotten Tomatoes. Summit’s 2009 Best Picture winner, The Hurt Locker also was a low grosser and a June release — but saw its Oscar stock soar when it started winning those critics awards.

At what was billed as a DVD release party this week, but which really served as an awards season campaign kickoff, I noticed several Academy members in attendance. The packed event at Culina in Beverly Hills had lots of political talk, much of it about the GOP presidential debates where candidates are engaged in tough ‘kick em out of the country’ rhetoric on the subject of illegal immigrants in America. A Better Life director Chris Weitz told me he’s outraged by the way politicians are using the plight of undocumented workers to score political points during the Republican debates. He says the whole experience of making the film has really “politicized” him in a way he hadn’t imagined.

From the presidential race to the Oscar race, A Better Life has longer odds. “What can we do to help this film?” one frustrated awards consultant asked me while noting the stiff competition out there. It’s a frequent question I hear from awards campaigners who usually employ parties, Q&A screenings, and getting its lesser known stars (in the U.S. at least) out there on the awards “circuit”. But I say Oscar strategists just might want to look no further than the Hollywood-bashing GOP for some ironic help. After all, Republicans are giving immigration lots of TV time almost weekly during their contentious debates. Tagging on to presidential politics might be one way to keep the film talked about and relevant, even in the shadow of the all the big Academy Awards contenders to come in the last two months of the year. Summit smartly employed that strategy with The Hurt Locker when it hit the Oscar trail by emphazing its  topicality and credibility after initially marketing it as a suspenseful war movie.

A Better Life‘s star, Bichir, is a major name in Mexico and also a co-star of Showtime’s Weeds (and, in fact, co-star Mary Louise Parker flew out to host the party in honor of the film Wednesday night). Bichir told me that he and Weitz had just come back from the Morelia Film Festival where the movie made its Mexican debut and it was interesting to see the locals’ reaction. It was a very good one, he explained, since this is a rare Hollywood attempt to put a human face on what undocumented workers go through. It helped that the film uses both Spanish and English languages. Bichir is planning to star in a Spanish stage version of Swimming With Sharks and play Kevin Spacey’s role. Even with that gig he’ll keep on the awards circuit for A Better Life as much as he can in the next few months (in the same way Marion Cotillard did in her successful Best Actress campaign for La Vie En Rose) to bring attention to this little-film-that-could.

A Better Life had been in development in one form or another for 25 years, originally starting with producer Paul Junger Witt and picking up other producers along its long road to the big screen. These include actress Jami Gertz (with partner Stacy Lubliner) and Christian McLaughlin who were all at the DVD launch telling tales of the journey and hoping that the film gains traction this awards season. The pic a few weeks earlier was the first serious Oscar contender to send out screeners to the Academy Of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences members and other voting groups. Summit COO Erik Feig told me he’s very proud of A Better Life and hopes people will continue to discover it. Clearly, though, Summit is not going to spend the kind of dollars that bigger movies have in their Oscar campaign war chests to chase after votes. So it is going to take a grass roots-type campaign to keep A Better Life alive.

  1. I’d like to see a movie on the plight of the legal immigrant waiting in line, playing by the rules and not stealing someone’s SSN or sneaking across the border to live here illegally, not pay taxes and sponge off services paid for by taxpayers. Yes, they are in a bad way in their home country and the US is the answer to their dreams. But it’s the same for millions of people around the world who apply to come and who manage to obey the law and respect the country they’re joining.

    You know who really has it bad? Illegal aliens coming into Mexico from Central and South America. That country doesn’t mess around enforcing its immigration laws and uses a very heavy hand.

    1. This movie is not about illegal immigration and the government’s policies to protect our borders. It is about a father and son; and the father’s hard work to encourage his sone to make the right choices and have a “A Better Life”.

      See the movie. You might like it.

  2. I’m proud of Chris Weitz for taking on this subject matter and making a movie that has had such a political impact…

  3. really hope this works for Bichir. He gives the best male performance of the year along with Michael Shannon for Take Shelter

  4. Summit seems very dedicated to this film (for good cause – its a gem and Bichir’s beautiful performance deserves the attention). I don’t think they expected the likes of Mitt Romney and Rick Perry as “helpers,” but when you’ve got an underdog you believe it in – I guess you’ll take all the help you can get.

  5. Thankfully, Rick Perry has a snowball’s chance in hell of getting the Republican nomination. That b.s. charge was ridiculous. When you hire a landscaping company or any company for that matter to do work on your home, it is not your responsibility to check the legal status of every worker hired by that company. The charge was ridiculous and Perry dug an even deeper hole for himself with Republican voters.

    As Mitt Romney properly stated, it makes no sense to offer tuition discounts for people who are in the country illegally. Especially when an American citizen can’t immediately receive those same discounts if he or she moves to Texas. Cut off the welfare incentives, implement e-verify nationwide and most will deport themselves. Those who want to come back legally would be welcomed with open arms.

    Sorry Pete, no far left wing, bleeding heart Hollywood film is going to change the fact that most Americans are not in favor of illegal immigration.

  6. LA is basically now an extension of Mexico, which is why it is such a cesspool. It is a corrupt, violent, dirty and miserable place, just like most of Mexico.

    The state of California is now bankrupt despite having incredible agricultural and technological resources, and rampant illegal immigration has played a large role in that. It might not be nice or PC, but it is true.

    While touchy-feely movies about the plight of illegal immigrants might play well inside the Hollywood bubble, people who deal in reality rather than fantasy have seen the disastrous effect that illegal immigration has had on this country and it will take much more than a mediocre film to change their opinions!

    1. Bill H – You are a classic scapegoater…. The cesspool is in your mind… You’re probably
      one of those trolls from a right wing group that seeks out any remotely pro-immigrant
      commentary to spew your ignorant rhetoric. You do realize that Los Angeles used to be
      Mexico, right? It’s not an extension of Mexico, it was Mexico. BTW, look at what’s
      happening in Alabama – crops are rotting in the fields because no one wants to do the
      work. The same thing would happen in California if knuckleheads like you had your way.
      What we need is appropriate and smart immigrantion reform. “White” America is on the
      ropes, Bill H, get used to it… Latinos are here and we’re not going anywhere. Oh, and go see
      “Better Life” it’s a great film… not that it’ll have an effect on you

      1. Los Angeles is definitely a cesspool. There are still beautiful places in California but the entitlement mindset will be that state’s ruin.

      2. lol there are millions more like “cederic” here who are going to usher in ethnic factionalism and make the country even more dysfunctional than it already is (and it’s already pretty bad)…you shall reap what you sow

      3. CALIFORNIA WAS MEXICO???? This is the kind of historical ignorance that informs most Democratic geopolitical positions. California was home to Chumash, Cahuilla, Kumeyaay, Serrano, Gabriellino and many other native American tribes before the Spanish Colonization which brought syphillis, smallpox, diphtheria, measles and untold suffering to the Indians. You cannot draw arbitrary historical boundaries. The same faulty historical arguments are applied in the Israel debate where liberals believe the Jews took Palestinian lands which were actually the United Kingdom of Israel as early as 1070 B.C. Of course there were inhabitants of Palestine prior to that. Maybe we should do DNA testing on the ancient corpses of every region on earth and see who was there first and give the land to their genetic ancestors.

  7. If the producers haven’t done this yet, try to get a screening at the White House, Gov. Jerry Brown in California, as well as any high profile GOP’r who is willing, maybe, just maybe John McCain or even George and Barbara Bush in Texas. Perhaps the relatively new head of the MPAA, former Sen. Chris Dodd, would sponsor a DC screening with a bi-partisan audience. Perhaps Caroline Kennedy and/or Bill Clinton (or Chelsea) or lame duck NY Mayor Mike Bloomberg would sponsor a NY screening and Oprah Winfrey or Rahm Emanuel in Chicago. Anyone of these would generate lots of media and raise the film’s profile. Mitigate the risks of seeming political partisanship by shooting for bi-partisan guest lists/audiences and pr which stresses the family aspects of the film that have informed classic American movies like “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” and so many others.

    I know these are all incredible long shots but my Mom always told me that if you don’t ask, you don’t get.

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