Do Oscar Voters Have Short Memories? Bradley Cooper Hopes Not

If your movie was released in March or April, and has Oscar aspirations, it requires every trick in an Academy consultant’s publicity handbook to try to keep it alive against the massive onslaught of competition unleashed in the back eight months of the year. Very few films released before May at the earliest make the cut these days, at least in the major categories. Oscar voters tend to have short memories. It’s an uphill climb that requires money for big campaigns, a tall order for independent films with limited budgets.

One way to do it is get your Blu-ray out there in August with some fresh television advertising, well before screener season begins, and hope that voters have a chance to check it out before the tsunami of movies start bombarding them in the Fall. For Roadside AttractionsMud which was released in theatres April 26th  and Focus FeaturesThe Place Beyond The Pines which debuted March 29th, their dueling road to Oscar continues this week with the release of their Blu-ray and DVD. The films have the current distinction of being the two top grossing independent films of 2013, both in the $21 million range, with Mud this week just slightly overtaking Pines for the lead but it remains a dead heat.

Ironically both movies initially might have been expected to land in a more traditional Fall spot in 2012 and compete in the last Oscar race, but fate intervened. Pines was originally hoping to debut at Cannes in May of 2012 but wasn’t finished. It was first seen at Toronto Film Festival last September, picked up by Focus, but held for the first quarter of this year – not the most opportune release date for an awards hopeful. Mud on the other hand did play in competition at the 2012 Cannes, was well-received but didn’t get picked up for distribution by Roadside until last August, and they also decided to hold it until Spring rather than jump into the crowded 2012 season. Both are not only at the top of the heap for indies, they also have enviable Rotten Tomatoes scores with Mud grabbing an astounding 98% fresh ranking and Pines not too far behind at 82%, well within the range of what serious awards contenders would need, especially to make a dent in the multitude of critics awards contests coming up.

As for the Oscars, one race in which Roadside is hoping to gain traction is for star Matthew McConaughey in Supporting Actor even though he is the title star of the film. It can be argued that the main kid played by Tye Sheridan in the Jeff Nichols-directed film is really the lead, and obviously Roadside doesn’t want to have McConaughey competing against himself for Best Actor for his much-anticipated turn in Dallas Buyers Club (a December 6th release which Focus ironically will unveil at Toronto next month). The category gets more crowded when you throw Pines into the mix where both Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper, the film’s top billed stars, are also going for Supporting Actor since that movie with its complex structure is more of an ensemble-type piece.

With any kind of luck one or both films could even wind up in Best Picture contention, but due to the ways these things tend to favor later Fall releases both would be considered dark horses. Last year Beasts Of The Southern Wild was the only film from the year’s first half to land in the Best Pic race and it came out at the end of June. But don’t tell that to Cooper, who remains extremely enthusiastic about the chances of The Place Beyond The Pines, although in a recent phone conversation he was wondering if holding it for later in the year might have, in retrospect, been an even better idea. “The only thing I would say is, was it the right move not to release it this Fall? That’s the only thing…maybe I’m overstepping with what I am saying but I would be shocked if there were nine or ten better movies this year than this one. If they do decide to nominate ten movies, I mean God, I would be shocked. I really hope it gets recognized. I hope [director] Derek Cianfrance gets recognized. It’s a pretty stellar piece of work,” he said adding that based on his experience last year he expects the season to really shake down at Toronto in September and the landscape to become much clearer (not to mention for films playing Venice, Telluride and New York too).

Of course Cooper had a major presence at Toronto last year, not only debuting Pines there but also Silver Linings Playbook which brought him his first Oscar nomination as Best Actor. Ironically he shot Pines before Silver Linings  and actually credits the experience of making that film and playing the conflicted cop-turned-politician Avery Cross, a very tricky role he pulls off flawlessly, with being able to turn out the kind of work he did as Pat Solitano in Silver Linings.

“It was very therapeutic to go from that to Pat Solitano, and in a week all of a sudden I’m playing this guy who everything  internal is externalized. I remember talking to an older actor about jobs he had years ago, they were back to back, you know like epic iconic roles that I don’t think people realized he did back to back with like a week in between, and he always said to me it’s just like an athlete or an engine. Everything was running, hitting at full throttle so he was able to go right into the next role. That role wouldn’t have been as fulfilling if he hadn’t done the previous one – that’s definitely how I felt about that, there’s no way I could have rode into Pat Solitano with  Jennifer Lawrence and Robert De Niro If I hadn’t just gone through Pines, the grind of this movie which was really challenging,” he said.

Like McConaughey, Cooper doesn’t just have one pony this season. He also has a supporting role in his Silver Linings director David O. Russell‘s upcoming December release American Hustle. With the awards potential of both these films is he ready to jump right back into the six month circuit leading up to Oscar? Talk about a grind!  “Oh I loved it actually. I find it inspiring, humbling and wonderful. I don’t mind it at all. Last year was an absolute dream, to be able to tour. You and I must have crossed paths fifteen times, right? And I loved doing Q&As. They’re very fulfilling for everybody. With Silver Linings Playbook, how far that reached, way beyond awards season was just incredible,” he said.

As for going from a leading role to a couple of supporting turns that could grab attention this year, Cooper says he is fine with it and chooses projects for a number of reasons. “It’s a lot of factors. It’s really the director. If Paul Thomas Anderson asked me to open a door in a movie I’m doing it. Also, there’s something nice in being the supporting character in a movie, you get a little bit of a break than to carry the whole thing on your shoulders. But I am somebody who loves being in the trenches. For American Hustle I’m also an Executive Producer so I’m able to be there. David and I created an amazing thing together on Silver Linings that we were able to do the same thing on this movie, sort of partner up and work together. For me it was a wonderful experience. I mean for me it’s like being in film school again,” he said adding that he knows working with Cianfrance, then twice in a row with David O. Russell that he feels like he hit the jackpot as an actor. Whether that puts him back in the awards conversation this coming season is really just the cherry on top.

  1. One big factor in all of this is social media and the over-riding question is how many of the AMPAS membership, which skews older as everyone knows, is plugged in. The real effort needs to be made in gaining their participation to help keep things alive. Give ’em all Twitter and Facebook accounts along with their disks maybe. The Academy has pushed electronic voting and will be supporting distribs et al in their efforts to get members to download screeners instead of accepting discs. But all of this comes back to the same point: making sure the members adopt the communication technology of the 21st century. The Academy is attempting to adjust its demographics, which will help, but this campaign year is still in a transitional period, so every trick in a revised playbook will have to be used, whether a film is released eight months or two months or less from nomination time.

  2. Good for them, I think we have an excellent few months behind us and I firmly believe early contenders will receive nominations in all eight main categories. I’m expecting at least three in BP and the very least Blanchett, Jordan, McConaughey and Rockwell in the acting categories. If there were any justice, Moore and Kidman would make the cut for their utterly brilliant supporting performances, but I’m afraid their films are exactly the kind that would have needed a fall release to stand a chance in the awards race, although I really hope I’m just underestimating the collective memory of the Academy on this one.

    Fruitvale Station (Sundance WP / July 12)
    Mud (Cannes ’12 WP / April 26)
    The Place Beyond the Pines (Toronto ’12 WP / March 29)
    Before Midnight (Sundance WP / May 24)
    Stories We Tell (Toronto ’12 WP / May 10)
    Blue Jasmine (July 26)
    Ain’t Them Bodies Saints (Sundance WP / August 16)
    Nebraska (Cannes WP / November 22)
    Inside Llewyn Davis (Cannes WP / December 6)

    Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine)
    Marion Cotillard (The Immigrant)
    Berenice Bejo (Le Passé)

    Michael B. Jordan (Fruitvale Station)
    Bruce Dern (Nebraska)
    Robert Redford (All Is Lost)
    Oscar Isaac (Inside Llewyn Davis)
    Bradley Cooper (The Place Beyond the Pines)

    Julianne Moore (What Maisie Knew)
    Nicole Kidman (Stoker)
    Octavia Spencer (Fruitvale Station)
    Reese Witherspoon (Mud)

    Matthew McConaughey (Mud)
    Sam Rockwell (The Way Way Back)
    Ryan Gosling (The Place Beyond the Pines)

    Woody Allen (Blue Jasmine)
    Jeff Nichols (Mud)
    Ryan Coogler (Fruitvale Station)
    Derek Cianfrance, Ben Coccio & Darius Marder (The Place Beyond the Pines)
    Nat Faxon & Jim Rash (The Way Way Back)
    Noah Baumbach & Greta Gerwig (Frances Ha)
    David Lowery (Ain’t Them Bodies Saints)
    Bob Nelson (Nebraska)
    Lake Bell (In a World)

    Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy & Ethan Hawke (Before Midnight)
    Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber (The Spectacular Now)

    I would love to add Gerwig, Woodley/Teller, Delpy/Hawke, Mara/Affleck, but considering how ridiculously strong the lead categories are expected to be this year, I don’t want to get my hopes up. Also, the Original Screenplay category is already VERY crowded…and it’s only August.

    P.S. I read it here a few weeks ago that Cooper will be campaigned in lead and Gosling in supporting for Pines, and to be honest, that made a whole lot of sense considering their…well… screentime (no spoiler here), and the fact that Cooper will be campaigned in supporting for Hustle. Bottom line : placing him in supporting for Pines doesn’t make sense…at all.

    1. PINES was not a good movie. It made more of a cultural impact before it came out then upon release. 81% from RT and 71% from Top Critics isn’t good enough. Cianfrance needs to work with a real screenwriter, a real storyteller. He’s a director, and a good one, but he should work with a proper script.

    2. Ah, thanks for the P.S. Was curious why you’d put Cooper in lead for “Pines.” And very glad to see the love for Rockwell, he was fantastic.

    3. @Ellen. Reese Witherspoon was forgettable , awkward , and mediocre in ” Mud ” . She doesn’t deserve any recognition for that performance . Besides , the child actors owned that movie. Nicole Kidman will not be nominated , because Stoker was badly reviewed.

      Am I the only one that finds Bradley Cooper highly overrated ? I always feel that he tries too hard for my taste , and Bradley looks very out of place in the ” American Hustle ” trailer . Rust & Bone’s Matthias Schoenaerts deserved an Oscar nomination over Bradley ( and Rust & Bone’s Marion Cotillard deserved a nomination over Jennifer Lawrence’s over-praised SLP performance ) . I guess strong campaigning can get you undeserved Oscar nominations ( and the Harvey Weinstein machine ) .

      P.S. Sam Rockwell deserves every recognition he can get. What a talent.

      1. I totally aggree. I like Cooper, but the whole SLP was too overrated (thank you very much, Weinstein!) Jackie was the only one deserving a nomination. The movie was a better than average romantic comedy.

        The Oscar should have gone to Chastain.

        And Pines was a good movie. Mendelsohn and Gosling were terrific. Bradley was good too, but not at that level.

        I really hope some recognition, and I hope Blanchett gets the award this year.

    4. Can’t argue with such a great list and especially glad someone mentioned Bruce Dern and Sam Rockwell (seriously overdue).

      I would also truly love to see these people too.

      Michael Shannon (The Iceman)
      Idris Elba(Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom)
      Forest Whitaker (The Butler)
      Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave)
      Chadwick Boseman (42)

      James Franco (Spring Breakers or Third Person)
      Harrison Ford (42)

      Greta Gerwig (Frances Ha)
      Winona Ryder (The Iceman)

      Mila Kunis (Third Person)
      Sharon Stone (Lovelace)

    5. As nice as is your list, it’s way too early to figure it out who’s gonna make the cut.

      Wait for: Twelve years a slave, American huustle, August: osage county, The wolf of Wall Street, Foxcatcher, Out of the furnace, The counselor, The monuments men, The Dallas buyers club, Captain Phillips,…

      Next months are going to be awesome!

  3. The panel obviously has problems if they only pay attention to movies released around November and December. I mean seriously, then studios think they’re being clever by releasing their Oscar hopefuls at the end of the year and we just get an overcrowded month of quality movies. And they wonder why there’s so many flops when they chose to release their “good stuff” at the end of the year. C’mon man.

  4. I like McConaughey, but I felt he was just playing himself in MUD. It’s not what I would call an example of exemplary acting.

  5. The fact that Oscars have to be campaigned for and strategized for is exactly why they’ve become less interesting for those who aren’t in the industry.

  6. I hope “Serena” doesn’t get forgotten in the mix, the adaptation of the Ron Rash novel, which is set to release this fall sometime. I loved the novel and it once again pairs Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence which could provide burn-out for the movie, which I haven’t seen yet.

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