It seems highly unlikely that films once thought since Cannes to be potential Best Picture Oscar contenders — The Weinstein Co’s Grace Of Monaco and The Immigrant, both highly touted in May — would have made the Academy’s final list, even if it goes for the full 10 nominees this year. And no one is missing them now that they’ve moved on.
The real “SHOCKER” as some breathless headlines stated yesterday, was the decision by George Clooney and Grant Heslov, who won the Best Picture Oscar just last year for Argo, to move their planned December release of the World War II thriller, Monuments Men to February. (That decision follows a similar path Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island took a few years ago, a move that resulted in the film becoming Scorsese’s most successful ever at the box office.) As Clooney told my colleague Mike Fleming Jr. earlier today, he wasn’t in this for the Oscars and December was a good luck date where his Ocean’s Eleven and Ocean’s Twelve films had played. I had always heard from the beginning that Clooney wasn’t ever really looking at Men as an Academy Award play but rather a commercial picture — his Guns Of Navarone as he reiterated in the Fleming interview. In fact a top Sony source told me in the summer that Clooney had told them he wasn’t looking to campaign it (but the exec insisted they would cross that bridge when they came to it). Of course sometimes you can have both box office success and Oscar recognition.
Ironically, Guns Of Navarone went on to win seven Oscar nominations in 1961 including Best Picture.Could that have happened for Clooney’s pet project too? Who knows, but the list of potential nominees with a realistic chance is a very long one that includes another Clooney film in which he co-stars (Gravity) and yet another Clooney film he produced with Heslov (August: Osage County). What did he need another one for? Or Sony for that matter, which already has a very strong Best Pic contender in Captain Phillips and another potential one with David O. Russell’s unseen American Hustle coming out in December — where now it appears the other major unseen contender, Paramount’s The Wolf Of Wall Street, is definitely going to land, further crowding the territory. The list in addition to all of the above is loaded with prospects that also include 12 Years A Slave, Nebraska, Saving Mr. Banks, Inside Llewyn Davis, Dallas Buyers Club, All Is Lost, Lee Daniels’ The Butler, Fruitvale Station, Philomena, Labor Day, Universal’s Lone Survivor and Rush (although despite strong reviews, weak domestic box office doesn’t help the latter’s chances). Some may even view the so-called “thinning” of the field as helpful to the chances of darker horses like Mud, The Place Beyond The Pines, Enough Said, Her, The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty and another upcoming 20th Fox sleeper The Book Thief which I think could surprise.
The biggest impact on this year’s bow-outs might have come in the acting categories — to a point. Nicole Kidman in Grace and Marion Cotillard in Immigrant could have ballooned an impressive list of contenders. But in the end the likely five nominees will probably be chosen from a short list of frontrunners led by Cate Blanchett, Sandra Bullock, Judi Dench, Emma Thompson, Meryl Streep and Kate Winslet — all former Oscar winners, as are Kidman and Cotillard — so the trajectory and personality of that category is unaffected. On the Best Actor side, Bennett Miller’s Foxcatcher could have prompted a campaign for Steve Carell, but Sony Pictures Classics already has another good bet, Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine, in the Best Picture sandbox so better to let it go to 2014 than try to squeeze a spot at the end of this very crowded year.
It is always interesting to see the amount of pressure put on films that are released after Labor Day. Critics and pundits walk into most of them not as a regular movie but rather as an “Oscar picture” and judgment on the film’s merits becomes sidetracked. It’s not always fair. I know for a fact Bill Condon set out to make a movie, rather than a contender, when he took on The Fifth Estate (a film I really liked). At the time he told associates he didn’t want it to be in the Oscar game. When it crashed at the box office this weekend headlines said “Oscar hopeful flops” etc. In retrospect, taking the opening-night slot at Toronto probably did the film no favors as it was doomed after that no matter what the original intention.
Now that his film is no longer an “Oscar picture” — at least for 2013 — I look forward to seeing Clooney’s Monuments Men as just an old fashioned movie. Remember those?