EXCLUSIVE: Marking a high profile kick-off to Paramount’s Shutter Island Oscar campaign, American Cinematheque will present a retrospective of the film collaborations of Leonardo DiCaprio and Martin Scorcese at Hollywood’s Egyptian Theatre the weekend of November 13 with the pair participating in a live “conversation” following a November 14 screening. DiCaprio will appear in person while Scorsese will be satellited in from London where he is currently working on his new film Hugo Cabret. All four of their film ventures together will be highlighted with The Departed and Gangs Of New York screenings as a double bill Saturday followed by The Aviator and Shutter Island on Sunday. The former three fllms all went on to Best Picture nominations with The Departed winning.  DiCaprio received a Best Actor nomination for Aviator. Obviously Paramount is hoping the streak won’t be broken even though its early 2010 release date of February 19 puts it at a disadvantage with other later-breaking contenders including Par’s own December entries, The Fighter (December 10) and True Grit (December 25). 

Originally Shutter was planned for an early October 2009 release but was moved out of the heart of that awards season for financial reasons. At the time Paramount chairman Brad Grey explained the shift of the hotly anticipated Oscar contender as “our 2009 slate was greenlit in a very different economic climate and as a result we must remain flexible and willing to recalibrate and adapt to a changing environment.” The move obviously turned out to be a good one cash-wise as the film went on to become Scorsese’s most successful ever with a $295 million dollar worldwide haul. Whether that killed any reasonable chance for Oscar recognition remains to be seen but February isn’t exactly prime time for serious awards contenders. The last film to win Best Picture (or even be nominated) with such an early release date was 1991’s The Silence Of The Lambs which opened on February 14 and went on more than a year later to a rare Oscar sweep including Picture, Actor, Actress, Adapted Screenplay and Director. That film was shepherded by Mike Medavoy who ran Orion at the time.

Ironically his Phoenix Pictures made Shutter and he is a producer along with Scorsese, Bradley J. Fischer and Arnold W. Messer. When I talked to Medavoy and Fischer recently, Medavoy recounted the touchy situation he faced with Lambs as he had jumped from Orion, which he co-founded, to Tri Star as chairman and suddenly found himself with a major December contender Bugsy which he says he spent $25 million pushing. Bugsy earned 10 nominations (3 more than Lambs), 4 Golden Globes and still managed to lose in the end at the Academy to Lambs’ savvy  come-from-behind campaign. This year he has another December release, Black Swan (Fox Searchlight, December 1), but there are now 10 Best Picture slots instead of 5 and he’s hoping there is room for both his babies. He said he has been assured by Paramount that they will aggressively campaign Shutter and indeed enthusiastic studio sources tell me  they are getting behind it with a full lineup of events in addition to the Cinematheque weekend including an extensive screening program in several voter-rich cities (LA, NY, SF, London, Chicago) and hitting key holiday vacation spots, hefty advertising and perhaps most importantly a “very wide” distribution of DVDs (traditional watermarking is not necessary since it’s already out). 2005 Best Picture winner Crash used the latter strategy successfully when it was able to blanket the town with DVDs due to its early May release date.

One potential problem for DiCaprio is he is also being pushed for Lead Actor by Warner Bros for their July release, Inception, and will be competing against himself for the heart of Academy voters. It’s a bit of déjà vu as the same thing happened  in 2006 when he had The Departed and Blood Diamond. In the end he was nominated for the latter but lost to Forest Whitaker (The Last King Of Scotland).