November. Arrrrgh. In all the many months of awards season, November—fully four months before the Oscars and several weeks before year’s end—has become the busiest, most exhausting, and, quite frankly, most annoying. The reason? Everyone still thinks they can win.
There’s none of the rude awakening that starts on December 1—with the announcement of the New York Film Critics Circle Awards—and pushes onward with the endless slew of other critics kudos. December is when contenders start losing and reality kicks in that maybe this isn’t their year. As the list of winners begins to pile up, the much larger contingent of handlers behind films that were overlooked starts accepting the fact that it’s time to pull the reins on a campaign that isn’t gaining momentum or worth the time, effort and cost to continue in any major way. It’s just the way it is.
But November, now that’s another proposition altogether. And Oscar fever only seems to have spread this year. Even though it’s an uphill climb for anyone to land one of the five prized best actor nominations, more names keep joining the race, the latest being Kevin Costner with a one-week qualifying run in early December for his superb work in Black or White. That film landed a last-minute distributor, Relativity Media, which has decided to jump into the deep end with the pic.
The problem is that a film such as this has to play catchup, get its screenings going, screeners sent, win awards from film fests and, first and foremost, somehow get seen amidst all the competition already out there.
But Black or White isn’t alone. Several other movies will be dropped into the race for one-weekers, including two touting Julianne Moore: Sony Pictures Classics’ Toronto pickup Still Alice and David Cronenberg’s Maps to the Stars, which won her the best actress prize at Cannes but was going to be released next year, employing a video-on-demand strategy by Focus World without an awards run. Moore understandably was upset since it was one of her most praised roles in recent years (even if the film might tip the weird scale for more conservative Oscar voters). But the SPC pickup of Alice and universal praise for her performance as a victim of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease has helped cushion that disappointment. So Alice, which pretty much has been sight-unseen by Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences voters, has lifted Moore into the favorite spot for best actress, and not only because she is overdue. But now Maps will get a one-week qualifying run after all, primarily to land a musical or comedy best actress Golden Globe nod for Moore, giving her a shot at two big awards this year.
Mark Canton was so determined to see some Oscar love for his film, Cake—which won Jennifer Aniston a well-deserved standing ovation at its Toronto premiere—that his own company, Cinelou, will be distributing it with a one-week run in early December. Hopes are high that Aniston will land not only a Globes best actress slot in the comedy or musical competition but also a dark horse position for an Oscar nomination. The feeling is that Cake is Aniston’s Monster, and the actress will hit the circuit to push it into contention.
Other smaller films and longer shots also are jumping into the crowded field because, well, it’s November and they still harbor hopes of a come-from-behind miracle. Such is the case with Sally Kirkland, who earned an Oscar nomination and Golden Globe win for 1987’s Anna and who told me she thinks she has a shot at an award with her new indie film, Archaeology of a Woman. Similar to Moore in Alice, Kirkland plays a woman slipping into dementia. It’s a powerhouse performance that hits a raw nerve, but unlike other films opening to qualify, Archaeology doesn’t even have a distributor. That didn’t stop Kirkland, who had done a guerrilla campaign for Anna. She personally has booked Archaeology for a week at Laemmle’s Music Hall in Beverly Hills, right across the street from AMPAS headquarters.
Such plans came together this month because hopefuls looked at the landscape and decided it was now or never. November’s optimism means the parties, screenings, receptions, mailings and the like are at a fever pitch. Everyone still is strategizing about how to break through and get a chance at Oscar gold. Hey, if you don’t take the shot and play the game, you just might never know what could have been.