EXCLUSIVE: The Emmy voting still has a few hours to go, but that didn’t stop Sony Pictures Classics from officially launching Oscar season, or at least one aspect of it. The annual ritual practiced in this column of naming the winner of the first official screener sent to Academy voters goes to SPC’s spring releases Maggie’s Plan and Miles Ahead. As one Academy member told me, “They are miles ahead in this case.” Indeed SPC is, but the timing is almost identical to last year’s “winner,” I’ll See You in My Dreams, which Bleecker Street also sent out in the last week of August. That movie starring Blythe Danner went on to zero Oscar nominations, as did the previous year’s early screener victor Snowpiercer and 2013’s Mud. But sometimes it pays off, and Sony Classics knows that from firsthand experience. In 2005 the company was first with their little gem Junebug, which went on to earn Amy Adams a Supporting Actress nomination against much better-known competition. Then in 2008 SPC sent Frozen River out first and eventually nabbed a Best Actress nomination for Melissa Leo and another for Original Screenplay. In 2012 Animal Kingdom was first to land in voters’ mailboxes, and that resulted in a Best Supporting Actress nod for Jacki Weaver.
They are no dummies, this company, and it certainly doesn’t hurt to get out early, as it has proved repeatedly. This year SPC will be pushing several movies including Elle, Toni Erdmann, The Meddler, I Saw The Light, The Hollars and animated The Red Turtle along with the extraordinary documentary The Eagle Huntress, which I just saw today. For Miles Ahead, an unconventional biopic of jazz great Miles Davis that was directed by and stars Don Cheadle, there clearly will be a push for its leading man. SPC co-presidents Michael Barker and Tom Bernard have been touting him for about a year now, ever since the film’s debut at the 2015 New York Film Festival. For director Rebecca Miller’s comedy Maggie’s Plan, there likely will be a certain Golden Globes push for star Greta Gerwig , Ethan Hawke and Julianne Moore, the latter showing great comedy chops that she doesn’t always get to display. If they land some attention there, perhaps its early exposure with Oscar voters will be a plus in that campaign.
With the Venice and Telluride film festivals kicking off this week, followed closely by Toronto and then NYFF, the long slog of Oscar season is upon us, like it or not. SPC’s screener gambit is just one of the many chess moves you can expect in the next six months leading up to the big ceremony at the Dolby Theatre. Fasten your seatbelts.