What in the world is going on with this year’s Oscar race? It seems too many Academy Award contenders are pushing back release dates until next year, making them ineligible for this year’s award season, with George Clooney’s “The Monuments Men” looking like the most recent victim.
Initially slated for a Dec. 18 release, Sony pushed the World War II film back until early next year. Clooney and Sony said that more time was required to complete the extensive visual effects for this project. Yeah, right. Could the baby (which Clooney has nursed by writing, acting, and directing) have high — possibly best picture — aspirations, which were potentially dashed by the recent success of the small Fox Searchlight film “12 Years a Slave”? The true account of a free black man who is enslaved, which was released last week to rave reviews, could trump the possible Oscar attention of the action-packed, presidential-endorsed mission to recover stolen masterpieces from the Nazis.
So does “12 Years a Slave” have the right recipe for an indie success at the Oscars? Its emotional appeal with authentic rendering of slavery, success on the festival circuit (The Toronto International Film Festival and New York Film Festival), stellar performances of lesser-known actors (lead Chiwetel Ejiofor could/should be up for best actor), production by a Hollywood heavyweight (Brad Pitt), and critics’ score of an eye-popping 95 percent on Rotten Tomatoes are significant indicators.
Harvey Weinstein, whose Weinstein Company has won best picture winner the last two outings, told the Huffington Post, “This is the most competitive [Oscar] season I’ve ever seen … And if you aren’t ready, don’t get in it.” In September, his company pushed back Nicole Kidman’s “Grace of Monaco” from 2013 to March 2014. Apparently, they didn’t consult the film’s director Olivier Dahan who disputes the studio’s excuse that “it’s just not ready.” But never underestimate Weinstein. His studio has already released “Fruitvale Station,” another true story with significant Oscar buzz.
More on the “moving to next year” chopping block are “Foxcatcher,” starring Channing Tatum and Steve Carell, James Grey’s “The Immigrant,” with Joaquin Phoenix and Marion Cotillard, Wes Anderson’s “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” and Darren Aronofsky’s Biblical tale “Noah.” Martin Scorsese’s “The Wolf of Wall Street” was spared from 2014 move, but rumors persist that it was delayed six weeks to land during the lucrative Christmas holiday timing. Based on the potential money to be made, you’d think this was common, but it’s not this common.
So why are all the films calling out sick for work? Maybe it is the “12 Years a Slave” effect. Or maybe the reasons have less to do with the seeming lock on the big award, but maybe more room at the box office. Typically, the first three months of a calendar year is reserved for the prior year’s duds. Well, the idea of starting 2014 with Oscar-worthy movies at least isn’t a bad idea for us moviegoers.
We should just be grateful that there are plenty of movies still in the awards race for now, including “Nebraska,” “The Wolf of Wall Street,” “Lee Daniels’ The Butler,” “Inside Llewyn Davis,” “Captain Phillips,” “Gravity,” “Saving Mr. Banks,” “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” “August: Osage County,” “The Fifth Estate,” “Labor Day,” “Rush,” “Fruitvale Station,” “American Hustle,” and of course, “12 Years a Slave.”