Cinema Chatter #10 – Presumptions

I would not have looked twice at Juan Antonio Bayona’s film The Impossible until Summit Entertainment announced a December 21st release date. Now the picture, which deals with a family in the aftermath of a tsunami, possesses all the qualities of a heavy-hitting emotional drama that tends to be favored by Academy voters.  By mid-August, presumptions need to be made. Studios position their films in ways to maximize lasting critical response. A film that opens earlier in the year, despite its finer qualities, will face an uphill climb come the end of the year to retain its critical aura – it’s why a formally excellent film like Zodiac failed to get nominated in a single category in 2008. Positioning a film at the end of the year can prove to be beneficial, as it can be easily recalled as voters make their decisions. Undoubtedly, a film like Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close benefitted from being one of the last films released in the 2011.

Being the last out doesn’t necessarily poise one for Academy Awards attention though. David Fincher’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and Tomas Alfredson’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy could have benefitted in having an additional month for audiences to reflect on the pictures.  Similarly, visceral pictures such as Steven Spielberg’s War Horse and aforementioned Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close engaged audiences on a guttural level as opposed to cerebral. It’s not as if I’m saying that more time would have changed the awards season dramatically, but rather, it’s really about the nuance in timing. Note that of the nominated nine from the 84th Academy Awards, the earliest film was released in limited capacity in late May – most audiences did not have access to Midnight in Paris until late June.

With timing proving to be an integral aspect to the awards game, one has to presume that pictures without distributors will fall on the wayside. Terrence Malick’s To the Wonder remains a particularly special case though. Given Malick’s history of post-production delays, it’s a minor miracle that he’s able to finish a new film a year removed from The Tree of Life. Fox Searchlight may be the assumed distributor for To the Wonder, but given the studios full slate of potential Oscar hopefuls, including the Malickian Beasts of the Southern Wild, it might not be a sure thing. As To the Wonder gears up for the Venice and Toronto Film Festivals, I have no doubt that some distributor will bring the film over – it’s really a matter of if it will be released in time for this awards season or held off until next year.

Similarly, after receiving positive notices at Cannes, it’s surprising to find that Jeff Nichols’ Mud still lacks a distributor. Given the buzzed lead performance from Matthew McConaughey   and the momentum built from Nichols’ previous film, Take Shelter, it looked like the film was poised for potential awards talk. But it’s all come to a screeching halt as the picture has been largely invisible since its debut. Is it being retouched? It’s hard to say, but the window on its release is closing for the year.

In this game of Oscar prognostication, the basis of predictions tends to be based on little evidence. Having only seen one of the nine films I’m predicting for Best Picture (Beasts of the Southern Wild, which isn’t even close to my favorite film of the year) all of my predictions are based on limited critical reception these films have received. Trailers and footage have been released for all of these pictures. A release date has been secured and a studio is backing the film. It’s really just the beginning of things. The fall festivals will cement certain pictures as contenders. But until then, it’s all just guesswork and relying on conjecture as a means of determining what films could be big.

My updated Oscar predictions can be found on the sidebar. For analysis on individual categories, check out the Oscar Predictions page.