Contender Castoffs: What Happened to These 13 Would-Be 2011 Awards Hopefuls?

A look at what became of some of the films that many thought, at one time or another, might factor into this year's awards race, but never did.
"On the Road"

As 2011 winds to a close and the announcement of Oscar nominations approaches, I thought it might be interesting to catch up with some of the films many thought, at one time or another, would factor into this year's awards race but never did.

Some screened at festivals in search of a distributor but didn't find one; others found a distributor, but the distributor decided it lacked the money, manpower or time to mount a campaign this year. Some had distributors before they were in the can and simply were not completed in time to be released this year; others were completed in time to be released this year, but their distributors had their hands full with other contenders and decided to hold them until next year.

It is important to remember that just because a film is not part of this year's awards race doesn't mean it won't be part of next year's. True, some of these titles will never be heard from again -- but others could follow in the footsteps of, say:

  • Crash, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in September 2004, at which time it was picked up for U.S. distribution by Lionsgate and held for the following year; was released theatrically in May 2005; and, in March 2006, won the best picture Oscar.
  • The Visitor, which premiered at Toronto in September 2007, at which time it was picked up for U.S. distribution by Overture and held for the following year; was released theatrically in April 2008; and, in February 2009, was represented at the Oscars in the best actor category.
  • Lovely, Still, which premiered at Toronto in September 2008; was not picked up by a distributor until 2010, when Monterey Media decided to take a chance on it; and was released in theaters in September 2010.
  • The Hurt Locker, which premiered at Toronto in September 2008, at which time it was picked up for U.S. distribution by Summit and held for the following year; was released theatrically in June 2009; and, in March 2010, won the best picture Oscar.
  • The Debt, Everything Must Go, The First Grader, Girlfriend, Meek's Cutoff, Sarah's Key, Tabloid, The Way and The Whistleblower, all of which premiered at Toronto in September 2010; were subsequently picked up by various distributors; and were held for release until 2011.

Without further ado, here is the class of 2011:

Barrymore
Christopher Plummer reprises the role of legendary thespian John Barrymore -- for which he won the best actor Tony 15 years ago -- in this one-man film, written and directed by Erik Canuel. The octogenarian's vigor and stamina is amazing, and even if the film starts to drag after a while, it is a valuable historical record. The film premiered at Toronto in September.
VERDICT: Still seeking U.S. distribution. (The
ongoing legal troubles of the film's producer can't be helping matters.)

Butter
This comedy, which TWC acquired before it screened publicly, was unveiled at Telluride then Toronto, where Harvey Weinstein raised its profile immensely by
calling attention to similarities between its protagonist, Laura Pickler (Jennifer Garner) -- an uptight housewife from Iowa who plasters on a fake smile in public to mask her underlying anger -- and U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn. Pickler, whose husband was the area's butter-sculpting champion for years before being pushed aside, will stop at nothing -- including sabotaging the work of an adorable orphan (Yara Shahidi) -- to preserve the family's title and standing in the community.
VERDICT: The film played well enough as counterprogramming at Telluride and Toronto but seemed a stretch even for Golden Globe noms in the musical/comedy categories, so TWC decided to hold it for 2012. (It's scheduled for release March 16.)

The Deep Blue Sea
Terence Davies' adaptation of Terence Rattigan's 1952 play stars Oscar winner Rachel Weisz as the self-destructive wife of a high-court judge who leaves her husband (Simon Russell Beale) to move in with a young ex-RAF pilot (Tom Hiddleston), causing all hell to break loose. The film premiered at Toronto in September and was the closing-night screening at October's London Film Festival.
VERDICT: Music Box acquired the film's U.S. distribution rights in September, just before its final public screening in Toronto, and will release it March 30. It's the first English-language acquisition for the studio, best known for distributing the Swedish-language The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo films.

The Eye of the Storm
Australian writer-director Fred Schepisi, best known for the films Roxanne (1987) and A Cry in the Dark (1988), adapted (from a popular 1973 Aussie novel) and directed this actors' showcase about an elderly woman (Charlotte Rampling) nearing death whose children (Oscar winner Geoffrey Rush and Oscar nominee Judy Davis) make a rare trip home to see her, with the goal of boosting their standing in her will. THR
hailed the film, which premiered at Toronto in September, as a "classy, grown-up drama with caustic wit and superb performances."
VERDICT: Still seeking U.S. distribution.

Friends With Kids
The directorial debut of Jennifer Westfeldt, who co-wrote Kissing Jessica Stein (2001), is another romantic dramedy she penned and in which she stars. This one revolves around a girl (Westfeldt) and guy (Adam Scott) who are best friends and, for lack of better options and in order to beat her biological clock, decide to have a child together while remaining "just friends." The film -- which also stars Maya Rudolph, Kristen Wiig, Megan Fox, Ed Burns, Chris O'Dowd and Westfeldt's real-life partner, Jon Hamm -- had audiences at September's Toronto fest laughing and crying.
VERDICT: Lionsgate acquired the film's U.S. distribution rights Sept. 21 and will release it theatrically, via Roadside Attractions, on a date to be determined.

On the Road
On paper, it sounds incredible: a big-screen adaptation of Jack Kerouac's great "road novel"; directed by Walter Salles, who helmed the great "road movie" The Motorcycle Diaries (2004); produced by masters Francis Ford Coppola and Gus Van Sant; and starring young actors Sam Riley and Garrett Hedlund, Oscar nominees Amy Adams, Viggo Mortensen and Terrence Howard, as well as Kristen Stewart, Kirsten Dunst, Steve Buscemi, Tom Sturridge and Elisabeth Moss.
VERDICT: Still seeking U.S. distribution. The film was shot way back in the fall and winter 2010 but still has not screened publicly, which is not a good sign. However, some reports suggest that it is now in post-production and may be ready in time for the Cannes Film Festival in May.

Peace, Love, & Misunderstanding
Two-time Oscar winner Jane Fonda returns to the big screen after a four-year absence in this Bruce Beresford-directed dramedy, playing a child of the 1960s who is now a gray-haired grandmother -- only she hasn't gotten the memo that her behavior was supposed to change. When her long-estranged daughter (Catherine Keener) shows up at her home with two kids in tow (the girl is played by Elizabeth Olsen of Martha Marcy May Marlene) after separating from her husband, Fonda teaches them all to loosen up and helps each find a bit of romance (Olsen with Chace Crawford). Think On Golden Pond (1981), only funny and with Fonda as the parent instead of the child.
VERDICT: IFC Films acquired the film's U.S. distribution rights in December and plans to release it in 2012. The studio's president, Jonathan Sehring, said, "It's one everyone will be talking about next awards season."

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen
Paul Torday's best-selling novel has been adapted for the screen by Simon Beaufoy, the Oscar-winning screenwriter of Slumdog Millionaire (2008), and directed by Lasse Hallstrom, the Oscar-nominated helmer of The Cider House Rules (1999). The inspirational comedy centers on an uptight fisheries expert (Ewan McGregor) who is approached by a fishing-obsessed Arab sheik to do what seems impossible: Bring British salmon, which live in cold water, to the desert valleys of Yemen. Emily Blunt and Oscar nominee Kristin Scott Thomas also star. The film premiered at Toronto in September.
VERDICT: CBS Films
acquired the film's U.S. distribution rights in September, following a bidding war just before the close of the Toronto fest, and plans to release it theatrically March 9. It also will screen on opening night of the 23rd annual Palm Springs International Film Festival on Jan. 5.

Take This Waltz
Sarah Polley
, the 32-year-old Canadian actress-turned-writer/director whose previous film, Away From Her (2006), wowed critics and earned Oscar noms for her script and lead actress, returns with another heartwrenching pic about the hazards of love. This one stars Michelle Williams, arguably the best actress of her generation, as a woman torn between her husband (Seth Rogen) and her new neighbor (Luke Kirby). It premiered at Toronto in September.
VERDICT: Magnolia acquired the film's U.S. distribution rights in October and plans to release it theatrically in early-summer 2012.

This Must Be the Place
In Italian director Paolo Sorrentino's first English-language film, Cheyenne 
(Sean Penn), a retired glam-rock star, learns after the death of his father (Judd Hirsch), from whom he had long been estranged, the extent of humiliation to which the older man had been subjected at Auschwitz by a former S.S. officer who was never captured. Bored with his life and apparently seeking redemption and revenge, Cheyenne bids farewell to his wife (Frances McDormand) and sets out in search of his father's torturer. The film premiered at Cannes in May.
VERDICT: TWC acquired the film's U.S. distribution rights in September and plans to release it theatrically in March 2012.

360
The previous time Rachel Weisz was directed by Fernando Meirelles, in 2005, she wound up with an Oscar. That film was an adaptation of John le Carre's novel The Constant Gardener; this one, which also unfolds like a thriller, was inspired by Arthur Schnitzler's century-old play Reigen, which explores the complexities of sexual relationships between people of different social classes. Written by Oscar winner Peter Morgan, it also stars Anthony HopkinsBen Foster and Jude Law. The movie premiered at the Toronto fest in September and opened the London Film Festival in October.
VERDICT: Magnolia
 acquired the film's U.S. distribution rights in October and plans to release it in 2012, theatrically in major U.S. markets and also through its Ultra VOD program.

Twixt
Francis Ford Coppola's latest quirky "personal" film, which stars Val Kilmer and Elle Fanning, apparently was inspired by a dream he had. When the master filmmaker took clips of the pic to Comic-Con in July, audiences were confused and intrigued by what they saw and heard -- and that apparently remains the case now that it has been seen in its entirety. It doesn't have the mainstream appeal of Coppola's best-known works, but his name alone might be enough to attract respectable box-office numbers at art house theaters.
VERDICT: Still seeking U.S. distribution.

Wettest County
The latest film from John Hillcoat (The Proposition, The Road), originally titled The Wettest County in the World, recounts the true story of a pair of bootlegging brothers (Tom Hardy and Shia LaBeouf) in the Prohibition-era South. TWC acquired the film at Cannes before it was completed, based on an impressive promo reel shown to distributors, its serious subject matter and an incredible cast that also includes Mia Wasikowska, Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman, Guy Pearce, Dane DeHaan and Jessica Chastain.
VERDICT: The film has been in the can for several months, which led some to speculate that its previously announced 2012 release would be pushed up and it would be snuck into the 2011 Oscar race at the last minute, a la Million Dollar Baby (2004). But because TWC has its hands full with other contenders or because test screenings have shown that it has more commercial than awards potential, the studio has elected not to release it until April 20.

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