Distributors shuffle Oscar deck

Release-date shifts transform actor races

The Dow Jones has nothing on Oscar releases.

The past seven days brought one of the most topsy-turvy awards weeks in recent memory as release-date shifts for a spate of contenders have reshaped the race. Three movies -- the Weinstein Co.'s "The Road" and Paramount's "The Soloist" and "Defiance" -- might get qualifying runs, at best, or not be eligible in 2008.

Most notably, four possible best-actor or supporting-actor candidates -- Daniel Craig ("Defiance"), Robert Downey Jr. ("Soloist"), Jamie Foxx ("Soloist") and Viggo Mortensen ("Road") -- saw their odds diminish or disappear because of the rescheduling.

"The whole race turned upside down in a matter of days," one Oscar consultant said. "You have four potential best-actor candidates who are not just in limbo -- they may be gone."

Wary of falling prey to the buzzsaw that struck many September and October releases last year, and running behind on postproduction schedules, distributors have held back a host of movies until later in the season. While December still looks crowded -- the second half of that month is rife with such hopefuls as DreamWorks' "Revolutionary Road," Paramount's "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" and Fox Searchlight's "The Wrestler" -- it looks a lot less jammed than before.

That could open the race to candidates who otherwise might have had a tough time gaining traction -- actors in smaller movies that opened earlier in the year, like Richard Jenkins (Overture's "The Visitor"), or stars of such summer tentpoles as Warner Bros.' "The Dark Knight" and Paramount's "Iron Man."

It also opens the field for other fall hopefuls including Brad Pitt ("Button"), Mickey Rourke ("Wrestler"), Josh Brolin (Lionsgate's "W."), Frank Langella (Universal's "Frost/Nixon") and Sean Penn (Focus Features' "Milk"), who might receive not only greater opportunities but also bigger pushes.