Distributors shuffle Oscar deck

Spate of release-date shifts could transform the 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.

The distributors involved offered various rationales for the moves: The Weinstein Co.'s "The Road," it was suggested, would benefit from more time in postproduction, while Paramount floated the notion that "The Soloist," which centers on an encounter between a newspaper reporter and a homeless man, does not fit the national mood, given the financial downturn.

But at the same time, other factors appeared to be in play. Postponing "Road" and "Soloist" would allow their respective distributors to focus their resources on their other awards contenders such as the Weinstein Co.'s "The Reader" and "Vicki Cristina Barcelona" and Paramount's "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," and its release of DreamWorks' "Revolutionary Road." It also would allow them to defer millions of dollars in marketing costs for "Road" and "Soloist" until next year's first quarter.

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.

Wary of falling prey to the buzzsaw that struck many fall 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 with such hopefuls as "Revolutionary Road," "Button" and Fox Searchlight's "The Wrestler," it's a lot less jammed than before.

That could open the race to candidates who otherwise might have had a tough time gaining traction, like Richard Jenkins for Overture's "The Visitor." 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. (partialdiff)