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This year’s Oscar race looks very different than it did a month ago.
Several buzzed-about contenders that had been given 2013 release dates and publicly promoted by their distributors are all of a sudden heading to 2014 instead. These include Sony Pictures Classics’ Foxcatcher and The Weinstein Co.’s The Immigrant and Grace of Monaco. And the exodus might not be over yet: Paramount’s The Wolf of Wall Street could be the next one to depart. All of this has had a reverberating effect on a number of major categories.
So what’s behind the changes?
Foxcatcher, the third film directed by Bennett Miller — his other two, Capote (2005) and Moneyball (2011), both received best picture Oscar nominations — is being pushed from Dec. 20 to next year. Sony Classics co-chiefs Michael Barker and Tom Bernard told me earlier this month that the film — which is said to feature career-redefining work by best actor hopefuls Steve Carell and Channing Tatum and strong supporting perfs by Mark Ruffalo and Vanessa Redgrave — was scheduled to screen for the first time, for long-lead editors, Oct. 15 before having its official world premiere as part of the AFI Fest in November. Now it has had to withdraw from those commitments. Barker said at the time, “The reason we didn’t wait [and push the film into 2014], and we’re kind of rushing it is we’re so excited about this film.” However, Miller apparently couldn’t finish it in time for a proper campaign.
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In the case of The Weinstein Co.’s The Immigrant and Grace of Monaco, the concerns are different. The Immigrant, a James Gray film starring Oscar winner Marion Cotillard and Oscar nominee Joaquin Phoenix, premiered at May’s Cannes Film Festival to mixed reviews. Also during the fest, Harvey Weinstein convened a gaggle of press and buyers in order to tease his fall slate, which included Grace of Monaco, and even corralled festival juror Nicole Kidman, the Oscar-winning star of the Grace Kelly biopic/love story, to attend. But, a quarter of a year later, it has been determined that both films would stand a better chance of success — commercial, if not awards — next spring. I’m certain that the strength of this year’s best actress race (Oscar winners Cate Blanchett, Meryl Streep, Judi Dench, Sandra Bullock, Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet are among the top-tier contenders) and the multitude of other contenders that Weinstein is pushing this season (including Streep’s August: Osage County and Dench’s Philomena) also factored into the decision.
As for The Wolf of Wall Street, the challenges that could push it into 2014 are for still different reasons. The quality of the Terence Winter-scribed Martin Scorsese film — which boasts an all-star cast that includes Leonardo DiCaprio, Matthew McConaughey, Jonah Hill and Oscar winner Jean Dujardin — is not really in question. But Scorsese’s recently submitted first cut is said to run more than three hours and include content that would likely garner it an NC-17 rating, two things Paramount would almost certainly deem unacceptable because both would greatly reduce its potential audience. Reports suggest that the film is back in the editing room, with Scorsese hard at work with his longtime cutter Thelma Schoonmaker. The film will miss its previously announced Nov. 15 release date, and may not be ready by Christmas, either. That would make this the second year in a row in which the still Oscar-less DiCaprio has watched a film in which he gives a major perf pushed a year. (The Great Gatsby was set for a Christmas 2012 release but Warner Bros. moved it to summer 2013.)
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So who, in the end, benefits from all of these departures? Well, the exit of Foxcatcher and its two best actor hopefuls — and the potential exit of The Wolf of Wall Street — certainly boosts the prospects of on-the-bubble contenders Nebraska‘s Bruce Dern (for whom DiCaprio represents in-studio competition), Inside Llewyn Davis‘ Oscar Isaac, Fruitvale Station‘s Michael B. Jordan, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom‘s Idris Elba and Prisoners‘ Hugh Jackman. And the absence of The Immigrant‘s Cotillard and Grace of Monaco‘s Kidman may make it easier for some lesser-known long shots — such as Adele Exarchopoulos (Blue Is the Warmest Color), Berenice Bejo (The Past) and Brie Larson (Short Term 12) — to gain a bit more traction in the best actress race.
Could any other chips, beyond those already mentioned, still fall? It would seem unlikely. There are only a small handful of contenders that have not been publicly unveiled yet — Sony’s American Hustle, Warner Bros.’ Her, Sony’s The Monuments Men, Disney’s Saving Mr. Banks and Fox’s The Secret Life of Walter Mitty — and I have heard nothing to suggest that any of them are in trouble. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and Her will play at the New York Film Festival, which gets underway Friday night. I’m told that American Hustle had its first test screening Thursday night in Los Angeles — and might be this year’s surprise sneak screening at the New York Film Fest. Saving Mr. Banks, meanwhile, has already screened for long-lead press and will open the AFI Fest on Nov. 7. And George Clooney and Matt Damon‘s The Monuments Men appears to be on track for a Dec. 18 launch.
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