Movies Stake Out Strategic Release Dates as Next Awards Season Takes Shape

Bling Ring Emma Watson - H 2013

Steve McQueen's "Twelve Years a Slave" is the latest title to pop up on the calendar.

There's no rest for the weary.

The Oscars were only a month ago, and already the next awards season is taking shape as Hollywood studios and indie companies rush to stake out coveted release dates.

On Thursday, Fox Searchlight revealed it will launch Steve McQueen's historical drama Twelve Years a Slave -- reuniting the director with Michael Fassbender -- in a limited run on Dec. 27. The move comes just days after The Weinstein Co. claimed the same date for the limited debut of Grace of Monaco, starring Nicole Kidman as Grace Kelly.

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Harvey Weinstein and his team have been the busiest in terms of snapping up dates. They've set a July 26 limited release for Fruitvale, based on the real-life story of Oscar Grant, the young black man shot by Oakland police at a BART station in 2009. TWC picked up the critically acclaimed film out of the Sundance Film Festival in January (don't be surprised if it plays at the Cannes Film Festival in May).

And TWC recently dated Lee Daniels' White House historical drama, The Butler, for Oct. 18 and John Wellsdramedy, August: Osage County, starring Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts and Ewan McGregor, for Nov. 8. Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, starring Idris Elba as the iconic civil rights leader, will begin its theatrical run Nov. 27.

Like Fruitvale, Sofia Coppola's The Bling Ring, starring Emma Watson, is another summer film -- and also a potential Cannes title -- with some awards buzz. A24 Films will open it in a limited run June 14. Ditto for Richard Linklater's Before Midnight, which Sony Pictures Classics opens in select theaters May 24.

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Fall and winter, however, remain the prime months for awards titles.

September brings the debut of Ron Howard's Formula One drama, Rush, which Universal opens Sept. 20. Warner Bros. rolls out the George Clooney-Sandra Bullock starrer Gravity on Oct. 4, followed by Sony's Tom Hanks Somali pirates drama, Captain Phillips, helmed by Paul Greengrass, on Oct. 11.

Richard Curtis' time-travel dramedy, About Time, from Universal and starring Rachel McAdams, launches in a limited run Nov. 1.

There's an all-out showdown over the Nov. 15-17 weekend. Three high-profile films open: Ridley Scott's The Counselor, from Fox and starring Fassbender, Javier Bardem, Brad Pitt, Penelope Cruz and Cameron Diaz; Martin Scorsese's Leonardo DiCaprio headliner The Wolf of Wall Street from Paramount and Red Granite; and Bill Condon's WikiLeaks movie The Fifth Estate from DreamWorks and Participant Media.

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In recent days, Sony announced it will launch David O. Russell's untitled Abscam drama, starring Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence, in a limited run Dec. 13.

On Dec. 18, Sony opens George Clooney's World War II drama, Monuments Men, starring Clooney opposite Cate Blanchett and Matt Damon, although there's debate about whether it will be an awards contender.

Another studio film with potential awards buzz is Disney's Saving Mr. Banks, starring Hanks as the legendary Walt Disney. The movie, also starring Emma Thompson, centers on the making of Mary Poppins and opens nationwide Dec. 20.

Awards titles that have yet to be dated include Joel and Ethan Coen's Inside Llewyn Davis (the movie is virtually assured of a Cannes slot), J.C. Chandor's All Is Lost starring Robert Redford, Bennett Miller's Foxcatcher, Jason Reitman's Labor Day, Anton Corbijn's A Most Wanted Man, Alexander Payne's Nebraska and Diana starring Naomi Watts.