Oscars: How Screener DVDs Help or Hurt This Year's Contenders (Analysis)

Several big movies could lose awards luster if voters wait to view them on the small screen (i.e. the 3D space drama "Gravity"), but others might actually benefit from a home viewing (i.e. the lesbian love story "Blue Is the Warmest Color").
"Blue Is the Warmest Color"

This story first appeared in the Oct. 11 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. 

Will Gravity lose its impact if Academy members watch it at home instead of on a big screen? Are voters likely to pop in a DVD of 12 Years a Slave, with its rough brutality, during family time over the holidays? These are the questions facing awards strategists as Oscar season begins.

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Filmmakers prefer that their work be seen on the big screen, but every distributor knows that screeners are part of any serious awards campaign. The dilemma is how long to wait before sending out DVDs. Roadside Attractions got a jump on rivals in late September by delivering Mud, which Roadside hopes will help the May release gain traction for supporting actor Matthew McConaughey and Jeff Nichols' original screenplay.

The early-bird strategy worked for Frozen River (2008), Animal Kingdom (2010) and A Better Life (2011), all of which scored major noms. But this year, there are a number of contenders that could lose luster -- and potentially Oscar votes -- by being seen via screener. That includes large-scale films that demand an immersive cinematic experience (Sandra Bullock starrer Gravity, Robert Redford's stranded-at-sea pic All Is Lost) or films that deal with such serious subjects that watching them with interruptions would diminish their impact (12 Years a Slave, Captain Phillips, Dallas Buyers Club, Fruitvale Station).

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Other more performance-driven films likely are aided by screeners making them easier to access. That group includes August: Osage County, Before Midnight, Blue Jasmine, Inside Llewyn Davis, Lee Daniels' The Butler, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, Nebraska, Philomena and Prisoners. And some voters also might prefer to watch Blue Is the Warmest Color, with its graphic lesbian sex, in private. (The verdict is still out on awards hopefuls such as American Hustle, The Book Thief, Her, The Monuments Men, Saving Mr. Banks, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and The Wolf of Wall Street, which have yet to screen for most press.)

Warner Bros. likely will employ with Gravity the same strategy it did with recent large-scale contender Inception (2010), using star-studded cast and filmmaker Q&A's to try to lure fence-sitters to screenings -- and following up later with DVDs, of course.