Oscars: 'Stan & Ollie' Could Factor In Awards Race If It Finds a Buyer in Toronto

The film, which will close the London Film Festival on Oct. 21, is set to screen for buyers in Toronto on Thursday morning following a successful sneak screening for Academy members in Los Angeles.
John C. Reilly (left) and Steve Coogan in 'Stan & Ollie'

Stan & OllieJon S. Baird's tone poem about the late career of the comedy team of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, which stars Steve Coogan and Oscar nominee John C. Reilly, respectively, won't be publicly unveiled until Oct. 21, when it has its world premiere as the closing night film of the 62nd London Film Festival. And the movie, produced by eOne, BBC Films and Fable Pictures, doesn't yet have an American distributor. But that could change after it screens for buyers in Toronto on Thursday morning as the industry converges on the 43rd Toronto International Film Festival. And if it is acquired by a distributor who guarantees a 2018 release, it could factor into this year's Oscar race. 

Stan & Ollie chronicles the aging comic duo's trying tour of English variety halls after World War II, and the tender but tenuous relationship that kept them together through many ups and downs. The film screened for a select group of Academy members in West Hollywood on Aug. 27, with The Hollywood Reporter the only media outlet in attendance, and it — and particularly the performances of Coogan and Reilly, and the makeup and hairstyling that make them look like spitting images of Laurel and Hardy — couldn't have gone over better, based on conversations at the post-screening reception.

"The film is terrific," public relations branch member Bruce Feldman told me. "Beautifully made and very funny. I've talked to a lot of other members and they also seemed to like and appreciate it very much, especially those two great performances. Those performances are as good as any Oscar-nominated performance could be." He added, "It would be a shame if more people don't get to see it."

Arnold Schwartzman of the documentary branch was born and raised in Margate, England, and still remembers seeing, when he was age 11, Laurel and Hardy come to town as part of the very tour chronicled in the film. "It brought back some very happy memories," he said. "It didn't have the same pizzazz as seeing them in the movies, but I did enjoy it very much. I thought it was excellent. They [the actors] both looked the part and had all the mannerisms of the originals."

Many Academy members could probably also relate to the film's depiction of what it's like for an artist after the roar of the crowd has faded but one's desire to create art has not — when one does what one must in order to keep doing what one loves. (This idea feels timely in a week in which former Cosby Show actor Geoffrey Owens was shamed for having to bag groceries in order to earn enough money to continue acting.)

Should Stan & Ollie be picked up in Toronto and slated for release before the end of the year, it would be entering the race later than the rest of the field — but that isn't necessarily a handicap. Last season, Neon's acquisition of I, Tonya during TIFF, and the film's subsequent commercial and Oscar success, offered a reminder that a savvy distributor can take a good movie far into awards season even if it only acquires it in the fall.

Moreover, the best picture recognition garnered last season by Darkest Hour, which also rolled out in September, shows that, for all the demographic changes to the Academy in recent years, there remains a sizable constituency in the group that responds to traditional period-piece dramas and what might be called 'good old-fashioned filmmaking.' (Coogan knows them well, having starred five years ago in Philomena, which wound up with a best picture Oscar nom.)

And since the best actor race itself is still relatively open, there could be room for Reilly and/or Coogan. Reilly is already set to make the rounds in the coming months on behalf of The Sisters Brothers, Holmes & Watson and the Wreck-It Ralph sequel Ralph Breaks the Internet, and could plug Stan & Ollie, too.

Consulting with eOne on the rollout of Stan & Ollie are a host of former Paramount marketing, publicity and awards specialists — Megan Colligan and Perception PR's Lea Yardum, Gena Wilder and Julie Tustin — whose association with the film also bolsters its credibility as a potential contender. It was only seven years ago that they helped to propel another film about a show-business figure who was largely forgotten late in life — Hugo, which tells the story of the silent film director Georges Melies — all the way to the Dolby.