Friday, October 27, 2006

Newsflash! Studios Release Oscar Hopefuls In Fall

In a stunningly unoriginal piece, the LA Times asks us why it is so many adult, thoughtful films appear at the same time in the fall; then they give us the not-so startling answer that it's because movies hope to piggyback on the Oscars. They link it to the Weinsteins but in fact releasing serious movies towards the end of the year with summer fare being typically lighter has been a trend for the past 30 years, at least.

But is it true that serious movies only come out in the fall? The real trend in the last ten years has been a major increase in year-round programming, with some studios putitng out major films like "Saving Private Ryan" in the summer as counter-programming to fluff.

Let's look at this year. Now, there's a difference between Oscar HOPEFULS and Oscar nominees. But what "serious" movies were released this year? In March, they released Johnny Depp's The Libertine, Sam Shepard's Don't Come Knocking, Robert Towne's Ask The Dust, Aaron Eckhart's Thank You For Smoking (which could still get attention come awards time), Spike Lee's Inside Man (a popcorn movie, but still adult), and the terrific noir movie Brick. Now I'm including some indie films but ignoring most foreign films (like Joyeux Noel which also came out in March). I'm just saying, here are some serious films that came out. In April, they released Friends With Money, The Notorious Bettie Page, Akeelah and the Bee and United 93. In May, they released Art School Confidential, Ed Norton's Down In The Valley, and An Inconvenient Truth. In June, they released A Prairie Home Companion, Wordplay, Who Killed The Electric Car and The Devil Wears Prada. In July, the heart of summer, they released Woody Allen's Scoop, Richard Linklater's A Scanner Darkly and Little Miss Sunshine. In August, they released World Trade Center, Robin Williams' The Night Listener, Ryan Gosling (who is brilliant) in Half Nelson, and The Illusionist. In September, they released Hollywoodland, Sherrybaby, The Black Dahlia, The Last Kiss, All The King's Men, The Last King of Scotland, The Queen and of course Jackass Number Two.

Do more movies come out in the fall that are serious and substantial? Yes, of course. Is it the only time of the year serious movies with well-known stars get released? Not at all. What's even more bizarre is this claim:

Last year, for example, a host of movies tanked at the box office despite being touted — either by the studios or some breathless Oscar prognosticator — as having Academy Award potential. A partial sample includes "Jarhead," "Memoirs of a Geisha," "The New World," "North Country," "Casanova," "The Producers," "Elizabethtown" and "In Her Shoes."

Some of these movies would undoubtedly have failed no matter when they were released. But I'd argue that many of them would've had a better chance for survival if they'd had a chance to find an audience in a less competitive environment.
Where to begin? Just because a movie was "touted" by the studio as a potential Oscar movie doesn't mean it's shocking when they tank. Movies released in the summer are touted as potential blockbusters but many of them flop. Does that mean it's a surprise when every movie isn't a blockbuster? Nope.

And his examples of movies that might have done better away from the fall are crazy. NONE of them outside "The New World" had any critical support and virtually ALL of them would have flopped whenever they were released. It's hard to imagine anyone arguing "Geisha" would have done better in another slot. "The Producers?" A terrible flop in every way. "Casanova?" Actually, they were platforming it to open the movie wider in the slow time of January and February -- it just did so poorly in limited release that those plans fell through. "Elizabethtown?" I can't remember the last movie so thoroughly roasted and that would have happened any time it was released. I loved "The New World" but that's a hard sell at any time. "North Country?" "Jarhead" "In Her Shoes?" Maybe,MAYBE one of them would have done a little better launched at a different time of year. But they got their fair shot at an audience and didn't work. It's not that they were lost in the shuffle; they were rejected by critics and audiences. If any of them -- other than "New World" -- had critical support, the argument that they might have done better at another time might have more creedence. But a flop's a flop. And to discuss the fact that serious movies come out in the fall to tie in with Oscars as if its news to anyone is just bizarre.

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