September 13, 2013

The ambush is the new Oscar campaign

When I flew out to Utah to cover Sundance for a major gossip mag a few years back, I learned a couple of major life lessons within hours: The damned altitude means you can’t get drunk like a civilized human being; the swag out here is amazing (cameras, lingerie, slippers); and there are also, apparently, a few movies playing throughout the week. Something about a “film festival,” or something.

Cut to today, and it looks like Hollywood’s bigger movie producers may be catching on to that last observation: If a flick already has distribution, already has a built-in audience, already has Oscar buzz, even, then why on Earth does it need to go to Toronto/Berlin/Venice/TriBeCa/the South of France? (That last location was a joke. Walk along the beaches in Cannes and it’s pretty clear why anybody goes to there: Cans.)

Yes, Gravity, that $80 million movie that shows Oscar winner Sandra Bullock spinning in space, did show at the Toronto International Film Festival. So did Don Jon, the porn addiction movie starring sexy people only. And both of those flicks already have a release date and distribution and at least mild awards buzz, at least for Joseph Gordon-Levitt, director of Don Jon.

But other movies—the exact type of flicks you’d expect to see dominating a film festival red carpet to drum up notice for the awards season—have skipped the circuit this year. You already know this, even if you think you don’t; there is no way that Jennifer Lawrence, star of the upcoming historical drama American Hustle, could’ve worked a festival like Toronto without her publicity machine making sure you saw every one of her 472 Dior red-carpet looks over the 11-day period. 

Hustle skipped the fall film circuit this year. So did Saving Mr. Banks, a movie with a title precisely calculated to hook awards voters, regardless of what it’s about. (It’s a biopic, is what it’s about. Oscar-bait status: Confirmed.)

So why are awards-season contenders starting to stay away from festivals, the very places where the Oscar race unofficially starts?

It’s a new strategy, kids. 

“Some major contenders dodged the fest circuit in order to ambush the derby later,” Gold Derby’s Tom O’Neil tells me.  American Hustle and Saving Mr. Banks are following a trend that emerged strongly last year when Les Miserables, Django Unchained, Zero Dark Thirty and others skipped the fest circuit and nonetheless nabbed nominations for Best Picture. 

“Obviously, they don’t see an advantage to rolling out early.”

I guess not everybody likes swag.

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1 comment :

  1. Leslie, I don't understand the point of not showing up at these festivals, how does it benefit them? Is it only to avoid the hassle of showing up (since apparently they still stand a chance at an Oscar)?