You know how I love to harp on Hollywood's annoying release patterns when it comes to serious adult / prestige fare? Well... last night I read an annoying article on Oscarwatch that trots out the whole tired "Only December works!" argument that I hate with a passion. I keep trying to convince the studios and the public that it just ain't true and they keep on drinking their Kool-Aid that every year is 1988 or 2002 (the only only-Christmas-will-do crazy years in a long time). This year, like most every annum, shows that other months are valid. May, September, and October all have representing films. Glenn has a fine post detailing how pre-December heavy this year really is.
To be fair there are disadvantages to releasing early. Certainly the first quarter is big trouble. You have to be either a huge sticky hit (Silence of the Lambs) or a critically hosanna'd player (preferrably in a big hit) to survive (see Julia Roberts in Erin Brockovich versus Joan Allen in The Upside of Anger [sigh]). But May onward? That's regular game for Oscar competition. There are all sorts of ways to strategize with Oscar campaigns. December doesn't work for every film and often it leads to careless release patterning that kills worthy films (See: The New World & Match Point).
Crash would not have been nominated if released in December. Some films have to work with momentum and fanbase fervor rather than pedigree and "bait". If you aren't a pre-ordained frontrunner and you open in platform in late December there's no time for Oprah to go bonkers, for op-ed pieces to be written etc.. There are examples like Crash in most years. Films that need time. I could talk about this all day. So I'll shut up now. Long story short: I hate the lazy thinking that makes December a madhouse at the theater and makes the rest of the year relatively dry for films with actual substance. Any month can work for the right film and the right campaign. I hope the studios realize this in time in this new year so that 2006 gives us cinematic pleasure in each quarter.