Saturday, February 04, 2006

December Falling

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.


Anonymous said...

I maintain that Dreamworks' strategy for Match Point is the worst I've seen in years.

They released the film at Cannes: okay, why not? France loves Woody Allen more than America does. But it does something unusual for a modern Woody Allen film: it gets surprisingly good praise. Such that had the film been in competition, it would likely have won something. So they have the buzz.

They choose NOT to open it at Toronto OR New York. Normally, this should mean they're either planning a September/October release and are afraid of bad buzz OR they don't have faith in the film. The former would be good, the latter, less so.

But the film obviously has the reviews! It has people excited about the return of Woody Allen and the possibility of another Allen film next year is widely heralded. So what does Dreamworks do? IT RELEASES THE F****** FILM AT THE END OF THE RACE. Seriously, if you look at the release dates, it was the last film to get released. December is always packed and very few films actually benefit from being released in that month (Shakespeare in Love and Titanic are two that come to mind, though the former required awardage). So why place a film that, at the very least, needs a month or two of breathing space. A film that was gonna get editorials about "The Return of Woody Allen," and his new blood/passion. A film that was getting favourable comparisons to "Crimes and Misdemeanours" for crissakes, and that's no small comparison. Fact is, even if her performance wasn't everyone's favourite, a better campaign would've made Johansson a lock for a supporting nod. Dreamworks' strategy ensured that it only got one, as opposed to the half a dozen that was possible.

It sounds ridiculous to be churlish, but what a wasted opportunity. At least for The New World you can blame Malick just as much as New Line.

Anonymous said...

Yup, I too was dreaming of a Match Point miracle, since I loved the film, and though I'm mindful that the last decade HAS produced some fine Woody moments (which have been criminally underappreciated), in my book it's his best since Everyone Says I Love You.

As for Nathaniel's point, I agree wholeheartedly; this self-perpetuating quirk of the Academy looking like it has a short memory simply because distributors think the Academy has a short memory is ANNOYING in the extreme. I agree that Crash wouldn't have picked up the nomination had it emerged in December, and I don't think Matt Dillon would have got the nomination without several months of buzz behind it either.

Nor do I think either Gladiator or Erin Brockovich would have received Best Picture nominations had they been released in December.


Anonymous said...

says you.

Glenn Dunks said...


Moving on. Crash most likely would've (pun intended) crashed if it were released in december. People would've perceived it as a December Oscar-bait movie and ignored it. But releasing it in Summer meant that there was an audience craving something different.

And you are right about Match Point. Should've been released at the end of Summer, maybe around the same time as History of Violence or The Constant Gardener.

And it's not Terrance Malick's fault New Line wanted to push his film into the Oscar race yet to do so at a horrible time to as to basically have it die and flop around on the table. If he had more time to work on it it really could've come out and gotten awards buzz.

And, yeah, as my post (thnx for the linkage!) details, nearly 63% of all nominees (excluding foreign and the shorts categories) were from non-December releases. And only 30% of the Big 8 were from December. Looking at that number would've exactly fill me with confidence if I were a studio head releasing my oscar-bait in December.