By Martin A. Grove Awards approaching: While it's a little early to be predicting contenders for this year's Golden Globes and Oscars, it's certainly not too soon to start thinking about possibilities.
With nearly half the year behind us, a handful of films already look like they can get into the awards race if they play their campaigning cards right and don't get lost in the year-end shuffle.
Looking at the awards season's early contenders, there already are a number of potential contenders in various categories. Some of these films have already opened -- such as the animated "Shrek 2" from DreamWorks, Alfonso Cuaron's "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" from Warner Bros. Pictures, Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" from Newmarket Films and Morgan Spurlock's critically acclaimed documentary "Super Size Me" from Roadside Attractions, Samuel Goldwyn Films and Showtime Networks. On the immediate horizon there also are such titles as Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11" from Lions Gate, IFC and Bob and Harvey Weinstein, Steven Spielberg's "The Terminal" from DreamWorks and Irwin Winkler's musical "De-lovely" from MGM.
Needless to say, the usual flood of awards contenders will come later in the year, although probably not quite as late as they did last year. The rigors of campaigning based on the new awards season timetable that resulted from the Academy's two year experiment with a late February Oscar date are such that films opening at Christmas are now at a big disadvantage.
That was the lesson Hollywood learned last year when Christmas openings like "Cold Mountain" found it tough sledding on the awards front. While a Christmas Day opening puts a film in the marketplace during one of the busiest moviegoing periods of the year, it also coincides with the winter vacation schedules of many Academy members. Because they're heading for the ski slopes of Aspen, the beaches of Maui or remote Caribbean islands, they don't have much time to see films at screenings before they go away. Typically, they're out of L.A. from pre-Christmas to just after New Year's, when their kids have to be back in school. Unfortunately, when they return there's not very much time left in which to see films before having to send in their nominating ballots.
As a result, Oscar marketers now know they've either got to open their films earlier in December or, at least, have them available for screenings well before Academy members disappear for the holidays. There also is the issue of screeners, which clearly make a big difference in terms of films being seen and considered. Last year's attempt by the MPAA to combat piracy by forbidding its members to send out screeners was a true disaster. By the time the MPAA reversed itself to allow Academy members to be sent screeners and by the time a New York judge decided the MPAA couldn't force its members to not send out screeners if they wanted to, the pace of the awards season had suffered. With better timing, more voters would have been able to see films at screenings or at home. Voters would also have had an opportunity to take a second look at some of these films on DVD or VHS. Frequently, it's the second look at a film or at a performance in a film that makes a big difference when it comes to nominations.
This time around, distributors are putting some of their year-end potential awards contenders in the marketplace before Christmas. Miramax, for instance, has Martin Scorsese's biographical drama "The Aviator," starring Leonardo Di Caprio, Cate Blanchett and Kate Beckinsale, landing in theaters Dec. 17. Warner Bros. has Oliver Stone's historical epic "Alexander," starring Collin Farrell, Anthony Hopkins and Angelina Jolie, opening Nov. 5. Universal and Miramax's comedy sequel "Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason," directed by Beeban Kidron and again starring Renee Zellweger, Collin Firth and Hugh Grant, is arriving Nov. 19 via Universal. As other fourth quarter release dates are firmed up, this same pattern of putting films with awards potential into the marketplace earlier than in past years is likely to be seen.
Meanwhile, a handful of films that have either already arrived or are opening soon stand a good chance of landing nominations. In speculating here about these films, our focus is on their most obvious nominations prospects. Clearly, with numerous categories to compete in, these movies will have numerous opportunities for nominations and not every one of these races requires discussion here today.
Not only is DreamWorks' animated blockbuster "Shrek 2" heading for $400 million-plus in domestic theaters, it's also looking like a potential Oscar nominee for best animated feature and a potential Golden Globe nominee for best motion picture -- musical or comedy. Last year Disney's animated blockbuster "Finding Nemo" hooked a Golden Globe nomination for best motion picture -- musical or comedy and Oscar nominations for best animated feature (winning here), original score, sound editing and original screenplay. "Shrek 2" could take a similar awards course this time around in all of "Nemo's" categories (although on the screenplay front it would have to be for best adaptation since it's based on the book by William Steig). Films nominated for Oscar's best animated feature can also be nominated for best picture, so that's the ultimate cherry DreamWorks could try to put on its cake.
Warner Bros.' "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban," directed by Alfonso Cuaron, attracted very favorable reviews, many of which called it the best of the three "Potter" films to date. Cuaron, an Oscar nominee for his original screenplay for "Y tu mama tambien," could get a directing nomination. Screenwriter Steve Kloves, who received Oscar and Golden Globes nods for adapting "Wonder Boys" and also got Writers Guild of America nominations for "Wonder" and his original screenplay "The Fabulous Baker Boys," could receive new noms for "Azkaban."
John Williams' well-reviewed "Azkaban" score, too, could get nods from Academy and Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. voters. Williams has received so many Oscar and Globe nominations (along with a few wins, too) over the years that the list is too long to include here. It goes without saying that you're probably not going to lose money by betting on Williams' score to be nominated. The film's visual effects are obviously also good grist for the awards mill. And if "Azkaban" casts all the right magical spells it could conjure up both a best picture Oscar nomination and a best motion picture -- drama Golden Globe nomination.
After having single-handedly rescued the first quarter boxoffice from what would otherwise have been bleak and depressing business, Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" could now be reborn as a best picture Oscar and Globes contender. Gibson, of course, is no stranger to awards success. He won the best director Oscar and Globe for "Braveheart," which also brought him a best picture Oscar win and a Directors Guild of America nomination. Whether Gibson's graphically brutal R rated approach to telling "Passion's" story will resonate with the tastes of Academy members is anyone's guess.
Jim Caviezel hasn't been honored with Oscar or Globe noms before, but his performance as "Passion's" tortured Christ brought him very favorable reviews that could put him in this year's awards races. There also were good reviews for Maia Morgenstern's performance in "Passion" as Mary, which could put her in races for supporting actress. And the film's screenplay by Benedict Fitzgerald and Gibson could bring them writing noms, although there might be some disagreement as to whether "Passion" is an adaptation or an original.
Morgan Spurlock's critically acclaimed documentary "Super Size Me" from Roadside Attractions, Samuel Goldwyn Films and Showtime Networks would seem to have a good shot at getting into the best documentary feature Oscar race. With Spurlock having written, directed and starred in the film, there are many ways for Academy members to applaud his efforts to document the perils of eating too much junk food.
Of course, the 800 lb. gorilla that "Super" may well face in this year's best documentary feature Oscar race is Michael Moore's politically supercharged "Fahrenheit 9/11" opening June 25 via Lions Gate, IFC and Bob and Harvey Weinstein. Working in the film's favor is its having won the Palme d'Or and having already achieved more global media attention than probably any film since Gibson's "Passion." Earlier this week the organization Move America Forward said it was urging Americans to petition theaters not to play Moore's picture. This, of course, is the sort of action that prompts even more media coverage which, in turn, could fuel even more moviegoer interest in "Fahrenheit."
Last year's Oscar winner in the documentary feature category was another politically charged film -- Errol Morris' "The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons From the Life of Robert S. McNamara," which focused on the man who was secretary of defense during the critically important early years of America's involvement in the war in Vietnam.
What could work against Moore is the fact that he created an uproar at the Oscars in 2003 when he won the best documentary feature award for "Bowling for Columbine," where he focused on America's gun culture and took on the National Rifle Assn. Moore's anti-George Bush rhetoric on stage at the Kodak Theater in his acceptance speech drew loud boos from the audience. It also prompted the still memorable tension relieving line from host Steve Martin explaining that, "The teamsters are helping Michael Moore into the trunk of his limousine." How Academy voters will feel about bringing Moore back for an encore acceptance speech is anyone's guess. Nonetheless, "Fahrenheit" looms as a potential hot contender for Oscar consideration.
Steven Spielberg's comedy drama "The Terminal" opens June 18 via DreamWorks, arriving with the automatic awards potential that any Spielberg film tends to have. Moreover, with Tom Hanks (two-time Oscar winner and four-time Globe winner) and Catherine Zeta-Jones (one-time Oscar winner and two-time Globe nominee) starring in "Terminal" there are potential acting nominations. There also are potential nods for supporting actor (Stanley Tucci), original screenplay (Sacha Gervasi and Jeff Nathanson) and cinematography (two-time Oscar winner Janusz Kaminski). John Williams, who did the film's music, is another potential nominee, in which case Williams could wind up competing with his "Azkaban" score.
"Terminal" isn't an ultra-serious Spielberg film like "Saving Private Ryan" or "Schindler's List" so it's hard to project at this point how Academy voters who traditionally don't give comedy the respect it deserves will respond to "Terminal." On the other hand, the fact that it's a comedy (albeit with a serious side, too) means it could compete in the Globes' best picture -- musical or comedy category.
MGM's musical "De-lovely," directed by Irwin Winkler and starring Kevin Kline as composer Cole Porter and Ashley Judd as Linda Porter, opens July 2. "De-lovely" seems a sure shot to get into the Globes race for best picture -- musical or comedy. After having an early look at it I left feeling it's also got Oscar best picture contender written all over it. With "Chicago" having paved the way for musicals with today's Academy voters, "De-lovely" should be able to get into that race, as well.
Winkler won a best picture Oscar for producing "Rocky" (with Robert Chartoff) and has also received three Oscar nods for producing other films, but hasn't yet been nominated for directing. This could be the Academy's chance to do so. Kline hasn't won an Oscar since 1989 for his supporting actor performance in "A Fish Called Wanda," so he's long overdue for more Academy recognition. He's never won a Globe, although he's been nominated three times as best actor in a motion picture -- musical or comedy and was nominated in 1983 as best new male star of the year (for "Sophie's Choice"). Judd has a clean slate in terms of nods from either the Academy or the Globes for her work in feature films. This would be the right picture to put her name in the awards books.
"De-lovely's" screenplay by Jay Cocks also merits awards attention. Cocks received Oscar and WGA nominations for writing the original screenplay "Gangs of New York" (with Steven Zaillian and Kenneth Lonergan) and was also an Oscar nominee for adapting "The Age of Innocence" (with Martin Scorsese). Tony Pierce-Roberts' cinematography could also draw an Oscar nod. Pierce-Roberts is a two-time Academy and American Society of Cinematographers nominee for his work as DP on "Howards End" and "A Room With a View." Costumes are another category in which "De-lovely" could wind up with an Oscar nomination. Costume designer Janty Yates won the Oscar in 2001 for "Gladiator." The film's production design is also awards worthy. Production designer Eve Stewart was an Oscar nominee in 2000 for her work (with John Bush) on "Topsy-Turvy." Last and certainly not least, on the music front there's a wealth of material that's beautifully performed in "De-lovely" and that could generate additional nominations.
Because the awards scene is always so fluid, especially this early in the game, the prospects for some of these titles will fade as new releases enter the marketplace and win critical acclaim. One advantage that films that opened early and manage to hang on will have later in the awards season is that by then they'll be in DVD release. No matter what rules are followed this year in terms of who can or can't receive screeners and when those who can will get them, if DVDs are already in stores with their making-of commentaries by directors and other behind-the-scenes bonus features they'll be perfectly accessible to Academy and Globe voters. This is the kind of perspective that films benefit from and aren't allowed to have on official screeners.
It's also possible for distributors of these early arriving contenders to start holding for consideration screenings when there's sufficient time for voters to see them on big screens before they leave for winter vacations. This can be a considerable advantage, especially if this turns out to be the highly competitive year it looks like it's going to be. By September Hollywood's awards marketing hired guns should be starting to do battle. That only gives them about three months in which to plant the seeds for nominations and carefully nurture their growth. By early December when critics groups start making headlines with their awards and top ten lists start turning up across the country, it's really too late to start changing perceptions of who the likely nominees will be.
Martin Grove is seen Mondays at 9 a.m., 5 and 8 p.m., PT on CNNfn's "The Biz" and is heard weekdays at 1:55 p.m. on KNX 1070 AM in Los Angeles. .