Though our new weekly column here at The Envelope is beginning today, the "awards season" has never really stopped. It's year round now, a 24/7, 52-weeks-a-year byproduct of Hollywood greed and need. There can never be too many awards! The Oscars show on Feb. 25 was barely off the air when New Line, first out of the gate on Feb. 28, hosted a reception and 17-minute sneak preview screening of its '07 Golden Globe and Academy hopeful "Hairspray" at the Clarity in Beverly Hills, where producer Craig Zadan was also talking up his Jack Nicholson-Morgan Freeman Christmas release, "The Bucket List."
"If you mention the movie just don't say we're leading anything," the consultant begged.
Another savvy campaigner, having just seen a preview of a late December entry, waxed rhapsodic about the film's attributes and called the film absolute perfection, a "real contender," but then warned us not to say a word. Your secret is safe here!
Smart academy consultants -- battered by this year-round Internet and mainstream media interest in the hunt for awards -- are starting to act like CIA operatives, doing everything they can to prevent their prime contenders from peaking and burning out before they even open.
"Front-runner? Us? You must be on crack!"
Sad examples in recent years of highly touted movies failing to live up to endless hype have taught the pros who live and breathe awards a valuable lesson. Shut up and let the movie play, stupid!
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If pure advance buzz determined big winners then the filmmakers behind "The Majestic," "Angela's Ashes," "The Crucible" and last year's "The Good German," to name a few, would have been pushing their Globes aside to make room for their Oscars.
Final results in the last few years have proved that when it comes to winning best picture, mum's the word for the early part of any campaign.
"Million Dollar Baby," Clint Eastwood's winner in 2005, was known as the stealth entry, not even announced for the Warner Bros. release schedule until Sept. 30, 2004; "Crash," 2006's winner, opened in May 2005 and was content to just get itself seen and let everything else fall by the wayside -- including the seemingly inevitable victor, "Brokeback Mountain," which began its front-runner status at early fall festivals and had nowhere to go but down by the time final academy ballots were due. Exactly one year ago this week, Warner Bros. publicity execs were proclaiming that their new Martin Scorsese film, "The Departed," was just a commercial movie, "not really an Oscar film."
Campaign consultants downplayed its chances, Scorsese stayed under the radar (unlike his ill-advised accessibility during the "Gangs of New York" and "The Aviator" seasons), and what happened? The two words that weren't even supposed to be whispered together, "Departed" and "Oscar," were uttered.
Academy members like to discover movies on their own. No one wants "The Shipping News" stuffed down their throat and told this is the movie you will vote for.
Unfortunately, with academy ballots now going out at the end of the year and other awards groups voting much earlier than that, there isn't a whole lot of time to get these movies seen, especially those November and December releases, so the studios and distributors are walking a thin line.
Festival exposure, a necessity for many films to set themselves apart from the pack, can be a double-edged sword.
The Toronto and Telluride reception for "Juno" was euphoric, but can media infatuation for Jason Reitman's crowd-pleasing but small comic gem over-inflate awards voters' expectations by the time it finally begins a limited run Dec. 14?
The brilliantly funny and whimsical "Lars and the Real Girl" also was big at the Toronto fest exposure. But executives at Sidney Kimmel Entertainment, which financed the film, are wisely taking it slow, preferring to let "Lars" begin its run Oct. 12.
They're hoping the positive word-of-mouth it generates among academy types and other awards-givers will justify the expense of a full-blown campaign.
In a sign that the strategy may just be working, an overflowing Monday night screening of "Lars" for the SAG nominating committee, followed by a Q&A with star Ryan Gosling and director Craig Gillespie at the Landmark Theatre, was rapturously received.