Pete Hammond

If your movie was released in March or April, and has Oscar aspirations, it requires every trick in an Academy consultant’s publicity handbook to try to keep it alive against the massive onslaught of competition unleashed in the back eight months of the year. Very few films released before May at the earliest make the cut these days, at least in the major categories. Oscar voters tend to have short memories. It’s an uphill climb that requires money for big campaigns, a tall order for independent films with limited budgets.

One way to do it is get your Blu-ray out there in August with some fresh television advertising, well before screener season begins, and hope that voters have a chance to check it out before the tsunami of movies start bombarding them in the Fall. For Roadside AttractionsMud which was released in theatres April 26th  and Focus FeaturesThe Place Beyond The Pines which debuted March 29th, their dueling road to Oscar continues this week with the release of their Blu-ray and DVD. The films have the current distinction of being the two top grossing independent films of 2013, both in the $21 million range, with Mud this week just slightly overtaking Pines for the lead but it remains a dead heat.

Ironically both movies initially might have been expected to land in a more traditional Fall spot in 2012 and compete in the last Oscar race, but fate intervened. Pines was originally hoping to debut at Cannes in May of 2012 but wasn’t finished. It was first seen at Toronto Film Festival last September, picked up by Focus, but held for the first quarter of this year – not the most opportune release date for an awards hopeful. Mud on the other hand did play in competition at the 2012 Cannes, was well-received but didn’t get picked up for distribution by Roadside until last August, and they also decided to hold it until Spring rather than jump into the crowded 2012 season. Both are not only at the top of the heap for indies, they also have enviable Rotten Tomatoes scores with Mud grabbing an astounding 98% fresh ranking and Pines not too far behind at 82%, well within the range of what serious awards contenders would need, especially to make a dent in the multitude of critics awards contests coming up.

As for the Oscars, one race in which Roadside is hoping to gain traction is for star Matthew McConaughey in Supporting Actor even though he is the title star of the film. It can be argued that the main kid played by Tye Sheridan in the Jeff Nichols-directed film is really the lead, and obviously Roadside doesn’t want to have McConaughey competing against himself for Best Actor for his much-anticipated turn in Dallas Buyers Club (a December 6th release which Focus ironically will unveil at Toronto next month). The category gets more crowded when you throw Pines into the mix where both Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper, the film’s top billed stars, are also going for Supporting Actor since that movie with its complex structure is more of an ensemble-type piece.

With any kind of luck one or both films could even wind up in Best Picture contention, but due to the ways these things tend to favor later Fall releases both would be considered dark horses. Last year Beasts Of The Southern Wild was the only film from the year’s first half to land in the Best Pic race and it came out at the end of June. But don’t tell that to Cooper, who remains extremely enthusiastic about the chances of The Place Beyond The Pines, although in a recent phone conversation he was wondering if holding it for later in the year might have, in retrospect, been an even better idea. “The only thing I would say is, was it the right move not to release it this Fall? That’s the only thing…maybe I’m overstepping with what I am saying but I would be shocked if there were nine or ten better movies this year than this one. If they do decide to nominate ten movies, I mean God, I would be shocked. I really hope it gets recognized. I hope [director] Derek Cianfrance gets recognized. It’s a pretty stellar piece of work,” he said adding that based on his experience last year he expects the season to really shake down at Toronto in September and the landscape to become much clearer (not to mention for films playing Venice, Telluride and New York too).

Of course Cooper had a major presence at Toronto last year, not only debuting Pines there but also Silver Linings Playbook which brought him his first Oscar nomination as Best Actor. Ironically he shot Pines before Silver Linings  and actually credits the experience of making that film and playing the conflicted cop-turned-politician Avery Cross, a very tricky role he pulls off flawlessly, with being able to turn out the kind of work he did as Pat Solitano in Silver Linings.

“It was very therapeutic to go from that to Pat Solitano, and in a week all of a sudden I’m playing this guy who everything  internal is externalized. I remember talking to an older actor about jobs he had years ago, they were back to back, you know like epic iconic roles that I don’t think people realized he did back to back with like a week in between, and he always said to me it’s just like an athlete or an engine. Everything was running, hitting at full throttle so he was able to go right into the next role. That role wouldn’t have been as fulfilling if he hadn’t done the previous one – that’s definitely how I felt about that, there’s no way I could have rode into Pat Solitano with  Jennifer Lawrence and Robert De Niro If I hadn’t just gone through Pines, the grind of this movie which was really challenging,” he said.

Like McConaughey, Cooper doesn’t just have one pony this season. He also has a supporting role in his Silver Linings director David O. Russell‘s upcoming December release American Hustle. With the awards potential of both these films is he ready to jump right back into the six month circuit leading up to Oscar? Talk about a grind!  “Oh I loved it actually. I find it inspiring, humbling and wonderful. I don’t mind it at all. Last year was an absolute dream, to be able to tour. You and I must have crossed paths fifteen times, right? And I loved doing Q&As. They’re very fulfilling for everybody. With Silver Linings Playbook, how far that reached, way beyond awards season was just incredible,” he said.

As for going from a leading role to a couple of supporting turns that could grab attention this year, Cooper says he is fine with it and chooses projects for a number of reasons. “It’s a lot of factors. It’s really the director. If Paul Thomas Anderson asked me to open a door in a movie I’m doing it. Also, there’s something nice in being the supporting character in a movie, you get a little bit of a break than to carry the whole thing on your shoulders. But I am somebody who loves being in the trenches. For American Hustle I’m also an Executive Producer so I’m able to be there. David and I created an amazing thing together on Silver Linings that we were able to do the same thing on this movie, sort of partner up and work together. For me it was a wonderful experience. I mean for me it’s like being in film school again,” he said adding that he knows working with Cianfrance, then twice in a row with David O. Russell that he feels like he hit the jackpot as an actor. Whether that puts him back in the awards conversation this coming season is really just the cherry on top.

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