Emmy nominations may only have been released yesterday, and I know it’s still just July, but with the opening of Richard Linklater‘s Boyhood today I am declaring July 11th the new official start of the Oscar season (at least for this year) with a film that I predict will occupy one of those prized Best Picture slots when Academy Award nominations are announced six months from now. It’s a bold statement considering last year’s first of nine eventual Best Picture nominees, Gravity, wasn’t released until October 4th, and generally with few exceptions of late , most of the nominees still come in the Fall season (although 2009′s Best Pic winner The Hurt Locker actually debuted in late June of that year and rallied later in the game to take it all). Boyhood’s distributor IFC Films also has not been a major player in the Best Picture races, but Boyhood producer John Sloss told me they have made a complete commitment to this film like no other.
A top awards veteran consultant Cynthia Swartz and her Strategy P.R. have been on the movie for months, slowly positioning it for a run. Just last week IFC President Jonathan Sehring, who greenlit it and supported it for a dozen years, told our indie box office reporter Brian Brooks that the film is his favorite project of his entire professional career. “It’s not like anything I have ever been involved with and is my crowning professional achievement no matter how it performs,” he told Brooks. Sloss went even further with me when we recently spoke about the film over lunch. “I have been involved with over 600 films and this one is by far the best,” he said. It was such a sweeping statement I asked the founder of Cinetic Media to repeat it just to make sure, considering some of those films with which he has been involved in various capacities include such Academy Award winners and nominees like Little Miss Sunshine, The Kids Are All Right, Precious, Boys Don’t Cry and most of Linklater’s films including last year’s Before Midnight. He feels so strongly about this one, it is only the second time in his career he has taken a Producer credit on a film. Other than I’m Not There, which he spent five years putting together, he has always been listed as an Executive Producer or had some other involvement.
But this one is different. The movie, which chronicles the life of a boy played by Ellar Coltrane between the ages of 6 and 18 and shot over the course of 12 years, also stars Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke and Linklater’s daughter Lorelei Linklater. It is not just about childhood, parenthood, life and living, it is also a remarkable chronicle about time itself unlike any other narrative movie I’ve seen. At a recent screening I moderated Arquette , a sure-fire Best Actress contender, told me the whole 12-year experience of making this film was so special and unique that she was thoroughly reluctant to let it go out into the world and wanted to keep it just between the filmmakers. “But we finally have to say goodbye to it and let everyone else be part of it,” she said.
Though the early awards buzz on this is very real – It currently has a 100% fresh score with nearly 100 reviews counted on Rotten Tomatoes, best of the year – it’s easy to see this film, no matter what comes along, doing very very well on the critics awards circuit and increasing its Oscar momentum as ‘the chosen one’ this year by critics. There’s always one of those. As for the 2 hour and 45-minute film’s appeal to the Academy we will have to wait and see, but it will have its official screening for membership on Sunday July 20, as well as a SAG nominating committee screening that day. After being shut down for renovation, official screenings are once again beginning at the Academy’s Samuel Goldwyn Theatre this month in Oscar-voter friendly Beverly Hills so Boyhood’s turnout should be helped by that and a post-Q&A scheduled with Linklater, Coltrane and Arquette. Sloss told me a recent Writers Guild screening elicited a standing ovation and that rarely happens with the notoriously picky WGA crowd.
But despite the critical praise and all the buzz, Sloss says they are taking it slow with a rollout to about 30 screens and then wider toward the end of summer. Despite the competition in the hot weather months, they just hope to keep the movie around until Fall. Most interestingly, their testing indicated that out of the four quadrants the film played best with males under 25. “It was remarkable. I got 60 out of 60 people saying ‘this was my life’. So I said we have to test this. I had a sneaking suspicion that even though this is structured like an art film, it actually plays to younger audiences. So we took it to a recruited screening at Union Square where it skewed young and reference screenings were This Is The End and 21 Jump Street. We really decided to go for that commercial young audience and got them in. The norm is 55% in the top two boxes to recommend and we had 96. The guy running the focus group said, ‘I have never seen any scores near this in that demographic without giant explosions’”, he said but cautioned those results don’t mean they are taking the traditional art house audience (and the Academy which averages age 62) for granted. But their plan has been to expand to that younger male audience without having to spend $30 million on p&a. They played the trailer with The Fault In Our Stars and Neighbors and are running an aggressive social media campaign. “If we can keep it in theatres in August so the kids take it back to school I think we can really be on to something,” he added. And although IFC often goes hand in hand with their films in theatres and VOD, not this time. It’s a more traditional release and parent company AMC Networks, and particularly President and CEO Josh Sapan are firmly behind the movie and have been since day one.
He’s also hoping Linklater gets the attention he deserves awards-wise. “Richard has a hit rate that rivals anyone’s and hopefully this will bring a sort of re-appraisal of him as a director across the board. The interesting thing about Rick is that he gets nominated for screenplays from time to time (as with Before Midnight in 2013) but if you’ve ever read any of his screenplays it just shows how brilliant a director he really is. More than anyone I have ever worked with his films are at least 50% better than his screenplays,” he said.
So Emmys be damned! Let the Oscar race begin. It’s appropiate that the year’s best studio-produced blockbuster, Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes is also opening this weekend as that film could figure in a few of the Oscar races as well. And if there’s any justice, Andy Serkis will be taken seriously this time. And last night I caught the upcoming Get On Up!, a riveting and foot tapping biopic of the ‘Godfather of Soul’ James Brown that Universal is releasing August 1st. More on that later but Chadwick Boseman, who plays Brown better get his tux pressed.
Summer is suddenly looking bright for Oscar watchers.
Awards Columnist Pete Hammond - tip him here.