The one thing that really matters in a successful Oscar run is momentum: Who has it and who lost it. It’s a tricky maneuver for movies to grab it, and more importantly, keep it going in a very long season that can start as early as May at the Cannes Film Festival. One studio head cornered me at a recent event and said, “Anyone who thinks they can go to Cannes and keep their film on ice for four months is kidding themselves.” This executive has turned down opportunities to take a major film to Cannes for that very reason. It is simply too hard to maintain the forward movement that long, he explained. In the case of movies that play the world’s most famous film festival in May but hold back their release until fall, it’s challenging to recapture the magic.
Two recent examples are Paramount’s Nebraska, which played Cannes but didn’t open domestically until November 15, six months after its initial reviews came out; and the Coen brothers’ Cannes Grand Prize winner Inside Llewyn Davis, which doesn’t open in the U.S. until December 6. This same executive, who works for a rival studio, didn’t think either film could possibly keep the buzz on their side that long after Cannes.