Throw them a party and they will come. Or at least a reception with good food and drink. That seems to be the case with the increasingly strong turnouts of Academy members at screenings this season. As with the Hollywood Foreign Press Association and other groups studios are discovering a shrimp cocktail can be a powerful magnet for potential voters. The Academy’s new pre-nomination relaxed rules seem to be having a positive effect, at least if the evidence at recent screenings is any indication. And that was exactly the Academy’s point when they announced on September 21 that there would be a loosening of restrictions on the kinds of screenings to which Academy members could be directly invited — at least before nominations. In previous years studios and distributors might have gotten their hands slapped or Oscar tickets taken away if they dared to invite Academy members to screenings that included Q&As, receptions, food, drink and mingling with filmmakers. Members could only just attend a film, not partake in the side shows or receptions. Period. Of course consultants got around this by going to guild members instead, and obviously there is a very strong crossover membership between the guilds and the Academy. Now the shackles have been removed and members seem to be turning out in larger numbers to watch, eat and mingle.
FRIDAY 3PM: Very early numbers show Disney’s Lion King 3D roaring back to #1 with $15M weekend in 2,330 theaters; Warner Bros’ holdover Contagion #2 with $12M in 3,222 theaters, FilmDistrict’s Drive #3 with $11M from 2,886 theaters, Sony/Screen Gem’s Straw Dogs #4 with $8M from 2,408 theaters, and The Weinstein Co’s I Don’t Know How She Does It with $7.5M from 2,476 theaters.
Zurich, Switzerland (August 30, 2011) – The Zurich Film Festival (ZFF) announced today the members of the two juries that will preside over the international competition categories at the 7th edition of the Festival, which takes place September 22 – October 2, 2011. Academy Award® nominee Laurence Fishburne (“The Matrix” trilogy, “Mystic River,” “What’s Love Got to Do With It”) will serve as Jury President for the ZFF’s international section. The Festival will also be honoring Fishburne with a special achievement award.
Steven Soderbergh’s “Contagion,” which stars Fishburne, Matt Damon, Marion Cotillard, Bryan Cranston, Kate Winslet, Gwyneth Paltrow and Jude Law has been selected as the Festival’s opening night film and will screen at the Corso Cinema on the evening of Thursday, September 22nd. “Contagion” is an action-thriller centered on the threat posed by a deadly disease and an international team of doctors contracted by the CDC to deal with the outbreak. The film is a Warner Bros. Pictures release, directed by Academy Award® winner Steven Soderbergh. Soderbergh also produced the film with Gregory Jacobs, Michael Shamberg and Stacey Sher. Scott Z. Burns wrote the screenplay.
Multiple Academy Award® winner and humanitarian Sean Penn will be in Zurich this year to accept the Festival’s coveted Golden Icon Award.
The 2011 Zurich Film Festival jury members are:
Last week we looked at potential Oscar contenders released in the first eight months of 2011 (see Woody Allen, Brad Pitt, ‘The Help’ And Cast Among Early 2011 Oscar Contenders; Can They Hang On?), but as any pundit worth their prognosticator card will tell you, the game is really played out in the final four months, where the lion’s share of major eventual nominees will open and flourish on their way to the playoffs at the guilds, Globes and critics awards and the finals at the Kodak Theatre on Feb. 26.
So with the all-important official start of awards season kicking off next week in Venice and Telluride, followed closely by the Toronto International Film Festival beginning Sept. 8, here is the next installment of my early preseason primer for the likely contenders. Just keep in mind most of these films are still largely unseen, so take it all with a grain of salt. Once the movies actually are viewed, the landscape can change dramatically, and of course there is always that possibility of a real sleeper coming out of nowhere, landing a distribution deal and opening before the end of the year.
First up, a look at what the major studios have in store.
In recent years, the majors have been largely upstaged in the final vote by those upstart indies. Last year, The Weinstein Co’s The King’s Speech rode a surprise victory at the Producers Guild Awards all the way to a Best Pic Oscar win over the majors’ strong money bets The Social Network (Sony), The Fighter and True Grit (Paramount) and Toy Story 3 (Disney). In 2009, Summit’s little-war-film-that-could, The Hurt Locker, had the smallest gross of any Best Picture winner ever but still ran over the biggest entry ever from a major, 20th Century Fox’s Avatar, the most successful film of all time. Nevertheless, the rule of 10 nominees in effect for both those years certainly benefitted the majors in landing them four of the Best Pic slots in 2010 and five the previous year. Even though the Academy has now tweaked that rule to create a scenario in which anywhere from five to 10 pics can be nominated, the majors for the most part have an exceptionally strong fall slate and should remain a factor as one of them tries to reclaim the crown last given to a pure major studio release in 2006 to Warner Bros’ The Departed. And though major studios seem more obsessed in creating money-minting tentpoles these days than bathing in Oscar glory, the ego still flies on the lots and majors would like those front-row seats at the Kodak just as much as Harvey Weinstein.
Note: Independents owned by majors like Fox Searchlight, Sony Pictures Classics and Focus will be included in the next installment looking at indie contenders. This one is just for the big boys.
Kicking off Warners’ fall season Sept. 9 and before that at the Venice Film Festival is Oscar-winning director Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion, a serious thriller looking at the fight to stop a major virus outbreak killing millions around the world. Although Warners is just hoping it grabs the grown-up audience and makes some nice change, it could move up in the pantheon of studio Oscar hopefuls if it makes a big impact and gets editorial interest off the entertainment pages.
Warners’ two biggest bets for a fall awards splash are the Nov. 9 release J. Edgar and Dec. 25 biggie Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. The latter is a post-9/11 drama with serious Oscar cred in stars Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock and director Stephen Daldry, whose first three films – Billy Elliot, The Hours and The Reader — each landed him a Best Director Oscar nod, a nearly unprecedented perfect track record. As for J. Edgar, it stars three-time Best Actor nominee Leonardo DiCaprio, was written by Milk’s Oscar-winning scripter Dustin Lance Black and directed by four-time winner Clint Eastwood, who with Unforgiven and Million Dollar Baby has two previous Warner Bros Best Pictures under his belt. Couple that with subject matter revolving around a biographical portrait of the controversial FBI director and you have the stuff Oscar voters usually eat up — on paper at least. After weak Academy showings with Gran Torino, Invictus and Hereafter, the prolific Clint could be due for another dance with Oscar.
The studio also hopes to be back in the animation race this year with the sequel to its 2006 winner Happy Feet Two, which bows Nov. 18.
Warner Bros said today that it will release Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim on July 12, 2013. The Legendary Pictures sci-fi action film stars Idris Elba (who just closed his deal to star in a role originally developed for Tom Cruise) and Charlie Hunnam; production is set to get underway in November. Travis Beacham wrote the script, which is set in a future where giant malevolent creatures threaten to destroy the earth, and the planet must band together and use advanced weapons technology to eradicate the growing threat.
Meanwhile, Warner Bros also said that Contagion, the Steven Soderbergh drama about the outbreak of a deadly virus that has Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Jude Law and Marion Cotillard starring, is getting a new release date: Sept. 9, 2011, instead of the previously announced Oct. 21.
While I have been on record expressing the sentiment that there are many filmmakers who should retire before Steven Soderbergh, I just got off the phone with the filmmaker. And damn it, he still wants to punch out by the time he hits 50. “I’m still following my plan,” he told me. “I’ve been stupid about it, I should have kept my mouth shut, but at the same time, I don’t think there’s anything that unusual about it. By the time I finish with the series of projects I’m planning, it will be 26 or 27 films. That’s plenty and if you take volume over quality; I’m twice as good as Kubrick.”
Forecasting his exit also didn’t help in terms of preparing the industry to make a fuss over him. “I figured by giving them two years lead time, they would line up those lifetime achievement awards, but there have been no calls or anything,” Soderbergh joked. Asked what he would like, he said, tongue firmly in cheek, “The Oprah thing. A year-long daily celebration of my fabulousness would be nice. Or maybe just a smallish parade.”
Soderbergh and I were speaking about Relativity Media’s decision to release Haywire, which it financed but set distribution originally through Lionsgate. Though that picture was shot before Contagion – the thriller about the outbreak of a deadly virus that stars Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Marion Cotillard and Jude Law – Haywire will be released Jan. 20, 2012, three months after Contagion. Soderbergh will talk the picture up while promoting Contagion, which he feels will help an action film that leans heavily on Gina Carano, known only to mixed martial arts fans who’ve seen her fight on the circuit. Soderbergh also liked the Relativity move because it reunites him with Relativity’s new marketing chief Terry Curtin, with whom Soderbergh worked at Universal on Erin Brockovich.
“I think it might be best for Haywire to follow Contagion, which is the kind of film people like to see me make,” Soderbergh said. “It’s in the vein of Traffic, an entertaining multi-layered story about something timely right now. Because Gina has never been in a movie before, being able to draft off Contagion will be very good. We knew she could do the right stuff, but she really delivers as a screen presence. She looks comfortable, and then she tears these guys in half.”
Soderbergh said he’ll start work in September on Magic Mike, the film that will star Channing Tatum and Alex Pettyfer as male strippers in a coming-of-age story reminiscent of Saturday Night Fever. He’ll follow by directing George Clooney in The Man From U.N.C.L.E. in February. After that, Liberace with Michael Douglas and Damon will likely be Soderbergh’s swan song. While I reminded him that he’s walking away at a time when he has plenty to say and the wisdom to know how to solve problems that maturity brings, he disagreed.
EXCLUSIVE: Warner Bros Pictures executive vice president Jessica Goodman will be leaving the studio at year’s end. Goodman informed Alan Horn and Jeff Robinov of her decision to leave months ago, but she stayed on to see through the production of movies. The last of them, the Steven Soderbergh-directed Contagion, wraps in the next few days. Goodman, who is married to Paramount Pictures production chief Adam Goodman, started as an assistant at Universal, but has essentially spent her entire 13 year career at Warner Bros., and meshed well with those Warner Bros producers with out-sized personalities like Joel Silver and Jerry Weintraub. Among the dozens of films she supervised are the upcoming Martin Campbell-directed Ryan Reynolds-starrer Green Lantern, The Informant!, Watchmen, I Am Legend, Michael Clayton, The Brave One, Training Day and the Ocean’s Eleven films. Goodman will take her time deciding her next move.