Has Oscar lost his sheen, at least in terms of grabbing the attention of cinemagoers this year?
The nominees for best picture at next Monday's Academy Awards don't seem to be generating the kind of frenzied buzz which surrounded last year's face-off between The King's Speech and The Social Network.
At US cinemas in the weekend before the Oscars telecast, no Academy-nominated film figured in the top 10 titles for the first time in years and The Artist was the only one to see any uplift, and that was just 4 per cent.
“In years past, Hollywood insiders have cited a post-nomination 'Oscar bounce' at the box office as justification for the millions of dollars it spends on Oscar ads,” observed the Los Angeles Times' Patrick Goldstein.
“But when you look at the cold, hard numbers, the bounce looks more and more like myth than reality.”
“I don't think the nominations have much effect on anything except that they encourage distributors to spend more money in supporting their films,” Peter Cody, General Manager, Film & Entertainment Content for Amalgamated Holdings Limited (which owns Event Cinemas, Greater Union and Birch, Carroll & Coyle) told SBS Film.
“There is no rush-out factor just because a film is nominated. You don't see an impact from the Oscars until the awards.”
Roadshow Films National Sales Manager Brett Rosengarten responds, “I disagree. The best film nomination does make a difference.”
That distributor is well placed to cash in on the awards with The Artist, which has raked in a tidy $1.6 million in its first three weeks. It expanded from 53 to 75 screens on February 23 and will peak at 102 screens on March 1.
Rosengarten is sure the 10 nominations gave more credibility to the black-and-white silent movie. It's the hot favourite to grab the Best Picture prize, quoted at 1/12 by Las Vegas bookmakers, ahead of The Descendants at 10/1, The Help 12/1, Hugo 20/1, and War Horse and Moneyball both at 40/1.
Roadshow has just launched Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, a long shot at 75/1, hoping the post-9/11 drama will benefit from being trailered along with the other best pic contenders.
A win for the French film “will have a positive impact,” Rosengarten predicts, while declining to quantify what that might mean for its eventual takings. “We've found it's hard to get people into the theatre but once they see it, word-of-mouth is great. With the validation of a best picture win, that will drive more people to see it.”
Cody describes The Artist's results to date as “okay” but notes, “It really hasn't hit the ground [running). If it gets a swag of Oscars it'll be a hot topic in the media and that would help lift attendances.”
[ Read review of Midnight in Paris ]
[ Watch trailer for Midnight in Paris ]
Hugo enjoyed a “'big bounce” from its 11 Oscar nominations and the Golden Globe for director Martin Scorsese, according to its Australian distributor Paramount Pictures.
The fantasy family film has earned $8.6 million in six weeks and while Paramount's Managing Director Mike Selwyn acknowledges it's “running out of steam,” he hopes a clutch of Oscars will push the final tally to more than $10 million.
Historically, a Best Picture Oscar can boost the recipient's takings by 10-15 per cent in Australia, depending on the release date, says Selwyn.
Last year's victor The King's Speech wound up with a regal $31 million but having opened on December 23 most of that was in the bank by the time the awards were announced.
The previous year the Oscars gave a sizable boost to The Hurt Locker, which Roadshow had been considering releasing direct-to-DVD. The distributor launched Kathryn Bigelow's gritty war drama on February 18 and ended up grossing $5.8 million, the best result in the world outside the US, where it made $17 million.
Roadshow is hoping a best actress gong for Michelle Williams will spur ticket sales for My Week with Marilyn, which raked in an impressive $849,000 in its first week on 70 screens, although the Vegas bookies rate her as an outside chance at 15/1, behind The Help's Viola Davis at 5/8 and The Iron Lady's Meryl Streep at 5/4.
Rosengarten recalls that Roadshow released The Reader on the same day in 2009 and the best actress trophy for Kate Winslet helped propel it to a respectable $4.5 million.
The Descendants is still trading strongly, amassing $14 million in six weeks, and could get a fillip from the awards.Says Cody of the George Clooney starrer, “It's done really well but it didn't get a big kick from the nominations.”
As for the Golden Globes, which honoured Clooney and the film as best drama, Cody's view is that “they don't mean anything.”
To the contrary, Selwyn argues the Globes have gained more credibility with the public in recent years and they are often a good indicator of which films will earn Oscars.
“The Descendants has so far been the most commercially successful movie in Australia of all those nominated for Best Picture,” notes Twentieth Century Fox Australia Managing Director Marc Wooldridge.
“Certainly dating the movie in the awards season was part of our strategy and the Golden Globe wins and Oscar nominations featured strongly on our marketing materials to promote the film, as well as the strong reviews. This has definitely helped increase the interest in the movie and was demonstrated by the very good holdover business in the first three weeks of release.
“The impact of winning the Academy Awards tends to depend on where a film is in its release cycle and snagging the big ones – Best Picture, Actor, Actress – which get the most media attention. If Descendants did win one/some of the major awards, we would expect an increase in interest in the movie, even though over 1 million Australian cinemagoers have seen the film so far.”
Other candidates for best film including The Tree of Life, War Horse, Midnight in Paris, The Help and Moneyball have finished their runs in Australia, which may be one reason why the build-up to the Oscars seems muted.
[ Read review of The Tree of Life ]
[ Watch interview with actor Jessica Chastain ]
[ Watch trailer for The Tree of Life ]
“The Oscar nominations have lost much of their clout because the public decides what it thinks about a movie much earlier than it ever did in the past,” Goldstein argued. “Most of this year's films got little in the way of a bump because moviegoers had access to so much Oscar hype so early in the process that by the time the nominations arrived, they'd either seen the film or checked it off their to-do list.
“Older audiences may not be tweeting their friends on Friday night after seeing Hugo or War Horse, but there is so much chattering-class buzz about the Oscars these days that anyone who wants to feel in the know about the top movies is almost obligated to have an opinion by the time their friends show up for holiday get-togethers.”
Goldstein quoted one studio marketing executive who said, “The Oscars are about ego and recognition. The spending just doesn't stand up to any rational analysis. The culture has changed. The era when an elite institutional award could have a lot of sway with the public is pretty much at an end."
Those kinds of sentiments are echoed in some sections of the business in Australia, at least this year. “It's a weird year. There's a feeling of 'who gives a shit?,'” says one film industry executive who declined to be identified. “There are very few films to get excited about.”
Among the contenders for Best Foreign Language Film, Asghar Farhadi's riveting Iranian drama A Separation is in the box seat to reap the rewards if it wins as it's booked to open on 20 screens around Australia on March 1.
[ Read review of A Separation ]
[ Watch interview with director Asghar Farhadi ]
[ Watch trailer for A Separation ]
“The release date was locked in before the Oscar nominations were announced,” explains Jillian Heggie, Hopscotch Films' National Publicity Manager.
“We have been working towards that release date for a while. It is a combination of it being a good date to release the film and the fact that the film has been gathering a lot of critical acclaim.”