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Awards season is bad for movie fans
The other day, my friend Ryan attended an advance screening of the new movie "Hitchcock," starring Anthony Hopkins as the Master of Suspense and Helen Mirren as his wife and creative partner, Alma Reville. The movie opens at Liberty Hall on Friday, Dec. 14, but he wanted to know if I had seen it early too, so he texted me.
I texted back that I had seen "Hitchcock." He said that he was disappointed in the movie, and I told him I thought it was pretty funny — that it had a wry sense of humor, just like the old "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" TV show.
"The worst thing about it is that the studio decided to cram it in during awards season," I wrote. "It sets up all sorts of expectations that the movie can't live up to."
Ryan thought about it and agreed. He was looking at "Hitchcock" through the prism of the end-of-year glut of heavy, dramatic, and serious-minded Oscar contenders. When you view it that way, it doesn't hold up. Sure, you've got heavyweights and former Oscar winners fronting the picture, but "Hitchcock" is a light-hearted concoction that has fun and takes liberties with the story of the making of "Psycho." Sure, it has drama in it, but it doesn't feel weighty and important like, let's say, "Lincoln."
If "Hitchcock" would have come out in February, for example, it would have been heralded as a smart, funny, breath of fresh air. This past February (traditionally the dumping grounds for terrible Hollywood films) saw the release of dumb movies like the insultingly awful Reese Witherspoon rom-com "This Means War" and the lifeless Nicolas Cage mess "Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance." "Hitchcock" could have been the smart choice for viewers to see for weeks and it would have zero Oscar expectations.
The industry-standard practice of saving up 80-90 percent of the films it deems awards-worthy for the end of the year is bad for everybody — and not just because it invites all kinds of expectations. Mostly, it's because there are way too many great movies to choose from and some are bound to fall through the cracks.This year is especially bad.
"Zero Dark Thirty," "Django Unchained," "Les Miserables," "Not Fade Away," "The Impossible," and "Amour" aren't even out yet, while really great recent releases like "Silver Linings Playbook," "Anna Karenina," and "Holy Motors" are floundering in limited release because there's too many other higher-profile awards-consideration movies like "Lincoln" and "Life of Pi" stealing their thunder.
The ticket-buying public only has so much money to spend in theaters, so let's do some simple math: At $10 a ticket, a couple would have to spend almost $250 in a month to see all of the bigger movies with Oscar buzz. And I didn't even mention smaller indies like "The Sessions" or the scores of richly deserving documentaries that are all doing their Oscar-qualifying limited engagement runs right now.
I get it. Being able to say you've won critics' awards or nabbed a Golden Globe or Oscar nomination can seriously improve your marketing efforts. But look at summer-released critical darlings like "Beasts of the Southern Wild" and "Moonrise Kingdom." Granted, they aren't in the theaters while they're getting all the acclaim, but they've both recently just come out on DVD and Blu-ray, so they will still be able to take advantage of all the awards press they are getting.
Even with all the press screenings and awards screeners that are sent to my house, I find it hard to keep up. Now the last thing I want to complain about is my access to films before they are released in theaters, but if I can't keep up — and it's my job to — how can the studios expect the ticket-buying public to?