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Awards

‘The Founder’: Coming (sooner than you thought) to a theater (just one) near you

Michael Keaton plays maverick businessman Ray Kroc in “The Founder.”
Michael Keaton plays maverick businessman Ray Kroc in “The Founder.”
(The Weinstein Co.)

You’ve heard of pop-up restaurants and pop-up museums. But what about a pop-up movie?

That’s the curious vibe surrounding “The Founder,” the story of maverick businessman Ray Kroc’s acquisition and expansion of the McDonald’s fast-food chain. The film, which stars Michael Keaton as Kroc, opened Wednesday on one screen at the ArcLight Hollywood for a one-week awards-qualifying run. It will return to theaters in a wider engagement on Jan. 20.

As recently as Sunday, the Weinstein Co., the movie’s distributor, had advertised that “The Founder” would open Friday. Prior to that, a limited release date had been set for Dec. 16. Before that, it was to open Aug. 5, a date that Weinstein Co. co-Chairman Harvey Weinstein said would show that “award-caliber movies should be able to open any time of year and be successful.”

Of the most recent shift, Weinstein says he moved the film’s release date up two days because of a misunderstanding over when the Los Angeles Times review of the movie would run.

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“I’m trying to get some buzz, for Michael Keaton especially,” Weinstein says by phone. “I just moved it up to Wednesday so we’d at least get a head of steam going into the weekend.”

Weeklong awards-qualifying runs are routine this time of year. Studios make their movies eligible for Oscar consideration in December, hoping for a marketing hook come January. The Weinstein Co., for instance, pursued the strategy five years ago with the 2011 Margaret Thatcher biopic “The Iron Lady.” The film had a small December qualifying run before expanding with the strength of the awards buzz surrounding Meryl Streep’s lead turn as Thatcher. Streep eventually won her third Oscar for the performance.

“Nobody is hiding the salami,” Weinstein says about the confusion over the movie’s release date. “Nobody is apologizing for this movie. We were thinking about going in August and then we thought Michael’s performance was great. But Michael wasn’t available in August. So we moved it to here, thinking we could qualify him and get a Golden Globe nomination and maybe get an Oscar nomination. That was our strategy.”

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Reviews for “The Founder” thus far have been mixed, with it earning a 63 score on the movie aggregator website Metacritic. Times’ film critic Justin Chang offered strong praise, writing that it “turns the unlikely subject of a fast-food chain into a quasi-religious satire, a parable of American striving and, ultimately, a study of artisanal integrity gradually caving in to commercial compromise.”

Even those critics so-so on the film have praised Keaton, confirming awards pundits’ sense that the veteran actor’s lead turn represents the movie’s strongest bet to gain awards season traction.

Keaton has been largely unavailable to promote the movie as he has been in Rome shooting the action-thriller “American Assassin.” He did take a three-day break in mid-November to participate in a news conference for the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. and is scheduled to take part in three post-screening Q&As this weekend, including an event Sunday night for film academy members.

Keaton did not earn a Critics Choice nod earlier this month when the Broadcast Film Critics Assn. announced its voluminous slate of nominees. The Weinstein Co. mailed DVD screeners to the group, a delivery that did not extend to members of the Los Angeles Film Critics Assn. before its vote on Sunday. Only about half of LAFCA members were invited to a “Founder” screening before the group’s weekend vote. Of those two screenings, one was overbooked. At the second, the projector broke.

“So, yes, [I was] invited, but didn’t see it despite my best efforts,” says Los Angeles Business Journal writer Annlee Ellingson.

For indie studios like the Weinstein Co., the question of how to best allocate limited resources becomes vital this time of year. A Critics Choice nomination would put Keaton on a televised awards show. A LAFCA award would not. The company also has two other movies to support — the Oscar candidate “Lion,” a wrenching true story about an Indian man (Dev Patel) trying to find the family he lost as a boy, as well as the Matthew McConaughey crime-adventure “Gold,” which is opening Christmas.

Because the studio’s latest releases — Quentin Tarantino’s western “The Hateful Eight,” the coming-of-age story “Sing Street” and the Natalie Portman-topped “Jane Got a Gun” — didn’t meet commercial expectations, there’s a persistent perception that Weinstein might be a bit strapped financially to support all three Oscar hopefuls this December.

Weinstein dismisses that suggestion, noting the strength of the company’s television division and film library, though in the depressed home video market a library isn’t worth what it used to be. 

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“These notions get bandied about for ridiculous reasons,” Weinstein says.  “Are movies doing less good than they used to for us? Absolutely. I’d love to say we’re doing fantastic in movie world. But I don’t think anyone is and we’re doing about the same as everybody else.

“Maybe it’s our fault,” he continues. “Maybe we’re doing a poor job communicating, to have this current attitude out there. But maybe it’s good for us. Maybe we should be the underdog for a change.”

See the most-read stories this hour »

glenn.whipp@latimes.com

Twitter: @glennwhipp

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