Oscars’ field of contenders changes with release dates

With the fall film festivals over, the studios are juggling release dates, making last-minute changes that could affect Oscar outcomes in February.

Most significant is Fox Searchlight’s decision to release its previously undated drama “Hitchcock” starring Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren on Nov. 23. The indie arm of 20th Century Fox is often a contender in the annual awards race, pulling out the best picture victory in 2009 for “Slumdog Millionaire.”

This year the studio’s awards-season load was lighter than usual and “Hitchcock,” from director Sacha Gervasi (“Anvil: The Story of Anvil”), allows the company another entry into the race. The film is a love story about filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock (Hopkins) and his wife (Mirren) during the making of his iconic movie “Psycho.”

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Searchlight’s other likely contenders include the Sundance hit “The Sessions” starring John Hawkes as a man in an iron lung who hopes to lose his virginity with the help of a sex surrogate played by Helen Hunt; the summer release “Beasts of the Southern Wild”; and the feel-good “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” which has earned $46 million since it opened in May.

Other date shifting occurred earlier this year with Warner Bros. pulling Baz Luhrmann’s 3-D epic “The Great Gatsby” out of this year’s Oscar race so the director could spend more time on the film’s special effects and its soundtrack. On Thursday the studio officially pushed the release date back to May 10, 2013, the beginning of the summer moviegoing season.

“Audiences have been looking forward to Baz Luhrmann’s film adaptation of one of the most beloved books of all time, and we felt this would be a perfect way for us to kick off our summer slate,” said Warner Bros.’ president of distribution Dan Fellman in a statement.

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The move created an opening on Christmas Day, one that Universal Pictures filled earlier this week with its adaptation of the Broadway musical “Les Misérables.” With a star-studded cast that includes Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway and Russell Crowe, the Tom Hooper-directed movie will now bow opposite Quentin Tarantino’s bloody slave tale “Django Unchained.” Hooper is a proven Oscar commodity, directing the best picture winner “The King’s Speech.” The Weinstein Co. also has hopes that Tarantino’s take on history could connect with voters.

The date changes haven’t been limited to films. Earlier this week, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced it was going to move up the Oscar nominations by five days, from Jan. 15 to Jan. 10. With a number of films already in play for Oscar consideration, the task of getting all the movies seen by voters will be an even bigger challenge.



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