Paramount made the shocking decision to move its Oscar contender, The Soloist, from a pre-Thanksgiving release to mid-March 2009. Both of the film’s stars, Jamie Foxx and Robert Downey Jr., were widely expected to receive acting nods for their performances in the movie about a schizophrenic homeless violinist and the LA Times columnist who befriends him. So, why did Paramount shove its potential award winner into early 2009 where it won’t be eligible for the 2008 awards?
Insiders say there’s nothing wrong with the still Oscar-calibre film, but that it really came down to economics. Paramount, which is releasing The Soloist even though it was produced by DreamWorks and Universal’s Working Title, told the LA Times privately that the studio’s budget concerns, additional competiton (presumably from Twilight and Bolt on The Soloist‘s original release date and other Oscar hopefuls towards the end of the year), and the current economic climate were all likely factors behind the move, going on to suggest that the movie’s subject of “homelessness” might not play well right now.
LAT film blogger Patrick Goldstein‘s response to this speaks for itself:
That’s the kind of whopper you’d only hear in Hollywood. I think the appropriate response to that would be–when exactly would be a good time to release a film about homelessness? Halloween? The Fourth of July?
Having read the script and seen the film being shot, I’m guessing that only a studio disguising its real motives would call “The Soloist” a film about homelessness, when in fact, it’s a male-bonding love story about a crusading newspaper reporter and a musician with a troubled soul.
Indeed, as Goldstein and others have noted, and even a cursory view of the trailer shows, the movie is intended to be an uplifting story. Furthermore, we haven’t seen the movie yet, but it doesn’t seem like Foxx’s character becomes homeless because of bad stock or subprime investments.
In fact, the movie’s shift was probably really caused by Paramount’s own economics.
Goldstein: Paramount apparently told its partners, as well as top CAA brass, who represent most of the talent on the picture, that the studio was under pressure from Viacom superiors to cut costs, having recently acknowledged that it was thinning out its future release schedule…With four potential Oscar movies slated for year-end release, something had to give. It certainly wasn’t going to be “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” an expensive and much-anticipated Brad Pitt and David Fincher collaboration that studio chief Brad Grey has already publicly embraced as his ticket to a front-row seat Feb. 22nd at the Kodak theatre. And it certainly wasn’t going to be “Revolutionary Road,” a Scott Rudin-produced literary drama with a star too big to offend (Leonardo DiCaprio) and the kind of rarified subject matter that desperately needs Oscar buzz to sell tickets.
Furthermore, Paramount has had a very successful year so far in terms of box-office revenue. They were the first studio to reach $1 billion and they currently have the second-largest market share with $1.3 billion in revenues through October 16, according to Box Office Mojo. So, they don’t really need to cram a lot of movies into their fourth quarter to have a successful year, particularly when earlier hits like Tropic Thunder and Indiana Jones on DVD will probably help with Q4 revenue. But when you look at the studio’s upcoming releases for Q1 2009, things look a bit bleak.
So far, according to IMDB, the quarter’s release calendar consists of Hotel For Dogs; I Love You, Man; The Uninvited; and an Untitled Wayans Brothers Project (that last one just rolls right off the tongue, doesn’t it?). Oh, yeah, and there’s also this little film called Watchmen, which Paramount is distributing with Warner Bros. The heavily hyped comic book movie was supposed to be an early-2009 home run but now it’s tangled up in litigation. (We already speculated that Warner’s concern about the film’s fate influenced its plan to re-release The Dark Knight in January.) So, moving The Soloist to 2009 gives Paramount a movie with, as they rightly claimed, strong commercial appeal during what could otherwise have been a weak quarter.
And as for Paramount’s supposed claim that the homelessness in the film might be hard to stomach in this economic environment, the studio doesn’t seem to have a problem releasing much darker fare around Christmas weekend, including DreamWorks’ disintegration-of-a-marriage drama, Revolutionary Road, and the true story of four Jewish brothers battling the Nazis, Defiance. Combine those two movies with MGM’s Valkyrie, also opening on 12/26 and you’ve got two films about Nazi hunters, one marital problems epic and a partridge in a pear tree. Happy Holidays!
On a personal note, we were extremely upset by Paramount’s decision to move The Soloist, to which we were greatly looking forward. But we agree with Goldstein again that if the movie, and Robert Downey Jr. and Jamie Foxx’s performances, are good, then it could definitely be an Oscar hopeful in 2009, as could Foxx and/or Downey.
After all, one of the most recent examples of a Q1 movie generating Oscar nominations almost a year later was Erin Brockovich, penned, coincidentally, by the sceenwriter for The Soloist, Susannah Grant. Below, to tide you over until March, the trailer for The Soloist, and to remind you what a first-quarter Oscar hopeful looks like, the trailer for Erin Brockovich.
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