It's bad enough that "Sweeney Todd" has fallen short of box-office projections this weekend (earning $9.35 million compared to expectations ranging from $11 million to $12 million) while those gum-snapping, tattooed, "awesome"-saying, Johnny Depp fans spread the horrible news: "Omigod, he's singing weird Broadway stuff and he's wearing a skunk on his head and no pirate duds!" Oscar voters are busy at home catching up with that tall stack of DVDs next to their TV sets, which, in some cases, does not yet include disks of "Sweeney."
"Sweeney" was the last DVD of the season to be shipped to voters, most of which received them on Christmas Eve. "Charlie Wilson's War" and "The Great Debaters" arrived last week. "There Will Be Blood" and "The Kite Runner" shipped on Dec. 16, "Atonement" in early December. The vast majority of voters receive disks at home, but some academy members like actors have them shipped first to the offices of managers or their reps, then forwarded. Some of those voters are still waiting for various DVDs while many Hollywood offices remain closed for the holidays till Jan. 2.
Don't the film studios realize that Oscar noms ballots ship out on Dec. 26? And aren't they aware that the accountants who tally showbiz awards routinely report that about half of voters fill out their ballots right away? Do they really expect busy Hollywood honchos to drop everything during the holiday crunch and watch the avalanche of late-arriving DVDs?
Presumably, the studios must really believe that academy members attend those theater-set screenings they set up all over town in late November and throughout December. Ha! Some voters do, sure, but academy members — just like members of SAG's nominating committee — feel like a privileged breed. They expect — nay, demand — special treatment: that the movies come to THEM.
SAG Nom Com screenings are usually packed, yes, but not with committee voters. Usually, attendees are just regular guild members, the cheap ones, many of the down-and-out actors who are eager to catch a hot, new Oscar contender for free while networking among peers. SAG voters did not receive DVDs of "Sweeney" and "Debaters" — and they were snubbed completely when guild nominations were unveiled on Dec. 20. So was "Atonement," but at least the DVD got shipped in early December. It seems obvious that it didn't catch up with enough voters in time. Instead, the SAG list was full of pix released much earlier, like "Into the Wild."
Next, will we see the same thing repeated when Oscar, DGA and WGA noms are announced?
DGA ballots were sent out on Dec. 3. Assuming half of DGA voters filled them out soon afterward, the chances of Paul Thomas Anderson ("Blood"), Tim Burton ("Sweeney") and Denzel Washington ("Debaters") being nominated are cut dramatically. Ditto for the helmers of other December releases like Joe Wright ("Atonement") and Marc Forster ("The Kite Runner"). Remember, DGA members aren't permitted to receive DVD screeners, so they must either catch industry screenings or else see the pix at the local Cineplex. Yes, there were lots of industry screenings, but there are 13,000 DGA members scattered across America (compared to 370 voters in the academy's directors' branch). The vast majority work in the TV industry and voting on film awards isn't their highest priority, which means seeing those movies isn't either. Thus I think it's increasingly likely that we'll see "Into the Wild's" Sean Penn on the DGA list, just like we saw "Into the Wild's" Emile Hirsch on the SAG roster. And maybe neither on the Oscar list, depending on how academy members are doing whittling down that stack of DVDs next to their TV sets. And when the DVDs of "Sweeney," "Blood" and "Debaters" finally reach them and get seen. Undoubtedly, many voters are watching DVDs in the order that they arrived.
Don't be too surprised if the DGA list is heavily weighed by earlier releases like "Eastern Promises" (David Cronenberg), "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead" (Sidney Lumet), "American Gangster" (Ridley Scott), "Michael Clayton" (Tony Gilroy) and "3:10 to Yuma" (James Mangold). Surely, Oscar voters won't snub "Sweeney Todd" (Tim Burton), "There Will Be Blood" (Paul Thomas Anderson), "Atonement" (Joe Wright), "The Great Debaters" (Denzel Washington) and "The Kite Runner" (Marc Forster) entirely. They have more time to catch up with those stragglers, but how different will their choices be?
This year we're likely to see the biggest divergence ever between the guilds (SAG, DGA, WGA) and Oscars.
The reason: There was a contagious outbreak of amnesia this year across Hollywood as studio chiefs suddenly forgot the new Oscar calendar that debuted four years ago when the Academy Awards and guild kudos pushed back one month. Nobody noticed the calendar last year because studios released their Oscar ponies so early. Seven of the films that won the top eight Oscar races ("The Departed," "Last King of Scotland," "The Queen" and "Little Miss Sunshine") were all in theaters by October. Only "Dreamgirls" opened late — in December — and earned a bid for eventual winner Jennifer Hudson.
This year Fox Searchlight initially planned to open "Juno" and "The Savages" in mid-December, but realized its mistake late, then yanked up their openings a few weeks. Still, "Savages" got shut out at SAG and "Juno" didn't get its expected bid in the ensemble category.
Last year "Dreamgirls" was able to beat the calendar: it got a best-pic bid from the producers' guild and Bill Condon was nominated by DGA. It didn't make the best-pic cut at the Oscars, of course, but we know that academy members saw it because they nommed it in so many other races (giving it the most nominations of all pix, strangely). However, "Dreamgirls" was one of few late releases, so it was easier to catch up with one than many.
Late-December release "Letters from Iwo Jima" got shut out by all four guilds (producers, directors, actors, writers) in 2006, but got nommed for pic and director at the Oscars, of course. Last year it won best pic from the Los Angeles Film Critics Association. This year the group went for "There Will Be Blood." Perhaps that fact suggests a parallel this year — that we'll see Paul Thomas Anderson and his film earning similar slots from the academy?