When the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences moved the Oscars up to February six years ago for the 2003 awards, it was thought that films released earlier in the previous year would no longer be forgotten come nomination time. And that idea seemed to take hold. The Oscars' best picture winner of 2005, "Crash," debuted on May 6, and 2006 champ "The Departed" was released Oct. 6. Indeed, of the 2006 final five, only "Letters From Iwo Jima" followed the traditional year-end platform release pattern.
However, of the five entrants in the 2007 Oscars' best-picture derby all left the gate fairly late in the year. "Michael Clayton" was released wide on Oct. 5; eventual winner "No Country for Old Men" got a limited release on Nov. 9 and went wide on Nov. 21; "Juno" went into limited release on Dec. 5 and wide on Dec. 25; "Atonement" was put into limited release on Dec. 7; and "There Will Be Blood" had a limited release on Dec. 26.
And all five of last year's best picture contenders came out in the last seven weeks of the year, with eventual champ "Slumdog Millionaire" first on Nov. 14, followed by "Milk" in limited release on Nov. 26. The other three films in contention were all Dec. releases: "Frost/Nixon" (limited -- Dec. 5); "The Reader" (limited -- Dec. 10); and "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" (wide -- Dec. 25).
However, this year, as the academy has doubled the number of best picture nominees it is not surprising to find films released earlier in the year in the mix. Of the 10 films in the running for the top Oscar, four were released before Labor Day: "Up" (May 29); "The Hurt Locker" (June 26 ); "District 9" (Aug.14 ); and "Inglourious Basterds" (Aug. 21 ). Another two -- "A Serious Man" and "An Education" -- went into limited release on the first and last Friday of October respectively as did "Precious" on Nov. 6.
Only three of the best picture nominees opened during the last six weeks of the year: surprise nominee "The Blind Side" (Nov. 20), festival favorite "Up in the Air" (Dec. 4) and sci-fi blockbuster "Avatar" (Dec. 18). Three of the other high profile pictures out at year's end fell by the wayside. "Nine" (Dec. 18) settled for one acting bid as well as nods for art direction, costumes and song while "Invictus" (Dec. 11) earned just two acting nods and "The Lovely Bones" (Dec. 11) landed just one acting nomination.
Photo: Academy Award statues. Credit: AMPAS