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Sunday, January 23, 2011

Oscar Nominated Movies Crowd Movie Theaters for Homestretch of Award Race

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Actress Halle Berry arrives at the Golden Globe Awards Sunday, Jan. 16, 2011, in Beverly Hills, Calif.
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Prestige movies crowd theaters for homestretch of Oscar race

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 January 23, 2011
BY JOE WILLIAMS • Post-Dispatch Film Critic

For film aficionados in flyover country, January is the best of times, January is the worst of times.

While audiences in New York and Los Angeles have already feasted on the movies recommended by critics, Midwesterners spend the weeks after Christmas gnawing on tasteless leftovers like "Little Fockers" and reheated formula flicks like "The Dilemma."

At last Sunday's Golden Globes awards, Paul Giamatti won best actor in a comedy for his role as a much-married curmudgeon in "Barney's Version." Other nominees for a Globe included Halle Berry as a woman with multiple personalities in "Frankie and Alice" and the Spanish film "Biutiful," starring Javier Bardem as a human trafficker. None of those movies have opened in St. Louis yet.

In the case of "Carlos," a Golden Globe-winning miniseries about an international terrorist that was a theatrical release in selected cities, it may skip St. Louis theaters altogether. Such was the case with "Welcome to the Rileys," a recent film in which Kristen Stewart plays a young New Orleans stripper befriended by grieving dad James Gandolfini.

The flip side of what the studios call a platform roll-out, with second-tier markets like St. Louis getting a delayed taste of the most critically acclaimed films, is that the otherwise bleak days of January and February can be a bright spot for both theater owners and audiences, especially after the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announces the Oscar nominees Tuesday morning.

"January is a good month if you're playing the nominated films, while the commercial stuff is a little weak," said Harman Moseley, who operates the Chase, Moolah and Galleria theaters.

For St. Louis moviegoers, a Valentine's Day date can include a screening of a grown-up award contender instead of a disposable teen romance.

Laura Resnick, local manager for the Landmark theater chain that specializes in "art house" films, said that award contenders such as "Black Swan" and "The King's Speech" are doing big business at Plaza Frontenac, more than a month after they debuted on the coasts.

Last weekend, the local Landmark theaters finally got three films that have been generating award buzz since the important autumn festivals in Toronto and Venice: "Rabbit Hole," "Blue Valentine" and "Somewhere." And the area's largest theater chain, Wehrenberg, is now showing such award contenders as "The Fighter" and "True Grit."

In the movie business, timing is critical, and studios often stake out key release dates a year in advance. It's especially tricky with potential award contenders. If a good movie like "Winter's Bone" or "The Ghost Writer" is released too early in the year, there's a danger of it being forgotten by the time the votes are collected. And if it's released too late, it may got lost in the crowd.

By rule, potential Academy Award nominees need to screen for paying customers in Los Angeles County for a full week before the end of the year. And influential critics want movies to be screened for them by mid-December to be included in their Top 10 lists. That means prestige movies are often sent to critics and Academy voters on DVD, which is not the best way to view epics like the new prison break movie "The Way Back."

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