Moon: The Mishandling of an Awards Season Contender

Haven’t heard much talk about Moon this awards season? Mad that it’s not showing up on the lists of your favorite critics?

Blame Sony Pictures Classics, the distributor that has had its knee on the testicular area of this film since it picked it up following the Sundance Film Festival in January. As you’ve been told in the past, much of Awards Season is marketing. Sometimes the Oscar goes to the studio that spends the money to get its film in the most hands. Of course, you still have to have a good film — but as has been proven in the past, sometimes a film that is simply good can be elevated to great and even Oscar-worthy by some tricky 11th hour goodie packages in the mailboxes of critics and Academy members. I remember 2006 — a simpler time — when I received not one, but three different shipments from Fox Searchlight regarding Little Miss Sunshine. First a screener, then a nicely assembled script, and finally a little yellow bus of my own. In the hands of a less ethical man, this would have been grounds to place the film atop ones best of the year list. But as you know, I’m clearly not like that.

Swag and scripts aside, the basic entry fee into the awards season market is a screener for critics. Many critics around the country don’t make it to Sundance or Toronto or Cannes, and a great deal of them live in fly-over states and don’t see the limited releases that play only to crowds in NYC or LA. So screeners are their only hope. This year, I was able to consider films such as Crazy Heart and The Burning Plain, two films that hadn’t opened in Austin before the year-end, thanks to screeners. I was also given a second look at Fantastic Mr. Fox and The Hurt Locker, two films that landed near the top of my top ten list, and took home praise from the Austin Film Critics Association, my group and the reason for my screener collection. To send screeners out to critics is to have confidence in a movie, and is standard practice. No matter the size of the film, or even its initial critical reaction, sending screeners gives the film a chance.

In the case of Moon — the Duncan Jones directed sci-fi film at the center of a “Twitter storm” according to THR — I was able to see it at Sundance, where it earned an early spot on my end of the year list — an honorable mention. It’s a solid movie, and one of the more interesting, original works of science fiction we’ve seen in a while. Certainly deserving of the attention and a place in the conversation.

According to Jones (via Twitter), it was denied its place by Sony, who did not see a reason to spend the money for screeners. “We have more than asked,” Jones explained to his followers. “We’ve knocked heads. they have chosen the films they are backing & we are not in their plans.” Upon pressing for a reason, Jones was told it costs too much for our little film as they would need to be water-marked copies as our DVD isn’t out yet in the US.”

Today, the THR report was published as if there were a storm a-brewin’. But sadly, that is not exactly the case. There is a petition — which has been supported by a number of industry names, including Neil Gaiman and Jon Favreau — but that has yielded no results. Moon was nominated for 7 British Independent Film Awards, but has received no attention from American critics — and likely, won’t receive much from the Academy. An online petition to get Sam Rockwell nominated for Best Actor isn’t going to cut it — because it won’t reach the right audience. A few loud voices standing in a field does not a formidable Oscar campaign make.

Would Moon have had a better chance if a few hundred screeners been bought? That is the eternal question. In their minds, Sony Pictures Classics was making the safe bet. The economy isn’t strong, the film only made $5 million at the box office, and the risk of piracy is a real concern. It is safer to keep hold it back until it releases on DVD on January 12th. It was the safe — and perhaps wrong bet.

In the end, I feel for director Duncan Jones and his team. I don’t feel for the fans. We will hold this film in a special place in our collections for years to come, and don’t need any award to tell us that it’s a quality work. But for Jones, awards and acclaim mean money in the bank. More DVDs sold, more avenues to future projects. He’s the one who is being hurt by all of this. He is the one left standing with his film, this labor of love, that could’ve been a contender.

Had it been for a few screeners.

Neil Miller is the Founder and Publisher of Film School Rejects. For almost a decade, he has been talking movies on television, the radio, and the Internet. As of yet, no one has stopped him.

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