This year’s crowded Oscar race just got substantially lighter.  Two high profile films, both expected to be strong contenders for the Academy Awards, have been moved to early 2009 release dates.

The Road is a post-apocalyptic drama from The Weinstein Company, directed by John Hillcoat (The Proposition), based on the best-selling novel by Cormac McCarthy (No Country For Old Men), and starring Viggo Mortensen (nude steam-bath wrestling) as a father wandering a desolate America with his son.  It was unofficially pushed back from November to December just this past week, but now it appears to be heading for a release in February or March.  Initial reports alluded that the film was still in post-production and probably wouldn’t make a 2008 date, but the problem may actually be one of quality (perceived quality anyway.)

A recent test screening in NYC resulted in several negative comments from folks who supposedly saw the film in it’s admittedly unfinished state.  Quiet Earth collects several of them, but the gist of it all can be summed up with the words “awful, repetitive, awful, annoying, awful, disjointed, awful.”  They liked Nick Cave’s score though.  So that’s something.  One commenter also noted that Harvey Weinstein left the screening early… for whatever that’s worth.

The Soloist is a pre-apocalyptic drama from Dreamworks Pictures, directed by Joe Wright (Atonement), and starring Robert Downey Jr. (Weird Science) and Jamie Foxx (Booty Call) as a Los Angeles journalist in need of a story and homeless schizophrenic in need of a, well, a home I guess.  Adding to the Oscar-bait vibe is it’s based on a true story.  The release date is now set for March 13th.  Paramount is handling the distribution and depending on who you ask their reasoning is either based on competition or box-office potential.

Some believe they’re moving the film back to avoid competing with two of their own preferred Oscar contenders, David Fincher’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Sam Mendes’ Revolutionary Road.  The semi-official insider line however appears to be that aside from simply thinning the holiday season herd, Paramount believes the film can simply earn more money from a less crowded March schedule.  Until the move, Downey and/or Foxx seemed to be a sure bet for a Best Actor nomination.

Of the two, I’m more annoyed by the delay of The Road.  I’m reading the book now and it’s spellbinding, raw, and punctuated with real brutality.  Hillcoat’s a master of all things sparse and bleak, and I was looking forward to the this being the perfect antidote to holiday cheer.  The Soloist delay?  I’m okay with that.  Downey is always impressive, and I’m sure he does a great job, but Foxx is supremely annoying when he’s in award mode.  He’s second only to Sean Penn when it comes to Oscar pandering, and he’s in desperate need of a sit-down chat with Tropic Thunder‘s Kirk Lazarus.

Are you upset by either of these release date changes?


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