The Lazarus of Hollywood movies in 2000, “Wonder Boys” has been revived in an act of good faith by Paramount, and as a stroke of sustaining good working relations between the studio and director Curtis Hanson, who was Oscar-nominated for directing “L.A. Confidential” (1997) and won the award for adapting the script.
The director, a former film critic, certainly found his fortunes boosted by his old colleagues, but the February release sank quickly at the box office despite a flurry of impassioned reviews and a cast led by Michael Douglas, with support from Robert Downey Jr., Frances McDormand and Tobey Maguire.
But perhaps as a reflection of the year’s persistent weakness, with few studio films standing out by the time the likes of “Almost Famous” and “Pay It Forward” had faded from theaters, support for “Wonder Boys” has surged.
Junking the despised original ad featuring a grubby Douglas, a new promotion emphasizing the ensemble for a modest re-release seems to have restored a bit of the movie’s identity in the minds of Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences’ voters.
It remains to be seen, though, if such good-faith efforts will be enough. There are questions if older voters will warm up to Douglas toking joint after joint or the story’s rambling-shambling nature (precisely, though, what will attract Boomer voters nostalgic for ’70s films, which this one resembles).
For that matter, voters might find that the real Oscar movie starring Douglas is the fresh-out-of-the-blocks Steven Soderbergh epic “Traffic.” (Douglas has two Oscars already — one for producer for “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and one for actor for “Wall Street.”)
Chances of a supporting actor nom for Downey, who was nominated in 1993 for his lead role in “Chaplin,” only recently thought to be good, might have been damaged by his highly publicized Thanksgiving arrest for drug possession.
With few other contenders in its stable, though, Paramount may be willing to go the extra effort to back a film that will land on numerous critics’ top 10 lists.
Among the other categories, “Wonder Boys” has a good chance of getting nominated for Bob Dylan’s brilliant song “Things Have Changed,” which got a lot of airplay on adult alternative radio stations nationwide.