Pics already jostling for 2006 Oscar slots

It may still be another week before this year’s Oscars are handed out, but already studios are jostling with one another to mark their Academy Award territory for next season.

Things are starting to get crowded in December: Columbia-released adaptation of Arthur Golden’s bestseller “Memoirs of a Geisha” will go out in limited release Dec. 9, and then break wider at Christmas, while Col’s remake of 1950’s best picture winner “All the King’s Men” will go into limited release Dec. 16, and then wider in January 2006.

The planned platform release of “All the King’s Men” mirrors that of “Million Dollar Baby,” and producers of the pic said that was no accident.

“There was a time when pictures were given time to ‘seep in,’ ” said Mike Medavoy, chairman of Phoenix Pictures and a producer of “King’s Men.” “This whole thing of shooting your wad all at one time is fine for some pictures, but not this one.”

Medavoy said he wasn’t concerned that Col might be getting in its own way with “Geisha” and “All the King’s Men” opening within a week of one another.

Room for two

“It’s a completely different kind of movie (than ‘Geisha’),” said Medavoy. “And it’s a completely different movie from the original.”

Filmmakers and producers hope that studios invest their ego, vanity and pocketbooks in securing Oscar nominations for their films. And when filmmakers begin to suspect they’re being treated unfavorably, friction emerges.

Still, studios regularly make multiple Oscar bets and wait to see which film finds traction.

And the lesson of “Million Dollar Baby,” win or lose a week from Sunday, is that award seasons can change at the last minute. The film, which lensed last summer, wasn’t announed as an end-of-the-year release until the fall.

Then there’s Universal, which shook things up by announcing this week that Steven Spielberg would have his long-gestating Munich Olympics project ready in time to release on Dec. 23, making it a factor in next year’s race.

Even as the summer calendar is still being finalized, next year’s holiday sked is crammed with additional pics from major studios that look — from afar — like they’ll be jockeying for awards.

In addition to the Spielberg pic, U has Jake Gyllenhaal Gulf War pic “Jarhead” on Nov. 11 and musical “The Producers” on Dec. 21.

Fox is planning to release its Johnny Cash biopic “Walk the Line,” starring Joaquin Phoenix, on Nov. 18.

It’s also a good bet that Warners will give Rob Reiner’s “Rumor Has It,” starring Kevin Costner and Jennifer Aniston, the full awards push.

Also this week, Paramount bounced its Nicolas Cage starrer “The Weather Man” from its April 1 slot for a fall berth in part because a later release is often more conducive to kudos campaigns.

It’s hardly a comprehensive list as other titles will emerge and specialty divisions assemble their own rosters.

More shifting

In other chess moves, the schedule logjam for May 6 worked its way out this week when two of the four major pics skedded for that frame moved.

Disney has pushed up “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” a week earlier to April 29, while New Line is pushing Jennifer Lopez-Jane Fonda laffer “Monster-in-Law” a week later to May 13.

The two films remaining in the first week of May, which in recent years has marked the unofficial start of the summer season, are 20th Century Fox’s Ridley Scott epic “Kingdom of Heaven” and Warner Bros.’ horror remake “House of Wax.”

But both moves complicate the plans of other studios that formerly had April 29 and May 13 mostly to themselves. Hoping to begin the summer season a week earlier, Sony had skedded action sequel “XXX: Head of State” on April 29.

Sony distrib head Rory Bruer said, “We have an audience and they have theirs. We’ll be fine.”

And Universal had been able to hold onto May 13 for Will Farrell laffer “Kicking and Screaming.” Other pics launching on May 13 are the crime dramas “Unleashed” from Rogue (the genre arm of U’s specialty division Focus), and “Crash” from Lions Gate.

The new match-ups between “Hitchhiker’s” and “XXX” and “Kicking” and “Monster” will involve some aud crossover.

After last week’s big shakeup when Fox moved “Fantastic Four” to July 8 (and out of the way of Paramount’s “War of the Worlds” on June 29), Universal has bumped its Kate Hudson starrer from July 8 to Aug. 12, which remains crowded.

U had Hilary Duff starrer “The Perfect Man” skedded for then, so it has moved the teen pic to July 22, where DreamWorks has Michael Bay sci-fi “The Island,” Fox is going out with Martin Lawrence laffer “Rebound,” and Sony has the Rob Schneider sequel “Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo.”

Meanwhile, DreamWorks has shuffled its plans for Aug. 5, skedding Wes Craven pic “Red Eye” and pushing its untitled Kurt Russell project to the fall.

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