Oscar dropouts open slots for other kudos hopefuls

Every parent thinks their child is special. And in June, every year-end release looks like an Oscar contender to loving studio execs.

But by this time of year, the films are being seen and many find their awards chances dwindling, thanks to ho-hum reception.

So rival campaigners are giddy when a studio postpones the release date of a presumed Academy Award contender.

Says one studio marketer, “Every time one of the presumed Academy movies drops out, you hope that your movie moves up in the line.”

So far this year, Columbia’s “All the King’s Men,” starring Sean Penn and Jude Law; Revolution’s “Freedomland,” with Julianne Moore and Samuel L. Jackson; and Paramount Classics’ “Ask the Dust,” directed by Robert Towne and starring Colin Farrell, have been pulled from the 2005 release sked.

This presumably opens several fields. Since Penn is playing a role that won Broderick Crawford an Oscar for the 1949 version of “King’s Men,” the already crowded actor race has one fewer contender.

Now Farrell won’t have to compete with himself in “The New World,” which he also toplines.

But Jackson may be out of luck this year, since his perfs in “Revenge of the Sith” and “XXX: State of the Union” seem like longshots, to say the least.

The actress race is less jam-packed, so Moore’s exit gives hope to a roster of actresses whose prospects were more iffy.

Although Moore also stars in DreamWorks’ “The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio,” the plan was to push the thesp exclusively for her role as a mother in search of her son’s kidnapper in “Freedomland.” But by the time the decision to hold that film was made, DreamWorks had already committed to an Oscar campaign that did not include Moore.

It’s significant that Oscar pundits talk about Steven Spielberg‘s “Munich” as a frontrunner in many categories — since virtually none of these pundits has seen any footage. But then again, Spielberg always breeds buzz, especially with weighty subjects.

Then there are the late entries.

An on-the-fly Oscar campaign isn’t impossible if a studio wants it badly enough: Sony scrabbled together a last-minute push for “Black Hawk Down” when the film took off in 2001, and last year Warners got aggressively behind “Million Dollar Baby” when the pic was released earlier than planned and became eligible for Oscar.

“It’s always a high-wire act and there are always headaches,” says one Oscar consultant. When release dates get pushed, he says, “the headaches are just more concentrated.”

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