Can ‘Trumbo’s’ Golden Globes, SAG Nominations Boost Box Office, Oscar Chances?

Trumbo TIFF
Courtesy of TIFF

With their film opening in early November — at the start of a particularly long run of acclaimed adult dramas — the backers of “Trumbo” have been waiting for their moment. And now they think it may be at hand.

With a strong showing this week in the SAG and Golden Globe nominations — a total of five nods in the two contests — Team “Trumbo” now hopes audiences and future award (read “Oscar”) influentials will re-focus on the film.

“We are in 500-plus screens right now. The challenge is to build on this and get broader audiences outside the standard art-house crowd,” said Michael London of Groundswell Productions, one of the producers of the historic drama. “This is the moment to try to cross over.”

After initial strong buzz leading up to its Nov. 6 release, the tale of blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo drew so-so reviews (with a Metacritic score of 60) and then was overwhelmed by a string of acclaimed grown-up pictures, including “Spotlight,” “Carol,” “Room,” “Brooklyn” and “Bridge of Spies.”

The competition for the comicbook-averse crowd has been so strong this fall that Harvey Weinstein wrote an essay decrying the “cannibalization” that occurs when too many high quality adult films are packed into a short awards season. “It has made it almost impossible for quality films to reach their full potential,” Weinstein wrote, “unless they dare release at another time of year, where they are quickly forgotten come awards season.”

“Trumbo” avoided the latter fate with its powerful showing this week, first with the SAG nominations, where the film’s cast was nominated for best ensemble, along with a best actor nod for Bryan Cranston, as Trumbo, and a supporting actress nom for Helen Mirren as gossip columnist Hedda Hopper. A day later, Cranston and Mirren copped Globe nominations from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association.

The conventional wisdom is that Hollywood loves the self-referential, as evidenced by the wave of support for last year’s “Birdman,” a psychological fable about a tormented over-the-hill actor, played by Michael Keaton, and the triumph of 2011’s “The Artist,” the best picture Oscar winner that centered on a silent film star. “Trumbo” wallows in Hollywood history, with prominent roles for characters, including Kirk Douglas and John Wayne. And its screenwriter hero is a model of high morality –maintaining his beliefs, along with his livelihood.

The film also features a cast of perennial Hollywood favorites, including John Goodman, Diane Lane and Louis C.K., led by Cranston, who has received truckloads of honors for his small screen work on “Breaking Bad,” but not for film performances.

“Trumbo” supporters are counting on Cranston’s appeal and the film’s tone — relatively light-hearted for a recounting of a dark chapter in American history — to expand both its awards and audience appeal. The film’s touch was light enough that the makers had suggested it could be considered in the Globes’ comedy/musical (rather than drama) category. It ended up on the drama side of the contest.

“The subject is serious, but there is a lot of entertainment value there, kind of like the character of Dalton himself,” said Andrew Karpen, CEO of Bleecker Street, the upstart distributor releasing “Trumbo.” Added producer London: “Its great virtue is it has really serious themes, but also plays its hand lightly and with an entertaining point of view.”

If that mix isn’t enough, the filmmakers believe that the presence of Cranston will provide a final incentive to lure audiences. “There is no way you can overstate how much it means to have Bryan and this masterful performance,” said London. “He is such a beloved actor, who audiences want to root for and enjoy. That is everything for us right now.”

“Trumbo” needs the lift. After a limited release in early November, it went wide on Thanksgiving weekend. Still, more than two months after its release, the film, which cost less than $20 million to make, has managed only $4.5 million at the box office.

“These nominations are definitely gratifying,” said London. “There are an extraordinary number of original and innovative movies this fall and there is a limited number of adult movie goers to compete for. “It’s not just about reviews and the pundits, but does the movie itself do the work. You hope it gains steam, as more people see it.”

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  1. Nessa White says:

    DIANE LANE – Oscar nominated leading lady of TRUMBO – has been soooo overlooked in the marketing of this film that most people do not even know she is in it! Maybe if they used her name a bit more it could add a few million to the gross. LANE, ELLE FANNING and MICHAEL STRUHLBURG also gave FAR superior performances in the film than HELEN MIRREN did. Reviews for her performance were pretty mixed. LANE got far better reviews. Weird.

  2. Joe Duvall says:

    An HBO movie mistakenly released to theaters. And it’s a clunker.

  3. Louisa says:

    Trumbo is a great film, based on an amazing biography by Bruce Cook. How wonderful that the whole cast was nominated! I hope the adapted screenplay and movie get nominated for an Oscar. The first great film I have seen since Argo! Jay Roach made a wonderful film.

  4. Bill B. says:

    I am very surprised by the attention this is getting recently. I can’t recall any review that seemed thrilled by it nor the performances. I’ve actually read some poor opinions of Mirren in this. I don’t have a clue how to make it more fair, but actors have too much influence on the best picture winners. Neither Birdman, wonderfully directed, or especially The Artist, deserved to be named the best picture of their year. I also believe the huge acting branch is what caused the star-studded, but lesser Crash win over Brokeback Mountain.

  5. Trumbo the film:
    I do not judge the fine actors nor their performance in this make-believe film, but I take exception that there is value or a substantive message learned from untold truth, innuendo and the manipulation of facts.
    Dalton Trumbo the man:
    Trumbo lied about being the author of the original screenplay which the 1956 Oscar for “Best Original Story” awarded to “The Brave One”. My father wrote the original screenplay and died before film production.

    The movie Trumbo misrepresents the avarice conniving man that Trumbo was. Trumbo was all about the money and getting attention to that end. Trumbo was not a hero, he was just a grandstander who took credit from other people’s work if he could get away with it, especially my father, Juan Duval, who wrote the original screenplay that was the basis for the 1956 Oscar winning category “Best Original Story”, “The Bravo One”. My father died before film production and the King Bros and Trumbo took advantage of it.

    Trumbo was a prodigious writer and during the Blacklist period he was forced to write and rewrite scripts for less money for low-life producers like the King Bros and anyone else who paid him under the table. The King Bros’s nephew Robert Rich, who was one of four listed as the author, was an afterthought and not initially intended to be a front for Trumbo. Per the FBI, Rich was an office errand boy and bag man who picked up scripts and delivered cash to pay Trumbo.

    Roman Holiday may be Trumbo’s original story for all I know, but he was not in Italy during the shooting of the film where much of the script was re-written by Director Billy Wilder and screenwriter Ian Hunter. They wrote script on set day to day and the nights before shooting the film, as was Wilder’s method of film making. Ian Hunter’s son (rightly so) would not return the Oscar when asked by the Academy to do so in order that the Academy issue Trumbo the Oscar decades later.

    I understand that Trumbo worked on my father’s screenplay, but it was my father’s original story and not Trumbo’s, which was the category the Oscar was awarded. The Academy should issue a posthumous Oscar to my father, like they did for Trumbo for Roman Holiday.

    Facts:
    Trumbo re-wrote my father’s original screenplay and removed 50 pages from it, some of which, was about the Catholic ritual of blessing the bulls before a bull fight.

    If you read the screenplay marked #1 and the redacted letters in Trumbo’s book, “Additional Dialogue, Letters of Dalton Trumbo, 1942-1962” and compare them to the rewritten scripts and un-redacted letters archived at the University of Wisconsin Library, it’s obvious that Trumbo didn’t write the original screenplay, otherwise, why would he criticize and complain to the King Bros in so many letters about the original screenplay.

    “The Brave One” script marked “#1” with 170 pages is archived in the University of Wisconsin Library where Trumbo donated all his work. The “#1” script’s Title page was removed and no author was mentioned.

    The “first version” (133 pages) and “second version” (119 pages) of the scripts listed “Screenplay by: Arthur J. Henley”.

    The last two scripts listed “Screenplay by Merrill G. White and Harry S Franklin on the early movie posters and “Original Story by Robert L. Rich” was added to scripts later.

    When the King Bros listed their nephew Robert Rich as author they had no idea that “The Brave One” would be nominated for the Oscar for Best Original Story. At first, Frank King said that there was no such person as Robert Rich and later he said that they bought a 6-page script from a Robert Rich who was away in Germany or Spain.

    Robert Rich (the nephew) did not attend the Oscar awards because he turned informant for the FBI who were watching Trumbo and Rich didn’t want to be publicly humiliated when the truth came out. And Trumbo used the excuse for not being able to produce the original screenplay for The Brave One on his residence being burgled while intimating that it was the FBI who tossed his residence (FBI File Number: 100-1338754; Serial: 1118; Part: 13 of 15). The FBI did in fact toss his residence but had no interest in scripts. And Trumbo was never an informant for the FBI.

    White and Franklin were editors and acting as fronts for Trumbo before and after “The Brave One” movie. The King Bros did not initially intend that their nephew Robert Rich be a front for Trumbo as White and Franklin were first listed as the screenwriters on the movie posters of The Brave One. It was only after the media played up the no-show at the Oscars that the King Bros and Trumbo saw an opportunity to play the media and sell tickets (per Trumbo’s letters to the King Bros).

    Juan Duval, poet, dancer, choreographer, composer and director of stage and film was born in Barcelona, Spain in 1897. He matriculated from the Monastery at Monserrat and moved to Paris in 1913 where he studied with his uncle M Duval. Juan Duval was renowned as a Classical Spanish and Apache dancer and performed in France, Belgium, Germany, Italy and Spain. Juan was fluent in Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese and English.

    In 1915, Juan Duval was conscripted into the French Army and fought in Tunis and Verdun, where he suffered head wounds and was partially gassed. He came to the US in 1918 and joined the US Army and was then stationed with the 50th Infantry in occupied Germany for two years before immigrating to the US where he directed live theater and taught dancing and acting at his Studio of Spanish Dancing on Hollywood Blvd across from the Warner Bros Theatre. Juan produced Cave of Sorrow (Play); Lila (Musical Comedy); Spanish Love (Drama); Café Madrid; Spanish Revue; Night In Paris (Drama) and choreographed “One Mad Kiss” (musical) and at least one sword fighting scene with Rudolf Valentino. He directed movies in Mexico and Cuba including the 1935 highest grossing Spanish speaking film, “El Diablo Del Mar” starring Movita (Marlon Brando’s second wife).
    Mizi Trumbo refused to talk to me about The Brave One original screenplay.

    Before former Director of the Academy of Arts and Sciences Bruce Davis retired, he told me that because of the documentation that I provided him, he was inclined to believe that my father wrote the original screenplay which the movie, “The Brave One” was based.

    The Academy gave Trumbo an Oscar for “The Brave One” 20 years after the Oscars and posthumously gave him another Oscar for the Roman Holiday in 2011.

    The Academy of Arts and Sciences should recognize my father’s original story and posthumously awarded him the Oscar for “Best Original Story” for “The Brave One”.

    John Hart Duval

    • timgray2013 says:

      Hi. I’m assuming you know this, but it’s worth repeating: If you want the Academy to change things, you need to file formal papers with them and with the Writers Guild. Your messages on variety.com will make some people aware, but they won’t start the procedure for any change. That has to be done through AMPAS and the WGA. Thanks, Tim Gray, Variety senior VP

      • Thx…..I had 3 rounds of letters with Director of the Academy, Bruce Davis before his retirement and his response was encouraging. I didn’t know about any filing process with the Academy, so thx for that info, I’ll get on it.
        The Director of WGA was dismissive and defensive from the onset and dealing with the matter agitated my symptoms from nerve damage and a brain tumor, a rough time for me, so I let the matter go until I saw that the movie had come out.
        Thx again……..J

    • Bill B. says:

      Please, stop with this post! The first time I read it, it was interesting, but by now it just sounds like whining.

  6. David Pierre says:

    How many scenes have to be fabricated and how many people have to say they were falsely portrayed before we can say that ‘Spotlight’ is a completely bogus and dishonest film?

    Please!

    http://www.themediareport.com/2015/11/30/spotlight-movie-review/

  7. Kim says:

    I just don’t think this movie is ever going to appeal to a wide audience — especially with middling reviews and a trailer which makes it look like defending communists is a good thing.

  8. Donna says:

    Trumbo is NOT being screened in Boulder Colorado of all places, a university town and far left. Instead Century theater put Krampus up. Those of us won’t be snle to see Trumbo. Bad move on the booking agent’s part.

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