Off the Carpet: Frontrunners try to maintain buzz while others aim to capitalize in phase two

Posted by · 12:18 pm · February 10th, 2014

The Oscar nominees are gathering for lunch this afternoon as the Winter Olympics forge ahead in Sochi, gobbling up two weeks and extending the phase two timeline of this year’s film awards season. The question is, how will that extension affect the race, if at all?

It’s a funny thing, buzz. Maintaining it, keeping the fire fueled, staying on the crest of the wave long enough to coast to the finish line – it can be tricky business. As of late, every four years, the Winter Olympics stretch the season into March, a callback to the days when the Oscars naturally did extend that far. We end up with a massive window in the post-nominations period (ballots don’t go out for another week still) and that can hurt some players.

For instance, “Gravity” has been riding pretty high with love from the PGA and DGA, but “12 Years a Slave” could end up with a significant boost out of the BAFTA Awards (as we’ve detailed in this space) and could capitalize if Alfonso Cuarón’s space thriller runs out of gas. But Warner Bros. has always kept the gap bridged with advertising buys and marketing awareness as the calendar shifts to phase two, and you can see it out there this season.

Most significantly, a commercial-free “Gravity” special aired on ABC Saturday night, similar to the one the studio ran this time last year for eventual Best Picture winner “Argo.” Sandra Bullock stopped by for the penultimate episode of “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” last week and in trades and online, you can see a real robust campaign continuing to play out without taking a breath.

“Dallas Buyers Club” star Matthew McConaughey also showed up on “The Tonight Show” last week as Focus Features has taken an early phase two marketing plunge. Like “Gravity,” that is a film that could be in a precarious situation with an extended season and needs to seize any and all momentum. If Leonardo DiCaprio grabs the BAFTA prize next weekend, watch out.

Speaking of which, Paramount clearly has nothing to lose and is going for broke with a lively print and outdoor advertising campaign for “The Wolf of Wall Street.” There were new commercials for the film in key primetime slots last weekend, too. Meanwhile, a big retrospective of Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio’s collaborations has been set for the Ziegfeld Theater in New York next week, right on the heels of last week’s Santa Barbara film festival tribute to the duo.

Disney animation is firing things up as well. A live concert event was held for the film “Frozen” in Los Angeles Sunday at Herb Alpert’s Vibrato Jazz Club and the ads are blanketing media outlets. In the wake of this year’s Best Original Song dust-up, there is a little more scrutiny on that category than usual and “Let It Go” isn’t the foregone conclusion some might think. (Universal is certainly keeping the pressure on on behalf of “Despicable Me 2” and newly minted Grammy winner Pharrell Williams.)

That’s not even to mention all of the shenanigans Harvey Weinstein is pulling on “Philomena.” Whether plastering a massive quote from a Hollywood Reporter piece curiously stretching to make the film’s Best Picture case in an LA Times ad, getting the real Philomena Lee an audience with the Pope or convincing Mayor Garcetti and the city of Los Angeles to honor her at City Hall tomorrow, the man is working it with typical chutzpah.

Will the fact that Cate Blanchett was unfortunately dragged into an ugly family dispute get voters wondering how they want their vote represented with more time on their hands? Are a pair of surprising (to some) “Captain Phillips” guild wins indicative of wiggle room in this category or that? Lots of questions as the clock ticks on longer than usual.

So while the nominees enjoy their Quinoa Root Vegetable Salad and White Miso Orange Marinated Pacific Sea Bass at the Beverly Hilton Hotel this afternoon, the engines are revving back up under the hood. Nothing is settled and no one is conceding. Those looking to maintain on-going buzz are about to face off with those ready to mount last ditch efforts, and when the dust settles, however the trophies end up being dispersed, it will have been an Oscar race for the ages.

(Quick note: The top 10 shots of 2013 will begin to roll out tomorrow. Be sure to circle back for that annual feature, as I know you’ve been waiting.)

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