The Julianne Moore vehicle Still Alice earned the actress raves when the film premiered at the Toronto Film Festival, prompting immediate awards talk. Sony Pictures Classics acquired the drama and is now defining a strategy to make the film an awards player. The film will have a one-week qualifying run in Los Angeles and New York sometime in the month of December (thus allowing Moore’s performance to be eligible for the Oscars this season) before opening wider on January 16, 2015.
One-week Oscar qualifying runs are somewhat more risky these days, even though for decades it was a fairly common strategy to quietly open a film at the end of the year for awards eligibility, drop it, and then expand once the nominations come out. With the Academy shortening the season (up until 2003, the Oscar telecast was held at the end of March versus the end of February today) and buzz for films seemingly made or lost on social media, the qualifying run has become something of an antiquated approach. However, Sony Pictures Classics themselves had a small degree of luck a few years back with the 2009 period feature The Last Station. That film, which starred Helen Mirren and Christopher Plummer, opened to little fanfare at the end of 2009 for one-week and then returned in January– the film earned both Mirren and Plummer Oscar nominations. Just last year, a similar tactic was used for eventual Oscar nominated animated film The Wind Rises. Then again, recent examples of it backfiring include Terrence Malick’s 2005 feature The New World, Dustin Hoffman’s 2012 dramedy Quartet, and last years’ Jason Reitman misfire Labor Day.
However the move may be more out of necessity than anything else for Sony Classics, which has a huge slate of films opening in the next few months that are also angling to become awards players. They include the Bennett Miller’s Foxcatcher, a hit on the festival circuit (Miller won the Directors prize at Cannes this year) making its debut a year later than expected, Mike Leigh’s Mr. Turner (from which leading actor Timothy Spall won a prize at Cannes), the Sundance sensation Whiplash, and the already-opened gay-romance hit Love is Strange. With Still Alice‘s awards campaign likely to focus solely on Moore, who has received four Oscar nominations throughout her career without netting a win, the one-week qualifying run may turn out to be a sly play from Sony Classics– the distributor earned Cate Blanchett a trophy for her work in Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine last year after all.
Still Alice stars Moore as a linguistics professor diagnosed with early on-set Alzheimer’s Disease. Written and directed by Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland (The Last Days of Robin Hood, Quinceanera) and based on the novel by Lisa Genova, the film studies the impact the disease has on herself and her family. Deborah Young, in her review for The Hollywood Reporter said Moore gave a “career-high performance, driving straight to the terror of the disease and its power to wipe out personal certainties and identity.”
Still Alice will next be shown as the closing night feature at the 22nd annual Hamptons International Film Festival.