“Supposed” texts from Mickey Rourke trashing his good friend Sean Penn’s performance in “Milk”? Critics upset with their quotes being misrepresented in Oscar ads? Those are today’s Oscar controversies? Ha! I’ve got a real humdinger for you. One that doesn’t affect this year’s race, but 2009’s. (Wait, or is that 2010’s? I always get confused…) Anyway, while no doubt known to the studios in question, this drama came to light after this year’s movie previews hit the net.
Now, it’s rare that Hollywood studios don’t work out movie titles before production begins. In fact, that’s one of the unknown benefits of being a member of the MPAA, they make sure everyone plays fair in such matters (or they make you play fair). However, two movies with the same title, but spelled differently, are heading for release later this year: Focus Feature’s CG animated flick “9” and the Weinstein Company’s expected last gasp, “Nine.”
Normally, this wouldn’t matter much except for one thing: “Nine” is a total Oscar bait flick. Meaning? Although it’s filled with big names like Nicole Kidman, Daniel Day-Lewis, Penelope Cruz, Judi Dench and Stacy “Fergie” Ferguson, the musical’s box office performance is highly dependent on Awards Season love and, just about a year from now, Oscar nominations to drive its second wave of revenue. And yet, when the list of possible Oscar nominees appear on voter’s doorsteps (known as the Reminder List of Eligible Releases), do you know what title will be at the top of the list? “9.” No, not Harvey's hope for "Chicago Deux," but the post-apocalyptic animated flick that has online geeks buzzing. See, the nominee list members receive is alphabetical, but numbered titles appear first and there is little doubt that “9” will be a part of that list as well. Because unless Focus changes the title, there is no way it won't appear. And, yes, members have to write in their top five best picture nominees in order of preference, but every theatrical release is placed on the reminder list they receive from the Academy. Sounds dicey for Harvey, huh?
At this point, you’re no doubt thinking, “C’mon Ellwood, Academy members aren’t that dumb. They are smart enough to know the difference between the two movies. They can figure this out.” Really? Are you sure? Does the phrase “Roberto Benigni, Oscar-winner” mean anything to you?
I rest my case.
(Unknown fact: Anytime that travesty is uttered in the world, Ian McKellen and Nick Nolte receive soul-crunching shivers down their backs.)
Bizarrely, unlike their days at Miramax, the Weinstein’s have little leverage these days to get Focus to change "9's" title. With “Inglorious Basterds” their only other potential moneymaker in 2009, Harvey’s cinematic operations aren’t much of anything these days. Plus, without the benefits of being an official associate of the MPAA, they can’t make their case that Focus (an actual member through parent company Universal Studios) change the title since “Nine” is based on a well-established 1982 Broadway musical. What incentive does Focus have? After half the crap the Weinstein’s have pulled in this town, who'd want to help them? (Can I see a show of hands? Anyone? In the back row maybe?)
But who knows, maybe “9” will make it even more interesting by slipping into next year’s Oscar race based on its own merits. Wouldn’t that make it even more fun? Then again, it won't matter anyway, because every theatrical release is on that list.
Update: It looks like Glenn Dunks of Stale Popcorn already noticed the "9" vs. "Nine" title confusion in November, but he really didn't factor in the Oscar issue. Thanks to Taps at In Contention for spreading the word.