It's only been a week since the 82nd Academy Awards, but studios and distributors alike are already planning which films will be positioned as awards contenders for the next awards season. It's not that the companies behind these films think they are all true Oscar contenders, hardly, but that the "prestige" label will help generate publicity and box office. One relatively new outfit, Apparition, had strong box office in 2009 for two films that were never real players: Jane Campion's "Bright Star" and the Emily Blunt period piece "The Young Victoria." Now, the Bob Berney and Bill Pohlad company is primed to play the game once more with the Sundance drama "Welcome to the Rileys."
Directed by Jake Scott (Ridley's son), "Rileys" follows Doug Riley (James Gandolfini) as he takes a break from his real life in Indiana to help an underage hooker (Kristen Stewart) in New Orleans that reminds him of his deceased teenage daughter. Melissa Leo plays his wife who, in a desperate bid to save their marriage, breaks from the confines of her agoraphobia and begins a journey to the Big Easy where lots of awkward moments between the trio occur.
While the performances by all involved are admirable, this pundit was not a fan of the cliche-filled and "almost pointless" screenplay and noted "the film moves at a glacial pace." And while there were many who agreed with this commentator including Peter Debruge of Variety and ScreenDaily's David D'Arcy, some critics such as the LA Times' Betsy Sharkey and Indiewire's Anne Thompson were won over by the performances. And in order to make a tidy profit, that's all the sort of critical enthusiasm Apparition may need.
This begs the question: Does this mean there is going to be chatter about Stewart landing an Oscar nomination? Sure, she'll be on a long list of actresses hunting for a Best Supporting Actress nod in late August. However, the real dramatic players here are Gandolfini and Leo. And based on their previous work, Indie Spirit Award nods are not out of bounds. Anything more would be gravy. Apparition's problem will be when more of the nation's critics -- or those who couldn't fit it in at Sundance -- finally catch it before it opens across the country. This prognosticator is willing to bet they won't be as kind as some of the festival reviews so far.
"Rileys" isn't Apparition's only Oscar card, however. It's expected the indie distributor will release the long awaited Terrence Malick drama "The Tree of Life" with Brad Pitt and Sean Penn also later in the year. The company is also very familiar with the Kristen Stewart business as it will open "The Runaways" on March 12.
"Welcome to the Rileys" doesn't have an opening date as of yet, but word is it will hit theaters in a platform release this fall.
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