Michael Barker on 'bittersweet' nominations and watching Richard Linklater's career bloom
It was a "bittersweet" morning according to Sony Pictures Classics co-president Michael Barker. On one hand his company's films "Before Midnight," "Blue Jasmine" and "The Invisible Woman" combined for a total of five nominations, including a somewhat surprising bid for "Blue" supporting actress Sally Hawkins. On the other, it was a rare occasion where the indie distributor had no nominees in either the Best Documentary Feature or Best Foreign Language Film categories, and neither "Blue" nor "Midnight" was able to push into the Best Picture field.
"The thing with foreign language film is that it's so unpredictable," he told HitFix this morning. "When India did not submit 'The Lunchbox,' that kind of blindsided us. We thought France would submit 'The Past,' but Iran submitted 'The Past.' Then it didn't make the shortlist. Something unpredictable happened at every stage."
Indeed, after none of the studio's foreign film crop landed on the shortlist in advance of this morning's nominations announcement, he and Sony Classics partner Michael Bernard bought back in by acquiring Hungary's entry "The Notebook." It stood a fair shot at making the final five this morning, but in the end, it, too, was squeezed out.
"We bought 'The Notebook' because it's the kind of movie that does business with the public," Barker said. "We thought it deserved to be in the five but there was something to be said for all the films. And it was also a year where there were so many documentaries, it was hard to pick five. I think that category, like Best Actor, was probably the most competitive as far as the number of quality films to consider. The fact that Sarah Polley is not included for 'Storeis We Tell,' that makes no sense to me. As well as our films, 'Tim's Vermeer' and 'The Armstrong Lie.' But we're thrilled with what we have."
Taking some of the sting off falling short in any number of areas is certainly seeing Richard Linklater land his second nomination to date in the Best Adapted Screenplay category for "Before Midnight." Sony Classics' acquisition of the title at Sundance nearly a year ago brought Barker and Bernard back into business with a filmmaker they have a hefty hand in putting on the map way back in the Orion Classics days with "Slacker."
"That relationship with Rick Linklater is what Sony Classics is all about," Barker said. "To be with him and release his first film, 'Slacker,' in 1990, and to actually come to Sundance with it — what I remember is at the first screening of that film is the audience was like a quarter full and people kept coming to each screening. Eventually they were turning people away. To watch his career grow and be here in 2014 when he's nominated for an Oscar, I think it's one of the finest feelings you can ever have professionally, to have a link with someone like that over such a long period of time. And to grow as a distributor at the same time that Rick grows as an artist."
They have also maintained a consistent relationship with filmmaker Woody Allen, nomianted today for writing "Blue Jasmine" and someone who also stretches back to their Orion days.
"We just saw a cut of the new one and as far as we're concerned he's the youngest mind in the room," Barker said. "You're just astounded. It's a privilege to be part of his evolution as a filmmaker."
Stay tuned to HitFix throughout the day for more coverage and reactions to today's Oscar nominations announcement.