Is there a New Oscar Tactic for Zero Dark Thirty?

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When it comes to figuring out the Oscar race each year, I always try to look at what the X factors in each category might be. In terms of Best Picture this year, no film represents that more than Kathryn Bigelow’s first movie since ‘The Hurt Locker’. Again teaming with scribe Mark Boal, ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ is a film that could either be a massive Oscar player or purely an action flick. With something like this, context has always been key. Sony has kept us a bit in the dark about their intentions since its release date in December is mainly positioned to be after the Presidential Election in order to avoid controversy. That being said, some interesting rumors began to circulate yesterday that the December 19th release date could only be an Oscar qualifying run, with the real wide release to come in early January. Why would the studio pass up the big money of the holiday season? I’ll get into it more after the jump, but my guess is that they’re thinking that they have a shot at some major Academy Award nominations. It’s just a hunch for now, but I’m going to try and back it up. Read on below for details…

The big reasoning that I have for this assumption that ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ could be more than just a dark horse for Best Picture is that no film with the potential to be a box office hit would pass up those dollar bills unless there was something bigger at play. Sony must be banking on audiences turning up to see Osama bin Laden killed no matter the date, so using the second half of December to slowly expand from the major markets outward works to get Oscar buzz going and make sure that the right voters see it in time and in the right mindset. If it just went wide and was a financial success, that could lead to nods too, but also perhaps the idea that it’s mostly just a commercial endeavor. Knowingly delaying their financial haul is a sign of confidence and a real bold move in a season that could use one right about now. Can it actually win? I have some doubts, but lets look at the category a bit more now.

In my mind, the only films that have screened so far that could legitimately win Best Picture are Ben Affleck’s ‘Argo’, David O. Russell’s ‘Silver Linings Playbook’, and Steven Spielberg’s ‘Lincoln’. With Tom Hooper’s ‘Les Miserables’ still to come, that certainly leaves the door open for a 5th major contender. That could easily be Bigelow’s flick. I’d even argue that if it does successfully embark on this quest it could jump over a few top contenders and really challenge for the Oscar. On the flip side, we could wind up seeing too many politically tinged flicks in play, which could cancel them all out. Obviously that all remains to be seen, but this release date news/rumor coupled with the recent statements about Jessica Chastain being campaigned as a Lead make this perhaps a player to take more and more seriously as the weeks drag on until it screens. This is a movie that could score a half dozen Oscar nods with relative ease if things break the right way, so be sure not to underestimate ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ in the race…

This could all just be simple foolishness, but as an Oscar prognosticator, sometimes foolish is just what the doctor ordered. I’ll be waiting for December with baited breath, but for now this is something interesting to chew on for a bit. Take it with a grain of salt at the moment, but keep it in the back of your mind. What do you all think of this though? Am I on to something, out of my mind, or perhaps both? Definitely let us know and stay tuned for more details as they become available to us!

Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!