|Scene from The Founder|
It has been a long, long time since we last heard from director John Lee Hancock's The Founder. In that time, the story of Ray Croc (Michael Keaton) taking control of McDonald's was set for an August release, but was pushed back to December (and subsequently January 2017). In that time, a whole Oscar conversation has changed. The Birth of a Nation and Rules Don't Apply are all but out of the race. Jackie and La La Land look to be big contenders. Martin Scorsese randomly decided to release a movie this year. Even Big Mac creator Jim Delligatti died in that time. So, what's going on with The Founder? Well, the good news is that you can see it, right now. The issue is that it's not exactly at a theater near most people.
Back in the summer when The Founder was moved to a later date, it looked like it was going to be a promising Oscar push. While this can still be truth, there's something lacking assurance about its new official wide release date of January 20, 2017. While Keaton has been on the rise (starring in two back-to-back Best Picture winners), the silence during the past few months does raise skepticism as to how it will compete with films that have been building buzz in recent months. This was all unforeseen when The Founder was pushed back. Now it may be the biggest hurdle and the biggest reason that it's getting such a late release.
So, how exactly does a film opening in 2017 qualify for a 2016 award? The answer is shady loopholes. To summarize qualification rules, any film wishing to qualify for Oscar consideration must play a one week theatrical run in either Los Angeles, California or New York on a minimum of one screen. It's an unfair rule, and likely why most don't get to see the future Oscar-nominated fare until well into February. While legal, I think it's bad practice that is especially upsetting considering how underwhelming prestige cinema has been over the past four months. Besides Sully, Moonlight, and Moana; there hasn't been anything too significant in wide-ish release to account for yet. Considering that there's only 24 days left in 2016, it seems like too small of a window to expect everyone to see the best that the year has to offer.
By this measure, The Founder's decision to release small and build an audience makes perfect sense. Considering that it's coming from The Weinstein Company, it even makes more sense. After all, they are the studio who managed to make word of mouth tactics a part of Silver Linings Playbook's big success story. However, last year saw a disastrous planning schedule that kept the studio out of the Best Picture category entirely for the first time in many years. Films like Southpaw, Burnt, and Carol all had strategic releases that all failed to build any momentum. However, Carol was at least given a considerable presence in subsequent Oscar fields.
So where can you see The Founder if you're so eager? For one week only, starting today (December 7), you can watch the film at the ArcLight Theaters in Hollywood, California. There's no word on an immediate roll-out after that, suggesting that this measure was done solely to qualify for awards. To be honest, this seems like a terrible omen, especially given its incessant delays. I like Keaton and Hancock has made a handful of crowd pleasing films, but maybe The Weinstein Company has played their cards wrong, regardless of how good this film is. It doesn't have the buzz that everyone else has. That's unfortunate. Maybe it will get Keaton another Best Actor nomination (the field's pretty open this year). I just feel like doing the bare minimum to qualify is cynical and misguided. It should've just been released in August.