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September 04, 2008

War movies can't win


It's not an Iraq war movie. It's not, ya hear?

Pity the poor filmmakers who have such monumentally bad timing as to be peddling features that they no doubt have poured their hearts and souls into, only to be faced with what could be Year 2 of the War Movie Backlash.

There are several such projects on deck for the Toronto International Film Festival, opening today, and a THR story shows the lengths to which these filmmakers are going to distance themselves from the very conflict that attracted them to begin with.

To wit, Kathryn Bigelow's "The Hurt Locker," with Ralph Fiennes and Guy Pearce as members of an elite Army bomb squad in Iraq, is in search of U.S. distribution. This arm's length statement courtesy of producer Nic Chartier:

"This movie is not about the Iraq war. It's an action-adventure movie that happens to be set in Iraq. This could have been the British and the IRA. It could have been anywhere, really."

But it's not.

"The Lucky Ones," starring Tim Robbins and Rachel McAdams in a story about soldiers who've just returned from the Middle East, already has Roadside Attractions behind it. It's arriving at Toronto in hopes of gathering some steam in front of its Sept. 26 release. Trailers and ads don't dwell on the war stuff, instead using a softer side (and Sarah McLachlan) to set it apart. Says Roadside's Howard Cohen:

"Iraq is a dirty word in film marketing right now."

It certainly was last year, when even the hot bods of Ryan Phillippe and Channing Tatum and the rockin' MTV positioning couldn't sell "Stop-Loss," arguably the most marketable in a string of impossible sells like "Rendition" and "Lions for Lambs." An Oscar nomination for star Tommy Lee Jones couldn't get movie-goers to see "In the Valley of Elah."

Even if they're not "Generation Kill," this year's crop could still be "doomed by the problem of too much relevance," THR's reporters say.

No knock on the quality, but if the boxoffice so far is any indication -- superheroes! goofballs! escapism! -- the most skillful marketing won't be able to buoy these movies. Likely result: more collateral damage.



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This movie is not about the Iraq war. It's an action-adventure movie that happens to be set in Iraq. This could have been the British and the IRA. It could have been anywhere, really.

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Oscar Contenders

  • So "The Dark Knight" didn't make it into the final five after all, never mind that critical and popular support. Let's just call the comic-inspired mega-hit "The Biggest Snubee."

    Here are the best picture contenders in a race that, two weeks away from the Oscars, seems to be a foregone conclusion ("Slumdog") unless there's a come-from-behind possibility ("The Reader" anyone?)

    "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," with Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett; the politically timely "Milk;" rags-to-riches fairy tale, "Slumdog Millionaire," Holocaust best-seller-based drama "The Reader," and Watergate-era biopic "Frost/Nixon."

    Could "Button" and "Slumdog" split the vote, allowing another film to take the prize? Doesn't seem likely. After having clung to "Button" for months as what we thought would be the Academy voters' top vhoice, our money's now on "Slumdog." Momentum can't be ignored.

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  • Mmmmm, chocolate Oscar. Not every star will walk away from the 81st annual Academy Awards with a trophy, but if they hit the high-profile Governor's Ball they can have pastry chef Sherry Yard's gold-dusted candy version. Also on the menu from celeb chef Wolfgang Puck is tuna tartare in sesame miso cones, chopped Chino Farms vegetable salad with ginger soy vinaigrette, Maine lobster and caviar. Serve it up! (Getty Images)

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