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Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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Is 'The Town' really an Oscar contender? Or just a really fine thriller?

September 21, 2010 |  7:07 pm

Ben_affleck It's not even the end of September and Oscar hype is already out of hand, with Deadline's Pete Hammond, who is surely the king of Oscar hype, enthusiastically touting "The Social Network" while the Hollywood Reporter's Gregg Kilday has a piece  today headlined: "How 'The Town' became an Oscar contender."

You might say the headline is misleading for two reasons: first because Kilday never says anywhere in the piece that the film is actually an Oscar contender and second because the film, for all its merits, isn't a contender at all. (What Kilday says is that "the debate has begun over whether the movie will develop the momentum that will take it into Oscar season," which is a far cry from declaring it an actual contender.)

But September is the silly season for Academy Awards hype, when Oscar pundits, champing at the bit to prognosticate and eager to get hits for their websites, start making all sorts of outlandish predictions about possible Oscar glory for films that have no shot at ever making it to the finish line. I'm already on record as being a big fan of "The Town," which is a terrific crime genre piece set in working-class Boston and loaded with gifted actors doing great work. But crime pictures (unless they have an eminence grise like Clint Eastwood or Martin Scorsese at the helm) rarely end up getting any serious Oscar consideration. The academy is partial to weighty dramas and historical fare. Genre pictures have about as good a chance as comedies at earning best picture nods.

I'm glad to see Warner Bros. marketing chief Sue Kroll get some props in the Reporter, since she's been on an incredible hot streak lately. But its something of a stretch for the Reporter to make it appear as if Kroll invented a whole new marketing approach for "The Town," which went to the Venice and Toronto film festivals before it debuted nationwide last weekend. Kilday writes: "The trick was to concoct a dual-track campaign, wooing critics on one hand while staging an aggressive consumer campaign with the other."

Geez, why does that sound so familiar? Oh, maybe it's because that's exactly what Kroll did a year ago with Steven Soderbergh's "The Informant!," which also was promoted with a dual-track campaign, playing the Toronto Film Festival right before it opened on almost exactly the same date as "The Town" did this year. In fact, it's virtually the same strategy Sony used two years ago with "Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist." When you have a movie that plays for both critics and mass audiences, you'd be crazy not to use a two-track strategy. But is it news? Not really. And does that make "The Town" a serious Oscar contender? Let's just say that I'll believe it when I see it.  

Photo: Ben Affleck meeting with fans at the Dublin premiere of his film "The Town." Credit: Julien Behal / Associated Press