American Hustle, a film about a 1970s corruption sting, racked up seven Golden Globe nominations, including one for best comedy, making the Sony (SNE) release a top contender this awards season. The studio submitted the movie as a drama—and it’s unlikely to elicit a lot of laughter in theaters—but the Hollywood Foreign Press Association changed the designation.
The switch is an example of Hollywood’s annual awards-season jockeying in the weeks and months before the Golden Globes, the Screen Actors Guild Awards, and the Oscars. The maneuvering isn’t just about winning statuettes; for the HFPA it’s also about ensuring A-list actors get a walk down its red carpet and a shot at a televised acceptance speech. That’s marketing gold for awards show organizers looking to draw bigger audiences, and box office gold for studios and distributors.
“What makes this year so curious is the placement of movies,” says Tom O’Neil of Gold Derby, a film awards site. “Many of these films have been chosen for a strategic reason—to win.” The nominations panel of the HFPA, which organizes the awards, made the Hustle switch unanimously because it saw the film as a comedy, according to people with knowledge of the situation, who asked not to be identified because the deliberations are private.
Hustle may have a better shot as a comedy than it would in the more competitive best drama category—which this year includes 12 Years a Slave. (It, too, received seven Globe nominations.) Still, the comedy lineup is also unusually strong and full of other so-called dramedies, including Nebraska, The Wolf of Wall Street, and Her.
A fictional account of the FBI’s Abscam sting, Hustle has an all-star cast led by Christian Bale and Amy Adams, both also nominated for their performances. The websites IMDb, Rotten Tomatoes, and Box Office Mojo list the movie as a drama. But ads and previews are hyping humorous scenes, and Los Angeles Times critic Kenneth Turan has called it a screwball farce. Sony spokesman Charles Sipkins declined to comment about the designation, as did the HFPA, through its outside publicist.
Studios don’t complain about category swapping, because they benefit from the added publicity of a nomination. They, too, strategize over the entries. Paramount Pictures’ (VIA)The Wolf of Wall Street, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, was submitted as a comedy, say people with knowledge of the nomination process, which is private. The film, which opens on Dec. 25, follows the rise and fall of notorious penny stockbroker Jordan Belfort. Members of the Globes nominating panel were assured by director Martin Scorsese that the film is a comedy, according to two people with knowledge of the process. After seeing it, the panel agreed. Michelle Benson, Scorsese’s publicist, did not return messages seeking comment from the director; Jenny Tartikoff, an outside spokeswoman for Paramount, also declined to comment.
Win or lose at the Globes, Hustle is poised to cash in on the nominations, which help fill theaters when timed to coincide with a film’s release, says Phil Contrino, a BoxOffice.com analyst. The film is projected to bring in $95 million in the U.S. and Canada. “It’s incredibly valuable publicity.”