What a disappointing year for Fox Searchlight it has been. The studio behind indie hits such as Little Miss Sunshine, Juno, The Wrestler, and Slumdog Millionaire have had a rough year. They kicked off with Miss March, a critical bomb that brought in less than $5 million. My Life In Ruins brought in less than $9 million and didn’t sit so well with critics either. Adam, Post Grad, and Whip It all underperformed as well. Their only real success has been with (500) Days of Summer, which has brought in almost $33 million on a budget of $7.8 million. The film also did very well with critics, finishing with 87% on RottenTomatoes. Their only Oscar hope, Amelia did modestly for a limited release, but was panned critic-wise, leaving no chance for awards. Their most recent film, Jared HessGentlemen Broncos has only opened in a few cities where it accumulated a terrible $14,458 on a $10 million budget. Searchlight announced today they are not planning on expanding it to any more markets and are leaving it dead in its tracks. The film, directed by the man behind Napoleon Dynamite and Nacho Libre currently has only 12% on Rotten Tomatoes. Before you run away, there is some good news in this post.

Picture 34Searchlight’s next film, Wes Anderson‘s Fantastic Mr. Fox has done well on the festival circuit and is getting a nice release this month. Even better news comes with word that they are pushing their low-budget country-music drama Crazy Heart up to make it in time for this award season. The directorial debut from Scott Cooper stars Jeff Bridges, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Colin Farrell and Robert Duvall and was originally intended for a spring 2010 release. The film, which “hasn’t been color-timed, still has some sound mixing work to be done and, on the whole, just isn’t finished yet” had it’s first screening for press this morning and another one tonight. Kristopher Tapley from In Contention was there and this is what he had to say:

On Jeff Bridges’ performance:

Bridges fully embodies the broken but spirited Bad Blake, an alcoholic country singer touring the Southwest in his 1970-something Suburban, playing any dive that’ll have him.  He brings every inch of charisma and charm he has to a role that certainly doesn’t seem made for him on the surface, but somehow ends up entirely owned by the actor come film’s end. Bridges haunts the stage behind a dark pair of aviator sunglasses, under a silvery, unshampooed mane, unmistakably conjuring the image of Hank Williams Jr. as he belts out a number of tunes from gig to gig.

On Oscar chances:

Other nods could follow. Best Picture might be a longshot given the scope of the film, though an adapted screenplay notice for Cooper is certainly possible. But the story here, it goes without saying, is Jeff Bridges.

The man is one of the great unrecognized American actors. “Crazy Heart” will give voters a chance to both remember his consistency, recognize that he remains Oscarless and, best of all, feel good about checking the box next to his name. Because this really is one of his finest moments.

Crazy Heart is rumored for a early December release. If both of these screenings go as well as reported then we now have a new contender in the Oscar race. I love Bridges and would love to see him get his due.

What do you think about Searchlight abandoning Broncos? Do you think Jeff Bridges could get a best actor award?

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