The Road, Harry Potter, The Soloist - Will We Survive the Delays?

It looks like the economic crisis has gained its latest victims: the Oscar hopes of Robert Downey Jr. and Viggo Mortensen.

Citing efforts to cut back on the number of films they release each year, Paramount Pictures recently announced their decision to delay The Soloist, their drama starring Downey and Jamie Foxx, until 2009. The Weinstein Co. has also decided to bump The Road, its adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's highly acclaimed novel, starring Mortensen and Charlize Theron.

Both of these films seemed headed for Oscar glory. And now neither will make it on to this year's ballot. This is a bummer for a few reasons. Paramount seems to be giving Downey Jr. a bit of a raw deal. He's had an amazing comeback year, giving memorable performances in two summer blockbusters Iron Man and Tropic Thunder. When entertainment magazines put out their "Best of the Year" issues in December, I'm expecting his face to grace a few covers. The man surely deserves some recognition for his body of work this year, but comedies and superhero flicks aren't exactly seen as your typical Oscar bait. Buzz had been building that he'd delivered another knockout performance in The Soloist -- a "based on actual events" drama that appears to be exactly the type of movie that actors do get Oscar nominations for. If Downey had landed a nom for this performance, the Academy would've had the chance to hand a Best Actor statuette to the man who did the best overall acting of the year.

And then there's Viggo Mortensen. From the Lord of the Rings trilogy to A History of Violence to Eastern Promises, he's been seen as one of the best actors of his generation to continually get the shaft from the Academy. It seems almost cruel of the Weinsteins to kill his chances at breaking that losing streak this year.

But as bad as I feel for Viggo and RDJ, we movie fans might actually turn out to be the long-term winners in this situation. It's annoying to have to wait for movies we've been looking forward to (I'm sure the editors of Entertainment Weekly, for example, are still annoyed that Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince was delayed until 2008 -- on the same day they released their Fall Movie Preview issue, with Harry on the cover). But by moving these films out of the glut of the holiday season, the studios are giving us something we've always said we've wanted: a chance to see more award worthy-films during the other eleven months of the year. It will also force the Academy to look further back than the November/December releases when filling out their ballots this year. With a true-life tearjerker and a prestigious literary adaptation out of the way, the chance for a Best Picture nomination for The Dark Knight (the people's favorite film of the year) may have improved a bit.

Also, the less-is-more strategy Paramount and other studios are adopting will obviously cause them to take a much closer look at what they decide to release. True, there's no way of knowing what gems may be passed over in this tougher market, but I'll take the glass-is-half-full attitude that this scrutiny could lead to a better overall slate of movies being released in the next few years.

We're going to need good movies to help get through these tough economic times. Hopefully, the economizing that's going on in Hollywood right now will help movie fans start to get more for their money.