When a film's release is postponed for "perfecting", it's usually to disguise poor word-of-mouth publicity. This season, however, films are being held back until 2014 because they're too good.
Last week it was announced that George Clooney's Second World War caper The Monuments Men will be delayed until February while its visual effects are finished, putting it out of contention for this year's awards cycle. The film shares tonal similarities and production personnel with last year's Best Picture Oscar-winner, Argo, and was considered a contender.
The much-fancied Foxcatcher has also been delayed until next year, because director Bennett Miller (of Moneyball fame) needs more time. Star Steve Carell, in his most dramatic leading role to date, was a potential Best Actor nominee.
Harvey Weinstein, normally the most competitive of producers, has several films in the field, including The Butler and August: Osage County. Yet even he has postponed two likely winners: The Immigrant, starring Oscar-winner Marion Cotillard, and Grace of Monaco, a Grace Kelly biopic starring Nicole Kidman. Weinstein is said to believe both can do better at the box office next year, and is also locked in a dispute with Grace director Olivier Dahan after re-cutting the film against Dahan's wishes.
Economic and aesthetic considerations aside, the films are also – perhaps wisely – backing out of the most competitive awards campaign in memory.
Tim Gray, awards editor of Variety, says, "It's a really crowded race this year … I've talked to several people including Harvey Weinstein and Michael Barker, the co-president of Sony Classics [which is releasing Foxcatcher]. Both said they thought this was the best year for film they could remember."
The Best Picture category, which can accommodate nine films, is already packed. According to the awards prediction website GoldDerby.com, the historical drama 12 Years a Slave is the favourite at four to one, followed closely by at least eight more titles including Gravity, American Hustle, The Wolf of Wall Street, Inside Llewyn Davis, Saving Mr Banks and Nebraska.
British actor Chiwetel Ejiofor's searing performance as Solomon Northup, a free man sold into slavery in 12 Years A Slave, makes him the early frontrunner for Best Actor though he faces stiff competition from veterans Tom Hanks and Robert Redford as the protagonists of two nautical dramas, Captain Phillips and All Is Lost.
"There are usually some movies that the studios move up the schedule for a one-week engagement [to qualify for awards]," says Gray. "But that's only when they see an open spot in the 'money' categories: picture, director and the acting categories. This year, every category is overfilled."