Several of the Oscar nominees have relied on a single person to change their fate. When "12 Years a Slave" director Steve McQueen accepted the Golden Globe award for best drama, he thanked producer Brad Pitt: "Without you, this film would have never got made."
Similar kudos have gone to the young producer Megan Ellison, whose Annapurna Pictures bankrolled two best-picture nominees: David O. Russell's "American Hustle" (jointly with Sony Pictures) and Spike Jonze's "Her" (released by Warner Bros.). The 28-year-old Ellison, daughter of billionaire Larry Ellison, has been roundly hailed for backing the kind of edgy, auteur-oriented films that are struggling to find financing. (In recent years, she's produced "Zero Dark Thirty," ''The Master" and "True Grit.")
But such deep-pocketed, director-friendly financiers are few, and the route is exceptionally narrow for the kind of prestigious pictures honored at the Oscars.
With "Nebraska" (nominated for six Oscars, including best picture), filmmaker Alexander Payne managed a seemingly impossible feat: getting a studio (Paramount) to produce a black-and-white film. But it took lengthy negotiations, and had to survive a series of film division closings. "Nebraska" was first with Paramount Classics, then Paramount Vantage, and finally ended up with Paramount Pictures.
The domino-effect journey of "Nebraska" reflects a larger shift in the industry. Particularly over the last decade, studios have moved away from smaller and medium-sized dramas, instead concentrating resources on blockbuster and genre releases that can earn hundreds of millions globally.
Payne's mantra is advocating for the $20-25 million adult comedy or drama. Instead of always swinging for the fences, he believes in the more reliable double.
In the current climate, the handful of ambitious, adult-oriented films that do get produced are almost exclusively appraised through the prism of Hollywood's awards season. The strange effect is that these few films that have clawed their way onto screens are then set against each other for months of Oscar wrangling.
"The eight, 10, 12 good English-language films are all released in the last quarter of the year and expected to gird for battle for Oscars and Golden Globes and all that stuff," says Payne. "And they're just movies. They may be fragile movies, human movies. They just need to find an audience on their own without having comparative judgment made along with it."
Follow AP Film Writer Jake Coyle on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/jake—coyle