The Newark Star Ledger‘s Stephen J. Whitty has concluded the obvious regarding the MGM team’s decision to keep Bryan Singer‘s Valkyrie out of possible critics awards contention (or for consideration by National Board of Review) by not screening it for junket journalists until December 12th, or to regular critics until December 15th.

Why does MGM continue to send out these distress signals? This is a movie made by the formidable Bryan Singer, Tom Cruise and Chris McQuarrie, for heaven’s sake. I’ve read an early draft of the script — it’s servicable, gripping, efficient as far as it goes. And yet MGM keeps telling everyone that something must be wrong.

The screening dates “seem timely, you might think, considering the film doesn’t open until Dec. 26th,” Whitty writes. “Except those screening dates actually send a subtle, but very clear message of defeat.

“The problem is that even the earliest of those shows come too late for the New York Film Critics Circle — of which I’m a member, and votes on Dec. 10 — to consider the film for awards. Unless special arrangements are made, a number of other awards groups — from the New York Film Critics Online to the National Board of Review — probably will be shut out as well.

“Now, first off, let me make clear — I’m not feeling snubbed, vexed or even slightly miffed. With dozens of serious movies jockeying for prizes, there’s a mad rush to see everything by Dec. 9. Having one film drop out of the schedule actually makes my life a little easier.

“And, quite frankly, courting awards with fresh-from-the-lab previews is a simple waste of time for some films. As of right now, for example, Adam Sandler’s Bedtime Stories hasn’t set any early screenings either. And that makes sense — Bedtime Stories is not expecting to be a major prize winner among reviewers, or Academy voters.

“But Valkyrie was supposed to be a return to serious drama for star Tom Cruise and director Bryan Singer, as well as a big, back-to-business triumph for the re-vamped but still reeling MGM. It needed to be a big prestigious hit, with lots of enthusiastic notices and at least the chance of an Oscar or two down the line.

“But then the release was delayed. Certain scenes were reshot. Rumors started circulating. A peculiar advertising campaign was launched, selling what had once been pushed as a serious study of the German opposition to Hitler as practically a buddy-boy caper film — Ocean’s S.S.

“And now, when the film’s strategy seems to be to deliberately avoid Oscar predictors like the NYFCC and other critics groups? Even when a schedule change of a few days could make it eligible? What does that suggest?

“Well, that they’ve become quite convinced they’d never have a chance anyway. And that the once invulnerable Cruise Machine seems about to take another, quite sizable hit.”