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David Poland

By David Poland

News By the Numbers

There was only one story this week, so all of this week’s top 10 stories are somehow Oscar related. After this, you’ll get an Academy breather, with the race for 1998’s Oscar pretty much on hold until October. Which brings up one interesting thought: Had Titanic premiered in July 1997 as planned, it’s unlikely that it would be blessed with 11 Oscars and over $1 billion today. Fate is an amazing thing.
10. Going Away Mad: A Michigan-based research film did a telephone poll after the Academy Awards and asked who was the worst-dressed of the night. Madonna “won” the contest, with Cher running second. Perhaps Madonna shouldn’t have borrowed a dress from Kirstie Alley‘s wardrobe from “Veronica’s Closet.”
9. Leo Shows Up. Naked!: Leonardo DiCaprio is suing Playgirl magazine for planning to publish nudes of the Academy-snubbed actor in next month’s issue. Of course, this is kind of silly since Leo has appeared buck naked in two films already. Maybe he’s concerned he doesn’t fill the frame quite like former Playgirl-litigating model Brad Pitt. You know what they say: the longer the name.
8. Ben Hurt: When Titanic tied Ben-Hur with 11 Oscar wins on Monday night, ol’ Ben-Hur himself showed he still takes the races pretty seriously. “I know they’re comparing this to Ben-Hur, and that it tied with Ben-Hur,” bitched Charlton Heston. “Well, there were a lot fewer categories back then, so for it to win 11 was a real coup. Today, it’s a lot easier to get 11, so I think Ben-Hur still beats out Titanic.” Not too classy, Chuck. No truth to the rumor that when he ran into Jim Cameron at an after-party he said, “Get your stinkin’ hands off me, you filthy ape!” Ironically, the hottest rumor of the moment has “The King Of The World” Cameron setting his sights on remaking Planet of the Apes (at Titanic‘s senior-partner studio, 20th Century Fox) as his next project with Ahnuld in the loincloth that N.R.A. Charlie once wore. (Well, not literally the same one. That would be gross!) This is all possible because Universal pulled the plug on Ahnuld’s most pressing project, I Am Legend, which was a re-make of The Omega Man, which was (surprise!) a Charlton Heston movie.
7. Matt & Minnie – The Final Chapter: Word is that Minnie Driver, Matt Damon and Winona Ryder all occupied the same 10 square feet of party on Monday night, sending Minnie away in tears. This will hopefully be the very last public chapter in the most public break-up since Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher. And keep this in mind, Minnie. Eddie Fisher. Just keep saying it to yourself. Eddie Fisher. Debbie Reynolds is still making movies. Eddie Fisher.
6. All About Ashley: Howard Stern and many others spent Tuesday reviewing the state of Ashley Judd‘s undergarments, or lack of such, as the actress strode across Oscar’s stage Monday night. Her publicists kept the conversation alive by issuing a stern denial. I happened to have taped the awards. After watching the tape in slo-mo, over and over, I am convinced of two things. One, I don’t care about catching a fleeting glance at a beautiful woman’s private parts nearly as much as I did when I was in high school. And two, that girl was footloose and panty free.
5. Missing: The line-up of former acting Oscar-winners was surprisingly incomplete. Frank Sinatra, Elizabeth Taylor and Barbra Streisand were all out on sick leave. Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, Al Pacino, William Hurt, Sissy Spacek, Diane Keaton, Gene Hackman, Marlon Brando (who didn’t accept his Oscar in the first place), Christopher Walken, Paul Scofield and Daniel Day-Lewis are all notorious no-shows. But where were Tom Hanks, Jodie Foster, Nicolas Cage, F. Murray Abraham, Emma Thompson, Sally Field, Shirley MacLaine, Meryl Streep, Kevin Spacey, Tommy Lee Jones, Kevin Kline (whose father-in-law, Gil Cates, produced the award show), Dianne Wiest, Mercedes Ruehl, Olympia Dukakis, Linda Hunt, Jessica Lange, Mary Steenburgen, Julie Andrews, Jane Fonda and Patty Duke?
4. Good Jim Paying: WhenTitanic looked like an iffy proposition, Jim Cameron gave his rights to profit participation in the film back to the studios (Fox & Paramount) as a show of support. $1 billion-plus later, everyone agrees that he should get it back. The question is, how much will the studios fork over? The latest rumor is that a check for $100 million will soon be headed Cameron’s way. That’s almost enough for Cameron to make a movie trailer!
3. The Sound of Money: Cameron’s not the only one who will be passing the eight-figure payday for Titanic. Composer James Horner, who won an Oscar for his score and another for writing the mega-hit “My Heart Will Go On,” earned $800,000 for scoring the film and will get a royalty of about $1.20 for every Titanic album sold. That looks to add up to about $20 million, which means a lot of Horner’s new favorite music: Cha Ching!
2. Sunday Night At The Oscars: Next year, Oscar will be making the move from Monday night, where it has been for 45 years, to Sunday night. Why? There’s more money for ABC on Sunday than on Monday. Oh, and the traffic will be easier to deal with in L.A. (Sure, that’s the reason.) The event may also start an hour earlier to accommodate the early risers. So, why is this bad for the movie business even though it’s good for T.V.? Sunday night is the third best night of the week at the box office. Monday is generally the worst.
1. Back To The Boat: Eleven Oscars meant more than a 50 percent increase this week for Titanic box office receipts, pushing the film past the $500 million mark domestically even before the weekend. As Good As It Gets and Good Will Hunting also showed increases, but both films had already fallen well below the $10 million a weekend mark. Titanic‘s increase means that it will likely fight off Grease for the top spot at the box office this weekend. That would be week 15 on top.
Reader Of The Day: From Erik: “It amazes me that James Horner is getting accolades with a soundtrack that is a rehash of every score he’s done since the early ’90s. Even the Oscar-winning ‘My Heart Will Go On’ is reminiscent of the Diana Ross ballad sung for Land Before Time. His music is popular only because it has a wider audience now — listen to Braveheart, Aliens, Star Trek II, Land Before Time, Backdraft, and you’ll see where he got the inspiration for Titanic: Himself. Thanks for offering a forum to allow film nerds like me rant about pointless subjects!”

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This is probably going to sound petty, but Martin Scorsese insisting that critics see his film in theaters even though it’s going straight to Netflix and then not screening it in most American cities was a watershed moment for me in this theatrical versus streaming debate.

I completely respect when a filmmaker insists that their movie is meant to be seen in the theater, but the thing is, you got to actually make it possible to see it in the theater. Some movies may be too small for that, and that’s totally OK.

When your movie is largely financed by a streaming service and is going to appear on that streaming service instantly, I don’t really see the point of pretending that it’s a theatrical film. It just seems like we are needlessly indulging some kind of personal fantasy.

I don’t think that making a feature film length production that is going to go straight to a video platform is some sort of “step down.“ I really don’t. Theatrical exhibition as we know it is dying off anyway, for a variety of reasons.

I should clarify myself because this thread is already being misconstrued — I’m talking about how the movie is screened in advance. If it’s going straight to Netflix, why the ritual of demanding people see it in the theater?

There used to be a category that everyone recognized called “TV movie” or “made for television movie” and even though a lot of filmmakers considered that déclassé, it seems to me that probably 90% of feature films fit that description now.

Atlantis has mostly sunk into the ocean, only a few tower spires remain above the waterline, and I’m increasingly at peace with that, because it seems to be what the industry and much of the audience wants. We live in an age of convenience and information control.

Only a very elite group of filmmakers is still allowed to make movies “for theaters“ and actually have them seen and judged that way on a wide scale. Even platform releasing seems to be somewhat endangered. It can’t be fought. It has to be accepted.

9. Addendum: I’ve been informed that it wasn’t Scorsese who requested that the Bob Dylan documentary only be screened for critics in theaters, but a Netflix representative indicated the opposite to me, so I just don’t know what to believe.

It’s actually OK if your film is not eligible for an Oscar — we have a thing called the Emmys. A lot of this anxiety is just a holdover from the days when television was considered culturally inferior to theatrical feature films. Everybody needs to just get over it.

In another 10 to 20 years they’re probably going to merge the Emmys in the Oscars into one program anyway, maybe they’ll call it the Contentys.

“One of the fun things about seeing the new Quentin Tarantino film three months early in Cannes (did I mention this?) is that I know exactly why it’s going to make some people furious, and thus I have time to steel myself for the takes.

Back in July 2017, when it was revealed that Tarantino’s next project was connected to the Manson Family murders, it was condemned in some quarters as an insulting and exploitative stunt. We usually require at least a fig-leaf of compassion for the victims in true-crime adaptations, and even Tarantino partisans like myself – I don’t think he’s made a bad film yet – found ourselves wondering how he might square his more outré stylistic impulses with the depiction of a real mass murder in which five people and one unborn child lost their lives.

After all, it’s one thing to slice off with gusto a fictional policeman’s ear; it’s quite another to linger over the gory details of a massacre that took place within living memory, and which still carries a dread historical significance.

In her essay The White Album, Joan Didion wrote: “Many people I know in Los Angeles believe that the Sixties ended abruptly on August 9, 1969, ended at the exact moment when word of the murders on Cielo Drive traveled like brushfire through the community, and in a sense this is true.”

Early in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, as Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt’s characters drive up the hill towards Leo’s bachelor pad, the camera cranes up gently to reveal a street sign: Cielo Drive. Tarantino understands how charged that name is; he can hear the Molotov cocktails clinking as he shoulders the crate.

As you may have read in the reviews from Cannes, much of the film is taken up with following DiCaprio and Pitt’s characters – a fading TV actor and his long-serving stunt double – as they amusingly go about their lives in Los Angeles, while Margot Robbie’s Sharon Tate is a relatively minor presence. But the spectre of the murders is just over the horizon, and when the night of the 9th finally arrives, you feel the mood in the cinema shift.

No spoilers whatsoever about what transpires on screen. But in the audience, as it became clear how Tarantino was going to handle this extraordinarily loaded moment, the room soured and split, like a pan of cream left too long on the hob. I craned in, amazed, but felt the person beside me recoil in either dismay or disgust.

Two weeks on, I’m convinced that the scene is the boldest and most graphically violent of Tarantino’s career – I had to shield my eyes at one point, found myself involuntarily groaning “oh no” at another – and a dead cert for the most controversial. People will be outraged by it, and with good reason. But in a strange and brilliant way, it takes Didion’s death-of-the-Sixties observation and pushes it through a hellfire-hot catharsis.

Hollywood summoned up this horror, the film seems to be saying, and now it’s Hollywood’s turn to exorcise it. I can’t wait until the release in August, when we can finally talk about why.

~ Robbie Collin