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Categorizing The 2016 Box Office (To-Date)

Sunday, September 25th, 2016

The annual whining about the end of theatrical is in full force… and as wrong as ever. Ironically, the biggest threat to theatrical box office is currently the Murdoch brothers, who have expressed an interest in pushing the day-n-date issue yet again. (So far, every experiment has failed miserably.) The big studio fantasy about collapsing the windows and coming out ahead is, in my opinion, simply wrong because it is not a math equation… it is the nature of how content is consumed. Theatrical is the only significant differentiator even now… and it’s only going to become more so.

But that is not the point of this piece.

In looking at the numbers for the Top 50 films of the year worldwide to date, I noticed that they fall pretty nearly into seven categories.

1. Animated Movies – $4.31b
2. Comic Book Movies – $4.08b
3. Sequels – $3.25b
4. Reboots – $2.17b
5. Originals (even if sourced) – $1.88b
6. Foreign-driven – $1.42b
7. Horror/Extreme Thriller – $381.6m

I am making category judgements here. Zootopia, for instance, is an original AND animated. Same with Deadpool. The Jungle Book is kinda animated, kinda rebooted, etc. But I don’t think there will be a lot of serious arguments with my classifications.

The biggest challenge to classify is Warcraft, which is not a comic book, is not animated, is a domestic movie though it did just under 90% of its business overseas. I put it in with the originals… Because, really, it is. It is the biggest budget in the group and the highest grosser as well, even though it couldn’t get to $50m domestic. Still, an oddball.

Comic Book Movies are the top per-title draw, with just over $800m per on only five titles. But, as you know, they are also (with rare exceptions) the most expensive movies being made.

There wer eight animated releases going into this weekend. The top 5 average $750 million per film, which is competitive with and more profitable than the Comic Book category.

These two businesses are separate from the rest of the industry. They, with just 13 titles, represent almost half the revenue of the industry.

But that leaves about $9 billion on the ticket sales table for every other niche. This is not table scraps. This is not a starvation diet. Would most intelligent adults be happier if the revenue ratio leaned more towards originals and indie and quality in general? Sure. But let’s not go insane with the pitchforks and torches.

Of course, a look at the 11 originals that made the Top 50 (to date) is not going to encourage critical minds. Only Sully, The BFG, Central Intelligence, and (just barely) Bad Moms are “fresh” at Rotten Tomatoes.

Four of six of the reboot group were rated “fresh.” Only three of the 12 sequels were “fresh,” (Neighbors 2 only by the skin of its teeth). Comic book movies? Two of five were “fresh.”

Underrepresented in my list of the Top 50 worldwide is the Horror/Extreme Thriller group. Those films don’t generate the $90 million that would get it to the bottom of this group. But they are profitable a great deal of the time.

I was particularly impressed about how much money there is in films that don’t hit in the U. S. 99.4% of the grosses for those five films were  from outside the U.S. And the 5 films averaged $283 million in gross. That outdoes sequels, originals, and horror on average. It is worth noting that two of those five are sequels and one is from the Asian Spielberg (or Disney if you prefer), Stephen Chow.

For the “Woe is We”ers, if you look at the 11 originals, you’ll find that three come from independents and three more from lower-budget WB arm New Line. So the argument that studios are out of the original non-comic/non-animation business is buoyed. On the other hand, if you look back at 2000, when X-Men was the only big comic book movie, there were still only 14 originals (as I have classified them today) and four of those were from non-majors.

Here’s the list. You can chew on it yourself for a while…

TOP 50 AS OF SEPT 2016

Weekend Estimates by September Over Yet? Klady

Sunday, September 25th, 2016

Weekeend Estimates 2016-09-25 at 11.06.40 AM

Nothing has changed. Storks claiming $21.4 million for the 3 day may be high… could be true… still not a hit in this genre. Sully holding well, but not exceptionally so. Bridget Jones’ Baby is ugly domestically… hoping it looks better by international norms. Snowden in hiding (which I find unfortunate). Blair Witch doing the same business the original should have (aka, almost none). Suicide Squad passes $320m domestic next weekend… $730m worldwide… Guardians of the Galaxy did $773m worldwide and was seen as the most explosive hit of the season… this is when media feelings really show up, when the history is written, not at the box office.

Disney fails to open Queen of Katwe. The film deserved better. It was never going to rock the box office, but it would have been better served by selling the movie that is there, not the movie Disney dreamed it could be (and clearly is not). This is the kind of movie that other distributors with the ability to go wide handle with white gloves. Disney’s white gloves only have four fingers.

And now that Katwe is release, there is exactly one non-big-Disney-brand movie on the company’s schedule between now and the end of 2018. (Someone noted this somewhere this week… in a comment, I think. Sorry to be cribbing.) And that sole film is a Disney Nature doc.

If Disney had laid off Queen of Katwe, The Light Between Oceans, Pete’s Dragon, McFarland USA, Million Dollar Arm, The Hundred Foot Journey, and more, they would have all done a lot better. Disney’s marketing department just isn’t exercising the muscle of releasing quality movies that are not franchise movies anymore.

When Alan Horn came to the studio, he assured producers that the studio was not getting out of the business of making “middle” movies. He may or may not have been lying. My guess is that he was given a few shots to make is work… and it never has paid off, so they have abandoned the category completely… which no other studio has done, no matter how the media obsesses on the idea that everyone has.

More of this to come in a separate piece.

Anyway… another meh Sunday.

Friday Estimates by The Magnificent Klady

Saturday, September 24th, 2016

Friday Estimates 2016-09-24 at 9.07.27 AM

Is this the moment where Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington officially become movie star equals? Or has it already happened? Or is Denzel ahead? Or do we credit Chris Pratt?

All moot, really. Denzel has a great September history. We are reminded that he can still open movies. We are reminded that $35m in September is not a surprise.

But mostly, we look at domestic on both of these movies and wonder whether either will play overseas. Genres and all.

Storks barely achieved lift-off. Not a complete car wreck, but under $20m for a major studio animated opening is not good. Is this a loss-leader for international like Ice Age ’16 (now over $400m ww)? Is this the canary in the coal mine for comic book extravaganzas? International often reflects the domestic trend, just a few years later (just as international often doesn’t come on-trend for a year or two).

Weak arthouse weekend. With a couple of niche exceptions, under $5k per screen.

24 Weeks To Oscar: Lots of Festivals, Few Surprises

Monday, September 19th, 2016

Interesting couple of weeks in Venice, Telluride and Toronto.

Here’s my perspective. Venice means nothing to Oscar. Sorry. Just reality. Never has changed the field. Never will. It’s Italy. You can put it on an ad, but what happens in the Oscar vote happens in the U.S.

After a wrestling match with Toronto over premieres, Telluride lost some opportunities this season, but more than made up for it by making (and being offered) the right choices. La La Land, Manchester By The Sea (first at Sundance), Arrival, Moonlight. Two Best Picture locks and two with a real shot.

Fair enough.

In the end, much as I love Telluride, it is not the place of the first screening that makes the film… it is the film that makes the film. Especially for films that will make that Oscar run from September. If the film doesn’t cut it – awards-wise – it won’t make through five months of judgement.

In any case, those four “Oscar movies” are the norm for Telluride in the decade since Juno. And then there is Toronto, “Oscar launchpad” since American Beauty in 1999. And when those who go to both festivals get to Toronto, the norm has been that there are still about 10 contenders on the plate as you land in “Clean NYC.” Obviously, not all of those will make it. But it has been a part of the weeding process, year after year after year.

So last year, for example, Telluride had a huge awards showing, with Room, Spotlight, Steve Jobs, Black Mass, Suffragette, Beasts of No Nation, Anomalisa and the previously fested Carol and 45 Years.

But even with that haul, TIFF still had The Danish Girl (by way of Venice), Brooklyn (from Sundance), The Martian, Trumbo, Where To Invade Next, Our Brand Is Crisis, I Saw The Light, Lady In The Van, The Program and Truth, as well as others waiting to be vetted by audiences and media.

As it worked out, Spotlight premiered at Venice before Telluride and Toronto, leaving only the unexpected Room as a pure Telluride launch. Both went to Toronto and got Best Picture noms.

Only The Martian launched to Best Picture from Toronto, while the Sundance-launched Brooklyn made it all the way from its second launch at TIFF.

Mad Max: Fury Road opened Cannes, in the way commercial films do. The Big Short opened AFI, suffered for it, but recovered. Bridge of Spies launched as a “sneak” at New York. And The Revenant launched without a fest of any kind.

So… seven films got Best Picture nominations after festival launches last year… launched from seven different festivals.

In other words… there is no awards magic to any of these festivals (though they all have their own magic). What works is what works. Period. Exclamation point!

And as it stands today, of the four Telluride films with a real Best Picture shot… one premiered in Sundance, two premiered in Venice, and only Moonlight premiered at Telluride.

But this is all a long road around my original issue… the TIFF line-up, loaded to the gills with great, good, and fascinating films, didn’t even demand a lot of attention as a place to vet awards movies this year, post-Venice/Telluride. Basically, it was six films.

American Pastoral
Denial
Jackie
Lion
A Monster Calls
Nocturnal Animals

No one saw Jackie coming. Everyone saw Nocturnal Animals coming, but when it landed in Toronto, the general consensus was that it was more a commercial play than an awards play (except for Michael Shannon). But both of these films premiered at Venice first. It is true, however, that Jackie was so low-key, even at Venice, that it felt like an event at Toronto (where Fox Searchlight finally bought it, as it once had The Wrestler post-Venice).

Only American Pastoral undeniably flopped at TIFF. Denial had a love/hate launch (I am on the love side.) A Monster Calls found many fans… but the ability to make this gloriously odd combination of adult emotion and “kid” elements go is a daunting challenge.

Lion, a Weinstein film, remains on the charts as a possible Best Picture challenger. It came in second for the audience award, which is an indication of fandom. Word on the film – which I didn’t see – was that the kid who plays the young version of the Dev Patel character is the movie stealer.

In an odd way, the biggest awards even at TIFF this year was not a festival movie, but an extended preview (about 12 minutes) of footage from December/January’s Hidden Figures, a clearly commercial movie with a diversity-positive theme that now makes it a likely Best Picture nominee in the vein of The Help. And it didn’t hurt to have a five-song Pharrell concert to boot.

Another very popular event that seems to be targeting… well, something… was a full screening of December’s Sing!, the first animated jukebox musical with animals voiced by celebrities singing already-hit songs.

Even more so than Hidden Figures, the Sing! event, pleasant though it was (with live singing from Oscar-winner Jennifer Hudson), made me wonder what the hell was going on at TIFF. I will write a different column about this issue, but a Peter Debruge column in Variety, which overstates some of the issues and ignores other, does a strong job of setting the tone for what it is like to try to cover Toronto these days. As this column argues that the awards focus is getting thinner for TIFF, the sense in that column that the festival is now greedily gobbling up every ounce of space that it can, leaving attendees more frustrated than satisfied, is a parallel thought worth considering.

But back to Oscar for a moment, as that is the focus of this column…

Aside From Jackie (which showed up on Monday) and the Hidden Figures event (that really had no place at TIFF, however much I enjoyed it), TIFF was a bit of a bust this year. I mean, it was great to see La La Land again with a different audience in a different country, but… I’m not sure I needed to be in Toronto to do that.

It is possible that this is all cyclical and that next year, TIFF will be The Place for award season. But I personally believe that whole festival circuit is now being marginalized by an ever-shrinking world that doesn’t need market festivals the way it once did and in which taking advantage of the benefits of a festival is becoming more and more of a challenge. Sundance is really the exception here in the US, as the focus of the indie world continues to be there for world premieres from anyone and everyone who matters in that domestic universe. SXSW and Tribeca haven’t put a dent in Sundance. So, with mostly lower numbers, Sundance remains a legit and critical sales festival. And wonderful as Cannes is, the odd combination of fairly incestuous competition line-ups with a market that ranges from the lowest brow to the highest, is becoming increasingly marginalized.

Serious contenders still in the hopper…

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk – at NYFF
Allied – likely AFI
Hidden Fences – likely AFI
Hacksaw Ridge – release in November
Silence – Who knows?

My latest Top 10 for Best Picture is:

Allied (unseen)
Arrival
Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk
(unseen)
Fences
Hidden Figures
(unseen-ish)
Jackie
La La Land
Lion
Loving
Manchester by the Sea

Right outside and pushing are A Monster Calls, Moonlight, and Silence (unseen).

Best Actress
Emma Stone
Amy Adams
Natalie Portman
Viola Davis

Meryl Streep
Taraji Henson

Kate Beckinsale
Annette Bening
Marion Cotillard
Jessica Chastain
Sally Field
Isabelle Huppert
Ruth Negga
Kristen Stewart
Rachel Weisz

Best Actor
Casey Affleck
Denzel Washington
Ryan Gosling

Joel Edgerton
Tom Hanks

Joe Alwyn
Andrew Garfield
Brad Pitt
Miles Teller

Weekend Estimates by Tre’ja Vu Klady

Sunday, September 18th, 2016

SWeekend Estimates 2016-09-18 at 9.53.01 AM

So September…

Not a pretty weekend. Always an odd month.

On “this weekend” of September, having three openings is not rare. But in the last five years, it has been rare to see three new films loaded into one weekend that have so little traditional firepower . It’s been 16 years since a Blair Witch sighting… 12 years between Bridget Jones quirkiness… and selling a political movie without a big, fat hook has always been a brutal task.

Compared to The Fifth Estate, Snowden had a massive opening ($1.7m vs $7.9m). Joseph Gordon-Levitt is an excellent, well-liked actor, as is Shailene Woodley. But neither is a full-stop box office opener. This is Oliver Stone’s worst opening in almost 20 years, though he’s made star-studded spectacles for the most part. The W opening is closest ($10.5m)… and that was a hyperreal comedy in the heat of an election year. Let’s not forget that one of Mike Nichols’ best films, Primary Colors, barely opened ($12m) despite a then-super-hot John Travolta and top-of-her-commercial-game Emma Thompson.

The Bridget Jones’ Baby opening is almost exactly the same as the Bridget Jones’ Sequel, which was only a couple million less than the original Bridget Jones’ Diary opening. So really, Universal has nothing to complain about here. I don’t expect that this film will achieve the 4.5x opening that sequel Edge of Reason did… but (shrug). Edge did 5.5x domestic at the international box office and that is the reason why this three-quel exists, not because of expectations of domestic success. Universal could have, in theory, pushed the film to Focus to save a little on marketing, but not really. The film comes with the long relationship with Working Title. All is well.

Blair Witch? Well… uh… straight IP greed play. Wingard & Barrett are legitimate horror guys. The movie was flint cheap. Crap horror opening under $10 million, but no one is going to lose money on this one. The wet dream on these kinds of investments is that there will be a magical surge of interest in a great old film (at least to Don’t Breathe numbers). But no.

So… weak-end. But nothing really sad here. Just meh.

Sully remains on top, doing solid September business. Clint Eastwood made a movie people like. He is a great filmmaker who can hit a clunker, but didn’t here. Nor did he change the world. Tom Hanks…kinda the same. The film will do slightly better domestic box office than other September hits The Equalizer and Eagle Eye. It will probably do less internationally than either of those films. But more than breakeven. I don’t mean to poo-poo a hit, but at this budget range, a drama with some action that plays domestic only is unlikely to be a cash cow. Just the math, folks.

Suicide Squad stands quietly as the reason why studios continue to chase comic book movies. $314m domestic. $719 million worldwide. New franchise. Slaughtered by critics and much of the word-of-mouth. Warners’ #3 DC movie all-time. Close to passing the well-loved Gravity to become the studio’s #14 film of all-time. And those 13 ahead of it, 8 are Potter films and 3 are Batman films, Inception and The Matrix Reloaded. They may be celebrating like Republicans in Hollywood, but no matter how much in may enrage you or the media, they are celebrating.

Look at the worldwide Top 10 to date in 2016, it’s four talking animal movies, five comic book movies, and The Mermaid, which is a bit of both. Take out The Mermaid, which had no impact in the U.S., and it’s dead-even between talking animals and comic book heroes. There are no comic book movies past #10/#11 worldwide… every single one of them did more than $543 million worldwide.

Can people who write about this stuff comprehend these numbers? Complain all you like, but there have only been five of these comic book things released this year… only one of them (Deadpool) was good. But none of them will lose money. Maybe this year is a canary in the coal mine? Maybe Dr. Strange will underperform the $543 million low bar. But if you are screaming “no!!!” and demanding an end to the madness, you are fighting math.

I agree and have written that I think there will be a point where the genre flattens and two or three comic book movies lose real money in the same year, then the machine will change direction. But this is as close to the dumb DVD money that is still so missed. You make it. You put out a trailer. You hope for a billion and are relieved when it hits $500 million. And it always seems to hit $500 million. For now.

By the way, Jason Bourne is the #2 grosser in the franchise, near $400 million. Not explosive, but successful.

The arthouse business doesn’t look a lot different at this point of the year than it did last year. Of course, a lot of the money is in undisclosed VOD, so no read on that. But theatrically, very similar. Amongst films never on as many as 1,000 screens at any given time, there are just over 60 million-dollar grossers both years as of this date.

Roadside Attractions is a heavyweight at the top of this category again, probably on the lookout of a film named “Love & (anything)” for next year after cracking $12.5 million with both Love & Mercy last year and Love & Friendship this year.

The Woody Allen film soft-ed its way into this category, never getting to 1,000 screens while A24 made lemonade out of The Lobster after it landed on its table late in the release game.

Hello, My Name is Doris is the queen of this category and Sally Field with it. Will be interesting to see of there is a legit award push… especially after they failed to get Mr. Holmes to the prom last year.

In fact, the under-1,000 category was fool’s gold last year. Ian McKellen, Paul Dano, Lily Tomlin, Blythe Danner, Jason Segel, Kristen Stewart, Sarah Silverman… all spent time as hopefuls last season… some deserved it for sure… none got in.

Anyway… boring September will bring an animated hit next weekend, as most Septembers now do. Onward…

Friday Estimates by MId-September Klady

Saturday, September 17th, 2016

Friday Estimates 2016-09-17 at 9.15.08 AM

Sully is doing well. Not “parade” well, but very nicely. It started slightly better than 2014’s The Equalizer and is holding a little better than the same. So look for the hundred & teens. International will be interesting, given the material vs The Hanks.

The trio of newcomers (Blair Witch, Bridget Jones’ Baby, Snowden) could land in any order, with Witch hampered by horror. Bridget is the likely top earner with some date value on Saturday. But Snowden could surprise.

No $10,000-per-screen arthouse stuff this weekend.

Box office should spoke sharply with the number of big titles in the coming two Fridays.

Weekend Estimates

Sunday, September 11th, 2016

12

Friday Box Office Estimates

Saturday, September 10th, 2016

2016-09-10

Labor Day Weekend Estimates

Sunday, September 4th, 2016
Title Distributor Gross (average) % change * Theaters Cume
Don’t Breathe Sony 15.8 (5,170) -40% 3051 51.2
Suicide Squad WB 10.1 (3,070) -18% 3292 297.5
Pete’s Dragon BV 6.4 (1,950) -14% 3272 64.1
Kubo and the Two Strings Focus 6.4 (2,150) -18% 2985 34.3
Sausage Party Sony 5.3 (1,910) -30% 2766 88.4
The Light Between Oceans BV 4.8 (3,210) NEW 1500 4.8
Bad Moms STX/eOne 4.8 (2,070) -14% 2306 102.6
War Dogs WB 4.7 (1,660) -33% 2848 35.2
Hell or High Water CBS/VVS 4.5 (3,450) 26% 1303 14.6
Mechanic: Resurrection Lionsgate/VVS 4.2 (1,860) -44% 2258 14.3
Jason Bourne Uni 4.0 (2,120) -22% 1876 155.2
No Manches Frida Lionsgate 3.6 (10,030) NEW 362 3.6
The Secret Life of Pets Uni 3.5 (1,700) -9% 2069 358.5
Star Trek Beyond Par 2.5 (2,050) 9% 1202 154.3
Ben-Hur Par 2.2 (1,010) -52% 2167 23.7
Florence Foster Jenkins Par/eOne 2.2 (1,630) -26% 1341 23.6
Finding Dory BV 1.9 (930) 205% 2075 481.8
Morgan Fox 1.9 (950) NEW 2020 1.9
Southside With You Roadside Attractions 1.4 (1,760) -50% 813 5.1
Hands of Stone Weinstein Co. 1.3 (1,570) -28% 810 3.7
Ghostbusters Sony 1.1 (990) 95% 1091 126.3
Janatha Garage Ficus .77 (4,710) 164 1.5
Ice Age: Collision Course Fox .73 (1,050) 43% 692 62.6
Nerve Lionsgate .66 (870) 29% 761 37.6
Lights Out WB .54 (1,210) -19% 446 66.2
Weekend Total ($500,000+ Films) $95.30
% Change (Last Year) 12%
% Change (Last Week) -15%
Also debuting/expanding
Don’t Think Twice Film Arcade .46 (2,790) 5% 165 3
Café Society Lionsgate/Mongrel .28 (1,460) -18% 190 10.4
Equity Sony Classics .20 (920) -38% 221 1.3
Nitro Rush Seville .15 (2,150) 71 0.21
Captain Fantastic Bleecker Street/eOne .14 (1,280) -31% 112 5.3
Indignation Roadside Attractions .13 (1,150) -47% 116 3.1
Naam Hai Akira Fox Intl .13 (1,870) 71 0.13
Hunt for the Wilderpeople Orchard .12 (1,430) -1% 85 4.6
A Tale of Love and Darkness Focus .12 (4,580) 3% 66 0.33
The Hollars Sony Classics .10 (4,270) 157% 23 0.15
The 9th Life of Louis Drax Lionsgate 73,300 (430) 171 0.07
White Girl FilmRise 29,900 (9,970) 3 0.03
Yoga Hosers Invincible 28,800 (360) 81 0.03
Pretham Central 18,200 (1,120) 16 0.02
Kickboxer: Vengeance RLJ Entertainment 13,800 (150) 91 0.01
Dekalog (reissue) Janus 12,500 (3,120) 4 0.01
Darra Guraya 11,300 (940) 12 0.01
Pepo Pal Senado K Torce 10,400 (1,490) 7 0.01
The Girl King Wolfe 8,200 (1,370) 6 0.01
Skiptrace Saban 7,600 (690) 11 0.01
Seasons in Quincy Icarus 5,100 (5,100) 1 0.01
Summer of 8 FilmBuff 3,800 (630) 6 0.01
Max Rose Paladin 3,300 (3,300) 1 0.01
Tunnel Well Go .17 (4,640) 36 0.17

Friday Estimates

Saturday, September 3rd, 2016

Screen Shot 2016-09-03 at 12.40.03 PM

Time To Consume

Wednesday, August 31st, 2016

I am a great believer in ebb and flow.

There is a time to create. And a time to consume.

I don’t know that I have ever gone into the September festival season more ready to consume. I am HUNGRY.

I’ve already watched 3 different movies to prepare for La La Land. I had never seen Medicine for Melancholy. Now I have, in preparation for Moonlight.

As a busy person, seeing at least 4 or 5 movies for work each week, and having a 6-year-old, and a wife, and shooting interviews, etc, I sadly don’t often consume movies the way I once did. But I am throwing Blu-rays into the player every day lately. Coppola, Mel Brooks, Friedkin, Scorsese…

I am watching the cable networks I pay for every month with a vengeance. I’ve even watched some stuff in standard definition, stretched or shrunk to look like HD. Every movie seems to lead me to another movie that I haven’t seen in forever, or need to see for some reason.

And I am feeling very zen about work in general. I shouldn’t. But the idea has been settling in with me that work has a personal voice and we need — I need — to stop trying to see it through a single set of eyes that are not those of the artist. A chat with Derek Cienfrance last week prompted that reflection. We talked about what connects his films although I didn’t ask that question. He offered it up because it was important to his process and his choices. And his thoughts — about his real family and the family that presented itself while others were around — fit like a glove. And his feelings about his films, once confronted by others who saw them from a different perspective, were quite beautiful in their precision.

Then there is my work. My interviews. If you build it, 1,700 half hours will come of it, I guess.

I treasure the conversations that I have with artists. And I am not nearly worried enough about how many other people get to enjoy them. But each one is a surprisingly vivid memory.

And yet, we are all now surrounded by a parade of roundtables, actors talking to actors, podcasts and stunt talk shows, making my format, which was already obscure in this era, even more so. People are still very generous with their time, but it’s gotten harder to get some subjects that I want… even if the actually eyes and ears I can deliver are greater or at least equal to almost all non-big-network outlets.

But all that is more measuring. It misses the point. It’s an endless seduction, but I never started doing this to win the prize… to be #1. I believe in the work.

So the other day, I listened to some of the newer shows. Three or four. And they were fine. But they were missing something. They were missing that thing that makes me — for better or worse — me. I could never do what those hosts were doing. But then again, they could never do what I do.

I wrestled with this a couple years ago regarding Marc Maron, who I was friendly with before his podcast, and who I genuinely like. There are many reasons why his podcast is much more famous than my show(s). But a big part of that is just… Marc. I mean, I cringe listening to him talking to some people, not because he was terrible, but because I wished he knew more going into the interview. But what he doesn’t know is a big part of who he is. And that naiveté, from a man who is not at all naive, is a big part of the magic of his interviews.

I recently listened to a bunch of Howard Stern interviews and again… I would never, for a second, think to ask most of the questions he asks. For a guy who has been a star for decades, he asks a lot of rube (and rude) questions. But it works really well because people who go on his show are ready and willing to go there.

One guest, who I had a hard time with years ago, was so forthcoming and friendly… and I think it was the rhythm. He paced the person in a way with which they were comfortable. I, clearly, had not. And in the long view, that was fine.

What I do is what I do. It is part of me. There is no other version. And it’s not for everyone. And it’s not always supported by the biggest organization. But I treasure those moments like I treasure the moments when those same people like up the movie screen like a pinball machine (a great old one… not the new digital bullshit).

Getting back to movies, I realize that I get a little shy, then a little overly aggressive, about telling people about Pete’s Dragon. That movie is so much a product of David Lowery. There is no denying it. It is an intimate piece. And yet, it is still about an animated, sometimes-invisible dragon.

I am starving for the unexpected… the artistic… the silly… the banal… the passionate… the real… the fake… the movies.

When I caught The Martian on cable the other night, I realized that the film didn’t exist for me, aside from one-sheets, a year ago. And then, in a multiplex at TIFF, not quite expecting the world, this lovely, complex-but-not-showy work by a truly great director with a great cast and a script of a great idea came into my life. What a wonderful thing.

So I am going to The Church in The Mountains, then going to The Palace North of Buffalo to gorge myself on everything that I can consume. I want to fall in love. I want to be weighed down with hate. I want to wipe away tears I am embarrassed to shed and to quietly make faces in the third act hoping no one will notice (but secretly hoping someone will). I want to get poked in the eye and stroked on the… back.

It’s the movies I love. The people who make them. The tightrope walk that every movie truly is, successful or not.

Let’s go!

Weekend Estimates by Summer’s End Klady

Sunday, August 28th, 2016

Weekend Estimates 2016-08-28 at 9.17.25 AM

A horror film leads a horrible weekend at the box office (though it is better than this weekend was last year). Don’t Breathe is the third best horror opening of the summer and the #1 original horror film. Congrats. Suicide Squad continues to do steady business, in spite of the hate for it in media circles. And Kubo stays in line with Laika’s output with Focus.

The last time we had a $20 million opening in the weekend before Labor Day was 2010… and we had two… and both were horror movies, one from Lionsgate and one from Screen Gems. A year before, we actually had a better opening in this slot, The Final Destination, from New Line/WB.

Anyway… zzzzzz…

Suicide Squad is going to top Man of Steel domestically and will be close to it worldwide when all grosses are counted. The big question is whether the sigh of relief at Warner Bros will lead to them convincing themselves that everything is okay in The Zach Snyder Visionary Universe. No one wants a white-knuckle experience every time they release a DC movie, but losing money would be a lot worse than being told your movie sucks… at least at the career level.

Kubo & The Two Strings is a little soft in the August Laika/Focus slot. I’m surprised that it is underperforming Boxtrolls, but I’m not sure that the campaign connected as well as the movie itself. ParaNorman was, it seemed, an easier sell than either. Really, my impulse is that Boxtrolls‘ success is the surprise, given it was very Brit and odd-looking and with an unclear story, despite some great, great stuff, especially Ben Kingsley’s voice performance. But I guess it came from a hit book… not really knowledgeable about the material. Anyway, given the Asian themes, it is easy to imagine Kubo breaking out overseas and making the final gross one of Laika’s largest.

Sausage Party will get close to $100m domestic. Not much international yet, though I can imagine the dubbed version as a worldwide breakout, where there is more familiarity with R-rated animation. A success for sure. Should not be undervalued in the media, which tends to discount Rogen & Goldberg because they do comedy and (cough, cough) stoner comedy. They can even afford to take $10 million off the top to settle the claims of animator abuse in Vancouver.

Mechanic: Resurrection is a crap opening for the sequel.

Jason Bourne has a shot at $400m worldwide, but not getting close to the last Damon/Greengrass entry. The film is suffering from not being enough of a breakaway from the original three films, even though it seems to set up some big changes next time out. Word of mouth is positive, but not excited. And this wasn’t a world-beating franchise at the box office to begin with.

Bad Moms will pass $100 million next weekend, which is significant, even if competitors feels STX bought the gross with a huge ad spend. But if some of those competitors could get a $100m movie on the books, they’d buy it too.

Paramount has gotten every ounce of juice out of Florence Foster Jenkins and looks like they will get it to $25 million domestic.

Hell Or High Water is a solid limited success for CBS’ film arm distributed by Lionsgate. It’s the #3 domestic summer grosser amongst films that have been on fewer than 1,000 screens. (Love & Friendship is #1 with $13m.)

Cafe Society (#2 on that list) is landing dead in the middle of the grosses of Woody Allen’s last 20 films, in the $10 million domestic club with Scoop, Magic In the Moonlight and Deconstructing Harry.

Weinstein can’t be thrilled that Hands of Stone did less per screen than Hell. D.O.A. Couldn’t have done worse if they had widely screened it for critics. (I did go to a screening… which I found out was cancelled when I arrived.)

Southside With You had a nice opening. Curious to see if it can scale.

There was one $10k-per-sceeen film this weekend of any stripe… Sony Classics’ The Hollars, on four.

The Howard’s End re-issue in 4K did an estimated $8650 per on three. (I’d love to watch this film again… and might this weekend. Great film to watch multiple times.)

Friday Estimates by Next Weekend Might Be Even Uglier Klady

Saturday, August 27th, 2016

friday estimates 2016-08-27 at 9.44.23 AM

The horror… the horror…

Anyone surprised by Don’t Breathe doing slightly better than Lights Out on opening day and heading to a $22m opening with a $68m domestic cume?

The niche works as a niche. Keep that budget under $10 million and wait for the profits. There is no gold ring in this niche these days. The top horror grosser of 2014 was Annabelle with $84 million, then the first Purge sequel with $72 million. Last year, it was Insidious 3 with $52 million. And this year, The Conjuring 2 managed to crack that $100 million barrier with $102 million, but the #2 is another sequel, Purge 3, with $79 million, then the aforementioned Lights Out with $65 million.

There is nothing wrong with these numbers. It’s a good business, so long as the films don’t start getting up to the $25 million – $35 million range again. But the days of a movie like Paranormal Activity opening out of the box with over $100 million seem to be over. Now we’re seeing the higher numbers only for sequels/franchises/IP.

Of course, the real genius of Paranormal at Paramount is that they sold it as a grass roots experience, invested less than usual but still at a studio level in ads and theaters, and got the film itself for almost nothing. Nowadays, the studio marketing spends for these films are not as high as some of the mainstream product, but as they become brands, the creeping spends require caution.

The Mechanic: Resurrection opening is about the standard Statham starring opening now. The first of this franchise was Statham’s last $10m as lead star opening (2011), so no real surprise here.

Nothing else new opening wide in this end-of-August wasteland.

The Hollars, John Krasinski’s new film, is going to be in the 30,000s per screen on just 4.

The Obama meet-cute, Southside With You, is smooth niching it with $1 million estimated for Friday on just 813 screens, heading to as much as $3500 per screen for the weekend.

Hell or High Water almost doubled its screen count (472) to 909 and should still do over $2500 per screen for the weekend.

Hands of Stone is soft with less than $2k per screen on 810 on the way.

Perhaps the surprise of the weekend is that Howard’s End – which is a really wonderful film – is getting a solid arthouse audience in a 3-screen 4K re-release.

Kubo & The Two Strings, Art Parkinson, Travis Knight

Sunday, August 21st, 2016

Florence Foster Jenkins, Simon Helberg

Sunday, August 21st, 2016

Weekend Estimates by Suicide Sausage Klady

Sunday, August 21st, 2016

Weekend Estimates 2016-08-21 at 10.26.36 AM

So, like it or hate it, Suicide Squad is the #8 domestic movie of the year and will remain so until November, right behind Batman vs Superman. BvS will generate around $175 million more internationally and even so, it is seen as a disappointment.

So you make the call. What does the $875 million outcome mean and what does the $675 million outcome mean? Both figures (will) rank in the Top 90 worldwide grosses of all time. BvS improved on the gross of Man of Steel. Suicide Squad will be the third best performing first film among comic book adaptations after Deadpool and Guardians of the Galaxy.

I don’t think either movie is very good, but opinion is opinion and numbers are numbers. The real smack on the two WB comic titles this year is that neither was so strong that they will slingshot the other DC titles the way that Iron Man has, leading to the billion-dollar success of Avengers and the billionaire build-outs for Captain America and, they hope, the upcoming Thor/Hulk combo film.

This is the problem for Warner Bros. The Zack Snyder extended universal is doing mediocre (in context) business and shows the huge muscle of these characters, regardless of quality. Yet, it has not collapsed… not by a long shot.

This phenomenon really started with Sony and the Amazing Spider-Man franchise. Both films grossed over $700 million worldwide. And yet, Sony was anxious to dump this iteration and took on Marvel as an active partner in relaunching as a MCU-connected series.

Keep in mind… only 16 comic-based films have grossed $700m+ worldwide. If that is the standard now, the future looks rough. Batman, Iron Man, and/or Spider-Man have been in 12 of those 16 titles. No comic book film has ever grossed more than $800 million without at least one of those characters (Cap: Civil War features two of the three).

Newcomers Guardians of the Galaxy and Deadpool were both seen as underdogs and hit home runs. Fox went all-in on X-Men: Days of Future Past, all hands on deck and the biggest budget in studio history, and got the $748m worldwide gross… then backed off a bit and grossed $543 million worldwide this summer.

Peak Comic Book may have been 2014. There were four $700m+ worldwide grossers. Last year, one. This year, three. There are six mainstream comic book titles scheduled for 2017. Among them, only one Batman and one Spider-Man (and Guardians 2). There are seven such titles scheduled for 2018, with probably just one Batman and one Iron Man (and I am betting on a Deadpool sequel).

So we will know a lot more about the future of comic book movies in these next two years, for better or worse, with two brand-new solo films and two sequels to modest hits that aspire to step up to the $700m+ level. We’ll also see if Guardians is a growth business (it should be) and we’ll have the two major team-up franchises (Justice League and Avengers) within 6 months of one another.

Meanwhile, can we stop whining about comic book movies as though they are all that exists?

This massive business of very expensive, very high grossing movies has taken position on top of the film industry that already existed. But this didn’t start three years ago or 8 or 10. It was not the natural evolution of Jaws that led to Star Wars that led to Burton’s Batman.

The beginning of the CG revolution was 1991’s Terminator 2. It was the first time that massive audiences in the post-studio-system era came out to see, primarily, a CG effect.

Until that film, there were only four films that had grossed $500 million worldwide in unadjusted dollars. Two were Star Wars films, then E.T. and Ghost.

Of the 14 films that grossed over $400 million worldwide in original release, before or concurrently with T2, the only ones that were not genre/action/fantasy/animation were Home Alone, and Pretty Woman, and Dances With Wolves… all three from 1990 (suggesting that those numbers were part of a rising worldwide gross profile).

The first film to crack E.T.‘s $619 million worldwide (original) gross was Jurassic Park… not coincidentally, the next massive CG-driven experience blockbuster. Soon we would see that massive numbers were possible for The Lion King and Forrest Gump (which was also driven by a lot of seems-real CG technology). Then Independence Day.

And then Titanic. Could not have been what it was without the CG, even though it was shot with a ton of on-set, in-camera production. It was also the most expensive film ever made at the time (except perhaps for Batman & Robin, earlier that year… whole different discussion).

But still, as of 1997, the first year ever with three $500m+ worldwide grossers, there had still only been 27 films ever to gross over $400 million worldwide. In the next six years (end of 2003), that list would more than double, with 61 titles having hit the mark. Also in that six year period, we went from 5 films to ever have grossed $700m in their initial worldwide runs to 14,

Event movies, with lots of CG content, were driving a new kind of theatrical business on top of a still-robust DVD business. Potter and Rings and Spider-Man and Pirates and Pixar and Shrek changed the game in that window.

2003 set a record with 9 films grossing over $400 million worldwide. 5 were sequels. 1 was animated. One was the first Pirates. One live-action comedy (Bruce Almighty) and one original drama (The Last Samurai). There has only been one year with fewer than 7 such films since (2007) and in 2015, we had 18.

In the 100 or so years of theatrical films before 2004, 61 films had grossed over $400 million worldwide. In the 12.5 years starting with 2004, there have been another 169. And of those 169, I count 20 of them that are not overtly driven by computer graphics or franchise status. Three years stand out with threevsuch films… 2009 (Sherlock Holmes/Angels & Demons/The Hangover), 2012 (Les Miserables, The Intouchables, and Django Unchained) and 2015 (The Martian/Fifty Shades of Grey/The Revenant).

The change, I would argue, did not come with a lowering of the standards or a pandering to international or anything so nefarious. The change has come because technology allowed what has always been most appealing to moviegoers, in the US and across the globe, to rise to another level. Obviously, the expansion of international theatrical has also been a huge factor in grosses.

I have made the comparison before, but I will make it again.

solider field old new

What you are looking at is the old Soldier Field, which is next to Lake Michigan and was mightily cold during winter games and the new Soldier Field, which hasn’t moved or changed a lot… except that they build a modern facility on top of the old Soldier Field that adds sky boxes and high tech stuff and a wind break from the lake so the “outdoor” seating is not nearly as frigid.

That is how I see the CG-driven industry of the moment. Yes, it does take up a significant amount of the studio slates. And it takes up a wildly oversized amount of the media’s attention. But it is, essentially, an expansion of the industry and not an overall replacement for what was.

The 2000 worldwide Top 10 is how things once were:
Mission: Impossible II -$546.4m
Gladiator – $457.6m
Cast Away – $429.6m
What Women Want -$374.1m
Dinosaur – $349.8m
How the Grinch Stole Christmas – $345.1m
Meet the Parents – $330.4m
The Perfect Storm – $328.7m
X-Men – $296.3m
What Lies Beneath – $291.4m

It’s probably not quite a pretty as the memory people have in their heads. Dinosaur was an early CG effort by Disney on which they lost money. X-Men was pretty low tech, emphasizing character over computers when CG movies were insanely expensive and Fox was fabulously cheap. And The Perfect Storm was the first CG-driven drama, really.

Last year, the only non-CG-driven or franchise or animated (though it had plenty of CG) movie in the Top 10 was The Martian. So I understand the feeling that there has been a massive change.

But… The Martian did $630 worldwide. Mission Impossible 2 did $546m. Pretty similar.

Gladiator did $357 million in 2000. The Revenant did $535m last year.

Cast Away… $430m. Can’t find a great analogous film, though The Revenant has some connectivity.

What Women Want, $374m. Fifty Shades of Grey, $571 million.

Meet The Parents, $330m. There was no uber comedy last year, but Pitch Perfect 2 did $288m, Daddy’s Home did $240m, and Spy did $236m. Even the disastrous Ted 2 did $231 million.

What Lies Beneath did $291 million. Can’t find a great analogous film.

So the two Zemeckis films, a long drama with a major movie star and his throwaway Hitchcock movie (which I love) don’t match up. The rest? The business is still making those movies and people are still going to them in large numbers.

Of course, there was a Zemeckis film last year (The Walk), But it flopped.

And there were a bunch more $100m+ grossing films last year that are “the kinds of films that studios aren’t making,” including Straight Outta Compton, Creed, Bridge of Spies, The Hateful Eight, Trainwreck, The Big Short and even Joy.

“But why are all the pretty girls with the 5′ 2″ non-English speaker who is betting $20,000 at a time at the Baccarat table when we $20 blackjack players are so much more fun?!?!”

Same as it ever was, gang.

Spielberg has made 5 movies in the last 5 years. Retired Soderbergh is making his fourth film of the last 5 years while also doing three seasons of very hands-on television. Scorsese hasn’t pumped out as much over a 5 year period since the early 90s. Even Zemeckis (who I revere), who crashed a whole business for Disney in 2009 and was movie-jailed, has made 3 films in the last four years.

I love what is happening on TV and have endless respect for many of the former movie makers who shifted to the medium in recent years… but can you name any of the great TV success stories who made hit films before they made the leap (except as exec producers)? There aren’t many examples. I love Jill Soloway’s work, but Afternoon Delight did $175k in theatrical and Vince Gilligan has never directed a feature. He did write two of my 1000 favorite features, Wilder Napalm and Hancock, both of which showed the glorious kink that would show up on Breaking Bad. But not really a movie guy. Frank Darabont is brilliant… and was a decade away from his last film hit before “The Walking Dead” happened. Etc.

We go from reading and often mocking trend stories to believing them to being convinced of their absolute veracity.

There is no “normal.” The film industry changes constantly. We have seen four major paradigm shifts in the last 30 years. That’s a ton of change. There are great successes and great failures. Important and unimportant trends.

But every time I see a movie these days with a bunch of Chinese company names on the front credits, I remember the German money and the Japanese money and the French money and the corporate money and on and on and on.

You can play the complaints about movies by almost anyone over 40 on a loop that could have been created any time since the 1960s… we all try to rationalize how it really is different now… but it’s not… not by much.

On a one-on-one or internal studio level, there is a lot of room for improvement. Absolutely. Start with more inclusion, continue with more creative ideas about engaging audiences, and then focus on improving the same old same old, because there is a ton of room for that. But big picture?

Everyone’s first rodeo is their first rodeo.

Go see Pete’s Dragon and Kubo or go to your local arthouse and see art, because art is lovely and enriching. But stop the whining. We’ve never had more options or more movies at our disposal to enjoy and appreciate.

Friday Estimates by Summer Dregs Klady

Saturday, August 20th, 2016

Friday Estimatest 2016-08-20 at 8.48.11 AM

The calendar of weekends looks different this August, so direct comparisons are iffy. That said, this third opening weekend of August looks a lot like most third weekends in August, give or take a blockbuster. Following behind only Guardians of the Galaxy and the super-leggy The Sixth Sense, Suicide Squad has the #3 all-time August domestic gross. And by a good margin, one that continues to grow, no matter how much the media has moved on.

In terms of newbies, this is a standard launch weekend for this time of year. None of the openers are major… not even strong minor ($20 million launch). But they will still be #4, #5, and #6 for the month. And an opening like The Butler ($24.6 million) was really the exception to the rule in these dog days of summer in recent years.

Last summer, for instance, $10.5m for Sinister 2 led the newcomers “this date” with Hitman: Agent 47 landing $8.3 million and American Ultra doing $5.5 million. This weekend’s three openers will beat that group of weekend newcomers by more than 25%. The strength of the month, in terms of quality, is getting lost in the sauce. That would be two family films, Pete’s Dragon and Kubo & The Two Strings.

Florence Foster Jenkins is dropping like a regular movie, though there is still some hope that its legs will get stronger as older audiences are inspired by word of mouth.

On the exclusive front, not much excitement. Natalie Portman’s A Tale of Love & Death is having a decent start, cracking $10k per on two… but not exactly fireworks.

27 Weeks To Oscar: The Shifting Award Show Cycle

Thursday, August 18th, 2016

The market will out.

One of the little-discussed reactions to the new instant-information era is the downgrading of many of our favorite (for some, least favorite) parts of the movie year, festivals and award shows.

Sundance is a true market festival in the United States and as such has become a consistent launchpad for awards movies that will be re-launched in the fall. There are ups and downs, but as a place where movies are purchased, it allows a distributor a full 7-month run up to an awards launch and commercial campaign.

Cannes has become marginalized in all categories but Foreign Language for a variety of reasons, but a big one is that English-language films that premiere there are threatened by death-by-critic, and get no benefit in the U.S. with a May premiere that is not followed up immediately with a Stateside release.

The Venice-Telluride-Toronto window remains solid. The timing is right. The media benefits are there.

The New York Film Festival, which had a period starting in 2010 of imposing itself on the award season, has reversed itself and gone back to being a wonderful local festival with minimal national implications this year. Was this a choice by the programmers or the circumstances of how distributors wish to roll out their awards hopefuls? I would guess that it is a combination. If NYFF had a big, fat opener offered to them, would they be opening with a documentary (however celebrated the filmmaker and important the issue)? Probably.

To be fair, The Los Angeles Film Festival, which is not in the awards game (early summer) also suffers this problem, having to be “creative” with event programming (opening/closing) after years of having access to higher profile films to draw audiences.

AFI comes along in Los Angeles in early November, offering a last gasp of festival season linking with award season. But last year, the results were not happy. And now, November 10 (this year’s opening night) is looking late. AFI will get some big titles by the time it rolls around. There is a value proposition for some payers. But it’s not a serious driver of anything.

One reason that AFI is looking a bit late at November 10 this year is that Broadcast Film Critics just announced that they are moving the Critics Choice Award Show to December 11.

This would seem to be a dying gasp by BFCA and broadcast partner A&E for a place at the awards table… and relevance in general. Just last year, the Critics Choice Awards added television to the mix, because everyone was waiting for a TV award show in January, right? No. Obviously not. But getting familiar talent on the TV could have led to improved ratings. Also, no one bit on a separate BFCA TV show.

BFCA also added an untelevised documentary show this November, which is ironic, as the BFCA may be the least documentary-aware film writer organization on the planet. So the BFCA award shows – now 3 – are proliferating while the opportunity for them to become TV shows or for anyone outside of the room to care is shrinking like… well, it’s shrinking. A lot.

But BFCA is one of the most healthy groups in this regard. The two major critics groups – NY and LA – still carry real weight, but neither has ever gotten interest as a TV event. The Hollywood Film Awards, an absolute con by Carlos “The Jackass” de Abreu turned legitimized con by Dick Clark Productions is heading into its second year without a TV outlet, which is making the $10 million-plus purchase of the show from Carlos a disaster. I don’t see Dick Clark Productions continuing the show for a third year of no one airing the thing. They are not a live event company. But if they happen this year, they will be in early November.

The other talent-demanding event in the fall is Deadline’s The Contenders, a marketing dog & pony show which breaks every rule of The Academy, has no apparent effect on the award season, and which every studio feels it must participate, lest they be left out in some way.

So… we have the festival launches in September. We have an eruption in early November by way of AFI/The Contenders/HFA. And now, we have Golden Globes nods, NYFCA & LAFCA award announcements, and BFCA handing out awards in the first weeks of December. Then Oscar nominations and Golden Globes in January. And The Oscars in February.

Seems like it’s all been sorted out, no?

Yeah. Funny how that works.

I will say that I think it is embarrassing for a group claiming to be a critics group to be handing out awards in the first half of December. I have always felt that way about every critics group that does it. (The primary excuse for the non-televised groups has been scheduling.) But I see this as a desperate move by BFCA to keep its television show, not to make a statement. If BFCA loses the TV deal, the show will go on and be profitable as a live event… but it’s a lot less profitable.

And I realize I left out National Board of Review. I’m not going to go back to fix that because it isn’t broken. NBR is utterly, completely irrelevant as anything other than a talking point and studios need to stop investing more than screenings in the absurdity of it.

The DGA/PGA/WGA of it all is not irrelevant. But as I have always said, they are the canaries, not the coal mines. As they should be.

What I hear every time I do a column like this is, “Not everything is about Oscar.” And that is true… to a degree. Every honor is an honor. No one knows if there will be a next honor. And many of the organizations mentioned here are legitimate and of inherent value.

But…

It is all about Oscar.

BFCA Moves Its Film/TV Award Hybrid To Dec 11, Leapfrogging Backwards Past Nominations of Golden Globes Academy

Thursday, August 18th, 2016

BFCA Moves Film-TV Award Hybrid Show To December 11, Leapfrogging Backwards Past Golden Globe And Academy Nominations

27 Weeks To Oscar: Ohhhhhhh

Wednesday, August 17th, 2016

boat 651

A lot of things are unfolding at once in the Nate Parker-The Birth Of A Nation story. Once emotions are stirred, it’s understandably hard to sort them out. Some would say that you shouldn’t have to sort them out. But for better or worse, that’s how my mind works.

The Birth of A Nation is now dead in terms of Oscar and unlikely to receive a full theatrical release, as in the 1,500-screen wide opening reported as part of Searchlight’s Sundance-negotiated contract. [Editor’s note: Early Wednesday evening, Variety reports, the release and interviews will continue. Oscars are something “Fox Searchlight management considers… a secondary concern, sources say. The company, which is opening the movie wide on Oct. 7, as planned, is more interested in the film being a commercial success than it is with capturing awards.“]

This is not a judgment of the movie — an entirely different conversation — but of the situation. Searchlight bought an underdog movie at Sundance, a big move for a big movie, one with an important message as well as explosive new talent, both on the screen and behind the camera. But Nate Parker is now toxic.

This is not Woody Allen, accused but not prosecuted over allegations of something horrible after a long, hugely successful career. This is not Roman Polanski, who was an established star director, a victim of many losses throughout his lifetime, and almost immediately the beneficiary of a cultural variable as he continued to date women under 16 years of age once he relocated to France. But we are beyond arguments over simple details.

Both the best and the worst of the history and how the story is being covered is in the Daily Beast piece on Parker and his writing partner, Jean Celestin, who was also accused of (and prosecuted for) rape. Journalists Kate Briquelet and M.L. Nestel went through public documents on the accusations and subsequent criminal and civil cases, and did a pretty good job of synthesizing a narrative. On the other hand, they do a lot of spinning, enough to turn facts into factoids.

The piece opens with “It was no simple wave,” referring, as the story spins, to the exalted post-premiere moments at Sundance for The Birth of A Nation, as Nate Parker signaled for Jean Celestin to come on stage. And in a lovely piece of fictional artistry, seven paragraphs later, the writers put thoughts in Celestin’s mind, suggesting a connection to Parker waving his pal Celestin into the bedroom, it is inferred, to rape a drunk, near-unconscious woman seventeen years earlier at Penn State.

That would be okay for a prosecutor giving a closing argument, once the facts have been presented. For alleged journalism? Bullshit. If the writers and their editors believe in the guilt of these men, fine… but as journalism, it is unacceptable to lay out a list of facts purporting to be seamlessly connected when they simply are not.

My objection to the journalism here is not a defense of Parker or Celestin. But the problem of how the media leads us into these conversations is real. It’s written in the way a friend tells another friend a story… subjective. But also makes claims, in style and form, to be journalism… objective. Not okay. Some smart people I know have bought this as great journalism because it is excellent emotional writing, loaded with facts and semi-facts and judgments. But it is not good journalism. It’s just good writing. It’s storytelling, but is it the story?

Briquelet and Nestel pored over the transcripts and attempted to get down to a proper accounted. They only interviewed a couple people for the piece. But there is value in the facts… even if the presentation is profoundly flawed.

What actually happened?

This college freshman got very, very drunk, went to the apartment of two 19-year-olds, one of whom she testified that she had oral sex with the day before. A third guy was there,but didn’t go into the bedroom. She ended up having sex and/or oral sex with the roommates, but she had no clear recollection of having sex with either, or much of anything else that happened.

She woke up alone, feeling she had been raped. But at some point soon after, she testified, Nate Parker gave her a cigarette. She smoked it. There was consensual sex. And she went to sleep. “The entire night before was a blur, she claimed,” narrates the Daily Beast cut-and-paste.

When she next woke, she testified that she was in a lot of pain.

“I said I just didn’t appreciate men sleeping with a woman when she is passed out,” the woman testified.

I believe her testimony from the key pieces here. One-hundred percent.

She may have been conscious enough to seem to be present to Mr. Parker. But most of us know what it is like to be drunk and only half there (or an eighth or a sixteenth), in and out of awareness. I believe that these guys – both of them – did the wrong thing and took advantage of her.

Honestly, I can’t find an excuse for Nate Parker… neither for him having sex with a partner who had been consensual just the day before, but who was now drunk to the point she could not consent. But even more inexcusable was him choosing that moment to bring another person in the sexual act.

But now, the big question. Seventeen years later, can he be forgiven for this sin?

By some, yes. By some, no.

But the narrative behind this film was meant to be the arrival of a 37-year-old actor-writer-director at the end of a seven-year journey… breakthrough… important subject… important film… celebrate. And now, this is impossible.

Did I say “impossible?” Yeah. Impossible.

Fox Searchlight is one of the smartest distributors in the game. But they blew this one. They had six months to package this story in the best light possible, to get it investigated and reported by some significant journalist who would set the standard for discourse. But instead – and it is so dumb that I tend to think that Searchlight was not behind the choice, but that inexperienced Nate Parker was – a couple of interviews with Penske outlets, one co-written by a worn-out former NYT reporter and the other by a gossip columnist/editor who often gets the story wrong.

Not only did these outlets walk the line between cover-up and gossip attack, but they began a feeding frenzy to which Searchlight could not respond. When you go out with something like this to, say, ten outlets, you have a chance to find some balance. But when you start with two, and no one trusts the spin contained in what they have read, everyone wants a piece for themselves. And you can’t have Nate Parker doing 30 interviews about being an alleged rapist.

If they went to, say, Cara Buckley, and put it all on the table, there was the chance that the New York Times would bury the film and the filmmaker with a single article. But if the piece was not damning, everyone else chasing after would be manageable.

Of course, the deadliest blow was not the mediocre interviews, but the story of the suicide of the alleged victim, as told by her surviving brother. Only hours after the first wave.

Game over.

You can try to talk your way out of that first wave… but when the “surprise” suicide landed – of course, hungrily lapped up by the same outlets who wouldn’t offer clarity on the terms behind their “exclusive” interviews – then you were withholding… even if you claim you didn’t know… even if you didn’t know… perhaps especially if you didn’t know.

What did Fox Searchlight know and when did they know it?

I don’t think we will know that for a while. But that doesn’t matter anymore.

Move along. Nothing to see here.

If I were in Nate Parker’s shoes, I would go away until after next year’s Oscars. Just get away from it all. Then do a serious piece with a serious media outlet offering sincere self-flagellation.

And then, perhaps, a slow recovery is possible.

But put the movie away. Take the award season away. Don’t go to the festivals.

No one can ever win the argument about why a date rape that seems like it might have led to a suicide is okay. No one is well served by being their own lawyer (or publicist). No one can ever be sorry enough to regain the high ground when a story like this comes to light. At least, not with enough people to make for a successful film release.

And with so much of this story being so sad and cruel and unfair in so many ways to so many… that’s probably a good thing.

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UPDATED TOP 10 BEST PICTURE GUESSES
Allied
Arrival
Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk
Fences
La La Land
Lion
Loving
Manchester by the Sea
Moonlight
Snowden

As noted before… these are not locked… if I could write in pencil on the web, I would. I could give you another list next week.