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20 Weeks To Oscar: 4 Days Away…

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2017

There isn’t a lot more to write about this Oscar season.

It wasn’t complex. It wasn’t full of surprises. And nothing in its nature has suggested any real change at The Academy or inside The Industry.

The Academy is still old and white. Young people still tend to spark what changes about the industry. But the process of “becoming” for non-actors tends not to be an overnight event.

Of the 5 Best Director nominees, only one, Mel Gibson, has been nominated before and not surprisingly, he is the oldest at 61. (He also just had a new child born into the world.) But the first time he was nominated as director, production started when he was 39.

Ken Lonergan is second-oldest at 54, finally getting his first nod for something other than writing, with his third feature film. The process began (production on his first feature as writer-director) when he was 37.

Denis Villeneuve, now 49, had been directing Québecois features for 12 years, from the age of 30, before he was drawn into Hollywood after Incendies, his 2010 Foreign Language nominee. In the 7 years since, he has made five English-language features, the fifth of which will be released in October.

Barry Jenkins made a splash at the Indie Spirits, but nowhere else with Medicine for Melancholy at 29 ($111,551 at the box office). Eight years later, he is back with Moonlight, having done many things, but no feature over those years.

Damien Chazelle is the “baby” of the group at 32, with his Oscar nomination for director coming with just his third feature… without the 8-year delay. But there was a 7-year production delay between Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench, the feature that was the foundation for La La Land. Interestingly, Chazelle also made a short of Whiplash before succeeding dramatically with the feature film just a year later. I’m guessing that we won’t see any more shorts that lead to features in Chazelle’s career.

Twenty-nine years is the difference between the oldest and the youngest… that is pretty much what The Academy looks like. There have only been 6 Best Director nominees under 30 in the history of The Academy… only one in the 25 years since 1992 (M. Night Shyamalan). There have been 5 directing nominations for directors over 70 in that same period… 3 for Eastwood, and 1 each for Woody Allen and Robert Altman. So that’s the extreme.

But basically, The Academy begins in middle age. And this makes sense. The premise of the organization, whether you feel it fulfills this or not, is that it is a group of people who have delivered a level of achievement. As exciting as youth can be, that tends to lead to maturity.

If you want an awards group that will embrace what younger people embrace (35 and under), look elsewhere. You don’t have to insult the Academy membership. It just makes sense. It is not a young, hip room… by definition.

Race? Not a surprise either.

I’ve done a very broad look at “movies of color,” either focused on a story about people of color of starring a key movie star of color that have grossed over $30 million domestic in the last decade. I count 72 in the last decade… just 7.2 a year. (I am fine with people questioning the methodology. There are titles – like The Blind Side or Invictus – that could be argued. But the number is not wildly off.)

Nine of the 72 are Tyler Perry movies. Eight are Denzel movies (including The Great Debaters, which he directed, but didn’t star in). Six are Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson movies that aren’t Fast or Furious. Five are Will Smith movies. Four are Fast & Furious movies. Thirteen are outright comedies that are in none of the previously mentioned categories.

That’s 45 of 72.

From the pre-qualified categories, what were at-all-realistic Oscar BP contenders? American Gangster, Seven Pounds, The Great Debaters, Flight, Fences. Four Denzel movies and a Will Smith.

Only one BP nominee from that group came to pass.

What does that leave that could be considered Oscar possibles?

The Secret Lives of Bees, Doubt, The Blind Side, Invictus, The Help, Django Unchained, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Lee Daniels’ The Butler, 42, 12 Years A Slave, Selma, Get On Up, Straight Outta Compton, Creed, and Hidden Figures. 15 titles.

Five of these 15 titles were nominated. I can understand if you want to kick Help and/or Django to the curb as “not really black movies.” But it’s still a good rate of nomination.

Of course, not every Oscar movie grosses $30 million. 17 BP nominees in the last decade have grossed less than $30m domestic. Under that box office bar, three Best Picture nominees of color have passed: Moonlight, Lion (Indian), and Beasts of the Southern Wild.

Either way, this is not an argument about prejudice. But the facts point to a lack of Oscar-friendly films “of color” more than racial bias (which exists in some ways) in The Academy.

Women? Six films directed by women have been nominated for Best Picture in the last decade (of 78 films nominated for Best Picture). Only one nomination was bestowed upon the female director of those films. Kathryn Bigelow and The Hurt Locker.

I hate pain comparisons, but 5 films directed by black people were nominated for Best Picture in the last decade. And there were 3 nominations for black directors out of those 5. (Denzel and Ava DuVernay were left out.)

There were an additional five films with black leads or themes nominated for Best Picture and directed by white men in that same 10 years. From this group, only Benh Zeitlin got a nomination.

Of course, women represent more than half the population and America is about 13% black, so put that in your calculation.

On the other hand, the industry overall had a lot more movies every year generating $30 million or more that are about or are fronted by women. About 25% of $30m+-grossing films released in 2016 had female leads. Four of the nine Best Picture nominees this season have a female actor as a lead.

But almost none of them were directed by women.

I have nothing against Christian Ditter. Don’t know him. Don’t know much about him. I do know, however, that he didn’t write How To Be Single… didn’t come up with How To Be Single… and Ditter, the director of one previous English-language film that barely got released, was not critical to the success or failure of that film. This is the kind of slot that could easily have been filled at New Line/WB by a female director… one of the scores of them who have made smaller films and TV (as Ditter had) in America (unlike Ditter).

Was Thea Sharrock that hard to swallow as director or the hit, Me Before You?

Some of these low budget, studio-released horror films couldn’t have a woman at the helm?

I understand that most of the films, for women or otherwise, are birthed by male directors who came along at some point and fell in love. Yes. Of course, men were the ones put in position to fall in love and make themselves seem irreplaceable. But there are a lot of programmers out there. Be honest.

Universal is taking a big leap with a franchise title by hiring Trish Sie, with just one feature under her belt, for a franchise film, Pitch Perfect 3. But hey… Jason Moore was a first-time feature director with the first of the series. Elizabeth Banks was a first-time feature director with the second of the series. Geez… Trish Sie is positively overqualified by the successful standard for this franchise.

So. Ageism, racism, and sexism. Which is the biggest problem at The Academy? In Hollywood?

Measuring and comparing is a fool’s errand (which I guess makes me a bit of a fool today). They are all a problem.

And I don’t think The Academy should get a free pass on these issues.

But I believe there is real danger in the target moving endlessly. I don’t think there are many people who don’t want things to improve for women, POC, and elders. But there needs to be a way to find demands/expectations that can be consistently applied. Because when everything is a trigger, nothing gets triggered.

Enjoy the La La Land win. Pray that Jimmy Kimmel is at his very best and we don’t get a load of smirky insider boy humor between him and a dozen actors he has cultivated over the last decade. And love the movies.

See you on the other side…

The Film Industry Sky Continues Not To Fall

Monday, February 20th, 2017

God bless the entertainment media. It loves living in the bubble where we believe the spin that each executive, agent, and publicizer tells us in their own interest.

I have nothing against these people personally, but it is the job of the media to look past its navel. When executives are in a job for 12 or 15 or 15-16 years or 18 years as Brad Grey, Jim Gianopulos, Amy Pascal and Ron Meyer have been in the major exit formation of the last two years, the idea that “these days, a studio chief is lucky to get to bat” is just a punch line for a joke about self-delusion.

(The pull quote is from Stephen Galloway’s often bizarre piece, “Galloway on Film: Brad Grey’s Paramount Exit and Studios in Turmoil.”)

Even the question about whether Kevin Tsujihara is long for his job is three years into the role with a lot of road already traveled and a studio that is expected to be sold to AT&T before his fifth anniversary in the job.

And before we get all “it’s not that way at Disney,” as things are all platinum over there, let us recall the years of turmoil under Iger before the current strategy of massive acquisitions and all-IP all-the-time finally took hold. 2005-2009 Dick Cook. 2006-2010. 2010 – 2012 Rich Ross. And don’t forget Peter Schneider and Oren Aviv in the production chief slot. Sean Bailey and Alan Horn have since become the stable base of the film division. But only after years of flailing about.

Galloway references the “good ol’ days” of the studio system when the heads of the studios were the owners of the studios… as if that circumstance has been remotely relevant since the old studio system died in the late 1960s, nearly 50 years ago.

The fact of the matter is that the tenures at the four studios in play right now were all remarkably long, not remarkably brief… or brief in any way.

And if the last time you felt this kind of intense movement going on in this town was when Frank Wells died in 1994 (which affected only one studio, really), you have been asleep.

How many times was Universal sold since 1994? (Rhetorical, but the answer is five… Six  since 1990.)

Remember MGM? When they were really in the movie business in the late 90s/early 2000s… gearing up for Kerkorian to sell the asset one last time?

And that time in 2000 when Bill Mechanic got fired just before X-Men opened, within three years of Titanic, There’s Something About Mary, Star Wars: Episode 1, Fight Club, and, yeah, Big Momma’s House?

In the last 50 years, the film industry has undergone massive upheavals. The end of the studio system as it was known, corporate ownership, distribution shifting to wider and wider releases, VHS rentals, cable television, DVD sell-thru, multi-plexing, mega-plexing, satellite, internet, DVD by mail, streaming, the internationalization of box office, and many more categories and sub-categories. The movie theaters almost all went bankrupt, many of the chains twice in this period.

1984 – Murdoch buys Fox. Eisner takes over at Disney.
1989 – Sony buys Columbia. Warner Bros and Time merge.
1990 – Universal/Matsushita. MGM/Parretti.
1994 – Redstone buys Paramount. DreamWorks SKG is born.
1996 – Kerkorian gets MGM back
1999 – Universal/Seagram
2000 – Universal/Vivendi
2004 – Universal/GE.
2005 – Iger takes over from Eisner at Disney. MGM sold by Kerkorian last time
2011 – Universal/Comcast

And let’s not forget Warner Independent, multiple realignments at Focus, Miramax under the Weinsteins at Disney, Miramax after the Weinsteins at Disney, Miramax sold by Disney, Summit pre-merger, Paramount Classics, Paramount Vantage, USA Films, Artisan, New Line, Fine Line, Newmarket, Rogue, ThinkFilm, Picturehouse, Overture, and soon to be on the remnant bin, Relativity… am I missing anyone?

Brad Grey was, for years, the guy who had a real effect on the upper echelons of other studios as he tried and failed to get a top-tier exec to run production at Paramount. Job titles, divisions built and folded, and massive raises were the order of the period at four other studios. Meanwhile, Gail Berman and John Lesher got the crap kicked out of them in public after failing in a job neither was either suited to or given a chance to succeed with.

Grey did NOT do “well to last as long as he did.” He has never been anything less than a disaster for Paramount. Not everything he did or touched was a disaster. But you can’t point to a single year since he took over that was building to anything… at least not anything that was really a part of the studio, so the DreamWorks successes count only as very expensive, temporary illusions. Paramount has never recovered from when Geffen pulled the wool over Grey’s eyes and made the DreamWorks deal with the studio.

Don’t get me wrong. Philippe Dauman was an even bigger drag on that studio since he came on board, pretty much guaranteeing future failure by aggressively seeking to maintain status quo rather than building, the same pattern as Grey but with very different motivations.

But don’t tell me (or anyone else) that these guys were victims of the circumstances of the industry. That is some epic lame excuse-making.

Turmoil is not new. It is not shocking. And it is not something to which studios do not adjust a lot quicker than those of us who cover them. How many years has it been, already, since all the majors adjusted down the price tag on comedies and drama to reflect the revenues that stopped coming from DVDs? As it was happening, journalists reported that the sky was falling because the agents who were suddenly unable to get the insane numbers out of the studios that they had been getting were squealing like stuck pigs. But things changed and the media still hasn’t quite caught up. They got distracted by Netflix instead.

“For now, it’s all murky. The future is hidden, the present hard to understand.” Galloway writes. If he believes that, it is a good thing he is not a top executive, because it would get him fired for cause.

Running a studio is a series of choices based on circumstances. The results are a combination of good choices, bad choices and fate… a lot of fate.

But a proper owner of a studio shouldn’t be basing the measure of a studio head on any one choice… or any single year, for that matter. There are chiefs whose studios have great years and should be fired and chiefs who lose a fortune on a movie or two and are absolutely the best thing for the future of the studio. There is no formula that can be qualified by a calculator (unless pockets are shallow enough that a year of failure is the end of the journey for the studio).

It’s not all murky. You are doing the job. Universal had its most profitable year as a studio in 2014 with no tentpole movies. Then it broke that record a year later with a group of tentpoles. There are different ways of doing things, different strategies, and different results at the bottom line than in the open view of the public (and media).

The financial disaster of Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk is undeniable. But Tom Rothman was not running Sony Pictures at the time it was made. He was running a division with a different mandate. Look at the line-up of films this year. Aside from Spider-Man Homecoming, there is not one $100 million production on the slate, except perhaps Jumanji. There are only a few over $50 million. That is, generally, what a Tom Rothman studio looks like, love him or hate him. That is why he got hired. He may get lucky, hit a mine, and make a fortune. But he is not going to bury your studio in big losses regardless. He’s not in the game Disney is in and he will not go that way. Nothing murky about it.

Fox under Stacey Snider? Perhaps riskier than Rothman. She will be better liked. We’re a year away from knowing what her studio will really look like and how much it will look like her run at Universal or if there are other plans. There are seven untitled Fox films slotted into 2018, three of them Marvel. What she makes of the new X-Men may well define her tenure at Fox. But I would bet on a lot of interesting stuff coming by then that isn’t so expensive. But murky? Nah. You don’t get that job by being murky.

Warner Bros is a bit murky because the films have been kinda murky over the last 18 months. Has nothing to do with questions about how the industry will move forward.

Universal is stable enough to bounce a quarter off of. With as much turmoil as the studio has had in ownership, it is now the second most stable in the top production job. Two franchise movies this year (F&F #8 and Despicable 3) and a wannabe reboot with The Mummy. Lots of mid-range offerings, including Pitch Perfect 3. Nothing murky there. 2018 looks a bit like a rewrite of 2015… as planned.

Disney is, obviously, riding high… doing as it pleases… no murk in sight.

And Paramount is the mess that Brad Grey made. Not enough movies. Not enough exec muscle. Not the proper backing from Dauman. Studio in massive transition.

So… Paramount and to a lesser degree, WB are “murky.” Sony and Fox are in planned transitions. And Universal and Disney are full steam ahead.

Yeah… the post-theatrical revenue stream is unclear at the moment. Too many ideas and not enough will to make real change in a hurry.

Yeah… everybody wants the seemingly guaranteed IP of Disney… but only Disney can have it… so not a realistic question.

Yeah… we don’t see the next generation of leadership chomping at the bit from here on the outside. Studios keep recycling the same old talent, all of whom come with baggage or they would still have their old jobs. But that is a very specific, unmurky problem. A lot of people who would be top execs have decided there is more money and freedom in producing. Being in charge of a studio owned by a corporation isn’t as much fun as reporting to a guy with a big cigar.

Still, all over this town, people are doing their jobs. They are working years ahead of what we will see in the theaters. Second guessing remains a deadly preoccupation.

Winners win, to every field. What happens with post-theatrical revenue or new formats, etc… not really the difference between winning and losing.

It’s the movies, stupid.

4-Day Estimates by President’s Day Klady

Monday, February 20th, 2017

4 day est 2017-02-20 at 11.00.45 AM

BYOB Oscar Week

Sunday, February 19th, 2017

byoboscarweek650

Weekend Estimates by February Blahs Klady

Sunday, February 19th, 2017

Weekend Estimates 219 9-45a 651w

Lego Batman stepped up a bit from Friday estimates, but it’s fallen even further behind The Lego Movie in that comparison. Odd, but that is the nature of a phenom like the first Lego film.

Fifty Shades Darker didn’t have a drop-off in the 60s, but that is more a function of where it started than its support. It dropped (slightly) more than the second weekend of Ghostbusters did last summer after the two films had $46m openings. That said, Darker does have a strong enough base that it will (obviously) be over $100 million domestic and it is reporting $187m international already. So it is already pretty close to profit in theatrical, even with marketing costs. Expect a tighter, more publicity-heavy campaign for the final film of the trio, with a cut in marketing spending to maximize profitability for an already sold and clearly defined audience, a la Twilight.

The Great Wall did mediocre business. Not an outright disaster. Not the success that some are “reporting” based on Chinese grosses. The film will lose a nice chunk of money for Wanda. But not enough to matter.

John Wick: Chapter 2 dropped almost the same amount as weekend two of the original, though from a much higher launch. So it is well past the original’s gross ($43m) already and has a good chance of passing the worldwide gross of the original with domestic alone ($89m). The movie likely cost twice as much, based on the very cheap first film, but still, nicely profitable and see you at the Wick 3 opening next summer. (Will they get Sandy Bullock for that one?)

Speaking of profitable and Lionsgate, La La Land is looking like the most profitable non-franchise film ever for the indie studio that is married to Summit. It will end up the sixth-highest grossing film (domestic and worldwide) for the distributor, topped only by Twilight and Hunger Games films. The only other LGF films within box office range, the Divergent series and Expendables, were a lot more expensive.

Hidden Figures is a huge hit for Fox as well. Domestically, it is one of the studio’s 5 biggest grossers of the last three years, including two DreamWorks Animation films (which shouldn’t really count, as Fox only distributes).

Moonlight is not likely to catch up to The Witch or Ex Machina domestically for A24’s all-time best grosser, but at just $4 million behind, it has been an enormous success.

And don’t forget that Manchester By The Sea has more than doubled the gross of any film previously released by Roadside Attractions, with $46m. It is also a giant leap for Amazon Studios, the company that owns distribution rights, more than tripling their previous highest grosser, Love & Friendship. Given the amount of cash Amazon has, I would say that buying Roadside outright for some scores of million and letting the current team run all their theatrical distribution (with Bob Berney as a top-paid consultant) and to have a 5 film release line-up of their own choosing each year would be a win for both sides.

Fist Fight seemed like an easy sell. Ice Cube opens. Charlie Day is a popular supporting comedian. Kinda funny premise. But something went wrong on the way to the multiplex and only Lottery Ticket opened worse for a movie starring Ice Cube in the last decade. My theory is that the pitch was surprisingly unclear. We all got that Ice Cube wants to kick Charlie Day’s butt. But why? Does it make sense? What is the movie? Clearing up a misunderstanding? Day’s character becoming Rocky? What’s funny about Cube’s rage? The ads focus on a few jokes, but leave one wondering what the hell the movie is? And even if they wanted to sell something the movie is not, they needed more clarity.

A Cure For Wellness was aggressively unclear. I am a Dane DeHaan fan, but he isn’t Johnny Depp. You have to sell the movie, whatever the hell it is. I don’t think the new regime at Fox was too interested in killing themselves to save this one. Stacey Snider was at DreamWorks, but not for the Gore Verbinski era there. I believe Verbinski is massively talented. But if he wants to become “the Pirates king” again, he needs some better IP. James Mangold’s Logan is exactly the kind of movie he could kill for Fox or another studio. A real studio budget… but not a crazy one. Pushing expectations. Getting back to making things work when you don’t have every option on earth for the world’s most dramatic stunts or images.

Todos Queremos A Alguien is another Lionsgate effort to crack the Spanish-language market in America. Bless them for that. Highly under-served. 353 screens. Modest success. (Also known as Everybody Loves Somebody.)

2017 Oscar Shorts has become a nice annual event for Shorts International and Magnolia. $1.6 million for a shorts program is nothing to sneeze at. I don’t know how much of this money gets back to the filmmakers, but that could be nice too.

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Friday Estimates by Still Lego’d Len

Saturday, February 18th, 2017

Friday Estimats 218 9a

Slow-fading IP and soft originals define this box office weekend. The Lego Batman Movie will be a modest success, degree depending on international. But it’s already 20% or so off of The Lego Movie and that is with Batman, a character that almost always wins. Estimates of what The Ninjago Movie might do should probably be revised well below $100 million. That may cause a push at WB to push the recently pushed back Lego Movie sequel to a closer date again.

Fifty Shades Darker is not a disaster, financially. But domestically, it is a gray shadow of the original and the promise of the franchise. Some Big international markets seem sure to be off by significant percentages as well. Film #3 is already shot and really, there is nothing to be done to fix what is wrong here. So expect lower numbers the third time, but again, not to the point of not being profitable.

The Great Wall didn’t die… but is not strong. Matt Damon’s brand gets a boost from this opening at all.

Ice Cube is looking at his worst opening in over a decade with Fist Fight. The only one nearly as soft was Lottery Ticket, which was a non-spin-off spin-off of the Barbershop brand, but at WB, where selling to the “urban” audience is not generally a strength. I have to say, I was the target audience for this movie… but I’m not sure anyone selling it knew that.

A Cure For Wellness openly sickly. Fox spent on it. But you didn’t really get the sense they were all in on this one. Perhaps they should have pushed it into August, after Valerian, hoping that release established a commercial branding of Dane DeHaan, which it might. (He’s great… but not an opener.)

No $10k per-screen openers on the limited/exclusive scene this weekend.

Weekend Estimates by Leggo My Whip-O Klady

Sunday, February 12th, 2017

weekend estimates 021217 9-34a

So I gave too much respect to Fifty Shades Darker. The Friday number, with its hardcore must see-ers, was the anomaly. This one dropped like a stone the rest of the weekend. Off 45% from the first film in the series. If that translates to the entire run, $90m domestic is the target and the international… who knows? 45% international off would be $222 million, about $310 worldwide. Still profitable. But no one at the studio will be thrilled with the energy needed to launch the third next year. As long as the international holds – and it could hold much better than domestic – there will be profits. But pushing out the third in a series when you know your once-big-hit will do $70 million max domestic is a cranky activity.

The Lego Batman Movie delivered on its Friday launch as one would expect from a family film… but will it pace Moana and Sing and The Lego Movie? Lego opened significantly better. But it found a legit adult audience. and was less about the kids. There are benefits both ways. And looking at the Ninjago trailer, the best long-view chance for the franchise is young kids, not adults. So this may be a good sign for WB.

John Wick: Chapter Two flexed more muscle than expected and becomes a more realistic opportunity to get to $100m domestic. That may become overstatement by this time next weekend. But $29.4 million puts Wick 2 in the top tier of Lionsgate openers, behind only franchises that were always meant to be franchises. So take the win.

Hidden Figures just keeps going. Now it looks like $150m is the domestic minimum and $175m is realistic. La La Land is coming back to earth more quickly, but still a remarkable run and it should be near $140 million when it wins Best Picture. The Weinstein Company is being cautious with Lion, but doing nicely, holding well and passing $30 million. Arrival will have passed $100 million domestic by this time next weekend. Manchester by the Sea remains solid. And Moonlight passed the $20m barrier this weekend.

The only $10k+ weekends in limited/exclusive were A United Kingdom from Searchlight on four and Kedi from Oscilloscope on one.

I’m Not Your Negro is doing strong doc business, though the real box office surprise for docs this award season is The Eagle Huntress, which has done $3 million.

20 Weeks To Oscar: Cash & Carrying Gold

Saturday, February 11th, 2017

Let’s start with a chart…

oscarb bp list ww feb 11

 

 

That’s what the Best Picture race looks like at the box office today.

And here is a key stat about winning Best Picture: Since the expansion to 5+ Best Picture nominees, no film that has won Best Picture has been better than #3 on the list of domestic box office grossers amongst the nominees. Another chart…

oscar gross ranks bp since exp

La La Land was the #2 domestic grosser when nominated and is currently the #2 domestic grosser post-nominations. Internationally, it will the #1 in this group, and pulling further away, now and in future.

So… a La La Land win would break new ground, in terms of relative box office, for the expanded Oscar Best Picture era.

And for those of you who are praying for Moonlight to win, it, too, would break new ground, not only in the expanded era, but before as well. Going back 40 years, no film with the lowest domestic gross amongst the nominees has won Best Picture. The lowest-grossing film to win Best Picture in the same 40 years span was The Hurt Locker, with $14.7m before the win, which still had two nominees behind it on the gross list. Second lowest was Birdman, which was still Top 5 in its group with $37.8 million before the win. Moonlight is currently at $19.8 million. So it’s more than The Hurt Locker, but about half of Birdman at this point in the season and last amongst BP nominees, which has no chance of changing without a win.

La La is not in the middle of the pack. If you were looking for that, Manchester by the Sea would be your stalking horse.

Starting in 2005/06, with Crash, we have seen 7 Best Picture winners (of 12) that have grossed under $75m domestic even after winning. and 5 of the 7 winners since the BP expansion have grossed under $75m domestic all in. This is a major change in how The Academy sees the status of its winner. They may not be color blind, but they are much more money blind.

Argo is the only $100m domestic grosser to win in the expanded BP era.

Still… whatever film you are rooting for, La La Land fits the more classic Oscar mold, in terms of money. Thanks to the great success of Hidden Figures, La La Land is not the #1 domestic nominee. The Departed was the last film that was #1 grosser when it won… Slumdog Millionaire became the #1 in its group of nominees after it won, banking a record $43m domestic after winning (though $30m+ grosses after winning were not always so rare).

I have been throwing out this stat for years, but in the 30 years of Oscar before the expansion of BP nominees, only three times was the winner not one of the two highest grossers. Two of those times, it was the #3. The other example, it was #4. But 27 of 30 times, it was one of the Top 2. That is modern Academy thinking. That has changed.

But if La La Land wins, which I still expect it to, it will be a expanded-BP/post-modern Academy anomaly. And that is, after all, the natural fate for statistics meant to measure the vagaries of the heart.

Friday Estimates by Lego Klady Dark w/ Almonds

Saturday, February 11th, 2017

Friday Estimates 651 2017-02-11 at 8.37.31 AM copy

-30%. -16%. +100%.

This would be as good a weekend as any to see the future of the IP-obsessed trend in Hollywood. Those who want to believe things are great with remaking everything will point out that all three of these movies will make money in the end. And that is true. Those who are more circumspect will note that even with down opening days, it is unlikely that either of the first two sequels will enjoy a 3-day multiple as good as the original and that the third cost at least double what the original cost. And someone who hates the IP trend will note that… well, they will stew, as 2 of the 3 got great reviews and the third will make up for domestic losses overseas.

The bigger question is… will studios burn their own houses down relying on ever-weakening over-used IP before the trend ends and they move back into a more moderate posture? Or will they get so desperate to make the trend work that they day-n-date their own industry beyond the point of recovery?

In some ways, just being off 30% should be a relief to Universal and Team 50 Shades. Tracking, at one point, had the second of three (so far) dropping 50% or more. I expect this launch to get worse today, not better. Still, if $55m is the 3-day, Universal would have taken that the first time and they won’t die from it this time. This is also one of those cases where international is dominant, having done 2.4x what domestic did the first time around. So even if this one drops hard and ends up at $110m domestic, international is sure to be $250m at a minimum. Even with an increased budget, $360m is a success for everyone involved… just not as much of a success. And it could well be higher than that. And if the third film drops to $250m worldwide… still making money… not a ton at that point… but making money. It is a truly hideous movie. Everyone involved should be embarrassed. But everyone also gets a new house or two or five.

The Lego Batman Movie is not an underdog. So the drop in the opening, which I think WB anticipated in recent weeks based on how hard the push got, is disappointing. Don’t let anyone tell you differently. Batman is the King of IP Cash. Iron Man may seem to be kind of the hill right now, but when Downey stops wearing the suit, whoever follows will fall back in line behind Batman. And when WB decided to make a Batman Lego film the next in what they hope will be an annual series from now until forever, they were clearly intending to boost the franchise into its future, not to stay just below even from the phenom of the original. But it didn’t.

Lego Batman is going to make a lot of money (gross and profit). $300m worldwide is pretty much guaranteed. But it is also going to bring the fantasy of the Lego cash cow back down to earth. Even with great reviews, the “you have to see this… I know you think it’s for kids, but it’s for everyone” phenomenon of the first film is not going to keep getting extended to a bunch of Lego movies. Sorry. Just not. I suspect that this film will be the peak of the Lego franchise, aside from the first theatrical Lego movie. (Worth noting that there is a metric ton of Lego “movies” on streaming, cable, and in video games, so the novelty of active Lego characters isn’t really there for kids either.) Assuming the September Ninjago movie is terrific, I would expect it to do half of whatever Batman Lego does… and then, some panic will set in, as it has on Fantastic Beasts.

John Wick: Chapter 2 is a sequel to a modest hit that has become a cult-y favorite since the original’s release 2.3 years ago. This opening doubles the opening of the original, which is great for them. It still leads to a modest success, well under $200m worldwide, unless it really takes off overseas in some unexpected way. And it might.

Paramount looks like it will have a solid year to come, but the winter campaign has been surprisingly disastrous. They may actually lose money on Rings, though they might also break even sometime late this year in post-theatrical… but just barely. They will be upside down on xXx: The Return of Xander Cage. They already took the writedown on Monster Trucks. Silence is barely on their spread sheets, but will still lose a little for the studio. And Allied will bleed red. Fences looks like breakeven will be a happy ending. Arrival is the one financial bright spot… but it is not quite as bright as expected.

They have Ghost in the Shell (aka Scarlett Painted White & Rendered Even More Flawless), Baywatch, and Transformers V… 3 purely commercial vehicles coming down the pike. The whole line-up until next fall. I truly hope they hit them out of the park. I worry that there isn’t a single middle movie for 10 months, which could be a surprise hit. All 3 of these films need to be major hits to get credit for being hits at all. And that is a heavy burden to carry.

Compare this to Sony, which is also fighting uphill right now. 8 releases before next fall, only 1 of which, Spider-Man Homecoming, needs to gross huge numbers to be seen as a success. They are still swinging for the fences with Life and The Dark Tower, but not on insane budgets. And the hopefuls include a Scarlett Johansson comedy, an Edgar Wright comedy, and Danny Boyle’s return to Trainspotting with the full crew intact, plus two Sony Animation films, which won’t be expected to do Disney numbers. It could be that nothing surprises joyfully. But if Spidey does great – which I think it will – and 1 or 2 of the others breaks out, Sony is back on its feet.

On the other hand, if Paramount runs the table with 3 movies and does over $2 billion worldwide with them, they too are going to be seen as being back on their feet.

Nice roll-out on 4 for A United Kingdom, with $4500 per screen on Friday. Duckweed, a $90m comedy hit in China arrives on 27 screens here and is performing modestly.

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50 Shades Of BYOBlog

Thursday, February 9th, 2017

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Weekend Estimates by 3rd Weekend Personality Klady

Sunday, February 5th, 2017

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Super Bowl eats Sunday at the box office. Rings falls like a stone, allowing Split to rise to the top again, though the Split estimate seems a little high. Both Hidden Figures and La La Land estimate with an eye to being Sunday counter-programming. Again, finals may vary. And The Space Between Us finds too much space in theaters. And I Am Not Your Negro dominates in limited (45 screens), more than doubling any other film’s per-screen for the weekend.

Covered most of this weekend yesterday.

Split passes $100m domestic before next Friday. Becomes Jason Blum’s #1 all-time domestic grosser next weekend.

Sony made a point of sending out international numbers on Resident Evil: The Final Chapter, which has already done almost $95m internationally to its soft numbers here at home.

Likewise, xXx: The Return of Xander Cage is chasing worldwide breakeven with $112m international in the bank and just under $40m at home.

Rogue One, by the way, is just over $1 billion thanks to China’s $69 million… which is really like $35 million in juxtaposition to the returns in other international markets… but still, just over a billion. Anyone who claims Disney didn’t expect to get to this number is living in a fantasy. But anyone who assumes they expected a lot more is equally (more, really) deluded. The film performed almost exactly as expected.

The only Oscar bump in play is with smaller movies, like The Saleman, Toni Erdmann, The Red Turtle, and I Am Not Your Negro, which is not the frontrunner for Best Documentary, but may make Team OJ chafe a little.

Lion expanded to 1405 screens from 575 and did modestly well, but most of the bump for Best Picture movies in wider release is just slower droppage.

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Friday Estimates by Super Klady’s Bowls

Saturday, February 4th, 2017

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The Ring, which was a DreamWorks property converted from the Asian horror films, embodies the entire cycle of too much of current box office. The first film was an underdog that opened decently, but then grew very long legs, grossing $1m or more for 9 weeks. As a comparison, last year’s only horror film to gross $100m domestic, The Conjuring 2, had five such weeks. The Ring launched a craze on the film world, as Asian remakes appealing in particular to young women, and then domestic horror appealing to young women was a huge trend for a number of years.

The Ring 2 opened huge ($35m) by 2005 standards, #15 for the year. Then, unlike its predecessor’s 8.6 times opening weekend, it did 2.2X opening. And with that (and The Grudge 2), the heat was off and no Asian horror remake has since grossed more than $40 million domestic.

And now, Rings is a reboot of a dormant franchise, 12 years from its last incarnation, riding the tide of studios mining ancient IP. This one will do okay, having kept its budget in line with the market, though one wonders why they didn’t cut this budget in half and give it the Jason Blum treatment. If you look at the list of high-end producers on the film, that may explain the problem… they may have made it for something like Jason Blum money and still ended up with a $25m reported budget. That is a given cost of rebooting successful, older IP. Paramount particularly carries this weight with DreamWorks rights.

Anyway… Rings will probably make a little money when all is said and done. Not a flop. Not a smash. Grist for the mill.

Split, which will end up being #2 for the weekend, is more than that. Original production. Cheap. Big grosses. Cash cow. Looking forward to Splitter. (Just kidding… haven’t even seen this one… in no rush… but McAvoy looks like he is having great fun.)

Hidden Figures remains muscular, as I suspected it would be back in September, when at the Toronto event. It will pass the Oscar Best Picture frontrunner, La La Land, either this weekend (Super Bowl sluggish) or during the week. Arrival, the third Best Picture nominee which will likely gross $100m domestic, dropped its screen count in half this weekend, slowing the process. But it’s only $2 million away… hard to imagine Par not pushing it over.

The Space Between Us is barely made any room for itself in the market, looking at a weekend under $3.5m as Super counterprograming.

I Am Not Your Negro is riding great, well-earned reviews to a $10k+ 3-day per-screen. It will be the only one in that category this weekend.

20 Weeks To Oscar: The Simple Case For Moonlight

Monday, January 30th, 2017

(This is the second of an unplanned series of three pieces. I wrote the first, about La La Land, because there is an odd backlash within the media about the likely Oscar success of the film. There is no one arguing against Moonlight being celebrated. As with the La La Land column, this will not be about how much I like the film.)

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Moonlight is a miracle, both in the way that all movies are a miracle – a meeting of like minds, efforts, money, and execution – and in that it is a tiny, fragile piece, given wing by not only the talent behind the filmmaking, but by entitles that tend to engage at a larger scale and have come together to support this unique work.

Tarell Alvin McCraney has a remarkable career. He was raised in Miami, one of four kids born to a teen mother who was an addict and who would die of AIDS. He found his way to great success, including more than a dozen plays, a MacArthur Grant, time at the Royal Shakespeare Company, and work at Yale, where he was recently made the chair of playwriting.

Moonlight is built from a play McCraney wrote in school, which wasn’t produced. Barry Jenkins was five years removed from his first feature, Medicine for Melancholy, when he ended up in Europe writing a screenplay from the McCraney play. Jenkins went to Telluride, as he did for years, and introduced 12 Years A Slave at the festival, reigniting a long, quiet conversation with Plan B, the Brad Pitt-Dede Garner-Jeremy Kleiner production company, which would get a Best Picture win with 12 Years and would also get Best Picture nominations for Selma and The Big Short.

Three years later, Jenkins’ Moonlight would premiere at the festival where it was born.

Of course, Moonlight didn’t quite look like other Plan B Oscar movies. The budget was $1.5 million. (The budget for the other Plan B Oscar nominees ranged from $18m to $28m) The distributor was the small but mighty A24, not a major studio or Dependent like the others.

12 Years A Slave didn’t have “major movie stars,” but Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Paul Giamatti, Sarah Paulson and others were familiar faces to moviegoers. Selma had up-and-coming talent, but it also had Martin Luther King, Jr. and a major event in American history standing in as “the star.” And The Big Short was loaded with movie stars.

Moonlight relies on great, somewhat familiar actors, none of whom has played that much in the awards season. (Naomie Harris should have been nominated for her turn in Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, but wasn’t.) Naomie Harris was the big name, having been in Bond movies and a couple Pirates of the Caribbeans. Mahershala Ali has fans from “House of Cards.” Janelle Monae was making one of her first films. André Holland is great on “The Knick” and onstage (including McCraney plays). But these are not stars you could throw on a poster and drive ticket sales. (That’s now changing.)

The phenomenon of Moonlight was on full display at Telluride. Audiences were not only screaming and standing on their feet when the movie ended, but many walked the intimate streets of Telluride in a kind of shock, rocked to their core. Men and women. Straight and gay. Some were black… but it is Telluride and well… most were not.

Somehow, in telling a story that was precisely personal to McCraney and personal to Jenkins in some very specific ways but not in others (Barry is straight), Jenkins and his team had created a universal story. A story of an impoverished neighborhood that reached right into a festival attended by the mostly wealthy. A story of drug culture that was not judged in a negative way by people who are much more likely to have their drug of choice delivered by Uber. A story of the fear and pain of growing into maturity as a gay man in a world and at a time when people would rather beat him down than accept him, embraced by a festival of people who… well, identify a lot more than anyone might have imagined with the universal pain of becoming, not matter how much their personal becomings were not specifically reflected by this film.

That is the magic of Moonlight. It is the smallest of films in the way that Hollywood tends to measure size. It is very, very specific. But it explodes on the screen in the way that great movies do, through your soul.

In terms of a wider audience, Moonlight grossed more than its budget in 12 days on just 36 screens. In the 12 weeks between opening and last week’s Best Picture nominations, in which the film has played on a maximum of 650 screens, it grossed $15.9 million. Last weekend, the film expanded to 1104 screens and has picked up another $2 million in the week.

By the time of its nomination, it had already outgrossed the total domestic grosses of recent indie Best Picture nominees like The Tree of Life, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Whiplash, and A24’s 2016 hit, Room.

These numbers are excellent. And there is a lot of room for growth. Not everyone who sees Moonlight has a life-shaking experience. But many do and no one seems to walk away without deeply appreciating the artistry involved. The word-of-mouth is deeply passionate.

There is an argument out in the world these days that Moonlight is “more important” than other movies because of the color and status of its characters. I would argue that what is important about this film is that it rises above the very specific universe it inhabits and takes us past the color, the mean streets, the drugs, the addiction, the homophobia, and brings us to ourselves.

Weekend Estimates by Not A Bad Weekend Klady

Sunday, January 29th, 2017

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Split holds strong and will be Jason Blum’s second franchise (wasn’t one… is now) to crack $100m domestic. A Dog’s Purpose did well… but didn’t explode with families on Saturday, muting the celebration a smidge. Hidden Figures is holding like a champ, passing $100m, though it is still chasing La La Land, which is $2.5m ahead. Resident Evil: The (Alleged) Final Chapter had, by a good bit, the worst opening of the series… but the international is where the money is and Sony knew that going in. Gold barely opened. CBS and Lionsgate really pushed hard for Patriots Day, but haven’t found the hook, even for the Peter Berg audience. The Salesman leads at arthouses, likely to open well before Trump’s Muslim ban, but surely buoyed by Farhadi’s inability to come to The Oscars, scoring $22,900 per screen.

There’s not a whole lot more to dig into here than in the brief above. Was A Dog’s Purpose hurt by the bad publicity drummed up by TMZ and PETA? Maybe. A little. But not a lot. The only real argument that it had any effect at all is if you believe it was going to blow up surprisingly large because of the dog-loving audience. That didn’t happen. But was it going to happen either way? I have no idea.

Jason Blum has created (with others) a cash-cow genre for studios large and small, but Split looks like it will be his biggest success, especially in a mature segment. His top domestic grosser is $108m and that is sure to be cracked by Split by post-Super Bowl weekend.

xXx: The Return of Xander Cage is another nail in the coffin of studios chasing old IP of mediocre value.

Toni Erdmann was considered the likely Oscar winner for foreign language. But The Salesman is now looking like it might be the rarest of Academy events… a straight-up political vote in defiance of Donald Trump.

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Bring Us Your Tired, Your Poor, Your Huddled Commenters Yearning To Write Free

Saturday, January 28th, 2017

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Friday Estimates by Still Splittin’ Klady

Saturday, January 28th, 2017

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Split becomes a monster for Universal, likely to hold off the family film, A Dog’s Purpose, also from a happy Universal, scoring early in 2017 with 2 non-franchise films, reminding the industry that IP is not the only way. Resident Evil 6 doesn’t care much about the soft US opening. Their grosses have been 80% international the last 2 films, both over $195 million. La La Land and Hidden Figures both pass $100m domestic this weekend, buoyed by Oscar noms. Even with a nice expansion bump, Team La may be a little disappointed that the bump isn’t bigger. They’ll live. And the weeekend bump may well be bigger than the Friday. Gold fools.

20 Weeks To Oscar: The Simple Case FOR La La Land

Wednesday, January 25th, 2017

This is not a column about how great La La Land is, because I am not writing this because I feel a need to defend the quality of the movie. I am putting aside petty issues, at least for now.

The reason I am writing? No matter who is frontrunning… no matter who is behind… this is the time of whining about Oscar… Endless whining about Oscar.

But I can’t think of a season in which this complaint is more foolish. Feel what you want about the movies, you prefer this one to that one, you think this one is a million times more important than that one. And so on. And so forth.

Nine films are nominated for Best Picture. Only three are the spawn of a major studio. Even more surprising, the major studio Dependents (Searchlight, Focus, SPC) were shut out of the category of categories this year. (I’ll keep my tears for Searchlight to myself after they won the big prize two of the last three years.)

Of the six non-major BP nominees, the biggest budget was $45 million (Hacksaw Ridge),  about half of what it would have been made for at a studio, meaning it would not have been made at a studio. The lowest was Moonlight, with $5 million. Four of the six indie BP nominees cost under $13 million. The movie in the middle was La La Land, which saw a budget increase (to a reported $30m) fairly late in the game when more commercial talent landed in the film.

Amazon and CBS Films each had their first Best Picture nominee and A24 their second.

Lionsgate had an amazing year, both with Summit producing and as a default output deal distributor for some legit players (often with Roadside, also riding high this season). And of course, The Weinstein Co. got one through the hoop.

Does this mean the studios will be a minority player in Best Picture for years to come? There is a good chance that this will be the case, at least until there is some wave of consolidation. Why? Money. La La Land is the giddy, happy indie story here… as much as $150 million in rentals (money coming back to the distributor) in theatrical alone on a $30 million investment. A dozen people or more should reap million-dollar-plus paydays. Summit/Lionsgate could reap $50 million or more in profit as a funder and distributor.

But the other five indie BP nominees? Every one a success. But unless there is a big Oscar bump for any one of them, they will be nicely profitably in context of the production spend, but none a 4:1 cash machine like La La.

The studio play is represented by Hidden Figures, which was a nice piece of business, with or without award season. Alleged budget is $25m. But even if they are fudging a little, it was always destined to be a $100m movie. We’ll see how much Oscar helps. But that is what the studios want to gamble on… cheap that has a real shot at overperforming into real money. They don’t want to be in the masterpiece that only just barely breaks even business.

Fences was a $25m budget and the power of Denzel at the box office, as well as the relationship piece of the business. Denzel rarely does less than $75m domestic, so the movie is pretty much covered and the studio benefits from the goodwill of making a passion project.

Arrival is a $50 million sci-fi movie, which is already at $175m worldwide and is likely to crack $200 million before it is done. And what should be a very strong catalog title for post-theatrical. In other words, legit upside.

Moonlight is, by far, the biggest underdog. A little-known writer-director. A cast whose biggest names are on the “hey, that’s the guy/gal from…” level (ideally changing this month… say it… Ma-her-sha-la). $5 million budget, even with one of the biggest studio producers—Plan B—leading the way. I understand the passion people bring to this film. There is nothing less than wonderful about it.

La La Land, on the other hand, had a low, but reasonable $30 million budget, two studio-level movie stars, and 2014’s Flavor of the Year director, who personally got two Oscar nominations for Whiplash. The movie even won three Oscars.

Back in September, few believed that Hacksaw Ridge or Hidden Figures or (to a lesser degree) Lion or Hell or High Water were filling 4/9 of the Best Picture chart. So the conversation has been, for months, La La vs Manchester vs Moonlight, with some Manchester people, but with the greatest passions, La La vs Moonlight. Personally, I would not be angry if Moonlight wins. I don’t think it will, but I would not be unhappy.

Here are reasons why more respect must be paid La La Land by naysayers.

Maybe you think the La La Land producers are a bunch of awards-chasing dudes. Well, this is producer Fred Berger’s first film as producer. Jordan Horowitz and Gary Gilbert worked together on the massive award-chasers The Keeping Room and Miss Stevens, though Gilbert cut his producing teeth on such obvious hits as Garden State, The Kids Are All Right, and Ken Lonergan’s cash grab, Margaret. Yeah, Marc Platt is from the mainstream. But this is a seriously indie team with smart, young, hungry producers. (And again, the silly and inappropriate comparison, as far as profile goes, is the oft-nominated Plan B team which produced Moonlight.) Passion is a big part of the job for most hands-on producers and reducing any movie to “easy” or “Oscar-bait” is wrong-headed.

Don’t forget that this is only Damien Chazelle’s third feature. And the second grossed just $13m domestically. A musical with original music and characters is enormously rare. The list of original musicals that have grossed over $50m domestic was three deep before La: Enchanted, The Muppets, and Muppets Most Wanted. And I would say that none of the three truly qualify as musicals. They are traditional movies with songs… like Trolls (where characters sing) vs Beauty & The Beast (where story is conveyed in song). And two are based on long-established characters while the third pushed against the Disney princess machine.

An intense personal drama about finding one’s place in the world? They land in Oscarland or nearby virtually every year. Of course, that simplifies Moonlight unfairly. So does saying it is unique because the people in the film are black. But so does any claim that La La Land was “in the pocket,” an easy movie.

The “they can’t sing” pushback isn’t so much about Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire (who didn’t really sing any better than this) but about Pitch Perfect, which had a lot of great singing, much of it from actors you didn’t know sang that well. But that was not the point of La La Land, as has been pointed out from multiplexes to Saturday Night Live sketches.

How can anyone claim that a musical that opens with scores of people getting out of their cars to dance and sing on the freeway is “easy,” “obvious” or “made for Oscar voters?” If audiences didn’t fall in love with that five minutes, the whole picture goes down. That is a massive risk. But because it gets applause and not tears, for some, there is no street cred.

Lead male… kinda unlikable. But he isn’t given an A Star Is Born trajectory of high drama. He is suffering of his own accord, fighting to do things his way. Risky. Unusual.

Female lead… you either fall for Emma or you don’t. There is no middle.

As far as the duo’s dances, they are the way human people who love musicals imagine themselves in a musical. Ryan and Emma are not incompetent as dancers (or singers), but they aren’t polished pros either.

Even the dance numbers with professionals are a little light on the precision show-offiness. There are no ringers, like Cyd Charisse walking into the bar. It’s not movie-musical like the big numbers in Hail, Caesar!.

The tipping point is “Audition.” You want to tell me that an in-one that pushes in on Emma Stone’s face and relies on her performance, unadulterated except by music, without flashing onto something else or breaking into a dance or anything, really, besides Emma’s eyes and mouth and jaw and soul is not as daring a moment of cinema as we have seen this year? Well, bully for you. I put it up there with Scorsese’s torture and rapture, Mahershala Ali gently holding a young man just above the ocean water, the big turn in Arrival, Denzel and Viola going at it… even the greatest movie moment (for me) of the year, Michelle Williams trying to talk to her ex about their loss standing outside in Manchester, exposed in so many ways. You may like other things better. I happily concede that the level of intense personal drama in those other moments might top “Audition.” But pushing it off as “obvious” or “easy” or pandering to the greatest common denominator is just picking a fight because you feel like picking a fight.

You know what this argument reminds me of? A sports fan who thinks the superstar is inferior because he/she only wins one way. It doesn’t matter that they just keep winning. Kobe needs to pass more. Big Papi needs to hit more doubles. Serena grunts too much. You know what? You can love whatever you love. No one is judging you. You don’t need to act out.

Look, this season has tragically overlooked films. Silence, 20th Century Women, Loving, and others (you tell me). Embrace what is wonderful, successful or not. And dislike what you dislike. I don’t care.

But if La La Land was easy, someone else would have made a La La Land. No one has. It is a miracle, imperfections and all. It is not about the culture of the downtrodden or truly endanger. I get it. But give it the props it deserves and bring on the rebels, the ripples from pebbles, the painters, and poets, and plays. They count too… even if they don’t suffer as much as you’d like.

BYOB Oscar

Wednesday, January 25th, 2017

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Oscar Nominations

Tuesday, January 24th, 2017

La La Land leads with record-tying 14 nominations (matching Titanic and All About Eve) followed by 8 each for Moonlight and Arrival (but not Amy Adams)
Oscar Nominations

20 Weeks To Oscar: Right Before The Noms

Monday, January 23rd, 2017

In about 13 hours from when I am writing this, the Oscar nominations will be announced on an ABC show with ABC hosts and a bunch of ABC-produced viral videos meant to get more attention for ABC than to support any of the films or the purposes of The Academy and its members.

A few thoughts at this moment…

This has been, perhaps, the most boring Oscar season in modern history. I don’t know ancient history firsthand and won’t presume to know the truth, as I don’t tend to trust storytelling by anyone, winners or losers. But I have been at this, hands on, for about 20 years now and what was exciting about this Oscar season ended on September 15, 2016. That was the Wednesday in the middle of the Toronto International Film Festival. Here’s the picture that already been asserted by then at the August-September festivals.

La La Land
Moonlight
Arrival
Hidden Figures
(at their TIFF event)
Lion
Nocturnal Animals

and Jackie, which had its North American premiere and was bought in 24 hours.

And at earlier festivals…
Loving
Manchester by the Sea

And in theatrical release before September…
The Lobster
Captain Fantastic
Florence Foster Jenkins
Hell or High Water

And Hacksaw Ridge, which screened for those who have opinions about such things in August.

You can claim all you like that Sully still felt like something and that we hadn’t seen Rules Don’t Apply or Silence or Fences or 20th Century Women… but Sully did excellent business but never really felt big, Rules Don’t Apply was the disappointment that everyone really wanted to be a final masterpiece for Warren Beatty, 20th Century Women will be remembered as the lost masterpiece of this season, and Fences/Silence were exactly what was expected, which is to say, of top-top quality, but without very much excitement for the mid-level tastes of The Academy.

Say what you will about The Revenant (and I did and I am still being shit on by some for it), but it was an entertainment first and a serious reflection on the meaning of life second.

And that was that. The jig was up all the way back then.

And I don’t just mean La La Land winning. I mean, the whole thing.

Pieces of it have come and pieces of it have gone. Obviously, there were films still to be seen… but not a lot. And none that really came out of left field, like The Big Short. The only significant contribution of The New York Film Festival this year was a disastrous special screening of Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk. The highlight of AFI was the large-screen presentation of the already front-running La La Land and the real-life heroes who attended after Patriots Day.

Speaking of Sully…. Warner Bros pretty much got out of the awards business this year. They made a half-hearted push for Sully, but lost Hanks’ efforts to the third Dan Brown movie pretty early. They pushed Live by Night into award season, starting with a run at BFCA, but were pushed back. Collateral Beauty was a flea-ridden mutt. And War Dogs, which was fun, was pushed harder by the talent than by the studio. But Warner Bros has had a bad hand before and played it. They have long been the town’s biggest spender. But this year, they rolled up the Monopoly set and passed. And I have heard the groans all around L.A., from the trades to the newspapers to magazines to the blogs.

Speaking of 20th Century Women, I think the combination of the limited bandwidth of a company the size of A24 (which does amazing things regardless) and the unfortunately limited talent support on the film has doomed the film. Seriously, if Annette Bening is not nominated – as the Gurus currently predict – it will be one of the great awards tragedies of the last decade. It is as fine and earned a performance as you will see anywhere. I love all the rest of the performances in the category and there were really eight “must be nominated” performances in the circle of those in play this year, but man, this would be crushing.

A word on A24. Not The Weinsteins in any fucking way. More than a word, I guess. But that idiotic comparison, which may seem like a compliment, does not fly at all, unless there is a $35 million version of Moonlight floating out there that I don’t know about. A24 is its own thing. A creation of now, not the thing that was 25 years ago when Harvey and Bob (and Bob and Michael at New Line) were building their sizable seat at the table. There are other models that have worked well and lasted (Sony Classics, Searchlight, Lionsgate, going back to UA as a Dependent and even Screen Gems). But A24 is none of those. It is something else. And that something is quite beautiful, in action and intent.

For those counting consultant wins at home, the winners since the change to the expanded Best Picture field are about to be: Cynthia, Lisa, Lisa, Michelle, Searchlight+, Searchlight+++, Lisa, Lisa. This is not to say that there were not a lot of wins going around in getting nominations by all of the consultants. But my feeling that choices on the films are destiny for Oscar is seeming truer and truer. You can’t win without the right film(s).

Every category in which there are significant limitations put on the nomination and voting process for Oscar is a problem. Today I was discussing the limits on song entries for Best Song, two per movie. Absurd. Moana, which has two big ballads and two big comedy numbers was hamstrung and had to bet on where their best shots were. Silly. I still don’t remember why the score from Arrival was disqualified, but it was one of the most beautiful, daring scores of the year and should have been in play.

Of course, we have the idiocy of Isabelle Huppert being a legit possibility for a well-deserved Best Actress nomination for Elle and Elle not even making the Foreign Language short list. Don’t even get me started on The Handmaiden, one of the year’s best films, not even being nominated by South Korea. Are these The Academy Awards or The American Academy Awards? (rhetorical)

Moonlight has already won. I don’t want to hear the whining. Wonderful movie. Wonderful filmmaker. Wonderful cast. Extremely strong box office numbers for a film on these themes without movie stars that open movies. Take the win, people. There is nothing to be less than thrilled about here. The success of this film is an epic achievement. Already. And if it wins a few Oscars, all the more so.

It is breathtaking how thin the Best Actor category ended up being this year. Due respect to all five nominees… you were all great. But it wasn’t an eight-deep category this year. Not really. I love Viggo Mortensen and have supported that performance in Captain Fantastic, but if he’s nominated, it is only because there was no one else with more of a push behind him to take the slot. In part, there was a lack of “male lead” characters in Moonlight, Arrival, Lion, Hidden Figures, 20th Century Women, and Jackie. Two of those six didn’t have a traditional female lead either.

And Supporting Actor wasn’t that much better, with a number of films with multiple supporting males (Moonlight, Manchester by the Sea, Hell or High Water, Fences, Nocturnal Animals, Silence) that seemed to lead to either one nominee being pushed or no one getting a foothold.

Loving, which seems to be out of the race, is another moment of shame. Beautiful work all around. Just not enough muscle to navigate the waters of its own unique voice, the number of race-connected films, and a full boat of films at Focus. Speaking of which… if you haven’t seen A Monster Calls, you have screwed up your moviegoing life. A truly great and beautiful films that was nearly impossible to sell without Spike Jonze’s name on it… see it. You will be sad. You will cry. And your heart will grow 2.5x that day.

Truth is, this has been a great award season for movies. Everyone has their personal preferences, but man, what a high quality line-up of product for awards this year. High and low. It looks like at least 3 of the movies nominated for Best Picture will be over $100m domestic. That is above average, even though there are years – every third or fourth – where there are more and certainly with some bigger numbers. But this is not a poor box office group. There is not a single straight mainstream or generally mediocre director even in play to get nominated. Hidden Figures is really the only film on the list that is not aesthetically challenging in a significant way (though wildly entertaining). That’s not three or four auteurist movies… that is 7 or 8 or 9. Something to sing about, no matter which ones you think are overrated.

So tomorrow morning will have a few surprises. A few thrills. A few outrages. But except for The Oscars having its ass branded by ABC like a piece of IP instead of The Most Important Film Event of The Year, it should all be good. There won’t be a lot we didn’t see coming four months ago. But given how brave and exciting the vast majority of films are, for a change, I’ll get over it. Bet you will too.