The Hot Blog
So 300: Rise of an Empire opened well enough… albeit 38% off the original. It’s the best opening day of the year so far, but will likely do about half the business today (Saturday) that The Lego Movie did on its first Saturday. Mostly, that’s the difference between family films are hard-R movies. Interestingly, 300: Rise is only off 17% on the Tomatometer from the original.
In the end, I would expect 300 Jr. to do about the same or a little less than Ride Along for 4x the price and considerably higher P&A. That’s the domestic picture. The real question, as it always is with bad movies that look really cool, is what the international will be. On the first film, the international was slightly higher than domestic. But the international market has expanded dramatically since 2007, so it wouldn’t be shocking to see this one do $250m internationally again, making the picture pretty profitable.
Mr. Peabody & Sherman pushed the Dogfather line really, really hard for a really, really long time and it may have killed the pooch… as it makes no sense and certainly is not a draw for children and parents of small children. On the high end of the DreamWorks’ Animation catalog, able to entertain both the little ones and the parents dragged to the theater, Peabody may need to get into the Wayback Machine to get this one past $100m domestic, which is the low bar for animated success these days. Internationally, I have no idea at all whether it will play, how they will see a dog in charge, whether there is any Jay Ward legacy value, etc. DWA had a case last year with The Croods making more than double a somewhat disappointing domestic and Fox’s Ice Age movies do more than triple domestic overseas. So, long view… ???
Oscar holdovers Frozen & 12 Years A Slave got bumps, albeit small ones. Frozen is off just 12% when it might otherwise be expected to drop in the high 20s. And 12 Years is up 156%, though its only to a $1.5m weekend or so.
Also worth noting, The Monuments Men, hit with pretty rough reviews, should get to $70m domestic this weekend and is still in range of (or will be pretty close to) the grosses of Clooney’s lavishly reviewed, Oscar-nominated non-blockbusters Up In The Air and The Descendants. This is a reminder of what Mr. Clooney is as a movie star… and what he is not. But you can color me impressed. This movie has all the earmarks of fading fast and has held tight. Foreign is still a question mark with a lot of territories yet to open.
And in limited, the story is all Wes Anderson. $65k per screen on 4 yesterday should lead to over $175k per for the weekend. Impressive. Did you know that Mr. Anderson has never launched a film on more than 28 screens… and that was Bottle Rocket, his first? All the rest have started on 5 screens or fewer. This is the biggest start he has ever had, following the 2nd biggest domestic grosser of his career, Moonrise Kingdom. Extrapolating out… a long way… this could well be Wes Anderson’s biggest domestic grosser, topping The Royal Tennenbaums’ $52.4 million. (If you are wondering about international, Anderson has been a surprisingly mixed bag, but never has done big numbers overseas. His biggest was Fantastic Mr. Fox with just over $25m.)
Just ran into the “How Can Women Gain Influence in Hollywood?” op-ed thing in the NYT again and it struck me… the point is being missed.
It’s not about women being undervalued by Hollywood. It’s not about female executives assimilating. And it’s not about sexism.
As always in Hollywood, it’s about money.
So here is how to give women more perceived influence in Hollywood… Convince a studio or all studios to be happy with singles and doubles and occasional triples and not worry about hitting home runs all the time.
If this happened, somehow, the issue of women in Hollywood would become moot. So would racism and xenophobia.
Putting women aside for a moment (insert sniggering comment here if you like, ladies) and look at 12 Years A Slave. The movie cost about $20 million. The money came from outside of Fox, though Searchlight did pitch in for sweat equity and some of the cash for distribution and marketing. But it was a studio release. A period drama about slavery did $50m+ domestic and $140m+ worldwide. There is no defining this as anything but a hit movie. But the New York Times is still defining it as a less than one.
“While Oscar vote counts are not publicly revealed, ticket sales are monitored closely; it was glaringly apparent that 12 Years a Slave climbed into the history books without ever having truly ignited the audience. Through the weekend, the film had only about $50.3 million in domestic ticket sales, though it has performed well internationally.
Mr. Gilula disagreed. “The American public has embraced the movie far, far more than anyone thought,” he said, noting that some box office analysts were initially doubtful that 12 Years a Slave could take in much more than $10 million.
Still, ticket sales for 12 Years a Slave are now less than half those for Lee Daniels’ The Butler, a similarly black-themed, reality-based movie.”
First, may I say, yet again, to the New York Times, which took an offensive, inaccurate position on the box office of this film before it went wide and has continued to repeat it as though the paper of record is infallible… “Fuck off.”
But more to the point, if a heavy, racially-themed, demanding drama can be highly profitable and win the Oscar, but still has to eat crap from the New York Times, perceived racism in Hollywood is not really the problem. The problem in this case is in the media.
Does the New York Times know that 12 Years A Slave is right in the middle of the pack if the 9 nominees in domestic box office, not sitting on the bottom? Does the New York Times know that 12 Years A Slave cost less than half of any of the movies above it in that Best Picture box office list? Does the New York Times know that 12 Years A Slave will surely be more profitable than Captain Phillips and could be as if not more profitable than American Hustle?
If they have a brain in their collective NYT head, they know all these things… and just don’t care.
But back to the women and all non-four-quadrant films.
Cate Blanchett was completely wrong and completely right in her speech. Movies about and for and by women can and do make money. But they don’t make the kind of money that big studios are looking for. Not as a rule. This is why her Oscar-winning film was released by Sony Pictures Classics, not Columbia (with all due respect to the long and very successful relationship Barker & Bernard have had with Woody Allen).
2005 was the last time Best Actress went to an actress whose film was primarily funded by and released by a major Hollywood studio (Walk The Line, Reese Witherspoon). Sandra Bullock in The Blind Side was 100% funded by Alcon and released by Warner Bros in an output deal. And Natalie Portman in Black Swan was released by Searchlight, a division under big Fox, but which was mostly funded by indie money (Cross Creek Pictures, Dune, and Phoenix).
The reason that Disney, WB, Paramount, and now Universal have shut down their arthouse operations is that the return on investment does not fit into the corporate mindset that studios now hold.
When studios were making $100m grosses on rom-coms and massive profits on DVD, they ALL did them… didn’t matter that the audience was mostly women or that there was a natural cap on the total gross.
Now the profits on DVD are relatively insignificant and movies have to make their money in worldwide theatrical before then becoming part of bigger package deals… pink ooze in HD. International is a much bigger part of the picture, so all comedies, including rom-coms, have been squeezed. And the math has changed dramatically so the major studios do not, for the most part, want to invest the effort capital on movies with limited returns.
Why did “black comedies” make a comeback? Because after years of success, the budgets had gotten high enough that the DVD money was their only profit stream and that stream dried up. So after years of drought, the budgets dropped back down and those films are now being made for very small budgets, have a committed, built-in audience, and are often making a profit in theatrical, even with little or no international audience.
There were six female-driven films in the Top 20 for 2013. There is a business there. But two were Sandra Bullock, two (one shared with SB) were Melissa McCarthy, one was Jennifer Aniston stripping, one was animated, and one was Oz. You could argue that American Hustle was female-driven, but might get some pushback. The only film of those 7 that was directed by a woman was co-directed and animated.
That is a problem that is very different than the “getting films made” problem. Put that weight on Bullock and McCarthy and Aniston if you like… or don’t. Gravity was an auteur film and only that one person could have made it, really. You can say that Oz happened with Raimi and something on that effects level might not find a female equivalent, so give it a pass. The other 3… at least 1 or 2 could probably have had female directors if the talent insisted.
But the real problem isn’t who is directing the biggest female stars. (All 5 Best Actress performances were directed by men.) The big problem is getting more female directors working on the vast middle of the studio business. And that issue is loaded with all the details that make a lot of people uncomfortable.
But I say the biggest remains basic profit motivations. Women are not gaining a reputation as making movies that generate big, big bucks. But a $30m movie that makes $30m in profit should be okay… but not so much to the majors right now.
With an opportunity to make those low-for-majors-budgeted films, successes will happen (as will flops) and riskier choices will come with them. But women need to get a chance to make those middle movies. And studios just do not want to be in the business of making those middle movies right now. It’s a middle-class that has all but disappeared.
All the talk in the world about opportunity and sexism and industry malaise, will never lead to anyone directing movies. Making movies is actually an affirmative thing, not an avoidance of discomfort. The stakes are too high. If you start with, “Let’s hire a woman because there need to be more female directors working at studios,” there will always be a cloud over the projects and the directors.
Betty Thomas and Penny Marshall became red-hot directors for a while because of their movies, not because of their gender. And their careers stalled for much the same reason.
Rebuild the middle class of American movies at studios and the change will come without being forced, without politics, and without much resistance. But until then, it is almost impossible, Don Quixote stuff.
The best thing I can say about this year’s Oscar show is that there isn’t a whole lot to say.
Ellen was good. Someone on Twitter found exactly the right note… it was like a sleepover. The only real downside is that only about a dozen people in the room were really included. Meryl Streep and Brad Pitt were at the center of it all. Kevin Spacey was the camera hog who found a way into every picture. Lupita Nyong’o's brother was the kid from another school who found a way to fit in. Ellen didn’t dance. Smart.
Was this great? No. Was it lacking discomfort? Pretty much.
I always say about movies that I don’t start picking apart the details unless the movie hasn’t really grabbed me. And in this case, once we got past the very long first half of the show, the second half connected and was, really fine.
The opening monologue was meh, but not distractingly bad or anything. The set design was often great, though the plastic gummy Oscars were ugly enough to be outside at LACMA. (Keep them out of the space ship… uh, museum, please.)
Matthew McConaughey, Actor, Dallas Buyers Club
Cate Blanchett, Actress, Blue Jasmine
Lupita Nyong’o, Supporting Actress, 12 Years A Slave
Jared Leto, Supporting Actor, Dallas Buyers Club
Alfonso Cuaron, Directing & Editing, Gravity
John Ridley, Adapted Screenplay, 12 Years A Slave
Paolo Sorrentino, Foreign Language, The Great Beauty
Morgan Neville, Documentary, 20 Feet From Stardom
Steven Price, Score, Gravity
Bobby Lopez and Kristin Anderson-Lopez, Song, Frozen
Special Effects, Gravity, Neil Corbould
Son of God, why has thou forsaken me?
Son of God apparently was frontloaded on Friday, making my assumption that it would get stronger over the weekend as the churchgoers showed up for it was wrong. Still, this is the second best opening ever for a “Christian film,” aside from the Narnia films, which were big-budget spectaculars seeking a 4-quadrant audience. Next up, Noah.
The Passion of The Christ also figures into The Lego Movie‘s weekend, which saw the film become the fourth fastest film outside of the summer or holiday corridors to hit $200 million, behind only The Hunger Games and The Passion, and Alice in Wonderland.
The Monuments Men, in spite of tough reviews, is closing in on the top George Clooney non-group, non-big-action, domestic grossers, The Descendants and Up In The Air in the low 80s. (The bigger titles that seem to be competing in a different category are Oceans, Storm, Batman & Robin, and Gravity.) This is pretty impressive, really. Of course, one could argue that TMM is a group movie… a drama, period Oceans… especially given Clooney’s limited role in the film. But still… I am surprised by the solid hold for this film. An older audience has found it and is sticking with it.
As the Oscar weekend is here, there are 7 Best Picture nominees in theaters and all but 1 is up for the weekend… and that 1, Nebraska, is only down 3%. Still, the top grosser in the group (American Hustle) is estimated at only $1.9m. All 7 films combined grossed under $7.5 million. So while it is clear that there is an audience out there trying to catch up, it’s hardly the material of headlines.
Liam vs Jesus. It’s a Beatle-tastic showdown.
First round (Friday) goes to Non-Stop, but I expect Son of God to end up taking the weekend… or at least making it a very, very close race.
Oscar weekend tends to be a little soft, especially for holdovers. Basically, it kills the Sunday because if you are a frequent moviegoer, you are likely an Oscar watcher. But this weekend, we have a religiously themed film in the game, so Sunday may be a strong day for that film. And The Lego Movie may score family dollars early in the day and not lose much on a softer Sunday afternoon and evening.
About Last Night will pass the opening weekend gross of Ride Along today (day 16 of the run). The film opened to $25.6m, which felt like a show of strength by Kevin Hart, but this gross, while a success, feels more stuck in the niche. There is no question that a white guy generating similar numbers would get HUGE opportunities. We’ll see how this works for Mr. Hart.
I started online in May 1997, 2 months short of 17 years ago.
People get a quizzical look in their eye when I mention what the web was like back then, but here is what the official Disney website looked like back when I started on the web. Here is what roughcut.com—already a year old—looked like when I joined the site. And roughcut.com as html started becoming something that you didn’t need a graduate degree to master.
I was writing a lot back then. And I was one of the few out there doing it. Here’s a October 1999 edition of The Hot Button and you can see, I’m all over the place. Back then, it was rare, now it’s the norm.
It was the Wild West, in many ways. I was working for a massive corporation but I had the firm support of my overlords and could go pretty much where I liked. I also was pretty good about separating my opinion from the facts in any given story… and I was writing about dozens of stories every week. My style, to be fair, did cause some readers to have difficulty making that separation, but in a decade-plus of writing The Hot Button, I was asked only once to make a retraction based on fact… and that was Anita Busch, re: Fight Club, and the facts were and still are accurate, though Anita still tries to argue otherwise.
The internet was still “the fucking internet” in those days. I remember one top publicist who refused to communicate via e-mail (though when I brought it up over a cocktail a few years ago, the by-then fully-wired guy completely denied it). Ain’t It Cool News was an inside/outside outfit, both playing and being played by industry insiders while pissing off studios by getting in the way of their publicity departments. Jeff Wells started his version of The Hot Button for Reel.com a couple of years after I launched online. (Here’s the earliest column I can find, from November 1999.)
Blogs were recently described as having a 20th anniversary, but I don’t recall the word being used much at all before 2000. And there were no real film blogs. Sasha Stone’s Oscarwatch.com and Tom O’Neill’s Gold Derby both preceded the blog, and both started as bulletin board sites. Many of those who went on to blog began as commenters on those sites, including Kris Tapley. And there were consultants reading the comments/postings on those blogs on a regular basis. A particular early aficionado of Oscarwatch was Tony Angellotti, long-timer with both Universal (live-action) and Disney (for animation). So awards consultants working the websites is hardly a new phenomenon.
In 1998, I remember feeling like I was a real contributor to the Oscar campaign of underdog masterpiece The Thin Red Line. I had left Entertainment Weekly in 1997 (I had been a contract writer for the magazine) but my relationships from the couple years I was there had translated to access for me and roughcut.com in those very early days of the internet participating in junkets and any studio-level stuff. And it wasn’t that I was any more insightful or worthy at the time. I would say that I was less so. But it was me and a bunch of newspapers and magazines and the trades. There was no Envelope… no Carpetbagger… no Deadline/Wrap. Moreover, I was free to write what I wanted. So while the trades were nothing but puffery and the major papers were self-positioned as being above the fray, I could fight whatever fight I wished.
Did I actually have any effect on the push to get The Thin Red Line nominated? Who knows? However many Academy voters were reading me in 1998, there was a lot less noise overall. With all three of the original major networks programming an 11:30/11:35 talk show, none of the three shows can ever be the old “Tonight Show,” not just because the format is less popular and not just because there is more outside competition, but because the multiplicity of three similar voices with some slight tonal variation lowers the water for all boats.
In 2001 and 2002, I was still explaining to most of the studios who the online Oscar players were.
Flash forward to 2013/2014…
Websites, Blogs and Twitter have eaten Traditional Media alive.
David Carr’s successful rise to beloved media celebrity, through a combination of a jaunty attitude as The Carpetbagger, a brilliant piece of reported autobiography, and playing the lead in a doc on the media department of the Paper of rRcord, has led the New York Times towards a level of Oscar obsession heretofore unseen (which Carr would have mocked in his Carpetbagger days… if it were some other paper doing the obsessing).
The LA Times has come out of bankruptcy… but is still living on the edge of the razor.
Both printed trades have owners who had no stake in Hollywood 10 years ago.
Longtime Hollywood Reporter princess Lynne Segall had spread her Oscar season advertising fairy dust on both the LA Times and Deadline and rthen eturned to The Hollywood Reporter, where trade journalism has given way to fashion coverage with a Hollywood twist. Now there are 3 outlets that rely on Special Issues and selling Oscar ads to stay in business.
Part of the success of The Hollywood Reporter, though many still claim that the pseudo-trade is high-profile but not profitable, is that they have brought glamor to the trade business. But the disconnect in this regard is that the interest in glamor has brought with it a distinct lowering of the bar for content. There are still critics… many of them the same ones you were reading 20 years ago. But facts have been replaced by factoids. And this is not just at The Hollywood Reporter. The bar has come down on content and up on style all over this area of journalism.
The mad genius of this is that outlets like THR and Variety and even the LA Times have figured out that even though their pot is smaller than it was in past seasons, it is still bigger for them than pretty much any internet-first outlet that competes on this front. So they can spend and offer cross-compensation for high-profile access that keeps them on top of the food chain. They can’t dominate on content anymore, so they have lost interest in great content (not that the trades were, in the good old bad old days, ever really after that) and are led around by hype.
But here is the subtle subtext of this movement that people—including those in the middle of it—tend not to think about. As the game of access becomes, even for trades, the coin of the realm, the power of the people controlling the access supersedes everything else.
The disruption of The Internet is no longer a disruption. The best whores/brokers have risen again… because in the end, who else will the powerful hand power to… and why would they do otherwise?
Further dissipating the authoritative voice is the teeming mass around these re-engaged top outlets. Out of sheer necessity, they create endless noise, obsessing on a handful of things each week, beating those issues to death, while not digging much deeper than the reactive mindset, and moving on to another set of “important issues” the next week.
Everything is an opinion. Everything is a whim. Everyone is an expert on every single thing.
Even argument has been reduced to how people manage their Facebook/Twitter/Instagram/Snapchat feeds. You can argue within 11 degrees of your opinion and occasionally, you will be attacked by someone 180 degrees on the other side, which instantly devalues that person’s opinion into being over-the-top and fringe.
There are very few real arguments, which lead to honest, earnest disagreement that may never be solved, but can be put aside for a time to appreciate your opponents wider array of positions… because disrespect has become the norm… because why respect anyone you disagree with since you can just surround yourself with a digital cabal of people who will tell you that you are right and the other side is solely for morons.
I truly miss arguing with assholes I know well. There are great big fights that need to be fought… but I now spent far too much time shocked by how lazy and disinterested the New York Times is about the beat I have lived in for the last two decades. It’s petty. So petty. But except for the people being directly damaged by the stupidity, which is often no one, given that the stupidity is often just publicity pretending to be investigative reporting, no one cares. Really. No one.
Nikki Finke has a lot of remarkable skill sets, many of which used to be what were considered the skills of a reporter. The ability to be an objective, honest journalist has never been amongst them (at least in the 15 years I’ve known her). But no one cares unless they are being yelled at her or having their truth shredded by her because some Nikki Whisperer told her to shred it even if she has no real understanding of the story or it hurts their cause in some way. As long as someone else is getting screwed by her gamesmanship, she is funny or even “a truthteller.” Of course, this is self-involved bullshit. When dealing with someone like Nikki, what is true when your advisor is being pummeled is just as true when you are the target.
And Nikki has become the template for a lot of journalists and a lot of outlets. Why? Because she got paid and she got relatively famous. And it doesn’t matter how and it doesn’t matter why.
That, my friends, has always existed. But it used to be a sideshow. Now it’s 90% of the carnival.
When I started in this business, if the reporting on a seemingly hot story didn’t turn out to be so heated, there were a few options. 1. Publish the reporting, even if it’s not so exciting. 2. Hold the story until there is a way of getting to the meat that the reporter and the editor can smell what’s rotting. 3. Spike it.
Nobody spikes anything anymore. (“Spike” meaning to just drop the story.)
One of the darkest days in the history of journalism was when the NY Times relaxed their unnamed source rules and came up with the “wouldn’t go on record because…” con. And it’s not because the New York Times has abused it so (though they certainly have at times). It’s because everyone else seems to have decided that the journalistic standard is now one source and a sense they are telling the truth, even if they are inherently biased and have skin in the game that makes it possible, if not probable, that by sourcing them without a name you are doing their bidding.
I have spent much of the last 17 years of doing what I do: decoding news stories. My favorite pieces are ones that I do not have to decode. My least favorite stories are the ones in which I can tell you—with 90% certainty—who sourced what angle in the piece and what their real goal is in doing so. Can you tell by the tone of this piece which way the trend is going?
I guess what I am really wanting to say is… this used to be more fun.
And I don’t want to part of a collective that, even if they let me do my work as I see fit, is likely to force to me to make lame excuses for poor journalistic decisions made in the name of keeping the operation going.
I don’t want to be part of the noise, indistinguishable, even to myself, from the din.
I want to let movies breathe. I want to breathe. I want to believe in the ambitions of most everyone who does something along the lines of what I do. I want to be challenged smartly, beaten as appropriate, and made better by my failures. I want to love things without cynicism.
I love so much of what I have had the privilege to do for a very nice living for a very long time. But I do feel these days like I am being moved around the chess board in a way that stifles growth.
For the first time in my journalistic career, I have to remind myself to play the game.
I hate that.
Because playing the game reflects as poorly on my as it does on anyone I point my finger and an accuse of playing the game.
I got to spend some time with Mike Fleming. I like Mike Fleming. But I don’t know him well enough to know who he was 10 years ago. All I do know is that he does the thing he does really well. And now, there are 10 other people trying to do what he does. I wonder if he cares. I wonder if he is okay with the changes in his game that he has been forced into by circumstance (mostly profitable circumstance).
I love doing DP/30 because it is, like me and my style or not, a simple attempt at finding something real. People who do the work of making movies and television are passionate about their work. They truly give a damn. And they would, most often, rather focus on their work than on the business manifestations around it. I cherish that. I am hungry for more.
So, of course, that work is not a significant revenue stream. If it was, my life would be an embarrassment of riches. And who needs that.
I miss a lot of the work I have left behind. Some of it has been imitated. Some of it has been made irrelevant. Why do I need to do my own daily chart—which no one was doing until years after I started doing it—when there are so many others doing the same thing now? Would I really be serving anything other than my ego and my hit count? But much of it was fun. It was simulating. It was challenging.
I write most of the things I want to say, professionally, on Twitter now because 140 or 420 characters should be enough. I appreciate the economy. And I tend to lecture (see: above).
I’m not going anywhere, if you thought that was where this was leading. But I do feel like I am back at the bottom of the hill, looking up. And the challenges are quite different. “What I want out of this” is a much, much more complicated thing than it used to be.
I mean… it’s not. I want to do the work I want to do and make a reasonable amount of money doing it in order to keep doing the work and paying for a life.
But Eskimos want saunas and monkeys want opposable thumbs and all that. I’ve had my sauna and my thumb for a long time… and eaten them too.
I don’t want anyone off of my lawn. I like people on my lawn. I like living in big, loud cities.
I guess I just want to see everyone working to the top of their intelligence. That is something I learned in improv. It’s something that I want from myself. Because it’s fun.
I spend 6 months of my year dealing with a statue of a bald guy named Oscar handed out by 6,000 people who can’t agree on anything except for their own importance (and not even that, really) and shouldn’t it be fun? It used to be fun.
On October 11, 1975, comedy changed.
Before that, the pieces were there. Second City (both Chicago and Toronto) and The National Lampoon were hot. The Groundlings (based in LA) were new and promising. But the launch of Saturday Night Light brought all the pieces together. One chunk of the original SNL Not Ready For Primetime Players came from the Lampoon live show… some of whom had been Second City performers. Some talent, like Christopher Guest and Tony Hendra, didn’t make the leap at that time. Other SNLers came from Second City Toronto. Lorraine Newman came from The Groundlings. Jane Curtin and Garrett Morris came from outside of the improv comedy world, performing in other theatrical venues.
Harold Ramis was a part of that National Lampoon/Second City Toronto scene. Like Bill Murray, he got relegated to writing before he became a television – then film – performer. Murray went to SNL and Ramis went to Second City Toronto, where SCTV launched.
After showrunning SCTV, Ramis’ side-job as screenwriter took over with National Lampoon’s Animal House in 1978. The connection to National Lampoon was stronger than the one to SNL – John Belushi and really nothing else – as Ramis worked with Doug Kenney and Chris Miller on the script. Kenney (along with Brian Doyle-Murray) would also write Caddyshack with Ramis. But it was Stripes, which Ramis wrote with his Meatballs co-writers Daniel Goldberg and Len Blum, where the world really got a full taste of Ramis as a performer. Ramis was also written into Ghostbusters, which he co-wrote with Dan Aykroyd, and made him recognizable worldwide.
In the midst of all that, the only film of these classics that Ramis directed was Caddyshack. (John Landis did Animal House, then Ivan Reitman directed 3 of the next 4.)
Film comedy was also messing around with the sex comedy at the time (Porky’s, et al) and Amy Heckerling came of age with Fast Times, but there wasn’t a lot that stuck in the early 80s (aside from randomly-spilt seminal fluid watching soft-core cable through squiggly lines or the nightly showing of Hardbodies) except for John Landis, who followed Animal House with The Blues Brothers, Trading Places, and Coming To America. Eddie Murphy (with a mixed lot of directors) and John Hughes led the way through the rest of the 80s.
There were some good comedies in the early 90s, but around the time Reitman had gotten caught up in Schwarzenegger as a comedian, Ramis came up with a masterpiece, as writer and director, Groundhog Day. It was a film in which his generation finally grew up.
A year later, the next big comedy director,s The Farrelly Bros, took control of the comedy world with Dumb & Dumber, which led into a 7-year run of dominance. Taking over from them was Apatow, Sandler, Ferrell and others who still dominate the comedy scene, really. The scene aches for the next vision, as Sandler sequelizes Grown Ups, Ferrell sequelizes Anchorman, and Apatow, who stays young by drinking the blood of Lena Dunham, is making personal movies about middle age (That Was Really 45). But no one has wrestled the crown away and they keep making big hits, whether critics like it or not.
So if I were going to make a list of the most important comedy directors of the last 35 years (and I haven’t even mentioned Rob Reiner, Nora Ephron, Jay Roach, Frank Oz, Jonathan Lynn, Zucker/Abrahams, Martha Coolidge, Tom Shadyac, Adam McKay by name, or Todd Phillips, amongst others), I would say it’s groups that have created major landmarks over this time period, not (generally) individuals.
The Farrelly Brothers
Murphy & Co.
Apatow/Ferrell-McKay/Sandler & Co.
There are still good and great comedies made every year. But I personally feel like we are in a fallow period. It felt like we were going to go into the Sacha Baron Cohen era for a moment… but it only lasted a film and a half, really. Wes Anderson is great, but so unique that he doesn’t really lead. Same with Spike Jonze. Are the next seriously important comedy voices going to be primarily on TV? Maybe.
So is, as someone suggested, Harold Ramis one of the most 5 most important comedy directors of the last 35 years? No.
Just because Ramis was part of Stripes and Ghostbusters doesn’t really mean we get to forget that Ivan Reitman’s important. Or because Ramis co-wrote Animal House, forgetting Landis and Doug Kinney is kind of a nasty way to love Harold. The late great Mr. Ramis cannot be given credit for the form of improv known as The Harold (created by Del Close, who Ramis ust have worked with at some point) nor for Harold’s Chicken Shack of Chicago.
But he was a game-changer. And he was one of the 25 or 30 people, who are writers, actors, and/or directors, not only created classic comedies, but set the tone for comedy for many years of these last 35. He seemed to be at or around every key comedy trend from the early 70s into the early 90s. And that is a truly remarkable legacy.
A brilliant, lovely, kind man.
Historically, the only 1st Quarter movies to get to $150m faster than The Lego Movie were The Hunger Games, The Passion of the Christ, Oz The Great & Powerful, and Alice in Wonderland. $200m should come next Friday or Saturday, pushing it ahead of Alice on the speed clock to that landmark. Lego is actually well ahead of Frozen‘s 3rd wide weekend cume, will be ahead again after its 4th weekend, but will probably fall back to even with Frozen because Frozen‘s 5th weekend was Christmas/New Years week, in which it actually grew 45%. So Lego will not likely reach the $350m+/potentially $400m+ range of Frozen or come close to The Hunger Games‘ $408m or even the The Passion‘s $371m domestic, but has a real shot at catching/passing Alice in Wonderland‘s $335m domestic to become the 3rd biggest Q1 movie in history. That’s not nothing. In fact, it’s as huge as the hype. Perhaps more huge. Sue Kroll and WB Marketing proves once again that when they have a movie that catches the zeitgeist, they can hit it way, way out of the park.
Speaking of zeitgeist, Frozen passed Despicable Me 2 this weekend to not only become the #1 animated film of 2013 and the #3 domestic release of 2013, but has gotten there with enough steam to make a run at the Top 2 domestic box office grossers of 2013 (Iron Man 3 and The Hunger Games: Catching Fire).
Don’t be surprised if The Oscars opens with Ellen DeGeneres doing a Frozen bit… maybe with a bow and arrow from Hunger Games to boot.
I don’t think I mentioned when it happened that American Hustle is now David O. Russell’s highest-grossing domestic movie (and will likely be his biggest worldwide as well). The Wolf of Wall Street is Scorsese’s biggest worldwide hit and will not likely be his top domestic grosser (still $20m behind The Departed). Gravity is Alfonso Cuarón’s biggest domestic hit, beating out his Harry Potter movie by $20 million so far (and will never catch Potter‘s $65m ww advantage). 12 Years A Slave is now a $119 million worldwide grosser, easily Steve McQueen’s biggest in all territories. Captain Phillips has done more than double what any Paul Greengrass movie not called Bourne has done worldwide and triple domestically. So if you add some perspective to the Oscar group, the numbers look even better.
Have I mentioned 3 Days To Kill or Pompeii yet? No. Well, why would I?
On the arthouse circuit, the two winners were The Wind Rises and Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me with estimated/reported per-screens between $12k and $14k.