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Weekend Estimates by Out-Of-Focus Klady

Weekend Estimates 2015-03-01 at 8.58.09 AM

Remember when last weekend looked kinda crappy? This weekend tops (bottoms?) it. The only weaker weekend this year so far was Super Bowl weekend.

Will Smith’s Big Willie has shrunk. Focus is not a disastrous opening, but it’s not a happy one either. Of course, WB pushed out a movie with many variations on the ad campaign, no particularly recognizable star aside from Smith (with due respect to Margot Robbie… one movie, no nomination, not yet anything approaching a box office draw), and a title that didn’t help. Keep in mind… when the then-most-recent Batman, George Clooney, came out in what was a truly great movie – Out of Sight – with Jennifer Lopez by his side, and the film opened to $12 million, which in 1998 looked a lot like $19 million looks this morning. These movies, that avoid being on the nose, are hard to sell.

And of course… international. Smith’s films, whether Seven Pounds or After Earth, have all done significantly more internationally than domestically in the last 5 years.

The other newcomer, The Lazarus Effect, has a direct-to-DVD budget and a conservative marketing budget. So even if it’s just $20 million domestic, this will end up being – add worldwide and post-theatrical revenues – a profitable piece of business.

50 Shades Of Grey continues to fall like a stone domestically. It will likely have a lower domestic total than Spongebob: Sponge Out of Water when all is said and done. But… it will also do $400 million-plus internationally. So don’t cry for poor Anastasia.

McFarland USA may have found a little stride in its step with a 29% drop this weekend. This indicates a strong Saturday, meaning that family audiences are now checking out the film more aggressively.

American Sniper will pass Guardians of the Galaxy on Thursday as #2 film released in 2014 and will likely pass THG: Mockingjay 1 on Sunday, Monday or Tuesday next week and become the #1 of 2014.

Still Alice expanded out to 1318 screens on the Julianne Moore win as Best Actress and did a strong $2.7 million on 1318 screens.

Best Picture winner Birdman added screens and $2 million to its domestic total, passing $40 million.

Two films, in exclusive release, managed over $12k per screen; ’71 and The Hunting Ground. But it was a round indie weekend, more so than even in the wide-release business. Sony Classics is having a busy weekend with Oscar players Still Alice, Whiplash, Mr. Turner, Leviathan, Wild Tales, and Timbuktu all in release.

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Friday Estimates by Not-So-Big-Willie-Style Klady

Friday Estimates 2015-02-28 at 8.40.39 AM

As is so often the case, the premature reporting of weekend estimates from east coast matinees leads to increased disappointment for the studios that encourage such silliness. Focus is an underdog to get to $20 million this weekend, though this could be one where there is a Sunday estimate that is higher than the actual. It’s also possible that the cold in the east and midwest will help or hurt over today and tomorrow. What we know for sure is that this is not a glorious return of the too-little-seen Mr. Smith. Starring in only his fourth film in the seven years since his last big hit, Hancock, Smith still has “it,” but about half the biggest moviegoing demo in America has no real idea of who he is/was. WB will look to the overseas audience to keep this from being a big money loser, as they came to the rescue of Seven Pounds ($98m international), Men in Black III ($445m int), and After Earth ($183m int).

Focus is clearly a move to a more adult positioning of Smith’s career… from high-energy bad boy to adult intelligence and sensuality. He has the chops. But he probably needed more experienced hands behind the camera. Smith’s stardom has come from very definable characters who lacked real mystery. This dude in Focus is meant to be a cipher from beginning to end. And the marketing has flailed as a result. In trying to find the tone that will connect with Smith’s audience, WB has come up with a lot of approaches… which has muddied the water while still not finding the golden ticket. A lot of smart and very talented people have come up short on this one.

The Lazarus Effect ain’t coming back. But it’s Relativity, so this is about where the company lives. Did you know that Relativity has never had an opening over $33 million? This is their 33rd release as an independent and it will be their 20th not to open to at least $10 million. Sometimes, the company is just designed to be a certain thing and there is just not getting over that mission statement. Relativity is built on international pre-sales, which means that domestic distribution is not life and death. And there you go. Interestingly, the company opened Oculus last April to $12 million with no name talent and will open Lazarus to under $10 million with Olivia Wilde and Mark Duplass. But speaking to the mission statement… it’s a Blumhouse movie that cost under $4 million, which makes it cheaper to make than network TV or a Netflix Original. But it will also be Blumhouse’s worst opening in 5 years (16 films) with the exception of Dark Skies, which Dimension opened to $8 million a few years ago.

50 Shades of Grey is the proverbial dropping stone domestically. $170 million domestic looks like a reach about now. But… it will still pass $500 million worldwide this weekend, so get over it.

Kingsman: The Secret Service hasn’t found that second wind I was hoping it would. But it should be near $85 million at the end of this weekend and $100 million domestic is still well within reach. It should also hop over 50 Shades – and maybe even Lazarus – in the all-unimportant Top 10 slotting chart. Internationally, the film is already over $100 million and there is some gas left in that tank.

Another film I was rooting for, McFarland USA, reminds how challenging it can be for a company that is really good at releasing giant films to release something more delicate (and without a bottomless pit of marketing dollars). This is Disney’s sixth attempt at a non-blockbuster in the last year (Muppets Most Wanted, Bears, Million Dollar Arm, The Hundred Foot Journey, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day) and the high for the group, domestically, is $67 million. The budgets, except for Muppets, which was coming off a more successful reboot, were under $30 million. And there seems to be a $30 million range for international on these. So it’s not dragging down Blockbusterville. But most of these titles seemed to offer more upside than the current big-eyed Mouse House is finding.

Oscar Bump is soft. Very soft. American Sniper is holding well… but it was holding well before Oscar night. Same with The Imitation Game. Birdman expanded its re-release this weekend from 407 screens to 1215. The Friday gross more than doubled from last weekend. But it’s still just a $500,000 Friday and maybe a $1.5 million weekend. Likewise, Still Alice went from 765 screen s to 1318, but got only a 10% bump out of it, even with Julianne Moore’s Oscar win. It’s looking at a $2 million weekend.

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51 Weeks To Oscar

neil-patrick-harris

It’s been 3.5 days since the Oscar show ended and… poof… it’s almost like it never happened.

The show was mediocre. It wasn’t offensive, like “I Saw Your Boobs.” It wasn’t trivializing of the movies like “The Selfie Show.” But it was not special. The only memories that I suspect more than the immediately-connected will have with this show are the three big speeches (Arquette/Moore/Common-Legend) and maybe the production number for “Glory,” which was great on TV but apparently even greater in the theater.

Neil Patrick Harris is a tremendous hosting talent… but he is theater, a bit TV, and not “a movie guy.” What that means is that even though he has been in movies and been in this town for a long time, he doesn’t have the gravitas in the film world to hold the show together. Billy Crystal, for all his schmaltzy limitations, had the tone of a bachelor uncle, knowing, but a little sad. Perfect, in that way. David Letterman is still beaten up for “Oprah, Uma,” but the real problem he had with the show was that he always looked like a cat on a hot tin roof. He wasn’t at home. The reason that Carson and Hope were the best at it and may forever be so is that they were just so comfortable in the driver’s seat. Of the late night hosts who will be in the 1130pm chair over the next year, the only one who has a real shot at being good at this job is Colbert. But not next year. Need to see what happens in the chair as he warms to it. Maybe 2017.

But the problem with The Oscars right now is not the host, but that we are still talking about the host. As long as The Academy allows this to be a show about The Host, it will continue to flail. They need a host that can do the job for 5 years or more. They need him or her to become the really comfortable, really smart furniture. And they need to make The Oscars – which has a captured audience, for now – about the movies again.

Michael Keaton lost the Oscar… Michael Keaton won the Oscar… I don’t care all that much. But Michael Keaton not getting a second of airtime? FAIL.

30-second clip reels for Best Picture nominees? FAIL.

8 musical numbers, none honoring the year’s movie scores? FAIL.

You know what number worked? Gaga, followed by Julie Andrews. I laughed my ass off when it started. What the hell were they up to? But it worked because Gaga surprised by being so good, she absolutely respected the original music (as opposed to making it an auto-tuned rap version), and Julie Andrews brought the tradition.

The LEGO thing tried too hard. Just did. And if Channing Tatum was in the possum, nothing could be more of an epic fail than not taking off the head at the end and introducing the next nominees. Yes… as pop culture references go, they could even have had the left shark join him (with female movie star x in there… or double-nominee Jonah Hill)… just as long as they didn’t milk the gag to the point where it became masturbatory.

The three songs that were not staged with more than the singer were okay… but not memorable.

And Selma‘s “Glory” worked, but mostly because it was such a straight play and references the movie so directly.

Oscar thinking is, these days, all tactical. But the strategy, which has been “panic” for quite a few years now, is missing.

Leaders – and The Academy remains the leader in awards shows – move forward. They don’t try to emulate the success of those who are not as successful as they are. Or the leaders become the followers.

There was one year in which The Grammys was right there with Oscar. But it has fallen off substantially since. And Oscar is The Boss. Act like it!

I’d love to be in the meeting for the discussion about what The Oscars should be, without regard to the idea of ratings or the current nature of the content universe. I don’t think it would look a lot like what we saw last Sunday. It would still turn out flawed. There would still be complaints. But America and The World would know a lot more about the movies that were nominated for Best Picture than they do today. Careers other than Meryl Streep’s would be given perspective – as they are on the field in the Super Bowl – more than they were on Sunday. The question of why the world loves movies – and they still do – would have been answered.

But what came out of the show? Gaffes, great speeches, and gaffes being made out of great speeches.

And you know what else? The Oscar show should absolutely embrace and promote the most popular films of the year as well. There is a way of doing that with class and respect – which should always be the #1 angle on the Academy brand – without creating an award for popularity or acting the fool. I wouldn’t mind seeing a 10-minute segment, dead center of the 3 hours-plus, about the heights that commercial cinema can reach… about the intersection of art and commerce… Lucy and Under The SkinFoxcatcher and The Hulk or 22 Jump Street… Groot and Chewbacca… Jennifer Lawrence with a bow and Jennifer Lawrence with her mouth… Interstellar and 2001: A Space Odyssey… it’s all connected.

The SNL 40 bit when actors who loved characters from the show got to embody them briefly on Update… great. What movie performance this year did Emma Stone love, Bradley Cooper, Michael Keaton, Meryl Streep, etc? It’s got to be about the movie love.

But The Academy is acting like a supermodel who is deeply worried that her boyfriend is going to leave because she has a zit. And the answer is, men do leave supermodels. And that insecurity haunts the most beautiful and the most plain. But when you are going out there for the show, if people start noticing you are insecure, your career is over. When you are in public, you need to be all in, turned on, rocking the world because you “know” you have what everyone else wants.

Or as John Patrick Shanley, by way of Cher, said, “(SLAP!) Get over it!!!”

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Review: Focus (non-spoiler until marked)

focus-movie-108975

Focus is the kind of movie that could drive a film critic mad. It’s like a feast of everything one might love about Soderbergh (especially Out of Sight), both Thomas Crown Affairs, The Sting, The Lady Eve, Mamet’s Heist, The Grifters, and even some Tony Scott.

But it doesn’t quite work.

Amazingly, that sense comes through pretty clearly in the advertising. There is something just a little off. There is a lack of, really, focus. Is it a sexy romp? Is it a heist movie? If it’s about a con man, what is the con?

I went to the screening hoping for a clearer answer and assuming there would be one. And there was. And then there wasn’t.

What hit me during the movie is that there was some big element missing from the film, which has a lot of very likable elements. But it took about 20 quiet minutes after the film to realize what it was. There is no second act.

The writing-directing team behind the film, Ficarra & Requa, have a history as screenwriters and directors of clever dialogue, strong characters, and odd story structures that sometimes work brilliantly (Bad Santa, Cats & Dogs, a very underrated kids movie that works for adults, but not in a terribly ironic way), sometimes fall flat (Bad News Bears, I Love You Phillip Morris, which has great performances, but never quite makes sense) and sometimes in fall right the middle, which is the case with Crazy, Stupid, Love., which has some of the best romantic tension sequences you’ll see and some attempts as things that never quite work.

Focus has a prologue in New York City that serves, I guess, as the first act of the film… though not really. It’s an excellent idea for a meet-cute, but here, while the writing worked, the magic that Soderbergh brought to Out of Sight and his other films from that era eludes the skill level of these directors… who practically trace the classic movie onto this new one. Sorry… but snowy city, moody lighting, a certain kind of music… Soderbergh owns it like Capra or Hitchcock own cinematic imagery that cannot be done without it feeling like homage.

Leap forward to what seems to be meant as the second act, at the not-Super Bowl in New Orleans. The Boy & Girl are reunited. He is now with his team. She has to prove she belongs. She does, in a fairly fresh idea of an organization working – illicitly – a major event. The filmmakers are a little over their head, in terms of the visual magic of the Rube Goldberg Thieves bit, but it is certainly entertaining enough. Then, they do it one too many times. But let’s put that aside.

In this act, it becomes clearer that the movie is about The Boy & The Girl. Without wanting to reveal any real spoilers, I will just say that it works.

Cut To: A few years later. We don’t know the current status of The Boy & The Girl and we have learned not to trust what we see in the movie. Are these two on the same track? On separate tracks? Is there a big twist coming? What emotions are real and which are fake?

This is the most complicated act… and for the most part, it works. There are some missing callbacks and such, but basically, it works. And as an audience, we should be having the same kind of fun that we had in the third act of The Sting.

Why aren’t we?

And now, I have no real choice but to get into some vague SPOILERS… but definitely SPOILERS.

SPOILER ALERT
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BYOscarB

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Weekend Estimates by Oscar & The Kladys

Weekend Estimates 2015-02-22 at 9.04.56 AM

Domestically, I now look at Spongebob: Sponge Out of Water to surpass 50 Shades of Grey in the long run. That’s a teachable moment about opening weekends.

Internationally, 50 Shades will destroy Spongebob. But as we get through the year, it is unlikely that 50 Shades will end up in the Top 10 for the year in that category either.

Don’t get me wrong. Massive success. As long as the two sequels are under $100m each, they will both be quite profitable, though I suspect this first film will be the highest grosser of the franchise.

If you look at the films with 70% second-weekend drop, there are some major bombs, but also films like the last Potter, Twilight: Breaking Dawn 1, and of course, Valentine’s Day. I would certainly say that Grey should be considered in that second group… a hit with HUGE must-see interest but a glass ceiling of potential ticket-buyers that made for an oversized opening weekend and a big drop. Add, for 50 Shades, Oscar Sunday – for a film that is more nighttime than matinee – and it isn’t shocking at all.

Holdovers Kingsman: The Secret Service and Spongebob: Sponge Out of Water are both estimating Sunday carefully, given the “holiday.” Both could dip back under 50% when the “actuals” are announced tomorrow.

Kingsman is chugging away to $100m+ domestic with a whole lot of foreign to go, so look for the sequel that Matthew Vaughn is already talking about. I still feel that this film hasn’t locked in with its biggest potential fan base… so it could have another theatrical wind or find greater popularity in post-theatrical.

After three weekends, Spongebob is actually out ahead of How To Train Your Dragon 2, though Dragon had the summer slotting. Still, an interesting comparison. And it’s only about $10m behind Big Hero 6 after three… though BH6 had the holiday season to blow up. It’s $30 million ahead of Rio 2 after three weekends, which was last spring’s biggest animated hit, and still doing bigger numbers. So $170m+ domestic would not be a shock at all for The Sponge, doubling the domestic gross of the first Sponge-flick.

McFarland USA is soft out of the gate. Right now, it’s looking at about $40 million domestic. But maybe word of mouth will help… maybe the Spanish-speaking market will lock in and add another $30 million… maybe not. A really surprising movie.

The Duff, made by CBS Films and distributed by Lionsgate, also opened soft.

And Hot Tub Time Machine 2, which was clearly hoping to capitalize in cult status and $50 million domestic gross of the original, was drained of 59% of the original’s opening… going the wrong direction. Released by Paramount, it is along the same lines as Anchorman and Anchorman 2, though that sequel’s opening was almost identical to the first film’s and ended up grossing about 50% more than the first. That’s not happening here.

That said, the price tag to make the sequel has been reported as being $14 million… almost a third of the original. If that is true, this film could see black ink with some help internationally, where the film performed modestly, but well for an American comedy.

American Sniper, now at $320 million domestic, has actually grossed more than Best Picture nominee from 2001, Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of The Ring. It has a good shot at also passing The Two Towers, though Return of the King (the one that won) seems out of reach. Looking back over the last 20 years of Oscar, Sniper is also behind Avatar, Titanic, and Toy Story 3. Eastwood’s film will pass Forrest Gump‘s domestic total in the next week.

In that group of eight $320m+ grossers nominated for Best Picture in the last 20 years, three have won, four have lost. Sniper is the eighth. Of course, if you adjust the win/loss for Rings, the third of which won, it’s 3 wins, 2 losses to date. Interesting, eh?

Screen Shot 2015-02-22 at 10.27.54 AM

As you can add for yourself, even with some Oscar bumping, Sniper‘s gross remains higher than the other 7 nominees combined.

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Friday Estimates by Still Shady Klady

Friday Est corr 2015-02-21 at 8.29.40 AM

Fifty Shades of Grey is a huge success that is,not unpredictably, dropping like a stone. The international is really the story here, posting over $200 million in its first week. Domestically, the other big February openings have had second weekends of $53 million (Passion), $50 million (LEGO), $29 million (Hannibal), and $31 million (Spongebob 2). I am leaving Valentine’s Day out of this analysis, as it was date-specific. 50 Shades is unlikely to have as much as $24 million this weekend.

Day for day, Fiddy is still about $10m ahead of Twilight, but that number should be almost cut by half over this weekend.

Still, the international on 50 Shades was Top 15 all-time on its first weekend, the only comparable non-sequels being Avengers, 2012, and Avatar. It will surely pass the entire international of the Twilight run when this weekend’s international estimates are released. $600 million worldwide would not be surprising at this point.

In the domestic market, however, $200 million is not assured.

Kingsman: The Secret Service Is holding well, just under 50% from opening Friday. It’s Matthew Vaughn’s biggest non-X film and it will be interesting to see how it continues to hold. One gets the feeling it’s been hurt a little by there being no media oxygen available to discuss the film’s cultural significance.

The Duff is okay for CBS, not great for Lionsgate, and a forgettable number overall. But maybe there is a sticky movie in there. CBS has been an interesting place for teen angst, often represented in comedy. They make interesting choices… pick interesting actors… but have had a hard time finding the audience that will show up at theaters.

The numbers of Spongebob: Sponge Out Of Water are actually quite good in the current animation market. They aren’t Pixar/Disney or Lego numbers. But they will pass last year’s Peabody & Sherman, Rio 2, and has already passed many others. The question in animation is what the real budgets are. DWA argues that their overhead as a studio, like Pixar’s and Disney’s brings the cost of the films up and that Illumination and Paramount and other are artificially deflating their budget numbers by not including overhead… that the actual cost of production is about the same. Spongebob 2 claims a $74m budget. Peabody almost twice that. The difference between a success and a flop. Interesting conversation.

McFarland USA is a surprisingly good film… set up as a cliché-fest, but overcoming, thanks to the guiding hand of Niki Caro and Kevin Costner’s willingness to just be an actor here. Not a great start though. Fingers crossed for a surge of interest and a family audience. Right now, opening day is almost exactly the same as Draft Day (Waaaa-waaaa… Debbie Downer).

Hot Tub Time Machine 2 is from the school of, “the first one did okay, but there is a cult-y post-theatrical thing around it, so lets make the sequel that’s a reach and shock the world!” Not sure who a $7m opening is going to shock. That said, the studio is claiming that they made this one for $14 million, about 2.5x less than the original. The first one did $14m foreign, so if they can match or surpass that, and do $20 million domestic, they might be okay financially… even good, depending on whether the cult value increases the post-Epix streaming value.

Wild Tales will do over $15k per-screen in its 4-screen debut this weekend. Not bad. Sony Classics would be thrilled for it to be the upset winner of Foreign Language tomorrow.

bp box office as of 2015-02-20

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DP/30: Best Actress – Cotillard, Jones, Moore, Pike

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20 Weeks To Oscar… 3 Days Left

The irony of this moment is that with almost nothing left to say, the world’s media suddenly feels compelled to say EVERYTHING all at once.

Here’s the deal, as concisely as I can offer it…

Best Picture is a giant cluster of possibilities, none of which is sure. The only film that I truly think is locked out at this point is Selma, because the anger around the lack of more nominations slapped a lot of Academy voters right in the face. Had Selma been the winner, it would not have been an embarrassment… nor would it be locked into the slot as one of the greatest films ever made. But the social game blew up in the film’s face. Hollywood prefers meaningless snubs, like Ben Affleck not getting a Best Director slot, to a discussion of race that points a finger at the voters (fairly or not).

That leaves 7.

And that invokes all that is good and bad about preferential voting.

Simplifying… do half of the ballots +1 (approximately 3001) have your title in the first round of counting? That seems impossible this year.

Without getting into a complicated attempt to explain how the preferential voting process works, each following round disqualifies the lowest/lower vote-getters and redistributes their highest still-qualified vote.

Preferential Voting has been defended in some corners. The LA Times took a shot at explaining the process again this year… and got a kick in the teeth for allegedly getting some of it wrong. (Ed. Note, 5:12p: The LA Times piece has been given a “thumbs up” by PriceWaterhouseCoppers, so the slap – certainly its dismissive tone – seems to be out of order.) Writers point out that the Australian Parliament, 10 American cities, some universities, and others use the system.

But while the preferential vote is not an issue – which suggests to me that it should not exist – in most Best Picture races, where one or two films seem to dominate the voting. Everyone seems to assume – though none of us actually know – that most Best Picture votes in this system go to the second round, where there is one redistribution of votes, and a winner is selected.

But this is a unique year. There seems to be a lot of support for pretty much all of the 8 nominees. And this is where the convolutions of preferential voting get (potentially) ugly. The more broadly support is spread over the 8 titles, the more rounds of redistribution become inevitable.

The purpose of preferential voting is to avoid one passion film that is widely disliked by the rest of the voting group from winning because there are so many candidates. In a group like The Academy, that means that 6000 or so votes (the full membership is now over 6200 because of expansion to attempt greater diversity in age, color, and gender), making 751 the minimum possible winning total in a straight up vote of #1s, more realistically meaning that 1000 or 1200 votes could conceivably win Best Picture without a rule requiring adjustment. The argument against this being that no one wants a film to win Best Picture when only 20% of The Academy loves it when 60% might hate it.

I don’t actually think this would be so bad. I see the value of this system in political races in which there are more than 3 or 4 candidates. The cost of re-votes is prohibitive and there is a public interest in a winner by majority. But with The Academy, the stakes are much lower and there is no situation in which one could anticipate a radical mob of 1200 in The Academy picking a porn film (or some such horror) to win Best Picture to make a statement.

For the record, this also means that I discount any real possibility of enough people “gaming the system,” as people call it, to make a major difference in what happens in a vote of 6000 individuals. I do think the smaller branches are subject to this kind of thing when it comes to nominations. If your branch has 350 people in it and 100 are so committed to one film that they avoid voting for what they see as a serious competitor from a short list, that could certainly keep the threatening film from a nomination. But I’m not talking about categories other than Best Picture today… or the nominating process.

Now… even if you don’t think a straight majority is okay, I would argue that there are better systems to make this work. My personal preference would be for a Top 5 vote in which every vote is counted and weighted. It’s simple and more voices with wider interests would, I feel, be heard that way. Or heck.. do the whole group of nominees, whatever the number. Getting a 50% +1 majority would not be an issue, as every film would have as many votes as are counted.

And if voters want to, effectively, vote against a film by making it their #8 or whatever, so be it. It is an election, not a game.

With that issue brought up again… and put to bed for now… the other 24 categories are going to be interesting as well… for much the same reason that the Best Picture race is so interesting this year. There aren’t a lot of obvious answers.

Yes… there are JK Simmons, Patricia Arquette, and Julianne Moore. All seem pretty obvious at this point. To be honest, I don’t think Moore, who has given better performances in better movies, is a natural slam-dunk. But there hasn’t been much push from anyone else to keep her from the win. So I don’t really see an upset happening there.

And then there are the other 21 categories.

Actor has become a 3-horse race… the never-before-nominated Redmayne and Keaton, and the thrice-in-a-row nominated Bradley Cooper. True toss-up.

Director seems like a competition between two brilliant stunts… Alejandro G. Iñárritu and the “one-shot” vs Richard Linklater and the 12-year journey. And Wes Anderson, director of well-loved and profoundly stunty films is right there in case the leaders somehow kill one another off.

Both Screenplay votes seem precursor-settled and reality-up-in-the-air. The Grand Budapest Hotel and The Imitation Game have won a lot of hardware so far. But Birdman and Boyhood and Whiplash and American Sniper all seem right in range to “upset.” Often, when you watch The Oscars, there are certain categories that seem to signal what is coming at the end of the night. This could be the tipping point this year… or an utter distraction of the “so close… but so far” variety. We’ll only know in retrospect.

Cinematography seems to be locking in for Chivo for the second straight year. But then again, it would be the second straight year. Do people think about that when they vote? Does the name Emmanuel Lubezki even register or are voters mostly thinking about the movie they thought looked coolest? (“Manny Lubeski” could have come over from Poland 40 years ago. He didn’t… but he could have.) Again, The Grand Budapest Hotel, shot by Robert D. Yeoman, looks pretty great. And Yeoman has been around this game, in LA, for 30 years.

Production Design seems to be settled in with Grand Budapest… but it is such a diverse category. You have a big showy fantasy-ish pieces in Into The Woods, early-1800′s England in Mr. Turner, the space/corn continuum in Interstellar, and 1940s England, including a cool model for the first computer in The Imitation GameBudapest is the biggest show-er in this group… but sometimes they push back on that.

Costume Design is also interesting. Budapest‘s high style, Maleficent‘s high goth, Into The Woods‘ high/low, Inherent Vice‘s high high, and Mr. Turner‘s nose high in the air. Some say Budapest is locked in. I see this as a pretty open race.

Editing is a pretty distinct choice. 12 years cut together in Boyhood. Tempo setting on Whiplash. Action in American Sniper. And Wes Anderson pacing in The Grand Budapest Hotel. You even have William Goldenberg for The Imitation Game, a win that seems unlikely, but would be for a guy who is a longtime part of “the family” (as is Joel Cox, fwiw). Complete crap shoot, as far as I’m concerned. Could be a vote for the favorite film. Could be hooked into the time thing. Could be that a beautifully edited, but cut-heavy music piece feels like the most edited.

The sound editing and mixing categories are always mysteries. What those categories are meant to honor and what the wide expanse of Academy voters think they are voting for is always at loggerheads.

Visual Effects would be well served if every voter could get a look at the “bake-off” reels. This is another category where voters often go for “most effects” because they really don’t know what they are looking at when they consider their picks.

Make-Up and Hair is an interesting one because it does seem so obvious. Or does it? This season in particular, it’s The Hair (Budapest) vs The Nose (Foxcatcher) vs The Skin (Guardians). But is this fair to any of the contenders? For instance, on Guardians, the green skin was done by the make-up team, but the scarred Drax skin was done by a prosthetics team. And how would a voter balance that out, even if they knew? Ironically, this is a category for work that is really meant to be seamless… unnoticeable. And in many ways, it is. So people pick what they like… which probably means Budapest.

Score is interesting this year. Since 1946, when it became a 5-person race, there has been a composer nominated for two films in the same year 14 times (8 of those times, it was John Williams) and the only time any of them have won was when John Williams won for Star Wars, the score of which was an actual bestseller on vinyl. This year, 8-time nominee Alexandre Desplat is up for The Grand Budapest Hotel and The Imitation Game. He seems a lock. Only one of his competitors has a Best Picture nod to go with the score. None of the scores have become pop hits and none of the nominated songs are from any of the films nominated for score. But history suggests that Alexandre is going to be left at the altar again. Or maybe history just isn’t an issue this year.

Song would seem to be a mortal lock for Selma‘s “Glory.” But the name-calling put a lot of Academy voters (male and female) off. So maybe there is a surprise coming.

Documentary branch seemed to push away any of Citizenfour‘s seriously entertaining competitors. But we know that the vote of the full Academy tends to go for lighter, apolitical fare. Does this mean Virunga or Finding Vivian Maier? I think so. But every Academy rule is naturally meant to be broken.

Foreign Language is always rife with surprises. Ida is the only film to get a nomination outside of Foreign Language, which bodes well for a win in this category. Wild Tales is the most entertaining of the group. Leviathan is somewhere in between these two. Coin flip.

Animated Feature has been battled out hard by DreamWorks Animation and Disney. DWA seems to have done well in overcoming the objection to a “2″ at the end of an Oscar nominated title. Any of the other three films seems like a longshot simply on the basis of familiarity of the name. Lean Dragon… don’t be surprised by BH6… and don’t have a heart attack if The Tale of Princess Kaguya, one of the last films from the founding leaders of Studio Ghibli finds its way to the podium.

The shorts? No idea. If 20% of voters have watched them, I’d be shocked. Dart board.

And with that, I wish you a great Oscar Sunday. It could be the most obvious series of winners ever… or the most chopped up night with no one getting more than 3 wins. That, my friends, is why they run the race.

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Weekend Estimates by Len Shade-y

weekend estimates 2015-02-15 at 9.27.07 AM

The Fifty Shades of Grey opening is a “wow,” but it is also being hyped out of proportion to its reality. I guess I understand the urge, though it is not a wow, I don’t think, for any serious reason. It’s just trying to make a story seem bigger to get more attention. And, amazingly enough, we are also in such a strong first quarter – the first since 2010 that isn’t driven to significance by one massive title – that great success seems less important in perspective… so perspective is minimized on Sundays like this.

Fifty Shades is #2. And by that I mean that it is the #2 February opening ever… the #2 opening of the year (if you take American Sniper‘s expansion from 4 screens to extremely wide release as an opening)… the #2 February 4-day gross (also behind The Passion of The Christ)… etc.

It’s not The Hunger Games, though it opened better than Twilight after having a smaller opening day. But the youth market is a big business and mothers were not taking their young and pre-teens to this movie, opening day or ever. Nine years after The Da Vinci Code opened to $77 million domestic against terrible reviews, that seems to be the next best comparison. Big book. Hard core following. Really for adults. No 3D. No Tom Hanks here… but that probably accounts for why the two openings are so close, nine years later. The 2006 Da Vinci opening would probably translate to about $91m now.

Anyway… a big, fat hit. Also, relatively cheap to make. Where it goes… who knows? I suspect that the sequel drops a bit from this film’s eventual totals, but as long as the sequels don’t go wildly out of control, budgetwise, there is a cash cow to be milked for a few years here. (I just wonder what DeLuca’s deal is, moving forward. He can’t produce the films, but I am assuming he will get paid a significant percentage on both sequels. Spielbergian.)

Kingsman: The Secret Service, with the #16 all-time February opening, could be overlooked. But it shouldn’t be. Colin Firth is great… but not a big opener. Sam Jackson is great, but is not a guarantee of a huge opening. UK accents. A graphic novel little-known outside of the hardcore of readers. An R so hard you could cut diamonds with it. And it could just be getting started. If ever there was a word-of-mouth action film with a big enough sampling to seed weeks of strong legs, this film is it. If I was advising the film’s team, I would be pushing out a couple red-band clips this week to prime the pump. The controversy over the scene with slaughter inside a Southern church can only help.

Another really critical box office point that few wrote about last year—and should have—is that these movies are not as expensive as the market has offered in the recent past. Cinderella probably cost more than Kingsman‘s reported $81 million budget or Spongebob‘s $75 million. But American Sniper and 50 Shades were both under $50 million. And whether the gross numbers are up—which they will probably be this quarter—or down, as they were last year… the gross revenue doesn’t much matter. It’s about profitability.

Even without much from international, Eastwood’s American Sniper is already his biggest movie ever by almost 50%. Over $300 million domestic now. And $350 million is looking likely, even more if it wins (gulp!) Best Picture.

Oscar box office 2015-02-15 at 10.50.32 AM

For what it’s worth, Foxcatcher, which never heated up commercially, is now over $11.9 million.

The Oscar Shorts, released theatrically by ShortsHD, are headed to over $2 million. That’s not nothing.

Nice 5-screen opening for self-distributed What We Do In The Shadows and strong on 2 with Gett: The Trial of Vivian Amselem.

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Friday Estimates by 50 Shades of Kla… dy

Friday Estimates 2015-02-14 at 8.56.11 AM

It feels a bit like today’s box office coverage was written last week and is just being adjusted to show the real numbers.

It’s not that 50 Shades of Grey isn’t having a remarkable opening. But it’s opening is still closer to Divergent‘s opening day ($23 million) than The Hunger Games: Mockingjay 1‘s ($55 million). The first Twilight opened to a $36m Friday. Sex & The City‘s $27m launch day (plus 7 years) seems a pretty fair match.

I am not saying that this opening is anything less than remarkable. But it isn’t a phenomenon that’s never been seen. Not close.

Likewise, Kingsman: The Secret Service is a hard-R opening. The comps that seem to fit are Jumper and Constantine. It will be interesting, however, to see how word-of-mouth plays out on this one. It is “the kind of movie you want to see on a big screen.” And for as many trucks that can be driven through its logic, it’s an exciting experience of a film. But because of the hardness of its R rating, the Fox marketing has not really shown how rough the film actually is… and word-of-mouth could draw young men in bigger numbers as word leaks out.

American Sniper is finally slowing a little bit, though this will be the fifth weekend over $10 million. (Remember when 10 weekends in the Top 10 was argued as a reason why Gone Girl would/should get a Best Picture nomination? Seems quaint now.) If you remove the 22 days on 4 screens and the $3.4 million that Sniper earned in that period, the film will hit $300 million domestic in 32 or 33 days, which is faster than THG: Mockingjay 1 or Guardians and a little behind The Passion.

Paddington hits a quiet, but effective, $60 million today. And The Wedding Ringer will eventually pass $60 million, though I bet that number would surprise a lot of people if you told it to them.

Spongebob: Sponge out of Water will be Paramount’s 3rd $100m domestic grosser and will likely end up surpassing the studio’s current #1 animated grosser (not including DWA), Rango and its $123.5m domestic.

Not a lot of thrills in exclusive and limited openings. The best grosser is What We Do In The Shadows, which is on 5 screens and will go about $11k per.

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David Carr Exits

David Carr’s magic was that he was the most human person you could imagine. He was far from perfect. But his flaws were gloriously sharp, like the scars that showed, the ones you could hear, and the ones that were not so carefully hidden.

He cheated death, and not only came back to life, but earned the life he absolutely wanted. No one ever loved their kids more, respected wives for being able to put up with we men more, and his love affair with The Times… well… he bled gray.

Loyal to a fault… perhaps beyond. Once he believed something, he believed it. It was personal. Professional faults could be overlooked if he believed in you. And professional success would mean little if he had decided that you were of bad character.

He, like all of us, would get played now and again. But I always felt that his susceptibility was caused, in part, because of his modesty and that he felt—at least when I knew him pretty well—that though he wore the biggest sheriff’s badge going, he was not the sheriff, but Deputy Dawg.

I don’t know if he ever did end up feeling like The Sheriff. I hope he did. He certainly deserved to feel that way. But one rarely, if ever, caught him patting himself on the back.

He was a guy that you just wanted to sit with, as he mulled things over, ideas forming, asking questions when he already knew his answer, throwing out unexpected intimacies as though he was talking sports scores (which we never talked), finding something you hadn’t noticed but that he was chewing up.

He made himself an icon by not doing anything intended to make himself an icon. Just a guy with a job to do… with kids he loved… with a wife he wanted to please… Our Andy Griffith, but with the nasty edge you just knew Andy had to have when the cameras went off… with a deep love of music… of dark, dank rooms where something real could happen… with that crooked neck and that croak and that smile that always seemed to come with a twinkle. A skinny Santa with a bag full of surprises and fun and comfort.

I loved David Carr. I pissed him off on a few occasions and for that I cannot apologize, except for the time I was being a smart ass and had my facts dead wrong, making a meme out of a coincidence. For that I was (and am) sorry. And with that minor infraction, I did feel like I lost my friend and went back to acquaintance. I think he saw this as disloyalty on my part. But there was no conversation. Just a quick written slap and a “noted.” My loss, no question.

But I loved him. And I love him. He was, above all, a mensch. A flawed, sometimes fragile, never boring, unexpected, open, loving, silly, broken, beautiful mensch.

Couldn’t you have fucking waited for double -30- at least?

Sad, sad day.

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The Hot Blog

Quote Unquotesee all »

“The evening’s curious vanity and irrelevance stay with me, if only because those qualities characterize so many of Hollywood’s best intentions. Social problems present themselves to many of these people in terms of a scenario, in which, once certain key scenes are licked (the confrontation on the courthouse steps, the revelation that the opposition leader has an anti-Semitic past, the presentation of the bill of participants to the President, a Henry Fonda cameo), the plot will proceed inexorably to an upbeat fade. Marlon Brando does not, in a well-plotted motion picture, picket San Quentin in vain: what we are talking about here is faith in a dramatic convention. Things “happen” in motion pictures. There is always a resolution, always a strong cause-effect dramatic line, and to perceive the world in those terms is to assume an ending for every social scenario… If the poor people march on Washington and camp out, there to receive bundles of clothes gathered on the Fox lot by Barbra Streisand, then some good must come of it (the script here has a great many dramatic staples, not the least of them in a sentimental notion of Washington as an open forum, cf. Mr. Deeds Goes to Washington), and doubts have no place in the story.”
~ Joan Didion On Hw’d In 1970

CAMPION: We were driving around the countryside the other day, and we happened to chance upon a lone bull and cow going through some sex rituals. I was so surprised to see how lengthy the whole process was for this bull. He started licking the cow’s shin and worked his way quite laboriously up toward her ass. And every now and again, you thought, “Maybe she’s ready now—he’ll try a quick move.”
TAYLOR-JOHNSON: She wasn’t ready.
CAMPION: She made it clear that that wasn’t the case. We couldn’t even wait; it was like 15 minutes, but it was really adorable. Even when we came back, they were still at it. The foreplay was phenomenal.
TAYLOR-JOHNSON: You don’t think of animal love in that way.
~ Jane Campion And Sam Taylor-Johnson in Interview

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