The Hot Blog Archive for September, 2011

Friday Estimates by KladyBall



Brad Pitt’s Moneyball is running about $200k a head of the Friday opening of 2008’s Burn After Reading. It will take a bit of a surprise bump to get it to $20m for the weekend.

Meanwhile, if The Lion King re-release in 3D repeats its weekend multiple from last weekend, it will gross $20.3 million and likely win the weekend… if not by Sunday estimates, then by “actuals” on Monday.

We’re long way from knowing what the final story on Moneyball‘s box office run will be. Burn After Reading did about 3.1x opening… The Social Network about 4.3x opening. TSN ended up doing better overseas than at home. That will be a bigger challenge for the baseball-themed Moneyball, but Brad Pitt is a monster internationally and may turn that trick, making the film profitable… which is why studios so desperately want to be in the Pitt business.

Though Deadline is working overtime – even during vacations (moving from the office to the living room) – to suck up to three of its favorite contributors/editors/whisperers, the Oscar hype around Moneyball right now is marketing hype… praying to get to a bigger theatrical multiple. and this is not a great or good opening for Taylor Lautner’s first massively stupid payday.

The question of this week, as with all too many weeks, is why would two distributors put two single-quadrant movies chasing the same quadrant out on the same weekend? And add to the stupidity by putting them both against Brad Pitt, who is sure to eat some of their demo, even if his movie doesn’t quite fit. I just don’t get it. Perhaps teen girls make the estimated $400k difference between ABduction and Killer Elite, but it’s not s realistic play for Twilight‘s Jon Cena wannabe.

Dolphin Tale seems like a bit of a shock in its slot. It could match the opening of last year’s Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole and had WB thought it had this potential, they might have moved it away from LK3D so it could breath a little. There’s not really another kids movie in the marketplace until the end of October.

Drive‘s hold is disappointing, $30m and change domestically looking like the glass ceiling for the film. They should be whipping the Albert Brooks Oscar potential hard right now. DVDs should be in Academy mailboxes by mid-October. Not sure that they will be.

Contagion is holding well, but is also paying a price for the crowded market for adult action. (For the record… opening day was 20% better than Moneyball and the weekend multiple was 2.8x Friday estimates.)

Don’t get me wrong. I am not fighting against Moneyball. I’m just not terribly susceptible to hype. It the film earns that audience, god bless it. It’s a very good film. But I’m still not sure that real world audiences will love it the way critics do. And opening day, as always, is not about the film itself. So we’ll see…

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ACTUAL NSFW EXCLUSIVE: The World Debut Of Blowfly’s “Naked Pile Up”

I had no idea who Blowfly was just a week ago. Since then, I have seen the documentary about The First Rapper and met him, now in disguise as a 72-year-old man. And then, he decides to put a brand new song on videotape for us.

It’s profoundly profane, though the man is interestingly religious. “Enjoy!”

Mini-Review: Moneyball

One of the reasons I love Bennett Miller… he has perspective. He can be odd and he can be a little ornery, but he’s not full of shit.

My instant take on Moneyball, which I was a little anxious about sharing with Sony, lest I be kept from Bennett and/or any other talent on the film in these weeks before release, was that it is a giant movie star giving what would seem to be a giant movie star performance that isn’t really a giant movie star performance at all in a movie that is really made for the arthouse. That doesn’t make it bad… it just makes it wildly unexpected and a marketing challenge for Sony, which is trying to get its money out of it.

And Bennett, to his credit, said as much without being prompted in our DP/30 conversation. Huzzah.

I think Bennett and his entire cast of collaborators, especially the screenwriters, did a bang up job. But truth be told, if Sony was going to let them make a $50 million arthouse movie, why the hell did Soderbergh have to be jettisoned? On some level, I believe that Soderbergh’s approach, which sent the studio (and perhaps Mr. Pitt) into apoplexy days before the start of production, would have made for a “kinkier” film and that it would have fulfilled audience expectations more accurately that this film does. As a result of that, it may well have been more of the awards movie that the studio hoped for as well. Contagion hits $50 million today, on its way to a probable domestic number in the mid-60s, and that was with a horrible release date and iffy marketing angle. I don’t think Moneyball will see the $50m mark domestically, much less a higher number. The great story will be whether the power of Pitt (which is real) overseas can overwhelm the disinterest in the US pastime. Japan could be big.

And with that, I end my discussion of Mr Soderbergh and the firing that should not have happened.

As for Moneyball as it exists…

it’s not a baseball movie, really. It’s not a technical movie. The passions of the film are low key. It’s basically a movie about a guy who was expected to be a golden god with little effort and who failed, at least in his mind. He brings this chip with him on his life’s journey, and in some ways, becomes a really good looking Ahab. Only the taming of Major League Baseball itself, to the greatest degree, can ever satisfy him.

And this is where the rubber meets the arthouse on this film. Honestly, I want to see it again and maybe a third time before I have a definitive opinion of the work. It’s such a subversive take on the sports movie that it may well grow in esteem for me in screening after screening. But for people expecting a great moment of joy after fighting and fighting and fighting to win…. not so much.

Our hero, Billy Beane, is a depressing f-ing guy. Anything less than winning the World Series is not enough to make him feel right. And if you know your baseball history at all, it will be no spoiler for you… Billy is Moses, wandering in the desert, never to see the Holy Land close up. That doesn’t mean that he doesn’t have great success… success that changes the sport itself… success that others emulate to have the success he so desperately wants to make happen in Oakland.

As a result, the movie leaves the audience with blue balls, much as it leaves its hero. Now, movie critics love getting blue balls (or blue labia)… especially when the film is in a foreign language. But regular audiences? They kinda want their dance number on the train platform after all the bloodshed and loss.

And to Sony’s credit, as well as everyone responsible for what the movie is, that ending wasn’t forced onto this sad saga of success.

The cast is uniformly excellent, though Jonah Hill doesn’t really have enough to do to make him the Oscar bait that some thought he was sure to be. If Pitt is nominated, it will be for being Pitt. He’s perfect in the film, but it’s not the biggest challenge for him, it doesn’t seem to me. He’s a great character actor. Always has been. This is not a crowning moment for him. (He should get a retro-Oscar for True Romance.) Phillip Seymour Hoffman doesn’t get much to do but to have a harsh haircut and be a bit of an asshole.

It’s a good movie. It’s no romp. But it’s a good movie. Given a little breathing room, it may turn out to be a great movie. If you’ve read this far, I would say that it’s a must-see for you. So see it. And then we’ll talk…

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Delivelution: DISH Throws In A New Variation

I wish it was more exciting.

DISH pushed out an all-in-one plan for DISH/Blockbuster that is meant to take advantage of Netflix’s changes and some degree of inertia in the cable industry. But all they are really doing is combining Blockbuster and DISH Network in one financial package.


Live video by Ustream

It’s interesting… and for new customers, it’s cheap… but there isn’t anything about this that doesn’t face the same exact problems that Netflix faces, in terms of streaming content acquisition costs moving forward. There is a huge amount of blurring of what content is available and how. For instance, there are twice as many films available on your computer than there is on your TV… even though the unique proposition is that DISH stream through their settop box. (or course, DirecTV streams through their box also… expect a push-back press release shortly.)

This event does more for the non-DISH future in two ways. First, it is a basic idea of how cable companies will be seeking to mix the streaming experience with the cable experience. Before long, the line will be as blurred as possible, much as AT&T has started offering products so you can make phone calls at home through the internet on the same phone that connects to their satellites when you don’t have internet service. The customer may save a few dollars (mostly the most heavy users), but AT&T, if this integrates with a large percentage of their customer base, the savings will be much more significant for AT&T. Companies with massive investments in cable infrastructure will want to keep pushing as much content as they can through the cable while allowing customers access to streaming via the web in an integrated way so you never think about which is which.

The second benefit is pricing pressure on DirecYV and cable competitors of DISH. At a time when studios are looking to squeeze more money out of their libraries, DISH’s effort to see to be all things to all people could keep price increases at bay. Of course, it would help if their ads weren’t such crap.

My standard for this starts with, “Would this make me or the average consumer consider changing services?” And on price point, the answer is “yes.” At the price they claim for the first year – if there is not a required 2 or more years to follow – I could go to DISH/Blockbuster after the football season ends for 6 months and then, reconnect with DirecTV for the next football season, and still save money on the year. On the other hand, what a pain in the ass. And we weren’t really using Netflix’s DVD-by-mail service when it was included in the $9 a month tab.

As for others… DISH has been a price point competitor for most of its existence. And it’s always been tagged with being an inferior service, fairly or not. What happens with those companies is that they tend to load up on fru-fru to attract customers. And if you don’t have specific needs outside of their content boundaries – and most people don’t – that may be very attractive. And if the Netflix stumbles have people seriously considering changing their mix of home delivery products… well, could get interesting.

Again, personally, when I see DirecTV giving away a $350 a year NFL package to new subscribers, I am not a happy DirecTV customer, paying for them to acquire new customers by being gouged by the company for a product they know is a must-have for NFL fans who are with DirecTV primarily to take advantage of that exclusive arrangement with the NFL…. while they also want to squeeze me for another 50 bucks to watch games on the iPad.

But is there enough in this new DISH package, when closely examined, to make people leap? It’s the devil you know and the devil you don’t know and I’m not sure that many people are going to leap into a new company’s arms. And you’ll notice that what DISH didn’t mention is how long their streaming deals with EPIX and STARZ are… or how much of their new package is really just On Demand content that is already readily available.

Not really a big moment, I don’t think.

DP/30: God Bless America, writer/director Bobcat Goldthwait

Earlier with Bob…. after the jump….
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SnagFilms To Get More Aggressive

God, I feel almost arrogant and self-involved enough to work for Deadline! I say something and BOOM!, it happens. Must be my doing!

Wait a minute… the sun is up in the sky… I knew that as going to happen… man, I am on a roll!!!

But I digress even before I say anything…

In the Netflix conversation the other day, I noted that the door was open for a company like SnagFilms to come in and create a truly dominant business as The Streaming Company Of The Indie. Today (obviously a long-developing plan), a press release, that leads with the latest additions of distribution channels and the announcement of a slate on fiction films to go along with the company’s catalog of 2300 non-fiction titles.

What is a little disconcerting about this expansion and the entire realm of the smaller companies streaming all kinds of content these days is that it’s still like everyone wants to be your guide and no one wants to step up and pay real dollars to control any content. Looking at the SnagFilms site, i am very impressed by the range of documentary content. But even as I skip around that content, I don’t know whether anything is really proprietary to SnagFilms. I’m not saying that some of this content is not exclusive to SnagFilms… but if it is, I have no idea.

Point is, great site… great content… but what is driving traffic or, eventually, subscribers/paying customers?

It’s a strange thing. Over the years, the discussion of the delivelution on this blog has had a lot of responses about the notion that people wouldn’t pay for individual studios content on a subscription basis. I disagree. But the advantage the studios have in this eventual pursuit is that they have massive library and a ton of well-defined brands. They own the brands and will spend a lot of money marketing what they have.

As Netflix de-emphasizes the content they don’t have or had and will not longer have, they have done an even better job making mountains out of content molehills as they make deals. People seem to have heard about the deals for shows that Netflix has made. And it seems to be, for many, content that impresses them.

But when I click through to SnagFilm’s blog entry on new fiction releases, I see…

Additionally, SnagFilms will offer digital release (also initially for paid viewing) of fictional films such as:
· Too Young To Die, starring Brad Pitt and Juliette Lewis in a thriller based on a true story and reflecting the continuing debate over the death penalty;
· Women Talking Dirty, a Scottish comedy starring Helena Bonham Carter;
· P.U.N.K.S.,a comedy featuring Jessica Alba;
· Teknolust, a Tilda Swinton art-house title

… and i think they have this great, glorious machine being used to sell crap off of a rack at AFM.

Rick Allen does a great job staying on top of the future of streaming, positioning a business… but SnagFilms, like most of the other players on the level below Netflix and Hulu, simply don’t have a voice that is clear enough to market. People want to know what they are buying. It’s pretty basic. You can have your content available a million different ways and if you’re not selling your content, you’re still just spinning your wheels.

So… this morning’s press release is, in the end, not reflective of the kind of step up I was writing about Tuesday. It’s more of the same. It’s something I don’t know how to do… don’t handle well. It’s infrastructure and promoting the infrastructure.

But the great indie hub… or the singular doc hub? Still waiting…

3:46 Trailer: Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

Watching this almost brought a tear to my eye. Surprising to me. I know the book and the movie… and this has a clarity of vision, from the performances to the visuals to the cutting to the music, that is pretty breathtaking.

A trailer is a trailer. But for those who have been doubting the Oscar potential of this movie… this must be a head turner. Yes, it is short of the most extreme moments of sex and violence (combined much of the time), but this feels like a new view of the films of the 70s that are now legendary… some of which took home Oscar.

But mostly, it looks like an unforgettable film in a fall of mostly good, not great movies.

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DP/30 @ TIFF ’11: Your Sister’s Sister

Spend 30 minutes with writer/director Lynn Shelton and 2 of her 3 lead actors, Emily Blunt & Mark Duplass…

But that’s not all!

After over 500 half-hours, DP/30 is, happily, becoming a kind of living history of recent cinema. So, after the jump, the five other DP/30s over the last 3 years with the folks in this interview. (I’m restraining myself from going nuts and including the spin-offs of these extras… like the other Josh Leonard or Katie Aselton interviews.)

Play DP/30: All In The Family… after the jump.

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Friday Estimates by Retro Lion Klady

How do I know I’m back in LA? Doing Saturday morning box office…

Disney shows real smarts by programming The Lion King – even in unnecessary 3D – in this slot. It’s be over a month and a half since a real kids movie was launched into the marketplace (Smurfs) and September has been a good launching pad for animation, particularly Sony Animation (Cloudy/Open Season), which is diving right into the holiday season with Arthur Christmas this year.

Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs opened on Sept 18, 2009 to a $8.1m Friday, leading to a $30.3m weekend. Lion King has a good chance at beating that and becoming not only the biggest September animation opening ever, but the #3 or #2 September opening of all-time (behind the top September launcher, Disney’s 2002 entry, Sweet Home Alabama, with a $35.6m launch).

As smart as Lion King squatting in market devoid of family product, it couldn’t be much stupider to be throwing two retro thrillers up against each other. Drive, the non-remake (officially), is winning the war at the moment, doubling (by estimate) the opening day of Straw Dogs

Normally, I would discount the media – and specifically the critics – influence on an opening weekend. But in this case, the numbers are small enough that I do think we are seeing some influence asserted.

The picture at Rotten Tomatoes is interesting. On the overall Tomato Rating (dear GOD… just writing that makes me blush), Drive has got a rating almost 2.5-1 better than Straw Dogs. Digging a little deeper, one finds that Drive, pushed aggressively on the fest and screening circuit, has 139 ratings to just 71 for Straw Dogs. Look at the “Top Critics” group and you’ll find that Dog still has 23 ratings to Drive’s 37. Interestingly, when you flip from everyone to “top,” Drive’s percentage drops 7% while Dogs’ rises 10%,

Aside from all that… I would say that the level of enthusiasm from those who LOVE Drive , critics and other media, is much more of an influencer than criticism. Also, Gosling is coming off of hits and Albert Brooks brings some over-40 attention that might not have shown up. With Dogs, the biggest celebrity draw right now is True Blood’s Alexander Skarsgard, the third lead.

Still, I think both films suffered from being in the same movie food group and being released on the same date. Obviously, if you combine both films’ opening day gross, it’s still not winning this weekend. But another million on Friday for Drive could means an $11m weekend becomes a $15m weekend, which over the course of the run could be a $10m difference (or more) in the final domestic total.

Screen Gems has released 9 films in September. Six of them grossed over $50m domestic. Straw Dogs will not be one of those and could end up with the worst Screen Gems September opening ever. Why? The competition with Drive was made even more of a problem by Screen Gems’ effort to sell this as an action movie… while still clinging to it being a remake of one of Peckinpah’s most emotionally complex movies. The studio also kept the film under wraps until late in the game and avoided festivals, where a passionate conversation may have occurred. That conversation hasn’t really occurred, while the discussion of whether Drive is fresh and exciting or the same old Tangerine Dream is going on, hot and heavy, months after the film start bouncing from festival to festival.

I’m not reviewing Lurie’s Straw Dogs, but at least on the marketing level, someone like Mark Ruffalo or Joseph Gordon Levitt, while just as attractive as James Marsden to many, speak to the ideas of the film without having to educate potential ticket buyers. Kate Bosworth is terrific in the film, but are genre ticket buyers drawn to her the way they are Screen Gems regulars Becknisale and Jovavich?

These are all chemistry experiments and in many cases, there are two goals being aimed at in the same experiment. Lurie wanted make a subtly political, shocking tale of a man who is disconnected from reality, but who finds a darkness that may not serve him well when dragged out of his intellectual hiding place. Screen Gems wanted to sell a movie that maximized sexual objectification of Ms Bosworh and was hung on a True-Blood-like mano-a-mano showdown between the physical brutality of Skarsgard and the brainy emotional Marsden that leads to the audience-identifiable “Get off of my lawn” with a steel trap and a chainsaw.

But Screen Gems forgot something. Their 6 big September successes – and none of the 3 relative flops – were driven in no small part by the female audience. Underworld and Resident Evil are action movies, but with strong female leads that drew a grrrl audience (as Asian horror used to). Emily Rose and Easy A too. The only thing for women in this movie was the eye candy element – on view weekly on HBO – and topped by Gosling. Worse, the film may well be beat by still holding The Help and right behind it, a new, weak Sarah Jessica Parker vehicle… but eating some of what might have been Screen Gems’ box office as well.

There were many ways to go with this film. Festivals were an option, but the conversation might be too thoughtful – or negative – for the big action sell. But if you’re doing this as an action sell, it belonged back in August or maybe in mid-October.

You can’t say the movie isn’t part of the problem, given the reviews, although a number of key critics were positive about the film. But the box office problem… that’s on the studio this time. Screen Gems is one of the smartest operations in the business. But they just got stuck in the middle, between two different ideas of what this film is. And audiences, which have no way of knowing what they are going to see in that theater, were confused just enough to stay away.

What can one say about I Don’t Know Why Anyone Would Pay To See Her Do That?

I wish restless had a better launch. It’s a small, quirky piece. But it stays with me. The more times it pops into my head, the more I fall in love with it. I don’t much about the marketing effort, especially missing the last week of it while at TIFF. Reviews probably scared Sony Classics a bit. But I think this is one of those films we’ll see become the streaming/DVD equivalent of a midnight movie classic. If there was a kind of a film where Sony Classics would be well-served by a VOD arm, this would be it.

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BYOB 91611

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SHAME & Incest

So… lots of dramatic, petty tweeting about Shame and incest.

I don’t know that Shame is the kind of movie that can be spoiled. But if you feel it can and you haven’t seen it… stop reading now.

I will push the rest of this piece after the jump…

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What Just Happened?

I have no idea how the Netflix thread disappeared… but it’s back.

I love technology. Reverted to an old revision… so odd.

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DUH!™: Netflix Losing Subscriptions

However… I would still argue that the spin being put on this… that it is a pricing issue… is bullshit.

This is a content issue. The curtain has been drawn back on Netflix and while it is much more beautiful than Frank Morgan, people are conscious, for the first time really, that Netflix streaming is not everything everywhere, but a small slice of content that is getting smaller. The spell has been broken.

Yes, there is a big chunk of Netflix customers who just wanted everything to stay the same. And many of them are surely frustrated, because it’s not just pricing, but it’s corporate emphasis. You wanna bet that they have fewer copies of films and that waits for the hot titles are getting longer every month? You wanna bet that service is a touch weaker?

But the biggest thing is that Netflix made the decision to make a complete paradigm shift. The media was too busy licking Hastings’ ass to notice. Plus, The Media loves change and the added subscribers and having a story to write every time a new deal got done. But Netflix was in a business that was based on a retail product being turned into a subscription concept. After that, they did a great job of maximizing the opportunity. But streaming is not the same thing at all… at least not after 2010. Netflix doesn’t have automatic access to everything, their only barrier to access being the cost of one DVD over another. And they set the bar so high on the prices they paid for 3rd window, not-permanent streaming that studios flocked to empty the company’s pockets. Now they are in a content race that they cannot win.

This is not to say that Netflix is dead. It’s not. But this iteration of Netflix will not survive. By 2014, we will see Netflix 3.0 and it will be a business that promises less and delivers more.

In the meanwhile, while all the journos were praising Hastings to high heaven and getting sucked into the absurd notion that the MPAA companies saw Netflix as a threat (HA!!!), the studios were, as I have written before, sucking every dime out of Netflix, completely aware that, like the mob buying to your bar in The Sopranos or a Scorsese movie, when things go bad, they will start a fire to collect the insurance money.

Fire’s coming.

And then, Reed Hastings, who is quite brilliant, will rise again from the ashes.

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Annnnd…. Scene!

It was the easiest, hardest, best, worst, perfectly imperfect TIFF ever… made more so by the fact that I am summing it up days before it even ends.

Sony, first through Sony Classics and then through the only studio doing serious TIFF junketting this year, Columbia Pictures, dominated the festival in every way. Clooney and Pitt were the cover boys, with The Ides of March and Moneyball (though Clooney got more praise for The Descendants, in part because his press-shyness did not serve him well as a director) and then with, of all things, a Roland Emmerich drama, Anonymous, which could well end up outshining both of the higher profile films in the award race as well as the box office.

And Sony Picture Classics celebrated its 20th anniversary at the festival with a parade of events for Bernard & Barker, but also a massive parade of movies already being distributed by the company. No doubt, they will add even more to their roster before the next month is through.

Magnolia added Bobcat Goldthwaite’s barn-burner of a comedy, God Bless America, while the company celebrated its 10th anniversary… which, yes, means they launched at the 9/11 edition of the festival.

(Nobody wants to say it out loud, but the 9/11 short that the festival made and ran in front of all screenings on the day was… not sensational. They had a great idea, with speaker-phoned voices of some of the New Yorkers who were at TIFF when that fateful morning turned us all upside down, but the memory of what the festival itself did dominated… and it really wasn’t about them. It was clearly a well-intended piece and meant to share with the specific TIFF family of thousands of Toronto and visiting movie lovers. But I didn’t run into a single person who wasn’t critical of it, if not aggressively hostile.

It was not the most disliked piece of the festival preview package, however. If Grace Kelly wasn’t rolling in her grave, audiences would have happily rolled her after seeing the pretentious, overlong, bizarrely conceived promo for a Lightbox gallery later this fall. At a Midnight Madness screening of a chop-socky film, the pre-show talk included the phrase “kick her in the head,” which someone then shouted out during the Kelly preview. Should have become a trend.

Last note: “Arrrrr”s are out. They removed the word “pirate” from the briefer-than ever copyright threat note to shut people up. Move on. The joke is as dead as the Uptown.)

Fox Searchlight was the second strongest studio presence, with the much anticipated Alexander Payne film, The Descendents and one of the few buys so far that means serious domestic distribution for a serious film, Shame. I have wondered what the “little festival film” strategy for Searchlight has been… and now my guess is that not only are they adding strong library titles, but that they are cultivating their next generation of in-house filmmakers.

The overall theme of the festival was “good, but not great.” I saw only one movie in about thirty that I really couldn’t stand. It will remain unnamed.

My favorites, in no real order, were:
Pina, a compelling 3D celebration of Pina Bausch by Wim Wenders. He insists that the 3D is inherent to the work and that he could never have even made the film without it. Who knows. But it is beautiful and it takes you into the idea of the dances, not just a view of them. I spoke to one “serious” critic who HATES the film, claiming it bastardizes the dance work. But he’s wrong. Besides Wenders collaborating on this for years with Bausch and sharing ideas that he then used after her death, Wenders makes a movie of live dance. They are not the same experience. And he makes a film that is accessible. And each time you go back to one of the major dance sequences, you, as an audience, recall the last pieces of it you saw and bring more context than I think most people would just watching a well-shot hour of a single dance, not matter how beautiful.

We Need To Talk About Kevin, the highlight of which is not Tilda’s inevitably beautiful performance, but Ezra Miller’s mesmerizing turn as Kevin. It’s very Lynne Ramsey. She is a strong director with an undeniable voice. The film doesn’t really satisfy as a procedural. You won’t leave with answers, But I am pretty sure that this is the point.

Melancholia, the latest reminder that Von Trier is an artist, not a marketing stunt. (He is Banksy to a world of Mr. Brainwashes) Easily the best work of Kirsten Dunst’s career. In some ways, this is an answer to the best Dogma 95 film, The Celebration, which wasn’t Lars’. But its almost as though he finally found the perfect cast of English speaking actors for his voice… each distinct and flawed enough to be human, borken, and yet iconic. Charlotte Gainsbourg is even better here than in the brilliant Antichrist because she doesn’t have to strain to carry as much of the movie, while Dunst is the perfect human doll for Von Trier, overshadowing past “dolls” like Nicole Kidman and Bryce Dallas Howard. Like his breakthrough starlet, Emily Watson, Dunst is beautiful but mushy-faced. Even more so, she has very strong angles on her face from one camera angle while another makes her look soft-featured. As she is spun by the tale, Dunst is anything… everything… all at once. Her dimples and her breasts are like shields when there is danger, yet she seems to be sincere in her pleasure when they turn up. In one scene she gives up her vagina but not her breasts or nudity… which seems to be the ultimate Von Trier metaphor of going right for the hard core, but being ever protective of real vulnerability.

Take This Waltz is “Are You There, God, It’s Me, Margaret” for 29-year-old women. Sarah Polley’s second feature feels more like what you would expect as her first… I guess, primarily because the characters are in her age group. It is a tiny slice of a moment in the life of Michelle Williams’ Margot, who is married to a nice guy, but is restless. She meets a guy who pursues her, even as he keeps saying he won’t pursue a married woman. What should she do? What is the “moral” choice? What is the best choice? Where does she stand after she makes a choice? Add to that a bunch of really lovely side elements, including the now-tabloid-famous full-frontal nudity of our three leading ladies, including Sarah Silverman. But what makes that nudity lovely isn’t that we are seeing a celebrity naked, but that we are seeing human women in a normal, daily, unintimate intimacy. It’s the other three naked women in the scene that really make it so powerful. It’s one of those movies that women will watch over and over and over again… an intellectual Bridget Jones. And there is one visual sequence, on a carnival ride, that will be one of those images quoted in clip packages for the rest of movie history. It is not only sensational in the movie, it is a true work of art unto itself… shot in 8 hours… and as visceral as anything you will ever see on film.

Chicken With Plums – A piece of art. It’s less currently political than Persepolis, but it’s like one of those Mother Goose books with lush, beautiful imagery and weird 3D panels that are endlessly fascinating. This is a beautiful fable about love and honor and passion and loss.

God Bless America – Bob Goldthwaite, of all f-ing people, is turning out to be the Frank Capra of our crass, self-involved, disconnected era. He would probably lean to Sturges… and I get that… his humor is closer to Sturges’ than Capra”s. But there is a sturdy wholesomeness to Bob, kinky as his notions may be. In this case, it’s a Regular Joe who is pushed to the edge by the basic rudeness of modern America. As a result, he ends up on a killing spree, ending up with a teen girl by is side who is also repulsed by the idiots of populism. Of course, everyone has a different notion of who deserves punishment and at what degree. And that is the tricky subtext of this film… Goldthwaite draws audience applause for his attacks on familiar rudeness and stupidity, but then has you asking yourself about how complacent you are in continuing the cycle. I’d cut 15 minutes or so of the third act… he goes in some circles… but a movie that audiences will have a lot of fun with and then quote amongst their friends for years to come.

Paul Williams Still Alive – It helps to be a person who is touched by the songs of Paul Williams… though many people seeing this film will be surprised by how many songs he wrote to which they know all the lyrics. Williams is a fascinating character… incredibly ingratiating… self-mocking… filmmaker-mocking… but so appreciative to be here and working on new and exciting things while so many of his comrades in arms have fallen to many of the things to which he exposed himself. A real must-see.

Killer Joe – William Friedkin might come after me with a gun for telling you that he’s 76 years old… but I have a point. He just knocked out the kind of movie you might expect from a college graduate who wants to emulate Tarantino or Joe Carnahan. I love the fact that the guy is still relevant (even if this play is 20 years old… feels like it could have been written last year). And when you see him fondle our condo lamp in the DP/30 – while noting that it couldn’t be serious, as he is still married – you’ll laugh and be stunned by his energy and the pleasure he still takes from all of this.

His cast is perfect… and even when you think they may not be, wait a few minutes and you’ll find out why they are. Emile Hirsch plays a wired scumbag, Gina Gershon the second wife slut, Juno Temple the glistening innocent-ish, Thomas Haden Church the not-so-bright pater familias, and owning the screen with a ferocity I’m not sure we’ve ever seen from him before, Matthew F-ing McConaughey. He kills. They all kill. The third act of this film will leave you with your jaw on the ground and barely enough time to try to pick it up so you don’t get the popcorn kernels rolling around on the floor in your mouth.

Shame – Steve McQueen is this year’s ultimate embodiment on what we also see in filmmakers like Von Trier, Ramsey, Wenders, Moverman, and even Goldthwaite. “I am a film artist and I’m here doing my work… you make like it, you may hate it, but it is MY work.” Huzzah.

This film will generate more ink in the months to come than any other. I have already gotten into a Twitter battle over the facts and function of the film… not because people aren’t smart or working their way through the material… but because, clearly, they don’t have experience in the arena McQueen is working. Sex addiction is the first issue, but it is complicated by a sibling who is suffering through a different-sex variation of the same childhood. The responses have been almost as interesting as the movie, from those who don’t seem to believe (or care) that sex addiction is a real mental illness to fantasies about the brother and sister in the film being connected by incestuous sex. At least one person who I know suffers from some of the same issues that are in the movie is pushing away hard. And I suspect that some men think that Fassbender’s character isn’t really doing that badly. In some ways, he isn’t. McQueen chose to show a slice of an addict’s life that isn’t the bottom, isn’t the pure high, and is really mid-struggle. This surprised me, as it is less dramatic than the other choices. But the choice is beginning to settle in for me… that there is more to learn in the gray. Shame isn’t really meant, I don’t think, to be a “teachable moment.” But I would love to come out of the run of this film seeing people thinking about how people make the kinds of choices made in this film. You don’t have to be as lost as these characters to relate to their struggle. I hope that critics and audiences alike can get over Fassbender’s penis and Mulligan’s pubic hair and get on to the things those moments really represent.

Rampart – Oren Moverman & James Ellroy have done the real sequel to Bad Lieutenant. It’s not as much fun as Herzog’s insane homage, but it’s much more to the point. It’s Los Angeles. It’s 20 years later (in real time). It’s a world that’s drawing attention because of the Rampart scandal. (I like the title, but it’s not really a movie about the Rampart scandal at all and may suffer from that confusion.) Woody Harrelson plays Dave Brown – nice boring name – a veteran cop who embodies all the things a bad LA cop with a self-indulgent moral streak is. Too many women, too many drugs, too much violence… and now, they are watching him. What happens when this epic fuckhead – who the (sick) ladies love – is faced with his world as he knows it going away. The responsibilities have piled up. His manhood depends on his performance, in so many arenas. And he just can’t stay ahead of the wave.

Harrelson is spectacular here. I don’t know if they can get older Academy voters to watch the film, but with good clips and enough SAG screenings, he has a real shot at a Best Actor nomination. The part looks a lot easier than it is. He is managing our perspective of him, much as he is managing the overloaded world around him.

There is some Shame and Killer Joe in this movie too. All three movies have an unstoppable force meeting an object that isn’t in a hurry to move. People behave badly, as people do. The real question for all three films is whether audiences want to get into the weight of it all. It’s not pretty. And we are sometimes implicated.

THE REST…

I saw a lot of movies that I really liked, from the big studio movies to docs like Gibney’s The Last Gladiators to the lovely My Sister’s Sister… even the high-style Damsels in Distress, which makes earlier Whit Stillman films seem like cinema verite. And there are films like Coriolanus that I liked but need more time to percolate or films that have been around for a while, like Take Shelter or The Artist. In other words… I retain my right to add to my list of favorites and to think more about what’s already on the list.

More TIFF reflections to come… including a look at all the young actors who lost their on-screen-maturity cherries this year…

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John Calley

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I can’t do the man justice. Maybe in a few days I’ll try again.

He was the man whose name, invariably, brought a peaceful smile to the face of industry veterans. He was about the movies, he was beyond the movies, he was a lover of the art and its artists.

So many people offer him up as a key influence on their choices in this business… as the person who wanted to make them keep going.

There are a lot of talented, intelligent people running studios. None of them seem to be able to burn as brightly as Calley did. (The loss reminds me a bit of Sydney Pollack’s for people… champion for so many.) He had his share of misses, his share of mistakes, like everyone else does. But it wasn’t a business of measurement for him… at least not in the way corporations tend to measure.

We’re celebrating Sony Classics’ 20th year in business… ask those guys who Calley was to them. Ask Eastwood. Ask Spielberg. Ask the filmmakers of his heyday. Look back at his relationships with so many who have also gone.

To leave this world beloved is a wonderful thing. To leave this business beloved is a fucking miracle. John Calley was that kind of miracle man.

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“Ten years ago at Telluride, I said on a panel that theatrical distribution was dying. It seemed obvious to me. I was surprised how many in the audience violently objected: ‘People will always want to go to the movies!’ That’s true, but it’s also true that theatrical cinema as we once knew it has died. Theatrical cinema is now Event Cinema, just as theatrical plays and musical performances are Events. No one just goes to a movie. It’s a planned occasion. Four types of Event Cinema remain.
1. Spectacle (IMAX-style blockbusters)
2. Family (cartoon like features)
3. Horror (teen-driven), and
4. Film Club (formerly arthouse but now anything serious).

There are isolated pockets like black cinema, romcom, girl’s-night-out, seniors, teen gross-outs, but it’s primarily those four. Everything else is TV. Now I have to go back to episode five of ‘Looming Tower.'”
~ Paul Schrader

“Because of my relative candor on Twitter regarding why I quit my day job, my DMs have overflowed with similar stories from colleagues around the globe. These peeks behind the curtains of film festivals, venues, distributors and funding bodies weren’t pretty. Certain dismal patterns recurred (and resonated): Boards who don’t engage with or even understand their organization’s artistic mission and are insensitive to the diverse neighborhood in which their organization’s venue is located; incompetent founders and/or presidents who create only obstacles, never solutions; unduly empowered, Trumpian bean counters who chip away at the taste and experiences that make organizations’ cultural offerings special; expensive PR teams that don’t bring to the table a bare-minimum familiarity with the rich subcultural art form they’re half-heartedly peddling as “product”; nonprofit arts organizations for whom art now ranks as a distant-second goal behind profit.”
~ Eric Allen Hatch