The Hot Blog Archive for February, 2012

SPC Buys West Memphis 3 Doc

Just a note, for those keeping score… the deal was done BEFORE Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory didn’t win the Oscar on Sunday.

This film is looking for a theatrical audience and an ongoing conversation about the seemingly unfair deal that finally got the three out of jail. Sony Classics will give the film that chance… and then, in time, it will end up on Starz. I wonder where it will stream at that point…

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BYOB: Watching Game Change

No doubt, I should be writing. But the disc of Game Change just landed on my doorstep and I don’t think I’ve been as anxious to see a movie in a while… so I am going to watch it right now.

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The Mister Rogers Doc You’ve Been Waiting For

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Quick Glance At Summer: $ View

Universal’s “we’re spending big for big results” embrace of their summer meme or story that they will be beaten to death with in August landed in the LA Times today and inspired me to take quick look at the summer and who is spending what.

Universal is, indeed, the big spender this summer. They have one major sequel, which is also a reboot, with Tony Gilroy taking over the directing reins in addition to previous writing responsibilities on Bourne 4, now rebooting with Jeremy Renner. Then there are the two new wannabe franchises, Battleship (over $210m) and Snow White (at least $175m). Two small films are filler with hope.

Sony is spending, but franchise spending only. The most secure bet is a reboot of Spider-Man, partially motivated to start from scratch to keep the ballooning cost of previous mega-movie-series from making the franchise a spending boondoggle. The scariest bet is Men in Black 3, which has had a lot of negative reporting about the production and whose previous film in the series was so top-heavy in costs (Smith/Spielberg/TLJones/Sonnenfeld) that a gross of $440m still wasn’t significantly profitable. There is also a Sandler film, which is as close to a sure bet as there is… and still under $100m. And Total Recall redone, with the guy who launched Underworld at the helm and Colin Farrell trying to fill Ahnuld’s pecs. Add Sparkle & Premium Rush and the only real danger zone remains MiB3, which is likely to generate strong numbers, even if not strong enough to make the exercise of going back worth it.

Fox’s two big spends are on Prometheus and Ice Age 4. Both look to be potential silent assassins in a very franchise-y summer. Prometheus is Alien-related, stars a bevy of international rising stars, and with Sir Ridley at the helm, could battle Batman for the “coolest film of the summer” title. The last Ice Age did a shocking $887 million worldwide. If this one does a third less, it’s still huge. And a Stiller/Vaughn comedy with its budget in check. Besides that, it’s niche stuff. Another Wimpy Kid. Abe Lincoln hunting vampires. And adult dramdy in Great Hope Springs starring Oscar Winner Meryl Streep.

Warners has the most titles, as usual. But The Dark Knight Rises is by far the biggest, both in potential and expense. The studio has reined in the spending quite a bit and with Batman leading, will find it hard not to have a solid summer… and with some luck, could have a truly great summer. Is Rock of Ages another Mamma Mia!? This one will cost 5 times as much to make, but if the close is similar, a cash cow. Dark Shadows is the other significant spend, with Johnny Depp in gothic camp from Tim Burton. Sure to be in profit, if not a runaway financial success. A Jay Roach comedy (The Campaign) with Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis can’t be too cheap, but has a lot of upside and not too much downside. Then it’s 3 small films, including a Soderbergh comedy, a Chernobyl movie from the Paranormal Activity director, and a horror film late in the season from Joel Silver.

Both Paramount and Disney have just 3 films each this summer. The only film Par is all in on is The Dictator, which is relatively cheap and should be profitable (though it better be funnier than the carpet gag). Madagascar 3 is from DreamWorks Animation, distribution only. And Par is partners on GI Joe 2, which has been retrofitted with The Rock and Bruce Willis, rendering all but unrecognizable from the first film.

Disney has the Avengers, from their Marvel division, which is still operating under its own funding. Brave is Pixar’s new title, which will soon get the “could this be the flop” treatment soon from Wall Street operatives. (I have no opinion at all until I see it.) And the family fantasy, The Odd Life of Timothy Green. Quiet, franchise-driven summer.

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Avengers 1-Sheet… No More Photoshop… Now A Painting

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New York Times Continues To Write About Hollywood Like A Cranky Old Man

Oh, the irony.

The New York Times, since Sharon Waxman created the first fake slump in 2005, has taken a “get off of my lawn” take on Hollywood in pretty much every circumstance in which it has the opportunity. Whether it is the constant and misleading meme about the interest of Americans in going to the movies or today, The Oscars, there is a theme about young people abandoning Situation X, but almost no detail to go with a lot of alarmist writing.

Is The Academy Award show the hot ticket amongst young Americans? No. But the tone of coverage is a lie, almost a much so as the very few actual facts that they bother to analyze were false.

Today, it’s “Fears Grow That Oscars’ TV Allure May Be Resistible.”

To start, these writers are very comfortable playing fast and loose with limited details. Gladiator‘s Oscar year, as a high point, was ELEVEN years ago. And it didn’t have 45 million viewers, as they use “about” to spin, but just under 43 million.

And here are my big problems with this meme.

1. In the last decade (using figures from TV by the Numbers), the high point was 42 million viewers and the low point was 32 million viewers in 2008. That’s a pretty big swing. But with a high in the last decade in 2004 of 43.5m viewers, half of the shows – including, it seems, last night- were within 10% of that high bar. And only two of the shows have had ratings more than 15% off of that high mark.

Would you get that sense from the obsessively myopic reportage?

The Average viewership for The Oscars in the last 35 years is… 42.9 million people in the US. Six of the last ten shows were within 10% of that figure.

Would you get that sense from the reportage you’re seeing?

2, ABC renewed its deal last year. There is no great pressure on The Academy to deliver some shocking change in the numbers.

3. While it is an amusing game to look at the great success of The Grammys or continuing growth in professional football as a comparison, the success of one event has little, if anything, to do with the success (or failure) of another.

4. If you look at the charts on the Academy Awards ratings, Lord of the Rings: Return of the King did, indeed, deliver the biggest number this decade, though it wasn’t just for the one film, but for a large community built up over 3 years.

No Country For Old Men‘s year was the lowest ratings this decade. But No Country was up against Juno, a $143m grossing phenom with strong youth appeal. Didn’t help. That group of nominees also had a higher average gross than the year before or after, both of which had much better ratings.

The switch to 10 nominees in the last two years, though it did not lead to The Academy nominated mega-films, did bring the average domestic gross per film back up over $100 million per film for the first time since Rings’ 2003 show. And still, no huge rating boost. Just small, steady ratings growth the last three years… from that new bottom.

Last year, the Top 5 grossers amongst the 10 all were over $100 million when the show took place. One had grossed over $1 billion worldwide… a first for The Oscars. Didn’t move the needle.

So this spin that is constantly repeated about The Academy picking films that are not popular enough is not only false by the numbers, but based almost exclusively on two unusual events, Titanic and Rings.

5. “Neither “The Artist” nor “The Iron Lady” has struck a nerve at the North American box office, with each so far luring about four million moviegoers to theaters. That’s as if all the people living in Los Angeles had gone to see the films, but the rest of the country did something else. “

How far is The New York Times willing to go to spin this story? All of a sudden, they shift from gross (The Artist passed $30m domestic this last weekend) to number of people who theoretically saw the film. They create this bizarre, misleading thing about “all the people living in Los Angeles,” as though the Academy vote was all the business the film did, when they know full well that almost none of the 5800 voting Academy members paid to see the film and therefore had nothing to do with the box office.

They also include The Iron Lady, which isn’t nominated for Best Picture. God forbid they think about the history, such as when Jessica Lange won Best Actress for Blue Sky, which grossed under $4 million… and the show viewership was 44.9 million.

And for that matter, while they go on to complain that “the Academy seems to have effectively eliminated one of the crucial measuring sticks of the past: the ability of a picture to move the masses to buy tickets,” they are just repeating another false meme.

6. Though the NYT doesn’t care to consider how Harvey Weinstein has chosen to distribute his silent, black+white film that’s already grossed $31 million despite never being on more than 1005 screens on any one weekend, the future will tell on this title. But history already tells us that the meme is false.

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close and The Artist have both more than doubled their grosses since nomination and the November Searchlight release, The Descendants, has added more than 50% to its pre-nomination gross. Four of the other films were released before October. The other two, War Horse & Hugo, each of which was released wide before being nominated saw more marginal benefits.

Last year, five of the nominees were released before November. The November releases were 127 Hours, which increased its gross by more than 50% after nominations in late January, and The King’s Speech, which did 58% of its $135m domestic gross after nominations. The three December releases were True Grit, which added $33 million post-nod to its already very impressive $139m gross before nominations, Black Swan, which did more than 20% of its total $106m domestic gross after nods, and The Fighter, which did more than 20% of its $94m domestic gross after being nominated.

In the 2010 group, there was not a single film released in limited released, to take advantage of Oscar, after October 9 and there were only two films in the entire group of 10 that opened after November 20, more than 2 months before nods landed in early February. One was Avatar, and giving The Oscar credit for the $151 million it grossed after nominations seems as disingenuous as some of the NYT spin. And Up In The Air opened in limited on Dec 4, then went wide over Christmas and still managed to add over $10m to its $73m pre-nod gross.

The year before, Slumdog Millionaire did 68% of its domestic gross after being nominated.

The year before that, There Will Be Blood did more than 75% of its $40m domestic gross after being nominated, Juno did 39% of its gross post-nod, No Country and Atonement did about a third of their total domestic after nomination, and Michael Clayton, released Oct 5, took in an added 20% of its gross after it was nominated on January 22.

So please explain to me, NYT, how if you choose to use the Oscars as a marketing tool, The Academy Awards can’t sell tickets.

What time in history are they living in? The most overt recent examples are The King’s Speech and Slumdog Millionaire. Are they thinking about Million Dollar Baby or Chicago… because those stories are not materially different than the current ones… in fact, both are probably less impressive when viewed with any objectivity. Maybe they are going back to 1989′s Driving Miss Daisy, which did $73 million after nominations, getting to a $103m total… because that’s also pretty much in the Slumdog mold too?

Where does this mythology that Oscar has had “to move the masses to buy tickets” come from? Do they mean some giant post-Oscar gross? When did that happen? Is the $140 million range not “masses?”

Spouting platitudes that you read somewhere and therefore assumed to be true is not good reporting. Sorry.

IN CLOSING – The New York Times, like so many, are egregiously guilty of taking a bunch of small factors and FALSELY synthesizing them in to memes. It is a brutal reality in this era of media. And sadly, seemingly intelligent people like Tom Sherak come to believe these lies and fail to challenge them aggressively when presented with them by the media.

This is not to say that everything is hunky dory at The Academy. Unlike The Grammys, they are not on a positive curve driven by live performances by popular stars. Unlike The Super Bowl, they do not have a 20 week season of weekly massive marketing that culminates in a massive audience for a single live event that has no competition.

And still, it appears that almost 40 million Americans stopped one night to watch movie stars, as they are today, dress up and hand out awards to one another after months of similar events being broadcast.

This is not Wall Street. The Academy does not need quarterly growth… or even annual growth. They need to maintain an even strain. And they have. A little up, a little down. The only real break from history for the show is that there is a lot more competition than there used to be. And Jay Leno is no one’s idea of Carson or Hope at this point. (Billy is now done too, I am guessing.)

But the yearly hysteria, even from a serious paper like the New York Times, suggesting that either the ship is sinking or has sunk and is now stuck… it’s insanely simplistic and misleading and damaging because of the paranoia it creates. It says more about the NYT than it does about The Academy.

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The Morning After Oscar

So… every idiot is out there writing the same stupid story about “fixing” the Oscar show.

1. This show was bland, but not painful… unless you don’t really like watching the Oscar show. It was no more painful than this year’s Globes, this year’s BAFTA, this year’s SAGs, or this year’s BFCA Critics Choice Awards. It was also not exceptionally better than any of them.

For me, the reality of the show that eludes almost all of these freshy-minted experts is well-expressed in the last 38 minutes last night. 10:52p in the east… 7:52p in the east. There are 3 awards to hand out and an In Memoriam section to do. In those 38 minutes, they managed 2 awards and the In Memoriam. THAT’s The Oscars.

24 awards @ 4 minutes each is 1:36 or about 2 hours with commercials. Now add the opening, specialty acts, clip packages, and some more ads thrown in there. That’s your 3 hours-plus.

The core of why so many people do watch The Oscars, even with the ratings declines of the last decade or so, is that it is what it is. It’s not a show that can be reconfigured in a complete way to the tastes or notions of the producer who comes on board every year. Basically, the show is a Christmas tree and the new producer can decorate it as he or she sees fit. But no cutting off limbs, no painting the tree, no replacing the tree with a different kind of cool, hip tree that you read about being a fad in Sweden. And if you’re not cautious, you end up with women in cigarette girl uniforms handing out popcorn during commercial bumper space. Oy.

2. Billy Crystal IS an old, familiar joke. It’s so very easy to whine about bringing something new to the party. But being a know-it-all and actually having to deliver the goods are two very different things. Some people – Andrew O’Hehir, who is now rationalizing why his rationalization about Viola Davis having won Oscar before she failed to do so was wrong – seem to have forgotten that there was another, younger, hipper producer and another younger, hipper host in place just a few months ago. And Brett Ratner did what many “younger, hipper” people do… he acted like he was too cool for school, shot off his mouth like he could do no wrong, and committed awards season suicide by spouting off homophobic stupidity. And Eddie, who would have been a brilliant host, didn’t trust anyone else to get him through a very public job that offers many pre-written brickbats (as we are seeing this morning).

Do people remember last year… when Billy Crystal was almost universally hailed as a breath of familiar, but fresh air when he turned up and self-congratulated on the show? Who were the hosts? Young, very talented, very smart actors… who turned out to be terrible hosts, especially in combination.

If it was easy, Mary McNamara would be producing the Oscars.

But of course, as was inevitable, Billy Crystal can’t just be overly familiar, like a joke you’ve heard Henny Youngman tell 100 times… he has to be a DISASTER. Come on. Can’t you get page views with some smart, simple, thoughtful writing? Does everything have to be a three alarm fire.

The show was ok. Billy Crystal was ok.

3. I kinda want to put a big old “sod off” out there for anyone who is both talking about how the Oscars needs to connect with a wider audience and then attacks the show for having Adam Sandler try to express himself about his very specific, extremely popular craft.

Seriously.

Do I wish Sandler would hire more skilled directors and push himself a little harder? Absolutely. But unlike critics, he is doing the work, year in and year out, putting himself on the line, taking all the abuse, and still serving an audience that loves watching him be silly. And if he and I live to be 80 and LAFCA gives him the lifetime achievement award and The Academy bestows a special Oscar on his ass, I will mock you all.

Critics, especially of the Oscar show, want it all ways. They want it younger, but not vulgar. Smarter, but not stodgy. Fewer categories, but they want to see the categories they care about. They want it louder, faster, funnier… but then they want to slam it for not slowing down for “the right things” and trying too hard to please. They want to scream about the Academy demographic and the movies that are chosen, but bizarrely assume that a younger demo would somehow pick more popular, but better movies…. like, uh, what? Drive? Love Drive, but not a box office bonanza. Shame? Love Shame, but not a box office bonanza.

Here’s a chart of the Top Grossers of 2011. Now, pick a film in the Top 31 (the $100m domestic grossers) that you would like to have seen nominated that might have made it more interesting for more people? What will most say? Bridesmaids and Apes. And now, ladies & gentlemen, your 2011 Academy of Quality Pop Culture Awards.

4. Some critics still behave like critics. They know the difference between what they say at the dinner table or at the bar and what they print as professionals. Most journalists now will pretend to be anything at any time, instant experts because they have an opinion. And as the old joke notes, everyone has an asshole too.

I don’t know if the repetition of the same memes exhausts me more or the combination of arrogance and an utter lack of knowledge about the subject.

I guess I am supposed to give this day of whining all the weight of another thousand tweets flowing through the iPhone… just so much water under the bridge. And I will. Tomorrow. When all the idiots move on to opine on their next great area of instant expertise.

But today, I am irritated by the volume… and the volume of the volume.

It wasn’t a great show. But it was no tragedy. It will change next year. It won’t be the MTV Movie Awards… and if it was, there would be even louder screaming. It won’t be The Golden Globes… and if it was, there would be even louder screaming. It will still be the stodgy, old, 3:22, too many actors out of character reading prompters, clip packages, and awards you are too dumb to care about Oscars. And it will still be seen by 40 million people, which no one else knows how to equal. Deal.

5. I still expect firings at The Academy over Sacha Baron Cohen’s lame joke. It had no business on the red carpet… because it was business on the red carpet… and nothing but business. The tone deafness of current leadership at The Academy about what is at the core of their brand is stunning. And it’s not just that one thing. It’s been happening over and over lately.

It’s the old thing about sex scandals. No one really cares who you had sex with… but when you are the President, receiving fellatio from a 20-yr-old intern in the hallway closet suggest that you might have some judgement issues. Before Charlie Sheen lost it – again – he was saner than some when he noted, “You don’t pay prostitutes for sex. You pay them to leave.” 20 year olds keep semen-stained dresses. The Marilyn Monroes of the world do not.

It doesn’t matter, as a single event, that Sacha Baron Cohen walked the red carpet in a movie costume and spilled fake ashes on Ryan Seacrest. But it matters when six people are trying to do it next year. It matters when you give control of the show – and/or the season – to marketing people who are marketing their product, not The Oscars. it matters when you don’t know how unfunny the gag was and then promote it on your website afterwards like it was a part of the show.

You don’t get fired for the action. You get fired for the cover-up. You get fired for the embarrassing lack of judgement.

Anyway… I had a lovely night, after the show… but that’s another conversation…

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BYOB Oscar

In case anyone cares, I’ll be tweeting (occasionally) this evening, not blogging.

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Indie Xenophobia Not In The Spirit

I am saddened by the response to The Artist winning all but one award it was nominated for at the Independent Spirit Awards yesterday. Because it seems less like a comment on the film than on its otherness.

I have been whining about the Indie Spirits for years. It’s not that there are not deserving talent nominated or awarded in the process. It’s the ideas behind the whole enterprise. What is the intention?

If it’s meant to be The American Independent Spirit Awards, call it that. World Cinema has been an increasing component of what used to be the independent movement. Why isn’t this show celebrating the entire culture of independent-minded cinema, as its rules suggests it seeks to do? Last year, The King’s Speech won Best Foreign Film. Not only does this read as stupid… but it hamstrings the opportunity for some great and much more independent-minded foreign language films to be awarded.

But the whine this year seems to be, “Why wasn’t The Artist relegated to Foreign Language?” Well, it wasn’t in a foreign language. It was shot in Los Angeles. It is about Hollywood. All but 2 of the actors in the film were American. But as MCN’s own Len Klady wrote, “Where I come from when you total everything up The Artist is more pommes frittes than French fries.”

Oy.

Len was hardly the only one whining about yesterday’s big winner and calling for a look at the Indie Spirits rules. But the idea of FIND changing the awards rules specifically to exclude a film like The Artist from qualifying, honestly, makes me want to vomit.

I was screaming at the back of the room yesterday when The Interrupters won. I sought out Steve James and added my “Fuck the Academy” to the parade of similar sentiments. But there too… the idea of the Doc branch adjusting rules to try to speak to the frustration of the best doc of the year – and also Senna and Bill Cunningham and others – not getting nominated is wrong headed. If the rules of that committee allow one or two people to use their personal disdain to kill a film and there is no recourse within the branch even though there is a significant percentage of branch members who think that film deserves consideration by the entire branch, THAT rule must be changed… not for The Interrupters, but because it is a bad, bad rule.

The Independent Spirit Awards system is broken… but not because The Artist won yesterday. And change being inspired by this black + white, silent film about Hollywood, shot in Hollywood, is the kind of change that is likely to make things worse, not better.

To my eye, the big change to the ISAs came in 2004. In 2003, Best Feature was Far From Heaven. Best First Feature was The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys. But more importantly, the competition for Best Feature was The Good Girl, Lovely & Amazing, Real Women Have Curves, and Tully. Best First Feature challengers were Interview with the Assassin, Manito, Paid in Full, and Roger Dodger.

Amongst first features, only Roger Dodger had a large indie release, from Artisan. The Features group was less indie, with Focus distributing the winner and nods to Searchlight, Lionsgate, and Fine Line. ZERO Best Picture nominees.

2004: Feature – Lost in Translation, American Splendor, In America, Raising Victor Vargas, and Shattered Glass.
First Feature – Monster, Bomb The System, House of Sand & Fog, Quattro Noza, Thirteen

OR Focus, Searchlight (2), Fine Line, DreamWorks, Lionsgate, Newmarket. And half of the 10 films were Oscar contenders.

By 2005, Fox Searchlight has four films nominated, two in Feature (Kinsey & Sideways, Oscar Best Picture nominee) and two in First Feature (Garden State & Napoleon Dynamite), winning both. Sony Classics, Fine Line, and Newmarket are also represented.

in 2006, it was Crash as First Film vs Brokeback Mountain as Feature in an Oscar duel with 4 of the 5 Oscar BP nominees nom’ed for Indie Spirits.

The winners of the last 8 Feature Film ISAs:
Black Swan, Precious, The Wrestler, Juno, Little Miss Sunshine, Brokeback Mountain, Sideways, Lost in Translation.

The winners of the last 8 First Film ISAs:
Get Low, Crazy Heart, Synecdoche, New York, The Lookout, Sweetland, Crash, Garden State, Monster.

The Wrestler is the only Feature Film winner in 8 years not to be an Oscar BO nominee.

Sweetland and The Lookout are the only First Feature winners in 8 years not to have big public muscle behind them (remember, Monster was a Charlize Theron Oscar lock).

There are two sets of issues in play. First, there is the nominations process, which always seems to be a combination of pandering to the big boys and Friends Of FIND. Second, there is the final vote, which is a commercial/awards season popularity content, as the people voting for these awards are not qualified by anything other than their willingness to pay $75 a year to see a lot of indie films for “free” and to vote. Popularity contests are neither shocking nor broken. If you want a higher standard, you need to start with a higher standard.

Obviously, the blood has been in the water at the Indie Spirits for years. The last two years of the show have been painful for most attendees. And the shows themselves, not much better.

But for yesterday’s unhappy expedition, The Artist is taking the brunt of it. Unfairly. Other big factors are a major lack of celebrity at the event this year, as only 5 of the 20 Oscar nominees were in attendance, which – also perhaps adding to the animus – did not include the stars of The Artist. Had Jean Dujardin been there, shaking hands and being charming in accepting Best Actor, the tone might have been different.

Regardless, it certainly is time for a change in the system at the ISAs. The indie business has changed dramatically over these years and while ISA adjusted to a Dependent-driven market, it hasn’t done much to move into the current era, which has been quickly evolving for about 4 years.

Ironically, and I think Kristopher Tapley said it well, The Artist is the kind of movie that the Indie Spirits should be celebrating, not yawning and pissing about. But the lack of enthusiasm was unavoidable yesterday. Everyone seems to have felt it. I just wish that one movie that deserves love for making it to where it’s gotten wasn’t taking a beating instead. It’s unfair. And I do think it’s become far too easy for a lot of liberal thinkers to make light of “those fucking French.”

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Weekend Estimates by Act of Klady

So there are two modest surprises at the top of the chart this weekend. First, you have Act of Valor, which certainly outperformed expectations, but not to any insane level. If it weren’t Oscar, the story would probably be very well deconstructed by the media, though with all eyes pointed at the No-Dak, it probably won’t. Did Relativity find The Military Niche or The Right Wing niche with their film that laid so heavily on having real Navy SEALS in the cast? Presumably, this is the same crowd that was part of the success of The Expendables and the Blue Collar Comedy Tour, amongst others.

The other surprise was the weak reception for Tyler Perry, his worst launch ever, for Good Deeds, which was sold with a visual of Perry out of drag, and not a bevy of Black super-starlettes in support. Be clear… bitching about a $15m+ opening based on one guy’s face for a film being marketed primarily to one niche is not a failure and should not, on its face, be considered any kind of disappointment. But again… his weakest opening ever. This is a guy who came virtually out of nowhere, in movie biz terms, and opened his first film to $21.9 million. Should this number concern the producers of I, Alex Cross? Yeah. But hopefully, they will have more to sell than Perry as a movie star.

Wanderlust & Gone are reminders of how stardom is not a given, even after a few big successes. This is Paul Rudd’s third under-$8m opening in a row, two of which had him as the clear lead of the film. A few years in the lead of a big sitcom could make Rudd into a Steve Carrell-sized movie draw. But even Carrell opened Dan in Real Life to $12m a few years ago. Rudd works with interesting, rising filmmakers… smart, interesting actors… and have a wonderful career. He’s just not likely to ever be a box office draw of any major weight. You could do a lot worse than to be comedy’s Liev Schreiber.

Amanda Seyfried has had a rough couple of weeks. Her old Mean Girls co-star, McA, once again stole her thunder, pushing her Scream Gems sappy to over $100, setting a new bar for that division of Sony Pictures. And now, she is out in her very best twist on Liam Neeson’s Taken turn (“What if the kidnapped girl had a sister who kicked ass? Hmmmm…”) and it opens to single digits. Seyfried has had 7 wide releases in the last 5 years. Propelled by Mamma Mia!, she was not derailed by the Megan-Fox-focused Jennifer’s Body and home-runned the opening of Scream Gems’ Dear John. Letters to Juliet opening to $14m was “good for Summit.” Then Red Riding Hood, her first real test at a major, opened to about the same number… and that was ok, but nothing close to great. And then In Time, which was hung on Justn Timberlake and had Seyfried in dark, stylized hair that made her almost unrecognizable and therefore not a very viable commodity, opened to a couple million less. And now, this.

Every indication is that Seyfried is a limited starlet and that she better find herself a movie for teen girls while she is still young enough to draw them. Her next film is an ensemble rom-com… though it’s being release by LionsMit, so who knows?

In landmarks news, the aforementioned The Vow cracked $100m, a Screen Gems first. The Artist cracks $30m. The Descendants is on the cusp of $80m. Hugo is on the cusp of $80m. And Safe House is on the cusp of $100m.

In a final thought… Fox’s Chronicle, which all in cost less to get to screen then the 3D conversion of Star Wars: Episode 1, will outgross the remarkably unexciting 3D relaunch of Jar Jar Binks.

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Matt Labov To Academy: You Are My Bitch.

“The Academy caught wind of our idea and pulled his tickets. They went to war with us, made threats, got embarrassed, panicked, and reversed their position only after the press backlash portrayed them as stodgy. Plain and simple, that’s how it happened.”

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Friday Estimates by Seal Klady

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Time For Change (Again) At The Academy

The last three years at The Academy have been a bit of a mess.

Bruce Davis’ exit, after 30 years, was symbolic of the strengths and weaknesses of The Academy as an organization. The internal bureaucracy really ran the place and kept the trains running. The bosses, in the form of the Governors, made certain specific decisions and when there was a conflict between The Bureaucrats and The Talent, the home team often calmed the waves and kept those trains on time.

As a result, the slow deterioration of the ratings for The Oscars, the source of a significant majority of AMPAS’ annual revenue often led to finger-pointing at long-held traditions. The Academy, which knows it is old and white and living on the west side of LA and Manhattan, needed, in the eyes of some, to get hipper. The problem, aside from tradition, was and is that even with smaller audiences for the show, the numbers were and are still much bigger than all the other awards shows. So how to spruce things up without throwing out what is so successful, not matter how much media abuse the organization takes?

Seven months after Bill Condon and Larry Mark produced the 81st Academy Awards, Tom Sherak was elected President of the Academy. One of Condon’s clearest ideas for how to change the awards profile was expanding the Best Picture nominations back to 10. Sherak bought. Next was the producing team. Condon & Mark had gotten good marks, so another film producer and associated-with-musicals director. Sherak brought in his old boss, Bill Mechanic, and Adam Shankman. And Steve Martin is always bandied about as the elegant, smart host… so team with red hot TV star Alec Baldwin, it had to be great, right? Not so great. Audiences really want the duo to host as a team… and that’s not so easy, even for greatly talented performers, who are not actually a team. And the dozen or so places where producers can have a notable influence on the show… almost none of them worked. Not a disaster. Not a win.

And then came The Youth Patrol, hiring Anne Hathaway & James Franco, two actors with some added skills, but actors first and last, to host for The Producer and The Musical Guy, aka Don MIscher and Bruce Cohen. Mischer was kind of an inspired choice, in that he had more real live television credentials than anyone since Gil Cates. But what would “the creative half,” Cohen deliver? Well, this one was a disaster. It’s not completely fair to put it all on Cohen. The marriage of two very different kinds of charm by the hosts did not work at all. And they were given so much rope that they could barely keep from hanging themselves.

As all of this was ramping up in November, Bruce Davis announced his exit. Who would replace him?

There was a hunger for new blood… new ideas. But AMPAS is an institution of tradition and the wrong person could throw the baby out with the bathwater without even realizing they’d done it.

The biggest thing on the table before Davis left would be a renewal with ABC. That occurred a few days before the Oscar telecast last year. (No backing out!) He could leave The Academy with an 8 year safety buffer with ABC before the contract had to be renewed again. Fears that somehow the show’s ratings drop would lead to ABC backing away were no longer of concern.

Also on the list of unfinished business was the potential Academy museum, for which AMPAS had sunk millions into real estate in Hollywood over the years. There would be no resolution there.

Before he left, the were a number of minor tweaks. One of the most significant ended up being the Davis push to change the Best Picture race yet again and to create a surprise in the number of nominees. This was credited to Davis as the initial change was credited to Tom Sherak. And it had – and has – all the feel of a cat taking one last pee on the carpet on the way out the door. (Hopefully, that mess of an idea will be cleaned up this off-season.)

So who would come in and replace the person that most of the staff had worked for through their entire Academy careers? Over at Film Independent, Dawn Hudson had built a small empire with and in spite of a board made up mostly of active execs from studio Dependents. Was she ready to become “CEO” at a much bigger, much more self-serious organization with a president who invariably had the time for the job and a lot of Governors who were likewise available to offer opinions?

Well, it’s hard to know just how the roles will play out… how much of a game changer Dawn would seek to be from early on… how much room there really was for change. She was hired in April, heavily promoted by Sherak as the right choice. And she came to The Academy, to work, in July.

Shortly thereafter, Christina Kounelias was hired for the new job of Chief Marketing Officer for The Academy. This was Hudson’s first big move and Christina answered only to Dawn from the start. Another new leader of an old bureaucracy.

In August, one of Hollywood’s greatest salesmen and subject of some of the most divided opinions you’ll ever hear about anyone, Tom Sherak, was renewed for a third year as Academy president.

Also in August, the Oscar producers were hired. Don Mischer stayed on… but the surprising “creative guy” he was teamed with was Brett Ratner, for whom this gig was likely the closest he’d ever get to being at the show with purpose.

On September 6, Eddie Murphy. a previously impossible get, was hired as host. Ratner’s stock was up, though there were some boo birds who saw Murphy as somehow dangerous. Others feared that the show would somehow become connected too closely to the commercial comedy caper.

Also in September, there were changes to the Academy campaigning rules that were positioned as a tightening, but turned out to be the rules equivalent of putting the award season in doctor’s stirrups. As the “new Academy team” seemed committed to pushing in a new direction, the near-immediate result was a free-for-all that saw new adventures in directly soliciting Academy members, more money spent on wildly extravagant lunches (which didn’t seem to work very well), and a general consensus amongst the consultants that there were no rules being enforced… until nominations were announced, at which time, things would be much quieter.

Months ago, the question of how or whether this genie was going to be put back in the bottle was being asked widely… and left unanswered by The Academy.

In October, Hudson’s second big move was announced… the long unstarted Academy museum, for which approximately $50m in land had been bought over the previous decade, was not going to be a building project on the purchased land, but part of a rebuilding deal with LACMA, an organization with which Hudson had an existing relationship from FIND. There still has been no explanation as to what the organization expects to do with the land they own in Hollywood, south of the Arclight. And the announcement of the LACMA deal didn’t come with a lot of detail. But it was progress in as much as it was movement.

Things were quiet with Ratner for a few months, as he finished work on his November release, Tower Heist. But as soon as he started doing press for his movie, as a representative of The Academy, he couldn’t keep his random, smirky thoughts to himself.

And then, he had to go away.

A week after Ratner went away, 19 year Academy veteran Leslie Unger was shoved out the door… or resigned. Ratner was, obviously, not her call. But her exit seemed inevitable from back when Kounelias was hired. Unger and Robertson were the senior members of the old bureaucracy. And this is how things tend to go.

But going into an Oscar show in less than 3 months, suddenly without the veteran Unger, seemed counter-intuitive, whatever tension there was. An embarrassed Board of Governors, who had taken the leap on Ratner in the first place, went to their comfort zone… Billy Crystal. They also had to find a producer who was capable and willing to handle the job at the last minute. Brian Grazer was the call. Grazer is a bit of an eccentric, but he is also a pro who seems to know where and when to let things fly.

On January 6, The LA Times ran a story about Hudson already being under fire from one part of the Board of Governors. And I jumped to Hudson’s defense, in that the story was poorly sourced, nastily personal, and I felt an overreach that was likely initiated by some who had been pushed out of the bureaucracy. But it was like a warning shot across her bow. And it isn’t clear that she appreciated what it meant… which would make her character similar to what is described in the story… a little tone deaf and a bit reckless.

And now this Sacha Baron Cohen idiocy.

Presenters on the show are often there to promote their upcoming movie, even if it barely is spoken of outside of the introductory voice of God. Cohen presenting as The Dictator was not a bad idea. A little dangerous. But a little dangerous can be good.

Regardless of how the idea of putting him on the red carpet in costume came about… it is a mistake equal to, if not worse, than hiring Brett Ratner to produce the show. In the Ratner case, you know the potential for his personal excess leaking onto his representation of The Academy and you hope that he’s going to keep it together, as he claimed he would. Putting a character from an upcoming movie on the carpet, which has been very carefully kept pristine for many years, as a place where talent is coming together for what can be a life-changing night… well, besides being unprecedented, it leads to the inevitable planning for how other studios will rape the opportunity in years to come.

First thing that comes to mind is Disney trotting out Mickey & Minnie in costume. I mean, why not? Same difference, right?

Maybe they should have a section of the carpet when Uggie and other Oscar-related dogs can jumps though rings of fire?

Daniel Day-Lewis will certainly not be dressed as Lincoln next year. But why not have all Disney/Dreamworks people wear Lincoln beards on the carpet. That would be fun, no? Or maybe this year, they should have Taylor Kitsch walk the red carpet in his loin cloth?

Maybe Sir Ben Kingsley can do a magic show on the red carpet. After all, the DVD will be coming out soon.

Yes, it’s all so fun and different. Why not? Lighten up, Academy!

And here’s the part where this group can no longer be trusted with the future of The Academy. It’s a two-parter.

1. The first rule of movie marketing is to figure out what you are selling and then sell the living hell out of it. If you are selling something other than what you actually have to sell, you will get caught and be embarrassed. Sometimes, you can get away with an opening weekend… and that’s great when you have crap to sell. But if you believe in your product and you expect it to have legs, you better sell what you have and not some whimsical notion of what people might buy.

The Academy Awards is tight dresses and tight bow ties and excessive nervousness and a stick up the butt and an absolute faith in the glory of celebrating your self and your industry colleagues. It is not the MTV Music Awards or The People’s Choice or even The Golden Globes. It is much bigger than all of those because of what it is. You can change some things, but you can’t change what it is… or it is nothing.

This choice by The Academy indicates an absolute lack of understanding about what their brand is.

2. They already got a mulligan. (And not Carey.)

Ratner was an epic screw up. And they saved their dignity with some old school Billy Crystal. Not as exciting as Eddie Murphy getting out there, but like a warm, salty pretzel with just enough mustard to keep it from just being a bunch of boring, chewy dough at the ball game.

And instead of just playing that card and thanking God almighty that they got away from the blunder, they went and decided to raise the stakes.

Worse, no one outside of the small circle still knows the truth about what happened. Who initiated? Was it a presenting situation that got out of control? Was it all a publicity stunt?

Whatever the truth, this new Academy team is still playing it out by saying nothing… by letting the media and Paramount and WME run their show by way of their absence.

How can the Board of Governors trust people who handle The Academy’s business that way?

The Academy is not a wannabe seeking attention any way they can get it. For better or worse, they are the gold standard by which all other awards shows and most of television is judged. But this event is being treated as though Sacha Baron Cohen – $138m worldwide on his last film… less than The Help, Midnight in Paris, War Horse, and The Descendants have already done – is doing them a favor.

I LOVE SBC’s work. I have embraced and defended him tirelessly. But this is not about his work. This is about the standards The Academy sets for itself.

How do you trust people who survive a tsunami and then run into a burning house in hopes that something interesting will happen in there?

Maybe this will pass without The Academy firing Hudson and handing the keys to Ric Robertson. Maybe Dawn, a bright and lovely person, will survive this moment and make The Academy better than ever.

But this is the third time in 6 months that I have read the message loud and clear that The Academy is no longer understood by its leadership, no longer respected by its leadership, and no longer committed to a path that speaks as much to the history that got them to these massive TV contracts as to a future, which is unclear at best and likely to be pitch black if The Academy loses touch with that history.

I am a more forgiving person than many of the Governors. On the other hand, I am less concerned about controversy. So we’ll see what actually happens.

Maybe they can lay it all on Tom Sherak. He certainly deserves some of the heat. But he’s a very smart opponent when challenged politically, so that could be a suicide move as well.

I’m betting that Ric Robertson is The Academy’s next Billy Crystal.

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A Taste Of The Cesars. France’s Oscar

The Artist won 6 Cesar Awards (Picture, Director, Actress, Score, Cinematography, et Production Design) and in other Oscar-obsessed news, A Separation won their Foreign Language award.

I pulled three embeds from the show’s Canal+ website… but they all autostart… so they are now after the jump…

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“We’re on our way out. Anybody that doesn’t realize that is looking like it’s Christmas or something. We’re on our way out, as a culture. America doesn’t make anything anymore! The Chinese make it! Detroit’s a great example. All of those cities that used to be something. If you go to a truck stop in Sallisaw, Oklahoma, you’ll probably see the face of America. How desperate we are. Really desperate. Just raw.”
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“Every film has to stand next the best that has been done. Otherwise we are all dupes. My criticism is never a personal disparagement but I do take art seriously and take film criticism seriously. Replace ‘harsh’ with ‘honest’ because that’s how every critic should be. Being a film critic can be fun—as well as hard work. Being Rotten Tomatoes is just juvenile idiocy, a way of nullifying real film criticism.When websites and cliques expel me, it’s a sign of the culture’s weak and cowardly inability to engage in discourse. If there is such a thing as contrarianism, then please define the conformity and group-think that it’s contrary to… A critic needs a strong voice. A gentleman has manners.”
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