The Hot Blog Archive for November, 2012

DP/30: Les Miserables, actor Eddie Redmayne

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BYOB 112712

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DP/30: Middle of Nowhere, actor Emayatzy Corinealdi

Apologies for the focus issues…

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Indie Spirits

I hate this annual announcement… because it’s always weird and I always like most everyone who is nominated for awards, both the artists and the companies backing them. The indie community means something and it is more about the art than most other awards. That said…

Indie Spirit nominating committees are social clubs in a small social club. They split up the work in odd ways, so arguments people make about other groups about how many nominations for a film or actors not getting in or whatever don’t really apply. But you can basically see the infrastructure settling in a country mile away. This is a cousins’ club. People rotate in and out, but the pool remains pretty much the same, except for a few annual additions. It’s like The Oscars, except the cult is 1/80th the size.

Indie Spirit post-nomination voting is basically an arthouse People’s Choice Award, which doesn’t raise the bar on discerning views. It tends to be a popularity contest. If you want to be a voter, join FIND for $75, get access to a bunch of free movie screenings, and vote. You don’t have to see the nominees. You don’t have to do anything… but pay your fare and join.

So the awards are a bit schizo.

The Nominations

Then add the continuing domination of more expensive indies, mostly from Dependents. Even if they aren’t expensive to make, they have been given a relatively huge marketing push to get them where they are. How does Ira Sachs’ intimate drama of sexuality, Keep The Lights On, get into the group with noms for Picture, director, and screenplay? This year, it’s the cream in the coffee. Every year, there tends to be one. If Searchlight hadn’t picked up Beasts, it probably would have been that coming off its IFC release. The two other filmmakers that pulled off the hat trick? Wes Anderson and David O. Russell.

Richard Linklater must be wondering how Bernie got made, with nominations for Picture and Best Actor, since his script and his directing didn’t make the cut. But that, too, is part of the weirdness, as he’s a 5-time ISA nominee.

Conversely, how do The Sessions, Killer Joe, End of Watch feel about being relegated to the “good actors” slots?

I have found the history of ISA winners to be pretty consistent. Popularity and/or Oscar nominations lead to wins. The one oddity, I think, can be relentless pushing of one particular title that is “good for you” and this year, that’s Beasts of the Southern Wild. It also happens to be a very cinematic movie. If Silver Linings Playbook really heats up, that could end up winning Best Picture instead. Aside from that, the only category I am really not sure about is Best Actor, which is star-laden this year. I expect Matthew McConaughey to take supporting for Magic Mike, so the odds of him winning Lead and Supporting are slim. That leaves Bradley Cooper, Jack Black, and John Hawkes (with easily the showiest performance) duking it out. Also note that I am going Central Park Five only because of timing… it has the heat right now. A hard push by one of the other films or Oscar nods to the exclusion of other films could turn that heat elsewhere.

And note… NOT NECESSARILY MY PREFERENCES. With due respect to my projected winners and the others, this list is based on how ISA tends to vote, not my personal feelings, pro or con.

Picture – Beasts of the Southern Wild
Director – Wes Anderson
Screenplay – Moonrise Kingdom
First Feature – Perks of Being A Wallflower
First Screenplay – Safety Not Guaranteed
Cassavetes – Middle of Nowhere
Female Lead – Jennifer Lawrence
Male Lead – Bradley Cooper/Jack Black/John Hawkes
Supporting Female – Helen Hunt
Supporting Male – Matthew McConaughey
Cinematography – Beasts of the Southern Wild
Documentary – The Central Park Five
International – Rust & Bone

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First Blush Review: Zero Dark Thirty

It’s an odd thing, realizing as you watch, that you are seeing a movie that is a step above most of what you have seen in the commercial cinema this year. My pulse gets faster, I start being a little hyper-vigilant, even though I don’t take notes in movies – at least the first time through – and I start hoping, beat after beat, scene after scene, not to let the high disappear.

And that’s what I felt from the very first minutes of Zero Dark Thirty tonight.

It stars with a masterful choice in remembering September 11, 2001. Daring, tough, fresh… really quite something.

Cut to: Jason Clarke – spectacular here – starts the fire as a CIA agent who is quite skilled at torturing prisoners. And the introduction of the center of the story, Jessica Chastain.

The three-act structure is quite strong. Act One: Chastian’s Maya dives into the hands-on world of post-9/11 CIA efforts in the Middle East. Act Two: Seasoned, Maya gets some distance, but remains vigilant about pursuing her goal. Act Three: We live through history.

Bigelow & Boal are in a kind of sync that is rare in the history of cinema. Boal has raised the bar on the output of Bigelow’s master-level visual skill by giving her material to work with that is seriously challenging and meaningful. She’d make a great Bond movie, I suspect, but that was her earlier career. This is the stuff of Lean and Bolt. Of course, even that relationship had its misses. But this, the second movie for this duo, was ripe to be mediocre or even horrible. So there was enormous pressure to deliver… and in spite of that, they did.

Comparisons to All The President’s Men are completely valid. But an even stronger beating heart lies beneath this material. B&B personalize the big picture for the audience in a not-so-tricky way… they put us in the room with torture… they remind us of the violence and danger inflicted by terrorists… and they let us experience the “it’s a job” side of life and death. Because the truth of this story… the truth of almost all stories… is the balance between all those truths. ATPM has a lot of that balance too… but in the end, it is still about reporters and The Big Story. The stakes are much higher when lives are on the line in a very human, not movie-like, way. And Chastain is B&B’s way into that humanity.

There are some truly great performances by actresses this year. Marion Cotillard is a miracle in Rust & Bone. Jennifer Lawrence is going to be one of our great stars for years to come and her superstar turn in Silver Linings Playbook shows us why, beyond doubt. But Jessica Chastain turns the double trick… movie star stuff and the in-your-face character work… and her movie is a more overt heroic tale than either of the other films.

The supporting cast – and everyone else is supporting the one character with significance in each of the three acts – is flawless. Clarke and Jennifer Ehle and Edgar Ramirez and Mark Strong kill it in the first act. (Everyone else, including Kyle Chandler, is great too.) The second act brings us Stephen Dillane and James Gandolfini and the return of some 1st acters and more terrific turns. And then, the third act is fronted by The Edgerton Boys.

And Bigelow creates three quite different worlds for each act: the foreign war, the polite suited war that is Washington, and the last, where she takes one of the most well-worn tropes of the film world, “the raid” and finds new notes and Flourishes (some by subtraction), making it one of the best ever.

This is as fine a piece of filmmaking as you will see. And while many will prefer other types of films – and that doesn’t make them wrong, just with different taste – this film hits to all fields in a way that others just don’t even try for. There are a few “forever” films this year, starting – for me – with Amour. But when you run into a movie that has some real epic size, historic subject matter, thrills, a few great laughs, and boasts the skill set on display here… this is a different kind of collectable. Plus, you get three films for the price of one.

Can’t wait to see it again.

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Weekend Estimates by Big Weekend Klady

What is lovely about this best-ever Thanksgiving box office haul—unless you are obsessively trying to find reasons to claim that theatrical is dead or dying—is that it wasn’t driven by mega-numbers. There was some real balance. A lot of people going to a lot of different kinds of movies. The biggest Thanksgiving 5-day ever was Potter 1′s $82.4m, 11 years ago. This weekend’s estimated high (do all-too-many media outlets not realize that today’s numbers are estimates since Sunday numbers haven’t happened yet or do they just not care about facts being precise?) was Twilight: The First Series Ends’ $64 million. Bond was about $13m behind that. But there was $64 million in Lincoln and Life of Pi. That’s amazing for two serious-minded films.

Moreover, there was $8.5m more out there for Flight, now nearing 2.5x production cost in domestic gross alone… a heavy flick about high-functioning alcoholism. Silver Linings Playbooks rebounded—for those who saw the per-screen in its first weekend as a problem—with a strong $12k per-screen on 367. Argo is still going pretty strong, ready to cross the $100m mark this next week. And there were some legitimate, if not overwhelming, per-screens for Anna Karenina, Hitchcock, Rust & Bone, and docs Chasing Ice and The Central Park Five.

There are a lot of people with a lot of specific agendas, but overall, this is the ideal of what the Niche Box Office might look like going forward. It’s not all GIANT movies and tiny movies. It’s a solid mix. People still love going to the movies. And go they do. They went to all kinds of stuff this weekend, including animated films and Indian films and docs and high art and high crap and stupid remakes an everything in between.

You want to count tickets? Get a life. Your guesstimates for this weekend—or any weekend—is skewed by 3D and IMAX by, I would estimate, as much as 10%. Ticket counting is often using a macro number to make micro arguments, which doesn’t work.

But that said, the post-theatrical universal has expanded exponentially since the launch of VHS, but even more since DVD sell-thru and the internet. But the lowered number of tickets sold hasn’t dropped exponentially at all. If you include international—which none of the ticket counters ever do, both to make their case and because even estimated stats are barely available—ticket sales are clearly up. But even if you don’t, domestic ticket sales have dropped steadily, but not drastically. This is not another era of TV eating exhibition and the studios. But yes, there is an incursion on theatrical by EVERYTHING out there. But the incursion has been greater on DVD and television. So what is the theory? It’s a lot bigger than “great weekend if you look at grosses, but ticket sales…”

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Friday Estimates by Gobble Gobble Klady

It’s funny how unimpressive Thanksgiving seems next to the big summer openers. As is, there will be at least one movie that will be in the Top 10 all-time for the Thanksgiving 5-day… probably two.Of course, neither of those films launched this weekend… because like Christmas, distributors have learned that big movies are better off being in Weekend 2 or 3 when Thanksgiving comes.

The top new movie is going to be Rise of the Guardians, but not by nearly as much as DreamWorks Animation – in its last release via Paramount – would like. The 5-day opening is looking more like Bolt than Tangled. I would argue that there was never a familiarity with the conceit of the film established in the marketing, which relied on the presumed historic familiarity with the characters. The film could have an upturn based on word of mouth and the ongoing holiday season… but could easily end up a step behind Megamind, which was not perceived as a success, in spite of a $321m worldwide gross.

I didn’t mean to forget Lincoln, which has been a very, very solid performer as dramas go, especially historic dramas. $64m or so in 2 weekends of wide release (with about $1.4m of that from a week in exclusive). There are not a lot of perspectives from other similar films available, but Lincoln is about 45% ahead of Argo at the same stages of their runs. It’s not moving quite as fast as The Help, but if things continue at this rate, this will have to be seen as a legitimate commercial phenom, above and beyond the awards angle.

Life of Pi is looking healthy with a $33m opening 5-day. And in its case, there really are no comparisons to work with. It could become a phenom and gross over $150m… it could be a reasonable success with an $80m domestic total. The history is all over the place here.

For a movie that was feeling a little thrown away, Red Dawn is doing okay, from an exploitation perspective.

And at this time next week, we will be talking about Argo as a $100m domestic grosser.

Silver Linings Playbook expanded to 367 screens on Friday and is looking at a strong $15k per over the weekend. Is this the beginning of a long, happy journey or a stumble out of the gate? I would vote for the former, but can’t discount the possibility of the latter… it’s really up to the Harvey Machine to decide how invested they are in the film.

Hitchcock is looking at about $18k per screen on 17 for the 3-day weekend. Not bad. Not great. Definitively not definitive.

(EDITS: I made a typo in graph 3, repeating the name Lincoln in a comparison. It was corrected by an editor, but backwards. Lincoln is well ahead of Argo’s numbers at this point.)

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DP/30: End of Watch, actor Jake Gyllenhaal

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DP/30: 2012 – The Year Of Matthew McConaughey

Matthew McConaughey discusses Magic Mike, as well as his other four movies in 2012; Killer Joe, Mud, Bernie, and The Paperboy

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Things I’m Thankful For 2012

Every year that passes, more of my history in this business floats away. Death, firings, retirement, fashion. Things keep changing. Some of the changes are great. Some aren’t.

When I started writing The Hot Blog, née Button, 16 years ago, I was the only daily columnist on movies in any medium aside from Variety’s Army Archerd.

In those 16 years, we have seen the first mainstream DVD release, Twister… and we’re nearing the end of DVD as a major delivery format.

We saw the first $1 billion movie, Titanic… and only one more (in first run) in 2003, another in 2006, and 8 in the 4 years since.

We have seen the end of the daily trade magazine, the creation of web logs (aka Blogs), and the deterioration of entertainment journalism – for better and worse – as we knew it.

We have seen five owners at Universal, the first DreamWorks-distributed release, the last DreamWorks-distributed release, the rise of the Dependents at the major studios and the fall of 4 of those Dependents (leaving 3), the birth and death of subscription DVD, the birth of streaming, and the resurrection of 3D.

And through it all (and a lot more), I have been lucky enough to be here, on the internet, doing work that I love or like, and only rarely hate. Whether I have earned your indulgence or simply been in the right place at the right time to receive it, I appreciate the opportunity.

I AM THANKFUL above all for my wife, my son, and my health. I don’t work the insane hours that I worked in 1996, but I work a lot and my family makes that possible.

I THANK everyone who makes DP/30 possible, from the talent to my camerapeople to the gatekeepers who have embraced this 6-years long project along the way, trusting me with their time, their goodwill, and their clients in an unformatted discussion program that could “go bad” at any time in an era when everything is being done to limit exposure. I can count the “bad” moments on two hands after around 700 interviews (I really need to nail down a number) so I feel I have earned myself some trust… but the first few hundred were sticking their heads into a lion’s mouth on faith. And i am thankful to work with almost of those who were so generous to this day/week/year.

ENDLESS THANKS to The Young Masters, who keep pushing the boundaries of American cinema. I love the foreign masters as well, but I don’t see it as much as an act of bravery to let your freak flag fly elsewhere, where artistry is praised and box office isn’t such the obsession. (Of course, there are those who are literally persecuted for making art that does not conform… true heroes in a world of the brilliantly self-indulgent.) But where would cinema be without the filmmakers who make the films that are routinely said to be unmakeable in today’s commercial environment? Regardless of the success of the artistry, the pushing of the envelope is the greater achievement. I don’t care so much why Bob Zemeckis made a $31m film this year… just that he made it. Don’t really groove to Wachowski/Tykwer or PT Anderson or Sally Potter or Carax? Who cares? Dive in and you can’t drown. If you love film, you can only see more deeply, even if the surface sends you screaming.

Can I thank the people whose names I cannot mention… people who would be embarrassed to be singled out, but who make my work and my life a pleasure? I am fully aware of “movie friends,” but I have—at least on my side—something much more profound with many of the people I work with. I have real feelings. I guess that makes me look dumb, especially after you lied to me that time earlier this year. But that’s your job. I get it. Still, I am not a big bullshitter. I can be courteous. But if I really seem to be interested in you and am making an effort, I am pretty likely to be being sincere. I don’t take it all personally. But after all these years working together, it gets to feel pretty personal. And even if we don’t have much time for one another, I wish we had more.

Thank GOD for documentarians. You are the literal to the great figurative of art… and often blur that line. Sure, there is plenty of mediocrity in the form. But no part of cinema seems so alive and ready to keep growing to me. I have been saying for years that any deep subject is now 3 – 5 documentaries from a rich understanding. The mosaic is what matters, each tile painted by a passionate, hardworking, tireless filmmaker.

I thank Dawn Hudson for doing/allowing so many iffy things at The Academy that it is reminding more and more people that the organization needed a paint job, not a teardown. I really like Dawn and I appreciate her passions (and her team), but there are good reasons why The Academy is THE ACADEMY and not Film Independent and they need to move back to the other side of the line ASAP.

Thanks to The Cannes International Film Festival for the generous welcome after years of me skipping the party. Apparently, I got a good badge color… and I really enjoyed one of the easiest, deepest festivals in the world. It is still insanely expensive and not a good bargain for any non-film US news outlet that wants news that will matter to its readers. But a tremendous, beautifully managed film experience.

My shocked thanks to all my Twitter “followers” who put up with my space-eating diatribes. If I didn’t think it was worth saying, I wouldn’t say it. But some days, I want to unfollow me. Still, the number of you still rises, slower than it used to, but it rises.

I seriously thank all movie journalists who really like to think about what they are writing. You are a dying breed. If you ask yourself the hard questions, you are even more endangered. And if you don’t ask yourself the hard questions you surely won’t ask anyone else.

I backhandedly thank Nikki Finke for continuing to make the low bar for journalism so crystal clear. You have done what every playground bully seeks to do… lower the standards of living so that you can have perceived control of said playground while adding absolutely nothing to the experience except unpleasantness and fear. Those who protect you seek advantage. Those who accept you without question are already in the deluded position of The Bullied. You are now and, sadly I suspect, will ever be a blight on this industry, making cowards out of those more powerful than you… which is almost everyone who has ever showed any honest passion for their work, whether in the industry or journalism. People don’t really understand where your “scoops” come from, why, or at what cost. I’m not saying that what you doing isn’t very hard work. It is. And you are a very hard worker. But not much of a journalist.

My endless thanks to the hundreds of DP/30 guests who enlighten me every year… no so much about their films or the art form, but about human beings. Whether it is a master who I have spent time with in the past or a rising actor I am meeting for the first time or a below-the-liner whose job is often not noticed fully, there is something to be taken from every person. When I started DP/30, it was to gather the experience I was having of meeting these people. Now, I wonder how to better capture the moments we share before and after interviews without taking advantage of that odd intimacy. And I wonder how I can grow from those profound scraps each time I get them. I can’t explain, for instance, what I get from Haneke before or after a filmed conversation. But I know it informs as much as or more than the interview, whether that is his intention or not. It’s another layer of listening.

I am thankful for the Hot Blog readers who have gotten less than they deserve from me this year. Besides shooting 100 hours of video in multiple cities and countries, I am tweeting much of what I used to blog, I have a 2.5 year old son, a wife, and in 2012, a presidential election that really disturbed me for months. I am not the guy who wrote 2,000 words a day for The Hot Button column for years, nor the guy who started blogging 8 or 9 years ago. I am spread out. Some of the things I used to write about frequently that were very popular are just not that interesting to me anymore. I am not as anxious to fight every fight. And I apologize for that. I’d like to be more focused… and I guess, in a way, I am. Just not on the blog. I will endeavor to better in 2013.

I am so very thankful to filmmakers who keep paying attention to all the formats I deliver content through… and to publicists and executives too. I have always lived multiple lives. I get attention from different groups in different ways. This suits my temperament. But I have to be reminded of how my voice does connect sometimes and, sure enough, I am often reminded in unexpected ways… for which i am very thankful.

My daily thanks to the YouTube community and the many outgrowths that now have DP/30 up to over 10,000 views every day of the year. I’d like to ramp that up and get to over 4 million views of these interviews next year, but given how crappy my promotional skills have been, I am very pleased for the consistent incremental growth. And thanks to the many commenters who offer opinions of all stripes every day… even when the comments are stupid as hell (most aren’t).

Special thanks to Team Movie City News. It’s been a time of evolution, this 2012. But we keep pushing out a valuable product every day. And I certainly couldn’t do it without you all, especially Ray Pride, who is our headline master, and my founding partner in MCN, Laura Rooney, who is less involved in the day-to-day now, but who made the existence of this site possible.

The world has been incredibly generous to me, this year as it has in many years past. There is nothing outside of my family that stirs my soul, still, after all these years, like a movie. Even when I don’t love the film, when I feel like I am seeing someone’s vision come to life in the way they intended, my heart leaps. I am lucky to have that. I am lucky to be able to indulge that passion.

May you have a wonderful Thanksgiving and a glorious year to come.

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DP/30: Hitchcock, actors Toni Collette, Jessica Biel

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Guy Fieri On NYT Review

I didn’t see the show this week… but I did pass Guy Fieri’s new restaurant multiple times this week… and it was a weird feeling… though there were still people eating there. But if this got cut in dress, SNL must have had a really good week, because this is both very funny, simple to digest even outside of Manhattan, and brief… 3 great things that go great together on SNL.

It’s also a great piece about much of criticism in many quarters.

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BYOB w/ a side of sweet potatoes

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Weekend Estimates by Lenny Kladenina

Hello… sorry for the slow commentary… on the road.

So Twi-five opened without incident. Any whining about it coming up short domestically is just idiotic. The franchise, like most others, has a finite universe and this film will, given foreign, probably be the biggest of the lot… by a few million to 10s of millions, but not by more. Many seem to feel this is the best movie of the lot… but that doesn’t matter either. Either you is or isn’t a Twilight fan.

Skyfall, already the highest grossing Bond movie worldwide, will be the #1 domestic Bond film before Thanksgiving is over. This will be the biggest film in the franchise by over $100m. The only question is how high it can fly.

Lincoln had a strong expansion to 1775 screens (why not 1776?), significantly better than Munich, which spent two weekends in limited before expanding to 1485 screens and a $7.6m weekend. Some see this putting Lincoln out front of the Oscar race. I think that’s premature pontification. But the film is certainly one of the top 5 nominees.

Speaking of which, those trying to define Silver Linings Playbook and Anna Karenina by their 16 screen openings are, uh, nuts.

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The Hot Blog

Quote Unquotesee all »

“The city to me is the only possible vehicle we have to measure human achievement. We’re an urban species now. If you look at Karachi or Mexico City or Hong Kong or London or New York or Yonkers or Baltimore or any of these other places, the pastoral is now a part of human history. We’re either going to figure out how to live together in these increasingly crowded, increasingly multi-cultural population centers or we’re not. We’re either going to get great at this or we’re going to fail as a species.”
~ David Simon

“I wondered how different it would be to write a novel and it’s totally different. It’s very internal. The weird thing about it is that I found that novel-writing was much more like directing than it is like screenwriting. You’re casting it, you’re lighting it, you’re doing the costumes, you’re doing the locations, you’re doing it all yourself as a director would. In screenwriting, you don’t do that stuff. You don’t describe the face of the actor or the character when you’re writing a screenplay because Tom Cruise is going to do it and he doesn’t look like that, whereas in the novel to describe what he is is what he is. The actual act of writing, just like shooting on a set, is a slow slog. It’s going to work every day.”
~ David Cronenberg On Screenplay vs. Novel