The Hot Blog Archive for October, 2015
I can hear the moaning from Oscaristas (or Oscaristos?) all over town from the headline alone. But they don’t vote for the Academy Awards.
Nor do I.
I think there are two Oscar locks right about now… Brie Larson in Best Actress and Mark Rylance in Supporting Actor.
But as I look down the barrel at this season, aiming at Best Picture, it is looking more and more like 2000 or 2006, when the Best Picture statue ended up going to the big, well-made, not terribly shocking, but very entertaining movie over a series of films that critics and “serious film people” liked better. Those two winners were Gladiator and The Departed.
Opposing Gladiator were two Soderbergh films (Traffic and Erin Brockovich), an Ang Lee movie (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), and a bonbon from Weinstein’s Miramax, Chocolat. The cute film from Miramax was the only one of the five that didn’t end up with over $100 million at the box office. So economics were a non-issue. Still, the biggest commercial hit, which was serious enough with a well-loved enough director as to not be embarrassing, won the day.
In 2006, Scorsese was well into the “he’s gotta win” era. So lots of people were all over The Departed as a Best Director winner to be. Early on, almost no one saw it as a potential Best Picture winner. (I would say “no one,” but no doubt there was someone.) In fact, it was poo-poohed by many in the chattering class as not a screenplay nominee, not an acting nominee, etc. So how did it win?
It was surrounded by small, passionately-loved modest commercial successes. Little Miss Sunshine seemed to many to be the more likely winner. The film had lost to Dreamgirls at the Golden Globes in Comedy/Musical, but Dreamgirls failed to be nominated. It won the cast award from SAG and another from BFCA. It won the Indie Spirit Best Picture award. And on Oscar night, it would take home two Oscars.
Also in that field were Babel, which won Best Drama from the Golden Globes and had two Supporting Actress nominations, The Queen, a surprise commercial hit which locked Helen Mirren in for an Oscar win from the day it was shown, and Letters From Iwo Jima, which was the surprise in the group, the Clint Eastwood foreign-language film that supplanted his much-touted Flags of Our Fathers. Like 2000, it seemed like one film (Iwo Jima) had no chance to win. But the other four were all, in perception, neck-n-neck.
What emerged? The big box office success that every Academy member saw because of the inevitable Scorsese Best Director win… and they liked it, language and violence and dildo and all.
Flash forward to 2015.
Put a gun to my head and I will say that Spotlight, The Martian, Room, and Steve Jobs will get in (though there seems to be a wave of negativity against Steve Jobs right now that could sink that awards ship).
Can the film about the scrappy reporters who do great work and make public a horrible injustice win Best Picture? Yes. But it will be Open Road’s first nominee and not hugely commercial and part of what is so beautiful about the film is that it is not very showy… it’s just plain excellent. Is that enough?
Can the movie about the kidnapped girl who has a son and for whom the outside world may be as terrifying as being stuck in Room win? Sure. But the more likely scenario is that Brie Larson takes home her first Oscar and it was lovely that the film managed a Best Picture nod.
For me, what was for a moment the frontrunner based on the movie, Steve Jobs, is no longer a serious contender to win because of the damage it took on this last week, regardless of whether the damage was remotely fair. This was not a late attack in the style of A Beautiful Mind, where the frontrunner was being smashed. This is just (inappropriate, in my opinion) negativity given wing by a disappointing box office result. But that is the real world. I would love to see the film recover, but right now, it doesn’t feel like there is a clear path to a full recovery, thus a nomination and no win.
But there are other things in the way of The Martian.
If the plan to get it nominated by The Golden Globes in comedy, that would put a stink on a humorous film that is not a comedy. They’d be better off not Globe nominated at all, really.
And of course, there are other films coming.
The big dogs are The Revenant and The Hateful Eight. Both directors have been twice before nominated for directing. Quentin’s last two movies were both nominated for Best Picture and Alejandro’s won last year, his second film to be so nominated. You can’ bet against either of these guys.
But, and a big BUT… Iñárritu had a picture win last year. And this year’s movie seems dark and brutal… which also happens to be Tarantino’s milieu. And both are set in seriously bad winter weather.
There are, of course, other movies to consider as Best Picture nominees, from Bridge of Spies to The Danish Girl to Joy To Brooklyn to Youth to even the great and explosive Mad Max: Fury Road… but are any of these winning Best Picture? Not likely.
I am not saying that the most popular commercial film always wins. That is not close to the truth at all. But I do believe that unless there is a reason to vote for something else, the film that people like the most tends to win.
That reason those films often look might be that the “popular” choice would seem too frivolous (Ghost, Beauty & The Beast, Four Weddings & A Funeral, Jerry Maguire, The Sixth Sense, Rings twice, Little Miss Sunshine, Juno, Up, Avatar, Toy Story 3, Gravity), but most often, there is a narrative. Rings 3 was a lock from Day 1 in 2003. The Aviator pushed too hard and didn’t completely capture Hollywood’s imagination about itself, making room for Eastwood. Bigelow vs Cameron. Silent, black + white old Hollywood. Affleck snubbed. Slavery over space drama.
There are other years where there seemed to be an even fight without a clear narrative for Academy votes to follow. 2007 with No Country For Old Men. Very intense movies that year, with relief coming from Juno and Atonement (a bit). But Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood was probably too much for the average Academy voter. And that left Michael Clayton, which I adore, but could not fight off the Coens, who felt very, very due at the time. Is it a coincidence that your winner was also the #2 grosser in the group behind the comedy that wouldn’t win for being a comedy (Juno)?
2001 was pretty open also with musical drama (Moulin Rouge!) against a second Rings nomination vs and stiff-upper-lip Altman precursor to “Downton Abbey” (Gosford Park) fighting a powerful little drama about loss (In The Bedroom)… leaving the door open to an old-fashioned romantic drama about a misunderstood genius, which was by far the biggest hit aside from Rings 2, which was just placeholding its way to the winning Rings 3.
The Martian has a well-liked high prestige cast, a legendary director, it’s beautifully made, and it’s a massive hit that smart audiences like and respect.
There are no locks in October (in spite of the two mentioned at the top who are likely to stay locked in, in my opinion). Things change. Positions shift. Movies are shown.
But if you had to put the house on one title for Best Picture as of today? Easy.
Give me that quizzical RCA dog look if you like. But it only makes sense in a season of really good, really challenging, not very commercial contenders. If that changes, I will be happy to note the change right here… all Fox has to do is to stumble over their shoelaces and get this thing a Best Comedy nomination at The Globes… and you will be right and I will be wrong. But until I see something change… The Martian.
Woe to the box office analyst in certain periods annually… now… early September… first weekend of December… traditionally early January, though not so much anymore.
The Martian, an undeniable major hit, is at the top of the chart for the 3rd time in its 4 weekends. Impressive? Strong. But Pan and The Last Witch Hunter shocked no one by not making it interesting. 25% drop in weekend 4 is excellent. But it ain’t Gravity. It’s absurd to do anything but praise The Martian‘s numbers and Fox’s management of same. But it’s hard to get wild and crazy about a weekend with top gross of $15.9 million.
Good on Goosebumps. But it’s running at about half of the same studio’s other fall family film, Hotel Transylvania 2… which by the way, will pass the original’s gross tomorrow. Solid… but…
Bridge of Spies pretty much embodies the “nice, nice” tone of the box office right now. They are, roughly, at the same place Munich was after two weeks of wide release. (Munich had 2 weeks at 532 screens, grossing $16m, then the first 2 weeks wide added $17 million.) Munich, of course, got nominated for Best Picture and more. But then again, it was a Christmas release, causing Academy members to vote for the movie, not months of hype stretching through a season. Bridge of Spies probably will pass $50 million domestic before Thanksgiving… but not by much. And for a Cold War drama, that’s nice. Nice.
Then there are this weekend’s newcomers. Oy.
The Last Witch Hunter is right in the middle of the Lionsgate’s 8 releases this year… though the high for the year was $13.2 million for The Age of Adaline, so… grain of salt even for that. The Hunger Games is coming to make sure Christmas isn’t ruined for the studio, but LGF/Summit seems more like MGM in “sell the studio” with one year on and one year off, just investing enough to keep potential buyers interested, than anything else. They have done a nice job on Sicario, but for a company that made a lot of noise for a while, things are awfully quiet over there.
Paramount markets their stunts better than anyone in town. They have taken two potential direct-to-VOD titles, starting with Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension (or PA6), and convinced the media that they were making a brave leap into the cutting edge of distribution by getting one (Chinese-owned) chain to buy into a 2-week VOD window, losing 2/3 of their best screens, but not much caring because they didn’t expect to make much in theatrical on this film anyway. The last Paranormal (#5) did less than double opening weekend. It is impossible to determine whether the discussion of the release pattern and the lost screens affected the opening gross of this film… especially given that the last sequel opening was down 38% from the one before. So would this opening have been $11.4 million had they just gone ahead like usual? How much more will the VOD be with a short window (albeit after Halloween)? I suspect the math will work for Paramount. But this movie fits into the mold of the indie VOD model… cheap with low expectations. This could be a foot in the door for NATO theaters to agree to allow a certain level of release at the studios go VOD early… that is really the play here, in my opinion. The danger in that, however, is that while the low-end of theatricals might work in a system like this for major exhibitors, it could decimate indie arthouse theaters, sell a significant percentage of their annual ticket sales for Sony Classics, Searchlight, and Focus movies, which could be pushed to bigger chains and shorter windows if there is an official agreement on this kind of thing.
Steve Jobs is not a happy story this weekend. The huge 4-screen success of 2 weekends ago was no mirage… but it was instructive about the hard core of the audience for this movie. This weekend is not a car wreck either. But no one could spin is as “good” or “happy.” It’s underwhelming. And it brings serious questions with it about the potential domestic total for this film. Can it get to $30 million? How will Academy voters feel about this? I don’t know. The whole thing needs some breathing room. I don’t know that Universal can realistically turn this ship commercially. But there is so much quality in this film that awards are still in reach. A Best Picture win, however, may now be a long shot.
Also stumbling out of the blocks was Rock The Kasbah, which reminds us that Bill Murray really needs some attention from Tarantino or PT Anderson or someone who can find a frame that will show his greatness, as Sofia Coppola and Wes Anderson once did.
And… Jem & The Holograms.
Suffragette was the winner of the per-screen sweepstakes this weekend. But again, at $18,570l, no one is out buying Bentleys.
Truth tripled their screen count to 18, but cut the per-screen nearly in half. The numbers so fr look a bit like SPC’s Testament of Youth, which never got past 104 screens or $2 million domestic. My guess is that Truth will get a wider play than that, given the star power. But is there even $5 million in this one? Not too sure about that.
Meanwhile, Grandma continues to swing along with a $6.6 million total and still growing.
The Martian continues to hold well and will pass Gone Girl, last year’s big adult drama from Fox some time this week. It’s still not catching up with Gravity, the big adult drama of two years ago, but it seems sure to crack $200 million.
Goosebumps had a decent hold, given that Friday isn’t a big family day and that we are still a week from what should be a pre-Halloween bump.
The Last Witch Hunter is an oddball, as Vin Diesel has so little recent history in anything but Furious films. This one is just behind Riddick, although that was a sequel. And it is ahead of Babylon A.D., which totaled $22 million. The guy is a big star… when driving a car or mocking himself. That’s more than many actors ever get.
Bridge of Spies has a solid second Friday hold… nothing great, nothing upsetting. Modest success, box office-wise.
Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension is part of a short-window experiment by Paramount. It’s been set up as a no-can-lose proposition. If it gets to $16m total domestic, it will be in line with the drops the series has taken as it hits the sixth film. It will get close enough to blame the screen count. And we’ll soon hear about how it did in VOD… or not, if it doesn’t do significantly increased numbers from a normal post-theatrical VOD release.
Steve Jobs is a disappointment. But the journey to that fact has been a trip down the rabbit hole this weekend. The bad but now standard choice to project grosses based on tracking offered by studio sources who have a vested interest started the guessing at $19 million for the weekend. That was drawn down to $11 million when Friday east coast estimates – another now standard and utterly unreliable journalistic tool to project box office – got reported on Friday afternoon and the “Disappointment” shrieking started… more to cover butts than to accurately relate what was happening on the film. And now, pretty-much-actual Friday numbers that show that $7.5 million for the weekend will be a happy number relative to Friday at this point… so yes, an actual disappointment. Can the film recover? We’ll see. But the very strong numbers in exclusive suggest, comparatively, that this is a film with strong support in a few major cities and that Universal marketing just didn’t find the audience that was not anxious to see a Steve Jobs movie or a Danny Boyle movie or an Aaron Sorkin movie or a Michael Fassbender movie.
Hard to say where Goosebumps will end up for the weekend, as it has the box office upside of being a family film but with the box office downside of being a “horror” film on some level. Which side of the film will win the “how the weekend turns” derby? We’ll see today. Family is generally up on Saturday and horror drops.
The Martian is also a wild card. In its first week, it did a pretty normal 3x Friday for the weekend. Last week, it had a big Saturday bump and ended up doing just under 3.5x Friday for the weekend. So which will it be? $22 million, $19 million or something in between… or above or below?
Bridge of Spies is also a complex film to find comps for. Spielberg’s action romps all have opened better. But of his dramas, only Lincoln has opened better in the last decade (and that after a week in exclusive). When Lincoln expanded from 11 screens, it went to only 1775 screens (why not 1776?) and it did $6.4 million on that first wide-ish Friday. Bridge is on 2811, estimated at $5.3 million. And when Lincoln then went to 2018 in its second wide weekend, it had a $10m Friday… which is remarkable, as was the box office run of that film, stem to stern. I don’t think anyone was counting on Bridge being that kind of phenom.
That said, when you go back to 2004 and The Terminal, you see Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg opening in the same exact number of venues as Bridge (2811) and opening to $6.1 million, $800k more than Bridge. Ont he other hand, just look at Spielberg’s last six openings and Bridge will be the second best, behind only Indiana Jones 4… third best if you just make it a flat 10 years, 7 films, and include War of the Worlds.
Here’s another interesting stat… Schindler’s List was never on as many as 14oo screens, never had a weekend of $6 million or more, and still did $96 million domestically.
If I had to guess, Bridge of Spies ends up somewhere around $60m domestic, which is likely to be enough to get it to profitability given the budget, and when you include international.
Crimson Peak is a hard sell. Is it a horror film, a film noir or as its creator says, a Gothic romance the scale of which the movies have not seen in 50 years? With a $5.3 million opening day and a bunch of box office-projecting yahoos who have convinced themselves that when they read the tea leaves wrong, it means the film did something “disappointing,” knives are sharpened for this film.
Truth is, Guillermo del Toro hasn’t had a wide release of a film that is not CG or established-character-driven in his career except for 1997’s Mimic, which was considered a problem child of a release then and now. Universal, having a great year, seemed to mimic the genre confusion in its marketing… are those character posters in the outdoor ghosts, horror, 3D… ??? If you are hip to the Guillermo groove, there was nothing really surprising about the tone of this film. He has never made an actual horror film as a director. He has made giant spectacle action films and he had made intimate, heartfelt dramas with big genre elements… Crimson Peak is the first film he’s had that really lingers between the two things. And based on this opening, a modest part of each of the genre audiences showed up, but none of those groups (the horror fans, the tweener grrrl romance fans, the spectacle crowd) committed fully.
Crimson puts me in the mind of Ghost Story, a 1981 film with a parade of near-death movie stars (Fred Astaire, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Melvin Douglas, John Houseman) in a haunted house movie of memories and revenge. It was a very unusual combination of things… and it did okay at the box office for 1981, though it got its butt kicked by other December movies like On Golden Pond, Reds, and even Sharky’s Machine. I like that movie. I would love to see that movie again today. There’s really been nothing like it in the 30+ years since. It may be that long before we see another film like Crimson Peak. If we do, it will probably be from Guillermo and it will probably cost $20m or less, forcing it to be a bit more intimate and a bit less effects-y… which in turn will probably make it clearer to the potential ticket-buying audience and a big “surprise” hit. Hollywood is scarier (and sometimes surprisingly happy) than any movie.
Woodlawn is, it seems, a biopic about the high school experience of 1980s Miami Dolphins running back Tony Nathan, who, it seems, went to a primarily white high school and became their Jackie Robinson, embracing his faith in the process. Not a huge hit, but generating $4 million more than anyone should have expected on opening weekend, this seems to be another strong reminder that there is money in niche audiences.
Room is looking at $30k per screen for the weekend on four. Truth under $9k per on 6six Beasts of No Nation at an anemic $1600 per on 31… which is not a good sign for Netflix as a theatrical distributor. It’s not just a Netflix issue… there is a ton of evidence that there is a glass ceiling on movies with a short or nonexistent theatrical-to-online window. There just is.
And as we see Paramount try to destroy domestic theatrical with their experiment next week – supported by Chinese-owned AMC – there may be some bump for their specific titles because of the pre-sold nature of the material they are pushing out and the novelty of the new, but undercutting theatrical for online is fine if the target for profitability is low… for anything greater, it is a disaster waiting to happen. And indeed, Paramount may not actually be after day-n-date for wide release movies, so much as breaking ground for studios using day-n-date for their lower end titles, which could benefit from a stronger non-theatrical play without going 100% direct to digital.
Oh, the lists are flying fast & furious now. It’s open season again. Many possibilities.
In honor of everyone and their brothers (all absolute experts, make no mistake), I will throw some stuff at the wall today, as we are now 20 Weeks To Oscar.
Here are four movies that are going to be nominated, barring major screw-ups by the distributors/consultants (in alphabetical order):
Here are eight much talked about titles that are now dead for a Best Picture nomination:
I Saw The Light
Our Brand Is Crisis
Here are the three films left to be seen with a serious shot at being nominated for Best Picture:
The Hateful Eight
Here is the crowd of movies that have been sufficiently well-received (or are still anticipated to be so) to get nominated, have distributor support (meaning will AND money), but will have to wade through the crowd to find a place at the big table:
Bridge of Spies
The Danish Girl
In The Heart of the Sea
And here are your longshots for a Best Picture nomination for a wide number of reasons, from minimal theatrical alongside Netflix, to commercial aversion to minimal award budgets:
Beasts of No Nation
By The Sea
Mad Max: Fury Road
Star Wars: Episode 7
Straight Outta Compton
The Actress race is pretty hot, if tight, this season.
Brie Larson is in.
She is also the only female lead in any of the films I see as locks for Best Picture nods. (You could argue Kate Winslet is co-lead… but I wouldn’t.)
After that, you have Emily Blunt, Cate Blanchett, Carey Mulligan, Saoirse Ronan, Jennifer Lawrence, Alicia Vikander (who will probably go supporting), Charlotte Rampling and Lily Tomlin.
Unless Angelina Jolie is great in By The Sea, there are no real surprises left in this category. Blythe Danner, Helen Mirren, and Maggie Smith have faint glimmers. Dame Maggie is not traveling and while Danner is being pushed to fight for it, it’s a tough get, though people really like the performance, as well as the veteran actress herself. Mirren’s movie was popular, but not well loved.
So assuming no Vikander, it’s one lock and seven chasing four spots. Hard to be against Jenn Lawrence. Rampling and Tomlin are chasing the same slot… so pick one of those two. After that, I’d go Saoirse and Blunt at this point.
I don’t believe that anyone is being nominated for anything from Truth. And the Weinstein Company has a lot of work to do to get Carol where is should be… they aren’t close at this point… only media seems sold.
Fassbender in. Redmayne in.
After that, it looks kinda like the women, except we are waiting on more films to land. DiCaprio in The Revenant, Will Smith in Concussion, even Michael B. Jordan in Creed. Is there a lead in The Hateful Eight? We’ll know when they show the film.
Your list of nominees could be full right there. But there are others who require serious consideration.
Michael Caine is ripe for love. Matt Damon leads what will be the most commercial film of the season. Ian McKellen is more than due and could take the rug out from under Caine. Bryan Cranston is brilliant in the third act of Trumbo, though voters may have tuned out by then. And of course, big dogs Hanks and Depp are always a threat.
There are many other excellent performances this year… but they aren’t getting in. Sorry. Jake Gyllenhaal is still due… but the taint is on the movie even if it is undeserved.
Supporting Actress is a great category with a surprisingly thin realistic field.
Winslet is in. That’s about it.
Rooney Mara is highly likely for Carol, but TWC – again – needs to get on the horse. She is really the lead of the movie and she does the best work of her short career with the best character she has had to play. But this is not a lock… this could be lost for lack of attention.
Vikander is highly likely for The Danish Girl, but she was better and more decisive in Ex Machina. (She is one of the great emotive actresses of her generation and will be back to the Oscars many, many times if she wants to be. This is not her greatest performance… but it will still get in without a ton of muscular competition.)
Then, the fight. I’d love to see Jennifer Jason Leigh get honored. But we can’t know until we see the film. Fonda is brilliant in her 2.5 minutes of Youth… but if the movie doesn’t heat up a lot – like Best Picture possibility hot – it won’t matter. Elizabeth Banks is excellent in Love & Mercy, but if she gets nominated, the rest of her resume will be her conveyance… she is having an iconic year and many will want to celebrate all that is her. Joan Allen is excellent in Room, but the movie will have to take her to the holy land… she is missing the money scene… but it could well happen.
Spotlight is going to get a lot of heat, but I don’t think there will be enough for Rachel McAdams to ride that wave… especially because she won’t ride the wave.
We haven’t seen Joy, so we don’t know if one – or two – of the supporting actresses take slots. Could Gugu Mbatha-Raw get love? Possible… seems like a longshot in a movie that seems like it might be a challenge for Academy voters.
Pick two Spotlight actors… they’re in.
Mark Rylance owns Bridge of Spies. The movie feels limp and hungry for his presence when he isn’t around. In.
Benicio del Toro seems undeniable… and he is working for it… but Sicario is one of those movies that is hard for old people. I want to believe he is in. But not fully confident.
Then we start guessing.
Paul Dano. Harvey Keitel in Youth.
One of the unseens like Sylvester Stallone as Rocky Balboa. Idris Elba. Tom Hardy in The Revenant. Someone (multiple someones?) from The Hateful Eight?
I’d love to see Forrest Whitaker for Southpaw or Michael Shannon for 99 Homes… but those are beyond long shots. Michael Stuhlbarg in Steve Jobs… Giamatti in either bad guy authoritarian role. Uphill fights for great character actors.
And finally, for this exercise… Best Director.
Danny Boyle and Tom McCarthy, in.
Ridley Scott and George Miller are out ahead early, but could well be pushed aside. Scott is the more likely.
We haven’t seen the Tarantino, the Iñárritu or the Russell. One, two or all could easily be undeniable.
Spielberg is Spielberg… which doesn’t assure him a nomination.
Honestly, I think your five is in this group.
Lenny Abrahamson, Todd Haynes, John Crowley, and Paolo Sorrentino are the arty longhots. Wouldn’t be a profound shock if one of their films caught fire enough to get them in.
And that is the field as I see it, this day, October 15, 2015, 137 days until the Oscar ceremony, or roughly, 20 weeks to Oscar.
The battle for hearts and minds and wallets in the first half of October was really between The Martian and The Walk, which turned out to be no battle at all. Fairly or not, The Walk seems to have been put into a “specialty” category by real-life audiences. Sony emphasized the visual 3D spectacle of the film from the advertising start and it seems to me that American audiences have been pretty clear that they are willing to roll out for 3D, but not to see the 3D so much as to see something they really want to see, enhanced with 3D.
Personally, I find the numbers on Walk very sad. Zemeckis is a true master and does some singular work in this film that audiences would love, if they went. With an anemic number like $3.7m on 2509 screens, the word-of-mouth is too limited to establish an ticket-buying uprising.
Did Everest suffer a similar fate… audiences just not clamoring for big, broad imagery? Probably. Universal had another problem on Everest, not unlike The Walk… people could suss out the ending. One is happy. The other is not. But I would say that any movie that is a “you must see this in 3D” is a movie that is likely to pay a price at the box office. (That is not to say that 3D cannot be a great add-on, as it clearly is for The Walk.)
The Martian, on the other hand, is looking (commercially) like this fall’s Argo/Gravity/Gone Girl. This is a movie that could end up winning Best Picture, as all the more challenging films slide into their specific niches. That doesn’t mean i am saying it will or is any kind of lock. Bit this is exactly the kind of movie that wins in a non-consensus awards year without a “must win” movie showing up. There are still some movies out there that could become the “must win” film. Spotlight is already a strong candidate, though it has played more for the press than for real audiences. The Martian has a good chance of being Ridley Scott’s biggest all-time grosser both domestically and worldwide. He has been thrice nominated for Best Director (thus, he is “due.”) And there is a very low percentage of people who dislike this film in any way. That is a road to not only a dozen or more nominations, but like Gladiator – which beat out some truly great films that stand the test of time – it can win by default (which is not to say indifference).
My personal favorite of the award season so far is Steve Jobs, which I think is sublime and which pushed buttons for a lot of audiences. This weekend, the film product-launched in four venues and generated more per-screen each day of the weekend than any other English-language film did for the whole weekend. So there clearly is an audience… but now is the part when we see how big an audience it can get and how much of it will be as passionate about the film as I am.
Sicario also continues to do well for Lionsgate, albeit not world-beating numbers. It could well end up Lionsgate’s biggest non-YA, non-Madea hit in years. And remember the Oscar-winner that Lionsgate did have… Crash, with only $55m domestic.
Hotel Transylvania 2 is on track to be Sony Picture Animation’s biggest domestic film ever, surpassing the first..
They may rewrite sayings to discuss, well… “Out of the fire, into the Pan.” Maybe it is time to stop trying on this front. Even Finding Neverland, which was seen as a success, only did $53m domestically. I’m sure someone out there understands why Blackbeard is the star of this film… but I’m betting that the answer eludes more than 90% of the potential audience. And that was only the first obstacle.
Of course, Pan fits in this very messy year for WB, where The Intern will end up passing Focus and Black Mass and probably Magic Mike XXL to be the #4 domestic film of the year for the distributor with around $70 million. That would be the non-well-received comedy from the not-to-box-office-strong-actress passing Will Smith, Johnny Depp, and Channing Tatum’s franchise. This does remind is that Nancy Meyers makes consistently commercial (if hard-to-watch) movies… but also that WB just hasn’t been firing on all cylinders in 2015.
Is there more than $2 million in He Named Me Malala? Hard to say. Searchlight is pushing hard, but it is hard to imagine the $3m domestic mark coming together on this one.
The Visit, $61 million and counting… War Room, $$64m and counting… The Perfect Guy, $55 million. Just saying. No English-language limited release – aside from Steve Jobs – managed $5k per screen for the weekend. N.G.
The Martian is rolling along, a bit behind Gravity’s October records (with growing distance so far), but more than solid. It’s still not clear where this one is heading, aside from well over $100 million domestically. But that could be a $150 million domestic total… or $250 million. There’s really no way to know. The Ridley Scott movie it is closest to in terms of box office is Hannibal, which, obviously, was sold like a sequel.
The Martian is running ahead of Hotel Transylvania 2, though they will have similar second weekends.
I was shocked in the first act of Bridge of Spies.
The movie opens with a beautiful, gentle sequence in which a mild-mannered painter shows himself to be a spy.
Then we are on to Tom “Everyman” Hanks as a good-guy lawyer, relentless and committed to his clients, though perhaps not to the most honorable of ends.
As seen in the commercials, the spy is caught and Hanks is assigned to defend him.
Within 20 minutes, Hanks’s James Donovan is fighting the hurricane winds of what the film offers as a near-universal American position that the ends would justify the means if it meant the Russkie spy (they don’t use that term… but they might as well) is found guilty and sentenced to death.
The movie has me.
Spielberg and his team have recreated the late 50s perfectly and have not only two great lead actors (the second being living theater legend and “Wolf Hall” Emmy nominee, Mark Rylance as Rudolph Abel), but a parade of excellent supporting actors bringing this all to life. But the screenplay also appears to be wildly subversive.
There is no one here is playing the regular Joe fighting a bunch of people who look down their noses at him or who will shock the system from the outside. Hanks’ Donovan is part of the power elite. And the spy, Rylance’s Abel, is mild-mannered, but unquestionably working against the interests of the United States. These are the good guys!
Spielberg is telling us, right up front, that people willing to give up liberty for safety deserve neither. He is saying, quite clearly, that the judicial system, people of means, the U.S. Government, and the military are all only as honest and respectful of the U.S. Constitution as is convenient for them and their ultimate goals.
Wow. Pretty radical for a studio owner. I’m not sure that Spielberg has ever stuck his neck out this far.
Donovan & Abel go in front of a judge who has already made up his mind and finds Abel guilty without allowing proper procedure. This leads to an appeal, against the wishes of the powerful, to The U.S. Supreme Court, which refuses to overturn the quite obvious mistakes in the original trial in a 5-4 politicized decision.
Good guys lose. The system, which is wrong, wins.
CUT TO: Francis Gary Powers being trained with a few others to fly the U2 spy plane. Everyone in the military is a jackass, including Powers. As we all (well, most of us) know, Powers will crash and survive.
Where is this going?
Well, it turns out there is a second Tom “Everyman” Hanks movie coming. And it’s not particularly subversive. It’s pretty straightforward. We have shifted from Hanks as Gregory Peck to Hanks as Henry Fonda. Rylance’s Abel is not in that movie much until the end… no longer a lead… not a supporting player, though we are desperate for more of him as an audience.
This second tale is a classic fish out of water story with the added element of a Cold War travelogue.
Hanks, still the same character, is now the outsider who is brought in to do a job by the government. Handle the trade of Powers for Abel on a bridge… of spies. Hanks pretty much will do what is asked, but he is treated poorly in the process. And in time, he will find, as he did in the first act, a moral cause that he will hold higher than what he is endlessly told is his “duty.”
We get to see the building of the Berlin Wall. We get the images and feel of the comforts of the west versus the harsh lifestyle of the east.
But in terms of story, there isn’t that much difference between the communists and our democratic world. The U.S. government, as represented by the CIA and the military, doesn’t care about people… just like the other side.
Well, that’s a subversive, interesting idea. Right?
No, Not really. This movie stops mining the idea of a good man fighting his own self-interest because of his moral ideas. Hanks’ Donovan isn’t passionate about freeing Powers. He becomes much more interested in also bringing back an “innocent” non-combatant who was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
This is when the movie could have gotten even more subversive and angry and scary and political. But it doesn’t. It lingers in Tom Hanks-as-Henry Fonda Land. We watch a beautifully rendered, luxuriously paced, rather simple film for quite a long time. It doesn’t offend… but that is kind of the problem. The primary provocation of the tale that is left, that bureaucracy – especially those based on fear – is equally problematic on either side of the bridge, is not enough in 2015. We know. We get it.
So by the end of the movie, we have a soldier coming home who no one much cares about, a spy going home who seems to have more honor than any of the other “official” players in the story, and a kid who Hanks saves… but is an apolitical cheese sandwich. We don’t like any military much. We don’t really respect the U.S. government. And really, much as we like the Hanks character, he hasn’t changed much, outside of acquiring a cold and exhaustion.
The movie ends with a humorously exhausted Hanks coming home to his loving family, not quite able (pun intended) to by honest with itself and close with the portrait of Hanks by the Russkie spy who is more honorable than the U.S. government or military and who sees Hanks, via the painted image, as a true hero.
This movie is a Capra film that feels like it wants desperately to evolve into a giant “fuck you” to American exceptionalism… but can’t quite get the middle finger to stick straight up. It is “Disappointed Capra” when it seems to want to be the angriest Sturges/Wilder/Pollack movie ever.
Bridge of Spies also reflects another Spielberg film that famously starts with one story and then shifts to another, Saving Private Ryan. Some felt that the story of saving said Private was “worth it.” (I did.) Some did not.
And Bridge has a bit of an advantage over Ryan. By the end of the “B” story, there will be a callback to the “A’ story. Once the beach as taken in Ryan, it was taken.
What Bridge goes back to is Mark Rylance’s Abel, who is the only actor given the room to create a full character aside from Hanks. Amy Ryan gets a lot out of her 6.5 minutes in the film (untimed), but when Hanks & Rylance are reunited on the bridge near the end, we are reminded again that the movie is only great when the two of them are together (or when Rylance is alone, as Spielberg makes beautiful near-silent sequences with him). But I don’t think Rylance is even in a third of the film… which is the central problem.
The man who knows things, but says almost nothing and the man who talks a lot, but can only learn what he hasn’t even imagined from the silent man is the DNA of a great movie. And I don’t mean government secrets. I mean that these men share a kind of zealotry, though Abel knows why he does – though it is unspoken – and Hanks is just becoming aware of his.
At the end of the movie, Hanks’ character has had a lot more worldly experience, but he doesn’t really know much, except that he doesn’t have a great deal of respect for governments. The rest of the stakes are incredibly low.
The politics of this period were, we all know now, hysterical and false. Both spies are guilty and unapologetic. Our hero has done pretty much exactly what we would have expected from him from his second or third scene. And the one guy other than the lead who we like seems to be going off to his death, even though he was honorable. Titles tell us otherwise before credits. So why did they have a piece of dialogue telling us otherwise and then not dramatize it? Your guess is as good as mine.
At this point in this review, I feel like I am circling, trying to find a reason to care about this film more than I do.
Is it at least a good story well told? Yeah… I guess so. It takes its time. But I can live with that. I didn’t want to run for the exit. But I did want it to get where it was going a bit faster… because it was totally apparent by the hour mark that it wasn’t going anywhere unexpected.
I would pay a lot of money to watch Hanks and Rylance in a variation on Midnight Run with very much these same characters.
I would pay a lot to watch My Dinner With Abel with these two men having dinner in Paris for two hours.
A beautifully-made movie. But I didn’t feel it. Or to be fair, I felt it and then I lost interest when it got more conventional. And no matter how much clever verbal play from the Coens, it’s not about the dialogue or the scenery or some wonderful performances… this is a big movie that just isn’t as smart as it wants to be. Munich, on the other hand, had big ideas it was pushing from start to finish. That remains Spielberg’s most daring film. Saving Private Ryan had duty and the unity of brothers in a time of war as a powerful theme from start to finish. Lincoln, which was not spry, was laser-sharp on theme from start to finish.
Either I don’t know quite what they were trying to say here… or I just didn’t care that much. Lots of nice stuff… but the 20 minutes I loved in this two hour movie just wasn’t enough for me to love the whole thing.