Author Archive

THB #93: The Batman (no spoilers),q_auto:good,fl_progressive:steep/

For Audio Version

This film is fascinating to me on so many levels.

You have seen writing on the movie. It’s a film noir detective piece that happens to be set in Gotham City, as designed by Ridley Scott and Gaspar Noe (credit to Lawrence G. Paull and Alain Juteau, their Production Designers). The Dick in this one wears a mask. The Dame in this one wears a pussy hat. And the bad guy is in the way of the bad guys in the city that The Dick isn’t really proud to be protecting.

A classic detective movie like this would be about 90 minutes. But here, it’s almost 180… probably because the filmmakers are trying to do a movie inside a movie, having to solve one mystery to get to the other, and didn’t want to underplay either one.

I saw the movie a second time before writing about it because I’m not so sure about what I really think. I found all of it engaging. But I found there to be a lot of it. There are so many interesting ideas, in terms of storytelling, but then some of them become repetitious.

In comedy, 3 is a magic number. But – no spoilers coming – there is a club where Batman/Bruce enters 3 times. The second time is a call back to the first time, which is terrific. The third time is clever… but is it really adding something?

That, for me, is the riddle of The Batman. When is it too much of a good thing?

Again, don’t want to spoil. But the final giant set piece is complex, enaging, full of ideas, and leads to one of the most beautiful comic book movie images ever… but there is a part of me that feels it was superfluous.

If this was a story in which solving the key mystery seemed too easy to solve, demanding one more complex round of mystery, okay. We’ve seen that convention before. There is another shoe to drop. But after 2 full hours of movie (with another 45 minutes to come, pre-credits), even Imelda Marco’s closet might seem too empty for another shoe.

Then there is the central performance. If someone says to you that Robert Pattinson was great, they liked what the movie is. If someone says the performance was too low key and brought too little emotion to the party, they probably didn’t much like what the movie is.

It reminds me a little of Nightmare Alley, a film that is magnificent in many ways, but also fell a little too in love with the carnival to leave as early as it probably should have. The Batman may spend a little too much time on the drudgery of Gotham on its way to the end of the second act and the third.

There is an oddly flat moment when a character is finally shown dead after the characters in the film not being sure if they are. Why isn’t the audience more moved by that beat, emotionally? That strikes me as one of the keys here… this reveal doesn’t really change the emotional journey we are on. This is a problem.

I may also be reacitng a bit to the repetitions in the film. There are a bunch more than the one I already cited. I had a moment when I found myself musing on Eyes Wide Shut, in which 2 dreams over 2 nights make up the bulk of the movie. The film keeps coming back to the same places, back to similar turns of phrase, back to ideas we have already engaged before.

But this is also one of the things that is really cool about the movie. We know how the beat cop first reacts to Batman… then how he reacts on a second meeting… then how he sees Bruce Wayne… then how they engage a third time as Batman enters a crime scene.

I like that. I really, really like that. But are the storytelling benefits of pace undercut by this kind of side detail? Hard to really know.

It’s hard not to like Zoe Kravitz as Selina Kyle or John Turturro as Carmine Falcone. The magically unrecognizable (except as a sly swing at Harvey Weinstein’s head) Colin Farrell playing Oz (presumably a Cobblepot by birth). Great. Paul Dano gives what might be a career-changing performance. His turn reminded my a lot of young Dustin Hoffman, interestingly. Andy Serkis and Jeffrey Wright as Alfred and Gordon get the job of being Basil Exposition at a few steps along the way. Wright is particularly burdened by the silence of Batman, though he makes it work, as he always does.

Reeves has an interesting way as a director in how he manages the big set pieces. He has three in the film. In each case, the event at hand starts as one thing and becomes something altogether different. The last giant set piece, the biggest one by a lot, is the only one where the intention to make this flip is offered up before the event begins.

Reeves brings moments of intimacy to each of the big set pieces. But the smaller action moments have a higher level of intimacy. And you can see that in some ways, The Batman may have been a better movie with less freedom to destroy big stuff.

The darkness of the film gets its own monologue at the very start of the film. And I love the opening. It sets up Batman’s hyper-self-awareness in a way that the film will stay true to until the very end.

The thing is, I really do like the movie. As I think about it, scene by scene, idea by idea, I can’t really think about any moment that I didn’t like. And all that chocolate cake doesn’t make me sick to my stomach by the end. The first time I saw it, I couldn’t believe it had been 3 hours by the time the final credit rolled… not that I am unhappy watching 3 hour movies.

Part of me that just feels like it’s all too much. But part of me also feels like “too much” is what is so special about the movie. It’s the long time Bruce Wayne takes to get from his car to the church. It’s the care with which Batman surveys crime scenes. It’s the creepy stalker perspectives that don’t rush to the point. It’s Gordon and Batman just chatting. It’s Selina walking through the nightclub. It’s a clue that Batman and Gordon chew on for a while before a villain helps them without thinking anything of it. It’s the long shot that last 3x as long as most movies would let in in which The Penguin actually waddles.

Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera…

This is not only your parents’ Batman… this ain’t like any Batman movie we have ever seen. It has a lot of toys, but if you remember the first Batman movie (Burton/Keaton) trailer and the line, “Where does he get all those wonderful toys?” Not in this movie. He has toys, but they aren’t fun. They are utilitarian.

In the end, this may be the best Batman movie.

But it also may be the least entertaining Batman movie.

So I guess I’ll just have to revisit it again.

Until tomorrow…

THB #76: 9 Weeks To Oscar

No, we’re not there yet.


I can’t find anyone who really wants to talk about the Oscar movies or the Oscar season and we are still 9 weeks away from the show.

There are 11 Oscar-hopeful movies still at the box office… but the highest grossing last weekend was West Side Story with $715,559. That’s fewer than 100,000 people in attendance. The total for the 11 films is just under $2.5 million. That’s fewer than 250,000 people going to see Oscar movies in theaters last weekend.

Can you feel the excitement?

It’s unfair to compare the Oscar show to NFL football, which exploded with Big Event excitement last weekend. But what would it be like if they pushed the championship games this weekend to late February and then had the Super Bowl in late March? How much excitement from even the rabid football audience would that create?

“What about streaming?,” you ask? Nielsen will give us their best guess in a month or so. Welcome to the new measurements!

At least the Academy voters start voting on Thursday, as opposed to delaying even more weeks. The voters get 6 days to vote… because the technology is apparently as slow as mail delivery. Then, The Academy will announce nominees on Tuesday the 8th so that any excitement from the announcement and any potential box office for the nominated films and performances that next weekend is guaranteed to be wiped out by the Super Bowl, 5 whole days later.

Then – it just keeps getting better – it‘s a quick month and a week (to be fair, 37 days) until that final vote. 6 voting days.

How can anyone think that the world won’t be waiting with hysterical excitement for the announcement of what film that has barely be watched for over a month is given an award? I mean… if Zendaya does it, all the kids will watch…. right? RIGHT?!?!

I’m one of those lunatics who actually cares. I have loved Oscar and the idea of celebrating movie excellence, within a context, for almost 50 years.

But in the last decade or so, every season is like watching someone you love walk into the house with a face tattoo and hoping that it wasn’t done in permanent ink.

I don’t even count last year. It was a product of a singular event. Parent and child survived the birth. The problem is that instead of paying manic attention to helping both to greater health, The Academy has just gone home and sat on the Barcalounger with a big bag of chips, watching the days fly by on the calendar.

I looked at Scott Feinberg’s guesses – since I have pretty much stopped participating in that exercise – from Friday. Then I looked at Scott’s guesses from a month ago. Then I looked at Scott’s guesses from a month before that.

Scott added Nightmare Alley to the Top 10 ahead of Spider-Man: No Way Home last week. Fair enough. Of course, Spidey would probably not have been on that December list had Scott not already been handed the exclusive on Sony’s decision to push the film for Oscar (12/24, 5a), for which he had obviously done the interviews for before his Top 10 ran at 12:19p on December 23.

In other words… except for some media manipulation, nothing really changed.

Looking back at November, Scott took fliers on A Hero, Being The Ricardos, and C’Mon C’Mon… the first of which is now off his charts 100%, the second in the “Possibilities” category, and the third in “Longer Shots.”

Point is… we could have voted in December and gotten pretty much the same result as we will this next week. If Spider-Man swings in, bless their little spider-hearts. (The point is not to poke at Scott, who is average in this regard… everyone is.)

Apple’s CODA and Netflix’s Don’t Look Up and Tick, Tick… Boom! have owned their spots in December and January and might all get in… or miss. They seem to be the most vulnerable, in terms of nominations.

Scott dumped House of Gucci from his top charts back in December. He never bought into The Lost Daughter or The Tragedy of Macbeth. They are probably the outsiders from his guesses that have the best chance of replacing titles he likes better.

I’d love to say that C’Mon C’mon will make it… but probably not. I still think there is a voting group for Spider-Man… but Sony hasn’t really done what was needed. Drive My Car could shock the world… but it would definitely be a shock if it escapes from the loving embrace of the critics of the world. And Being The Ricardos… just don’t see it at this point, but I wouldn’t actually be shocked.

I would say that the Best Picture field is still 15 movies… which is about where it has been for months already.

I don’t see any lanes without (alpha) Beirut, Dog Power, and West 1961st St. Hard to see King Will or Pizza Boy missing the party.

The other 5? Kind of a niche crap shoot. All the other movies are looking for a big enough constituency to make the cut. (Not that those Top 5 are assured to contain the ultimate winner. We have almost 2 months to go. Boredom and publicity tba.) I wouldn’t argue against Dune: Episode One or Spidey: Episode 8, Tick Tick… Leo!!! (that’s 2 movies), The Power of Gaga/Maggie/Guillermo, Black & White & Coen All Over (that’s just 1 movie), The Critics Revenge w/ Beatles Title or Deaf Like Many Awards Voters But Nicer.

Some of the titles have gotten a little stale. But I feel a push coming right around the corner.

Wait a minute! That doesn’t belong here! The paid sponsor of this newsletter won’t be happy…

Ahhh… the balance of power returns to the newsletter!

And take THAT! MGM/UA proudly brings you The Hot…

Hi, Guillermo. Yes, Bradley is hot. Yes, Cate and Rooney too. But you guys are sponsoring video…

Wait a minute! That’s not even an Oscar ad. That’s a Twitter ad. Are the Russians invading my newsletter?!

Ah… The Guccis cleaned it all up. Back to normal… Phase II is starting soon and we’ll be drowning in ads again…

Okay… what was I saying before all these ads interrupted me?

Are you ready for some protests?

King Richard… Black, but a movie star. West Side Story… Brown. The Tragedy of Macbeth… Denzel!

Will these movies be enough to hold the dam, uh, damnation?

It would be funny if there wasn’t so much potential strife involved. This Oscar season is a LOT whiter than last season. Some of these movies that are assured nominations are so white you can see through them. Not that there’s anything wrong with that!

Personally, I have given up on guessing where the zeitgeist will blow. King Richard is the only serious contender directed by a black person this year. You can add Respect if you like. Last year, there were 6 (Da 5 Bloods, The 40 Year Old Version, Judas & The Black Messiah, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, One Night in Miami, The U.S. vs Billie Holiday).

Judas was the only one nominated for Best Picture. No directing nod. There were six acting nominations… Daniel Kaluuya was the only winner.

But somehow, this was considered a good year for inclusion.

A woman will get a Directing nod this year. But the truth is, however you feel about the film, giving a directing nod to Reinaldo Marcus Green for King Richard is a reach. Might happen. Good movie. Sometimes a well-liked title becomes ubiquitous in the nominations. But Campion and Spielberg have 2 slots for sure. Branagh and PTA seem damned likely. So one slot left. Del Toro, Villenueve, Coen, and Gyllenhaal all seem like much more serious candidates than a guy who gave us a very straight-forward, visually uninteresting drama. And that doesn’t even bow to the inevitably underappreciated work by Hamaguchi, Mills, and Sarnoski, much less ye olde master, Sir Ridley.

So all I am saying is that Will Smith better get his. Aunjanue Ellis too. It would help if Denzel got his. Ariana DeBose better get hers… or there could be a riot. Jennifer Hudson has a cheering section, but not close to a lock. Ruth Negga deserves a slot more than most of the likely nominees. That’s 5.

Screenplay nod? One for King Richard, probably.

No Chloé Zhaoand Nomadland distracting in the name of women and Asians.

These questions will be answered in a couple of weeks.

And I don’t know that I have ever felt farther from a sense of the couple films with a real chance to win at this time of year. If I had to bet, it would still be The Power of The Dog as The Default Film. All the small infatuations seem to be subsiding. But then again, there is a lot of Dog hate out there. Is it enough to get in the way of a win? And if it is, what film has a real shot? They all have problems. They also all have passionate constituencies… like Dog does.

I feel like we will all be going into the Super Bowl, nominations in hand, looking for the hook for the movie that will be the winner… a must-vote argument. Haven’t heard one yet.

Until tomorrow…

THB #73: Netflix Is Chilled

Why are these men so happy?

When Netflix Masters of the Universe Reed Hastings, Ted Sarandos and Spencer Neumann released their quarterly investors video interview two hours after their quarterly results were released, they came off as giddy. (The images are from the first appearance of each man yesterday.) The stock had already dropped 20%.

They argued, in their digital bubble, that the quarter was pretty good. Reed Hastings scoffed at any worries about missing their sub growth projection for the quarter, “8.3 million versus 8.5 million, I mean…”

I can’t argue with that. Except that in the years past, had they been over projection by .2 million, instead of under, Wall St would reward the stock handsomely.

What happened yesterday and continues today is that the facts of perspective that some of us have been writing about for years now came home to roost on the news of a very normal-looking Netflix quarter.

Last quarter announcement, Q3 on Oct 19, 2021, the stock dropped 14 points the next day from $539 to $525. That was only a 2% drop. And then, 10 days later, the stock was up 8%, close to its all-time high at $690 a share.

That is the history of this stock. Q3 was not as solid as Q4. But after a small dip, the bulls kept talking it up and buying it up.

Today, after the nearly instant stop of 20% yesterday after market, we didn’t see people buying that huge dip. More people got out. Depending on what moment on Friday, January 21 that this newsletter is published, Netflix’s stock will be down somewhere between 20% and 25% from January 20.

But it’s worse than that.

The stock closed at 691 on November 17, 2021. It’s dropped 43% since then.

So… why?

I have believed that Netflix is a strong company with a solid future for a little longer than I have thought that the stock price was out of control. Listening to much of the analysis today, I am hearing arguments I have been making for a long time. And some that reach beyond what I would consider reasonable. No time to become Chicken Little: Streaming Screamer.

All of a sudden, the stock market seems to be rethinking the entire take on streaming.

Well… yeah. The bubble of the Wall Street fantasy that spending 70% of your total revenue on content is a good business model for a mature company carrying a load of debt – and that you should keep growing that spend – seems to have burst.

But the idea that you need to spend more and more on original content to build a successful streamer is still floating out there. Disney added an insane $8 billion to their annual content budget a few months ago and they are still getting kicked by the market today. It’s not enough for some people.

Netflix got hoisted on its own hype this week. How could the mind-numbing success of Squid Game and the terrible but well-viewed Red Notice and Don’t Look Up not generate a suprising uptick this quarter? If they can’t do it, nobody can!!!

The market is so desperate for a straight answer from Netflix that they took this quote from Reed Hastings to be an acknowledgement of the competition being an issue: “There’s more competition than there’s ever been. But we’ve had Hulu and Amazon for 14 years. So it doesn’t feel like any qualitative change there.”

How big is the worldwide streaming sub market? Not what promoters of Netflix have suggested. “Netflix is at 222 million worldwide subs and there is 3x or 4x that available even without China” was also a load of poop and the scent hit the market yesterday.

Wall Street has had a crazy crush on Netflix. And not without reason. Netflix has been the handsome, wealthy, powerful quarterback. No matter what has happened, they have found a way to win.

But now, the honeymoon phase is over as every honeymoon ends. Wall Street is wondering whether they want to spend the rest of their lives waiting for “him” to come home from his drinking nights with the boys, picking up his underwear off the floor, taking him to the doctors office to have the pain eased from what will be permanent physical pains, etc. They look around and they see the other star players to whom they might leap from their new perspective… the idea of trading off the one they have to jump to the side of another one that will have most of the same issues… not so exciting.

Netflix is a terrific $200 billion company. The stock price has dropped almost low enough to reflect that.

The concerns that Wall Street is having this week are completely reasonable, in that perspective.

What is not reasonable is the idea that the streaming business sucks and everyone is going to fall over the edge of the cliff now. Streaming is the future of television. There is zero question. It’s here and its going to keep eating the world.

But I don’t trust Wall Street to keep perspective and not to start crushing on Netflix again. One sign of a revived crush energy would be more otherwise-smart people pushing the irrational argument that Netflix is a tech company. It hasn’t been that for years. But people do love to make the argument.

How things work out, over the next couple of weeks, Netflix will have a new perspective. But this is not only a Netflix issue. It is an issue for the entire film/tv industry. Bob Chapek has torn Disney up under the premise that streaming is everything (a wild exaggeration… and not). How David Zaslav relaunches WBDisco will surely be influenced by where the matket and the world perceive expectations for the next 5 years of streaming. Choices by Comcast certainly are up in the air again. How the smaller players are valued will be changed by the light that Netflix brings or does not.

Weirdly, what we see, in part, is the story coming steadily back to the idea that what has been seen as legacy or linear can be pushed in whole onto the internet without as much disruption as has seemed to be inevitable in the last couple years. I think that is a who different kind of overreach.

But the story Netflix told this week is, in the Book of Streaming, in its first few chapters, not close to the Big Reveal yet. The wild ride continues.

Until tomorrow…

Mike Mills, C’mon C’mon

Michael Wilmington, 1946-2022

Michael Wilmington was a singularity.

I’ve knew him for roughly 25 years. But I don’t know how well I ever really knew him. I saw him. I talked to him about movies and his beloved mom, Edna, and his vision of the future, for all of us. We talked a lot about his frustrations.

Michael’s tribute to his mother on her passing was, I think, the thing he wrote on MCN that he most cherished. He brought it up many, many times over the years.

Michael had a lot of things go right in his life. And a lot of things go terribly wrong. He required, in real life, enormous patience and a deep well of love. He had some of those people in his life – most notably Jackie, in my time – but for those of us who were rushing through life – for me – the inability to offer this man of thoughts and words more time and more love is our loss.

Others will chart Michael’s life history better than I. When I first really met him, it was in his Chicago era. He was famously quirky, but he had taken over the real lead critic spot at the Chicago Tribune while Gene Siskel played out his television life. (Roger Ebert, almost infamously, always did both things relentlessly, never giving an inch. Gene was less prolific.) Later, I would hear the story of how he had come to Chicago, leaving a lot of potential and frustrations in Los Angeles behind.

Michael was a handful, even at a paper like The Tribune, which would have been thrilled to have a workhorse with the skill level as a critic that was so much a part of who Michael was. But Michael was not a workhorse. He was a thoroughbred. And he spend years in an odd, empty space in Chicago, between the deterioration of his Tribune gig and the passing of his mother in 2009.

It was in that period that I offered Michael open space and a bit of cash to come be part of Movie City News. And so he did. The first reviews of his I can find in the archive is this Best of 2008 list. His Best of 2009 list also stood as a tribute to his mom. Mike’s take on the 4th TCM Festival expresses so much of his passion and attitude.

We proudly published Michael for about 8 years. It was my philosophy as an editor to give a lot of room to writers. Michael was not always an easy edit, especially as Michael wanted to work both on theatrical releases and DVDs. Ray Pride took the brunt of that editing work for a number of years and he deserved more credit for that.

Michael had a heart procedure in 2014 and never fully recovered. He would be diagnosed with Parkinson’s in the years that followed and suffer a broken hip in 2021.

Truth is, conversations with Michael, even before his mother passed, were challenging. The deep, rough voice and the tendency to lack volume meant that almost every critic in Chicago had a Wilmington imitation. They were all funny. And I like to think, loving.

(Side Note: So odd… just thinking about how I worked with 3 men who all had vocal issues. Michael, Len Klady (who smoked most of this life and could barely get through 2 sentences without punctuating them with heavy coughs), and Roger Ebert, who was of great voice until he lost it to his illness. Not sure what to make of that.)

Michael was never just about Michael. He showed enthusiasm for my work as a critic that was always overwhelming. He goaded me into applying for National Society of Film Critics when I knew I didn’t belong. (I don’t.) And he often offered positive opinions of others who were writing for MCN over the years. I never heard him punch down at anyone… ever.

He was always frustrated by the Siskel-replacement-process on the TV show, not just because he didn’t get what he saw as a full try-out, but because none of his fellow Chicago film critics (which Richard Roeper was not one of at the time) got what he felt was a fair shot. This would lead to me explaining the details of the actual process, to which I was a party, and to Michael pressing his someone inaccurate view of it even harder. But I truly felt it was about fairness in his mind and not a gig.

The last time I saw Michael was at a screening at Raleigh Studios of something really interesting that would go on to be underappreciated (the title eludes me now). He had a friend with him, as was needed for him to travel. And we had a long discussion about him getting an eviction notice from his decades-long residence in Hollywood. They were going to knock down his building and rebuild. The guy I was with happened to have a lot of experience in tenant law in Los Angeles. Lawyer’s names were bandied about and phone numbers were exchanged. I felt fortunate that fate had somehow brought us together in a way that could help Michael. I have no idea whether it actually did or did not.

Michael talked about the review he was going to send in soon. Anytime I saw him, in fact, he would talk about getting back to writing criticism. By that last meeting, I wasn’t really employing people anymore. But he would always have a place where he could publish with me.

I think this review of Paterson was his last for us.

There was no one else quite like Michael. I suspect there never will be another. To compare him to the misunderstood, underappreciated artists in history seems hyperbolic. But it fits.

If he showed up at a screening with one missing ear bandaged, you might be shocked, but you wouldn’t really be surprised. If you found that he had a silk satchel full of Edna’s remains in his pocket at all times, you would know that it was about his love and appreciation for his mother above all. If he told you he thought some horrible movie was genius, you would listen, because he might just be right.

Michael was, in his odd way, too good for this earth.

And now he is gone.

Rest in peace, Michael. You fought hard. Now rest.

(credit: the picture of Michael is from the “Michael Wilmington Film Critic” Facebook page.)

Nina Arianda, Being The Ricardos

Ruth Negga, Passing

George Chakiris, Not To Forget, 1961’s West Side Story

Reviewing Nightmare Alley From The MIdway

Welcome to the show, mother chuckers!

For the mere price of a month of Netflix, we will show you the history of man. But not just any man. A man of mystery. A man of beauty. A man born to be a star, born to be hungover, born to hustle and snipe and find your silver linings. But he is not the man you expect.

His journey had brought him here to the side show, wandering into our lives and being easy on the eyes. But what does he want? What does any man really want?

Over here, you have Zeena, who can see what the future will bring and steal the fleeting moments in front of her. Over there you have Molly, who can take a zapping and keep them clapping. Not sure. Not ready. But with all the desire of a woman with twice her experience. But don’t look now… it’s old worn-out Pete that may be the true apple of Stan’s eye.

It’s all about reading people and having the skill to read aloud and on the move. And Stan has that all over and twice on Sundays.

But just when you think you know where the show is going, it moves… moves into the land of fancy dames and dapper Dans. We’ve landed in a high falutin’ cash money palace. And Stan has them eating out of the palm of his magic hands. Until Lilith… she who walks the earth to tie men to their earthbound ways… the primordial she-demon known for her dark work with our friends of the Hebraic persuasion, famous from Sumer to Assyria to Babylonia. Lilith.

Blonde, beautiful, and sculpted to within an inch of your life, she wants what Stan has, even if she doesn’t quite know what Stan has. But again, our boy has to decide… the lady or the tiger?

What will he take? What will he take? Well, everything if he can get away with it! But rest assured… this isn’t that kind of movie.

Can Stan take what he wants and not take too much? Ah, the tale will be told in the confines of theater, in the dark, in comfort and ease.

Guillermo and his magicians of world renown will take you into the world of the film noir with all the magic tools of modern filmmaking. So much beauty… so likely to bite. The world is a dirty place and that is just how this crew likes it.

You will believe a man can geek… and trick… and twist… and go where no man should go, lest they be transformed in an unexpected way. Human desire is a powerful thing, whether that desire is good, bad or completely insane. Money can’t save you. Self-delusion can’t save you. The love of a good woman? Ha! Save it for the funny papers.

Cooper… Mara… Blanchett… Collette… Dafoe… Straithairn… Jenkins… Perlman… the greatest bunch a freaks you’re likely to see at a movie this year. And kick in Collins and Nelson to boot. You can’t escape the stench of great acting on this one… as though you want to!

You’re just going to have to put those 16 numbers in a machine and go through the dark door to see for yourself. You must be brave to go on this ride. Your height doesn’t mean a thing. You just have to stop giving in to your fear… stop giving in to you whims… stop waiting for a happy ending.

Step right up! And welcome to the show, you mother chuckers!

DP/30: The Rescue, Jimmy Chin, Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi

DP/30: No Straight Lines, Vivian Kleiman, Alison Bechdel

DP/30: Procession, Robert Greene

THB #26: 20 Weeks To Oscar – Pizza’s Here!

Licorice Pizza.

This is the most laid-back Paul Thomas Anderson film ever. Which is to say that you can feel Paul’s willingness to just let it rip. Obviously, there is structure. Obviously, there are clearly considered ideas brought to fruition visually. But there will be no frogs. There will be no surrealism. No milkshakes or powerfully long stretches of silence. No duality. No Phils, no Bill, no cobbler.

This is really Paul’s first movie with a female lead. He came close with Phantom Thread, but ultimately, the woman’s journey there was about learning to help a man come of age. In Licorice Pizza, it’s about the woman and the young man who brings her into her own.

But I am not reviewing the film today. I am writing from the perspective of the award season, still in the process of becoming the throbbing whitehead about to explode all over Hollywood.

Licorice Pizza doesn’t definitively answer the question, “What film is going to win?”

There are 4 contenders left in the starting gate. Being the Ricardos, Don’t Look Up, Nightmare Alley, West Side Story. The Ricardos arrives this next weekend. Nightmare Alley has plunked its arrival on December 1. The other two seem certain to turn up in the 17 days in between.

Personally, I don’t think there is much question that Licorice Pizza is the most complete film currently on display. But that and a nickel won’t buy you anything.

Today, if I had to bet, I would bet that either West Side Story or Nightmare Alley is your Oscar winner. But I have seen neither. I have seen the original of both. If Nightmare is going to be The Movie, Guillermo & Co will have delivered a big leap forward from the original film noir. West Side Story certainly will be different in certain ways coming out of Tony Kushner’s quill, but the bones – the songs – are going to be pretty much the majestic ones we know.

For the rest… please visit and subscribe

THB #16: For The Love of Personal Filmmaking

Through this month of October, I have been overwhelmed with 14 in-theater screenings and one “premiere” online. Some have been better. Some worse. But what has struck me, after a year of endless conversation about the financial realities of the film industry going forward, is that almost every single one of these films has been born of a very distinct personal vision. And whether we love or hate or stand somewhere in between on these movies, this is something we should all be thrilled about.

The biggest scale personal film in this period would have to be Dune, Denis Villeneuve’s intimate epic and the smallest would have to be Sean Baker’s Red Rocket, with the closest thing to a movie star in the film being Simon Rex, a charismatic guy whose primary claim to fame before this was bedding Paris Hilton and Jaime Pressly and getting fired by MTV for being in two “solo masturbation films,” though not being, as his character in the film is, a porn star.

For the rest, please visit…

THB #13: 23 Weeks To Oscar

In the six weeks since my last Oscar column, here is what has happened


Okay… I’m exaggerating a little. We have now had it confirmed that The Last Duel isn’t going anywhere. And Soggy Bottom turned into Licorice Pizza. And oh yes… The Tragedy of Macbeth landed at New York Film Festival and is still Macbeth, so…

Here is what has changed. It’s six weeks later, late October is here, and it’s time to start getting serious, even though Oscar is more than 5 months away.

The yahoos at HFPA are making a point of showing their tasteless arrogance by announcing nominations in January, directly up against Broadcast Film Critics Association, now known as The CCA… a group named after its uninterestingly named award. I don’t disgree with anything Joey Berlin said about the HFPA’s asshole move, but I wish he hadn’t said it. That is not the kind of power posture someone about to become the #2 award show of the year shows. It’s how a guy in a potential bar fight acts when they don’t ever intend to take a swing.

National Bored of Review will announce November 30. New York Film Critics Circle will announce December 3. CCA will announce nominations December 6. Presumably, LAFCA will meet and announce on December 10.

But we are still in a very small field.

From the festivals… likely in the 10 Best Picture Oscar nominees.
1. King Richard
2. Belfast
3. The Power of the Dog

And chasing… Spencer, The Tragedy of Macbeth, Cyrano, and Dune.

And still to be shown… in the next 5 weeks…

Best Chances… West Side Story, House of Gucci, Don’t Look Up, Licorice Pizza

And also could still surprise… Being The Ricardos, Nightmare Alley, Tick, Tick… Boom!

There is, of course, a long list of films with contenders in many categories other than Best Picture that are not likely BP nominees.

And there is a long list of excellent movies that are just not likely to be playing this game in a serious way.

Right now, there is an obsession with Kristen Stewart as Best Actress because there is no one else serious in the running. Francis McDormand will probably go Lead, but Lady Macbeth is traditionally a supporting role. Jennifer Hudson could be nominated, but can’t win for Respect.

If you look at what came out of the festivals, all the other leads are male. Five of the unseen, upcoming movies have female leads. So calm down, kids.

Likewise, big bets on Caitriona Balfe for Supporting Actress are wildly premature. She is lovely in the film. But again… a wave of films that have strong female supporting roles are coming.

In Best Actor, there still aren’t enough male leads of power to fill a list of 5, much less discard anyone. So, Will, Denzel, Peter, and Benedict… congratulations… and don’t get too comfy.

Finally, Best Supporting Actor… good luck with that! Guessers are really grasping at straws here.

The thing is, there is the very real chance that the overall field of contenders is very small indeed… in which case, truly, almost anything could happen. The second tier of contenders this season seems much bigger than the first tier. And if voters are dipping into that second pool for nominees, films and performances that people would laugh off suddenly become legit. No one’s obit ever starts, “Oscar nominee in a kinda crappy season…”

What Is The Academy? Where Is It Going? (4/5/21)

I wrote this piece back in April 2021 and I never published it because I feared the repercussions. I honor of Dawn Hudson’s exit from the CEO slot – however long it takes – here it comes… unedited since April and without a closing graph or two.)

There is a contingent in The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences that thinks that they have already defined the future of The Academy.

I beg to differ.

It is true that the leadership of The Academy, in the last 5 years, has shown little interest in the future of the organization aside from embracing a primary platform of social change and protecting the organization’s often-exposed ass.

The fear that once dominated, of protecting an idea of Hollywood and this industry which is steeped in a century of white men making decisions and applying biases whose definitions were mostly unspoken, is not gone. It has been moved, as The Academy always has moved, into a new generation and new variation.

The proposed goal of the 2020 plan has partially failed. The only reason there is a perception of The Academy being racially progressive is that it has taken the tack of highlighting people of color at every possible turn, significantly out of proportion to the percentage of American members who are of color. This doesn’t much affect me or the public, though one wonders how it affects members, silenced by the current myopia of ideas, who are not social justice warriors and don’t want to pretend to be in order to be an esteemed part of the Academy family.

Right now, the tone is that members have to be in sync with the voice that leadership has chosen or they really need to shut up. And if they are out of sync at all, they are positioned as closet racists and/or Luddites. This is the extreme bias that has become the public face of The Academy. It’s not based on any real knowledge. It’s based on feeling… just as all irrational biases are. It’s based on fear… just as all irrational biases are. It’s based on how we see ourselves in the mirror… just as all irrational biases are.

The film industry is not a historical document. It is a living organism that changes in real ways every single day of every single year… at least since the old studio system broke in the late 60s. But in the vanity that strikes all of us, we see it though the lens that we have lived. And so it all gets defined by our ideas of fairness, of progress, and of change, as we see it as individuals.

Things change in the pizza business too. But when you keep ordering the same pizza from the same great place for year after year, you don’t really see anything changing. You aren’t in the business of making pizzas. You aren’t in daily competition with all the other pizza parlors in town. And in current days, you don’t really understand how much food delivery, for instance, has changed the dynamic and the amount of competition.

Anytime someone touts how “exhibition has to change” or “the industry is changed forever and there is no going back,” I laugh and I cry… because it’s not even a real argument. To call it ignorant is to judge something that isn’t necessarily ill-intended. It is uninformed. It is the kind of argument adults have with children in era after era, as the kids discover the new thing and insist it is now THE Thing and will never ever change.

Things change.

And yes, “the adults” in this scenario are often too clingy to the past… to the changes they made… to the idea that the next idea is dangerous to the status quo that makes them quite comfortable, thank you.

But it is the nature of things to build on the past, not to break things because, somehow, that will lead to better new things.

There has been a massive paradigm shift in all things because of computers. For the film industry, there have been 1000s of incremental steps. But I would simplify that while in many ways, the VHS was a huge tipping point in the 1970s, but it was the DVD that pushed the industry over the edge in 2000. One the content side, the holy trinity was Jurassic Park in 1993, Toy Story in 1995, and then the top over the age came with Spider-Man in 2002.

These delivery systems and these movies changed every part of the industry, from intention to production to distribution to exhibition. IMAX was shown only with a giant projector showing giant film until 2007, when they started down the digital projection road and its first digital theaters opened in 2008… just 13 years ago. DVD stopped being a growth business in about 2010. Production budgets for theatrical skyrockets in the early 2000s, just as marketing budgets for Home Entertainment began to rival theatrical releases. The first billion worldwide gross (first run) was in 1997. The first year with more than one billion dollar gross was 2010. In the pre-COVID years since, we have averaged 3.8 a year… and we have still never had a $1 billion domestic grosser.

Change. A ton of change.

And the industry can do better at every single level. Better in its stated job. Better in inclusion. Better in serving broader audiences. And even better at the job of offering award shows.

Change doesn’t happen without motivation. So those doing the heavy lifting of pushing for change deserve endless praise. This is dangerous work. One creates enemies who will never acknowledge being enemies. Of course, one also creates friends who they may never know have become their advocates in the world.

That said, The Academy has been living in concussion status for quite a while now based on three issues that have hit it hard in the head. First, there has been a decade-long fog around fear of failing ratings on the TV show and what to do about it. The Oscars are the financial lifeblood of this organization’s more important work and whether it’s preservation or what many consider to be an ill-advised amount of money going into the Academy Museum, no TV show, no go.

The second issue is Inclusion. The Academy had to step up to the challenge and in some ways they succeeded and in some ways they have failed. The organization has succeeded in getting much closer to balance in the gender area. They have failed – because the industry has failed – to make any serious progress with People of Color in Hollywood/NY (aka the industry in which The Academy has always been grounded). The Academy has invited all the key players of color into the organization, essentially silencing any significant criticism from this group and thus silencing protest (though the threat of more publicity issues remains).

As an alternative to finding enough people of color in the industry to come close to the % of POC in America (who just haven’t existed in big enough numbers in the working ranks), The Academy turned their focus onto a massive expansion of international membership, for which there compelling positive arguments. We have yet to see much of a real effort to make international cinema more of a focus of The Academy, but beggars can’t be choosers.

But the great irony of *Oscar this season is that movies made by or lead by People of Color that as “Oscar-y,” which is to say dramas, are in greater abundance than in an season ever. Literally.

Judas & The Black Messiah (the film will the biggest marketing budget to get a nomination this year) and Minari (likely the smallest marketing budget of the group) got Best Picture nominations. Missing the cut while still getting other nominations were “black films” The United States vs Billie Holiday, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, One Night in Miami, Da 5 Bloods, Soul, and “Indian film” The White Tiger. (There are also only 2 Best Picture nominees with female leads or co-leads this year… another conversation.)

In this very limited season, with half the nominees coming from streamers without any serious theatrical intentions, this parade of “movies of color” that fit the format well, biggest ever, can only score 2 slots.

Two years ago, three “movies of color” seriously competing (Black Panther, BlacKkKlansman, Roma) got into BP, in a much more complex and crowded field of 45 different nominated films. There were 5 acting nominees of color (8 this year), 2 directors of color (2 this year) and 2 more who hold passports from countries other than American (2 this year).

But that season was seen as a setback because Green Book won.

Objectively, this season was an easier road with similar results… so why are people celebrating… acting like they won the culture wars?

Well, on one hand, they should be celebrating. There were more “movies of color” that were in serious contention this year than ever before. That is the goal… not the actual nominations. If the movies are there, they will get nominations, more and less, year after year, just as “white” movies have forever. More movies means a change in the industry. A change in the industry is really how The Academy will change.

On the other hand, with so few movies overall seriously in play and such a relatively high percentage of “movies of color” in that group, this result is underwhelming. The percentages are unlikely to ever play out better than this in any future season in view. Hopefully, there will forever be at least 5 “dramas of color” in serious play every year. But when the real competition returns, the competitive barriers to BP entry will be higher.

But those who have been aggressive touting social justice in The Academy, showing harsh bigotry to white male Academy members for years now, claiming every win has been in spite of the white male members, who are still the largest voting block, they are still selling “us vs them,” which is a shame. I have long (and often singularly) acknowledged that there are real biases against people of color and women in the largely liberal Academy. Generational bias. People who would have marched in the Civil Rights movement in the 60’s who still saw people of color as The Other or inferior, in spite of so many good intentions and even movies about race. But still, 12 Years A Slave and Moonlight and The Shape of Water and Parasite didn’t win in spite of white male Academy members. In years past, Moonlight might have been unofficially disqualified by some of the membership, but the world has changed and I believe that in this last decade, Brokeback Mountain would have won. You don’t have to create a bias in The Academy to solve a bias.

The third issue is Streaming. So far, The Academy has completely laid down its history and standing to give in to the new money. The timing couldn’t be better for The Streamers or worse for The Academy, in terms of The Oscars. A moment of middle-aged (and older) white people in The Academy screaming about social justice as the most important goal of The Academy at the same time streaming happens and they really want to watch TV instead of bothering to leave their very comfortable houses to be with “those people” at the movie theaters.

Hey, those filmed versions of Hamilton and Bruce Springsteen on Broadway and David Byrne’s American Utopia were terrific this year. How about we stop giving Tony voters free tickets and just stream all the Broadway shows on TV for them (qualify by playing on Broadway or Off Broadway or in Regional Theater or in Stock) and they can vote. No problem. You know, technology. Netflix is going to premiere Diana on the network before it premieres on Broadway… no biggie. Just get to voting.

“But that’s different!” Yes. Broadway is much more elite than movies. Tickets are way more expensive and in shorter supply. The racial inequities are pretty similar. “But the experience. It’s about the experience of live theater!” Yes. And it’s been about the experience of watching movies on a screen with other people for 90 years. But a new television experience comes along and calls 120 hours of their over 2500 hours of original content a year “movies,” and The Academy must include it because, hey, they called it “a movie” and followed the long-standing rules of qualification that were consecrated decades before streaming TV and the subscription model of pay-tv existed.

Don’t get me wrong… The Academy has always been whoring on some level. It was launched for promotion and lived through many changes as a promotional event over many decades. But in the latest issue with Streaming competing, they have gone from Playboy to Hustler.

It’s understandable. If you did a survey of working Academy members in the U.S. (who still dominate the organization), I would have to bet that Netflix alone puts money in the pockets of twice or three times as many members as any other single company. This is not a slap on Netflix. Not suggesting it’s nefarious. But in the last 5 years, they have been the deepest pocket in town. It’s hard to go against the company that is paying your mortgage, especially in public.

This is not really a Netflix issue. This is an Academy issue. What is The Academy? If The Academy were to say, in June, that to qualify for an Oscar BP nomination, you had to do at least 3 weeks in theatrical and report your grosses, Netflix would either follow or not. The only real issue for Netflix would be to remeasure the publicity value of Oscar vs the added cost and the possibility of being embarrassed by a public failure of some of their films.

At this point, The Streamers are playing on a very different field than legacy theatrical. And this season has brought it out in great relief.

When Will Theatrical Find Its New Normal? (as of Sept. 2021)

I was pleased to hear Jeffrey Katzenberg interviewed by angry, middle-aged onanist Kara Swisher and saying, “I think for anybody to sit here today and think that they have a crystal ball, and they can see what this looks like three years from now or five years from now–I’m certainly not capable of doing it. But I don’t know that anybody is, because you think about the movie theater experience. What is that going to look like? And I have to say, any presumption that you make about that today, you’re likely wrong.”

Things are still heavily weighted by COVID, still in flux, and–although the evidence keeps coming in that theatrical and streaming being commingled as so many seem to desperately want is financial malfeasance–still loaded with production and distribution companies running new strategies on a seemingly haphazard basis, not allowing stability toward any clear future.

My ambition is not to predict the future, but to figure out when it will be safe again to pick up the crystal ball.

For me, this starts with the overall box office, not just the success of one opening weekend or another. In 2019. there were just two three-day weekends on which the overall domestic gross was under $100 million. The overall average of the 52 three-day weekends was just over $150 million.

Will we ever see this again? Maybe. Maybe not. The future of theatrical is on the distributors, not the exhibitors. There are scenarios in which theatrical can grow from its heights moving forward. But there would need to be the will to make that happen… and right now, distributors are playing everything scared.

So what would “a new normal” look like?

Let’s say the Vaccinated era of COVID started with A Quiet Place II on May 27. In the seventeen weekends since, there have only been two $100 million domestic total three-day weekends, with the openings of Black Widow and Shang-Chi. There have only been three more weekends between $80-$100 million. Between $60-$80 million, nine weekends. That leaves three under $60 million.

In this matching 17-week period in 2019, there was just one weekend under $108 million.

Somewhere between those two years of results lies the “new normal,” which can then be built on (or reduced). The average weekend in those 19 weeks in Summer 2019 was $150 million. The average this summer was $75 million.

Let’s cut into a random weekend in the 2 different summers and see why it was a $148m weekend in 2019 and a $78m weekend in 2021.

It may surprise you a little, but the 2021 weekend had more titles doing over $1 million that weekend than in 2019, 11 to 9. But the devil is in the holdover success of those titles.

Both years, there was a new movie starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. In 2019, Hobbs & Shaw opened soft, with $60 million. In 2021, Jungle Cruise opened soft with $35 million. But that $25 million difference only makes up a third of the difference between the overall weekends.

In 2021’s sample weekend, no other movie, even with two solid dramas opening, grossed $7 million. In 2019, there were no new openers, but in weeks 2, 3, 5, and 7, four holdovers grossed more than $7 million, with two of them over $20 million. That’s a $45 million difference on just the #2 and #3 grossers for the weekend.

So we found our $70 million difference just in the Top 3 titles. That was easy! (ha ha)

The total weekend grosses of titles 4 -20 in each of the two years is… almost identical. Within $55,000. I find this remarkable. And though the box office total beyond the Top 20 in more than double in 2019 what it is in 2021 for that weekend, the high is still under $2 million.

So the answer in this case is really at the top of the chart. Top 3. The discussion of what should be expected from the opening of a F&F spin-off starring The Rock vs a Disney Ride spin-off starring The Rock is less interesting and less impactful than the importance of the #2 and #3 films.

In 2019. it was Weekend 3 of The Lion King, with $38.5 million and Weekend 2 of Once Upon A Time in America, with $20 million. This August, it was the 2nd weekend of Old ($6.9m) and the opening of an A24 movie, The Green Knight, the latter of which overperformed expectations with a $6.8m launch.

The health of the theatrical business, even if it is somewhat reduced, is going to be defined by those #2 and #3 slots as much as, if not more, than #1. The best performance by #2 and #3 since AQP2 was $35.6 million by Black Widow Weekend 2 and the premiere of Escape Room. In the same 17 weeks of 2019, 10 of the 17 weekend #2/#3s did better than this year’s high mark.

Why? Two main reasons. First, the distributors are still not programming enough movies close enough to one another for Weekends 2 & 3 of solid openers to deliver strong second and third weekend numbers behind the next strong opener. Second, the distributors are undermining the theatrical on their movies (and all movies, as it is changing the perception of availability in the mind of the consumer) in the hope these films will either boost their streaming subscriptions or in the hopes that Premium VOD revenue, which they earn a significantly higher percentage from, will not only replace 2nd/3rd weekend grosses, but strongly improve on their profitability.

On the issue of density of programming, this was what really created hope for this last summer. But then the distributors scattered to the winds for a second summer. There were five theatrical-only openings over $20 million this entire four-month summer. That is not a full schedule.

Three of the top five openers (aka all the over $35m opens) were theatrical-only. Black Widow was the biggest opener and also added 3 million opening week streams. Three weekends later, Jungle Cruise managed only 1 million. Disney has now shelved Premium day-n-date VOD for the next year or so. Is that a sign of success?

Worth noting, Shang-Chi, with no PVOD, had the sixth best weekend of the summer… on its second weekend. But as noted above, there was nothing else there in the market of any weight, so the overall for the weekend still remained a pathetic $61 million.

To misquote Santa Claus is Coming to Town, put one hit in front of the other… and soon they’ll be walking in the door… orrr… orrr…

But this all leaves the other question… and it is not an illegitimate one. Is there more profit for distributors in a solid, if not overwhelming opening weekend followed by a PVOD windfall?

Here, the crystal ball is being purposefully hidden in a swamp… a swamp of hidden VOD numbers. What we know is that VOD has a long history of being a marginal revenue stream for movies seeking over $50 million in revenue overall. (It has been an industry-saver for indies, but that’s another subject.) And we know that there has been a profound uptick in VOD sales during COVID.

I am of the very strong belief that the VOD-as-major-revenue-stream fantasy that every major studio has harbored for decades now will once again be smashed on the rocks of reality once the pandemic is not our primary lifestyle. Moreover, the Subscription VOD business (Netflix, Disney+, Amazon, etc) works against the future of the Premium VOD model.

To wit, Shang-Chi will be on Disney+ as a part of a paid subscription in November. There will be a VOD window (and DVD release) between now and then. The ven diagram of “anxious to see the film, but not enough to go to a theater” and Disney+ subscriber likely leaves very few people out of the meaty center. In other words, if you waited until October and you don’t prioritize the theatrical experience of this film, you will surely wait until November.

The more the industry trains audiences to expect a quick turnaround of new content to a platform that is not free, but without an added charge above a monthly fee, the more people will expect that, even when it isn’t the specific plan for any specific movie.

There are very smart people who will argue otherwise… that Premium VOD is a new window that will replace and supersede theatrical. Given that anything is possible… anything is possible. But in spite of media arguments every single day, mass audience habits don’t change overnight or in a moment of duress. Households have been spending around $100 a month for Home Entertainment for a long time. Do rental views at $20 and $30 a pop fit into this budget on the regular? I would bet against it.

I believe that the theatrical experience, whatever middle-aged people think of it, is the only differentiated single-serving revenue stream that will still be viable as a significant revenue source as we get to the next normal. Not because it’s special or The Church of Cinema, but because unlike watching a rented film on your TV, going to the movies is leaving your house and not “just” watching the TV you watch for over 6 hours a day every single day.

Distributors can absolutely undermine that and break the theatrical business, as they have broken physical media. But I believe the opportunity for at least $15 billion in annual rentals ($30b gross) will be there if it isn’t crushed in haste. Probably more.

So… getting back to the core question in this piece… what will we see when we can seriously argue that “the new normal” is in sight?

Well, it’s coming up fast now. October 1, Carnage. October 8, Bond. October 15, Halloween Kills. There is a shot at a $100m+ weekend on October 8 and an even better shot on October 15, especially if Halloween Kills isn’t the top grosser.

Then we fall back off the cliff with HBO Max undercutting the opening of Dune on October 22. No big opening likely on the 29th. Or November 5. There really isn’t a major launch until Ghostbusters: Afterlife on November 19 and unless Disney starts pushing Encanto like it’s a major release (no new marketing since the release of Black Widow in July), November has basically been abandoned. So the odds are against anything looking “normal” in November.

December is the first month that really looks like the old normal… still a little shy, but pretty loaded. West Side Story, Spider-Man: No Way Home, Nightmare Alley, The King’s Man, and Sing 2 will get proper theatrical releases within 13 days and The Matrix Resurrections, bent by HBO Max same-day release, should still have an audience clamoring for a big screen experience in that same period.

I don’t expect the 2019 haul of a $250m weekend and a $200m weekend in December, but there is a legitimate chance of getting as many as 3 $100m weekends in a row, which would be a new high since the pandemic started.

For those of you keeping score, we have only had 2 $100m weekends in 2021 so far. So, if we can score 1 or 2 in October, and 2 or 3 in December, that would be a significant accomplishment under these circumstances. It still isn’t “a new normal,” but it is a few glimpses of one.

As long as we have these dry periods of distribution, where there is only 1 or 2 major releases in a month, the opportunity to find “normal” will not exist. As I have said ad nauseum, this is a choice.

And let me be the bearer of shitty news… after December, with the exception of a possibility of single mega-openings (The Batman, Dr Strange 2, Thor 4), there is not a legitimate block of releases that can possibly deliver multiple $100m weekends in a row until June of next year. July is set up for this kind of success – or normalcy – as well.

But distributors are asking a whole lot of the exhibition community, not filling theaters with product that have a serious chance at making the kind of money that was not exceptional in the pre-pandemic past, but the norm.

Decades of emphasis on opening weekend has created a false sense that movie theaters live on an a la carte basis. Distributors have made this happen, not only shortening the window for year after year, but also in obsessing on opening weekend and rarely even spending real money on weekend 3 or 3 unless they have a really big hit.

Distributors have become – even more so as they move further away from the business of making their money on specific pieces of content – lazy and risk averse. You can’t fail if you don’t try. You also can’t win nearly as much. But if your bosses don’t see that as the standard you must achieve to be successful, why risk it? Why risk anything?

And I can’t argue with that… it’s not my money.

But if the “new normal” is where we are now – $60m to $75m a weekend on average – or bit better, say $85m a weekend on average, I would expect about 20% of screens (8000 or so) to shutter before the end of 2022. If that “new normal” continued, I would expect us to be around 25,000 screens domestically by the end of 2023. And come 2024, we would likely settle down into a permanent reduction (that’s how brick and mortar works) down to something between 8,000 and 15,000 screens.

Normal is having movies in theaters. Normal is successful openers playing to over $2 million a weekend for at least 4 or 5 weekends with drops in the 30s and 40s, unless its a mega-opening, dropping in the 60s in Weekend 2 before settling into drops in the 30s and 40s. This is how an ecosystem works. Big openings and big holds still dominate, but 25% of revenues are still “everything else” and that 25% may not be as sexy, but it is needed to have a profit margin… unless you eliminate a lot of screens.

So when will we get there again? No one can know. But based on the current schedule, we shouldn’t expect more than peeks at a new normal until next summer.

That’s a long time from now.

27 Weeks To Oscar: The Trouble With Award Shows (Emmy Edition)

Once again, after a forgettable evening of “thank you”s and whining by the permanently aggrieved, Hollywood’s media tries to figure out what went wrong with an awards show.

Ans here is my obnoxious, but accurate, answer.

Nothing went wrong.

Everyone did their part. The Emmys have kept expanding to, now, 117 awarded categories so that records can be set on the regular. The talent showed up in their best borrowed outfits. Netflix filled the void in a season without ongoing series and will likely dominate next year’s Emmys, like Succession, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Barry, and Euphoria, as well as shows (including their own) that ended, like Ozark, VEEP, and Schitt’s Creek.

In the six Lead Acting categories, there were twelve Black nominees. In Supporting, 11. (I am avoiding “People of Color,” since the only color other than White that is well represented at Emmys is Black… Hispanic/Latino/Latinx and Asians are still getting table scraps, from the industry and thus, from the Emmys.)

CBS picked one its stars, who is a stand-up, to host… because the hosting gig is no longer attractive to anyone. Cedric The Entertainer makes at least $4 million a year making The Neighborhood. He can’t really say no to CBS. Everyone else can. Especially when these gigs are seen as a career drain.

This Emmy show was the show that was utterly expected. Give or take an unwatchable comedy segment. Pick the winners you like and mourn the winners that didn’t get statues. Kick along at a leisurely pace. Are the bad ratings in yet? (Eight million or so is that answer. Up from the low… still horrible.)

Matthew Belloni, formerly editor of the glossy ass-kisser The Hollywood Reporter (which is a direct financial participant in the awards business), took a moment away from gazing at himself in his meticulously washed knife at The Grill to spitball with his movie friends a half-dozen really stupid ideas for changing The Oscars drastically, as one can only do without giving it any real thought. As with most stupid ideas, there is now language that suggests that anyone who sees how dumb the ideas are is a Luddite, desperately clinging to the past… because the next idea is always the best idea. But, of course, these ideas also could be applied to Emmy.

Such gems as “change the seating” to make it more like the Golden Globes… which get worse ratings than Oscar. (He even cites the Critics Choice Awards, which have an on again-off again relationship with live airing, like the Independent Spirit Awards.)

Or “Just give out six awards.” Genius! Build a three-hour live show around six awards. Like the Grammys! Except TV and movies are not live-event experiences. They are filmed. And again… the Grammys ratings, after jumping for a few years when they went to the all-concert version, are back in the toilet.

“Show Exclusive Content” is another doozy… because the reason for awards shows is to trick audiences into watching by running long, free commercials for The Batman and Top Gun: Gunnier that will then appear on YouTube within the hour?

I won’t even bother addressing “Hire a TV producer” or “Tell the Producer to Entertain the Audience” because they are so insulting and so ignorant of the existing reality, there is no point. Most of the detailed suggestions (movie reunions) have been done. But this is the kind of bad thinking that helps explain why these shows don’t improve.

The first rule of marketing is to know what you are marketing. It doesn’t matter whether the actual product matches the marketing you have chosen. Before you go to the public, you have to be prepared to explain to them why they want to invest in your product, with time or money or whatever. There will be some backlash for lying, if you do, but the first wave of eyeballs must come — in most cases — or you’ll never dig out.

So. welcome to 2021. How do you built excitement for a TV show or movie? And not just passive interest. You need to get people focused and taking action when your show airs live.

Immediacy – We now have an on-demand media environment. People time shift a lot. Enormous prices are put on live sports because they are one of the few programming options that offers an almost-absolute demand of immediacy. People time-shift games by a few hours, but not by days or weeks (except for the hardcore).

There is this ongoing argument in Oscar circles that there isn’t enough time between the end of the year and the awards. Some of the same people argue that shorter theatrical windows are a smart idea. Make up your minds, folks. The Queen’s Gambit launched eleven months ago. The Crown Season 4 (which won last night) launched ten months ago. Season One of Ted Lasso launched more than a year ago.

Who, besides the hardcore, the industry, and people who don’t know how to use their remotes and are still on CBS because CBS Sunday Morning did a look at Mayberry, is watching THAT? Three great year-old shows.

Want a hint at why Mare of Easttown may have won an unexpected (oy… media expectations) number of Emmys? Within days of its finale, the idea that there would be a second season started floating around. How sweet. But it was the only “limited series” talking about Season 2. And you know what won 17 of the 20 Emmys for “Best Show” and “Best Acting”… shows that were continuing. Only two for The Queen’s Gambit and one for Hamilton broke that reality. Obviously, exceptions are part of every awards season. But relationships tend to be stronger when they are fresh. Even Schitt’s Creek… it won everything for its last season… but that also happened to be when people found the show on Netflix for the first time.

Is it a coincidence that Ted Lasso launched in the heat of August’s Emmy season, even if it meant having a Christmas episode in September? It is not.

Tension – The stakes of awards shows have simply become too low. Everyone has their favorites, but in the end, the significance of winning an Emmy – or an Oscar, for that matter – has become negligible.

You can’t outlaw punditry and the reality, pundits are now part of the Awards Industrial Complex, which so processes and pre-vets the shows that will be a part of these shows, anyone paying attention is 80% of the way to knowing what and who will win.

Emmy nominations were announced on July 13 this year. What did July 13 feel like? A few weeks before that, the Champlain Towers in Surfside, Florida had collapsed. Allan Weisselberg had just been indicted. Democrats in the Texas State House left the state to slow the new, restrictive voting law. Andrew Cuomo was still Governor of NY. Suicide Squad was ramping up for release. Gunpowder Milkshake was coming out on Netflix. Loki was having its finale on Disney+.

So tell me… does any of that seem fresh and compelling this lovely September 20?

Brevity – This is the impossible ask. And it doesn’t mean 2 hours instead of 3 hours. It means 2 minutes. This is the Netflix lesson. 2 minutes. The measure of participation in a program. The rise (on paper) of male premature ejaculation into the equal of a fully experienced female orgasm.

This is what no award show can or ever will be able to offer. The time it takes for talent to walk from their seat/table to start their speech is longer than the average person will wait for a web page to load before clicking away in frustration.

The “Just Dump The Small Awards” Fallacy is a perennial. And I understand the draw. But you have to think past the initial instinct. People need to turn on the show to turn the show off. Do we really think that audiences are turning Emmy or Oscar off halfway through the show because they can’t stand the 8 minutes that was just used to give out make-up and sound awards?

As I noted, the Grammys show was on the rise for a while, having switched to a format that de-emphasized the award show and took the opportunity to create the world’s most unique annual 3-hour concert.

But Grammys viewership peaked in 2012 with 39.91 million viewers. By 2015, they were down to 25 million. And in 2020, it was 18.7 million. (Let’s put aside 2021’s ugly record low of 8.8 million.)

So forgive me if I don’t see how film and television, which are non-live mediums, fill 3 hours with something other than awards at their awards shows… and if they somehow did, could not expect the same downward spiral of the familiar as the Grammys.

Young people can see their pre-vetted by word-of-text best of Grammy moments within hours on YouTube. They don’t even need to “tape” the show and sift through it. Seeing it on their phones is enough for most.

Sex Appeal – The history of television reminds us that over the last 4 decades, the word “fuck” and a loose breast or male ass draws a lot of attention. When HBO started seriously building original programming, sex and language were a big part of their push… because broadcast and even “free” cable networks weren’t doing that. When Showtime wanted to compete, they went a click raunchier and sexually broader than HBO. Netflix, in its growth, did a much more sophisticated version of this and the sex and murders and teens having sex and doing murders are a big part of their appeal as well (but yes, only one part of it).

At last night’s Emmys, Olivia Colman blurting out, “Fuck yeah” about Michaela Coel winning for writing was kept from American viewers and would have turned the knob in a significantly positive way for most critics and, I imagine, the majority of viewers. That is the kind of thing that makes it worth tuning in.

It’s worth noting that the YouTube video above, uncut, was put out by the Television Academy, not someone taping off a TV. They know. Over 115k views as I post it.

You certainly don’t want to turn Oscar or Emmy into an event where the women are forced to compete for who can have the most sideboob and every winner and presenter feels compelled to rehash George Carlin’s 7 Dirty Words. But audiences would have enjoyed Brett Goldstein uncut: “I was very, very specifically told I’m not allowed to swear, so this speech is going to be fucking short. This is the fucking icing on the cake. I’m so sorry, please have me back.”

Welcome to 2021.

Variety – No, not the trade.

One of the more interesting elements of COVID award years has been the remotes from other cities. I think there is something to be mined there.

There is something classic and charming about everyone gathering together and wearing their fanciest clothes and going to the ball. But the only variations on that, so far, have been uptight Oscars and sloppy Golden Globes. There have to be other possible configurations.

And I don’t mean poorly produced remote segments from hither and yon, looking like sideline reporters at a football game. Last night’s presentation of the The Crown team was quite nicely executed. Let’s see more like that… or not like that. The folks making these shows are creative and imaginative.

And to dare to tread on a variation on one of Belloni’s ideas… would a couple minutes from the set of the now-shooting Game of Thrones prequel hurt? I don’t mean to suggest trying to bait GoT geeks into watching, so much as the experience of variety in the awards show itself. Make the show surprising and, in time, the potential of surprises will make more people feel compelled to watch the show. Not as many as they’d like. But more.

And now, I am playing myself off…

One idea I have floated over the years that I think is looking better and better is the idea of quarterly events for awards groups, making the big show into the annual finale. The detail work on this would be tricky. Do you qualify for a quarter when your show starts in the quarter or ends in another? Some shows still run across at least 3/4 of the year. Etc.

The way things are now, Ted Lasso and The Queen’s Gambit and The Crown might all lock down a nomination slot in the same quarter. Great! Leave some room for others to get into the game. Spread those release dates around some. But mostly, grab people’s attention when the shows are hot, not a year later, when we are happy to see them honored, but not all that excited, as we have moved on to the dozens of other shows being slung at us monthly.

The summer of Physical and Loki and Betty and Lupin and Sex/Life and White Lotus and Schmigadoon and The Chair and Only Murders in The Building… let’s get to it! Let’s have that conversation and vote before Succession takes our attention somewhere completely different. And if some get left behind in that haste, they can try again for those last 2 all-year wildcard slots just before nominations are announced.

What’s the worst that could happen? It could be confusing and weird competitive stuff could crop up and it could get sloppy.

That, to me, is when it gets interesting.

29 Weeks To Oscar: The Oscar Season Starts… Or Does It?

Venice and Telluride are off to rip-roaring starts.


Here are the films that survived the weekend, between the two festivals. Not frontrunners. Not a one of them. But well-liked and in the game… in order…

1. King Richard
2. The Power of the Dog (both festivals)
3. Belfast
4. Spencer (both festivals)
5. Dune
6. Cyrano

Half of these might get a real theatrical-first release.

The French Dispatch is sneaking in Telluride, but it’s a ringer, given Wes Anderson’s history, so count that likely nominee. The Card Counter also turned up as a TBA… but it seems to be an actor-only proposition, (opening this month) based on reactions.

The list of the dead… which doesn’t mean they are hated or even disliked, but failed to get the kind of reaction that could propel these titles into the season with bravado enough to get to the Best Picture nomination finish line (in alphabetical order).

C’mon, C’mon, The Duke, The Electrical Life of Louis Wain, The Hand of God, The Last Duel, Last Night in Soho, Red Rocket

None of this precludes acting nominations. And The Last Duel has the star power, behind and on the screen, that it will get a full reassessment (and maybe a re-edit, knowing Ridley Scott).

The surprise of Telluride was Bitterbrush, a doc which was not a hot title going in but seems to be the one movie that comes out of this opening pair of festivals threatening to win a “picture level” award next March.

And here is worse news…

TIFF isn’t offering a life raft.

I am looking forward to the festival and I am sure I will have a lot of wonderful experiences of films, viewed from my TV here in Los Angeles.

But the only additions with serious Oscar Best Picture aspirations are both September releases (which suggest they don’t have serious Oscar Best Picture aspirations); Dear Evan Hansen and The Eyes of Tammy Faye.

That leaves…
Being The Ricardos (Amazon)
Don’t Look Up (Netflix)
House of Gucci (MGM)
Nightmare Alley (Searchlight/Disney)
Soggy Bottom (MGM)
Tick, Tick… Boom! (Netflix)
The Tragedy of Macbeth (A24/NYFF)
West Side Story (20th/Disney)

Six of the eight will get a real theatrical, assuming Amazon doesn’t turn MGM before the first of the year… And even then, Amazon is still doing proper theatricals.

CODA is the only already-released film that will be in play and has been released on Apple+.

My position on Tick, Tick… Boom! giving up by opening AFI was probably a step too harsh, given the reality that so much momentum is floating this year because of COVID. So may be this is a genius backdoor, late season move by Netflix. Maybe it’s not.

I don’t have an foreign language films listed here, but I think there will be one getting a Best Picture nomination. It just hasn’t announced itself yet. Could be Almodovar. Could be Trier. Maybe Farhadi. Hany Abu-Assad is going back to an intimate scale. I’m sure I will love the Michel Franco that others will run from in fear. Sorrentino seems to have missed the mark. Won’t be Titane. But something has a legit chance of emerging, given the very thin season ahead and 10 slots.

So I guess the premise of this piece is wrong, really. The soft nature of Venice and Telluride (with Venice getting much more glam, but not more Oscar movies) is a true reflection of the season to come… which is still more than half a year from concluding.

I feel confident in saying that we are already down to 13 or 14 movies seriously competing for Best Picture… and Telluride still hasn’t wrapped.

I truly wish I was missing something. It’s always possible for a film or films to be shoved into 2021 from 2022 or for a picture that seems to be dead to find magic. But it’s rare and less likely this year than ever.

Maybe Netflix should ramp up The Mitchells vs The Machines for a Best Picture push. This season is thin enough that the almost-impossible feat of getting in an animated movie could happen.

I don’t think the Best Picture winner has been seen as of this writing. And aside from demanding it be so by media, I am not so sure this season will ever have a distinct front-runner or even a two-movie showdown.

I don’t see a default movie yet, either. Maybe The Power of the Dog, but it’s an Aussie western from one of the great working directors of the last three decades with the wonderful actor who plays Doctor Strange in the lead… tough as a default… easier as a simple Best Picture nominee.

As I exit, I want to reaffirm that I am not judging or reviewing these titles in terms of their artistic value. I am offering Oscar context. I am sure I will LOVE some movies that have zero chance of being Best Picture nominees. You too. Nature of the beast.

Buckle in… it’s going to be a loooooooong ride.

Tweeted: Academy & Oscar (September 3)

The problem with The Academy Awards, as a popular TV event, is not the difference between a 2hr 30min show and a 3hr 15min show.

It’s about a failure to understand the brand that has been going on for years and years now.

If this Matt Belloni report is true, it is profoundly idiotic.

“I’m told several award categories—almost certainly the short films and likely several below-the-line crafts—will be jettisoned to the pre-show or commercial breaks, with an “acknowledgement” on the main telecast.”

Another part of Belloni’s report: “other changes are coming to try to make the Oscars more of a celebration of movies and less about the specific films in contention”

Again… Sheer bullshit. The show has increasingly failed to celebrate movies & it’s not because of lack of hits.

Dawn Hudson has never understood or accepted what The Academy is, whether you consider her choices to be self-serving or not. And she has held great sway, albeit at times by the skin of her teeth.

There is no such thing as “rebuilding (Oscar) for a modern audience.”

The reality of the future of The Oscars is that ratings are not going to recover. But as the NFL showed, that doesn’t mean that you can’t be enormously valued in the legacy marketplace.

The first step – perhaps the most important – is to move the event to late Jan/early Feb.

Moving the event earlier will move the season earlier, which means that the realistic calendar year for potential Oscars will go back to being longer.

The Academy has already given up on pressing voters to see movies on big screens. So let’s not bullshit ourselves.

I have floated the idea of the show qualifying potential nominees in every quarter of the year, creating a year-round event. That may be too much for some people. But Jan-Mar/Apr-June quality would be improved by dangling 2 slots for Best Picture.

2 nominees a quarter… +2.

But the truth is, there dozens of good ideas. As flawed as the Soderbergh effort was, the idea of each year’s show having the voice of a filmmaker is a good one.

There needs to be a new idea of why people should tune in, aside from host or awarding mega-budget films.

But I’ll tell ya what… if every distributor signed on, imagine a show where the leading cast every one of the Top 10 films of the year presents an award every year… like a reunion snapshot of the year.

It would be hard. But if they want to maintain Oscar, it would be worth it.

In terms of cutting awards… this gets blocked by smaller branches saying, “no.” That’s why when they did try’d to give awards at seats, it was a (kinda) random selection.

As Ebert said (paraphrased), more of a good thing is better, more of a bad thing is always worse.

For me, the lazy arguments are always “got to get rid of short subjects” and “there’s not time to watch all the movies.”

One of the major problems with Oscar season is that it has become too much of a business and it’s more about financial stakes than about achievement.

Moreover, the media, which has long had a financial stake in concept, is now connected to the actual money. Penske has taken over the trade business and will do anything for a dollar. And THR is in partnership with Penske too… inc shared stake in Dick Clark Prod & The Globes.

When I look at a creative effort that is not working, I always look at the foundations first. Why are we doing this (making the movie/telling the story/handing out awards)?

The Academy, filled with geniuses on the Board (not kidding), has lost sight of the foundational question.

You’re there, on Oscar night, to embrace and honor the best cinema – within your parameters – and to fund the organization with the TV money for the next years.

It is that simple.

And that complex.

This is an organization that brought in, literally, 1000s of new members from overseas so it could appear to be inclusive… and has not done a single thing to make the Oscars more inclusive of the world.

How’s that for a next step?
“But there are so many films!”
Figure it out!

This is an organization that has learned that people aren’t really tuning in for giant production numbers and that a giant, meticulously designed stage just looks like a damned stage on TV.

If you need 3 full months to produce the show, simplify the damned show. (Avoid trains)

This is an organization, even before the 2020 initiative, chose higher quality, lower box office films to fete when it was given more than 5 BP nominees.

Deal with it!

The industry is killing theatrical as we speak… Lord of the Rings or Batman isn’t coming to save you.

Funny thing is, The Oscar Industrial Complex (of which I have indulged) understands the game better than The Academy. They adjust faster than The Academy.

But when The Academy lets them run the show, it doesn’t help. The bar is lowered. A more steady hand would help. A lot.

With due respect to Belloni and his sources… we have heard all about The Academy Is Making A Change before. And before. And before.

But the best future is not one chasing The Cool Kids. They have been on that track for decades now… and it has failed every time.

The best possible future for The Academy Awards is an understanding of what this organization is – no matter what the gender and racial make up – and why The Oscars became so popular on TV 40 years ago.

The past is the most likely future to work.

One last thought…

I have endless respect for the people who end up on the Board of Governors. They have earned it.

But they are rarely people who are the cool kids (in their 30s/40s/50s) now. The really cool movers and shakers aren’t ready for the country club life.

Again… this isn’t meant to insult the people who give their time to The Academy. I respect that choice and every one of them is hugely accomplished.

But there is am Academy schizophrenia between the now-old guard that still feels young & the reality of the entertainment world.

The new kid around is Ted Sarandos and, like I am about to be, he is 57 years old! Not Mr. Hip.

Spielberg (74) is god… but his youngest kid is 25 and his eldest is 45. Not Mr. Hip.

There is nothing wrong with this… but you have to know what you are to become the best you.

If anyone at The Academy thinks the Oscars are going to become young and fresh and hip… wake up.

It is the pomp and circumstance that makes Oscar singular. Look at the ratings for all the “young, fresh, hip” award shows. ToiletVille.

So as we start another Oscar season in earnest… thx for the “we’re changing this time” spin. Been there. Done that.

For the record, I adore many Oscar consultants/publicists. Brilliant people who are there to take every advantage within the rules that The Academy sets.

But The Academy does itself a disservice by being a rubber stamp. If that doesn’t stop, there will always be a price paid.

You can’t find the new angle if you can’t give up the old angle.

I can’t imagine a more fitting metaphor for where the film/tv industry is right now.

Love 2 u.