You know how you were 12 and the entire world was going to notice that zit on your nose and never see you as anything but a troll forever and ever?
That is the spirit that the authors of most of the coverage of Hollywood’s COVID-19 problem are embracing.
I mean… yes, the entire world could end and we could all end up in oxygenated cubbies with skin as pale as our genetics allow, eating highly nutritious meals out of vacuum-packed packages like toddlers. It could happen!
And every major exhibitor could be forced to declare bankruptcy… for the first time since the early 1990s… which is when the multiplex as we now know it took hold, because those exhibitors got out of leases through bankruptcies and rebuilt theaters with a lot more screens with big screens and fewer seats with better sound. How tragic!
For the record, movie theaters have gone through two further paradigm shifts, with digital projection and then enhanced seating pushing the ball uphill, not to mention the emergence of IMAX and the coming, and mostly going of 3D.
For movie journalists, the world is forever on the edge of high drama, because as the old joke goes, the stakes are so low.
And the stakes aren’t low for the people who make their living in whatever area of the industry at whatever time they are under attack. I don’t want to take the suffering that may/likely-will occur lightly. But… perspective.
Disney is the king of the theatrical jungle. Well, last year. But undisputed champs. $11.1 billion in revenue, including $4.7 billion in theatrical rentals on nearly $13 million in worldwide grosses.
So Disney has the most to lose in this COVID-19 drama, right? Probably so. Still, The Parks generated $26 billion in revenue last year. The company’s cable networks generated $16.5 billion. And ABC added another $8.3 billion.
Disney Parks have the very real possibility of losing billions, if not more than $10 billion during this. One month of revenue, even an off-month like March-into-April, is probably $2 billion.
Cable and ABC may actually increase earnings over this period, as there is no other game in town for advertisers, although obviously, the overall amounts being spent will surely be lower, especially for retailers. So maybe breakeven. Maybe a small loss.
Which brings us to the Movie division, which is facing a disruption, at minimum, of four rescheduled movies (Mulan, Black Widow, Artemis Fowl, Soul) which cost about $850 million to produce, would cost about $700 million to market worldwide, and were expected to generate more than $3 billion at the box office between them. At that low end box office estimate, the four films would break even in theatrical and generate profits in all post-theatrical revenue streams, plus ancillaries, plus having great pre-established value, eventually, on the streaming platform.
So of course, the obvious response would be, “Uh… just throw them on the app!” (Did that sound like a brain-damaged Cro-Magnon? It was meant to.)
Let’s do the simplest math. How many subscriptions would Disney+ have to sell to make up for the production cost alone, staying signed up for six months for these four titles? That would be about 18 million.
As far as I can tell, Netflix has never added more than 16 million subscribers in any two quarters… and they are selling to almost every country in the world.
Let’s move on to the “Put them on Pay-per-View” argument. Not a new one. Universal is trying it with Trolls World Tour. But do you know that no film has ever grossed as much as $50 million in PPV/VOD? Not one. And this has been a format for over a decade… and VOD has has a multiple week head-start on DVDs for years now. And yet… no.
But there are people who believe that Trolls World Tour – four years and a bunch of Netflix content since the modestly successful original film – will just casually triple that figure. And how about this comp? Angry Birds surprised a lot of people with a $108 million domestic gross. Three years later, the sequel did $42 million.
Of course, not all the VOD money comes back to the studio either. I’m just being petty.
And magic could happen. Teb million people could pay $20 million for Trolls World Tour and Universal would gross $200 million without spending nearly as much on marketing as with a theatrical release. Nothing close to that has happened in the history of films and streaming. The biggest boxing match in PPV history had five million sign-ups. Only three have ever had more than two million sign-ups. But maybe I am holding up the future with my Luddite ways.
But here, my friends and foes, is something closer to reality. Universal did the math. The cost of holding the DWA movie and doing a theatrical at a later date was probably a loser, with whatever hopes of profit being pretty iffy in either situation. So, they have a brand name—however low-end—and a moment in history, so why not take the chance? Eat shit now or eat shit later. Maybe they make magic. The two bets seem, even from the outside, pretty similar. If they lose $20 million or $50 million… well, who cares? Filmed Entertainment was a $6.5 billion segment of a $34 billion revenue company. $50 million a 1/10 of one percent of Comcast’s revenues last year.
And like Disney, Comcast has a bigger fish frying… their cable division that produces $11.5 billion a year, which is under assault from streaming. They will probably be safer for this period thanks to COVID-19. People are not anxious to change things up when they are under pressure. It is possible that this notion is flipped on its head, especially if we are still stuck in our homes in July. But for now, no one is out installing or uninstalling anything in your house real soon.
The truth is, I am looking forward to hearing the numbers on this VOD effort. The $20 price point is significant. The fantasy of “fight pricing” is completely over. The hope is that “just a little bit more than the cost of a movie ticket in a big city or two tickets in smaller cities/towns” will make people forget the are spending $20 for an iffy sequel while they are also paying $10 or $8 a month for tens of thousands of hours of family entertainment. And people with money to burn will do it. And I may buy The Invisible Man for my wife to watch without reminding her how absurd paying $20 to watch TV is. But I suspect that buyers will be on the margins. And there is no better way to find out than to test it. This is a test. And whatever the results, there will be an answer. Not playing theatrical is highly unlikely to be that answer…. like 10,000:1 against.
I don’t want to beat this to death. I suspect that I will be beating it some more very soon. But, the premise that this is some kind of opportunity for studios to hop off the theatrical window train is nonsensical. It makes sense if you believe in your heart that they all want to get rid of theatrical and were just waiting for the opportunity.
But for all the talk-talk-talk-talk-talk of studio execs and agents for, literally, decades, about saving the cost of marketing (anyone who talks about P&A like prints are a major part of that budget line for a wide release film anymore cannot be trusted) and going direct to consumer, it has never made economic sense.
The problem is not, as people will tell you, that getting people to spend a large amount of money—compared to home entertainment—to go out to movies that are no longer quite the way we remember them from the 1970s and 1980s is too hard and too expensive. But it is hard. And it is expensive. And it is unpredictable. But it is unpredictable in the positive and the negative direction.
The film industry with a theatrical window, a Home Entertainment window, and a permanent streaming window is one business. Creating content for streaming into your home is another. The financials are very different. And the consumer target is completely different. If you can’t see the difference, you shouldn’t be writing articles about it, confusing an easily confused nation of content lovers.
Individual sales of content died as a primary revenue stream about three years ago. Dead. There are still hundreds of millions of dollars in that business. Last year, there was over a billion. Sixteen years ago, $30 – $50 billion.
The Theatrical Window world and the Streaming world are not interchangeable because the math is not interchangeable. Just isn’t. No more than broadcast TV and theatrical… or streaming, for that matter. But media has a very bad habit of not thinking it out. It’s all just another two hours of entertainment to most.
I had a similar conversation about Sundance and other big fests and the streamers. If Amazon or Netflix is spending $6 million an hour for a TV series, why does anyone thing they would flinch with a $12 million bill for a two-hour indie movie? (The question of how long their model of TV episodes at $6 million a pop will last is another discussion.)
Bottom line is that hundreds of millions in produced movies being delayed is not going to close any of the major studios. Not even close. And it certainly isn’t going to make them change their theatrical model. Universal. the studio experimenting with Trolls World Tour, is also the studio that moved one movie eight months and another 13 months to find clear worldwide theatrical windows. But it’s f-ing Trolls that defines the future of theatrical? Are you nuts?
These studios are part of giant companies. None of them want to lose money. Disney is the most vulnerable because of the parks, which will lose a lot of money that will never be recovered. Mulan and Black Widow, with due respect to those who are going to make life-changing amounts of money from those films, are not only a financial blip on the Disney radar, they are troubles with a very good excuse. But Disney doesn’t want an excuse. They want MONEY. And so, they will wait.
But deadlines don’t wait. So media feels compelled to stir up hysteria. Some even believe this horseshit. But only because they refuse to open their eyes. It isn’t a huge challenge to figure out this math.
Is there a day in the future when there will be no movie theaters as we know them now? Maybe. Possibly. But most likely, only at the end of the cycle of original content that costs what is seen as—at whatever moment—a lot of money. When every movie is shot on an iPhone or some tool that is similarly inexpensive, the lines will blur. When the studio business is primarily spending, say, $50 million to release a $10 million movie, the lines might blur. But until then, Universal (and Warners) are making a freaking fortune doing theatricals of Jason Blum movies with budgets under $20 million… a fortune that doesn’t exist in VOD or streaming.
And here is the kick… after studios make money on a release, they have a post-theatrical piece of content that has much more value than a piece of new content almost ever will. To wit, would you rather have Get Out exclusively to sell your streaming service or 20 hours of Jordan Peele’s The Twilight Zone?
It is possible that COVID-19 is the end of the movie world. Or the theatrical world. Or whatever fantasy your local ink-stained wretch is selling.
But we are nowhere close to that being even a real discussion. Not even close.
It’s not a complicated answer.
COVID-19 isn’t a fart in the wind, which is about what it takes to get media to start screeching about the end of this or the end of that part of the industry. But this isn’t Armageddon either. Not even close. That is, unless it is literally Armageddon and most of us are about to die and some guy in a space vehicle is going to land and find that apes actually rule the planet. (Three years of Trump has been close enough, thanks.)
Every “stupid” journalist who has been drooling for a decade for everything to move to streaming while not remotely understanding the economics is dancing in their foyers (afraid to go out in the air for anything less than the quest for toilet paper), finally ready to be proven right. Ding, Dong, Theatrical is dead!
But this isn’t 1969, kids. It’s 2020. With the exception of the car wreck that is Viacom/CBS/Paramount, the major studios are all major corporations with multiple revenue streams, many of which are not reliant on people leaving their houses to go to the movies, visit a theme park or to buy branded merchandise.
As obnoxious as corporate overlords can be, they are really good at one thing… planning out an extended view of the future. The movie and TV business is too reliant on the mercurial tastes of the public to make this a comfortable skill for the industry in most situations. But right now, with what looks like a four-month and then maybe another two-month window of serious business disruption, the ability of the bean counters to understand how beans will be valued in 2021 and 2022 and not just this quarter (though, of course, they want consistent growth quarter after quarter) is a savior.
Again, I don’t want to underplay the reality. March and April have become a launchpad for a lot of box-office revenue and obviously, summer months May, June, and July are three of the strongest five months of the year. There is money to be lost.
BUT… the argument that this is a moment that suggests we dump the theatrical window because people aren’t going to congregate for a few months makes as much sense as doing “Medicare For All” right now because it will help with COVID-19. It’s just bullshit. That doesn’t make either argument bullshit (though I believe the “everything on streaming” argument is financial armageddon for the industry and only makes sense if you want the entire future of filmed entertainment to be low budget), but both claims are bullshit in the immediate reality.
Here is a bit of 2019 math.
Netflix Gross: $20 billion – $2.6b operating income
Disney Movies Gross Only – $11.1 billion – $2.7 billion operating income
Disney spend about $2.2 billion on production and another $1.5 billion or so on marketing their 12 big releases. And of course, this doesn’t include post-theatrical revenue or ancillaries or park value for Disney. Netflix spent well over $10 billion on production and over $2 billion on marketing to be Netflix.
But here is the thing… theatrical is not the biggest part of the revenue or profit streams at Disney. It is the smallest segment of the $69 billion a year in revenue created by the company. And yet, by itself, it is still a more profitable business than Netflix right now.
This is not a slam of Netflix. The company will eventually start scaling its spending to its revenues. But wild spending is how they have built this era of their remarkable, industry-changing machine and they are playing out that idea. God bless.
But theatrical is one of the areas that is easiest for Disney to deal with at this moment, even with COVID-19 messing up their schedule over the next 18 months (by messing up the next 4-6 months). Their big financial problem is the parks and that isn’t going to be fixed quickly. $26 billion a year and it is not hard to imagine $10 billion of that evaporating off this year’s P&L.
On the other hand, we don’t know what the consequences of this will be in other areas. Will cord cutting slow significantly as people stop caring about the cost of what is coming into their homes and just crave consistency? OR will cord cutting speed up because people have so much time on their hands, they can focus on making the move? But will they be slowed by not being able to get faster internet installation into their homes during this turmoil? We don’t know the answer.
With Peacock pushed to April and HBO Max pushed to May, have Comcast and AT&T missed their big opportunities to sell new products to America at a time when we can all use the free trial period to dig into the content? OR will people be so sick of Netflix and Hulu and Amazon Prime that new content will be more valued and must-get than it is right now? We don’t know the answer.
Will delays to the major sports leagues and movies and live events and human interaction in general lead to a fear that will take many extra months to overcome or will people rush back into life with an never-before-seen aggression when they feel safe sometime this summer? It could be the greatest July-October ever… or a sluggish one. We don’t know the answer.
Here is what I do know. If Mulan cost $200 million, the opportunity to get to $1 billion worldwide means that if Disney pushes its luck and it only does, say, $400 million, they left $250 million or so in returns on the table. This $70 billion annual revenue company can afford to eat the $100 million loss it may take this quarter if it means $250 million more in a few months… or 7 months… or a year.
Universal had led in this regard, first pushing the new Bond movie to its “natural” November slotting and then, under pressure with an even bigger franchise, pushing F9 and entire year to 2021. Here is the news, dumb ass… they aren’t doing that as a show of weakness in theatrical. It is a show of strength and how important the billion dollars in grosses mean in the ecosystem of a big movie.
Would I delay an indie film? Not by a day. (Well, if it’s next week, maybe… but not after.) I would push hard to promote the idea that it is being made available to audiences regardless of COVID-19. I would cut the VOD cost to try to push a bigger buy rate at this moment of attention to being stuck at home. But the indie theatrical world is a different beast than wide release.
And as I posted on Twitter the other day, the fantasy of Frozen 2 going on Disney+ early being a huge moment in distribution… check the facts. Disney is waiting, specifically, for their 17-week contractual window to end before pushing to Disney+. So the only window they are collapsing is their own DVD/VOD window/A d why? Because this is an opportunity to sell more Disney+ subscriptions and Frozen 2 is the best bait they have available to them right now. If they had the launch of Season 2 of “Mandalorian,” this wouldn’t be happening.
So journalists, do us all a favor and stop talking to agents who are screaming, as they are always screaming, about the end of the world. Screenings are cancelled, so embrace it. Studios, get good at streaming delivery to journalists so your content can be reviewed easily. Academy, start streaming movies to your membership… like you have for months… and teach those who aren’t on board how to work an AppleTV.
I could get further into the math of the future of streaming and theatrical, but that will wait for another day.
Be careful out there. Take care of yourself and you will be taking care of everyone. Use social media to listen, not just scream (except about Trump). And let’s enjoy this pause in our lives and get ready to seize the day when it’s safe to kiss your grandma again.
There is something sad about a bad Pixar movie.
Like so many things Disney, Pixar is going through a generational change in the post-Lasseter era. The place is still loaded to the gills with talented people. But when you see a movie like Onward, you realize that something or someone was missing.
Onward is not a painfully bad film. Not at all. But it is painfully mediocre. It looks and feels like a DreamWorks Animation film, which is not a natural insult, but does speak to the idea that it doesn’t feel unique as Pixar films so often are.
Then you add a great voice cast, most of who, are doing “cartoon voices.” Basically, they were all – except Tom Holland – doing “louder, faster, funnier,” except it wasn’t. And as one sifts through very familiar voices that don’t seem themselves, you realize that a part of the Pixar brand has been perfectly cast actors pretty much playing themselves. Don’t get me wrong, I worship the ground that June Foray and Mel Blanc and Maurice LaMarche and Tom Kenny (amongst so many) walk on. But that is a style of voice acting you don’t get with Pixar. Even when Richard Kind did Bing Bong in Inside Out, it was a performance, but it sure was Richard from the very first groan. Here, I was trying to figure out from the get go why Julia Louis-Dreyfus was doing “Midwestern Mom Comedy Voice.” I wanted to hear her as her interpreting the character. And why was Chris Pratt doing Josh Gad when they could have just gotten Josh Gad and gotten all kinds of unexpected colors. Even Octavia Spencer… She snuck herself in a little, but mostly was caught acting. I love all these actors… but I wanted what they bring that is special: themselves.
Then you get to the movie, which I won’t spoil. But the story is a classic notion of self-discovery… but so simple that it may have been better suited as a short.
For Pixar, which has been so much more sophisticated and demanding of the audience than cartoons are supposed to be, there were very low stakes. The opportunity to meet your father who died before you can remember is a big heart-tugger. And yeah, they tug. But why does it matter so much to THESE brothers? What was missing in their souls? I don’t know. They seem incredibly well-adjusted, albeit teens.
There are movies where I absolutely am squirming in my seat trying to figure out why certain choices were made. Not here. It was solidly predictable. Well made. Great actors. But I wanted to truly be surprised.
Even the choice to set it in this oddly semi-magical not-self-aware world felt like someone forgot to cut that part in a meeting. There were gags to meet the challenge… but they were just gags. A mushroom house is only interesting if there is a reason why people live in a mushroom house. This was more like The Bradys of Magic Town. Sometimes there were juxtapositions. Sometimes there weren’t.
I loved the little pink pixies that I won’t describe more of because they are so fun.
But I felt from start to finish like I was watching a skillfully made film that wasn’t magic. Can’t throw a rotten tomato… but not a fan. And I have felt that magic, repeatedly, from Pixar shorts. I am not a cruel taskmaster on this.
I know nothing about the production of this film. But as I was watching, I was thinking, “Would Lasseter have spoken up and moved them in a different direction?” My guess is yes. Whatever kind of perv he might be, his track record as a producer is breathtaking… much better than Weinstein or anyone else this side of Kevin Feige. There is a communal process to developing and building these films at Pixar. And this time, something seems sorely missing.
So now, I wait for Soul…
In the early evening of Sunday night, March 1, about 12 days after cutting the cord, there is a headline in my e-mail inbox. AT&T has yet ANOTHER offering for streaming. How many ways can one company flip-flop on their plans for The Future?
But seriously… this is becoming a real problem for AT&T, as the people who have been cord-cutting up until recently have been focused on the details of making this choice, and when you significantly change your offering four times in a year, there is a loss of trust that becomes more and more corrosive.
Still, as someone who is in the early stages of being a cord cutter, my family and I still want to have easy access to more than we could ever consume. We are greedy. And we are willing to pay a reasonable price. So digging into the “AT&T TV” offering (that’s the name, don’t get to used to it!), I went…
This is for the XTRA plan. That’s almost all the programming they have. That first three months is with free premium channels, which adds $54 in months 4-12 and then goes nuts, up to $186.49 in the second year to which this program commits you.
There is an offering for internet access at a discount from what I pay now, $40 a month for fiber optic for 12 months and then up to $60 in the second 12-month commitment window. That would save $240 in a year… except that they have a new $10-a-month fee for the modem/wifi, so that eats the entire savings. (Without getting internet in the same package, the monthly cost in the first year rises $10, but in Year 2, is exactly the same.)
The first year of this whole package is a wash, pretty much, with the set-up I already have. What is attractive about this is what seems to be a more convenient set-top box with a single remote doing all of the work, and no need to flip to HBO or Netflix on another app. But there is another catch to that. There is an equipment fee of $360 for boxes for each TV. That can be paid upfront or monthly over the course of the first year, the point being that the Year 2 cost includes that $30 a month falling off the bill. So if you stretch that cost out over two years instead of one, the monthly cost in Year 2 is a bit over $200 a month.
I am having déjà vu. BAD déjà vu.
The increased cost from where I am now would be about $850 over two years or about $35 a month for those 24 months.
Is this offering worth it?
Well… (sigh)… I’m paying $20 a month for Comedy Central and the Nickelodeon channels on Philo and that feels insane… but I want to watch those shows. (That $20 is included in my monthly calculations.) For better, both of those channels would be on the system with AT&T. HBO too. Integrated. Easier. Better remote.
Just because there is a more complex remote doesn’t mean the interface will be as good as YouTube TV or others. I did a trial of Fubo last week to watch the NFL combine (not available on AT&T TV, either), and I loved how they did forwarding (you could see the show as you moved forward in 30 second chunks… so much better than anyone else), but what will AT&T TV offer? No idea. And it is super-odd how little detailed info is readily available in this pitch. But it’s what it is.
There are other benefits for brand new AT&T subscribers in the form of up to $250 in gift cards. And other concerns, like the mention of the upcoming HBO Max as something that will make “special offers” to AT&T TV subs… but not free access… but HBO is currently priced at the same monthly prices as HBO Max and that is built in, so won’t you feel completely screwed if they want to add more to your bill for the exact cost equivalent?
You can cancel this new AT&T TV service within 14 days without a penalty. So I think I have to do that. Because the real question for my household is whether the improved remote and, one hopes, a more streamlined experience with all the channels, is worth a buck a day for the next couple years. It may be. It could just as easily not be.
But I have to say, AT&T makes it hard. It’s hard to trust them on consistency right now. It’s hard to look at the second year explosion of cost and not be angry and feel that you will be screwed.
The month commitment for two years is, simply $165.24 a month for 4fourTVs at the XTRA level. ($5 a month for every TV past the first for the equipment, so you could get it down to $150 a month for one TV.) This is just too high in 2020.
$130 a month… maybe $125 a month… and this thing becomes a real hit.
The journey to a box-free television life continues.
There is something almost as exciting about gathering up all the DirecTV hardware all over the house as there was in having it installed. It’s all gone to FedEx (no remotes requested) for free delivery back to the home ship. Shelves are more open. Fewer wires float around our TVs.
The reality for my family is that we still want access to everything. And everybody’s everything is something else. For us, it’s all the movie channels, all the broadcast networks, cable news, cable kids shows, and the top cable channels. That last one got more complicated than expected.
Our baseline of choice is YouTube TV. We have four TVs in our home, so if we want to have all of them on – very rare, but it happens – they are really the only choice. So here is our new monthly bill.
YouTube TV $49.99
AMC Premiere $5
Sundance Now $7
HBO Now $15
After a few days of settling into the YouTube TV life, I realized that Comedy Central and Nickelodeon were not part of YouTube TV. I watch The Daily Show and the David Spade show every day they air and as much as I craved my weekly Amy Schumer Show or Broad City, I now find myself looking forward to the weekend Nora From Queens. And my son is into a couple of the shows on Nick, though truth be told, he would live without them. Me, not so much.
So I took another dip into the small bundle delivery companies. In the couple weeks since this cordless journey began, AT&T TV Now (they need to pick a frickin’ name and stick to it) had improved its number and added the Viacom networks. And HBO/Cinemax is part of the package. Their monthly…
ATT TV Now w/HBO/Cinemax $80
Extra Movies $5
Take Sundance Now and AMC Premiere off of the YouTube TV bundle and they are the same monthly price, but without having to have a second app for Viacom and with Cinemax, which HBO Now does not include (which will be moot in a couple of months, when HBO Max arrives).
With that, the AT&T TV Now free trial begins.
It took less than an hour to decide to stick with YouTube TV. The interface was plainly inferior… at least for me. We are an AppleTV family and on that platform, there is no fast-forward or rewind available with live streaming TV. There is something cool about being able to stroll through “stations” on the app, but because you get no control of the line-up of stations, it is much like switching channels in the 1980s… going past a lot of stuff you have zero interest in seeing.
Also… I don’t trust that the AT&T TV Now program and pricing will remain stable. I just got out of a very long relationship with DirecTV and one of the keys to us staying together was stability with incremental improvements. There were channel numbering changes that still irritate, but mostly, things stayed put.
The AT&T TV Now free trial made it two days. Cancel.
Beyond that, there are still some serious frustrations in this process. If you want the Viacom cable nets, there are very limited options. Philo is a cheap way to get a small bundle at $20 a month, but $20 a month for the Viacom nets feels like a lot of money in this ecosystem. Why doesn’t YouTube TV have Viacom cable channels in its line-up? Probably money. Make it a $6 a month option? I’d be all over that.
Other quirks show up. Like if you held onto a network show on YouTube TV for a week and want to do a two-hour binge after the next episode drops, you get to deal with ads that can’t be passed. Worse, the ads on the show are the same five network promos over and over and over again, not unlike the bad old days of cable and satellite VOD. There are now a series of NBC shows I will have an involuntary vomit reaction to after seeing the same ads so many times in a hour or two. This is good for no one.
Being on the AppleTV box all the time also reminds you of how little you are clicking on other apps you are paying for monthly and how you would prefer them to work. For instance, why does HBO Now not offer up the most recently aired new shows, especially when we are all trained to do appointment viewing with HBO? If I have time, I may wander around the HBO Now site, looking for something to consume. But on Sunday night, I want to go on there, see what is new or when it is coming online… period. Why do I need to click through three or four windows to find out (and still not really know for sure)?
That brings up time zone programming. I probably could fix this by cheating somehow. But with DirecTV, I consistently had shows sitting on my DVR three hours before their first West Coast appearance. HBO, Showtime, Comedy Central, Bravo, etcetera. No more. This is not a deal breaker, but my biggest question is, “Why?” Isn’t this The Future? If I am getting shows, even scheduled shows, pretty much on demand, why does CBS or HBO or anyone really care whether I get it at 5pm or 8pm? Isn’t the goal to get me to watch it, as opposed to get me to jump through hoops?
And don’t even get me started on the AppleTV remote… or do. Next time.
I didn’t know exactly what to expect from The Invisible Man when I sat down. The ads told me that the woman at the center, played by the always-compelling and more-interesting-than-your-average movie star, Elisabeth Moss, was not imagining it all. They told me that, eventually, others would suffer the wrath of the man formerly known as visible and that he was a manipulative prick. They told me she would fight back.
Okay. Did they give away too much? Could I predict what was going to happen in every act?
Lights down. Film starts. Our hero is in bed with the man we assume will torture her for the rest of the film. She wakes up. She moves away from him very carefully. I won’t play out the sequence, but what doesn’t happen is the filmmaker showing us much about him. That would be the normal play. We know he will end up being invisible somehow… probably not just in her imagination. But unless we have been misled, he isn’t going to be the center of the film. So we need to know… No, we don’t.
The house is very Sleeping With The Enemy, circa 2020, meaning lots of cameras and keypads and ways for him to control her. But what we don’t get from 1991 is the guy. This is post-feminist movie feminism. Fuck the guy. He is the asshole bad guy. He doesn’t deserve the screen time. All we need to know is how she feels. And I am not being facetious. Another controlling male asshole is not interesting. But she is complex.
We are in a movie that is very much a genre piece, but loaded with the unexpected. This woman isn’t worried about whether she has the towels right. She is 100% clear on the game that she is stuck in and she wants out, even if her trauma from this idiot is still controlling her life.
Let me note, before moving forward, that the film is very nicely shot for a Blumhouse production. It looks like a studio movie. It is clean. The shots are simple and compelling. This director is not trying to prove he can direct.
The other advantage of the way writer-director Leigh Whannell chooses not to set things up is that we are piecing together details through the rest of the first act, as our hero, Cecilia, hides out.
The end of the first act is the element set up in the ads and trailer. Her evil ex has left her a nice chunk of money, suggesting all will be okay. But we know, thanks to the ads, that the invisible asshole is coming to make her life hell.
I won’t spoil anything, but throughout the second act, I was surprised by small turns that were taken. After all, an invisible man with a lot of time and money has all kinds of crazy power. We have no idea what he really wants, learning his motives increasingly as the movie goes along. Whannell doesn’t go creepy-pervy, offering moments of invisible POV, but not the leering stalker kind, even when we are POVing two women asleep in their underwear.
When I read through the Rotten Tomatoes list of reviews, I saw one person wrote, “The Invisible Man lacks for truly terrifying moments.” I don’t know what this person’s standard is, but I wondered to myself if they complained that the rape in Gaspar Noé’s Irreversible wasn’t hard enough to watch.
What makes The Invisible Man work, in spite of being weirdly old-fashioned, aside from its politics, is your relationship with this woman, Cecilia. She is so fragile. She is so full of self-doubt. But she is a fighter. And the people she chooses to be around are all fighters. The idea of being desperate to prove something that no one else can see and not seeming insane is a great one. But smartly, she isn’t just trying to prove she isn’t nuts. She is motivated on a personal level as well. And that keeps it interesting.
This movie also takes its time from start to finish. There are a few bumpy beats. But there are also expected, cliche beats that we know are coming that Whannell simply decides to let pass and an instant, the better idea sneaking up on us right in front of our eyes.
I was impressed. I am pretty sure I will stop and watch it when it shows up on the dial a number of times, wanting to dissect certain sections. It’s not high-level Hitchcock or De Palma or Alex Garland or Verhoeven, to whom the film owes a great debt, although it chooses never to be as joyously perverse and Verhoeven. Ii is also like an inverse Hollow Man, even though the man is still the invisible one. That film loved its gags. That film loved its perversions. This film is about a sane woman who really wants to move past all that after realizing how crazy and dangerous her genius romance is.
There were a bunch of turns that I didn’t anticipate and that is a lot of fun for someone who sees as many movies as I do. There are plenty of movies with great ideas that don’t deliver. There are movies that deliver on their limited ideas. This film has an interesting idea on top of a classic genre idea and gave me something I hadn’t seen before and had fun chasing along with.
I was planning to cut the cord a year ago. My DirecTV bill was around $180 a month and they announced that they were going to raise the price another $10 a month. DirecTV Now (as it was then known) was around $50 a month. HBO was free with my AT&T unlimited phone plan. Showtime and Encore and Cinemax would add another $30 to my streaming plan. So what was I thinking, hanging on to DirecTV?
I was a happy DirecTV customer for about 20 years. I switched to DirecTV from cable when they added local channels. In Los Angeles, we were in that first wave. And I wanted Sunday Ticket, the NFL access program that meant I could watch my favorite team at home every week instead of going to sports bars at 10am on Sundays. In 1994, it was $139 a season. (Currently, Sunday Ticket is $289 and $389 if you want Red Zone or streaming.) I first signed up in 1997.
I installed those early DirecTV antennas with one wire coming down to my apartment myself (badly). As the service expanded with more valuable complications, the antennas changed and DirecTV installed them. I think I have had four or five over the years.
In the early days, the DVR was actually a TIVO. Then it was branded in-house. Then the box became a product that we leased, instead of owned. The boxes were the size of a small DVD player, one for each TV. I had external hard drives in my living room and bedroom to expand the amount of space on those DVRs (which would only ever work with the specific DVR it was set up with, so when those DVRs went bad, all the content was lost).
The internet brought home sharing, with the DVRs on a network. And soon, a central DVR with two terabytes of space that serviced all the TVs with only a small box (8′ by 5″) connected to each TV.
And of course, my relationship with DirecTV lived through the transition from square TVs to HD wide screen… then 1080… then 4K… and broad VOD. But one thing about DirecTV… they always demanded to be paid for all kinds of little things. My “Premier” package is $170. Add on $9 a month for a protection plan for the equipment I lease. $10 a month for the centralized DVR, plus $3 a month to use it and $7 each for added TVs. For my family, that’s $44 a month, or more than 25% added to the fee for Premier. At least they stopped charging for HD and local channels, which they did for years.
Last year, I was going to cut the cord and was offered a deal that took it down to under $100 a month. And I stayed. There are limitations, but basically, I have been happy with the service and have used it for a couple decades, through thick and thin.
Last week, I found out that $40 of that discount had expired. On top of that, I updated my AT&T wireless account for more data service freedom—I was one of the early “unlimited” wireless service customers who eventually found out that the service was not actually unlimited. Still irritates—and found out that the new wireless deals didn’t include HBO, for which I had been getting a monthly credit on my DirecTV bill. So that was another $13 hike coming up.
I called again. Again I was sent to a special operator. The bill this month was $173. They would cut it to $140. I said, “Turn it off.”
That’s a scary moment. The end of a relationship. I wouldn’t call it an abusive one, either. It was too expensive, but I got a lot out of it. Access and convenience.
For many years, I would do the math in my head and figure, “Okay… that’s $30 too much a month, but it’s only $360 a year and we waste so much money on nothing and we really use this and it works well for us, so… okay.” But two things changed in the last year or two for me.
We finally got fiber optic internet at the house and this means that I don’t have to worry about the quality of the streaming experience. There will be a day when something goes wrong and I will be irritated, but basically, our home internet access is close to perfect. Also, over these years, we had most of the nooks and crannies of the place – a 1908 building with a lot of cement that blocks signal – either hard-wired or connected via wi-fi extenders. This was a function of streaming services and videogaming that have been more and more hungry for consistent connections.
Here is a list of what is hooked up in our home:
3 hard-wired televisions
3 hard-wired Apple TVs (more on how we made that choice later)
1 hard-wired PS4
2 hard-wired DVD players
1 hard-wired tv sound box
2 hard-wired wi-fi extenders
1 hard-wired work computer
1 wifi-connected television
1 wifi-connected AppleTV
1 wifi-connected PS4
5 wifi-connected Alexa products
6 wifi-connected lamps
2 wi-fi connected iPads
3 wi-fi connected smart phones
1 wifi-connected Ring doorbell
And all the streaming on the TVs and sometimes, the portables.
That’s a lot to rely on when your wi-fi goes out every time it rains hard… even in Southern California, where it only rains occasionally.
Second, the small package streaming offerings became legitimate. Years ago, you may have read me raging against start-up companies that sought to sell streaming access to local stations by manipulating the rights of broadcasters. I consider that stealing – no matter how much broadcasters have taken advantage over the decades – and never wanted a part of that.
In the year since I originally considered cutting the cord, the small package streaming world has gotten less attractive, not more. The tech has improved in some cases. But the pricing has gotten worse, unless you are looking for the most limited packages. Playstation Vue, which my 2018 research would have made my #1 choice, has closed shop. DirecTV Now has devolved into AT&T TV Now. Prices have gone up, coming closer to echoing the cable packages. Obviously, if you want less content, you can pay less. But my family wants all the movie channels.
And so, we have cut the cord. The savings, as it all works out, are about $20 a month. Saving $240 a year isn’t bad… but against the expenditure of $1300+ a year for service, it already feels like we are back to, “maybe the same old thing is worth a little more money.”
This first few days have been interesting… but that conversation is for the next entry.
I’ve been anxious to write this column… and avoiding it… for a week.
The biggest problem is that I don’t want to be guilty of what most of the writing on the Parasite win has been… a clear reflection of a predetermined set of beliefs that would have been reflected in a specific way, regardless of the result.
A few writers have been cautious. Most told us what was right about The Academy because of this win and would have told us what was still wrong with The Academy if something else had won. (A few were just thrilled and bless them for being happy beyond the constraints of intellect.)
I remained stubborn and wrong about the conclusion until it was proven. It’s happened before.
I should have flipped completely when a few middle-aged and older white men told me that they had decided to vote for Parasite because they love the movie and it was a much more interesting Oscar night story than 1917 or anything else. Switching votes is a clear signal. Like everything else, a few voices don’t make that the narrative. But like a similar hum that made it clear late in the game that Crash would push aside Brokeback Mountain, I should have taken it one notch more seriously. I believed, in both cases, in the traditional… that homophobia was going to win this day in 2005 and that the International Film win would block the way for Parasite this year.
So the question remains… what did happen? What events coalesced? Are we witnessing change or something more familiar?
I have heard and read a lot of theories. Sadly, one was sold by The Academy itself, which is such a breach of propriety they should be deeply embarrassed by the choice to do so. (No longer a feature of Academy leadership.) Of course, their answer is that they are responsible for this popular outcome, as the 2020 program brought in more international members… which avoids the fact that the expansion of membership was not presented as an expansion of international membership until the last year or so (after most of the media avoided noticing for years) and even then, there is no acknowledgement that 2020 has failed for Americans of color in the industry.
But how have movies won Best Picture in the last 11 Oscar seasons, since the expansion? (History before that is not really relevant to this conversation.) I count three ways. (Feel free to add, “the competition wasn’t very strong to many of the years.)
1) It’s THE Movie – Start to finish, the movie is inevitable. This is one of the classic roads to a Best Picture win, though it has become almost extinct since the expansion to more than 5 BP nominees. In the 11 seasons since the expansion, I would say that only Seasons #2 and #3 have any real claim to having a start-to-finish leader (The King’s Speech and The Artist). Of course, there were competitors and there are people who seriously felt The Social Network would win over The King’s Speech… but King’s Speech went into the TIFF as a frontrunner and Social Network made people doubt it, but then King’s Speech asserted itself. It also benefited heavily from Oscar Winning Method #3. All that said, in these last 11 years, there has been no Schindler’s List or Rings 3 or Chicago, which overwhelmingly seemed destined to win from Day 1.
2) The Default – The Solid, Respected, No-Conflict (in the Academy) Choice. Spotlight. 12 Years A Slave. Green Book.
3) The Whip. When one non-BP category becomes the clear winner and it leads to the BP win. The Hurt Locker & Kathryn Bigelow. Argo & The Affleck “Snub.” Birdman and Iñárritu. The Shape of Water and Guillermo del Toro.
Aside from Parasite, these categories – which obviously have some mix-match to them – leave out only one BP winner since The Expansion, Moonlight. To be clear, this happened organically, for me, in the process of writing this. It was not my expectation. But it’s also not very surprising.
In all 11 case studies, there are mixtures of The 3 Categories. Only The Artist, Argo, and Birdman are really without a showcased moral cause (like stuttering or homophobia or racism or post-traumatic stress syndrome). But I don’t think being the issues in these other 8 films drove them to Oscar. 12 Years A Slave, obviously, covers one of the most horrible moments in world history… but again, though the movie is brilliant, I don’t think that was the key to the win. The Academy wasn’t standing up to the Catholic Church by selecting Spotlight.
And so, with Parasite and Moonlight, there are elements of the other Categories in their wins. Both films have enormously appealing directors, though Barry Jenkins didn’t take home Best Director. Both films had a solid, unexpected constituency – older white voters – from early on at Telluride, though not quite enough to be The Default or to be THE Movie from the start.
What both movies did have, from early on, was a strong moral argument being made in both social media and the press (the other media) throughout the season about the value of their potential wins. And in both of these cases, those arguments often went negative about other films and about Academy membership.
It may or may not be a coincidence that both of these wins occurred while #OscarSoWhite was being thrown around. In the case of Moonlight, it followed the season in which #OscarSoWhite was originated. This season, with Parasite, there was one nomination amongst the 20 actors for an actor of color plus no female Directors nominated, with only Bong Joon-Ho representing non-white color.
Another element of this is that the films that seemed to be the primary competition for the eventual winners and, in both cases, seemed to leap to the front of the pack from the first day they were shown, did not have an answer to the “too white” attack OR to the kind of emotional energy that Moonlight and Parasite built to late in the season.
I don’t think the late accusations that 1917 overlooked the Black contribution to the UK’s WW I effort meant much. But 1917 is an almost completely white movie. You can’t really avoid it. La La Land had non-white characters featured… but in the end, it was a movie about a white girl and a white guy.
What happens a lot in Oscar races, in my view, is that there are dozens of moments of opportunity/danger and no one knows which elements will become keys or just pass by. This is one of the reasons why the season is so dense and repetitive. FOMO. No one wants to be left out of anything, even if that thing is minor, because you never know when that turns out to be a turning point for some unexpected reason.
It’s a very complex idea, trying to measure how negative energy affects the Oscar race. In my view, this was the fourth season of negative arguments having a major footprint in the award season. The seasons with the most negative noise were Moonlight/La La Land and Green Book/Roma. It was a split decision, in terms of a win and a loss. But Roma was never fully the cause of the anti-Green Book group, which may have been the reason why Green Book could not be brought down. But both of the “anti” films are still mocked beyond reason.
One of the things that is interesting about both Moonlight and Parasite is that they became the most positive of the campaigns. In ways both similar and different, they became the positive story in their seasons that voters – white and old and male and otherwise – decided to vote for. (One angle that I hate is the attempt to claim that any Oscar winner somehow got there without the majority group in The Academy, regardless of whether that majority should exist or not. It both insults and misreads older white men and insults and misreads women and POC, assuming they vote in a monolithic way that squeezes past, somehow, older white men. It’s bullshit.)
In the case of Moonlight, its season competition was not exactly Avatar against The Hurt Locker, but the box office disparity was not dissimilar. La La Land was a massive hit… the 2rd highest grossing non-animated musical of all time at the time. It was a bigger hit than Chicago and the biggest non-animated musical not based on a Broadway show in history. Moonlight had grossed $23 million worldwide at the time it won.
But the argument was made – and still is – that La La Land was not daring… just another massive hit original musical made for the big screen. Absurd. And don’t even get me started on the original choices in the filmmaking itself. It wasn’t reckless to not like the film… but claiming it was easy was to take it someplace recklessly unfair.
All that said, Moonlight is beautiful and poetic and daring. I am in agreement with all the positive arguments about Moonlight. And I still think that Naomie Harris was robbed. (The winner of Supporting Actress was the always great Viola Davis and so no one complains about that one.)
A24 pushed hard for Moonlight and in all categories. As a result, they got 8 deserved nominations and played deeply to all Academy fields.
How much of the negativity around La La Land, much of which was attached to positive arguments for Moonlight, help Moonlight win? We will never know. But in the year after #OscarSoWhite, it was the first time we had really seen this form of a disqualifying argument. It wasn’t about a specific flaw or incident. It was about everything that La La Land was about… so it was virtually impossible to answer without sounding defensive and/or racist.
Even if La La Land took, say, a 10% Academy voting hit because of the push in media and social media, in order to win, Moonlight needed to be embraced in a positive way by a large percentage of Academy voters. And that achievement suggests that A24 and Barry and the entire team got the voters excited about the prospect of their film winning. It became the best story of that season.
This is where it is always tricky, as people seem to want everything to be, not ironically, black or white. If you believe that Moonlight was a good thing and Green Book was a bad thing, the answer in your eyes is not in the subtle shifts created by the circumstances of each season, but the “need” to hold a greater meaning that defines progress or regression.
In time, moments that actually are a shift in the mindset at The Academy become clear and most are just very specific moments in Academy history. After 11 years of The Expansion, I think it is completely legitimate to assume that there is a disadvantage in being too successful at the box office. Of course, that doesn’t mean that one of the Top 3 box office grossers amongst BP nominees will not win someday. Who knows? (No one) Maybe next season. But when something repeats for 11 seasons, especially after a very long history of only the top box office grossers winning, you can start to assume something real has changed.
(My personal assessment is that The Expansion added lower-box office, higher-quality movies to the equation and allowed Academy voters to remove the “wasted vote” yoke that narrowed the idea of what could win in years past. No matter what the box office, if you can get yourself nominated, you could be the winner.)
Likewise, we have seen three International film nominees/winners nominated for Best Picture in these last 11 seasons. One has won. Trend? No way to know today. I would say that a season with two International nominees would be far more indicative of the influx of international voters causing a permanent change of tone than this 1 win.
And we really have no idea what the impact of Netflix will be on The Oscars going forward… or whether Apple or Amazon or HBO Max or Peacock will push more than two streaming nominees into Best Picture in the same season. So far, it is just Netflix. They have gotten in with 2 relatively cheap films and one massively expensive drama. The math can be debated. But none of these players can’t afford to push their direct-to-streaming (with qualifying run) films into the Oscar race. What happens then? And now that voters are used to Netflix being in the game, does comfort breed comfort or contempt? Only time will tell us.
But Netflix is a digression in this piece…
Bong Joon-ho reminds me of Guillermo del Toro. It’s hard not to fall in (non-romantic) love with these guys. (Maybe romantic for some.) Brilliant, kind, funny, and super-passionate about film. Part of the Parasite win was Bong immersing himself in the Los Angeles scene for months. It never felt awards slutty. And no one got bored of him.
And the 1917 loss was not just about the movie or the negativity but about Sam Mendes, who I quite like and find surprisingly down to earth.. but he isn’t Bong and he was not as accessible as Bong (in part because he only finished his film in early November). 1917 also suffered from being written off, sometimes illogically, as nothing more than a single-shot stunt. It also suffered from coming out late in that most Academy voters probably saw it on a DVD or streaming onto their TV, which is far from the experience of seeing it on a large screen.
That said, I believe that Parasite won and not that 1917 or any other movie lost it. As one voting friend insisted to me, Parasite was the better story. And I think that is right.
We get so caught up in the the idea that everything is political, but I believe that The Academy is uniquely apolitical, in the way politics is about the outside work and meaning. It is very political internally. But I go back 40 years and I don’t see a single Best Picture winner that is acutely a statement on the politics of the world. I don’t think that changed this year.
So… why did Parasite win?
There are many reasons, but it became The Story. You may have preferred another film, but the person you wanted to see on the Oscar stage multiple times was Bong. And even if it wasn’t your first vote, it was probably in most Top 3s.
And here is another twist… did Netflix break the ceiling on choice even more by getting two films into Best Picture slots, further pushing aside what has long been Academy reticence about voting for any one film to win both International, Doc or Animation AND Best Picture?
It’s not completely unlike the American political system. And some will disagree with this. But I think once we had a Black two-term president, no group is off the table. Not a Woman. Not a Jew. Not a Billionaire. And unfortunately, not even a racist pig. Prejudices didn’t disappeared. But (most) people seem to value their vote aside from their prejudices now. Evangelicals voting for Trump… incomprehensible. But reality.
White old men voting for Parasite happened. Other people too. Maybe they made the difference. Maybe they didn’t.
One last thought. Six of the last eleven Oscar Best Picture statues went to distributors not associated with the majors. Of those 6 wins (amongst five companies) only two distributors are still operational, Neon and A24. Weinstein and Open Road are gone and Summit was subsumed into Lionsgate. Go back another 11, goodbye Miramax and DreamWorks. Another 11, Miramax and Orion.
Things change more than we realize. Companies come and go and we live in a kind of denial. Fashions change and movies that were breakthroughs in their moment become albatrosses of some political past that we finally feel we should be past.
A lot of normal circumstances led to Parasite‘s win last Sunday… and a lot of magical moments and energies that belong to no other film in history also led to that moment. There is nothing wrong with that. It is why we all still care what happens at The Academy Awards, a show that was started for all the wrong reasons and like so many great old people, has become somehow more dignified and respected after so many years.
To hope for deeper meaning is a fool’s errand. To enjoy what happened, for the film, for South Korea, for Asians worldwide, for Bong, for one lovely night.. that it what it means. Inhale the magic deeply. Don’t attach expectations. Don’t seek a trend. Another group of artists will be on the stage next year, hoping to feel magic. It’s not being an ostrich. It’s Oscartown.
The show, simply, sucked.
And the first big reason it sucked was because of the producers and The Academy paying endless homage to diversity in a way that was so ham-fisted and poorly managed that it felt like a husband whose wife caught him in their bed with 2 strippers and a donkey trying to win her back with 100 pieces of jewelry.
But it wasn’t just diversity that had The Academy sweating up a storm, but a nearly demented chase for youth culture that was not only self-defeating, but often didn’t make sense (see 47-year-old Eminem performing a song that was a massive hit, which then inspired a movie about his life, which led to him snubbing The Oscars 18 years ago).
Not every attempt failed completely. The ebony and ivory comedy duo of Martin and Rock was terrific. If they would ever do an entire show together, they would be the best possible answer to the host slot, not only balancing race, but also comic styles, answering the problem that has come up with having comics with strong voices host in the past and being too much of one flavor (including, for many, both Rock and Martin).
Like many movies that are better regarded than they really deserve, The Oscar show came together in the third act… but only because of the performances of the winners.
Parasite wins Best International Picture at 2:35 of the show runtime. 2:51, Bong wins Director. Excitement rises. 3:03, the speech by Joaquin, which was a performance not unlike Joker. Renee Zellweger kills the energy by not being quick and clever. But… Jane Fonda brings it home a few minutes later with the Parasite win, which was clearly where the energy was in that theater… with people of all races and gender. Would Sam Mendes have been as fun to see win, even if you loved his film? No. Not his fault. Having spent a little time with Sam over the years, I think he has that gear… but we have never seen it in a way that excites people.
In any case, that last half hour, plus Laura Dern, plus all 5 of the comedy pairings (Martin/Rock, Wiig/Rudolph, Louis-Dreyfus/Ferrell, Romano/Oh, and Wilson/Corden, even if the Cats gag about FX was unfair), plus speeches by Pitt and Guðnadóttir, plus Olivia Coleman killing it in her intro, were the good things about the show… none of which were round pegs forced into well-intended square holes.
There were ELEVEN music moments that took anywhere between one minute to five minutes. That adds up to, with commercial breaks, more than an hour of the show. Was there a full hour of actual footage of movies? I don’t think so. We know there was over an hour of award presentation and acceptances. So, there was no room for the movies. There wasn’t even a presentation of the 9 Best Picture nominees in clips of a minute or longer.
I will get more into the significance of the ratings in the third and final wrap-up piece on the awards. But the Grammys dropped to their all-time low this year. The Emmys set a new record too, with just 6.9 million viewers. So what did Oscar do? They booked a lot of musical performances and actors seen primarily on television. Hmmm…
The thing about trying to be inclusive in the show… relentlessly inclusive… obsessed with inclusion… is that at some point, it feels desperate. This is how The Academy has approached everything for the last decade or so. That does not make the intentions bad. That does not mean that The Academy should not be making every effort to be inclusive, including loading up on new member talent that seeks a better balance within the organization. But no one turns on the Oscars to be woken. (Well, not no one… maybe 20%.) People turn on the Oscars to be entertained… to watch the stars look glamorous and stressed and happy and sad… to love on movies, even if they have not yet seen the movies… to celebrate.
The industry is not balanced. The movies that were on the offer for this award season were not balanced in the areas of gender or race. And with all the love that I truly feel, the Parasite win doesn’t change that at all. You can’t have a show that celebrates something that doesn’t exist and engage the audience in a great way. It doesn’t feel genuine.
Television is about habit. Television is about comfort. Television is about 80% familiarity and 20% surprise. And thank the TV Gods for Parasite’s win and the 9 comedians and a naturally funny actress and the speeches that were engaging… because otherwise, the show would have been a complete failure.
No one tuned in to see Eminem because it was a secret. And how many people will watch the show next year for a big musical surprise by a middle-aged guy doing a 20-year-old rap song that is now used as elevator music? ZERO!
Even Janelle Monáe, who I love to watch perform, trying to raise the energy of the room to some kind of higher level, failed… even though the number itself was excellent. Why? Multiple reasons. First, because they celebrated movies that were not nominated and didn’t bother to tell us. Imagine if they said, clearly, that this was a celebration of ALL movies and not just the ones that got the big nominations. And instead of picking a half-dozen films to costume the dancers, pick 20. Make it something to go back and figure out later. Include Thanos and Héloïse from Portrait of a Lady on Fire and The Lighthouse guys and Godzilla, etc, etc, etc. God bless Midsommar… but how much of the audience for The Oscars saw the $27m domestic grosser and got either the text or the subtext?
The only real progress in the show was that they didn’t trot out the stars of every new film coming this year… though Ferrell and Louis-Dreyfus open in the very off-beat but very funny Downhill on Friday.
On the other hand, instead of getting something cool from Lin-Manuel Miranda, we got his acolytes who might be recognized as rising movie talent in the next year or two…but right now, mean nothing to the audience.
Still, the primary lesson of this show should be that what was memorable and what will be talked about for years to come is the competition of the night – even though it was underplayed by the show itself – and the people who won and said something memorable – and the unexpected moments, like the standing ovation for Scorsese that Bong created in the moment.
A great musical number that connects will still work. Billy Crystal’s songs, Hugh Jackman’s opening number, some of the memorial moments. But what makes them memorable is that they connect to the overall theme of the night, which is movies… not inclusion, not gender, not race. I’m sorry. These are really important issues and they have their place in the show. But they are not The Show.
In an odd way, the show reflected the season, in that the movement towards Parasite filled a vacuum of passion that was not there for this very, very high quality list of nominees. There was nothing in this show that made me consider wanting to see 1917 or Once Upon A Time… in Hollywood or Little Women or Marriage Story or The Irishman or Jojo Rabbit or Ford v Ferrari or Joker win. Anything winning other than Parasite would have been – as a matter of drama – anti-climatic by the end of that TV show. And that is a failure of that TV show.
Simply… a rundown of the show… with a few bits of commentary.
Janelle Monáe opens the show with an homage to a movie that was not nominated that turns into a really cool number paying homage to other movies that were not nominated. (There was a dancing Joker, and other costumes represented Dolemite Is My Name, Queen & Slim, US, Midsommar, and a couple of 1917 and Little Women dancers as well.) Then, the great non-movie performer Billy Porter, who we had a long time with in the also all-race, all-youth pre-show, turns up singing a song from the not-nominated for BP Rocketman. Monáe then comes into the audience in a Midsommar outfit and shouts out “the women, the black, and the queer.” Enormous energy. But basically a five-minute apology to open the show.
Rock and Martin kill it.
Regina King, last year’s Supporting Actress winner, as is traditional, announces Supporting Actor Brad Pitt.
Beanie Feldman announces Mindy Kaling to announce Animated Feature and Animated Short. Why are they doing the short after the feature???
First Nominated Song. Idina Menzel and women who voiced her role in other countries. Great idea. Not very good execution. Not a great song, which made it harder, as the choice suggested the song had the kind of world appeal that “Let It Go” did.
Kelly Marie Tran and Questlove intro an intro that sexualizes Keanu Reeves.
Keanu and Diane Keaton announce Original Screenplay. Nice nomination package, although a really odd set of choices from those movies. Bong’s first win.
Natalie Portman and Timothée Chalamet (with his Members Only tux) announce Adapted Screenplay. Taika gets an Oscar.
Presenters Shia LaBeouf and Zack Gottsagen for Live Action Short. Representation of cognitive disability, demanding an applause break, while based on its lack of nominations and its great-for-a-tiny-indie $20 million gross, you know less than half the people in the room had any idea who Gottsagen was and less than 10% of the television audience did. There was something insightful and beautiful watching LaBeouf help Gottsagen through the moment, which was clearly not easy for him.
Maya Rudolph and Kristen Wiig start their funny material at the 53 minute mark of the show. Production Design goes to someone other than 1917 at 57 minutes, the first crack shown. Costume is announced at the 1 hour mark of the show.
Second Song nominee with a chorus in the background that Oscar cameras emphasize, repeatedly focusing on its wheelchair-bound member. Commercial break at 1:04.
(A commercial for Quibi encourages short attention spans at serious moments. Ha Ha Fucking Ha.)
Oscar returns from a three-minute break with a pretty good package on docs. Mark Ruffalo does Best Doc and Best Short Doc, weirdly in that order.
Mahershala Ali announces Best Supporting Actress. Laura Dern gives a lovely speech and remains one of Hollywood’s most loved people.
At 1:25 in the show, the mysterious case of Anthony Ramos, who 1% or less of the audience has ever laid eyes on before, and will star in In The Heights this summer. He explains that he was in “Hamilton” (on Broadway) and intros Lin-Manuel Miranda for no apparent reason other than to let us know that he was invited to The Oscars as the ultimate plus-one or as an homage to Jimmy Kimmel pulling people in from the mall to be on the show in 2017. (The show’s producers don’t help the audience out.) Miranda intros a song package in less time than Anthony Ramos spent barely introducing himself.
A very clever package about how songs and the visuals of the movies become connected forever. The problem is, the package producers don’t seem to trust the moments in which the songs became indelible and on top of that, they include songs that aren’t actually indelible in order to have more moments of color and also include musical movie numbers, which are really not the point of the package at all. Why? We’ll know in a moment…
Eminem! 47-Year-Old Eminem. (At first, I thought Todd Phillips was rapping.) Why? He refused to show up at the Oscars 18 years ago when he won Best Song. The song was released as a video a month before the movie 8 Mile was released, which was great marketing for the film, as it was a massive hit when the film was released in November.
But why are we having this song honored in the middle of Oscar night 2020? Into The Unknown.
Salma and Oscar, with a great joke for Salma about holding an Oscar on that stage. Oscar, smartly, throws away the “Oscar not-so-white anymore” joke. Sound Editing and Sound Mixing.
Randy Newman sings his nominated Toy Story 4 song, which features the unfortunate lyrics, “Got nothing more to say, you’re not listening anyway.”
1:48 Anthony Ramos is back! Wait! It’s not Anthony Ramos. It’s Utkarsh Ambudkar. He says, “I do not belong here.” Millions agree. He’s another Lin-Manuel Miranda acolyte.
1:50 Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Will Ferrell announce Cinematography and Editing. Very funny.
1:58- 2:00 Picturing the Academy Museum with an announced opening date in December 2020… which follows earlier opening expectations in parts of 2019.
2:03 Zazie Beetz intros the black conductor for the show, Leno veteran Ricky Minor, who speaks of his love for Cynthia Erivo, who then performs her song from Harriet.
2:12 Comedy duo Rebel Wilson and James Corden don cheap cat outfits and make fun of their failed movie. Funny… but anti-cinema. Special FX.
2:16 Ray Romano and Sandra Oh, a wonderful TV star who has not been in a movie in five years, but is Korean-Canadian. Make-Up & Hair. Romano drops the Pesci-connected F-bomb. Oh responds with a brilliant retort of, “I think they will bleep that. Not everything is Netflix here.”
2:25 Penelope Cruz announces International Feature. Parasite takes its second award and Bong thinks his night is over. It’s not. Standing ovation suggests how the night will go.
2:28 Elton John is a colorful, American Bandstand-style presentation of one of his least-inspired songs.
2:35 Taika Waititi is the only nominee called upon to speak onstage with the now-required Dolby Theater acknowledgement that the theater is built on Native American land and then to announce The Governors Awards, which get no package… just a nod to Studi and Davis sitting in their seats.
2:37 Three superhero women, Gadot/Larson/Weaver, make fun of men and tell the audience that “all women are superheroes.” And they announce a female conductor will lead the orchestra for one number, doing the five Original Scores for three minutes. That’s three minutes of a three-hour-plus show. (What progress!!!)
Best Score. Hildur Guðnadóttir wins, as most of the precursors had predicted. Lovely speech.
Best Song. Elton John and Bernie Taupin suggest this is a defining moment after being one of the most successful musical duos in history.
2:51: Spike Lee comes out in a Kobe purple-and-gold tuxedo with Kobe’s number on the lapels to give our Best Director. Bong.
2:55 Spielberg introduces In Memoriam, throwing to Billie Eilish, who mumbles through “Yesterday.” The segment leads with Kobe Bryant, which seems odd. The package seems more than a little rushed, with just a 45-second non-singing break and no more than four seconds for any of the passed and no clips of anyone.
3:02 George McKay in the cheap seats. Makes a joke about multiple introductions.
3:03 Olivia Coleman does great announcing Best Actor. Joaquin wins and offers up a three-minute, 41-second stemwinder of a speech that will be historic, even if some people hate the film for which he won.
3:10 Rami Malek announced Best Actress, in a hurry. Renée Zellweger wins and decides to give her speech, regardless of the bomb that Joaquin Phoenix just exploded in the room. A more in-the-moment person would have known instinctively not to “have her moment” with a very conventional speech (that seems to have forgotten she already has an Oscar) for 3:57. It was almost as though longtime manager John Carrabino leaned over to her and told her to go longer than Joaquin. Not good.
3:21 Jane Fonda, new and improved fighting advocate, thanks to Greta Thunberg, arrives to announce Best Picture. She takes an extra beat after looking at the card before announcing… Parasite.
3:34 Show’s Over.
There is so much to dig through that this was intended to be two columns. But it’s the day before Oscar and these pieces have sat on my desktop for two days and F.X. Feeney is dead and Orson Bean was killed while jaywalking at 91 and I don’t feel like tearing anyone specific a new asshole.
But this issue needs to be discussed.
The Academy, like Hollywood, has had a racist, misogynist streak over the many decades. There have been many exceptions. But celebrating (or condemning) exceptions is silly on either side. And The Academy is a pretty liberal organization, just as Hollywood has been. Were the liberals of the 50s and 60s and 70s and 80s as progressive as liberals are today? Of course not. And neither was The Academy.
If you want to see The Academy offer reparations for its past, I won’t argue with you. But even those who feel that way are loath to acknowledge that, as that is seen to devalue reparative actions (like inviting Academy-disenfranchised industry participants to join with a lesser standard of entry than previously claimed).
I would argue – and do argue – that The Academy moved onto a new track with the expansion of Best Picture from five nominees to as many as 10. It’s near-comical when political progressives make arguments for narrowing the field back to five because the advantages of the BP non-expansion has all worked for progressivism in The Academy, so why would anyone who believes in those ideals want to go backwards?
This was not the intention of The Expansion. The hope, in part, was that the expanded list would end up including films with bigger box office and perhaps some smaller indies as well. But Academy membership, particularly starting in the second expanded season (2011 awards for 2010 releases), long before The Academy set out to make diversity a membership priority, didn’t jump on the biggest films of the year (with exceptions) but almost exclusively included prestige films that had grossed less. In fact, only two Top 5 domestic grossers to be nominated for Best Picture in the last decade (of 87 total nominees) are Toy Story 3 (10 seasons ago) and Black Panther.
Here’s another fact. In the 40 years before The Expansion, only three non-native-English-speakers (Milos Forman twice), no women, and no people of color won Best Director. Starting with the first year of The Expansion, The Academy has awarded non-native-English-speakers in seven of the 11 seasons, a woman once, and only onewhite American director.
Am I calling for a “Hooray, The Academy is now diverse!” celebration of these statistics? NO! I do think things have improved. But I don’t think the disparities in the industry have changed enough and as a reflection, the same is true in The Academy. It will take time. And I don’t think there are shortcuts. The 2020 effort changed the demographics in The Academy to some degree, but while there have been clear improvements on the gender front, the race issue remains a problem, as the expansion has sought out people of color mostly from other countries. And like it or not, The Academy is a domestic organization and acts as such, with no real embrace of the international beyond what was in place before the expansion.
But that is another column for another day.
The decision to expand to 10 Best Picture nominees (later adjusted to “between five and as many as 10”) came in June 2009. Precious was already one of the big buzz films out of Sundance (along with the more Academy-friendly An Education), before the change. At the festival, it had a very narrow path to a Best Picture nomination. Likewise, The Hurt Locker, a film I had championed since its North American premiere at Toronto in 2008, had received a failed May release by Summit, and seemed to have a hard road to Best Picture. Even come the fall festivals, the only obvious Oscar bait that stayed in play was Alexander Payne’s Up in the Air with George Clooney. Avatar was a giant question mark, The Coens’ A Serious Man was under siege as self-loathing Judaism, District 9 wasn’t that kind of film, The Blind Side didn’t even have a date yet, Up was a cartoon, and Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds was posited as too violent.
As it turned out, Avatar was the massive grosser that got in, though the overwhelming positive reaction to the then-singular 3D and fully CG experience, which has faded over time, seemed more the driver than its box office. The rest of the domestic Top 5, aside from Up, were sequels. There was talk about Top 10 grossers The Hangover, Star Trek, and Sherlock Holmes getting in. Didn’t happen. The Blind Side (#8) was a late November entry and it found success with audiences and a narrative with Sandra Bullock suddenly an Oscar front-runner.
But it was The Hurt Locker with $12.7 million (in first release), An Education with $12.6 million and A Serious Man with $9.2 million that surprised, getting in after doing such minimal business.
The story of the season became Kathryn Bigelow, who seemed locked down for Best Director, versus Jim Cameron (Kathryn’s ex-husband) and Avatar. Mega-movie vs Indie. Men vs Women. Etc, etc, etc.
Things rolled along and the main complaint was that The Academy had middling taste. The King’s Speech, The Artist, Argo. Then we had the 12 Years A Slave and Gravity year.
Trouble came with in the 87th and 88th Academy Awards. Selma only got Best Picture and Song (which it won). Then Straight Outta Compton and Will Smith’s Concussion were ignored and OscarSoWhite were born.
The tone for the 89th Academy Awards was different. Cancel Culture showed up for Oscar.
La La Land was the first film to be attacked relentlessly. The argument was not primarily that something else – Moonlight – was superior, but that La La Land was not worthy of consideration. La La Land won the fights on Oscar night, but Moonlight won the war (even though the filmmakers from both films were not participants in fighting the other film in any way).
The next season, it was Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri that was disqualified by Film Twitter and much of the media for not being about racism enough, made worse, in the argument, by the supporting character of Jason Dixon (played by Sam Rockwell) starting as a racist asshole and finding some degree of decency by the end of the film. The alternative choice of much of the anti-Three-Billboards crowds was Get Out, a terrific and terrifically popular thriller with a not-so-sub-text about race, written and directed by a black filmmaker, which was in the race thanks to a relentless and very expensive campaign by Universal. The result was a win for The Shape of Water.
Last season, Green Book was the movie most attacked. Did the failure to get the Get Out win after the Moonlight win inspire the Cancel group to raise the vitriol, both fearful of losing ground gained and anxious to believe that a more progressive change had become the norm? I can’t say. But Green Book was not argued just to be a bad movie, but it was everything wrong with Hollywood and older people and the history of white liberalism in America. There was a problem… a weird split between those who wanted Spike Lee to win for BlacKkKlansman and those who were happy to support Alfonso Cuarón for his second Directing win in four years and the fourth directing win in five years for one of the Three Amigos. Also complicating things was the foreign language and Netflix being behind Roma. So Green Book won and Cancel Culture took the hit.
This season, Ford v Ferrari was the first film to succeed with an audience and have the rug pulled out from under it. And it was very quick… A couple days from a happy, excited Telluride premiere for Patron Passholders. By Sunday, the gild was off the lily. The film was good… but not the kind of movie that should win Oscar. A bunch of competitive white guys.
Marriage Story was hot out of the box at Telluride, with Netflix’s other title, The Two Popes, getting unexpected raves. Parasite followed its success at Cannes with more in the mountains. Uncut Gems split the room between adoration and walkouts. Pain & Glory had everyone buzzing. And Waves, a black-cast movie with a young white director was the underdog getting a lot of love.
Jojo Rabbit and Joker came out of Toronto strong, where Joker was somewhat dismissed by the critical community as far as Oscar went. Joaquin. Not much else. But Jojo Rabbit started getting cancelled almost immediately. Audiences clearly loved it, so the knives came out as a certain number of critics came out brooding over the use of Berlin at the end of WWII – or “the Holocaust” as many insisted – as a source of comedy, leading to drama that was disqualified by the early laughs in the film. Winning the festival’s Audience Award made it undeniable as part of the Oscar season, which put even more of a focus of disdain on the film.
But like two seasons before, there really was no clear pick to fill the politically correct slot. Waves and Just Mercy just weren’t The One(s). Little Women and Bombshell were still to come and of unknown quality. The Irishman got the critics aboard, but there was too much talk about the length and the theatrical distribution and it just isn’t the crowning achievement of Scorsese’s breathtaking career. Marriage Story was embraced for its ambivalence, but that also seemed to disqualify it in a weird way.
Bombshell arrived and had a mixed reaction, but even some of those who seemed to like it a lot lingered on the issue of anything Fox News being anything less than scorched earth about the channel and everyone who worked there. I maintain that John Lithgow’s Roger Ailes was the supporting performance of the year… but few were okay with a Roger Ailes being humanized.
Little Women had a sparking debut screening… and then the moaning started about the story structure. (Oy.) And with that, the chance of having a female directing nominee started to slide.
But there was another key event. Neon was going all out to get Parasite a Best Picture nomination. Bong was the workhorse. The guy is lovable. The movie is excellent. And somewhere in early November, a Best Picture nomination for this film went from longshot to inevitability. And as the result of everything else happening around it, it became The Right Movie for those who want there to be a Right Movie.
On Sunday, November 24, the last serious entry into the Oscar season arrived. 1917. And in a day, the film became the favorite to win and the film that had to be stopped.
Of course, preferring Parasite is 100% fine. The film is deserving and it speaks, generally, to a different set of tastebuds than 1917,
But the reason I am writing this is that it hasn’t been a discussion of preference. Again. It has been about tearing down one film to get to the other. Not quite as severe as last year. But how many times does Variety’s lead critic write a piece about one of the nominees entitled, “Why 1917 Is the Last Film That Should Be Winning the Oscar”? How many times have you heard the argument that 1917 is nothing but the one-shot gimmick in the last 6 weeks? How often is the proposition offered that people don’t really love 1917 while the film was one of only three movies to gross $100 million in January with strong holds throughout the run?
Again… make the affirmative argument for Parasite or anything else you love. That’s the way it should be. But we are now in a culture that needs to argue for the failure of some films in order, some think, to raise up other films.
The unintentional result of the idiotic practice of publishing a handful of “secret honest voters” has been a contribution to this problem. They have made victims out of Parasite and other films, including, marginally, 1917. But a journalist publishing even eight – as EW did last week – secret voters in a voting group of over 9000 is just not remotely legitimate as journalism. It barely reaches the standard of gossip. And by the way…. why do we trust the people who publish this crap to be publishing what they are actually told? If they have no journalistic standard to start with, what is wrong with a little exaggeration?
I have considered my narrative from both sides. If 1917 loses to Parasite on Sunday night, it should not diminish Parasite in any way. Conversely, if 1917 wins, it is most definitely not because “they” took down Parasite, as no one has really been trying to do that.
But this is four years in a row where there has been this tone of Cancel Culture around Oscar. I don’t think it can be denied. The Shape of Water season was kind of a draw. Moonlight was a win. Green Book was a loss. (And “they” still won’t stop whining about it like stuck pigs.)
I actually do not think that a Parasite win on Oscar night would represent a win for Cancel Culture. That is giving it too much power and the love for Parasite is not just a reflection of malice towards any of the other films.
Cancel Culture, for these last four seasons, has replaced Dirty Tricks as the most powerful tool of the dark arts. (Dirty Tricks have a terrible track record, actually.) Disqualify Joker, Once Upon A Time… in Hollywood, 1917, Ford v Ferrari, and The Irishman as too male, particularly too white male. Take out Jojo Rabbit as morally offensive. That leaves three movies that can be “allowed” to win.
Next Oscar season is already loaded with “acceptable” titles. Two Latino musicals (West Side Story/In The Heights) . (I’m sure we will get details on the use or non-use of Latinx before the summer.) Aaron Sorkin has The Chicago Seven coming. Will Smith as the father of tennis’ Williams Sisters. Spotlight‘s Tom McCarthy is bringing another movie sure to be weighty. Christopher Nolan and Wes Anderson should be in the saddle (though Anderson got his last film, led by animated dogs, Cancelled).
Still no clear shots for female directing nominees. Promising Young Female is being released in April, which is tough for awards. Focus picked up Miranda July’s Kajillionaire and there is no date on it yet. (Looks like her husband, Mike Mills, and 24 will have his Joaquin Phoenix film, C’mon C’mon ready for this award season… hmmm…) Searchlight has The Eyes of Tammy Faye in the hopper for the fall, with Jessica Chastain as Tammy Faye Baker (and a male director). Rebecca Hall makes her directing debut with a thriller called Passing with Ruth Negga and Tessa Thompson. Universal has a female spy movie slotted in January, which could push into the season if it’s good enough. Others will turn up. But nothing locked in.
Denzel has a John Lee Hancock thriller coming. Viola has August Wilson’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom coming. Nothing from Octavia or Steve McQueen or Barry Jenkins.
Ridley Scott has a sword-y macho film due for Fox/Disney that is about to start shooting. That seems like it could be something to be an object of hate. Or maybe it will just suck. Always possible.
I hope that the cycle of Cancelling Oscar is over. More films that fit the ideal that is being held these days would be the best way for that to happen.
I don’t know if it’s possible to go through a season with the media pushing the positive and not the negative. The hard part is not the gloating over whatever victory has been achieved. It’s that success in taking down any given movie encourages the use of this tool the next year… and conversely, failure makes the attacks all the more passionate.
Oscar season is not a moral win/loss proposition. At its best, it is a celebration of movies. I wish us all the best.
Final voting closes today and I want to suggest another way to tear the whole thing up.
As discussed in the last column, I am putting aside all the reasons why change is agonizing in The Academy. My thought is to look at all the problems with current system and to devise a better way to embrace the status of The Academy while finding a realistic way to open things up.
Split up the season into segments officially.
Endless complaining about not being able to see movies. Insane amounts of money and time requests in a very short window from the end of October through the middle of January. Frustration about access to the process for films that are not armed with big dollars or a media wave that only ever really works for one, maybe two, movie(s). Too much DVD viewing and not enough on theater screens.
Break it up.
Group 1 – Up to 10 movies released between January 1 and April 30.
Group 2 – Up to 10 movies released May 1 through August 15.
Group 3 – Up to 10 movies released between August 16 – October 15.
Group 4 – Movies released between October 16 – December 31.
I know. It sounds complicated. But it is actually the road to simplicity and a greater degree of sanity.
Release your movie in the Group 1 period, get 2500 votes to be included from The Academy, which could run a vote anytime in the month of May, any you qualify to be on The Best Picture Short List. Of course, if there aren’t 10 films that can get to 2500 votes, the list from Group 1 would be shorter. If there are more than 10, the 10 highest vote counts get in. Simple.
Same deal with Group 2. And Group 3.
Screen in theaters all you like. No awards DVDs before October 1, though Group 1 films have the advantage of going to DVD/streaming release sometime in the summer.
Obviously, Group 4 is the most complicated. I would suggest just leaving that group without a qualifying votes. They would have the advantage of awards voting from other groups as instant promotion, but they would also be making the dangerous bet on their film being able to turn the corner quickly.
There are certainly quirks in this to be thought out over more time with more minds at work, but my belief is that a system like this would have little to no effect on the films that we have been talking about seriously for Oscar in the last 8 weeks… but could add some more titles to the conversation.
Obviously, a change in the rules that creates legit opportunity in every month of the year would draw more titles. But in Group 1 this last year, I see about 12 films that would be competing seriously for the 10 possible slots. The big commercial movies would be US, Avengers: Endgame, and The Upside.
This brings up the advantage of a system like this, where votes in the Qualifying Groups would not be as precious, so voters would likely allow themselves to vote for commercial movies they like, even if they don’t seem like traditional Best Picture nominees. As wee have seen with the expansion to more than 5 Best Picture nominees, qualifying more films expands the imagination of what “could win” with the voters.
Another group of potential qualifiers would be “real” indies, like Fast Color, Her Smell, Hotel Mumbai, The Mustang, Teen Spirit, and Under The Silver Lake.
A doc, like Apollo 11.
And then, International films, like Everybody Knows and Peterloo (which would surely have waited for the spring if it meant a better shot at qualifying and not sitting on the film for another 8 months).
My guess is that only 5 or 6 of the 11 titles I mentioned – and maybe a couple I did not – could make the 2500 vote cut. But what is the downside? Don’t we want docs and off-Oscar commercial movies and International films and True Indies to be in the discussion? Why not give these films a commercial and prestige boost without having to assure them Oscar nominations?
In Qualifying Group 2 this year, it could have been (in order of release) The Biggest Little Farm, The Souvenir, The Sun Is Also A Star, Echo in The Canyon, Booksmart, Rocketman, The Last Black Man in San Francisco, Pavarotti, Wild Rose, Midsommar, The Farewell, The Lion King, For Sama, Honeyland, The Peanut Butter Falcon. 15 titles. Obviously there would be others in play…but if 5 or 6 of these got the push of being “Oscar Qualifiers,” what is the downside?
At this point, we would be at August 15 with maybe 12 – 15 Qualified films. Only 1 of these is Oscar nominated for anything other than the tech categories as things went this year… and that is for Best Feature Doc.
If you want broader representation in the Oscar conversation, this would do it. Would any more of these titles show up in the actual nominations? No one knows. But with 4 months left in the year, Academy voters would have more time and a broader list to focus on, even if they don’t read their Twitter feeds all day.
September release has been a death zone for Best Picture Oscar nominations, so this Qualifying group may be the weakest. Aquarela, Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool, Brittany Runs a Marathon, Hustlers, Ad Astra, Downton Abbey, Judy, Lucy In The Sky, Joker, Parasite. You may have other choices. But maybe 6 qualifiers.
The final Qualifying Group is the strongest… at least as things sit now. Jojo Rabbit, The Cave, The Lighthouse, Motherless Brooklyn, Honey Boy, Waves, Ford v Ferrari, Dark Waters, A Beautiful Day in The Neighborhood, Queen & Slim, Knives Out, A Hidden Life, Richard Jewell, Bombshell, Uncut Gems, Invisible Life, Cats, Star Wars 9, Just Mercy, 1917, Little Women, Clemency.
Remember, this is an open Group. As many as get in for nominations get in, but no Qualifying. 4 of these titles are now nominated for Best Picture. Another half-dozen have some kind of Top 8 category footprint.
In a full year – and I assume films would move strategically, but not so much in and out of the year – the number of films being looked at seriously is about 30… same as now. But by spreading it the conversation in a real way, more films of more variety are getting the spotlight on them throughout the 8 months of the year when awards are really a minor conversation, at best.
This is similar to a strategy that has been used at The Academy by the Doc Branch, though they don’t qualify through the year. But trying to get members to see as many movies as possible is a challenged addressed by spreading things out.
I imagine the big complaint about this idea would be that it makes Oscar season a full year activity. But let’s be real. It is already a half-year activity. And we continue to complain about the time to see movies, the short period of intense focus, and the limited scope of the films that find their way to actual nominations. I see this idea as taking the pressure off of Sept-Dec a bit and giving more opportunity to a wider range of films to get a PR benefit in the form of qualifying. I just don’t see the downside to this.
Please offer your criticism and your ideas to improve Oscar.
The first story that everyone was all over after Lin-Manuel Miranda let the public know that Hamilton was coming to The Big Screen was the price tag. Disney paid $75 million, plus a commitment to a full theatrical release.
In every story was also the fact that the “film” of Hamilton was shot live on the Broadway stage with the original cast a few years back when they were just weeks away from breaking up.
There are a lot of layers to this that haven’t yet been chewed upon.
Unless you have Broadway HD or are over 50, you probably don’t remember when there was a regular stream of hit Broadway shows made for Great Performances, HBO, and other cable networks. And Hamilton: The Movie will be in the form of those made-for-television productions. It may be a great version of them. It may be average. The content of the show will out.
But still… interesting. As this is discussed, it was announced that Spike Lee will be making his second Broadway conversion -— first was Passing Strange, the new one, American Utopia — which he shows great style in doing, but it is still a live show shot on a stage.
But with the exception of Special Event programming onto movie theater screens by various companies, this kind of production of a stage show has never been released theatrically. Even The Pirates of Penzance, which was infamously the first and only studio experiment with day-n-date releasing (1983), was shot with the Broadway cast as a movie, not produced from a live production in the show’s Broadway theater.
Speculation that this is the most expensive movie pick-up in history isn’t really on point. It’s a project that had to cost well under $10 million to produce. It’s only “a movie” because they will release it in theaters. Also, the producers have sat on this shot footage for almost three years. The editing has surely been done for at least two years.
But let’s not shy away from the money. You can bet dollars to donuts that Netflix was in the mix on this release. $50 million for Hamilton would be, in Netflix dollars, nothing to spend on this production. They have paid $40 million for two hours of stand-up. Fifty for this would be a slam dunk. And it would be no surprise if they went for the $75 million price tag. But what they would not do is to commit to a full theatrical release. And Disney apparently did, along with a long future on Disney+.
But why does a theatrical release matter to Team Hamilton, especially when the actual content that they have made, no matter how cleverly, has always been television fare?
I would guess layers of intention, both from Disney and Team Hamilton.
1. Disney can likely turn $400 million or more worldwide with this theatrical, easily covering the cost. Mamma Mia! is the #1 Broadway-to-Movie conversion to date with $610 million worldwide. That film cost about $50 million to make, 11 years ago. La La Land grossed $446 million worldwide. Come 2022, people will wonder aloud why Team Hamilton didn’t push to get more. (Of course, they probably have back-end based on performance.)
2. Lin-Manuel Miranda will be in the 2020 Oscar race with In The Heights, but he can be there again in 2021 with Hamilton (that could also be why it isn’t being released this year).
3. Team Hamilton has been committed to bringing the stage show to audiences that do not have easy access to costly theater experiences. Assuming they feel that a movie theater showing takes an audience closer to the live theater experience than watching on a TV does, they can – and probably by contract, will – make a ton of unused weekday theatrical seats available to the financially challenged, to students, to the elderly non-theatergoers, etc. Streaming will make it available forever. But a theatrical window creates the opportunity to make this more than just another content release.
4. It simply makes business sense. Leaving what will be $100 million in profit or more on the table because it’s a little safer is buying into the foolish notion of theatrical not being an important profit center. By the time this “film” is actually released in theaters, there will surely be talk about streamers pushing some films to legitimate theatrical releases… because they are throwing away money by not doing so.
5. They can still make a “movie-movie” out of Hamilton after this plays out. A director with a vision for it can shape the material and create another theatrical release, not on a stage but on locations, that might well also be a hit. Remember… we will be getting a new version of West Side Story next December. If that hits, all bets are off.