“The fall to me is always a scary time. It’s a traffic jam of very good, upscale academy-type movies all vying for screens on the same date” — Picturehouse chief Bob Berney speakng to “The Envelope”/L.A. Times reporters Rachel Abramowitz and John Horn for what seems to be their first Oscar-related piece of the year, appropriately titled “Let The Battle Begin“.
L.A. Times “Oscar Beat” columnist Steve Pond, New York Post critic Lou Lumenick and yours truly are the first three Oscar Wise Guys to name favorites in the top three races — Best Picture, Best Actor and Best Actress — on Tom O’Neill‘s L.A. Times-sponsored “The Envelope” website. Nine other pundits willl soon join in.
O’Neill writes that Lumenick’s decision to put United 93‘s Ben Sliney on his Best Actor list is a thin out-on-a-limb call — I agree only in the sense that Sliney belongs in the Best Supporting Actor category. Otherwise, I think he gives one of the most convincing performances of the year in Paul Greengrass‘s 9/11 film. And my putting Factory Girl’s Sienna Miller on my Best Actress list isn’t out-on-a-limb either because I’ve seen a rough cut of that film and I know she kills in it.
Hollywood Wiretap‘s Pete Hammond dropped this idea in my lap the other day, but I’ve thought about it and he’s dead right: this year’s Best Actor Oscar race is starting to look like it might have some racial flavoring.
Things could change, obviously, but right now it’s looking like two of the stronger Best Actor contenders are African American — The Last King of Scotland‘s Forrest Whitaker and Catch a Fire‘s Derek Luke — and the current betting is that The Pursuit of Happyness star Will Smith will soon join them to make it three. And that’s not counting the distinct possibility of Djimon Honsou getting nominated for his performance in Ed Zwick‘s Blood Diamond. (I read somewhere that he registers more strongly than costar Leonardo DiCaprio.)
I haven’t heard anything trustworthy about Honsou’s performance (has anyone?) and it’s conceivable that Luke might not make the final cut (I would strongly disgaree with that but it’s early in the game and who knows?), but Whitaker and Smith are probable lock-downs. But if all four are nominated it could be a bit of a tinderbox. By which I mean it’s going to look a little bit gnarly for the Academy if a white actor — Peter O’Toole, say — wins the Best Actor Oscar with four African Americans vying for the same prize. Think about it. It’ll certainly look that way to some.
It’s a little early to get into this without anyone having seen Blood Diamond or The Pursuit of Happyness (I’m hearing that Columbia may be thinking about showing the Smith film sooner rather than later), but it’s something to keep in mind as things evolve.
2006 has been a significant just-say-no year as far as publicists screening (or not screening) movies for critics and journos. Earlier this year the trend of publicists deciding against holding press-screenings of mediocre movies seemed to accelerate. And now there’s a new development affecting…well, just Hollywood Elsewhere right now, but maybe others as the trend spreads. I’m speaking of being barred from screenings of a couple of films because of too much meanness and negativity in my postings.
I’ve been told in no uncertain terms that I’m off the invite list to screenings of Running With Scissors, in part because I wrote a piece about the implications of Ryan Murphy‘s film not going to Toronto (“The Old Toronto Sidestep” — a carefully-sculpted, fair-minded piece if I ever wrote one), and partly due to other jottings that have cast shadows. And apparently because I’ve been trashing Columbia and Sofia Coppola‘s Marie-Antoinette (once again — a very well-made, bold-stroke movie that I personally despise for its shallowness). And perhaps because I’ve also thoroughly trashed Columbia’s Stranger Than Fiction.
There’s another situation happening with Disney, apparently because I ran a negative pre-release review about the deplorable Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest. My piece followed the two trade reviews plus David Poland‘s rave, in which he used the word “joy” to describe the way Pirates had made him feel (and would presumably make others feel). Disney didn’t like that I did this (it’s okay to run raves in advance but publicists naturaly want pans to run on opening day) and of course we all know what a fatal blow critics reviews were to the grosses of both Pirate pics.
One result is that Disney didn’t invite me to Monday’s all-media showing of The Guardian. No great loss, you might say. But now I’m wondering if they’re going to do the same thing with screenings of Chris Nolan‘s The Prestige (10.20), which is supposed to be quite good.
I don’t know if these shut-outs are necessarily the beginnings of studio vendettas (probably not — every day brings a new negotiation, a new set of cirumstances), but I know now that at least two distribution execs from Disney and Columbia marketing have followed the example of a situation that was happening at the end of last year with New Line Cinema (which has had a long-standing problem with my anti-Peter Jackson rants — can anyone think of a franchise more impervious to the slings and arrows of sourpusses like myself than the Lord of the Rings trilogy?) .
And I’m starting to wonder if this is just a flare-up, or will it increase, or will it just be a constant factor from here on?
The bottom line is that studio publicists are freaking more and more about high-profile internet buzz, and the message in all of these shut-outs is obviously, “Cool your jets, consider the political realities, use more modifiers, play a better game of pattycake…or else.”
On one level I can see their point. A studio is certainly not obliged to provide free access to product before it is in the marketplace. But to those leaning in this direction, I say this: No, you’re not obliged to show it to me…but you’re obviously making a statement by saying no to screenings. If you were to say, ‘Here’s our film, take a look but absolutely no reviews until opening day’, I would respect that and adhere. But you’ve chosen to be instinctual and defensive instead, and that, as you must understand, speaks volumes.
Here’s an absolute Hollywood Reporter Key Art Award nominee for best movie poster — Steven Soderbergh‘s The Good German (Warner Bros., 12.8). The Berlin-based, black-and-white noir is set in the late 1940s, and the poster seems to have been designed back then also. It’s not a blindingly brilliant concept — a fairly obvious one, in fact — but something about it is unusually authentic-looking, like it was really and truly slapped together in 1948. George Clooney, Cate Blanchett and Tobey Maguire costar.
The Calgary Sun‘s Kevin Williamson spoke to yours truly a few days ago about the sudden trap-door trend of studio execs just saying ‘no’ to humungous big-star deals. “There is definitely a sea change [happening] in Hollywood,” said Hollywood Reporter int’l general manager John Burman. “Not just in L.A., but in the world.” And one my quotes was, “Is it definitely a bend in the river? Is it analogous to the 1989 [anti-socialist] revolution in Eastern Europe? I don’t know, but I love that idea .”
One look at this shot from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Warner Bros., 7.13.07) and it’s obvious that Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson have reached full biological maturity. They’re contractually obliged, of course, to portray “Harry” and “Hermione” in the movie, but given the formulaic rigidity and corporate salivation behind this franchise, any and all implications of what being in your mid-teens inevitably involves will almost certainly be ignored/repressed. Which means that the fanciful archness of the franchise is about to intensify a bit more.
Radcliffe and Watson in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Radcliffe, 17, is due to play the lead role in Equus (which requires full-frontal nudity) on the London stage next spring, and Watson, 16, posed last year for a couple of fashion mags and has almost certainly been galavanting about as girls her age always do. But if the Pheonix dialogue and/or plot in contains so much as a whiff of what’s stirring within these two in real life, I think we’ll all plotz en masse .
The Potter series is selling a lot of tickets and making a lot of people rich, but it’s a completely dead charade. The vitality has been leaking out for some time now. Alfonso Cuaron‘s Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (’04) is the last one that half-mattered, and even with that one I was getting very tired of watching the same old shite. Mike Newell’s Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was another laborious slog, only more so. Now the series is down to hiring the likes of David Yates to direct.
On top of which Radcliffe has turned out to be Mickey Rooney, as this group portrait indicates.
“‘[My parents] didn’t like the class system, and the royal family is the pinnacle of the class system. I was brought up very anti-monarchist. I was a bit cheeky, a little uppity [in my younger days] about why the queen won’t smile. Does it hurt her to smile? Isn’t that what she’s there for?’ ” — Helen Mirren talking about her much-admired performance in Stephen Frears‘ The Queen (Miramax, 9.30) with Newsweek‘s Barbara Kantrowitz.
“I’ve finally seen Tom Tykwer‘s Perfume in a plex in my home town of Augsburg, Germany , and I’m even more convinced that it will go the route of The Name of the Rose, which was a blockbuster in Europe ($120 million) while earning a miniscule $7 million in the U.S.,” says a former exhibitor who runs a site about box-office in Germany and elsewhere.
“Just keep in mind that Perfume has so far grossed $31.8 million in five European markets in just 11 days.
“Even though it feels a bit lengthy in parts, the movie never feels like its actual length of 150 minutes , give or take.
“If Dreamamount decides to push an Academy campaign, the camera work, art design, costumes and the score are definitely Oscar-nomination material. And Dustin Hoffman is wonderful as Guiseppe Baldini, and the unknown Ben Whishaw a pleasant surprise. (Only Alan Rickman suffers due to his role not being meaty enough.)
“But I wonder if the flagrant nudity and very sensual tone [in the film] and an unforgettable opening scene that led to a local woman fainting in a nearby theatre — a scene depicting Whishaw’s birth in a filthy Parisian fish market full of fish innards and other disgusting stuff (you can almost smell the bad air) — will result in resistance among U.S. moviegoers.
“Not to mention the strange ending, which is based more or less on the novel. I’m just wondering if the mainstream American audience will rather feel confused than satisfied
“I’m also wondering if the U.S. one-sheet is in synch with American tastes. It (rightfully) hints at nudity and I do not recall that many U.S. one-sheets do this, probably for good reason. For Americans the movie is artsy with nudity for sure, for European tastes it√É¬¢√¢‚Äö¬¨√¢‚Äû¬¢s a mixture of artsy and mainstream — the nudity doesn√É¬¢√¢‚Äö¬¨√¢‚Äû¬¢t matter at all.”
Warner Bros. is telling me they still haven’t decided when to release Clint Eastwood’s second Iwo Jima movie — the Japanese language Letters from Iwo Jima. Despite what Variety editor Peter Bart wrote on 9.3.06 with Clint’s apparent input (i.e., that Flags of Our Fathers “will open Oct. 20” [and then] Letters From Iwo Jima will open two months later“), I’ve been told that senior Warner Bros, distribution execs intend to open Letters sometime in January ’07, or perhaps even later…but they aren’t sure when.
All I could get from a Warner Bros. publicity rep today was two things: (a) “I know absolutely nothing …as soon as I do I’ll call you” and (b) an acknowledgement of a possible difference of opinion between the Eastwood camp and the Warner Bros. team about when it would be best to open Letters.
I asked why Bart, who’s friendly with Eastwood and clearly seemed to have spoken to him before writing his piece, would write that “Letters will open “two months later” following the 10.20 Flags debut — or roughly 12.20. “Sometimes the wishes of the filmmaker aren’t the same as the wishes of the studio,” came the reply.
WB distribution brass screened Letters last Wednesday, I’m told, and presumably met not long after to discuss their plans for the film’s distribution. They’ve now had at least three business days to think things through, and yet there’s stll no decision. How many days do they need?, I asked. Do they need to go up to the wilds of eastern Utah and camp out and talk about it a few more days? Why don’t they just decide and pull the trigger already?
The idea in releasing Letters from Iwo Jima in early ’07 is that it might split Best Picture votes away from Flags of Our Fathers. Trust me, the odds against that happening are very high. Call it xenophobia or call it native loyalty, but a Japanese-language, Japanese-soldier movie meant to be considered alongside an American war movie about American soldiers in the same theatre of battle s going to be regarded as strictly backup .
I wrote a couple of days ago that Flags of Our Fathers and Letters From Iwo Jima “are joined-at-the-hip movies — same war backdrop, same battle, same director, same color scheme. Some of the same incidents, according to Peter Bart’s 9.3.06 Variety piece, are depicted in both.
“How, given all this, can they not be considered as a single unified work? What person with any respect for what Eastwood has apparently constructed here would argue for Flags to be released on 10.20.06 and Letters to be released in January ’07, which would mean that the latter wouldn’t qualify as a ’06 Best Picture candidate? Especially given one guy’s view that the Japanese film is the ‘better’ work?”
“The humiliating box office returns for All the King’s Men may have trickled in over the weekend (a pathetic $3.8 million), but the death knell sounded almost a year ago and unintentionally came out of its producers’ mouths. When Sony Pictures announced, just two months before the film’s planned Christmastime release, that its opening would be pushed into the next year, the official reason was that more time was needed to complete the editing and score.
“But the unmistakable message sent to savvy audiences (that means everyone now) was: This movie is in trouble,” begins a 9.26 Caryn James piece in the New York Times.
“The studio ignored one of the harshest realities of movie marketing today: It’s almost impossible to recover from bad buzz. Studios wield their marketing campaigns as they always have, priming audiences to expect the best. But with the media following every twist of a movie’s progress, viewers head to theaters loaded with behind-the-scenes information. A current television spot for the Ashton Kutcher-Kevin Costner action film, The Guardian (opening Friday), actually flaunts its preview audience test scores, calling it ‘one of the best-playing and highest-scoring movies in the history of Touchstone Pictures.'”
“Even insidery advertising campaigns, though, can’t change the fact that blogs, television infotainment and mainstream entertainment reporting can amount to an anti-marketing campaign, priming audiences for the worst.”
And I love this graph….
“Desperately trying to spin viewers with higher expectations, All the King’s Men set itself up for failure because it is impossible to forget a year’s worth of factoids. When Sean Penn first appears on screen in the film, as the self-described hick and soon-to-be-political-savant Willie Stark, his short-sided period haircut may jog your memory: that’s the funny haircut he had at the Oscars two years ago.”