Directors Guild and Visual Effects Society Nominations

Historically, the Directors Guild nominations, and even the actual awards, have tended to correlate with the Oscars both for Best Picture and Best Director to some degree. Now that the Oscars have ten nominations, that might dilute things a bit. Even so, I think it’s fair to say that the this year’s five nominees have excellent shots at getting a Best Director nomination and are close to a lock for Best Picture nominations.

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The nominees are: Darren Aronofsky for “Black Swan,” David Fincher for “The Social Network,” Tom Hooper for “The King’s Speech,” Christopher Nolan for “Inception,” and David O. Russell for “The Fighter.” Among the directors excluded who made films a lot of people are pulling for are two women: Lisa Cholodenko of “The Kids Are All Right” and Debra Ganik of “Winter’s Bone.” As Anne Thompson points out, the Guild has been slightly more open to nominating women than the Academy in the past. On the other hand, after last year’s big win for Kathryn Bigelow, it’s possible some of the pressure is off, or not.

Though it’s not as earth shaking, we movie fans like our movie special effects and the Visual Effects Society has made their nominations. No big surprises here either as the nominees for the movie with best effects are “Inception,” “Iron Man 2 ,” “Tron: Legacy,” “Alice in Wonderland,” and “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1.” I think it’s fair to say that visually stunning “Inception” should have the lead here, but we’ll see. In animation the nominees are: “How to Train Your Dragon,” “Toy Story 3,” “Tangled,” “Shrek Forever After,” and “Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole.”

The complete lists of award nominations, including a huge list from the VSA, are after the jump.

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Weekend box office: “Tron: Legacy” leads a slow weekend; “How Do You Know” when you’ve made an expensive bomb? Not hard this weekend.

It came in at the top spot without  breaking a sweat, but if Disney was expecting “Tron: Legacy” to turn a cult-hit 1982 science fiction concept masquerading as a movie into an instant mega-franchise, they made a problematic bet. On the other hand, while it doesn’t explain the miserable performance of the latest from James L. Brooks (“Broadcast News”), Nikki Finke points out that this is a weekend when an awful lot of people are busy traveling and shopping and movies tend to take a back-seat.

Tron: Legacy

So, that leaves it to the young fanboys to support something like “Tron.” They shelled out the money for those expensive 3D tickets and Anthony D’Alessandro says that 3D accounted for an unsurprising 82% of the tickets. This is not a movie you see for the story and characterization. The total estimated take for the Mouse House was $43.6 million according to Box Office Mojo, well short of the 50 million La Finke says they were hoping for. This includes a Friday morning 12:00 A.M. opening, by the way.

The #2 film this weekend was “Yogi Bear.” In its favor, it is a partially CGI animated family comedy. In its disfavor, it’s a cheap looking knock-off of a character that kids love and adults remember fondly — but rarely watch because, to an adult, those old Hanna-Barbara cartoons aren’t hugely funny. On the other hand, it’s always fun to say “pic-a-nic basket.” With unsurprisingly lousy reviews, the 3D film was able to get enough families in the door to earn an estimated $16.7 million for Warner Brothers.

In its second weekend, “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader” managed to keep its drop-off to 48.3% and earned an estimate of $12.4 million for Fox in the #3 spot. The $150 million film is benefiting from decent business overseas.

Going wide for the first time this week, “The Fighter” punched slightly above its weight and earned a very solid $12.2 million estimate. With a total so far of roughly $12.6 million, the award-contending David O. Russell crowd-pleaser has already won enough purses to get more than half its $25 million budget back. “Black Swan” which expanded much more modestly in terms of theater counts, also did extremely well with an estimated $8.3 million in the #7 spot, despite being in only about 1/3 as many theaters as most of its competition.

Jack Nicholson phones home in And then we get to “How Do You Know” — a movie I once had hopes for. Still, I knew something was up with word that it cost $120 million but, as I’ve joked before, couldn’t even afford to purchase the correct punctuation for its title. As Brooks is a more reliable Oscar nominee than a money maker and the movie is, after all, a romantic comedy and not an EFX showcase, this seemed weird. With poor reviews and no award nominations, this is a movie without a constituency other than whatever power the all-star cast led by Reese Witherspoon can muster. Jack Nicholson, in particular, is being accused of a phoned-in performance. At a salary of $12 million, that’s one expensive toll call.

  

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Weekend box office: “The Voyagle of the Dawn Treader” and “The Tourist” on a dull trip

Things should perk up a bit at the box office next weekend with “Tron: Legacy” and “How Do You Know,”  but this weekend is proving to be a bust. As was just about certain on Thursday, “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader” came in on top, but that doesn’t mean the news is good.

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The estimate of $24.5 million for the weekend over at Box Office Mojo is more than $10 million shy of the low-end figures that jolly Carl DiOrio trumpeted and which sounded perfectly reasonable to me. Apparently, this series is not being greeted with anything like the same sort of loyalty a Harry Potter or “Lord of the Rings” receives. Just as apparently, Fox and Walden Media’s strategy of targeting those sometimes Harry-negative and nearly always C.S. Lewis-positive evangelical Christian groups didn’t do much. Sometimes people can tell when they’re being marketed to and they don’t always like it.

Even so, this series tends to do very well abroad. Also, as Nikki Finke mentions, the studio is banking on word of mouth to help smooth things over. I imagine the reason for that is the Cinemascore A rating mentioned by Anthony D’Alessandro. Fox’s decision to take this off Disney’s hands, while reducing the outsize budgets, may still prove wise.

It’s budget was a mere $100 million, about $50 million less than “Dawn Treader, and the difference between the prediction and the reality is not as enormous. However, this weekend’s #2 film’s grosses are not something that will put a spring in the step of Sony executives. “The Tourist” nailed an estimate of $17 million for the weekend, as opposed to the $20 million figure that was thrown out earlier. It might be a bit harsh for Nikki Finke to use the “tank” word, but expectations had already been tamped down hugely for a movie from a hot young director starring, pretty literally, the two most famous actors in the world.

Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp in

When a movie directed by a critical darling like Florian Henckel von Donnersmark (“The Lives of Others”) gets drubbed by critics the way this one has — and the Rotten Tomatoes “top critics” have been especially harsh — there’s more at work than the sophomore slump. On the other hand, “The Tourist” did nail a decent B from Cinemascore, for what that’s worth. We’ll see whether my glib line about this being a movie with a great pedigree that could turn out be just a dog applies to the worldwide box office over the long haul. Despite everything, this could be another “Knight and Day.” Unfortunately, a movie doesn’t have to be particularly liked by anyone to do well.

It’s award season and things are looking a lot more interesting right now in the world of limited release. The week’s highest per-screen average by far was at the four theaters showing “The Fighter.” Grosses for director David O. Russell’s apparent comeback after the box office failure of “I Heart Huckabees” averaged $80,000, for an outstanding opening weekend estimate of $320,000. It’s pretty clear that Paramount’s evident commercial confidence in this film was eminently justified.

Natalie Portman in Also doing amazing business, “Black Swan” enjoyed a boffo second weekend with an average of over $37,000 in 90 theaters. It was actually the #6 movie in the country while showing in only a tiny fraction of the theaters its competitors are playing in, and garnered an estimate of over $3.3 million. Considering the ballet thriller’s $5.6 total take so far, a budget of only $13 million, and the near certainty of multiple Oscar nominations, this could be the year’s sleeper cash cow. I haven’t seen it yet, but I will say that studios should never underestimate the cross-gender appeal of over-the-top melodrama and a bit of terror. Fox Searchlight was smart not to.

  

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It’s your extremely abbreviated end of the week movie news dump

I’ve got just a little less than an hour to write this up tonight, but let’s see how much we can get through.

* RIP Jill Clayburgh. I’ll have more in remembrance of this very fine actress tomorrow. She passed on from chronic lymphocytic leukemia, an illness she’d been dealing with for more than 20 years.

* This makes me feel a bit old since I remember him before he was President of the United States in “The West Wing” and even before he was a very bad possible future U.S. President in “The Dead Zone,” Martin Sheen will be Peter Parker’s oh-so-doomed old Uncle Ben in the Marc Webb “Spiderman” reboot. Making me feel even a bit older, Sally Field is looking like a likelihood as Aunt May, who was always drawn by artists like Steve Ditko and John Romita as if she were about 99 years old. Of course, these days we mainly see her selling hawking Boniva for bone health, so I guess should just adjust to the new reality that Sister Bertrille (aka “The Flying Nun”)/Sybil/Norma Rae isn’t a baby anymore. And I really do like her. I really do.

* The very interesting, talented, and occasionally irritating (when he writes op-eds about with premises about the impact of movie violence I disagree with) Mike White has been offered the gauntlet of “Pride and Prejudice with Zombies” recently dropped by the equally interesting but more experienced David O. Russell. White is best known as a writer and actor. His most fiscally successful screenplay — in which he also acted — was the terrific “School of Rock.” In quirkier times, he starred in and wrote 2000’s “Chuck and Buck” as well as “The Good Girl.” This will be his second directorial outing, the first being…I don’t remember the name and you don’t either. It’s a bold and interesting choice, I will say that.

* A lot of people thought his “Hot Tub Time Machine” was kind of toxic (others thought it funny; I thought it not seen by me…I’ll get to it someday), so I guess it makes sense that Steve Pink’s next project will apparently be a remake of “The Toxic Avenger.” Gross-out franchise, here he comes.

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* Boy, that Lars von Trier is so f*cking suave.

* AFM, the American Film Market, has been going all week. It’s an event where lots of smaller films find distribution and foreign deals are made. Deadline has some interesting deals today. “The Giant Mechanical Man” might sound like one quirky rom-com too many, but any film with Jenna Fischer and Topher Grace in the lead has my attention. Starting up also is the AFI Film Festival, which I’ll be checking out some over the weekend and there may be some quickie off-the-cuff impressions of the movies there coming from there.

* And finally, I’ve been guilty of ignoring the MGM bankruptcy this week, and I’m writing this directly across the street from the Sony lot, the home of Leo the Lion in his prime and for many years past that. Anyhow, the Wall Street Journal summarizes the situation numerically. Reminding us that, adjusted for inflation, “Gone With the Wind has made $1.6 billion. On the other hand, the studio only had one movie in the top 50 this year. What was it? The aforementioned “Hot Tub Time Machine.”

  

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Trailer time: David O. Russell’s “The Fighter” is biographical, not autobiographical

Okay, so David Russell is probably most famous in more gossipy quarters for his fistfight with George Clooney and his verbal meltdown with Lily Tomlin. However, he’s actually a consistently intriguing, extremely talented writer-director. His latest film appears to be a major change of pace — an entirely non-ironic fact-based boxing tale about “Irish” Mickey Ward and his ne’er do well brother, who I admittedly had never heard of until just now — which will no doubt invite perhaps inaccurate comparisons as some kind of real-life “Rocky” or a Boston “Raging Bull.” Mark Wahlberg, Amy Adams and very different Christian Bale star. (I didn’t even recognize Bale, who I imagine got along famously with fellow video tantrum throwing Russell, until late in the trailer. Impressive.)

And, what is it with tough Bostonians in the movies lately? I mean, aren’t there any other cities full of tough guys with interesting accents? Next time, filmmakers, considering setting your tales of betrayal and redemption on the mean streets of, I don’t know, Tacoma or Milwaukee. Meanwhile, excuse while I paak the cah in Bastan yahd.

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