Warning: this post may induce jet lag

This week’s box office preview is coming up in a bit, but in the meantime here’s a very cool little video by director Jason Reitman of “Up in the Air.” He calls it a “Press Tour Simulator” and, though I’ve never been on that kind of tour to promote a movie, it sure does strike me as a reasonable facsimile.

Lost In The Air: The Jason Reitman Press Tour Simulator from Jason Reitman on Vimeo.

Not bad. I don’t think it’s possible to simulate the vague nausea that answering essentially the same questions over and over again must induce. This, however, might give you some idea of what being a frequent interview subject must be like.

  

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DGA nominations: no surprises

If you’ve been following the various awards and awards nominations that have been coming out of the past several weeks, there’s a good chance you can guess exactly what the Directors’ Guild nominations are without me even telling you. But just for the sake of latecomers, the casual and those who can’t be bothered, they are:  Kathryn Bigelow for “The Hurt Locker,” James Cameron for “Avatar,” Lee Daniels for “Precious,” Jason Reitman for “Up in the Air” and Quentin Tarantino for “Inglourious Basterds.” It would be a fairly big surprise if the Oscar’s nominees were a whole lot different.

Gregg Kilday at THR points out that Lee Daniels is the first African-American to be nominated (!!!!) and Kathryn Bigelow is joining the very small club of women to be nominated for the award. However, you can be sure that if she wasn’t nominated, her absence would have been the story, considering how her film has been received up to now. The same might have gone for Daniels, though perhaps to a lesser degree as he has more detractors.

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My hunch is that Bigelow also enjoys a somewhat better better chance to actually win than did such past female nominees as Lina Wertmuller, Jane Campion, Sofia Copolla, and, yes, Barbara Streisand, though the competition is mighty stiff. Of course, there’s always some controversy, so now the question is, why leave out first-timer Tom Ford of “A Single Man”? And so, the Playlist asks  a related question: “Too Gay or Too Little Money?”

Fun fact time: This is also the first time, I’m pretty sure, a once-married coupled (Bigelow and James Cameron) have been nominated to oppose each other for the directors’ awards. Of course, once we succeed with overturning Proposition 8, that could get more common even if the DGA remains predominantly a boys’ club.

On a related note: The BAFTAS long list.

  

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“Avatar” tops a weekend of holiday box office bounty

If you’ve been following the horse-race over at Nikki Finke’s place, you’ll know it’s been a very long holiday weekend of box office ups and down. However, for those of us who can wait a day or two for the results, it’s actually somewhat simple.

Avatar movie image (3)

James Cameron‘s super-expensive 3-D extravaganza for Fox, “Avatar,” emerged as the victor of a three-way battle for the top prize with an outstanding second-weekend estimated take of $75 million and an absolutely minuscule drop from it’s first weekend of 2.6%, according to Box-Office Mojo. The Hollywood conventional wisdom has it that most science fiction films drop by at least 50% on their second weekend. Clearly, this is not most science fiction films and the fact that people are waiting to see this one in 3D and paying extra for the privilege is not hurting. So, as I’ve alluded to often enough, the word of mouth on this thing is something else. However, as always, I await the backlash as some folks plunk down their extra-heavy 3D ticket price and fail to have a religious experience.

Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law as Holmes and Watson, or some version thereofSecond place, of course, was Guy Ritchie’s unorthodox action-comedy take on probably the oldest genre franchise in the biz, “Sherlock Holmes.” The Robert Downey, Jr./Jude Law team-up loosely drawn from the late 19th/early 20th century works of Arthur Conan Doyle defeated “Avatar” and all-comers on its record setting Christmas opening. It then fell a bit and earned a still whopping estimated $65.38 for Warner Brothers, a company that certainly has some experience with franchises. Better yet, this one is in the public domain, which means fewer folks get a share in the wealth.

Fox’s “Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel” actually beat “Avatar” by a couple of million on its early opening day last Wednesday, but fell sharply on Christmas Eve and rebounded the rest of the weekend, for a very healthy estimated third place showing of $50.2 million. Critics may detest it; parents may barely tolerate it, but, to paraphrase the old blues song, the little kids understand (or don’t know any better). The film’s total estimated take starting from its early opening is just a tad over $77 million.

Considering it’s a Golden Globe-nominated sex comedy presumably aimed at a very grown-up audience — not only because of the average age of its stars but also because it’s R-rated, Universal’s “It’s Complicated” has generated the critical equivalent of a shrug, with our own David Medsker coming down on the very much negative side. That doesn’t bode extremely well for this sort of movie, which can use all the critical and awards help it can get.

Meryl Streep and Alec Baldwin in Still, this weekend’s rising tide managed to lift this boat to the tune of an estimated $22 million or so, which is really not bad for this kind of film. Or, it wouldn’t be because Nikki Finke claims the budget was $80 million, which is way high for this kind of movie  and suggests to me that it’s possible stars Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin, and Steve Martin let their agents negotiate extra-hard for a big pay-day because they were perhaps less than wowed by the film artistically. Universal just doesn’t seem to be cutting itself any breaks lately.

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Christmas mish-mosh at the box office

I have to keep this fairly short tonight, but suffice to say that things are going to be very busy over this long Christmas holiday weekend and just how it will shake out is anyone’s guess. I’m certainly not going to try, though I think it’s safe to say the battle for the #1 spot will be between the second weekend of the Fox-released “Avatar” and Guy Ritchie’s action/comedy oriented “Sherlock Holmes” starring Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law as Holmes and Dr. Watson. It’s getting pretty decent reviews as well, though the Rotten Tomatoes “Top Critics” are split down the middle. Not that that’s likely to mean one less dollar in Warner Brothers’ coffers.

There is another strong commercial contender, it actually opened today, and it’s reviews are anything but decent. I speak of “Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel” from Fox, which was excoriated by our own David Medsker and 75% of critics in general. Still, La Finke reports that online sales are unusually strong and one should never underestimate the power of kiddie appeal. At the same time, it goes a lot better when parents don’t leave the theater angry and making a mental note to keep up with their birth control regimen — and Disney’s “The Princess and the Frog” is still relatively fresh and it seems a lot more parent-friendly.

Also, there’s plenty of action in grown-up/awards-movie-ville. Nancy Myers’ rom-com, “It’s Complicated” with Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin, and Steve Martin, might get a boost from older moviegoers, particularly women, happy to see folks their own age actually still having sex and stuff in movies. However, the Golden Globe nominations it garnered may be a flash in the pan as the critics are not especially impressed. This looks like a case of the Globes living up to their rep and being notably star-struck.

In somewhat fewer theaters, major Oscar contender “Up in the Air,” finally goes into the releasing big leagues for Paramount, expanding into 1,895 theaters according to Box Office Mojo. The Rob Marshall-directed “Nine” is going into 1,412 theaters. The flashy Broadway musical adaptation with a cast that includes Daniel Day Lewis, Penelope Cruz, Marion Cotillard, Kate Hudson, Nicole Kidman, the eternal sex goddess/great actress Sophia Loren and, for all I know, the reanimated corpses of Greta Garbo and Clara Bow, has long been touted as an Oscar contender but, looking at the disappointed reviews, I seriously have to wonder. A poorly reviewed musical hasn’t been a hit at the Oscars since the badly bloated “Oliver!” and “Hello Dolly!” were released in 1968 and 1969. “Nine” might do okay because of its sexy/smart ad campaign and star power, but it’s hard to imagine a critically unloved Fellini-derived musical having any kind of staying power at the box office and even harder to imagine it having a more than token showing at the Oscars — but then I’m forgetting those ten best picture slots.

Fashion designer Tom Ford’s directorial debut, “A Single Man” starring Colin Firth, has been racking up a lot of acclaim and awards heat, and is opening in 46 theaters. It’s a probable art house hit, and Firth is one of those actors who just keeps getting more interesting.

Finally, Box Office Mojo isn’t saying how many theaters it’s opening in, but Terry Gilliam’s semi-surrealist fantasy, “The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus,” is coming out this Friday; it’s the film Heath Ledger was midway through production on when he died suddenly in early 2008, but which was completed by casting the late actor’s friends Johnny Depp, Jude Law, and Colin Farrell to play aspects of his character. My review of it is forthcoming so I’ll keep my opinion to myself for now, though it has scored an RT rating of 62%. I understand it’s done okay in Europe, but my strong hunch is that commercially it’s a non-factor here.

http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/sherlock_holmes_2009/?critic=creamcr
  

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Celluloid Heroes: Best Directors of the Decade

When it comes to making movies, it may be the actors who rake in the big bucks, but anyone who knows anything about the business will tell you that it’s the director who truly makes the film what it is. With the exception of the annual barrage of award shows, directors are never really given the attention that they deserve, so as part of our ongoing look back at the movies of the 2000s, here is a list of the best directors of the decade. Though I had originally intended to keep the list to just five names, it quickly became obvious that it would be impossible to do, especially when you consider just how many great movies each one delivered over the course of the last ten years.

7. Wes Anderson

Love him or hate him, Wes Anderson knows how to make great movies. Though he’s remembered more for his quirky screenplays than his ability behind the camera, Anderson seems to have a hand in every single detail of his movies, and that’s a telltale sign of someone in love with their craft. He also boasts one of the best stables of actors in town (Bill Murray, Angelica Huston, the Wilson brothers, etc.), and more recently, nabbed such in-demand actors as George Clooney and Meryl Streep to voice a couple of talking foxes in a stop-motion animated film that’s actually better than Pixar’s latest. Add to that one of the best comedies of the decade in “The Royal Tenenbaums,” the cult favorite “The Life Aquatic,” and the criminally underrated “The Darjeeling Limited,” and his place on this list suddenly doesn’t seem so unwarranted.

6. Clint Eastwood

Sometimes working too much can have a counteracting effect, because while Clint Eastwood was able to bang out nine films over the course of the last decade, it’s his hit-and-miss track record that ultimately prevents him from finishing higher on the list. For every “Letters from Iwo Jima,” there’s a “Flags of Our Fathers,” and while films like “Million Dollar Baby,” “Mystic River” and “Gran Torino” are easily some of the best movies of their respective years, “Space Cowboys” and “Changeling” are some of the worst. His latest film, “Invictus,” falls somewhere in between, and that’s only because he makes the subject material better than it is. Still, if there’s anything we can learn from a guy like Eastwood, it’s that sometimes less is more.

5. Peter Jackson

Apart from making three of the biggest movies of the decade, Peter Jackson also tackled a remake of one of the most iconic movie monsters of all time and a best-selling novel where the main character spends a majority of the story in heaven. If “The Fellowship of the Ring” hadn’t become a worldwide sensation, though, Jackson’s career could have gone down a very different path. After having been entrusted by New Line Cinema to shoot all three “Lord of the Rings” films back-to-back, Jackson returned the favor by delivering a worldwide sensation that kept the studio in business for a few more years (before merging with Warner Bros.), while making a name for himself as a visual maestro. That led to another pet project, “King Kong,” and eventually to a big screen adaptation of “The Lovely Bones.” Neither one is quite as good as the “LOTR” trilogy, but then again, neither are most movies.

4. Joel and Ethan Coen

The Brothers Coen got off to a great start in 2000 with the musical comedy “O Brother, Where Art Thou?,” only to follow it up with duds like “Intolerable Cruelty” and “The Ladykillers.” Of course, I’ve resisted from even mentioning “The Man Who Wasn’t There” because, although not exactly a failure, it had absolutely no impact on me. They eventually turned things around with the 2007 Oscar winner, “No Country for Old Man,” which was not only one of the best films of their career, but of the decade as well. “Burn After Reading” saw them revisit their quirkier side, while “A Serious Man,” although much different from their other films in that it doesn’t feature a single big-name actor, is the kind of movie that you need to watch more than once to fully appreciate. That could be considered a negative in this day and age, but it’s exactly that disregard for mainstream audiences that makes their work so memorable.

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