True Sh*t: Ten Movies the 2011 Academy Award Nominees Don’t Want You to See

Everyone has taken that soul-sucking job in order to pay the bills. And while we proles may tease them for living the glamorous life, actors probably take that job more often than anyone, since they never know when the next job is going to come. (Case in point: Michael Madsen told us that he categorizes the movies he’s made as “good,” “bad,” and “unwatchable.”) Putting this theory to the test, we scoured the filmographies of this year’s nominees in the acting categories, looking for movie titles that screamed ‘bad idea.,’ and we were not disappointed with what we found. Jesse Eisenberg, for example, did a TV movie called “Lightning: Fire from the Sky,” which will be the main feature at our next Bad Movie night. Here are ten other films that this year’s candidates would probably prefer remained unseen.

Colin Firth (Best Actor, “The King’s Speech”)

Movie: Femme Fatale (1991)
IMDb rating: 4.6
The plot: An English artist-turned park ranger falls for and marries a stranger, only for her to disappear days later. As he learns more about his wife, he gets deeper and deeper into the Los Angeles underworld looking for clues that will lead him to her.
Firth’s character: Joe Prince, the aforementioned artist/ranger.
How bad is it?: You may not see the ending coming, but that is about the only thing this movie has going for it. Armed with one of the most awkward love scenes we’ve seen in ages, this movie does not gel on any level, using mental illness as a means of providing psychological depth, not to mention Acting!, with that last word ideally spoken like Jon Lovitz. Firth is actually passable here, given the material, and Danny Trejo pops up as a tattoo artist. But you can bet that when someone assembles a clip show of Firth’s finest moments, this movie will not make the cut.

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Bullz-Eye’s TCA 2011 Winter Press Tour Wrap-Up: Kneel Before Oprah!

The TCA Winter Press Tour is an event which never quite seems to live up to the TCA Summer Press Tour…but, then, that stands to reason, as the mid-season series rarely match the ones which hit the airwaves in the fall, right? Still, the experience never fails to be one which I enjoy, mostly because you never know what’s going to be around the corner, and Day 1 really set the stage for that: during the course of 12 hours, I interviewed Betty White, Henry Rollins, and Bruce Jenner, and, thanks to National Geographic, I wore a giant snake around my neck. Not a bad way to begin things…

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Winter 2011 TCA Press Tour: Top 10 Quotes from Day 4

Not all of the critics who attend the TCA Press Tour care a lot about PBS’s days of the tour, but I always try to attend as many of their panels as possible. For one reason, I’m a longtime Anglophile, so it’s like shooting fish in a barrel to convince me that I ought to check out a new episode from one of the “Masterpiece” shows. For another, I’m a former record store clerk and music critic, so the concerts are always an easy sell. And then, of course, you’ve got the retrospectives of various actors, films, and televisions series. Basically, there are any number of reasons for me to get excited about PBS…and, as usual, they gave me several this tour.

Breakfast came with an introduction from and a short Q&A with Jose Andres, host of “Made in Spain,” a show which I now feel like I need to watch just because he was so darned charming. After that, we got an update from PBS Kids which was surprisingly unexciting, but I stuck it out because I didn’t want to feel guilty about strolling out with the “Dinosaur Train” and “Super Why” toys that were on table. (My daughter’s going to love them…) From there, we shifted into the big ballroom and spent some time with Jeff Bridges as he talked about his upcoming “American Masters” special, then back to the small ballroom for the “Masterpiece” presentations on “Upstairs Downstairs” and “Zen.”

Back to the big ballroom again for “Bears of the Last Frontier,” but although I was fascinated, I had to slip out early in order to do a one-on-one with Rufus Sewell about his work on “Zen.” Thankfully, I made it back in time for the long but wonderful panel for “The Best of Laugh-In,” featuring Gary Owens, Jo Anne Worley, Ruth Buzzi, Lily Tomlin, and creator George Schlatter. Sadly, I missed most of the next two panels, “Forgiveness: A Time to Love & A Time to Hate” and “Independent Lens: Artists Profiles,” but on the other hand, it’s because I was able to help my buddy Brian Sebastian on interviews with Owens and Tomlin, even getting a few questions in myself.

The evening event was a performance by Harry Connick Jr. in conjunction with his “Great Performances” special, and I thought it was fantastic, if unabashedly jazzy. But, really, if you were expecting anything else, then you clearly haven’t been listening to the man’s music very much. All I know is that he tore the roof off the joint, and I loved every minute of it.

Okay, time for your top 10 quotes of the day. You’ll note more repetition of shows this go-round, but all I can tell you is that there were fewer panels and less instantly memorable moments in some of them. I think you’ll still get a few good laughs from this bunch, anyway, though. See you tomorrow!

1. “I got a little bit nervous when they told me that I had to be speaking in front of TV critics. I knew I was coming here to share time at PBS, but all of a sudden it’s, like, ‘The room is going to be full of TV critics.’ Great: all my life dealing with food critics one by one, and now I’m going to have to be dealing with an entire room of TV critics…?” – Jose Andres, “Made in Spain”

2. “There’s an element in making movies, the collage, that you give all your stuff and then the director cuts it up and makes a different piece out of it. Seeing myself as this young guy (in ‘Tron: Legacy’), it rubbed my fur a little bit the wrong way. You know, it was a bit like…remember the first time you heard your voice on a tape recorder, how weird it sounded to you? Early on in my career…I don’t know if we have time for kind of a long story. You feel like a story or not?

“My first film was called ‘Halls of Anger.’ The movie was about busing white kids into a black school, and I was the white kid who was supposed to be, you know, trying to integrate into the sports and all these things. And the black kids keep beating me up. So now this is the scene here; what I’m going to describe is the climax of the film. And Calvin Lockhart, wonderful actor, is playing the boys’ vice principal. And the scene is; I’ve been beaten up, and now I’m there, and I say, ‘I’m quitting.’ And I’m in tears and everything. He says, ‘No, you got to stick.’ I say, ‘I’ve had it. I’ve had enough,’ you know. So we started shooting the scene, and we did Calvin’s side first. And all my emotion came, and I was thinking, ‘God, I hope I have it when we come back to my side.’ Then they shot all the coverage of all the people’s reaction, and I was there. And then they came to my side, and I kicked ass, man. I was so…it was like fresh, and I got applause from the crew. And I was, like, ‘Oh, man, maybe I should do this acting thing. I’m pretty good!’ Now we cut to Watts, and it’s the premiere of the show, and I’m sitting there with my brother on one side and my father on one side. And I’m saying, ‘Wait till you guys see my…’ Well, you know, not saying it to them, but I’m saying it inside. And here comes the scene. And here it comes. And now they’re on Calvin. Yeah, Calvin, the boys’ vice principal. Yeah. Cut to me. Cut to me. Why aren’t you cutting to me? And now they cut to me…and my face is something like (a grimace). And the entire audience laughs…and I just about had a bowel movement. And if you listened, it was the perfect opposite reaction that I wanted from the audience.

“That was like a real crossroads for me with the acting, because I thought, ‘God, how do you protect yourself?’ And you don’t. You just have to be willing to lay it out there and put yourself in some director’s hands.” – Jeff Bridges, “American Masters: Jeff Bridges – The Dude Abides”

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Weekend box office: “Little Fockers” and “True Grit” face off as the movies have a worrisome New Year’s (updated)

It’s hard to know what Marshall Rooster Cogburn and stern young Mattie Ross would make of a little or big Focker. However, this weekend turned out to be a surprisingly close competition over a weekend that won’t be giving studio executives any particular excuses to party like it’s 2009 and they’ve just released “Avatar“.

Robert De Niro and Ben Stiller in

As Anne Thompson reminds us, this is a weekend when, unlike the usual rather steep decline of ongoing films, we’ll see very small drops or, especially for family films, significant increases. The Box Office Mojo weekend chart, bears that out.

With no major new releases, “Little Fockers” suffered a 14.7% decline, which would be fantastic almost any other weekend, netting an estimated $26.3 million for Universal. That would be somewhat more impressive had the film not cost a ridiculous $100 million. On the other hand, after two weeks, it’s earned back that amount plus some change. Not bad for a movie that probably has the worst reviews of any recent major hit. (Among “top critics,” only funny guy Glenn Kenny failed to drub the movie with a review that double-damns with the faintest possible praise.)

Nipping at its heels, and perhaps very likely to be the more profitable film over time, was the Coen Brothers’ typically excellent first true-western, “True Grit.” Nikki Finke points out that Friday, New Year’s Eve, “Grit” actually earned a bit more than “Fockers.” I guess we can attribute that to the superior movie-going taste of the nation’s wallflowers. (What night did we see this again?) Still, the total estimated take was $24.5 million for Paramount. On the other hand, the price tag was a mere $38 million.Add to all of that a probable slate of Oscar nominations (though I doubt more than one or two wins) good word of mouth — the second week drop was a beyond miniscule 1.7% — and the proven ability of the Coens’ to make films that people continue watching decades later, and you’ve got one case of a studio being amply rewarded for taking a chance on an old school western. Westerns are, of course, deader than a doornail. The exception is when somebody makes a good one.

UPDATE: I failed to mention previously that, at over $86 million already generated by “True Grit,” this is also apparently by far the most successful Coen Brothers films so far by quite a lot. For comparison, “No Country for Old Men” made $76 million and change for its entire run, including a “Best Picture” Oscar win. Better yet, “True Grit” has an ending that won’t leave a significant portion of the audience angry or dissatisfied, so this film should have really significant legs. I doubt they’ll make another western any time soon, but if the Coens want to make “Truly Grittier,” no studio head would stop them.

Jeff Bridges with CGI botox and some new guy in Another Jeff Bridges showpiece, “Tron: Legacy,” held on fairly well in week 3 with a small 4.4% drop and a weekend estimated total of $18.3 million for Disney. It’s still about $30 million shy of making back its $170 budget, though I’m sure that’s just a week or two away. Still, this is no unalloyed coup. Guess I’m not the only person who wonders why the original “Tron” is even discussed today as anything other than a technological advance.

The New Year’s weekend was an overall bummer. It was down 26% compared to New Year’s 20010, and the year as a whole saw movie receipts declining very slightly. Anne Thompson says it went from $10.6 million to $10.5 million. She added that the real issue is not that seemingly tiny increase. It’s obscured by increasing ticket prices for 3D and other films, but that overall attendance declined by a “whopping” 5%, according to Thompson. I think we can attribute that to a stagnant economy, improving home entertainment options, and the inability of the industry to bring back the long-lost ability to turn movies into events worth getting out of the house for. Call me a complete and utter lunatic, but avoiding the insanely obviously cookie-cutter storylines and characterizations of most movies today might also help slightly.

Still, there was good news this week for a number of family films and Oscar hopefuls too numerous to mention. It also wasn’t bad for the two limited releases which came out last Wednesday. Both were rather downbeat films dealing with relationships unhappy, happy, and non-existent. “Blue Valentine,” with Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams as a married couple on their way to a break-up, emerged victorious from it’s battle to avoid a bookings-killing NC-17 with an R-rating and scored the best per-screen average of the holiday weekend, $45,000 in four theaters for a weekend estimated total of $180,000.

Meanwhile, “Another Year,” which I’ve been covering, started the New Year in, I’m guessing, reasonably OK fashion with $20,000 in six theaters for a total of $120,000. A film about a happy couple and they’re incredibly miserable friends and family members, a likely and definitely well-deserved Oscar nomination for Lesley Manville is the very low budget’s film’s hope for real profitability.

anotheryear-14

  

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Weekend box office: Coal in Hollywood’s stocking as “Little Fockers” underperforms and bloated tentpoles tank; Santa smiles on the Coens

Misguided movie populists who say that critics are somehow less relevant than they were 20 years ago and that their reaction in no way tracks the reaction of other human beings should really take a close look at this weekend’s results. It’s an eternal truth that audiences and critics often differ — seeing a lot of movies does tend to make a person somewhat harder to please — but to say that there’s zero correlation between what most critics hate or love and what most audiences members hate or love is not the case. It is true that critics hated, hated, hated this weekend’s #1 film, but that clearly isn’t the entire story.

Robert De Niro and Blythe Danner don't look happyAs I recounted prior to the start of the long Christmas holiday frame last Tuesday, the oracles of the box office were predicting a reaction to “Little Fockers” somewhat in line with the 2004 performance of “Meet the Fockers.” Specifically, the numbers being bandied about were in the $60 or $70 million range for the entire five day period. The total gross instead appears to be roughly $48.3 million for Universal. That is only a couple of million higher than what “Meet the Fockers” earned over a three day period on its Christmas opening in 2004. Remember, movie ticket prices have gone up a few bucks since ’04.

Nikki Finke recounts how the megastar-laden film’s difficult and expensive $100 million production, helmed by the currently luck-challenged Chris Weitz, provided a windfall for Dustin Hoffman and, I understand, allowed him to almost literally phone-in large portions of his performance. Finke estimates that the lastest “Fockers” movie is earning only about 75% of what the prior comedy made. As for the critics, while “Meet the Fockers” left critics unhappy — as opposed to the very well reviewed original smash-hit, “Meet the Parents” — it was a regular success d’estime compared to the woeful reviews of the third film in what critics are praying will remain a trilogy. Strangely enough, this seems to correlate with diminishing returns for the series.

Overall, things weren’t any better, with Sony’s two expensive, poorly reviewed, star-laden turkeys  — “How Do You Know” and “The Tourist — being slaughtered in their second and third weeks, respectively. (To be fair, since it stars literally the two most famous people in the world right now not named “Obama” or “Oprah” or “Palin” or “Assange,” “The Tourist” is doing significantly better than the latest from James Brooks, but both films are money losers right now.) The extremely un-promising and critically derided “Gulliver’s Travels” was all but thrown to the wolves by Fox and its release was delayed until Friday. It opened in 7th place for the weekend with a Lilliputian estimate of $7.2 million.

Anne Thompson notes that this three-day weekend at the movies was 44% lower than last year, and had some choice words on the drop:

Little Fockers repped the widest-appeal offering among the weakest bunch of holiday releases in recent memory. At a time when studios usually try to maximize returns on their strongest pictures, they instead offered audiences a menu of costly, tame, MOR fare—and moviegoers stayed away in droves.

Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon happily calculate their back-end deals in

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