Five 2011 Academy Award Upsets We’d Like to See

It should be stated for the record that while the editorial ‘we’ was used for the title of this column, the truth is that these are my picks and solely my picks. Let the first person speak begin.

The Academy Awards have become a bit of a bore in the last few years. There have been next to no surprises in the major categories, except for perhaps Marion Cotillard winning Best Actress in 2008 for “La Vie en Rose” or Alan Arkin winning Best Supporting actor in 2007 for “Little Miss Sunshine.” For the most part, it’s decided pretty early who’s going to win, which totally sucks, if you ask me. Of course, there are categories where there is a performance that clearly stands out above the others, but in many instances, people win their Oscars not because they’ve delivered something otherworldly, but because it’s their time, and they’re due, or other such nonsense. These aren’t lifetime achievement awards, and this isn’t a welfare system. If you give the award to the worthy party the first time around, there will be no need to “pay them back” later (cough, Al Pacino and Denzel Washington).

Take Tilda Swinton, for example. Do you know why she won the Academy Award for Supporting Actress? It’s because the voters knew that “Michael Clayton” was going to be shut out in every other category, so they threw Swinton a bone just so the movie walked away with at least one award. What the hell kind of logic is that? Did she really give the best performance or not? She was perfectly fine in the movie, but there was nothing extraordinary about it, certainly not compared to her hilariously stone-hearted harpy in “Burn After Reading.” Needless to say, the Academy’s predictability of late has led me to rebel, which is why on Sunday, I’d love nothing more than to hear the following five names be read instead of what we will probably hear.

Best Original Screenplay: Christopher Nolan, “Inception

Current Frontrunner: David Seidler, “The King’s Speech”

“The King’s Speech” is a wonderful little film. It was #7 on my list of top movies of 2010. But that story has been done many, many times before, while “Inception” was so layered that it took 10 years for Christopher Nolan to finish it. Small stories are good stories, but when someone dares to, pardon the pun, dream like Nolan did here – and better yet, pull it off, which he does in spades – that should be rewarded. It would also serve as a warning shot across the bows of every action movie director that story matters, damn it, and to get rid of the jive-talking robots.

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Weekend box office: “The Roommate” leads dorm room-size grosses

It’s possible that somewhere, to someone, some PR flack or Sony/Screen Gems exec will tout this Superbowl weekend’s grosses for the very familiar looking thriller, “The Roommate” as some kind of triumph. After all, the film exceeded the high end of the guesses I mentioned Thursday night with an estimate of $15.6 million. That’s a not at all astonishing .6 million higher than anyone expected.

THE-ROOMMATE-550x366

I should add that that’s an estimate, and who knows how many young females may or may not escape the nation’s football obsession for what my old cinephile compatriot Keith Uhlich terms an “enjoyably trashy” film. Keith, writing for Time Out New York, was one of 36 Rotten Tomatoes critics to pay to get in to see the film over the weekend, and one of only two to have anything nice to say about it, backhandedly or otherwise.

Scrolling down a bit further on the Box Office Mojo weekend chart nobody, outside of some lower budget Oscar contenders, has much to be happy about. The James Cameron-produced 3D outing, “Sanctum,” came in pretty much as expected with an estimated and entirely lackluster $9.2 million for hit-deprived Universal. Now, if I was playing the expectations game the studio wanted me to play, I’d say it was a surprise winner because it beat the $6-8 million figure the suits were apparently low-balling with last week. In any case, none of that has any impact whatsoever on the film’s $30 million budget and the not small marketing costs. The critically dismissed watery cave thriller from Australia may do a lot better overseas.

Natalie Portman and Greta Gerwig in The #3 film was “No Strings Attached” which somebody likes, even if I didn’t. It held pretty decently for Paramount in its third week. Its estimate is $8.4 million, and I suppose a decent Superbowl Sunday is very possible for this very female-skewing entry.

As for the fourth and fifth place entries, Weinstein’s “The King’s Speech” is hanging in there, royally, with $8.3 million estimate; Sony’s “The Green Hornet” is still well short of making back its $120 budget with $6.1 million estimated for this week and a roughly $87 million total. I don’t usually talk that much about marketing costs, but it’s important to remember that they’re significantly larger than actual filmmaking costs and, for a movie like “Hornet,” undoubtedly enormous — though there’s always merchandising profits to consider.

Last week’s #1 God v. Satan thriller, Warner Brothers’ “The Rite,” sank down to cinematic purgatory this week with a larger-than-average 62.4% second weekend drop, earning an estimated $5.5 million and change in fifth place. The former #3 entry, “The Mechanic,” about a taciturn hit-man and his hot-headed protegee, endured a very typical 53% drop for the second week of an action film. It earned a not-so-killer $5.37 million estimate for the revived CBS Films, which is still waiting for its first real hit of this incarnation.

  

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Belated box office wrap-up: “The Rite” leads devilishly dull weekend as “The King’s Speech” fails to rise above it’s indie station

One benefit of waiting until Monday night to write up the weekend’s results is that the Box Office Mojo results I have are not estimates but “actuals.” It’s nice not to have to stick in the word “estimated” before every number for a change but, I fear, that’s about the most exciting news I have to report today.

As predicted back on Thursday night, the PG-13 exercise in exorcist hi-jinks, “The Rite,” lead the weekend and gave Warner Brothers #1 bragging rights. It was not the prettiest victory, however. With roughly $13.8 million in grosses, it was either at the low end or even slightly below the numbers that were trumpeted before, with some estimates going up to $20 million. Also,of course, in actual business terms being #1 is pretty meaningless except for the next weekend’s advertising.

Ashton Kutcher and Lake Bell in The #2 movie was last week’s topper from Paramount, “No Strings Attached.” It earned $13.4 million, falling a significantly better than average 31.8% in its second week, indicating good worth of mouth. (Which, since I kind of hated the movie, kind of annoys me. Why are you people saying good things about it?) The attempt at raunchy but adult romantic comedy will be breaking $40 million total by tomorrow, which is pretty decent considering that veteran director Ivan Reitman kept the budget to a modest $25 million.

The Mechanic,” which I’ve been covering here and at our sister site, performed not-horribly for the revived CBS Films with $11.4 million and change. It’s very reasonable budget for an action film, $40 million, means that it’s another modest success for star Jason Statham. I nevertheless agree with Bullz-Eye reviewer David Medsker that Statham deserves better. The original 1971 version of the film also deserved better, though even I have a hard time arguing that an action-inflected meditation on the nature of modern day evil like the original would do any better. Still, I wish they had cut the budget by half and kept it closer to the blunt spirit of that film or, failing that, increased it by one-third and just made a silly action-movie that was fun. Instead, it’s kind of a neither fish-nor-fowl situation.

The King’s Speech,” which expanded significantly in terms of theater count this weekend, failed to generate the surprise some said might be in the offing. It did pretty much exactly the kind of solid and stately business one would expect from a figurehead and came in at a very solid and respectable $11 million or so. It was in 5th place just barely behind “The Green Hornet” which, at about $78 million so far, still has a ways to go to match its $120 million budget.

Jay Chou and Seth Rogen in

clomid, synthroid, zithromax, accutane, celebrex
  

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A roundtable chat with screenwriter Lewis John Carlino of “The Mechanic,” (2011 and 1971)

If there’s a picture of Lewis John Carlino anywhere on the Internet, I haven’t been able to find it. Does it matter?

Unlike other notables, writers are still allowed to be a little mysterious. Indeed, other than the fact that he wrote several widely acclaimed movies, an episode of the legendary television series “Route 66,” some plays, and directed a few movies, very little information is available online about Lewis John Carlino.

The Great SantiniCarlino is probably best known as the director and writer of 1979’s “The Great Santini,” a beloved sleeper about a military family based on a novel by Pat Conroy and featuring one of Robert Duvall’s greatest and most bombastic performances. “Santini” is, however, one of the more conventional films in the Carlino cannon.

In 1966, he adapted a novel by David Ely into John Frankenheimer’s famously eccentric paranoid science-fiction thriller starring Rock Hudson, “Seconds.” Less well remembered are his non-“Santini” directorial efforts. “The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With the Sea,” a bizarre and intense 1976 drama based on a book by Yukio Mishima, and “Class,” a 1983 comedy in which Jacqueline Bisset has an affair with brat-packer Andrew McCarthy, the best friend of her son (Rob Lowe). In between, Carlino also wrote the acclaimed fantasy drama, “Resurrection” starring Ellen Burstyn. After 1983, Carlino stopped directing movies entirely and his credited writing work declined dramatically.

Now a soft-spoken seventy-something intellectual, Carlino met with a group of writers to discuss a remake of one of his best known films, “The Mechanic.” The 1971 original starred Charles Bronson as a troubled but ultra-stoic hit-man who tries to end his isolation by taking on a protegee (Jan-Michael Vincent), even though his last hit was on the young man’s father (Keenan Wynn). Despite its action film trappings — including a nicely accomplished quarter-hour dialogue-free opening set-piece — it’s an often chilling look at men who have embraced death and cruelty. Bronson’s character does have a “code,” but it’s not a moral one. His aim is to embody an amoral version of existentialism that might be familiar to readers of Albert Camus’s “The Stranger.”

The new version, which stars Jason Statham and Ben Foster as the cool-blooded killer and his more hot-headed mentee, keeps enough of the original story and dialogue that Carlino is a credited screenwriter on the film. This time, around, however, Statham’s character is less vicious and the movie hits a number of more familiar action-flick beats. Viewers looking for traces of Camus will have to go elsewhere.

THE MECHANIC

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Oscar madness kicks into high gear at the DGA and SNL

People who want a real Academy Award horse-race got probably the best possible news last night at the Director’s Guild Awards. As you’ll no doubt be hearing many, many times over the next month or so, the DGA Award for Best Director and the Oscar for Best Director have only not lined up six times in the history of both awards. Also, of course, the directorial Oscar and the Best Picture Oscar often tend to correlate as well because, sometimes rightly but occasionally wrongly, most of the credit for a good movie tends to go to the director.

Those who remained confident that “The Social Network” remained the favorite for an Oscar sweep despite it getting beaten out in the number of Oscar nominations by two films, were given a sharp jolt because the winner last night was not David Fincher, but the extremely talented fact-based-drama specialist Tom Hooper of “The King’s Speech.” Count me among the surprised.

I’ll save for later why I still think the Oscars’ are either movie’s ball game or could easily be a sort split decision. However, in an amusing not quite coincidence, “Social Network” star and Oscar nominee Jessie Eisenberg had a small surprise of his own to reveal as he hosted “Saturday Night Live” last night.

Let’s see Colin Firth pull that off with King George VI. Also, Mark Zuckerberg can’t complain that he was misrepresented in terms of height, at least. H/t Nikki Finke.

The winner in the best documentary DGA category, by the way, was Charles Ferguson of the hugely acclaimed “Inside Job” which might actually guarantee that it won’t win the Best Documentary Oscar, because that’s the way the documentary category often rolls. We’ll see. For you TV fans, I’ll post/paste the complete list of DGA Awards (nice wins for Mick Jackson and Martin Scorsese,) after the flip.

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