Some not very newsy awards news (updated)

The Writers Guild and the Sound Editors gave out their awards last night and it’s safe to say that, winners aside, no one’s world was too terribly rocked.

Journalist-turned-screenwriter Mark Boal was rewarded for his hard-earned real-world experience as an embedded reporter with a Best Original Screenplay nod for “The Hurt Locker.” In another completely unsurprising award, the well-liked and respected Jason Reitman was similarly rewarded for his critically acclaimed work on the adult-aimed topical comedy, “Up in the Air.” The documentary category wasn’t much of a surprise either, with the muckraking “The Cove” picking up yet another award.

This isn’t quite on the level of a statistical study, but it’s worth noting that, for the last couple of years at least, the WGA awards and the Oscars have been lining up 100% in the writing categories, so Oscar betters should take note.  This is a bit of a blow to any fans of Quentin Tarantino“Pulp Fiction” screenplay and the writers tend to be a bit more openminded about offbeat films than Oscar voters as a whole. who might have been hoping for some Oscar wins, as Best Original Screenplay has been “his” category in the sense that his only Oscar win so far has been for his

Still, older and/or less geeky fans of old-school post-war (as in WWII) realism are likely impressed by the real-life underpinnings of Boal’s work and Kathryn Bigelow’s film is just edgy enough, while not marred in the minds of some by being a “fun” war movie, and “Inglourious Basterds” is definitely fun. It’s also controversial to some degree, perhaps not the best combination if all you want out of a movie is award wins.

James Gandolfini and Mimi Kennedy in In the adapted screenplay category, I personally wouldn’t have minded seeing the award go to the brilliant and scabrous “In the Loop,” but that film was less widely seen and it’s humor might be bit too nasty (in a good, cleansing way) and British for some.

[UPDATE: Aren’t you people supposed to correct me when I write complete nonsense? If I had bothered to check a bit more carefully this morning before I wrote this, I would have noted/remembered that “Basterds” was not nominated for a Writers Guild award and therefore might have somewhat better Oscar screenplay chances than I initially thought. The same applies to “In the Loop.” These scripts were not eligible under the WGA’s rather arcane rules which also disqualified such worthy films as “An Education.” If you’re curious about the reasons why, Steve Pond, via Anne Thompson, had a partial explanation back in January. Anyhow, thanks to Anne Thompson, whose post on this showed me the error of my ways, or whatever. We now resume our regularly scheduled blog post.]

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“A Christmas Carol” wins the weekend, but “Precious” gets the early Xmas cheer

Not quite Jim Carrey in Robert Zemeckis and Disney’s new CGI “A Christmas Carol” was pretty much destined to take the weekend, and it did with an estimated tally of $31 million. However, Nikki Finke noted that the film was expected to make, she says, at least $4 million more. I am inclined to think that the word that this version of Dicken’s holiday classic might be too scary for very young viewers might have given this entry a bit of a winter chill.

Variety, however, added insult to injury and the #1 movie found itself a subhead on its opening weekend. The trade paper of record instead led with the record-breaking per-screen average of the first new Oscar contender of the winter season, Lions Gate’s “Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire” which only placed 13th on the Box Office Mojo charts with an estimate of $1.8 million — but did so with an truly awe-inspiring per-screen average of $100,000 on 18 screens in L.A., New York, Chicago, and Atlanta. For comparison, the week’s second highest per-screen average went to “La Danse: The Paris Opera Ballet,” a new dance documentary by cinema vérité legend Frederick Wiseman with $14,000 on a single screen. This is obviously a ridiculously good start for a dysfunctionality-driven drama with some markedly uncommercial aspects to it. I also have to wonder if the theaters it was playing in were somewhat larger than the usual arthouse venues.

The association of “Precious” with after-the-fact executive producers Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry, who both literally bought into the film after seeing it but will be reportedly donating whatever money they make on the film to charity, obviously paid off here with largely African-American audiences. There’s little reason, however, to expect that the film won’t “cross over” with all ethnicities thanks to Oscar buzz and mostly great reviews. Still, I’d also argue that more traditional art-house style numbers later in its run are a real possibility. It is worth noting that the nine theaters it’s playing in the L.A. area are demographically fascinating, straddling predominantly black areas and the liberal, indie-friendly west side of town and have me resisting the urge to give you a history of Los Angeles ethnic politics. Somebody knows what they’re doing.

precious

Holding up the #2 spot is, not surprisingly, the Michael Jackson documentary, “This Is It,” which has ridden good worth-of-mouth to drop less than 40% and earn an estimated $14 million on its second weekend. Doing perhaps a bit better than expected, given that stars — at least stars with an average age north of 40 — no longer seem to have much impact at the box-office, the name-laden satirical comedy, “The Men Who Stare at Goats,” managed an estimated $13.3 million in the #3 spot. Considering the $25 million budget, pretty modest for a film with four fairly major actors, and the “meh”-to-sub-“meh” reviews for a movie that should be critical cat-nip, that’s really not bad at all. Being the only new comedy in some time probably helped.

Nipping at the goat-starers’ heels was “The Fourth Kind,” which engages in some “based on a true story” quasi-mock-doc shenanigans. Though I made sport of it last time, there really is a sucker born every minute and enough of them had $10.00 handy this weekend for the science fiction flick to net an estimated $12.5 million. Somewhere, the ghost of William Castle is smiling.

The weekend’s other new release was one-time “Donnie Darko” whiz kid Richard Kelly’s dark science fiction tale, “The Box.” Not too surprisingly, the “Twilight Zone”-like tale fell short of “Paranormal Activity” — hanging in very nicely with an estimated $8.6 million and sure to cross the $100 million mark shortly — and came in at sixth place with an estimate of roughly $7.9 million.

  

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Friday night news dump (updated)

Time for our usual week-ending grab bag of left over and end-of-week movie stories…

* Two executive deaths today. First was 76 year-old nearly lifelong Paramount executive Gino Campagnola. That was followed by Nick Counter of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. As Nikki Finke recounts, he was the guy whose job it was to negotiate with unions in the recent negotiations and strikes with the guilds. Not surprisingly, there are some hard feelings, as evidenced by some of her commenters who really crossed the line in terms of simply being mean about the man’s death.

As a liberal, I’m always going to tend to side with unions, but the man is dead and making the best deal for the bosses was kind of his job. You don’t have to like him, but calling him a “scum bag” or talking about karma on the day of his death is not cool. I wonder if Finke, who is known for zealously controlling her comments and once removed an entirely innocuous, on topic, comment about “Mad Men” by me after an unrelated exchange with me here, will leave those comments up. She has also posted official reactions from SAG which are, of course, much nicer.

* As “This Is It” passed the $100 million mark domestically and is at $144 million worldwide, the Jacksons as a whole make a mark at AFM (American Film Market) with some intriguing sounding seventies footage. [Update: I obviously got confused a bit by the headlines on this piece. As of Sunday 11/8/09, the music doc is estimated to have made “only” $57, 855 in the U.S. market.]

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Xmas ghosts, a dead popster, goat starers, aliens, a box, and some demons

Yes, it’s a real mishmash this weekend at the box office and I’ve got less time than usual — but let’s just see how it goes.

A Christmas Carol

Anyhow, the clear winner over the next few days will almost certainly be yet another version of Charles Dicken’s constantly remade and revisited holiday perennial, this time from Disney, “A Christmas Carol.” Jim Carrey stars as Scrooge, who won’t hurt at the box office and Robert Zemeckis, in his “Polar Express” mode, is at the helm. Personally, while I found the earlier motion-capture movie a fun visceral thrill ride in Imax 3-D, despite a story that was the very definition of treacle, I personally find this style of animation extremely ugly; it’s as if it’s always stuck in the armpit of the Uncanny Valley. Moreover critics, including our own David Medsker, complain that Zemeckis gets carried away with the effects and makes things a bit too visceral and scary for the film’s own good. Still, if it worked even for Mr. Magoo, there’s no reason to think it won’t work well enough for some fiscal redemption. THR‘s Carl DiOrio, whose nearly as jolly as an way-too-early St. Nick, is guessing it’ll grab about $40 million in premature yuletide cheer. A split decision by critics is, I suppose, neither here nor there.

After that, we have four films that will be duking it out with two extant strong releases, Michael Jackson’s ghostly final bow, “This Is It,” which may benefit from better than expected word of mouth and, of course, the horrifyingly profitable “Paranormal Activity.” Intriguingly, all these new major releases have a slightly spooky and/or “paranormal” spin and trying to guess which will do best is probably about as wise as playing with a Ouija board at a demon-infested San Diego townhome.

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Apparently, this is it

In something of a box office anticlimax to one of the most astonishing careers in entertainment history, despite surprisingly strong reviews, “This is It” with Michael Jackson has fallen somewhat short of expectations. The documentary about the preparations for Jackson’s never-to-be final tour won was, in fact, the #1 movie with an estimate of roughly $20.4-7 million for the weekend and $31.9-$32.5 for the “cume” since it’s Tuesday opening — that’s depending on whether you prefer the numbers offered by the breathlessly negative Nikki Finke or Variety’s more glass-half-full Pamela McClintock. The film was originally pegged for closer to $50 million or more.

Now, to be fair, I’ve never been a fan of this whole box office expectations game. In my book, a movie is a commercial success if it makes a profit; the bigger the profit, the bigger the success. That’s it. Still, considering who we’re talking about, it’s obvious why those expectations were sky high.

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Given that Jackson was substantially more admired and less controversial/mocked abroad, it makes sense that the worldwide numbers for “This Is It” look a lot better, with a take so far of $101 million. MJ remains, of course, huge in Japan and lots and lots of other places. Supposedly in response to this response, Sony has made the deeply unsurprising move of extending the film’s putative two-week run through Thanksgiving. Nikki Finke’s cry of “Con Artists” might seem a bit over-dramatic in a business that has long been under the spell of P.T. Barnum, but I’m not going to deny that this was a pretty naked and unconvincing ploy to try to create artificial excitement that, at least in the U.S., didn’t much take. If anyone tries to use it again any time soon, if I may indulge in the subjunctive tense, they be putzes. Still, fair is fair and it appears as if the King of Pop did beat the Hannah Montana concert film internationally, so there’s that.

While “This Is It” was the only new major release this week, and the weekend’s numbers were low overall, at least partially because of an inevitably somewhat low-key Halloween Saturday, there were other movies in play. Not at all surprisingly, the holiday was kind to “Paranormal Activity” which declined a miniscule 22% while adding theaters for an estimated weekend total of about $16.5 million and a “cume” of about $84.8 million.

Considering that it’s still playing in roughly a thousand fewer theaters than “This Is It,” this is a genuinely outstanding box office performance for a film which had an original budget that was actually less than half of the budget of the “zero budget” “The Blair Witch Project.” Perhaps wisely, Paramount appears to be keeping Israeli-born video game designer and now film director Oren Peli under wraps for the time being – no need to turn him into Quentin Spielberg just yet – but I trust he enjoyed the happiest of Halloweens.

Other than that, there were few surprises this weekend with all the current films pretty much staying static. However, I’m sure some of our young male readership will be interested to note that, as per Box Office Mojo, the best per-screen average this Halloween was just under $6,800 and it was enjoyed by Apparition’s “The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day” on 68 screens. Given the poor performance of my personal great black hope, “Black Dynamite,” which was released in seventy theaters by the same arm of Sony and did not even register this week, or last, at the Mojo, this kind of sets my teeth on edge. It ain’t fair but the most cinematically accurate spoof film since “Young Frankenstein” will be back for another try on DVD. That, as they say, is show biz, suckas.

boondocksaints_Aug

  

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