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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Weekend box office: “No Strings Attached” receives benefits from female filmgoers

Things this weekend went pretty much exactly according to what I wrote on Thursday. Still, there was some nervousness out there.

Ashton Kutcher, Natalie Portman, and Cary Elwes in Nikki Finke tells us the studios were skittish because of the commercial track record of leading man Ashton Kutcher; it seems I’m not the only male audience member to have a deep, lizard-brain level allergy to the Kutcher. Fortunately for Paramount, young women are the dominant (70%, possibly) audience here. The simplicity of the premise and the balancing presence of the widely beloved, sure-to-be-Oscar-nominated Natalie Portman seems to have been enough to earn “No Strings Attached” — originally, presumably very tentatively, titled “Fuckbuddies” — an estimated $20.3 million for Paramount. I didn’t care for the movie, pretty obviously, but I sort of expected it to do reasonably well. It delivers what’s advertised, has some mildly funny moments, and we’ve all been trained to think of romantic comedies as light-brained affairs. That last part just makes me sad.

Scrolling down the Box Office Mojo chart, “The Green Hornet” suffered a very typical 46% drop it’s second week. It therefore managed a respectable $18.1 million estimate for Sony, putting more than it half-way to making back its $120 million production budget. Ron Howard’s first comedy in many moons, “The Dilemma,” dropped roughly the same amount and continued on track with its soft opening at an estimate of $9.7 million for luckless but now ultra-powerful Universal, thanks to the mega-merger with Comcast.

A cluster of likely Oscar contenders are holding down the next several spots, led by “The King’s Speech.” The press loves a horserace and speculation on the very real possibility of an Oscar sweep for “The Social Network” has been slowed somewhat by the Producer’s Guild awarding of its top prize to the historical tale last night.

Colin Firth and Helena Bonham Carter in

With a first-rate combination of director (Tom Hooper) and star (Colin Firth) the drama is apparently getting some outstanding word of mouth. It suffered almost no drop at all from last week and it’s estimate for the Weinstein Company is bubbling under $9.2 million. It’s going to be crossing the $60 million threshold probably by mid-week, many times it’s $15 million budget.

It was kind of a funny week in limited release. Indiewire has the details, but Peter Weir’s “The Way Back” disappointed somewhat in about 600 theaters. Probably getting a significant boost from star Paul Giamatti‘s surprise Golden Globe win, “Barney’s Version” led the week in per-screen averages, earning about $10,000 each on 16 screens. Not bad for a movie about a creature thought to be as hard to find as a yeti, an occasionally rude Canadian.

  

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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.

cecil_b_demille

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: 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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Ten comments about the 2008 Emmy Awards

1. Call him a dick for saying it, but Jeremy Piven’s dismissal of the opening of this year’s ceremony during his acceptance speech was right on the money. After that brief montage of stars quoting classic TV catchphrases, Oprah killed the show stone dead with her opening remarks, and the never-ending sequence by the reality-show hosts was downright painful. It was the worst beginning to an Emmy broadcast that I can remember.

2. I liked “Recount” as much as the next guy, but Tom Hooper was robbed. He totally deserved to win the award for Outstanding Directing for a Miniseries, Movie, or a Dramatic Special for his work on “John Adams.” That said, Jay Roach defused my anger somewhat when he thanked “my rock ‘n’ roll sweetheart, Susanna Hoffs,” in his acceptance speech.

3. Don Rickles can be funnier with one motion of his eyebrow than Kathy Griffin is likely to be in her entire career…and, indeed, he proved this tonight.

4. Bryan Cranston, God love him, only won his Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series because of the split-vote phenomenon.

5. I’m not saying Josh Groban’s TV-themes medley was great, but hearing him screech Cartman’s lines in the “South Park” theme was worth the price of admission.

6. Ricky Gervais’s bit where he demanded that Steve Carrel return his Emmy was brilliant…but with that said, I went to see “Get Smart” at the local discount theater this weekend instead of paying full price to see “Ghost Town.” I’m just saying.

7. As happy as I was to see “Mad Men” win Outstanding Drama Series, I think I was just as psyched that “Damages” got the love it did in the acting categories. I might’ve picked Ted Danson to win over Zeljko Ivanek, I admit, but I’m sure as hell not complaining. Season 2 of that series can’t get here soon enough.

8. It was totally an industry joke, but when Tom Hanks thanked Chris Albrecht during his acceptance speech for “John Adams,” then cupped his ear to see if anyone would applaud, I laughed out loud.

9. Although way too much was made of the whole Outstanding Reality-Show Host award (and giving the Outstanding Reality-Show Competition award to “The Amazing Race” for the sixth consecutive year was abso-fricking-lutely ridiculous), Jimmy Kimmel’s waiting until after the commercial break to announce the winner was truly inspired.

10. Tommy Smothers is my hero.

  

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