EXCLUSIVE: Fandango’s top daily ticketseller is now The King’s Speech as of yesterday even though The Weinstein Co released the film 8 weeks ago. The pic has seen a 76% increase in ticket sales on Fandango since the Oscar nominations were …
When Inception was released back on July 16th, the strikingly original film shook up a summer marketplace filled with derivative sequels and unfortunate remakes that had critics decrying the creative barrenness of studio films. Which is why writer-director Nolan garnered respect from Hollywood for using his clout from Batman Begins and The Dark Knight to film his own long, gestating spec script from an idea that had rattled around in his head for a decade. Inception is a movie with many layers and a dense plot, allowing Nolan to ride a familiar genre but then arrive at a new place. Sure, the box office was well-trod turf for him: $825 million worldwide. But, first, he had to imagine himself in the dream world of Inception before he took audiences there.
DEADLINE: How was writing Inception different for you?
NOLAN: What I try to do is write from the inside out. I really try to jump into the world of the film and the characters, try to imagine myself in that world rather than imagining it as a film I’m watching onscreen. Sometimes, that means I’m discovering things the way the audience will, with character and story. Other times, you’re plotting it out with diagrams and taking a very objective view. Writing, for me, is a combination of both. You take an objective approach at times to get you through things, and you take a subjective approach at other times, and that allows you to find an emotional experience for the audience. This was one of those projects that burned inside me for a long time, but I wouldn’t say in a completely unique way. I made a film earlier called The Prestige. For four or five years, that burned inside me. It was something I really wanted to crack with my brother Jonah, and eventually we did it. I certainly have other ideas I’ve not been able to crack that I see great potential in, sitting in the back of a drawer. You never quite know what you’re going to come back to and figure out how to make it work. You never quite know where that desire to finish something, or return to something in a fresh way, is going to come from. Every time I finished a film and went back and looked at it, I had changed as a person. The script was different to me. And, eventually, who I was as a writer, as a filmmaker, and what the script needed to be, all these things coincided.
DEADLINE: What breakthrough ended Inception’s 10-year script gestation period?
NOLAN: The final piece of the puzzle for me with the script I’d been trying to finish for about 10 years was figuring out how to connect emotionally with the central character in a way that would make it a more emotional story. The reason I got hung up on this is that I had first devised the rules of the world, using the heist genre as a way in. That genre embraces exposition and so it’s good for teaching a new set of rules to an audience. The problem is, heist movies tend to be a bit superficial, glamorous, and fun. They don’t tend to be emotionally engaging. What I realized after banging my head into a wall for 10 years trying to finish it is that when you’re dealing with the world of dreams, the psyche, and potential of a human mind, there has to be emotional stakes. You have to deal with issues of memory and desire. I figured out the emotional connection of the central character to the audience and made this about following his journey home to his children and his love for his wife. Those really were the final pieces of the puzzle that let me finish the script.
DEADLINE: While you were waiting for that solution, were there movies that came along that convinced you the technology was there to translate your visuals to the screen?
NOLAN: On The Dark Knight we really tried to push ourselves to achieve a lot of large-scale effects in camera, to really create a world by shooting on location, all around the world, and by doing very large in-camera gags like flipping an 18-wheeler truck on a busy downtown street, for real. Coming out the other side of that experience and having enjoyed it as much as I did left me feeling like we had a great team of people who could devise and photograph these kinds of visuals. I came away feeling well equipped to take on the world of Inception and the kind of outlandish imagery it would require. Most of the technology employed for the imagery of Inception is fairly old-fashioned. There is some newer technology that the guys at Double Negative brought to the table. The most daunting aspect of the visuals, for me, had always been things that had been based on in-camera technologies, like achieving zero gravity by building sets with different orientations and doing tricks with wires. Those techniques were based on seeing Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 when I was a kid, falling in love with deception and the magical tricks he did to convince an audience there was zero gravity. The thing that really gave me confidence to take on my film had more to do with my own experience, rather than technology in other people’s films. It was more about having had the opportunity to do some really large-scale filmmaking and getting comfortable with the big machine that’s involved in that to really get a handle on pushing the envelope with what we’d be able to do on set and in-camera.
DEADLINE: What advantages did writing on spec give you?
NOLAN: I had actually gone in and met with Warner Bros years before, right after I’d finished Insomnia, and described the project when I was starting to write it. They wanted to hire me then to write it, but I turned away from that opportunity. I realized with a project like Inception I would be trying to cross certain boundaries of genre and push the envelope of what mainstream movies are allowed to with an audience.
‘Tron: Legacy 3D’ Opens With $43.6M For Disney; ‘How Do You Know’ Expensive Flop For Sony; ‘Yogi Bear 3D’ Underperforms; 2010 Year-To-Date Crosses $10 Billion Mark
SATURDAY PM/SUNDAY AM UPDATE: If everybody like me is getting on or off a plane, then who’s at the movies this weekend? This is why, between shopping and partying and travelling, the last full weekend before Christmas is traditionally a lousy time for North American grosses. “They’re not rushing out to see movies. What you tend to forget, going into this weekend, is that the pool of people who are available, and don’t have a lot of commitments on their time in terms of parties and presents and vacations, is small,” a studio mogul explains to me. Meanwhile, Paul Dergarabedian is reporting that 2010 year-to-date revenues crossed the $10 billion mark this weekend, only the 2nd time in Hollywood history that this mark has been surpassed in domestic revenue. With only 12 days left in the box office year, he says it’s possible for record revenues beating last year’s $10.6 billion. But it’s because of higher ticket prices: attendance is likely 4% down from 2009’s full year total.
Here’s the Top 10:
1. Tron: Legacy 3D (Disney) NEW [3,451 Theaters]
Friday $18M, Saturday $14.9M, Weekend $43.6M, Intl $23M, Global $66.6M
Sequels 28 years after the original rarely happen in Hollywood. Yet this was exactly the sort of movie to benefit during the pre-Christmas rush because of the obvious fanboy interest, helped by the fact that every young male is out of school and can indulge his cultural need to see films like this first. So Hollywood and even Disney had been expecting a weekend of at least $50M. “Depends how good it is,” one rival studio exec snarked. The movie’s domestic grosses fell short. Remember that Friday’s number included $3.6M from midnight screenings, so Saturday’s take didn’t increase — not a good sign. With a budget estimated as $150M, and a global marketing push estimated at another $120M, Tron: Legacy 3D had a ton of pre-sales domestically but will have to depend on international overperforming. Globally, Tron 2 opened in 26 international markets (Australia, Brazil, Japan, Scandinavia, Spain, UK, etc.) representing about 50% of the marketplace. Overseas, Tron took in $23M for a worldwide total now of $66.6M.
Disney had arranged for “Tron Night” at 520 theaters in 40 countries, with premiere events in Tokyo, London, Los Angeles and Berlin (in January 2011). Not only did Tron 2 open the Tokyo International Film Festival, but key buildings in Osaka, Nagoya, and Yokohama were covered in blue Tron lights, while in Toronto the CN Tower was similarly lit up. Disney’s consumer products division came onboard. The studio even used its newly purchased Marvel to push the pic: a 2-issue comic book limited series, “Tron: Betrayal” grqaphic novel was sold under the Tron name. Meanwhile, the film’s soundtrack from Walt Disney Records produced by the Grammy Award-winning French duo Daft Punk hit #1 on Amazon, became iTunes single of the week, and debuted at #10 on the Billboard Top 200 — the first score soundtrack to debut in the Top 10 in five years.Nice, but that didn’t put moviegoers in seats…
2. Yogi Bear 3D (Warner Bros) NEW [3,515 Theaters]
Friday $4.7M, Saturday $7.1M, Weekend $16.7M
Not much good to say when Hollywood thought the bear could muster domestic grosses between $20M and $25M. Nope. The kiddie matinee bump for Yogi Bear was +52% on Saturday. Let’s see how it does over the holiday. But I pity the poor parent who has to sit through this Jellystone Park mind-dumber, even with the nostalgia factor. Especially considering the higher 3D ticket prices.
3. Narnia/Dawn Treader 3D (Walden/Fox) Week 2 [3,555 Theaters]
Friday $3.5M, Saturday $5.1M, Weekend $12.4M (-48%), Cume $42.7M
4. The Fighter (Relativity/Paramount) Week 2 [2,503 Theaters]
Friday $3.9M, Saturday $4.8M, Weekend $12.2M, Cume $12.6M
Paramount gushed what a “great start” this expansion is for their blue collar Oscar contender. “We should have great word of mouth and play to a great multiple,” an exec tells me because of The Fighter‘s high 88% positive reviews on Rotten Tomatoes and “A-” CinemaScore and mere $25M budget. The studio’s adult-targeted Christmas release last year, Up In The Air, did $11.3M in wider release and went on to gross $83M domestically. Exit polls shows The Fighter played to a very balanced audience, 47% male, 53% female, with its R rating obviously playing older, 87% were over age 25. “Adult movies in the window play to very high multiples, 6 to 8 times this weekend,” a Paramount exec tells me. “With these exits and reviews, it’s on a great path. Just in case you haven’t heard it already, here’s the backstory: Paramount had been developing this film with producers David Hoberman and Mark Wahlberg for several years. The moment he learned nearly 5 years ago that he’d be starring in the movie — alongside Matt Damon for then anointed director Darren Aronofsky — Wahlberg built a boxing ring his backyard, hired two trainers on his own dime, and trained hours each day to hone his skills. Wahlberg never stopped training, not when Damon dropped out and Brad Pitt came in, not when Aronofsky dropped out, Pitt left, and the project was nearly knocked out. Then Relativity Media came in and agreed to finance and produce the film. Director David O Russell was brought in and deals were restuctured to get the budget down to $25 million. Paramount retained the option to keep domestic rights, which the studio elected to do once it screened the final film.
5. The Tourist (GK Films/Sony) Week 2 [2,756 Theaters]
Friday $2.5M, Saturday $3.5M, Weekend $8.7M (-47%), Cume $30.7M
6. Tangled 3D (Disney) Week 4 [3,201 Theaters]
Friday $2.5M, Saturday $3.8M, Weekend $8.6M, Cume $129.7M
Not only does Disney’s Tangled look to overtake DreamWorks Animation’s Megamind ($142M) before the end of the year, but the Rapunzel retelling has now made $97.8M abroad for a worldwide cume of $225.6M.
7. Black Swan (Fox Searchlight) Week 3 [959 Theaters]
Friday $2.5M, Saturday $3.2M, Weekend $8.3M, Cume $15.7M
Terrific gross for the first wide expansion on this Oscar-touted film pre-holiday time. Black Swan will expand again on December 22 to approximately 500 additional theatres.
8. How Do You Know (Sony) NEW [2,483 Theaters]
Friday $2.5M, Saturday $2.9M, Weekend $7.6M
Sony Pictures all week had been warning me about how little Jim Brooks’ movies make. The problem is that none of his films have been this expensive. Brooks’ highest grossing opening as a director was $12.6 million for As Good As It Gets, in part because Jack Nicholson was the lead. At first Sony hoped to come close to that for a solid multiple since this is a season where these films leg out. Not this expensive flop. Today, even Sony admitted this was a “disappointing start”. Tracking stayed awful right up until the movie opened Friday well behind Black Swan which was expanding into almost 1,000 screens this weekend and scoring twice How Do You Know‘s first-choice numbers for women. As for mutiples, they’re dependent on good word of mouth which this bomb never had. Without that, anything less than $15M this weekend was a giant headache for Sony given what I’m told is How Do You Know‘s $120 million budget — no kidding, and for a comedy — while a weekend under $10M represents a $50 million writeoff for Sony. That’s because Brooks kept to his usual long, long schedule, shooting a ton of footage, all while Jack Nicholson and Owen Wilson and Paul Rudd and Reese Witherspoon were getting paid full freight. Brooks wrote this pic for and around Witherspoon, then he indulged in uber-expensive reshoots as the studio and the writer/director tried to make Reese’s unlikeable character more appealing. But Black Swan, in the words of one studio rival, was “a better alternative” at the box office for women. Ouch! Opening weekend exits showed the audience was 60% female and 55% over 30 years old. Sony has had another great year at the domestic box office, but it’ll try to sever its longtime connection with Jim Brooks after this.
9. Harry Potter/Deathly Hallows, Pt 1 (Warner Bros) Week 5 [2,860 Theaters]
Friday $1.5M, Saturday $2M, Weekend $4.8M, Cume $265.5M
10. Unstoppable (Fox) Week 6 [1,876 Theaters]
Friday $550K, Saturday $810K, Weekend $1.8M, Cume $77.3M
The King’s Speech (Weinstein Co) Week 4 [43 Theaters] Weekend $1M, Cume $2.9M
127 Hours (Fox Searchlight) Week 7 [307 theaters] Weekend $520K, Cume $9.2M
The Tempest (Miramax/Touchstone) Week 2 [21 Theaters] Weekend $53K, Cume $117K
Rabbit Hole (Lionsgate) NEW [5 Theaters] Weekend $55K
FRIDAY AM: Disney now says Tron Legacy 3D
Ben Affleck’s career trajectory rarely happens in Hollywood much less all by age 38: from unknown actor (Mallrats, Chasing Amy) to Oscar–winning co–writer (Good Will Hunting) to leading man (Armageddon, Pearl Harbor, Changing Lanes, The Sum of All Fears, Daredevil) to tabloid fixture (“Bennifer”) to washed–up star (after Gigli) to budding director (adapting Dennis Lehane’s novel Gone Baby Gone) to hot actor/helmer with the #1 opening movie September 17–19. For The Town, Affleck returns to his Boston roots and blue collar crime to adapt Chuck Hogan’s novel Prince Of Thieves for the big screen. The result: an adult–pleasing hit that has entered the Best Picture discussion. Mike Fleming talks to him about his and The Town‘s Oscar chances:
DEADLINE: So you wrote yourself a second career as a director in Gone Baby Gone. Now you’ve written yourself the edgiest role of your acting career since Good Will Hunting. How much of this was about you wanting to reinvigorate your onscreen career?
BEN AFFLECK: A huge part of this was wanting to play the role. I hadn’t had the chance to play a character as interesting as the one Chuck wrote in the book in a long time. In that sense, it did feel like Good Will Hunting because I was trying to make the movie, in part, as a step in my acting career.
DEADLINE: These R–rated crime dramas with action sometimes get marginalized in Oscar season, but this one has stayed in the conversation. Gone Baby Gone, though lauded, grossed only $35 million worldwide. The Town so far is nearing $150 million worldwide. What has most surprised you about the way it played and the reaction?
AFFLECK: Relative to my first movie, it didn’t have to do that well to be a step forward, so I was set up well. I think people caught up to that movie on DVD, but when you come out and do $20 million at the box office, nobody calls to congratulate you. In terms of pure commercial success, the thing that struck me was, our opening weekend on The Town was bigger than the whole number on Gone Baby Gone. This time, I had very modest expectations and I was really surprised the movie did as well as it did. It’s not a juggernaut, but my big goal was seeing it turn a profit for the studio. I use that as my metric for whether or not they’ll let me direct another movie. I remember calling up and saying, ‘So have you broken even yet? Are you going to make money on this? Are you happy?’ I’m a little embarrassed I’d done that, but it was what I set out to do. And it made me be sure I kept the costs down to under $40 million. This way I could make a movie that dealt with themes that interested me, at a pace I like dramatically.
DEADLINE: What went through your mind as you were deciding whether or not to do this?
AFFLECK: My first thought was, I really wanted to play the role. But I was concerned that the overlap between this and the other movie I directed would be too much, and that I ran the risk of getting pigeonholed for making crime movies in Boston. When I really want to tell stories that take place all over. That made me pause. But there were a couple things that ultimately persuaded me to take on directing it as well. There were a ton of great parts, and I thought the material gave me a shot to work with really good actors. And there was a big challenge in trying to synthesize the two elements of the movie. There was the traditional genre element — the robbery, heist, chase and all that stuff — which had to be done in an interesting and unique way in order to work. That needed to fuse with the character drama on the other side. I felt intimidated and daunted by that challenge, but felt, if I could execute it right, I’d put myself in a position to be able to make movies that I am really interested and attracted to. That is a rare thing in Hollywood. Mostly we’re just schmucks limited by our options.
DEADLINE: What did you do better this time?
AFFLECK: As director, this definitely had a broader scope than my first movie.
In this year’s wide-open Oscar race, many of the contenders are films that traveled long and hard roads just to get made. By that measure, few put in more work than Mark Wahlberg did for The Fighter, the David O. Russell-directed drama in which he plays Irish Micky Ward, the welterweight who fought his way to an unlikely world championship. Christian Bale lost 30 pounds to play half-brother crack addict Dicky Eklund, but Wahlberg’s commitment was even more dramatic. The moment he learned nearly 5 years ago that he’d be starring in the movie alongside Matt Damon for director Darren Aronofsky, Wahlberg built a boxing ring his backyard, hired two trainers on his own dime, and trained hours each day to hone his skills. Wahlberg never stopped training, not when Damon dropped out and Brad Pitt came in, not when Aronofsky dropped out, Pitt left, and the project was nearly knocked out. Wahlberg joined David Hoberman and Todd Lieberman as producer so, when the project was on the ropes, Wahlberg helped rework the picture from a $50M studio film into a scrappy $20M indie:
Deadline New York Editor & Film Editor Mike Fleming: Micky and Dicky were the pride of Lowell, Massachusetts. You came out of Dorchester. How far away were you from these guys and how aware were you of their story?
Mark Wahlberg: Lowell was 30 minutes away from Dorchester, we were on different sides of Boston. Lowell is more like a suburb, but not a rich one. These guys were big time legends. Dicky is older than me, he fought Sugar Ray Leonard in the 70s, so I wasn’t as aware of him as I was Micky, who was considered a superhero where I came from. I knew Dicky was supposed to be the great fighter but that he had his battles with drugs and I’d seen the documentary High On Crack Street. They filmed that in Lowell, about Dicky, and called it the biggest crack town in America.
DH: How did you become involved?
Wahlberg: I wanted to make a boxing movie, talked about a movie where I’d play Vinnie Curto and Bob De Niro would play his trainer, Angelo Dundee. I tried to make The Black Dahlia with Brian De Palma because there was an element of boxing in it. I’d already built a ring in my backyard by then. I first met Micky when I was 18 years old, and was a huge fan. I thought, this is the movie I should make. John Herzfeld and I want to Lowell to see Micky and Dicky and talk about the possibility. We found they’d already sold the rights 10 times over and it had become such a cluster fuck that it seemed there was no way we’d be able to sort it out. Then, five years ago, Brad Weston called me, said he had a script to send me. It’s about Irish Micky Ward, the boxer, he said. Do you know him? I was blown away by the script, and thought, we’re getting this done. I started training the day I got back from vacation. That’s how this whole thing began. Then we went from one co-star to another, different writers, directors, the whole thing.
DH: You grew up on the streets, in a tough neighborhood like they did. How did their story speak to your own experiences?
Wahlberg: There were so many comparisons to my life, my story, my upbringing. I am the youngest of nine kids. My brother was much more successful and was looked at as the chosen one, while I was the one in trouble. I had to play Micky. Dicky was a flashier role, but it wasn’t about that for me. It was about being believable as a guy who could win the welterweight title, and not look like an actor who could maybe box a little bit. Those four and a half years turned out to be the best thing for me, but if somebody had come to me and said, you’re going to have to train that long to make a movie, I’d have said, I’m fairly athletic and willing to work hard; I can do this in six months. Here, I never stopped training, even when I was making other movies.
DH: How helpful was having a genuine Boston guy as producer and star in gaining the trust of a family that obviously didn’t know what was coming when they participated in that documentary High on Crack Street?
Wahlberg: I assured them they would be portrayed in the light they deserved, that I cared about them, and was so proud of what they were able to do, in circumstances like that. That’s the only way I know how to do things. When I was doing The Perfect Storm, and portraying Bobby Shatford, I went to his family, and stayed with them. I wanted them to feel like we were going to protect him.
DH: It’s still a pretty raw portrayal of the family. What was the reaction of Micky and Dicky to the film?
Wahlberg: I showed it to them twice. First time, it was me and David, Christian and a couple other people, at Paramount. I realized how difficult it must be to see your life up there on the big screen, condensed to under two hours and I said, come see it with an audience. We did that in New Jersey and that was an experience. This movie is so down and dirty and real, but it has a lot of humor and emotion, and an amazing payoff at the end. To see the crowd’s reaction, I really felt proud. Micky got it the first time he saw it. For Dicky, it was harder to swallow. The fact is, he blew it. He was able to help his brother but felt like he’d ruined his own opportunity. That’s something that is never easy to fully accept.
DH: It’s easy to see why Matt Damon, Brad Pitt and then Christian Bale would spark to playing Dicky. By comparison, Micky is subtle and understated. Wasn’t there a moment when you thought, ‘I should play Dicky’?
Wahlberg: No. There was always one role for me to play, and that was the champ. I wasn’t giving up the belt. And look, who else was going to play that part and be as believable as a guy who could win the welterweight title? I love so many boxing films. What I wanted to do was to create the most realistic boxing in the movie and look like I could win that title.
DH: Which fight performances inspired you?
Wahlberg: There are so many. Raging Bull is so different than Rocky. Daniel Day-Lewis was very good in a lot of ways in The Boxer. Body and Soul. Robert Ryan, Kirk Douglas. We wanted to make one that was our own, but there was a little bit of the dark side of Raging Bull, and some Rocky. You see Micky Ward in any of his great fights, and they play like Rocky because of his style of fighting. And let’s not forget Hilary Swank. She looked good in there, starting out with no knowledge about a boxing ring. She’d never hit a speed bag, but she had heart and desire. She was fearless and was willing to get out there and go for it. Towards the end, she started looking pretty damn good.
The pace of the 2010 awards season seems at this early November juncture to be faster than any I can remember. (I feel like the title of the late and great Jill Clayburgh’s star turn, I’m Dancing As Fast As I Can.) Hopefuls are getting out there earlier, and more forcefully, in order to gain a foothold in the race any way they can. Examples from just two days’ worth of campaigning: Michelle Williams called me from the London set of My Week With Marilyn. Yes, she’s playing the iconic Monroe but couldn’t yet articulate what that means to her and instead wanted to talk about her awards contender, Blue Valentine. So we did before I had to run off to the Four Seasons Hotel to chat with Robert Duvall about his contender, Get Low. It was a summer release he’s now trying to keep in the conversation by doing an exhaustive series of interviews and Q&A sessions. For a guy who is about to turn 80, he could not have been more energized even with the daunting prospect of facing months of the “season” still to go. Javier Bardem called on his cell from a street corner in Madrid to recount for me the intense experience of making Biutiful. Then I had to again race to the Four Seasons for back to back bar chats with two other Best Actor wannabes, Kevin Spacey who talked Casino Jack before Aaron Eckhart arrived 10 minutes later to discuss Rabbit Hole.
With the exception of Get Low, all of the above were spotlighting work in independently made movies that are mid to late December releases. But their stars cannot afford to wait if they are to get on the map in this ultra-crowded season. The ever-busy Spacey was at the Britannias and an MPTVF event on Thursday night and also turned up Sunday evening at the Pacific Design Center for an actor-centric post-screening Q&A for SAG nominating committee members. Like an episode of Inside The Actors Studio, the packed house gave him a standing ovation. Reliable eyewitness sources tell me even more impressive standing O happened to Halle Berry two nights in a row at the same place where she Q&A’d her December stealth entry, Frankie & Alice for the NAACP Image Award voters Friday and SAG Nom Comm Saturday. They marked her indie’s first screenings but Berry wasn’t watching. She was out in the lobby doing TV interviews about what the project meant to her as an actress. Meanwhile publicists were frantically cutting film clips for the late-breaking entrant and hoping to have their DVD screeners out well before Thanksgiving. As part of her campaign, Berry will also be “in conversation” with a career retrospective Tuesday night at the AFI Fest.
Speaking of that, the AFI Film Festival opened with Twentieth Century Fox’s Love And Other Drugs. The glut of AFI galas is because it’s an inexpensive way for distribs to do LA premieres this time of year and still get maximum exposure. They included The Weinstein Co’s Blue Valentine with co-star Ryan Gosling and director Derek Cianfrance on the carpet at the Chinese. While down the street at the Egyptian, Sony Pictures Classics unveiled their comedy Barney’s Version with superlative performances from stars Paul Giamatti, Minnie Driver, and Dustin and Jake Hoffman who were all on hand for the stroll down that red carpet. The film, based on the Mordecai Richler story and previously seen in Venice and Toronto, was a hit at AFI with special praise for absent co-star Rosamund Pike who could find her way into the supporting actress race.
If you had any doubt that Oscar season is upon us, the flurry of events and openings this week prove it. The AFI Film Fest opened last night at Mann’s Chinese with Ed Zwick’s Love And Other Drugs and continues all week with a slew of major contenders getting their official (and unofficial) Los Angeles premieres, including Rabbit Hole, Blue Valentine, Black Swan, Barney’s Version, Casino Jack, Made In Dagenham, and Friday night’s red carpet gala for The Weinstein Company’s The King’s Speech. And across town Thursday night at the Hyatt in Century City, Harvey Weinstein and The King’s Speech director Tom Hooper were hearing lots of praise from the Brits gathered for their black tie Brittania Awards, an annual show put on by BAFTA-LA this year honoring Jeff Bridges, Christopher Nolan, Ridley and Tony Scott, Michael Sheen, and Betty White. Receiving the Charlie Chaplin Britannia for Excellence in Comedy, she teased that she’d never slept with Chaplin, then added, “Well, maybe just once.”
Hooper had appeared at a BAFTA screening of his film the night before which reportedly played like gangbusters with the understandably partial crowd. Weinstein told me he is “fighting” mad about the MPAA decisions to give his Blue Valentine an NC 17 and King’s Speech a PG 13, the latter for one expletive-laden speech in which Colin Firth’s King George VI tries to lose his stutter through a vocal exercise requiring him to recite a series of bad words. As far as the MPAA is concerned, one “fuck” gets you a PG-13 but two “fucks” get you an R. Harvey pledged to take on the MPAA, at least with Valentine, but has no plans to make cuts in either film. Hooper told me he even refused to put bleeps in the airline version. Speech producer Gareth Unwin, also at the Britannias, told me the version of the scene in the finished film is positively tame compared to a couple of other takes where the King’s language really got down and dirty. If they had known the scene was going to get them an R anyway, Unwin said they might have really gone for the jugular. (Bonus extras on the DVD?)
EXCLUSIVE: In a move that could give a kick-start to the Warner Bros campaign to land major Oscar recognition for their brainy summer blockbuster Inception, the Santa Barbara International Film Festival will present the film’s writer/director/producer Christopher Nolan with its highest honor, the Modern Master Award on January 30th at the historic Arlington Theatre. The award, which was first given in 1995, is designed for an “individual who has enriched our culture through his/her multi-faceted accomplishments in the motion picture industry”. Past recipients have included, among others, Michael Douglas, Sean Penn, Jodie Foster, Peter Jackson, George Clooney, Clint Eastwood and last year, James Cameron.
Previous installments of my 2010 Oscar contenders rundown have included Part 1 about Oscar race films that played the Big 3 Fall Festivals: Venice, Toronto, and Telluride. And then Part 2 about Oscar race films set for release in the final three months of the year that skipped those fests or simply weren’t ready in time. Now in Part 3, I’ll look back at films from the first eight months of the year that have reason for awards hopes, and, in some cases, may have to struggle against the odds just to be remembered. If I left any film out, it was purely intentional. I am not listing pics that don’t have a rat’s chance. Here they are, in order of release date. And, remember, these are just titles from the first 8 months of the year:
THE GHOST WRITER (Summit - Feb 17) Roman Polanski earned strong reviews for this Hitchcock-style drama in which Ewan MacGregor ghostwrites the memoirs of a former British Prime Minister played by Pierce Brosnan. It has a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 84% fresh and did well by indie film standards. Oscar Chance: Summit will have to step up to the plate in order to revive it. Insiders at the distrib have special hopes for a Brosnan supporting bid.
SHUTTER ISLAND (Paramount - Feb 19) Paramount had initially penciled in this fine Martin Scorsese thriller starring Leonardo DiCaprio for last season’s awards race. But financial considerations led them to move to the very unfriendly Oscar territory of February. Yet it became the legendary director’s most successful film ever at the box office, earning $292 million worldwide and receiving good critical notice. Oscar Chance: The studio intends to campaign it and has already sent out screening notices to Guilds and Academy members. But it will be competing with Par’s two year-end entries True Grit and The Fighter for attention from the front office.
ALICE IN WONDERLAND (Walt Disney Pictures - March 5) Tim Burton’s take on the classic tale remains one of the biggest success stories of the year with a whopping billion dollar take at the worldwide boxoffice. Critical response was right down the middle with a 51% fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes. Oscar Chance: This would seem a natural bet for the Golden Globes Comedy/Musical categories and lots of technical nods at the Academy, too.
CITY ISLAND (Anchor Bay - March 19) Andy Garcia’s finely-honed comic turn in this New York-centric family comedy could — and should — be remembered at Golden Globe time. Oscar Chance: Slim, but the tiny distributor has hired a PR firm to make sure it’s not forgotten. Awards pundits got a DVD in the mail this week.
THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO (Music Box - March 19) The first in the Swedish trilogy became the most successful foreign language release of the year and has created Best Actress buzz for star Noomi Rapace. Oscar Chance: Music Box will have to spend to reap rewards. Problem is, Rapace has become so hot that she’s now filming the Sherlock Holmes sequel in England and likely won’t be around to promote the final chapter, The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest when it opens at the end of the month. She’ll miss valuable face time in front of voters.
GREENBERG (Focus Features – March 19) Focus has set up some screenings and includes it in their Academy ads. But it’s not likely to give much support beyond that to this Ben Stiller/Noah Baumbach passion project which never quite caught on the way they hoped. Oscar Chance: Uh, probably not.
HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON (Dreamworks Animation – March 26) Rapturous reviews gave it a 98% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes placing it between Toy Story 3 and The Social Network for bragging rights. Top box office doesn’t hurt, either. Oscar Chance: An animated feature nod is a given. But Dreamworks is aggressively going for the gold with this one, starting with a big DVD launch party next week to renew the fire. Suggestions of not only an animated category nom but also Best Picture mean they dream big there. But is there room for two toons on that list of 10 which will include Disney’s Toy Story 3?
PLEASE GIVE (Sony Pictures Classics – April 30) Writer/Director Nicole Holofcener’s quirky comedy was well received and sparked buzz of an Original Screenplay nomination upon its release last spring. But that seems to have faded. Oscar Chance: It’s still deserving as is Ann Morgan Guilbert’s nifty supporting turn as the tenant who just won’t die. SPC will be asking members to please give the DVD a play.
MOTHER AND CHILD (Sony Pictures Classics – May 7) Rodrigo Garcia’s multi-character drama came and went in theatres, so wisely SPC made sure the screener was the very first one Academy voters got this season. Oscar Chance: On the DVD box, they are suggesting Annette Bening for Best Actress but, great as she is here, there’s no way she gets it for this over the higher profile The Kids Are All Right.
This same time last year, no one was seriously considering the awards prospects of a little Deep South sports-themed movie called The Blind Side. Not even after I saw the film at a small screening on the Warner Bros lot and wrote in early November 2009 that I thought Sandra Bullock would, against all expectations at the time, become a major Oscar contender. Instead, commenters and bloggers vilified my prediction. Of course, she not only went on to win, the film received a Best Picture nomination. Now everyone in Oscar punditry is looking for the “next Blind Side” with many eyes focused on the feel-good Disney sports drama, Secretariat that was sneaked last weekend to pump up word of mouth and tracking before its Friday opening. In many ways, the comparisons are apt. Both are true stories about one woman’s singular cause: taking an athlete from rags to riches. In this case, though, that athlete is a horse and the woman is owner Penny Chenery played by Diane Lane who, unlike Bullock at this point, has already made several potential Best Actress nominee short lists. And, with 10 nominees to pick for Best Picture, the “Blind Side slot” for an old-fashioned feel-good movie the Academy falls for as much as the general public, even if critics don’t, is not out of the question for a crowd pleaser like Secretariat. Providing it is first able to achieve hit status at the box office. Its Rotten Tomatoes rating currently stands at 63% fresh and Roger Ebert has called it “a great movie” although the basic critical consensus is mixed, just as it was for Blind Side. Hip factor and critics aside though, the Academy has already shown a predilection for this particular type of “stand up and cheer” movie by nominating Universal’s Seabiscuit for 7 Oscars including Best Pic in 2003 and that was when there were just a measly 5 nominees.
Secretariat director Randall Wallace has previous Oscar experience: he was a screenwriting nominee for the 1995 Best Picture winner Braveheart and is not drawing comparisons. “The Academy has a mind of its own. It’s interesting the whole notion of what makes something Oscar-worthy,” he told me in a phone conversation yesterday. “I’m in the Academy and my criteria has to do with how it affects my heart and whether something is authentic. I don’t know whether Braveheart was thought to be a frontrunner or a dark horse, but you don’t make these movies with the idea of winning awards. You win awards for making a powerful movie.”