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2010 – The Year in (moving) Pictures…

January 5th, 2011 No comments

Charles Dickens wrote in “A Tale of Two Cities” “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” but he might as well have been talking about the film year just passed. 2010 brought us pronounced Hollywood highs and lows, from the (continued) historic box-office success of 3-D juggernaut “Avatar” to the cringe-worthy release of “Sex and the City 2,” but perhaps the biggest story all year has been the public’s perceived paucity of quality entertainment coming from Hollywood. For every success like “Toy Story 3,” there were scads of expensive failures, from “The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader” or “The Sorceror’s Apprentice” to “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time” (the latter two films being rare flops from mega-budget producer Jerry Bruckheimer). And then there was “The Last Airbender,” which offended fans of the series and struck out both artistically and at the box office, despite being 3-D retrofitted by Paramount.

But the news wasn’t all bad: there were big-budget successes (other than Fox’s “Avatar,” which made $477 domestically in 2010), like Tim Burton’s 3-D opus “Alice in Wonderland,” which earned Disney $334 million, as well as the think-piece of the year, Christopher Nolan’s “Inception,” which simultaneously thrilled and confounded audiences with its reality-bending storyline, pulling in $293 million domestically for Warner’s. Harry Potter made a return to America’s movie screens in “Harry Potter and the Deadly Hallows: Part 1” and pulled-in $273 million, but the film couldn’t be made into 3-D by its already-set release date, so Warner Brothers sacrificed B.O. bucks while gleaning praise by purists for not cutting corners. Unfortunately, the same couldn’t be said for Warner’s “Clash of the Titans,” which, like ‘Airbender,’ retrofitted itself to 3-D, with predictably bad artistic results (although being the first at the trough helps, since ‘Titans’ made over $163 million domestically).

But when the Motion Picture Academy announces its Oscar nominees on January 25, 2011, don’t expect to hear too many of these films being mentioned. For starters, “Avatar” was a 2009 release, and it did OK at the 2010 Oscars, but James Cameron’s ex-wife Kathryn Bigelow walked away with the statuettes for Best Picture and Best Director for “The Hurt Locker,” and that film also won for Mark Boal’s original screenplay. This year it’s about critically acclaimed movies (think  either low-budget or so-so box office), like The Weinstein Company’s “The King’s Speech,” whose ad campaigns seem eerily reminiscent of “Shine,” probably because of star Geoffrey Rush, or Sony’s David Fincher-directed, Aaron Sorkin-scripted “The Social Network,” which packs so much dialogue into its two hour running-time that the shooting script was 180 pages long. Another  potential nominee is Danny Boyle’s ultra-intense “127 Hours,” but after his manic “Slumdog Millionaire,” it’s doubtful he’d win again so soon, but James Franco seems a lock for a Best Actor nomination. While you’re at it, add “Black Swan” and Natalie Portman to the list, as well as Lisa Chodolenko’s “The Kids are All Right,” which seems destined to earn a few acting nominations for its stars. David O. Russell’s “The Fighter” falls into this group of critically-lauded but low-performing films.

One of the year’s best reviewed films is also its longest and hardest to find. “Carlos,” a 5 1/2 hour epic by Olivier Assayas about the international terrorist known as ‘Carlos the Jackal.’ The film was made for Canal Plus; it’s a demanding biography that travels through the history of international terrorism of the 1970s and 1980s. Because Assayas’ film was initially made for television (and already aired, last October, on the Sundance Channel) it won’t be earning any Oscar nominations. Even still, “Carlos” consistently placed highly on critics’ year-end ‘best’ lists, and was an audience favorite at last year’s Cannes Film Festival.

2010 wasn’t really a year for the record books – domestic box office receipts dropped along with ticket sales, approximately 5%. But the 3-D ‘premium’ ticket price kept things nearly even. Even still, of the top ten films at the U.S. box office in 2010, 6 of them were 3-D – but only 2 of those were live-action films: “Avatar” and “Alice in Wonderland.” The remaining films were all animated: “Toy Story 3,” Universal’s “Despicable Me,” and Paramount’s “Shrek Forever After” and “How to Train Your Dragon.” So although 3-D is credited with bringing additional change into studio coffers, that trend seems to be slipping, with audiences growing more picky about whether they spring for the extra bucks to see “Yogi Bear” in 3-D. Although more 3-D films are in the works, it’s still not clear whether 3-D is a technological advance in filmmaking – or a way for the studios to grab a few extra bucks.

With more big-budget films coming your way for 2011, there should be plenty for everyone. Did I mention Sony’s “The Green Hornet” opens in 3-D next week? See you at the movies!

Amicable Splits, Miraculous Revivals and Movie Piracy!

June 14th, 2010 No comments

Notable in Hollywood news this week: verification of a long-rumored split, confirmation of a sudden (but friendly) departure, the resurrection of two franchises and the reinstatement of movie piracy, at least for the purposes of gathering theatergoer coin…

Amicable Split: Part 1

“Twilight” series fans, rejoice! Summit Entertainment, the film company behind “Breaking Dawn,” the adaptation of the fourth (and final) book in Stephenie Meyer’s ‘Twilight’ saga, announced on Friday that “Breaking Dawn” will be split into two films, with the first of the pair to be released on November 18, 2011. Set to be directed by Bill Condon, (“Dreamgirls“), production on “Breaking Dawn” will start this fall; all of its stars and supporting cast are returning for another go-round. The third film in the “Twilight” series, “Eclipse,” directed by David Slade, (“Hard Candy,” “30 Days of Night”), opens later this month, on June 30th.

It’s long been rumored that the final tome in Stephenie Meyer’s wildly-successful ‘vampires and werewolves chaste love triangle’ series would be split into two films, a la the last two “Pirates of the Caribbean” sequels, which, coincidentally, are about to be followed up by a fourth ‘Pirates’ franchise picture (see below for more…)

Amicable Split: Part 2

News leaked out quietly this week that longtime Sony executive Peter Schlessel, whose title as “President of Worldwide Affairs” had to be one of the coolest studio titles ever, is leaving the studio after 21 years of involvement as a senior dealmaker, advisor and, as the local trades described him, consigliere. It’s not like he’s going far: he’ll be joining Graham King (“Gangs of New York,” “The Young Victoria,” “The Departed”) as President of GK Films; Schlessel was instrumental in bringing the successful British producer into the Sony fold via a distribution deal that will see the studio releasing GK product like the upcoming Johnny DeppAngelina Jolie starrer “The Tourist,” as well as Martin Scorsese’s planned 3-D adaptation of the best-selling youth novel “The Invention of Hugo Cabret.”

 A former president of Columbia Pictures and successful producer in his own right, Schlessel most recently ran Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions Group, which acquired Sony’s only 2009 Best Picture Academy Award nominee, “District 9,” oversaw the “This Is It” Michael Jackson documentary and engineered a DVD output deal with the Weinstein Company. His ability to move upward in Sony was capped by the presence of studio co-chairs Michael Lynton and Amy Pascal, so Schlessel made himself into a ‘free agent,’ to employ a sports analogy, and joined one of the hottest teams in the league. In the interest of full disclosure, I have met Mr. Schlessel, and found him to be bright and personable. His career success speaks for itself, as do the many kudos he’s received since word leaked out of his departure from Sony.   

Back From the Dead (or Dead Drunk)!

Two Hollywood franchises were resurrected recently: Russell Brand has been re-Branded as “Arthur,” the lovable drunk made popular in Steve  Gordon’s 1981 Oscar-winning film (and its less successful sequel). He’ll be joined by Greta Gerwig and Jennifer Garner as his love interests, along with supporting veterans Helen Mirren and Nick Nolte. The new script was written by Peter Baynham, (“Bruno”), who re-wrote “Arthur” as a vehicle for his pal Brand.

Bourne-again?!

And if you though Jason Bourne was a distant memory, forget it… Universal has revived its moneymaking Bourne franchise despite the fact that star Matt Damon and director Paul Greengrass, who directed the last two of the three ‘Bourne’ big screen entires, will not be returning to the series. A treatment  for the fourth intallment in the series, “The Bourne Legacy,” will be written by the screenwriter of the three previous films, Tony Gilroy, (“Michael Clayton,” “State of Play”), who will also write a ‘bible’ for the ‘Bourne’ franchise, suggesting that the studio sees additional spin-off or sequel opportunities in the world of shadowy spy Jason Bourne. Oddly, although series creator Robert Ludlum died in 2001, his work has never been hotter, with half-a-dozen properties in varying stages of development; even odder is the fact that the latest film takes its title from a ‘Bourne’ novel written by authorized Ludlum successor Eric Lustbader, but will not take its plot: Gilroy will provide that.  

Hollywood Hearts Pirates

In another demonstration that nothing succeeds like success (or, in this case, excess), Disney has announced that Jerry Bruckheimer’s ‘Pirates of the Caribbean” series’ latest entry, “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” has cast Geoffrey Rush for a fourth go-round as Captain Hector Barbossa opposite Johnny Depp, who committed to another ‘Pirates’ film after the stellar box office success of the first three entries. Both Depp and Rush join a largely-new cast, including new director Rob Marshall (“Chicago”) who took over from the previous films’ Gore Verbinski, along with new leading lady Penelope Cruz and new villain Ian McShane. In addition to its two returning stars and producer Jerry Bruckheimer, also returning to the franchise are screewriters Terry Rossio and Ted Elliott, who penned the previous three ‘Pirates’ films.