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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!

‘Ass’ Kicks ‘Dragon’

April 20th, 2010 No comments

For the second time in two weeks, the order of the reported #1 and #2 weekend films has changed. It’s not surprising, given the closeness of the two amounts; “How to Train Your Dragon” reported an estimate of $20 million, while the presumptive #2, “Kick-Ass,” reported $19.8 million in weekend box office receipts.

Of course, that’s ONLY if you believed the studio estimates… And that’s not always the best thing to do. Because sometimes (like twice in the last two weeks!!) the studios ‘fudge’ their numbers. So, in the end, “How to Train Your Dragon” actually made $19.6 million – meaning someone at Paramount fudged the total by $400K. Ironically, “Kick-Ass”‘ estimates were spot-on, remaining at $19.8 million.

Of course, ‘Dragon’ remains popular at the box office, having taken in $158 million domestically, and the 3-D version represents about 65% of that total. Fanboy flick “Kick-Ass” should continue to do well for the next week or so, but then it (and every other film in the marketplace) will run into the “Iron Man 2” buzzsaw when Paramount’s tentpole picture opens on May 7th.

Liar, Liar…! ‘Dragon’ on Fire?

April 19th, 2010 No comments

 

 It was another squeaker at the domestic box office this weekend. And another extraordinary round of B.O. estimating, Liar’s Poker style…

According to “Daily Variety,” new release “Kick-Ass” won the Friday ‘frame’ of the weekend, with $7.5 million, while two other films, “Date Night” and weekend opener “Death at a Funeral” were in a virtual Friday tie, with $5.5 million each. It would suggest a tough battle between niche markets to take the weekend. BUT – there’s always the inevitable Hollywood third-act twist (… or IS THERE?)!

Gotta hand it to those distribution dudes… they really know how to wring the suspense out of a weekend. So, as the dragon-smoke clears, and those estimates are faxed in (or emailed in – who knows? With the occasional ‘accuracy’ of some of these numbers, maybe they’re sent by Ouija board…), a new box office champ is crowned – sort of. Last week’s ‘surprise’ repeat #1, “Clash of the Titans,” slipped to the number 5 slot, supplanted by ANOTHER 3-D film, “How to Train Your Dragon,” in its 3rd week of release. As a reminder, ‘Dragon’ opened in the  #1 slot, but quickly fell to #3 in its second week. Its buoyed finish may have something to do with the higher price of 3-D movie tickets – or a particularly bold ‘bluff’ in the Liar’s Poker game of weekend film gross estimating. 

Kick-Ass still

And here’s the rub… ‘Dragon’ beat out “Kick-Ass” to take the #1 weekend slot – but only by $200k. In ESTIMATED dollars. So, I think you know where this is headed… If, as happened last weekend, one studio (or more) got ‘generous’ with their estimated weekend take, the order of #1 and #2 would certainly change… And “Kick-Ass” would open at #1, which is undoubtedly what Lionsgate, its studio, wants. PLUS – and this is one of those ‘only in Hollywood’ scenarios, Lionsgate is mired in a nasty takeover bid by Carl ‘Destroyer of Worlds’ Icahn, and having a number one picture at the box office would be a big boost to the beleaguered mini-major.

As for the rest of the liars at this poker game, “Date Night” and “Death at a Funeral” finished at #3 and #4, with $17.3 and $17 million respectively, but with only $300k between them, it’s anyone’s guess who the ‘real’ #3 and #4 are. Unless they substantially underreported, “Clash of the Titans” should definately have a lock on fifth place, with $15.8 million.

WE’RE #2!! WE’RE #2!!

April 13th, 2010 1 comment

  

 Well, ‘the final numbers’ are in for last weekend’s box office…

AND GUESS WHAT?!

Somebody played ‘liar’s poker’ with the estimates – so to speak. Because in the final analysis, much-derided (but apparently popular) “Clash of the Titans” retained #1 position, while the pretender to the box office throne, to coin a phrase, “Date Night,” dropped to #2 when their estimate of $27.1 million actually turned out to be $25.2 million. That’s nearly $2 million off… Is it studio spin – or really, really bad addition? I think anyone who understands how the movie business works knows it’s the former and not the latter.

 

For its part, “Clash of the Titans” was relatively conservative in its ‘upward’ estimation, coming in with a final box office draw of $26.6 million, versus their weekend estimated total of $26.9 million. Even still, having the movie hold on to the number one slot for another week is a feather in actor Sam Worthington’s cap, and you can bet his agent is already using the ‘corrected’ box office chart as proof his client sells movie tickets.

 

Getting credit for the most accurate ‘estimating’ is “Tyler Perry’s Why Did I Get Married Too,” which presented an estimate that underreported the movie’s gross by a mere $17 thousand.

 

And MGM underreported as well – and Disney over-estimated, so “Hot Tub Time Machine” and “Alice in Wonderland” switched positions on the box office chart, flipping Monday’s reported #6 and #7 films: now the Lion’s on top of Alice, to conjure a strange image. 

Liar’s Poker, indeed. Gotta love Hollywood – it embraces artifice not just in its films, but in its bookkeeping as well! 

Is Third the NEW #1?

April 11th, 2010 No comments

The conclusion of ” My Favorite Year” will be posted soon… In the meantime:

 

Well, the weekend box office numbers are in, and they’re a perfect example of what I call the ‘liar’s poker’ potential of film distribution. Every weekend movie theaters report box office estimates on a daily basis starting on Friday, to the studios (or their distribution companies) whose films they are exhibiting. As a result of these ‘numbers,’ as they’re called, the studio/distributor comes up with an estimated total of what the film did overall each day and total for the weekend, which is considered Friday to Sunday. By early Sunday morning, the “numbers are in…” and the studios/distributors announce how their films ‘did’ at the box office. Industry insiders, media and other cinema pundits get the numbers first and attempt to make sense of them, generating buzzworthy articles about record openings – or utter bombs. (Think: “Clash of the Titans” for the former, “Pluto Nash” for the latter.)

But there’s a problem. Because the reporting of ‘numbers’ are left in the hands of mere mortals like you and me (no ‘Titans’ to be found in Distribution, alas…), ‘mistakes’ can be made. And by mistakes I mean exagerations, errors of scale, mathmatical miscalculations, providing for inflation, unconscious prevarication and/or out-and-out lying. There have been times when the ‘number one’ and ‘number two’ pictures for the weekend have been reversed in order after the ‘final numbers’ come in on Tuesday, but to the distributors and studios, it’s the sizzle, NOT the steak they’re selling. More often, the second, third and fourth pictures jockey for reality, but occasionally it’s clumps of pictures fighting it out for position. And that’s precisely what this weekend’s numbers suggest.

The number one film of the weekend (according to “Daily Variety”), was 20th Century Fox’s comedy “Date Night,” with $27.1 million. Directly behind was the aforementioned “Clash of the Titans,” which reported a total of $26.9 million (and which was called ‘cheeseball’ recently by Jeffrey Katzenberg in a ‘Variety’ interview when he disparaged the film’s post-engineered 3-D process as a way simply to cash in on a craze). The films’ two hundred thousand dollar difference is small enough to be ‘corrected’ after Tuesday’s final numbers, but it does imply that one film triumphed over the other at the weekend box office.

BUT WAIT – There’s more…. The #3 picture for the weekend was Dreamworks’ “How to Train Your Dragon,” with a reported estimated total of $25.4 million. Doing the math, that means that there is less than $1.7 million separating the #1 picture from the #3 picture. That is certainly enough for someone playing ‘liar’s poker’ with box-office receipt numbers to manipulate the order of finish. AND – to complicate things, the next tier of films ALSO ended up in a close finish. “Tyler Perry’s Why Did I Get Married, Too?” ended up with a reported $11 million,  but the Miley Cyrus-starrer “The Last Song” finished only 10% behind, with $10 Million. Who’s bluffing – and who’s holding the cards?…

The films rounding out the remaining four films also clump up, suggesting studio distribution guys were working overtime with their calculators massaging totals for a ‘Hollywood’ happy ending. The #6 and #7 films, respectively, were “Alice in Wonderland” with $5.6 Million and “Hot Tub Time Machine” with $5.4 million. Bringing up the rear was a virtual tie between Sony’s “The Bounty Hunter” and Fox’s “Diary of a Wimpy Kid,” with $4.3 and $4.1 million each, respectively. Again, we’ll just have to wait until the REAL numbers come out on Tuesday…

But who knows? Maybe everybody told the complete truth this weekend and there was no ‘liar’s poker’ at the box office. Stranger things have happened. If it happened in Hollywood, there was probably someone nearby to spin it into publicity gold!