Sunday, February 28, 2010

He Said, She Said: VALENTINE'S DAY

He Said: J McKiernan: Happy Valentine's Day, K...

She Said: K McKiernan: Two weeks late, but that's okay, Love.

JM: In the spirit, let's unleash some "love" on Garry Marshall's star-studded, money-making, studio-fantastic film, Valentine's Day.

KM: I know it’s not cool to do anything but crack on this movie, but I enjoyed it. Was it the best filmmaking ever created? Hell no, but as a date movie, Valentine's Day delivers pretty much everything I want and expect. I was entertained and I got to sit and be embraced in nice warm fuzzies (mostly) for its running length. It helped that I was next to my valentine as well. Okay, so, go, tear me and the movie apart. I know you want to.

JM: Look, it would be fun to tear this movie apart, but I won' least not with the visceral vigor I expected to going in. Is the film pretty simpering and shallow? Obviously. Is it so densely populated with movie stars at every corner that many stories get short shrift? Absolutely. Is it Garry Marshall's lame attempt to score a Love Actually type lovebird happy movie? Yes, and it can't come anywhere near the joyous wonder of Love Actually. But is it the ungodly atrocity I expected walking into the screening room? Well, no, it wasn't. I expected a steaming turd, and I got a mediocrity with some sweet moments.

Continure reading after the jump...

Thursday, February 25, 2010

He Said, She Said Reel Dialogue: DEAR JOHN

JM: Dear K, I think we need to talk about Dear John.

KM: Ok, let's get super sappy and start.

JM: So, let's about young love on some random local beach community where the guy is a black sheep and the girl comes from Southern high society, then he goes off to war -- 'cause he's also a soldier -- and gripping emo-drama ensues. Must be another insipid Nicholas Sparks adaptation.

KM: You know, maybe because it was near Valentine's Day and I wanted to have a good time, but the movie's first hour made me warm and fuzzy. I was along for the ride and was okay with it. But then, blech! Gone. No more good feelings. It really gagged me. Maybe there is only so much sweet I can take!

JM: Look, here's the deal. For the most part, I'm with you. I mean, this being a Nicholas Sparks adaptation, the story is never going to rise above standard romantic boilerplate; the conflicts will never be anything other than trials of love lost, and the solution can never be reached by any plot development more complex than death (Oops! I might have given something away!). But for the first hour, when it's all about charm and loveliness, when we are only receiving vague foreshadowing of the upcoming emotional vomitorium, the film is watchable enough.

KM: That's what I am saying. And, it certainly is not hard to watch the hunky Channing Tatum or the lovely Amanda Seyfried. Both actors are the best part of this film, by far, and they have quite the chemistry brewing. They are as talented as they are "easy on the eyes."

JM: I quite like Seyfried and Tatum as actors, and the film is directed by, of all people, Lasse Hallstrom (The Cider House Rules, Chocolat), who gives the film more directorial cred than any Sparks movie has ever possessed. But at the end of the day, no wonderful actors and no strong direction can save the day from a story like this, which only functions as an emotional conveyor belt.

Continue reading after the jump....

The Decades: 1990s

A lot of people like to bad-mouth the 1990s. It was the decade that started the culture on a downward spiral, some might say. The music sucked, others might posit. Too many yuppies. Too much malaise. And the movies...well, many would argue that the decade is still too young to determine the true classics from the 1990s.

I don't buy that. The country was actually on the rise throughout the 1990s, and the movies reflect that upward mobility. Year after year delivered classic after classic. The decade started with a massive behemoth of a classic -- Goodfellas -- and ended with a flourish of virtuoso creativity with titles like Magnolia, American Beauty, Three Kings, Being John Malkovich, and many others. In between, the decade was marked by countless other films, simultaneously beautiful and daring, challenging and entertaining. Movies to make us think. Movies to make us cheer. Movies to dazzle us. Movies to change our lives. Yes, it happened in the '90s.

And setting aside any high-brow criticism and focusing solely on the personal heart of a lifelong movie lover, the '90s hold a special place in my heart. It was the decade I came of age as a writer, a critic, a filmmaker, a film scholar, a film-obsessed nut. It was the decade I grew up, and I grew up with these movies.

The list follows after the jump...

Is This For Real?

If you happen to pop by the LA Times' Gold Derby blog, run by Tom O'Neil, who for many years was the happy-faced milquetoast who made predictions on all the E! channel's pre-awards broadcasts and is now the awards prediction guru/milquetoast, you may have noticed this little bit of gossip:

O'Neil is touting an Inglourious Basterds Oscar upset for Best Picture.

And he's sticking with it, calling his prediction "100% accurate."

O'Neil bases his pick on previous upset wins by Crash in 2005 and Weinstein's own Shakespeare in Love in 1998. Both of those films took the Best Cast prizes at the Screen Actors Guild awards -- since the acting branch represents the largest block of Academy voters -- over the season's presumed front-runners (Brokeback Mountain in '05, Saving Private Ryan in '98) and surged ahead for the eventual upset BP win. He also cites that, like The Hurt Locker, both Brokeback and Private Ryan won the Producers Guild and Directors Guild prizes their respective years, but the SAG winner took home Oscar gold. So...I get it. But history also shows us that both Crash and Shakespeare won the Writer's Guild award in addition to the SAG. And any sentient and knowledgable filmgoer will know that Tarantino is a writer first and foremost, and if Basterds was assumed to upset in any category, it would be for its screenplay. And Hurt Locker toppled Basterds at the Writer's Guild Awards this year. thoughts?

Read more after the jump...

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Are We Really Doing This?

View the new red band trailer for Kick Ass (in theaters April 26) and decide for youself. Are today's directors getting lazy or do they know what's super "cute"? Take a great concept and have the 12 year old female actor curse worse than a sailor.

She Says: Cheap. Lazy. Disappointing as hell.


JM: So, K, are we ready to talk mythology?

KM: Sure thing, J.

JM: Okay, in the mythology of modern epic filmmaking, Chris Columbus is a villain worse than Hades, and his latest film, Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief, is like sitting in the Underworld for two hours.

KM: It felt like longer than two hours, to be honest.

JM: I'm surprised it didn't run longer, given Columbus' bloated, overlong installments of the Harry Potter series. But this introduction to the Percy Jackson series -- an adaptation of the first of Rick Riordan's five youth novels -- is even worse than Columbus' clumsy, pedestrian Potter entries. By far. This movie is heinous.

 Continue reading after the jump.....

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

He Said, She Said Reel Dialogue: A Tale of Two Atrocities

HE SAID: J McKiernan: Hey, K, let's talk Edge of Darkness.

SHE SAID: K McKiernan: If you reallllly want to. Shoot.

JM: I've been waiting for this moment for weeks now, when I could go on record with the following statement: Edge of Darkness is the devil. It is the foremost example of cinematic evil.

KM: I feel really dirty when I leave a film like that, too. I did not think it as evil as you did, but I found it pretty repugnant. And, what is worse is that it does well. The idea of people loving to watch Mel Gibson be bad-ass and cutthroat nasty is really sad to me.

JM: I expected the film to beat Avatar in its opening weekend, but it didn't. So, actually, it hasn't done as well as I expected it to, this being Mad Mel's first on-screen lead in 7 ½ years. But the fact that this film made any money -- the fact that this film got made in the first place -- that's my problem.

KM: Right. Exactly. I am not saying it was the best box office smash, but the fact that it makes money period is nauseating.

JM: And look, obviously the film is not Horror Porn, but it inflicts a similar evil. It is “Revenge Porn.” We are intended to shell out $10 a piece to masturbate our bloodlust and exact emotional revenge on everyone who's wronged us in the past. I'd rather pay $90 an hour for a therapy session than watch Mel Gibson exact violent revenge.

KM: There is this very real and dangerous thread of Revenge Porn (as you so aptly term it) that is polluting cinema. Law Abiding Citizen, a fall 2009 thriller featuring Jamie Foxx and Gerard Butler, which is being released this week on Blu-Ray and DVD, is an even worse example than Edge. I was completely horrified and baffled by the torture and execution of bloody acts in the name of a killed loved one. It should immediately be placed on an amended list of the Worst of 2009.

Read more after the jump......

Thoughts on a Sure-fire Oscar winner

In the midst of discussing every other movie in the world, we never got around to discussing Crazy Heart, even though it scored three big Oscar nominations and is about a 99.9% favorite to walk away with two of them.

And the nominations -- minus one -- are well-deserved. Jeff Bridges is a fabulous, incredible actor, one of the best of his generation and one of the best of the last three decades, period. And his work here, as Bad Blake, is wonderful and tough. He doesn't imbue the character so much as the character imbues him -- with the unmistakable ennui of a grizzled, hard-living shell of a former country legend. Great stuff. And the film's theme song, The Weary Kind, is a lovely ballad that is seamlessly incorporated into the film and perfectly encapsulates the film. Supporting Actress nominee Maggie Gyllenhaal...not as good, but it's not her fault, and we will get to that later.

To the fact that Bridges' Oscar is now a foregone conclusion: the performance isn't so ridiculously brilliant that it should automatically merit an Oscar. Let's calm down and get a hold of ourselves here. For all of Bridges' brilliant work throughout his career, the guy has never won an Oscar. So this year, in this film, in this category, the Academy is choosing to give the understood Career Achievement Award to Bridges. I don't want to diminish the work, because I love Bridges and I really like his performance in Crazy Heart, but it's not brilliant insanity. For this year, I would easily give the Oscar to George Clooney, who took on the most challenging and subtle role of the year in the most important movie of the year. And for me, Bridges should already have two Oscars, one for The Big Lebowski, which many loyal fans will agree with, and another for The Contender, which many people forget about, but shouldn't. If I controlled the universe, Bridges would not win this year, but I understand the reasoning and I admire the work.

The film itself? Decent. Solid. Sometimes more solid than other times, which I suppose would mean "uneven." And that's a fairly accurate critical description of the film in very generalized terms.

Continue reading after the jump....

Over the Weekend, Vol. 2: BAFTAs

The British Academy of Film and Television Arts presented its 2010 awards over the weekend, and the biggest winner was...

...all together now....

The Hurt Locker.

Kathryn Bigelow's awards season juggernaut (which it absolutely is, sweeping literally everything from critics groups to nearly every major guild...forget about Avatar being the runaway freight train, though it is still in the thick of the Oscar race) continued to plow through the competition, taking home five BAFTAs in all: Best Film, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Cinematography, and Best Editing.

Up won animation. A Prophet took Best Foreign Language Film. No surprise that Reitman and Turner won Adapted Screenplay for Up in the Air. Less surprise that Mo'Nique and Christoph Waltz took the supporting prizes. A little more surprise -- and delight -- that Carey Mulligan and Colin Firth won the lead acting prizes, though not too much surprise, considering they are both Brits. Nonetheless, the great work cannot and should not be diminished.

Avatar took two, for Production Design and Special Effects, and it will likely repeat that combo at the Oscars...though at this point, anything more seems iffy. Maybe one or both of the sound categories. Maybe not. Or maybe it will somehow pull out the Big One. Anyone's guess at this point, though it peaked a long time ago and has been on the decline ever since. The story is The Hurt Locker.

An amazing job by the Hurt Locker crew from top to bottom, and an amazing course charted by this "little film that coud" (HATE using that phrase, especially for this film, though they did deliver so much for so little). It has gone from being a small film making the festival rounds and scoring two low-level Indie Spirit nominations last year (thus making it ineligible this year) to being, at this point, the prohibitive front-runner for the Best Picture Oscar, as well as the film that will likely deliver the first female Best Director winner in Oscar history. Amazing work, amazing story, amazing movie.

Over the Weekend, Vol. 1: The Writers Guild Awards

The WGA presented its annual awards over the weekend. Anyone have any guesses on who won?

The Hurt Locker, written by Mark Boal. I didn't discuss it much, just because there has been so much other stuff to chew on over the past month, but this, to me, was the last tea leave to read regarding Hurt Locker's chances of taking home Best Original Screenplay at the Oscars 12 days from now. Some were thinking Tarantino's Basterds screenplay was an Oscar favorite, and a WGA win might have cemented that idea. Instead, it was another win for Kathryn Bigelow's film...on its way, very likely, to an Oscar win in the screenplay well as many others.

Adapted Screenplay went, very deservingly, to Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner for Up in the Air, which is also a locked-and-loaded Oscar winner.

Another Hurt Locker win

 The Hurt Locker won the Eddie Award, presented by the American Cinema Editors, for Best Edited Feature Film, last week, which only increases its overall loot. Pretty impressive as Oscar voting wraps up...the membership will likely take notice.

In other non-surprising news, Up won the Eddie for Animation and The Cove won for Best Edited Documentary.

Friday, February 19, 2010

SHUTTER ISLAND: A He Said, She Said Reel Dialogue

JM: We’ve been waiting for it for months and months, and it’s finally here. K, it’s time to talk about Shutter Island.

KM: Scorsese, as always, in near perfect form. Shutter is not the utter brilliance of The Departed, but it certainly is dazzling cinema and reaches into further depths than even my favorite aforementioned film did.

JM: It is about as different from Departed as any movie made by the same director can be. The odd thing is that Shutter is just as highly stylized, but not in the slam-bang variety of The Departed. Scorsese is reaching for a style more sumptuous and subtle. In the same way, this film is simultaneously Scorsese's greatest departure and one that perfectly fits his thematic obsessions.

Now, before we go much further, I have to say that we are dealing with a major event. A new Scorsese film is reason to celebrate the cinema once again. The beginning-of-the-year placement is odd for any Scorsese film in recent years, and, indeed, Shutter Island was intended to be released last October. It got pushed out, I believe, because it was going to be a sure-fire Best Picture nominee, especially within the ten-film system, and since Scorsese won for his previous picture (the aforementioned Departed), the studio figured he wouldn't win twice in a row and bowed out to avoid the pesky Oscar promotion dollars.

KM: I will still never understand why a studio moves a picture because it could be a Best Picture nominee. That seems really off and ridiculous to me, but maybe that is a discussion for another time.

JM: Now, with all that said, I can say this: Shutter Island is obviously the first great film of 2010…

KM: Agreed!

JM: But, of course, that is almost damning with faint praise in a season where literally nothing comes close to touching greatness. But Shutter will reach far beyond the first quarter of the year. The film is already polarizing critics and will remain a major part of the critical conversation for the remainder of this year. It is that kind of seminal achievement, I believe.

Continue reading after the jump...

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Only One More Day...Are You Ready?

Love it or hate it...the new Scorsese picture is about to become part of the conversation.

More Oscar News: No Best Song Performances

More Oscar show changes...

There will be no live on-stage performances of the Best Song nominees.

Instead, the songs will be played over clip montages of their corresponding movies. I don't have any confirmation on this, but my guess is that we won't hear the full version of the songs...more like extended clips...and they might be strung together in one slightly longer montage of all the nominated films.

What does this mean? Well, nothing much, really...just another re-vamp that is obviously intended to hold viewer attention, especially in a year where's there aren't any popular songs nominated. Sure, songs from animated features are nominated, but there are no over-the-moon spectacular numbers from animation. Yeah, there's a token "original number from a movie musical" nomination...but it's nothing to get excited about. Nothing to write home about. Nothing to watch.

And lest we forget, the winning song has likely already been engraved into the trophy: The Weary Kind from Crazy Heart will take the damn thing without any question or competition.

So...I get it. But it will be an odd omission. It is, however, right in line with the attempt to attract more viewers with more popularized movies and less overlong performances that drag down the show's running time.

Oscar Charts, Round 3

Very little movement, but significant movement nonetheless.

We are at a moment where the only categories that can move, oddly enough, are the two big ones: Best Picture and Best Director. Most others are locked down...foregone conclusions in a very boring Oscar season. And really, most Oscar seasons are boring, with only a couple of categories left up in the air. But for those categories to be the two big ones...that's enough to inject some life in this race.

This week's charts...

1. The Hurt Locker
2. Avatar
3. Up in the Air
4. Inglourious Basterds
5. Precious: Based on the novel Push by Sapphire
6. Up
7. An Education
8. The Blind Side
District 9
A Serious Man

Note: It seems, at this point, that Summit is going to hold firm on their decision to withhold The Hurt Locker from theatrical re-release, the one move that I feel would successfully lock in the "upset" win. Getting the very cinematic film back into theaters where it can make some money, gain some more widespread love, and be seen on a big screen by Academy members...that's a win waiting to happen. But they may want to avoid the head-to-head theatrical competition with Avatar, and the film will still play potently on an HD flat screen.

Since Summit isn't forcing the issue, the story is formed by the current, visible developments. And by that measuring stick, The Hurt Locker has all the momentum. The film is coming off two major guild wins, and is the odds-on favorite to take another one, the WGA, this weekend. Meanwhile, Avatar's biggest advantage -- its box-office -- has been diminished ever-so-slightly, as it dropped from the top of the weekend box-office during the first weekend after the Oscar nominations announcement, and dropped even further the following weekend. And more people will be seeing The Hurt Locker on DVDs and Blu-Rays they receive in Netflix envelopes, especially if they are in a snowed-in part of the country.

For now, advantage Hurt Locker.

The rest of the major categories after the jump...

Thursday, February 11, 2010

It's All Over But the Votin'

Final ballots for the Oscars have been mailed out. Let the final push begin.

Ballots are due to be returned by 5pm March 2. The ceremony is March 7.

We are heading down the home stretch...

In Desperation News: Item #2

The already-infamous Spider-Man 4 will be released in July 3-D!

Exciting! Innovative! Gimmick!

In Desperation News: Item #1

Tom Cruise has signed on to star in Mission: Impossible 4, with a director yet to be named.

J.J. Abrams, whose heinous lack of directorial focus is what made M:I3 into one of the worst films of the past decade, will be producing this time out. And let's just hope they tap Rob Cohen to direct this one. Or Chris Columbus.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

He Said, She Said Reel Dialogue: THE BOOK OF ELI

HE SAID: J McKiernan: Alright, here we are, K, writing about The Book of Eli.

SHE SAID: K McKiernan: On any given day, I have mixed thoughts on it.

JM: Before I say too much, describe your mixed feelings.

KM: Well, seeing it came after having just seen the violent Edge of Darkness, and for the sake of release date chronology we are waiting to review that one next, but the thing is, after a while I get really tired of all the testosterone. Don't get me wrong, Eli is interesting and action-packed. But after awhile, all the doom and gloom and bible thumping wore me out.

JM: Yes, we are saving our thoughts on Edge of Darkness for that review, and there is plenty to say. But for me, Eli was an intriguing and entertaining graphic novel of a movie, made all the more interesting by the fact that it is not based on a graphic novel -- it has been produced as an original cinematic graphic novel. Very interesting.

KM: For me, it did not seem all that new. I know, weird, right? It is really the same plot line we see all the time. People are really nasty to each other. Guy saves the day. Sure, the sepia-saturated locale and characters (Non-white guy lead and young woman with strength) were a bit off the typical path, but I felt like I have been on this journey before. Now, I was entertained enough at the time. The film keeps one's interest. It just doesn't leave me with substance after having seen it.

JM: The film is not perfection by any stretch of the imagination, but I admire the ingenuity of its form and the originality of its story. Yes, we have seen graphic novels adapted into films before -- one of the first, in fact, was From Hell, directed by Allen and Albert Hughes, the brothers who directed The Book of Eli. But we have yet to see an original film that deliberately goes after that tone and style in a strictly filmic context. And we have seen plenty of "Apocalypse Movies" over the past decade or more...but never one with such a unique hook as this film.

Continue reading after the jump...

Dear John: Congratulations on Knocking Off a Giant Blue Behemoth

Originally, I had expected Mel Gibson's Edge of Darkness to topple Avatar last weekend, but it came up way short...probably the the film is an unimaginable piece of...well, we will be posting a review soon enough.

But alas, it has happened. At long last, Avatar has been knocked from atop the box office chart by...Dear John?

The film, based on one of those simpering Nicholas Sparks novels and starring rising commodities Amanda Seyfried and Channing Tatum, raked in just over $30 million, topping the Blue Giant by nearly $7 million.

It seems that a certain teen girl niche had gone ignored for weeks and weeks, and finally they had something at the movies to get excited about. There was nothing for the date crowd out there aside from the four-quadrant appeal of Avatar, and finally there was a legitimate date night flick to latch onto.

Even more striking than the fact that Avatar was topped not by Mel Gibson or Denzel Washington, but by Amanda Seyfried and Channing Tatum, is the fact that James Cameron's epic fell to second place on the first weekend after the Oscar nominations, when most films would receive a generous boost (the biggest winner in that category is Crazy Heart, which added 580 screens and landed on the top ten for the weekend). I'm not going to get into the business of fanning flames or throwing out pure conjecture as fact, so I won't go shouting that the drop to second place means that Avatar's Oscar run is finished or other such ridiculous nonsense. But the film's biggest claim to fame has become its box-office sensation. And as that story recedes into the background, the film's momentum could continue to dwindle just as The Hurt Locker is rising (a successful re-release of Hurt Locker would seal the deal, and I will continue to beat that drum into submission).

Time will Oscar charts coming soon...and let's face it, Avatar still pulled in $23 million, a drop of only 25%. But the film fell to second faster than Titanic, and its weekend numbers are about to fall behind Titanic's as well, even though it has already surpassed the film's total gross. Different time period, different kind of blockbuster...but in historic perspective, it means something.

Friday, February 5, 2010

The Decades: 1980s

The great films of the 1980s were not just wonderful pieces of cinema, but definers of the cinema culture, films that would influence and inspire the filmmaking landscape for decades to come -- films whose influence and inspiration has, in all honesty, still not faded. There were incredible blockbusters, grand epics, and poetic filmic statements about the world we live in. And we still embrace the power of these films today. Here they are, the best films of the 1980s.

Check out's collective list of the decade's best.

And now, my personal list:

1. Raging Bull (1980) -- Scorsese's extraordinary masterpiece about grace and power, victory and defeat, humanity and the loss of humanity.
2. Do the Right Thing (1989) -- Spike Lee's grandest masterwork, and cinema's boldest, most powerful statement on race in relations in America.
3. Ran (1985) -- Akira Kurosawa's intimate epic about the futility of wisdom, the consuming power of greed, and the profound sadness of an aging monarch. In many ways, the aging monarch was Kurosawa himself.
4. Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989) -- There is no greater, more profound Woody Allen picture than this, the legend's piercing dissection of humankind's virtues and flaws, its giddy joys and its lethal downfalls.
5. Blood Simple (1984) -- Legends were born in Joel and Ethan Coen, and their first film -- about a jealous man's increasingly complicated attempt to kill his wife and her lover -- is one of their absolute best.
6. The Last Temptation of Christ (1988) -- In a decade full of Scorsese masterpieces, this vivid and powerful depiction of Christ's humanity is another brilliant insight into the human experience. The film was controversial, but in the opinion of this humble critic, there has been no more powerful cinematic depiction of Jesus than this film.
7. E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) -- A story of transcendent wonder that speaks straight to the heart. The image of the flying bicycles with E.T. in the basket is one of the great iconic cinematic images, and the tension of watching the flowers wilt and then bloom again -- representations of E.T.'s resilience -- is one of the great magical joys of the cinema.
8. Fanny and Alexander (1982) -- Ingmar Bergman's sprawling epic -- over 5 hours in its truest form -- that tells a harsh, sad, and yet sometimes magical story of two young children growing up in Sweden. In many ways, it is the most revelatory explication of Bergman's complicated worldview.
9. Wings of Desire (1987) -- Wim Wenders' lilting lullaby of a film that ponders the existence of angels, the link between the earthly and the spiritual, and the lofty moral quandaries of celestial beings.
10. Platoon (1986) -- Oliver Stone's sobering masterpiece that confronts the horrors of war with extraordinary acuity.

Honorable Mentions:
After Hours (1985) -- Scorsese does comedy. You have to witness this wild brilliance.
Back to the Future (1985) -- The second great blockbuster of the decade.
The Breakfast Club (1985) -- The signature John Hughes film.
The Color of Money (1986) -- Another incredible Scorsese entry.
The Color Purple (1985) -- Spielberg interprets Alice Walker's classic novel.
Rain Man (1988) -- Barry Levinson's wonderful, ever-quotable drama about brotherly love.
Roger & Me (1989) -- Michael Moore introduces himself to the world and his first film is probably still his best.
The Shining (1980) -- Kubrick's legendary chiller.
The Thin Blue Line (1988) -- One of the extraordinary documentaries of all-time.
Tootsie (1982) -- Classic comedy.


Avatar, as we have discussed, is now the highest grossing film of all-time, no matter which chart you are discussing.

But let's look at total admissions, which relates to the total number of tickets sold.

Thus far, Avatar has been estimated at about 61 million in terms of admissions.

Titanic's total number of admissions at the end of its theatrical run: 128 million.

Avatar is never gonna get there.

Perspective...that's all I'm sayin'...

Thursday, February 4, 2010

He Said, She Said Reel Dialogue: YOUTH IN REVOLT

It was always the intent of Cinema Squared to be what the subtitle intends: a revolving film conversation between two unique viewpoints: one male, one female. Now, we usher in the new year of movies with a new resolution: to fulfill the initial purpose of this blog. Thus begins a series of "He Said, She Said" film reviews, back-and-forth discussions between passionate film critic counterparts. Our He Said, She Said series begins with one of the first films released in 2010, Youth in Revolt.

HE SAID: J McKiernan: So, K, let's talk Youth in Revolt.

SHE SAID: K McKiernan: Shoot.

JM: The critical rub has been that the movie is a lame retread of all the teen raunch comedies that have been released in the past five years, but actually, this one worked for me.

KM: I could not agree more. I thought it was not just a retread but was sweet and pretty cool.

JM: The other major problem many critics have pointed out is the omnipresence of Michael Cera, but he is the reigning king of awkward young male actors, and he is once again wonderful here.

Continue reading after the jump....

Move over, James Cameron...

...and make way for James Cameron!

As of Tuesday, Avatar has become the highest-grossing film of all-time, raking in a domestic total of $601.1 million (and counting). That is enough to nudge it past the 12-year reigning box-office champion, Titanic, which now sits in second place -- something that seemed unthinkable even as Avatar opened just over a month ago -- with $600.7 million. Yikes. The unthinkable has happened.

Also unthinkable is that Avatar already became the highest grossing film worldwide (once again passing Titanic), and over the past week became the first film to reach $2 billion in worldwide grosses.

I have covered all the reasons why I think Avatar was able to pull off such a feat, and I have also gone over the different caveats any box-office observer -- casual or professional -- must take into account when discussing the all-time grossers (inflation, 3-D up-charges, etc.). But no matter what asterisks you place beside the title, Avatar is now the all-time highest grossing film, both domestic and worldwide. And that is a momentous achievement. It is big news in this business.

It is also significant that the top highest grossers of all-time, the two films that will be almost impossible to beat for years and years, are both made by James Cameron. Not Spielberg. Not George Lucas. Not any other well-loved blockbuster director. James Cameron. It is both a credit to his brain as both a technological innovator and as a screenwriter, because he has now tapped directly into the brains of the modern filmgoer twice in the last 12 years, and has kept them coming to the theaters again and again. Extraordinary.

Right now, with the Oscar nominations likely giving the film a bump that will last it another month or so, the sky is the limit for the film. $700 million seems like a certainty...$800 million seems possible. Maybe more...who knows. We will get a better idea in the next couple weeks, as higher profile films are released and Avatar will have to continue defending the number one spot for the weekend. But for future projections, I think we can assume that Avatar will hold onto the all-time top spot for just about as long as Titanic did. Even the eventual Avatar sequel will have a difficult time rising above the original. Ideas like Titanic and Avatar become cultural phenomnenons because of their uniqueness as film experiences. Sequels aren't likely to rise to the top spot of all-time. They can get close -- like The Dark Knight or Shrek 2 -- but the highest all-time grosser is reserved, I think, for original films. Highest first weekend grosses are sequel territory, but all-time highest? It will always be an original film.

The next plateau? Well, obviously $1 billion domestic is the next huge mark, and it will be hit eventually...someday. At this point it seems like a very steep climb for Avatar, but never underestimate a Cameron invention. I would predict $800+ million for Avatar, and that the record will stand for around a decade...and then the next huge thing will crack $1 billion domestic, which will be the next amazing box office feat of our time.

For now, no matter what our personal feelings on the matter, we should step back, take a deep breath, and remember the moment when the ship was finally sunk. It feels wrong, in a way. And there is plenty of asterisks to discuss. But nonetheless...this is one of those moments. One of THE moments. Take it in.

Happening already...

This Friday:

An Education expands to 760 screens...just about enough to be seen in all major, most mid-level, and a fair amount of small cities. The film, which plays really well with audiences, was begging for this opportunity.

Crazy Heart will expand to over 500 if Bridges even needed the help. But still, a chance for the film to reach a wider audience, where it will likely thrive.

Precious is also expanding...not sure how wide.

Still waiting for Summit to announce a 1,500 screen re-release of The Hurt's the move that, if successful, would vault the film into "Best Picture Front-Runner" status.

Keep your eyes peeled.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Oscar Race: First Post-Nomination Charts

Fresh off the nomination announcements, here are Cinema Squared's first post-nom Oscar charts, featuring all the big nominees and fresh predictions now that the full Oscar field finally has finally been unveiled.

1. Avatar
2. The Hurt Locker
3. Up in the Air
4. Inglourious Basterds
5. Precious: Based on the novel Push by Sapphire
6. Up
7. An Education
8. The Blind Side
District 9
A Serious Man

Outside looking in: The Messenger, The Last Station, Julie & Julia, Star Trek, Nine

Note: Okay, we are. The first field in the new 10-nominee system is set, and it is nice, eclectic group. I'm sort of surprised, looking at the balance in this field, that we didn't also see a film like Julie & Julia represented -- pleasant comedy with a female bent. But there was plenty of love for a variety of genres, a variety of tones, a variety of focal points.

At this point, it becomes a two-film race. I will give the advantage to Avatar at this stage, simply because the box-office juggernaut, the visual effects phenomenon, the gargantuan epic must be considered the favorite at this point. But The Hurt Locker is a much closer number two than most will openly admit, and it is clawing at Avatar's blue heels. An expanded campaign coupled with the film's embrace by the PGA and DGA could mean Hurt Locker leaps to a victory here. Time will tell.

The rest of the major categories after the jump...

Best Picture Nominees by Domestic Gross

Best Picture nominees, according the current domestic numbers:

Avatar: $595.7m
Up: $293m
The Blind Side: $237.9m
Inglourious Basterds: $120.5m
District 9: $115.6m
Up in the Air: $73.2m
Precious: $45.4m
The Hurt Locker: $12.6m
A Serious Man: $9.2m
An Education: $8.7m

About half of the films are still in some form of theatrical release, and the other half have already been released on Blu-Ray and DVD. We will see if any of those films will opt for an additional theatrical run...I'm sure a few of them will.

Oddly enough, the film with the most to gain from a re-release, The Hurt Locker, seems to be opting out of that strategy, at least for now. But with the film taking PGA and Bigelow walking away with the DGA win, it's time to start campaigning in earnest, because while Avatar still must be considered the favorite and will continue to make its cash, in the awards race, Hurt Locker is the film of the moment, and it is the one film that can take down the giant blue people. A re-release could boost the film's gross to $50 million, and with the right marketing push could even haul in $100 million...and that, in my opinion, would be enough to win Best Picture and Best Director. Right now it seems like the best move that won't happen, but if it does, we are in for an intriguing Oscar night.

In my view, the film that will get the biggest boost from the nomination is The Blind Side, which was already a gargantuan hit beyond all expectations, but with the BP nod could push past $300 million, which is insane. Avatar will keep pushing and could get as high as $800 million, but that's sort of old news. The big story will be the success of The Blind Side, which was never intended to skyrocket to this level of success. An even bigger story would be a Hurt Locker re-release, for which I want to spearhead the campaign RIGHT NOW!

For the rest, Up in the Air could well make its way to $100 million thanks to the Oscar love...and I wish that could affect its chances, but it probably won't. Up is likely content with its huge numbers, since it is a shoo-in for the Animated Feature prize and has no chance whatsoever in the BP race, but who cares? A wonderful film got its due on every level. They might get wild and try to turn the Basterds loose in theaters again, but that won't do much to affect its gross or its chances. It's still a third- or fourth-place BP runner, with a shoo-in win for Waltz in Supporting and a 49% chance that Quentin will take Original Screenplay (51% for Mark Boal's Hurt Locker script at this point). Precious might see an uptick in its gross as a result of its six nominations, and the two indies -- Serious Man and An Education -- might see an expanded theater count and widened audience, if the studios see fit. Both deserve to be seen, and An Education in particular will play well with wider audiences.

K's Quick and Immediate Oscar Reactions

No Invictus in the Best Picture category! Now there's something to cheer about!

The Blind Side is the not-so-surprising surprise of the Best Pic field.

Sad that The Messenger failed to garner a BP nod, but I will gladly go along with the Academy's logic, if that logic dictates that Invictus gets left out in the cold.

More to come...Happy Oscars!

Immediate Reactions

Okay, so...we've been discussing The Blind Side as being a potential sleeper candidate for a BP nod for a while now, and I will shamelessly pat myself on the back for dropping a note about the film's chances just three minutes before the announcement commenced. Good job, J and K.

Other surprises: the biggest, for me, was Maggie Gyllenhaal's inclusion in the Supporting Actress category for her work in Crazy Heart. Yes, the category has about three sure-fire locks in Mo'Nique, Farmiga, and Kendrick, and Cruz was widely seen as a likely fourth, but even amid all the discussion of who would fill that final wild card slot -- Julianne Moore, Diane Kruger, Samantha Morton, Susan Sarandon, etc. -- Gyllenhaal's name never came up much. So good for her and good for Crazy Heart, which came away with three nominations this morning (Bridges, Gyllenhaal, and Best Song), and is the odds-on favorite to win two of them on March 7.

No surprises in Best Actor or Best Actress. In Supporting Actor, many of us had been looking at Alfred Molina to sneak in, but conventional wisdom prevailed in the form of Matt Damon in Invictus.

Speaking of Invictus, Eastwood's movie only came away with two nods: Damon in Supporting and Freeman in Lead Actor. No Best Director, no Best Picture. And thank God for that: based on the group of films nominated this morning, Invictus would have easily been the least deserving, and good on the Academy for side-stepping an obligatory "Clout Nomination." Eastwood has, can, and will do much, much better.

Now that Invictus is out, it falls to District 9 and The Blind Side for the "worst of the lot" awards. Both films likely filled the 9 and 10 slots, respectively. And yet, while I would not personally nominate either picture...I get it. District 9 is an ingenious idea. Blind Side is a quality crowd-pleaser. Both were very popular hits. Blind Side is still chugging, and the Oscar traction might be responsible for carrying the film to $250 million domestic, maybe more.

So...the "10 Nominees" thing worked well this time out. I wish The Messenger had prevailed, as many of us were thinking it might a few weeks ago...but I guess even the smallest films can peak early...and the film got well-deserved nods for Harrelson's career-best performance and the film's pitch-perfect screenplay. As far as the two intentions of adding five additional BP contenders, more crowd-pleasers got in than indie favorites, but at least the Academy didn't lobotomize itself into nominating Star Trek or other such crap. I think the nod to The Blind Side will be very popular among mainstream movie-goers, and as the Best Picture categories third-highest grosser (and it may be the second-highest grosser by Oscar night), it will be responsible for a viewer bump, I imagine. This may well be the highest-rated Oscar telecast in recent memory, which means the 10-nominee strategy paid off in a big way and will become the Oscar standard for the better part of this new decade.

Even more after the jump...

A Note of Congratulations

Before we settle into the nitty gritty of analyzing all these Oscar nominations in depth, I want to take a moment to send out a word of congratulations to two of my filmmaking mentors, Julia Reichert and Steven Bognar, whose wonderful The Last Truck: Closing of a GM Plant received a nomination this morning for Best Documentary Short Subject.

Check out my review here, and check your local listings to see this important film.

Well done, Steve and Julia.

Nominations by Film

Avatar  -- 9
The Hurt Locker -- 9
Inglourious Basterds -- 8
Up in the Air -- 6
Precious -- 6
Up -- 5
District 9 -- 4
Nine -- 4
Star Trek -- 4
An Education -- 3
The Young Victoria -- 3
The Last Station -- 2
Invictus -- 2
Fantastic Mr. Fox -- 2
The White Ribbon -- 2
Sherlock Holmes -- 2

Oscar noms

Best Picture
The Blind Side
District 9
An Education
The Hurt Locker
Inglourious Basterds
A Serious Man
Up in the Air

The rest after the jump...

Happy Nomination Morning

Just for a morning appetizer...I keep hearing rumblings about The Blind Side sneaking in for a Best Picture nomination. Probably taking the tenth slot. I already made my final predictions, but here comes a real sleeper possibility.

More soon...nominations announced in 3 minutes...

Monday, February 1, 2010

Oscar Charts, Round 2: The Eve of the Nominations

A lot of the eventual winners are set in stone -- and so, too, are the majority of the nominees -- but there is still some intrigue surrounding the few remaining wild card slots. Which two films will fill the last two Best Picture slots? Will it be A Serious Man and The Messenger? District 9 and The Last Station? Or will the Academy go way audience-friendly by recognizing The Blind Side and Star Trek? And what about Julie & Julia? Or, hell, even The Hangover? Or the inevitable nominee that fell completely out of the race but could still come back in a shocker, Nine?

How about Best Director? Four of the five slots seem to be sure bets, but what about the last one? Is it Clint's? Or a sleeper like Neill Blomkamp? Or Lee Daniels, who seemed like a lock when Precious first hit theaters? An animation director like Pete Docter for Up? Or will there be two female nominees for the first time ever, with the inclusion of An Education's Lone Scherfig?

This whole "10 Best Picture Nominees" thing is slightly altering the shape of the Oscar race, and for more categories than merely Best Picture. The doors haven't been swung wide open, but they have been opened to wider than they have in several years. The announcement, which comes at 5:30am Pacific, will be interesting to watch for one primary reason: it will be fascinating to see who sneak in through that wider opening.

Tomorrow, Cinema Squared becomes Oscar Central, with reports and extensive analysis of all the nominations. And then we will settle into the "Who's Gonna Win" game for the next month.

The updated prediction charts follow after the jump: