Saturday, January 22, 2011

Film Friday: Volume IV

Before diving in to this weeks films, allow me to tell you about one of my favorite subplots for this Oscar season, and 2010 as a movie year in general.   

A Tale of Two Films:

The first film was produced by one of the biggest entertainment studios in the world on a budget of 200 million dollars, the 20th highest budget in film history.  Despite playing on over 3000 screens with hiked up prices from 3D and IMAX, in one month it has grossed 158 million dollars, which isn’t exactly chump change unless your still 40 million short of your investment and falling off quickly from week to week.  This first film will probably inch its way toward meeting its budget over the next few weeks while executives of this studio sweat in their Armani suits, sitting in their corner LA office, afraid to answer their phones or check their email. 

The second film is the passion project of an auteur director.  Despite the fact that his previous film grossed 26 million from only 670 screens on a meager budget of 6 million, and garnered two Oscar nominations in acting categories, this director had all kinds of trouble financing his new movie.  Even though one of Hollywood’s hottest young Oscar-nominated actresses was starring in the particularly sexy lead role, the film almost didn’t get made AT ALL until a studio decided to throw the director a bone, giving him 13 million to stretch as thin as possible.  The film has now grossed over 77 million on 2300 screens and has only played wide for 3 weeks or so.  As this second film briskly walks its way to 100 million dollars, racks up all kinds of nominations/awards from critics and awards bodies, including probable Best Picture, Director, and Actress nominations from the Academy, this director will be smoking Cubans and drinking Scotch out of crystal glasses while counting Benjamins and laughing to himself at the gutless execs.    

Natalie Portman will win an Academy Award thanks
to the creativity of director Darren Aronofsky
The two movies, as you may have guessed, are TRON: Legacy and Black Swan, respectively.   I totally don’t have anything against TRON at all (in fact I recommended it on this blog a few weeks ago) but my point in writing this is that this year, if anything, has proven to me that the cheap and uncreative methods of turning a profit in the film industry did not work out as well for the studios as they have in the past, while intelligent and adult films with modest budgets are racking up all kinds of awards while making some money along the way, and it has sort of restored my faith in American filmmaking, to be honest with you.  Let me further illustrate the point with a few examples (Grosses through 1/20):

True Grit: Budget=38M, Gross=138M
The King’s Speech: Budget=15M, Gross=49M (only played wide for a few weeks)
The Fighter: Budget=25M, Gross=68M (this movie almost didn’t even get made)
The Social Network: Budget=40M, Gross=94M

And even Blue Valentine on a mere 230 screens in 3 weeks has pulled down 3M on a 1M budget, a staggering $9,000 per theatre average.  When it releases wide, it will make bank. 

All of this to say, creativity hasn’t quite been killed, not just yet.  I must keep hope alive.  

Now let me talk about some movies, and if you haven’t seen this column yet then check out the idea behind it here.

“The Damned United” (2009)

Back in the summer I mentioned on the blog here how much I enjoyed this movie, but I recently watched it again and I’m going to keep singing this film’s praises until I feel it starts getting its due.  Michael Sheen stars as Brian Clough, outspoken manager of British “football” (proper) team Leeds United in the early 70’s, and he gives undoubtedly one of my favorite lead male performances of 2009.  He effortlessly carries the film on its shoulders and transforms a seemingly pedestrian real-life back-story into a compelling and dramatic character study.

Give credit where credit is due though, to Tom Hooper, the Brit director at the helm of the whole thing.  (You will hear his name announced as Best Director nominee on Tuesday for his magnificent work in The King’s Speech).  He captures so much authenticity and adds just enough directorial flair without ever getting in the way of his own stories that he is telling, and manages to engage viewers at moments in a narrative where many would bore.  Even though there is not much in the way of actual sports taking place on screen, this is by far my favorite sports film of the past few years (well, other than The Blind Side, of course...).    

It’s on Netflix Instant.  Check it out.  8.5/10

“Annie Hall” (1975)

I know I’m REALLY breaking some new ground here by recommending Annie Hall to you, but I just saw it for the first time over my Christmas break and I have to say, it lives up to every bit of hype it gets.  It laid out the template for the modern rom-com, which many have imitated but haven’t quite replicated.  Woody Allen and Diane Keaton are wonderfully charming, funny, and in Keaton’s case, sexy.  The star of the film, though, is Woody Allen’s script, which had me laughing all the way through, even at more dramatic moments.  In my opinion, the reason the script works so well is because it is partly autobiographical, and therefore is handled with great care by Mr. Allen.  

A young Allen here is his patented cynical self without resorting to disdain, as many of his recent movies do, and he has enough wide-eyed belief in love and relationships for the viewer to take the cynicism in stride.  If Woody Allen slowed down every once in awhile and made one movie every three or four years that was HALF as good as Annie Hall, he would be a first ballot hall-of-famer, so to speak.  9/10.

“Away We Go” (2009)

For my film that I do not recommend, I chose this film by Sam “I hate suburbia” Mendes.  Oh, look Jon Krasinski has a beard, and long hair, and thick-rimmed glasses, he must be quirky!  Look at all of the wacky personalities they meet on their journey to find a new home!  They don’t want to settle down and be like everyone else, they must different...and better than YOU! 

Sam Mendes (director of American Beauty, Revolutionary Road) clearly has an intense aversion to middle-class suburbanites, which would be just fine with me as long as he didn’t make it so painfully and unavoidably evident in all of his films.  This movie could have been fun, but it was so chalk-full of holier-than-thou pity that hovered over the whole thing like a cumulus cloud of flatulence that you couldn’t even take it remotely seriously as a work of art.  3/10. 

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