erik lundegaard

Movies - The Oscars posts

Monday January 26, 2009

The Quiz...and How Nathaniel R. Nudged Me Off the Fence

As promised, the Oscar quiz is up on Here.

I was going to add what's below to yesterday's post but decided not to spoil it for those brave few:

  • Everyone’s trumpeting Meryl Streep’s 15th nomination. Most add that she’s got two wins without specifying those wins. Here’s a reminder: She’s got a supporting (“Kramer vs. Kramer”) and a lead (“Sophie’s Choice”). Which means Hilary Swank, among others, has won more best actress Oscars than Meryl Streep. Hell, the last time Streep won, fellow nominee Anne Hathaway was six months old.
  • Not only has Stephen Daldry, director of “The Reader,” been nominated more times (3) than any of the other directing nominees, including Ron Howard and Gus Van Sant, but, astonishingly, he’s only made three feature-length films. Which means he’s been nominated for every film he’s ever made.  For the record, his three films are: “Billy Elliott,” “The Hours” and “The Reader.” I know, me neither.

Interestingly, I was on this morning, and one of the links on their daily “Hit List” was entitled: “Notes on the Oscar Nominations” from I clicked, not exactly holding my breath. Most mainstream stuff is dull reportage that ignores fascinating but easy-to-find details (like Daltry, above), and most blogs are noisy little affairs that make me want to run away, take a shower, and not have an opinion for the rest of my life. This was neither. It was fun, charming, smart. As soon as I saw this graphic I knew I was in the right place:

Some of the stuff I knew nothing about (costume design?), some I knew all too well (“Harvey Weinstein is Back. God Help Us All.”), but all of it was fun to read.

Even better was host Nathaniel R's live-blogging of the SAG noms, and his disappointment that “Milk” didn't win the cast award. I wrote about the SAGs this morning, but dispassionately, as Oscar indicators. Nathaniel helped push me off my fence. Because he's right. Both “Milk” and “Slumdog” are very good movies, and I'll be fine if “Slumdog” wins best picture, but if we're talking about ensemble cast acting, “Milk,” with Penn, Franco, Hirsch, et al., has it all over “Slumdog,” which is a director's movie. Freida Pinto is stunning, lovely to look at, and her part works, but... It ain't the same league.

Anyway, if you haven't, take the quiz already. And remember the thing about Daltry.

Posted at 07:13 PM on Jan 26, 2009 in category Movies - The Oscars
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"Slumdog"? Final Answer

Remember a few weeks ago when I wrote that the Golden Globe win for “Slumdog Millionaire” wasn’t exactly a precursor to Oscar victory since the two bodies hadn’t agreed since the spring of 2004? (Back when Barack Obama was a state senator from Illinois.)

I was thinking similar thoughts when “Slumdog” won the Producers Guild Award over the weekend. Sure, the PGAs picked “No Country for Old Men” last year, which went on to win best picture, but the year before they went with “Little Miss Sunshine” (no), and the year before that, “Brokeback” (unfortunately, no), and the year before that, “The Aviator,” and in 2001, “Moulin Rouge!” Not exactly tea leaves.

I was ready to raise similar flags of caution when “Slumdog” won the cast award from the Screen Actors Guild, since that award predicts the Oscar-winner only 50 percent of the time. But then a different thought hit: “OK, how often has a movie won all three awards and not won the Oscar for best picture?”

Answer? In the 12 years since the SAG awards arrived on the scene, the GGs, PGAs and SAG cast award have agreed only three times: in 1999, with “American Beauty”; in 2002, with “Chicago”; and in 2003, with “Lord of the Rings: Return of the King.” All of those films went on to win the Oscar.

I’m still waiting on the DGAs, but more and more it looks like “Slumdog” is the final answer.
Posted at 09:49 AM on Jan 26, 2009 in category Movies - The Oscars
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Friday January 23, 2009

B.O. for Best Pics

Two summers ago, in the Montpellier train station in southern France, I saw a poster touting the popularity of “Shrek the Third.” It read:
“Plus de 4 millions de Shrektateurs”

That 4 millions isn’t euros; it’s people. It’s asses in the seats. That’s how movie popularity is tabulated in France. As opposed to in the U.S. where it’s all about the dollars, and where, if you’re paying any attention at all, you have to adjust for inflation to get the true measure of a movie’s popularity.

Feel free to let each measurement stand for each culture.

So it’s the Friday after the noms and the studios are busy things. Universal, unwilling to do the heavy lifting for “Frost/Nixon” in December, is finally expanding Ron Howard’s film from 153 theaters to more than 1,000. Other films that are expanding: “Slumdog Millionaire,” “The Wrestler,” “Rachel Getting Married,” “Revolutionary Road.” There’s a pattern, and it follows the pattern of previous years, and it’s getting a little old.

That said, here’s how the best picture nominees look in terms of box office before the expansion:

Domestic $
Thtr High
2008 BO Rank
 The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
 $104M 2988 22
 Slumdog Millionaire
 $44M 582 62
 Milk $20M 356 111
 Frost/Nixon $8M 205 145
 The Reader
 $8M 507 148

Kudos to the way Paramount handled “Benjamin Button.” It put it out there in December. It didn’t wait for the Academy to bestow what it would. More congrats to Fox Searchlight who pushed “Slumdog” in the right ways.

But — and I’ve said it before — what lazy bastards over at Universal. In some ways “Frost/Nixon” is the most accessible of these films and yet it is, until the noms, the least-available. 145th??? I’m almost hoping it bites it at the box office during the next few weeks. Just to show Universal. Of course they’d probably take the wrong lesson away from the experience and stop getting involved in films like "Frost/Nixon" altogether.

Meanwhile, their art-house division, Focus Features, rumored to be on life-support, appears to be doing nothing with “Milk.” Of the little-seen best picture nominees, it’s the one that’s not expanding, and it's the one, along with "Slumdog," that's most deserving of a big audience.

Feel free to let that irony stand for the culture.

Posted at 09:47 AM on Jan 23, 2009 in category Movies - The Oscars, Movies - Box Office, Movies - Foreign
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Thursday January 22, 2009

Note to the Academy: Why So Serious?

The Oscar nominations were finally announced this morning, and, as soon as Forest Whitaker said “Frost/Nixon,” alphabetically passing up “The Dark Knight,” I knew that, unless the Academy subscribed to Comcast’s idiotic system of alphabeticization, they had turned their backs on the Batman. Bummer. I was beginning to root for him.

So after all of the guesses, here and here and here, these are our (or their) best picture nominees:

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Reader
Slumdog Millionaire

What does this mean? As I wrote last January, since the Academy finally settled on five best picture nominees in 1944, there have only been six years when there wasn’t a top 10 box office hit among the nominees: 1947, 1984...and the last four years in a row: 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2007. This year, unless “Benjamin Button” can make another $50 million without getting swamped in the process (it’s currently at $103 million), it’ll probably be five years in a row. Stunning.

In the past I didn’t quite know who to blame for this divide between supposed popularity and supposed quality. The Academy? The studios? Moviegoers? But not this year. “The Dark Knight” was a critically acclaimed, monster box office hit with tons of buzz. In terms of domestic, unadjusted dollars, it was the no. 2 movie of all time. Yes, it was about superheroes, and no superhero film has been nominated before; but before “Lord of the Rings” no fantasy film had been nominated, either. The rule sticks until something breaks it. This year? Didn’t break. And it was the year to break it. We’re not talking about crap like “Spider-Man 3.” We’re talking about a pretty good movie. One of the five best of the year? Maybe. I’d take it over “Frost/Nixon” and “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” anyway. Don’t know about “The Reader” yet. Haven’t seen it. (Psst. It’s about the Holocaust.)

Besides, in the past, the Academy has nominated some popular but fairly suspect films for best picture. “Love Story”? “The Towering Inferno”? “Three Coins in a Fountain”? “Ghost”? It’s hardly a body to hold its nose.

Given the chance, who would I have nom'ed? I don't know. Because of the studios' idiotic system of rolling the best films out in piecemeal fashion at the end of the year, I haven't seen, oh, “Doubt” or “The Reader” or “Revolutionary Road” yet. I'd definitely nom “Milk” and “Slumdog.” I'd think about “In Bruges” and the forgotten but expertly crafted and genre-busting (or genre-solildifying) “Appaloosa.”

And I'd think about “The Dark Knight.” More than the Academy seemed to anyway.

ADDITION: Yeah, should've known. Harvey Weinstein was the man behind the push for “The Reader,” just as he was the man who pushed “Shakespeare in Love” to the crown in '98. Shame. Much talk about the next Batman villain. I suggest “Weinstein.”

Posted at 08:09 AM on Jan 22, 2009 in category Movies - The Oscars, Batman
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Tuesday January 13, 2009

And Then There Were Nine...

According to Variety, the Academy Award's best foreign-lanuage film category is down to nine:

  • Austria, "Revanche," Gotz Spielmann, director
  • Canada, "The Necessities of Life," Benoit Pilon, director
  • France, "The Class," Laurent Cantet, director
  • Germany, "The Baader Meinhof Complex," Uli Edel, director
  • Israel, "Waltz with Bashir," Ari Folman, director
  • Japan, "Departures," Yojiro Takita, director
  • Mexico, "Tear This Heart Out," Roberto Sneider, director
  • Sweden, "Everlasting Moments," Jan Troell, director
  • Turkey, "3 Monkeys," Nuri Bilge Ceylan, director.
Hope some come this way. I've heard of two.
Posted at 03:30 PM on Jan 13, 2009 in category Movies - The Oscars, Movies - Foreign
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