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David Poland

By David Poland

Oscar Competitor Perspective

It’s a funny thing… we all want to believe that awards season has a basic legitimacy of “you vote for what you like,” but it just isn’t that way. It’s like finding someone you’re attracted to… it doesn’t always make so much sense on paper, but it is what it is.
The two $100 million movies in the race, American Gangster and Hairspray, are well liked by many, but as the critics’ top tens are showing – placing them, so far, at 28 and 39 – respect is a different achievement. Instinctively, it sometimes seems to me like both are still right in the middle of the race, but objectively, nope.
There is nothing wrong with Sweeney Todd‘s opening weekend or Atonement‘s limited release. But suddenly, Atonement is being passed by Juno (albeit on more screens) and one wonders whether they have been a little too precious with their high-toned movie. Sweeney is well off the Dreamgirls opening pace and with two holiday weekends, $40 million is about the top the film can hope for by the start of the new year. Will that be read as a solid start or a dangerous middle road, with any hopes for a $100 million gross completely dependent on Oscar?
The big advantage that Atonement still holds is that it is getting the critical support (#7 on the current Top Ten chart). Sweeney isn’t doing bad there either (#13).
But we are still swimming in the same big pool. There Will Be Blood continues to have an odd advantage by not being seen. The Diving Bell & The Butterfly, Into The Wild, and Juno remain in the “right” position to grab somewhat unexpected BP slots, as No Country For Old Men and Michael Clayton go into Christmas as the two most locked-in films… with Atonement and Sweeney Todd a little bit weaker than before.
The thing about Now is that there is almost nothing that really can be done about any of it. The movies are in charge now. Perception of things like box office wil be noticed, but primarily as a confirmation of viability.
There are two objctive standards that seem to hold at this time of the year. The first is that the film needs to be over $15 million gross if it was released before December and needs to appear on its way to success if released slowly in December. The second is that all five films are likely to be in the Top Ten chart’s top 21. We have seen films from outside that group move in as more lists are compiled. But we have never gone outside of the Top 21 for a nominee since we’ve been doing the charts. And the range has become smaller in the last couple of years. American Gangster and 3:10 To Yuma both have the potential to still crack the Top 20. We’ll see.
In the meanwhile, Gurus o’ Gold’s Top 5 are in the Top Tens’ top 13… a few in that group are likely to be fiscally blocked – Diving Bell is a problem that way – and things will change as the next 100+ charts come in… and as the grosses roll in over the next week.
In other words, the season remains the same…

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13 Responses to “Oscar Competitor Perspective”

  1. Jeff says:

    Looking at that list, it hates me to say it but I think that paramount might have made the right decision releasing Zodiac in the beginning of the year. It would probably be a lot more prominent in the best race, but with all the competition I am not sure it would have cracked the 30 million mark. Unless it got a lot of oscar noms, which probably wouldn’t help that mucch either.

  2. Dave, I don’t see “Michael Clayton” as a lock at all. What makes you think it is?

  3. Melquiades says:

    I sent an email to MCN about this but didn’t get an answer, so I’ll post it here. The total points for Knocked Up on that chart are 20 fewer than they should be.
    Why I care, I’m not sure.

  4. Chicago48 says:

    America is not interested in seeing any of those top 10 movies. Admit it. America is staying home because either their theme, their subject, or their stars are not interesting enough. None of those top 10 movies will break the $100mil mark even if they win an Oscar. let’s talk about why?

  5. Chicago48, I think that’s true for most of the films, but I’d bet you anything that “Juno” cracks $100 mil. I have no vested interest–I have just been monitoring its promo screenings, unbelievable per screen averages in limited release, the very strong word of mouth, etc, and after it goes fully wide this week I think it will prove to have real legs.

  6. L.B. says:

    Maybe most of them won’t pass 100M, but who cares? With hardly any exceptions they are all superior movies and the fact that they were made is the thing that has made this year one of the best movie-going years in a long time. If the mass audience can’t get up the interest to see them, it says more about the unadventurous and middlebrow tastes of the general audience than it does about these films. That list contains a large number of films that make me excited to see movies. It’s sad that the general audience can’t be bothered. It’s their loss.
    Additionally, pissing on the quality of a film based on its box office figures is as dimwitted as Chucky pissing on the quality of a film based on its marketing campaign.

  7. luxofthedraw says:

    Did films like Jaws, Traffic, Groundhog Day, Three Kings and The Truman Show make a lot of top 10 lists in the year of their release?

  8. Joe Leydon says:

    Lux: Do you mean the Top Ten lists of critics? Yes.

  9. jeffmcm says:

    Chicago48, I believe you also said that Brokeback Mountain would never make more than $20 million.

  10. Chicago48 says:

    Jeff: Not me, I didn’t see Brokeback and even today I haven’t seen it. Maybe somebody else made that comment.

  11. jeffmcm says:

    I’m sorry, I had you confused with another person. But that other poster was also of the ‘America doesn’t want to see ______” variety.

  12. martin says:

    It’s an interesting list, but no way that is a reflection of Academy voting. Will probably take a full top 20 to make up the Academy’s top 5.

  13. Chicago, are you saying the Academy should be bestowing their best picture prize onto a movie that every American wants to see? Yikes.

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon