The Hot Blog Archive for January, 2005

Ted Hope Rambles With Passion

Here’s his piece in this week’s Village Voice

What I get is that the indie theatrical exhibition business is very stratified and Ted is feeling the heat.  But is it really fair to call the villagers to the square and blame them for the problem? 

Does Ted really think that The Passion of The Christ and Fahrenheit 9/11 changed the exhibition world?  I would make the argument than if an analagous film turned up tomorrow, every studio would turn that one down too.  There is a real problem underlying that and it isn’t political… a couple hundred million in profit doesn’t efffect the conglomerate bottom line that much and the hassle does.  Sure, a desperate player might step up to the plate for a controversial title that at least plays well in the "home" constituency.  But Sherry Lansing and Jon Dolgen passed on both of these films… so did MGM…

I would argue that the future of what we have called indie film is in new distribution modes.  Unless Hotel Rwanda gets a Best Picture nod, more people will probably see Sometimes In April on HBO than see Rwanda.  Yes, it is not theatrical.  But isn’t the embrace of all media part of the artistic experience? 

Just last year, the big battle was to Free The Screeners!  The point of keeping that avenue open?  Access to Oscar nominations.  Isn’t the obsession with Oscar nominations for indies a major part of the distribution stratification that Hope is so upset about? 

That is my big problem with the very smart, very committed Mr. Hope.  He fights his battles, it seems to me, in isolation and like a bad studio movie, never bothers to connect the dots.  The rebel millionaire who helped turn a decision not to put massive numbers of high-quality, easily pirateable screeners into the world so that awards voters could skip a trip to the theater so that his "indie" film, financed by a division of a major, could (theoretically) get Oscar nominations into the "indie cause of 2003/2004" is now complaining that distributors are too concerned about chasing Oscars and… in a breathtaking moment of show biz blindness… money!

He is, in many ways, right that there is a problem out there for the independant filmmaker.  But it is not a moral issue.  It is an issue of finding solutions to make opportunities viable for this class of film.  And that discussion does not seem to be Mr. Hope’s priority… at least not in this piece. 

What do you make of it?


Top Ten Insanity!

A Look At The Top Ten Lists

What do y’all think?


What SAG Says…

In the last five year, the following people have received Best Actor Oscar Nominations without having received a SAG nomination:

2003:  Jude Law, COLD MOUNTAIN

2002:  Michael Caine, THE QUIET AMERICAN

2001:  Will Smith, ALI

2000:  Javier Bardem, BEFORE NIGHT FALLS

            Ed Harris, POLLOCK

1999:  Richard Farnsworth, THE STRAIGHT STORY

            Sean Penn, SWEET AND LOWDOWN

They’ve missed every year, at least once. And five of the eight performances are from indie films, with The Straight Story, although released by Disney, very much in the same vein. 

Yet SAG has been a much better predictor in the Best Actress category, missing only three Academy nods in the last five years… two last year.

2003:  Samantha Morton, IN AMERICA

           Keisha Castle-Hughes, WHALE RIDER

2001:  Nicole Kidman, MOULIN ROUGE

Two indies and three foreigners.

The closest SAG got to a low-profile indie nominee this year was Catalina Sandino Moreno.

And by the way… the track record of SAG winners winning The Oscar… much worse.  That said, none of the Oscar winners in that five years have failed to grab a SGA nod first.



David Thomson writes

"After the dark and the size of the screen, nothing is more important to an audience than not knowing anything about the story they are about to see. And all too often these days, the critics and the public have a bored way of knowing in advance."


More On The 1/6 Rule

As a very bright person pointed out, not every ballot that The Academy sends out comes back.   There is a hum out there that as many as 20% of the ballots never come, which seems like a lot. But if you look at the results from last night’s BFCA Critics Choice Awards, which is a lot easier to vote for, requiring only an e-mail response, had a 19 percent no-vote rate.

If the return rate is 80% for The Academy, that means a film needs 775 votes to get an Oscar nomination… which brings the ‘Myth of 700" back a bit… albeit, without the argument that the number is lower for any reason other than return rate.


Early Weekend Box Office Analysis

All one can really say about Universal’s 1-2 punch of $20 million weekend movies is, “Wow!”  White Noise is a rather low key release, but Universal marketing hit all the right notes, apparently, and got people into theaters. Meanwhile, Meet The Fockers continues to be a phenom, now chasing Bruce Almighty as it passes $200 million this weekend. 

This weekend’s feat of having two $20 million films in one January 3-day weekend is, as far as I can tell, one of a kind.  It’s even more impressive when both films come from one studio. Add to that Universal being the first studio ever to have two $20 million January openers at all, much less two back to back (after last year’s Along Came Polly) and there is reason to celebrate at NBC indeed.

One has to call Universal the Comedy King of Hollywood now.  The movies have strong hooks, but even more so, the marketing of these films speaks to audiences… often not to L.A. or NY audiences… but to audiences worldwide and the success is astounding.

In Oscar box office news, The Aviator took a Friday-to-Friday tumble of 44%, which makes one wonder whether it will be the first casualty amongst the late season entries in perception as an underachiever.   Sideways and Million Dollar Baby are both suspected of same, but neither has not been put to the test of over 500 screens yet. 

Everyone is assuming that The Aviator is in for a Best Picture nod and everyone is probably right.  But Miramax is going to have to find a way to rev the engine again by the end of the month.  The Aviator is the most expensive of the top contenders by double or more (except in the unlikely case of The Incredibles).  The film has to clear Gangs of New York numbers… or at least Ray numbers to have a shot at winning Best Picture.

Closer will hit $30 million this weekend and Spanglish looks like it will get to $40 million.  But ironically, the higher grosser will be a financial loser for its home studio.

Meanwhile, Finding Neverland is grossing less than $100,000 more per day than Sideways or Million Dollar Baby even though it is on roughly triple the screens of the first and nine times the screens of the second.  Dave Karger got his way after six long months of campaigning for Finding Neverland and the film’s Depp and Winslet got the cover of Entertainment Weekly’s comedically named “Start of the Oscar season” piece.  And another Oscar pundit called its name as the likely winner the other night.  But I don’t see it.  I guess we’ll find out in time.



According to both Tom O’Neil’s NYT piece and Dave Karger in EW this week, the number of votes needed for a nomination is 1/6 the total ballots and not 1/5.  But neither explains why.

I will try to figure it out on Monday.


What do The DGA Noms Mean?

It means one or two happy people today are not going to be happy when the Oscar noms are announced.

It seems unlikely that Scorsese, Payne or Eastwood will be upset.  So will it be Forster or Hackford?  And who will be the surprise addition?  Could it be Gondry?  Mann?  Nichols? Condon?  George?


Have You Been Reading Slate's Movie Club?

I’m going to reserve my comments for another moment, but if you haven’t been reading, you haven’t been inside baseball this year.

Take a look and post some thoughts…

Day One | Day Two


Some People Can't Read Box Office Numbers Or Why IMDb Should Be Embarrassed To Have WENN As A "News" Source

In The American Enterprise Magazine, Eric Cox wrote of Phantom of The Opera:

"With a budget of approximately $60 million, the film grossed only about $4 million during Christmas week, one of the two biggest release dates of the year, and since then has barely made an additional $2 million."

IMDb printed the following:

"Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera, directed by Joel Schumacher and starring Gerard Butler and Emmy Rossum, expanded into 622 theaters, but its $4.82 million take suggested that it was not likely to make back the $60 million that Webber and his partners reportedly put into it. In an article in American Enterprise magazine, Eric Cox, a research fellow at the Sagamore Institute for Policy Research, wrote that the movie, financed in large part by Webber himself, ‘is likely to go down in history as one of the greatest cinematic flops of all time.’"

The facts (oh dear God… FACTS!) are that the film grossed $4 million over the three day Christmas weekend, to bring the five day total to $6.3 million.  By the end of its second weekend, the total was over $16 million.  And this is all on just 622 screens.

Now, this does not guarantee a huge hit for Lloyd Webber or Warner Bros.  In fact, there is very no precedent for a release like this in December in the last decade.  The closest I could find was the November release of Love Actually, which opened on 576 screens and did $10.2 million in 7 days before expanding.  That was a little better than Phantom, but in a much more open box office climate.  The film ended up grossing just under $60 million domestic… a similar total would still be enough, assuming an equal figure worldwide, for Phantom to make money.  (The film has already grossed $13 million in just two territories in the last few weeks.)

Do I have to be called a whore for Phantom to wonder what the hell this kind of factually inaccurate, intentionally misleading reporting is about? 

This doesn’t make the film any better or worse.  But why does it need to be overtly lied about?


Best Picture Candidates At The Box Office Update



Total (As of 1/2/05)

The Incredibles






The Aviator






Finding Neverland






Phantom of the Opera






Million Dollar Baby



Hotel Rwanda



The Woodsman




Sin City

Jeff Wells was right (GASP!) when he said that the trailer smacks of Beatty’s Dick Tracy

But I’ll tell you what it really strikes me as… the good version of Sky Captain.  I hope there is a script, but even what is in the trailer is richer than SC&TWOT. (Has there ever been a more unfortunate acronym?)  Clearly there is a lot filled in here by a drama queen of a computer.  But here there seem to be some strong characters and a real purpose.

I have not been the biggest Rodriguez fan, but I am already rooting for this one to be on my Top Ten for 2005.


When The Only Defense Is The Truth

How does one handle a name-calling, lying punk on a street corner who is trying to pick a fight?  This is a real problem and apparently one that I am going to be stuck with as long as I am in this game. 

Today’s gum on my heel is Tom O’Neil, whose response to what I thought was a pretty factual and not remotely personal take on his Sunday NYT article is to call names and to use lies to try to besmirch my name.

I am one of those people who tends to respond.  My most experienced colleagues would tell me to just shut the hell up and to let the peripheral players say whatever they want.  But I’m not quite that strong yet. 

Responding in kind to O’Neil would be stupid.  Suffice it to say that my alleged ignorance seems to lead to me taking positions and leading the way long before he ever puts his neck on the line.  I acknowledge my occasional failures and try not to gloat about my successes.  And I sure do not think that I or anyone else is “The Real Awards Expert.”  I’m a guy who listens to a lot of people with a lot of opinions and I study my history and make my calls.  I do not work for a major media outlet, so if anyone wants to disregard what I write, they are completely free to do so. 

It is sad that Tom is so obsessed with five hours we spent together almost four years ago. (At the Oscars, not the Globes.)  I don’t remember it that well.  What I do remember is that the dumbest – and maybe, funniest – thing I said that night was “With God as my witness, Gladiator will not win Best Picture.”  I was wrong.  But it was funny.  And that was the point.  (I do seem to remember picking Benecio del Toro when Tom said he was the only nominee who had no chance… or something like that.)

As far as the next year on E!, Tom O’Neil had nothing to do with my invitation to appear that came and got rescinded a week before the event.  E! Online did not want online competition.  I have no idea how much Andy Jones had to do with it.  He had bitched and moaned about me being on air the year before, but no one listened then, so I assume it was someone higher on the foot chain that made the call.  And frankly, it was a shitty gig.  No money and a ten hour day for 10 minutes of face time on E!.  But I was irritated that E! invited and then disinvited me to play.  The fact is, I have never pursued any media exposure outside of my work… not my appearances on Ebert or E! or anywhere else.  I was recruited to work for EW and later, to come be on the web, by of all people, Andy Jones.  It’s probably foolish, but I prefer to let my work – for better or for worse – do the talking. 

The idea that I promised revenge on Tom is an outright lie.  After I got the call from Patrick Goldstein, who told me that Tom had attacked me before he could even ask about me, I sent Tom a fairly courteous note asking whether it was true.  Tom didn’t answer the e-mail.  That was the only e-mail I sent.  There were no threats.  What could I do to Tom O’Neil?  What would I want to do to Tom O’Neil… except get him of my back.

Roger Friedman has received, over the years, a few profane notes.  When he attacks others with outright lies – even people I also dislike – it really pisses me off.  Roger, quite smartly, leaves me out of his column.  Tom, on the other hand, has not been a bad guy … except, apparently, when it comes to me.

My column about Searchlight making a mistake, in my opinion, by not sending out Garden State, I Heart Huckabees or Napoleon Dynamite, was about just that.  (I still feel that way, even though I have my copy of Napoleon Dynamite now.) If someone wants to read it some other way, so be it.  That is the price of being in print. You give up your right to determine context for others. 

Likewise, the obsession with a two-month old column about The Phantom that was a bit pig-headed on my part, given that I had no idea what the release pattern was or how relentless Tom and Anne Thompson and Dave Karger and others would be about trashing the movie before anyone else had seen it.  Such are the lows of writing weekly.  You won’t see him trashing my call on Million Dollar Baby or Sideways or other early reaches that are coming to fruition.  But again, I can’t control the way people want to assess me. 

I wish I knew what the “selfish” accusation is.  I can’t even conceive about what I am being selfish about.  Call me an egomaniac and I wouldn’t even flinch.  But selfish? 

Anyway, I guess my arrogant, faux macho position this is that I don’t like guys who creep around attacking people without having the courage to confront them directly.  Some people, I’m sure, agree with Tom.  Others, I’m sure, like to whisper these things as gossips do. But I believe in sunlight as the best disinfectant. 

Keep in mind, O’Neil’s rant below is a response to a piece I did that questioned Tom’s work.  Notice how he completely fails to address any of the issues in the piece.  When the truth is not with you, attack the man. 

Five years ago, Tom was “The Man” when it came to the Oscar thing.  No one else was even making an effort.  Things change.  People grow.  People learn.  And when a veteran loses some of his turf, he has a choice… keep growing and get better (like doing Q&A screenings for studios a couple months after MCN had great success in doing the same) or lash out at the new people and try to slow them by attacking them. 

I now leave it to you to determine the truth.  My side of it all is now on the record.


From posted January 03, 2005 04:07 PM by Tom O’Neil

David Poland knows NOTHING about awards and keeps proving it when he says such ridiculous things as Phantom is the only pic that can beat Aviator for Best Pic. Recently Patrick Goldstein of the L.A. Times asked me what I thought of David as an awards "expert" and I laughed and pointed out his many doozies. Like Phantom, but also his ALL-TIME CLASSIC. The only time he was ever on E!’s award shows, he was with me and Andy Jones from E! Online. Just hours before Soderbergh won best director for Traffic — as everyone on planet earth knew he would in the event Scott didn’t win for Gladiator — David actually said on TV: "If Soderbergh wins for either Traffic or Brockovich, it’ll definitely be for Brockovich. It’s impossible that he could win for Traffic." Andy and I were DUMBSTRUCK with horror over what he had just said. Shockingly stupid. Andy leaned over to me and said, "That’s the single dumbest thing I’ve ever heard uttered on TV in my life."

David is ONE MORE FILM CRITIC who thinks he’s an awards expert and that’s laughable. Awards are a separate science and these buffoons with their overblown egos just can’t accept that. David keeps on making a fool of himself in public and because I had the GALL to call him on that to the L.A. Times, I got THREATENING, NASTY EMAILS from David SWEARING REVENGE. Honest to god — that petty.

That’s what his column is — the promised revenge.


I have been told by people who know David well that he LOATHES me sooooo much because he was never used on E! again after his boneheaded appearance at that Globes. So he stalks me, determined to keep lashing out at the REAL awards expert acknowledged by all top media sources, including the New York Times. Just beware: This petty foot-stomping bully has a private, selfish agenda that has nothing to do with me, but with his own personal failure as a TV personality and showbiz authority. He will continue to stalk me in the future. I might consider his ferocious jealousy to be a compliment if David was anyone of substance.

Just two weeks ago gads of Hollywooders were howling with laughter over the tantrum in his column — bitching about how one studio had the NERVE not to give him a movie screener he wanted. HA! He whined and babbled like a pathetic spoiled child. One top studio exec said to me on the phone, "The only reason I sometimes even bother to read his column is to see what outrageously clueless, selfish thing he’s going to whine about again. Every time I do, I think to myself, ‘What is this joker doing in the business?’"


"I Disagree."

Why are these two words sooooo hard for people to conceptualize these days?

If someone doesn’t like Sideways as much as I do, why does it have to be a character flaw?

And what really scares me is that there are a lot of people out there who agree with the headline "The Most Overrated Film of the Year," but cannot see there is a difference between having a personal opinion and an attack headline in the New York Times.   

We are all right & wrong, brilliant & ignorant… the glorious thing about the web is that people can follow the flame they are attracted to, positive or negative.  But man, how brilliant I am (for some) when they agree with me and what a fool I am when they don’t.

The person whose taste I am most in line with will sometimes disagree.  Why is that such a problem for some people?

And why can’t I look at the New York Times and see an unhappy arc over this weekend’s movie coverage and not be accused of attacking Tony Scott?  Why can’t I believe he was asking a question that he really wonders about?  And why can’t I question whether his bosses, by running a series of pieces that go negative in odd ways, are baring their teeth in an inappropriate way?

And if you disagree, why can’t you just say, "I disagree," and explain why without making it personal?  Isn’t that what a discussion is?

Forgive me for going on, but it was striking that the few negative e-mails I got today all went somewhere other than, "We see it differently."

The real discussion in all of this is how we all see something being "rated."  Is it box office or critics or Oscars or zeitgeist or what?  It’s the same thing with the election… everyone wants to put it in a red state/blue state box as though the world is that simplistic and everyone who voted either Republican or Democrat thinks exactly the same way.

The key question in my piece was not whether the NYT is evil.  (It’s not… just deeply flawed and flailing right now… least of all in the critics’s slots.)  The key question was, should any voter in any group be looking at how any other group voted and wondering whether a movie is "overrated" or "underrated" or should they just vote their heart?  And if they like Sideways best and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind second best and Million Dollar Baby third best, and the margin – outside of who actually won awards – is pretty tight… is there really anything to fight over?


A Promise & No Delivery…

Sorry about that… my regular computer is being fixed, the holiday has been a holiday and I spent yesterday’s blogging time writting something so long that it didn’t really fit the blog.

But here is the start of it and a link and maybe you’ll find something worth fighting about…

Why Some Opinions Mean More Than Others

One has to wonder whether the editors at the New York Times sat down in a meeting a couple of weeks ago and decided, "Let’s fuck with the Oscars," but reading this Sunday’s movie section, you wonder how it all came together if they did not.

First, there is the most sincere piece of the lot, is by A.O. Scott and is headlined, "The Most Overrated Film of the Year." The target is Sideways. And although the text of the piece is a lot less incendiary than the headline (something happening more frequently at the Times, as headlines go headhunting in a way that suggests more Murdoch than Rosenthal), it smacks of campaigning.

Tony "A.O." Scott has grown into the job in significant ways in the last few years. Actually being a film critic, when you care about it, does help you become a real film critic… especially when you are bright as Scott. Of course, there are still moments when you get the feeling he’d still prefer to be reading instead of watching, but they are becoming fewer and fewer between. In any case, the real battle for Best Picture seems to be shaping up to be Sideways vs. Million Dollar Baby, with The Aviator and whatever other two films are nominated as potential spoilers.

Do I have to tell you which film Tony Scott had at the top of his Top Ten this year?

The rest…


The Hot Blog

Quote Unquotesee all »

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