Posts Tagged ‘The Company Men’

The Weekend Report — February 20

Sunday, February 20th, 2011

I Am Number?

There was little to salute as the weekend portion of the President’s holiday frame saw movie going once again register box office and admission declines. A trio of new films opened to modest response including the action-thriller Unknown, which led the field (though it could slip to second for the four-day period) with an estimated $21.9 million. Also new were the teen-oriented chiller I Am Number 4 , with $19.4 million to slot third, and the comedy sequel Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son in position five with $16.4 million.

There were also a tsunami of niche and exclusive bows including new Hindi and Telegu movies from India. But neither 7 Khoon Maaf nor Katha Screenplay Darsakakatvam provided more than a ripple of interest. Best of the limited releases was the non-fiction The Last Lions with $49,400 at four venues and Spanish Oscar submission Even the Rain, which grossed $52,600 from eight screens. And the fistful of exclusive bows was largely non-vigorous, though the doc I Am generated an encouraging $10,100 in its solo flight.

The absence of an 11th hour Oscar surge didn’t help the situation, though two contenders — The King’s Speech and Black Swan — managed to pass the $100 million threshold. Still, the failure of most late calendar releases to find Academy favor and the wave of new releases pushing out front-runners trends toward a serious re-thinking in theatrical exploitation for award season movies.

The four-day weekend should generate roughly $175 million and that translates into a 28% drop from President’s weekend 2010. It’s a more modest 4% erosion from the prior weekend. A year ago the trio of freshmen comprised of Valentine’s Day, Percy Jackson and The Wolfman debuted to respective grosses of $63.1 million, $38.7 million and $35.6 million.

Unknown skewed dramatically older with exits indicating 89% of its ticket buyers older than 25-years old. Surprisingly, I Am Number 4 also went slightly older with 53% plus 25s and Big Mommas had a 50/50 split. Also unexpected was Number 4’s 57/43 split that favored men and only 26% of its audience identified as teens.

The past six months has certainly seen a listing toward what the industry views as an older audience. The combination of the majors’ historic slowness at responding to change in the marketplace and decades of reliance on young males to propel special effects movies into the box office stratosphere is about to face a major challenge in May.

If you build it … will they come? Stay tuned.


Weekend Estimates – February 18-20, 2011

Title Distributor Gross (average) % change * Theaters Cume
Unknown WB 21.9 (7,190) NEW 3043 21.9
Gnomeo and Juliet BV/eOne 19.6 (6,490) -23% 3014 50.6
I Am Number 4 BV 19.4 (6,160) NEW 3154 19.4
Just Go With It Sony 18.3 (5,150) -40% 3548 60.8
Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son Fox 16.4 (5,810) NEW 2821 16.4
Justin Bieber: Never Say Never Par 13.6 (4,370) -54% 3118 48.5
The King’s Speech Weinstein Co. 6.5 (3,100) -11% 2086 103.2
The Roommate Sony 4.0 (1,870) -50% 2160 32.6
The Eagle Focus 3.4 (1,490) -61% 2296 14.9
No Strings Attached Par 3.1 (1,570) -47% 1966 66
True Grit Par 2.4 (1,660) -36% 1465 164.2
Sanctum Uni 1.5 (1,110) -73% 1377 21.8
The Fighter Par/Alliance 1.5 (1,990) -30% 759 87.9
The Green Hornet Sony 1.5 (1,170) -60% 1265 95.1
Black Swan Fox Searchlight 1.3 (1,970) -39% 656 101.5
The Rite WB 1.1 (1,030) -67% 1048 31.3
The Mechanic CBS 1.0 (1,090) -68% 952 27.9
Cedar Rapids Fox Searchlight .93 (9,120) 207% 102 1.3
Barney’s Version eOne/Sony Classics .80 (2,850) 90% 323 4.3
Tangled BV .55 (1,410) -32% 389 194.1
Biutiful Roadside .52 (3,640) -10% 143 3
Tron: Legacy BV .43 (1,380) -22% 312 170.4
Yogi Bear WB .41 (570) -47% 725 97.2
Weekend Total ($500,000+ Films) $139.30
% Change (Last Year) -28%
% Change (Last Week) -4%
Also debuting/expanding
Blue Valentine Weinstein Co. .32 (1,370) -45% 235 8.8
The Company Men Weinstein Co. .29 (1,210) -44% 242 3.5
Another Year Sony Classics .22 (1,820) -33% 121 2.5
7 Khoon Maaf UTV .19 (2,470) 76 0.19
The Illusionist Sony Classics .19 (1,790) -37% 106 1.5
Even the Rain Vitagraph 52,600 (6,570) 8 0.05
The Last Lions National Geo 49,400 (12,350) 4 0.05
Katha Screenplay Darsakatvam Supreme 36,700 (1,930) 19 0.04
Immigration Tango Roadside 14,400 (380) 30 0.01
En terrains connus eOne 12,600 (1,050) 12 0.01
I Am Paladin 10,100 (10,100) 1 0.01
Brotherhood Phase 4 8,800 (8,800) 1 0.01
The Chaperone IFC 6,900 (690) 10 0.01
Putty Hill Cinema Guild 4,500 (4,500) 1 0.01
Vanishing on 7th Street Magnolia 3,200 (3,200) 1 0.01

Domestic Market Share – 2010

Distributor Gross Market Share
Paramount (8) 236.4 21.60%
Sony (9) 216.8 19.80%
Universal (5) 131.8 12.00%
Buena Vista (4) 114.3 10.40%
Weinstein Co. (3) 90.6 8.30%
Warner Bros. (10) 87.9 8.00%
Fox Searchlight (3) 66.6 6.10%
Fox (4) 47.4 4.30%
CBS (2) 27.4 2.50%
Relativity (2) 24.6 2.20%
Focus (2) 12.9 1.20%
Sony Classics (5) 5.9 0.50%
Other * (49) 33.5 3.10%
1096.1` 100.00%
* none greater than 0.45%

Critics Roundup: February 20

Sunday, February 20th, 2011

I Am Number Four|||||
Vanishing on Seventh Street||||Yellow|
The Eagle|||||Green
Gnomeo and Juliet|||||Yellow
The Way Back||Yellow|||Green
The Company Men|||Yellow||Green
The Mechanic|||||Red

The Weekend Report – February 13

Sunday, February 13th, 2011

Bieber Pitch
By Leonard Klady

It was Sandler by a nose over the teen sensation. The rom-com Just Go With It emerged with an estimated $30.8 million while the 3D concert film Justin Bieber: Never Say Never was right behind with $30.4 million. In a session energized by new releases the animated Gnomeo and Juliet charted third with $25.3 million and the Gladiator-lite The Eagle slotted in position five with a drab $8.3 million.

The frame also featured a clutch of incoming niche and exclusive debuts. Bollywood entry Patiala House was the best of the newbies with $352,000 at 80 venues and on the Pinoy circuit Bulong had an OK $25,300 at six locales. Testing the waters with 15 screens, the comic Cedar Rapids found the temp conducive with a $302,000 tally.

There was also good response to the Oscar shorts tour with a first stop of $237,000 and the pacifist doc Mooz-lum had an impressive $12,000 per location average of $12,000, The single screen bow of another doc, Vidal Sassoon, looked and dressed good with $13,800.

Following a month of box office declines revenues experienced dramatic upturns that have finally put smiles on the folks in the distribution and exhibition sector.

Pundits were confident that the Sandler – Aniston pairing in Just Go With It would generate a $30 million plus opening salvo that would easily outdistance any threat from Justin Bieber’s concert foray. The latter movie was pegged at $25 million to $28 million and was the clear winner on opening day Friday with close to a $3 million edge of $12.4 million.

However, whereas the pubescent fan base proved to be first day fanatics, the older Valentine romantics were dominant for Saturday date night. The Bieber group declined by 13% while the Gos expanded by 42%. Both films skewed female with the concert crowd comprised of a whopping 84% and 67% under 25 according to exit polls. The comedy crowd was 58% distaff and 60% comprised of plus 25%. Never Say Never also registered a very potent 84% attendance for its stereoscopic playdates.

That still left plenty of room for the family audience that embraced Gnomeo and Juliet. Largely underserved in recent weeks, trackers underestimated its appeal with predictions in the range of $16 million to $20 million. The Eagle was the poor cousin in the mix and largely negative reviews didn’t help improve a lackluster response.

Overall revenues pushed to roughly $150 million for an eye-popping 73% boost from the prior weekend. It was also an impressive 32% improvement from 2010. Last year’s freshmen thrust was provided by first and third ranked Dear John and From Paris with Love with respective opening salvos of $30.5 million and $8.2 million.

Obviously with so much incoming fare the crowd of Oscar contenders – even the most resilient – lost a significant number of screens. And if on-going appeal is any kind of indicator, The King’s Speech contingent would be well advised to brush up on their elocution. It sputtered an insignificant 5% erosion despite the loss of 321 theaters.

Weekend (estimates) February 11 – 13, 2011
Title Distributor Gross (avg) % chng Thtrs Cume
Just Go With It Sony 30.8 (8,680) NEW 3548 30.8
Justin Bieber: Never Say Never Par 30.4 (9,790) NEW 3105 30.4
Gnomeo and Juliet BV 25.3 (8,450) NEW 2994 25.3
The Roommate Sony 8.3 (3,290) -44% 2534 26
The Eagle Focus 8.3 (3,630) NEW 2296 8.3
The King’s Speech TWC 7.3 (3,230) -5% 2263 93.8
No Strings Attached Par 5.6 (2,030) -30% 2756 59.8
Sanctum Uni 5.1 (1,830) -46% 2789 17.5
True Grit Par 3.8 (1,820) -19% 2072 160.3
The Green Hornet Sony 3.6 (1,730) -39% 2090 92.3
The Rite WB 3.1 (1,410) -44% 2207 28.7
The Mechanic CBS 3.1 (1,630) -42% 1886 25.3
The Fighter Par/Alliance 2.1 (2,030) -25% 1049 85.6
Black Swan FoxSrchlght 2.1 (1,980) -37% 1069 99.3
Dilemma Uni 1.0 (800) -70% 1242 47.6
Tangled BV .77 (980) -58% 784 193.3
Yogi Bear WB .74 (670) -67% 1111 96.6
Blue Valentine TWC .57 (1,450) -28% 393 8.2
Tron: Legacy BV .55 (1,510) -60% 364 169.7
127 Hours FoxSrchlght .54 (1,500) -50% 359 16.8
Biutiful Roadside .52 (2,740) -19% 190 2.2
The Company Men TWC .51 (1,840) -7% 277 3
Barney’s Version eOne/SPC .44 (4,400) -11% 119 3.3
Weekend Total ($500,000+ Films) $144.10
% Change (Last Year) 32%
% Change (Last Week) 73%
Also debuting/expanding
Patiala House Hari .35 (4,400) 80 0.35
Another Year Sony Classics .34 (1,970) -23% 236 2.2
The Illusionist Sony Classics .32 (1,540) 70% 205 1.15
Cedar Rapids FoxSrchlght .30 (20,150) 15 0.3
2011 Oscar Shorts Magnolia .24 (3,880) 61 0.24
Mooz-lum Peace-Films .13 (12,000) 11 0.13
Gaganam Big Pictures 96,700 (6,400) 16 0.1
Bulong ABS 25,300 (4,210) 6 0.03
Poetry Kino 18,300 (6,100) 3 0.02
Payanam Big Pictures 15,400 (1,490) 9 0.02
Vidal Sassoon: The Movie Phase 4 13,800 (13,800) 1 0.01
Carancho Strand 12,900 (4,300) 3 0.01
Domestic Market Share (Jan. 1 – Feb. 10, 2011)
Distributor (releases) Gross Market Share
Paramount (7) 184.7 20.60%
Sony (8) 157.6 17.50%
Universal (5) 121.9 13.60%
Buena Vista (3) 83.9 9.40%
Warner Bros. (10) 81.3 9.10%
Weinstein Co. (3) 78.8 8.80%
Fox Searchlight (2) 62.4 6.90%
Fox (4) 46.6 5.20%
Relativity (2) 24.5 2.70%
CBS (2) 22.6 2.50%
Alliance (5) 5.3 0.60%
Other * (49) 27.7 3.10%
897.3 100.00%

The Weekend Report – February 6

Sunday, February 6th, 2011

Where Have All the Avids Gone …
Long Time Passing

The debut of The Roommate led an anemic field at the weekend box office with an estimated $15.5 million. Second ranked was another newcomer – the 3D adventure Sanctum – with a disappointing $9.2 million.

Anticipating steep Sunday admission drops from the Super Bowl both national and niche debuts were generally directed to strong single quadrant audiences. Opening day-and-date with Mainland China, the Sino version of What Women Want generated a dull $58,900 at 29 venues; the family oriented The Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec struggled to $51,300 at 27 screens in Quebec; and the inspirational Midway to Heaven was stuck in the middle with $42,400 at 10 playdates. Best of the new exclusives was American indie Cold Weather with a $14,800 tally on a single screen.

Continuing the first quarter cold spell ticket sales experienced double digit declines that have left both the exhibition and distribution sectors in a very blue funk.

The Roommate, a remake in all but name and credit of Single White Female, bucked recent viewing trend with exit polls showing strong younger appeal. Its 65% female crowd was not unexpected and its 61% under 21 makeup was encouraging … at least for an opening weekend gross that was largely predicted by tracking pundits.

Sanctum wasn’t as lucky with, again, a distaff skewing set of viewers, albeit largely plus 25s. The sizzle was all about its stereoscopic qualities and reviewers skewered its artistic elements. Still tracking indicated a bow of $10 million to $12 million that audiences weren’t willing to make come true.

Overall business fell short of $90 million for a 20% decline from the prior weekend. It was a slightly steeper 22% drop from 2010 when the $30.5 million opening of Dear John toppled Avatar’s reign with that film taking the bridesmaid spot with $22.8 million.

The industry is now inured to Super Bowl’s clobber but the more serious concern is the sudden disappearance of the avid audience that falls between ages 17 and 25. Recent movie releases are largely being blamed with no relief in sight for the first quarter of 2011 and certainly no possibility of Oscar fare bringing up the slack.

The official line is that the avids will return but somewhere in the dark recesses are concerns that a significant portion of that audience has opted out of the theatrical experience in favor of new technologies and platforms. Theater owners are buckling down for additional experimentation in “windows” that will cut into their bottom line.

Historically the majors have been slow to respond to change and if logically an aging population would suggest adopting more mature content, don’t expect that penny to drop for three to five years. Independents could move in to fill the gap though one can be certain their deep pocket brethren will out spend them to ensure market share dominance rather than address real business issues.


Weekend Estimates – February 4-6, 2011

Title Distributor Gross (average) % change * Theaters Cume
The Roommate Sony 15.5 (6,130) NEW 2534 15.5
Sanctum Uni 9.2 (3,300) NEW 2787 9.2
No Strings Attached Par 8.3 (2,730) -38% 3050 51.7
The King’s Speech Weinstein Co. 8.1 (3,150) -27% 2584 83.9
The Green Hornet Sony 6.3 (2,070) -44% 3033 87.4
The Rite WB 5.6 (1,880) -62% 2985 23.7
The Mechanic CBS 5.3 (1,970) -53% 2704 20
True Grit Par 4.8 (1,650) -36% 2902 155
Dilemma Uni 3.4 (1,340) -40% 2545 45.7
Black Swan Fox Searchlight 3.4 (1,710) -34% 1977 95.9
The Fighter Par/Alliance 2.9 (1,730) -27% 1662 82.4
Yogi Bear WB 2.3 (1,260) -28% 1807 95.4
Tangled BV 1.8 (1,330) -28% 1369 192
127 Hours Fox Searchlight 1.4 (1,510) -36% 899 15.7
Tron: Legacy BV 1.4 (1,320) -46% 1040 168.8
Little Fockers Uni 1.2 (910) -52% 1355 146.5
Blue Valentine Weinstein Co. .79 (1,760) -33% 450 7.3
From Prada to Nada Lionsgate .69 (2,640) -38% 261 2
Biutiful Roadside .63 (3,560) 38% 177 1.4
Country Strong Sony .61 (640) -52% 948 19.8
The Company Men Weinstein Co. .55 (2,380) -17% 231 2.3
Chronicles of Narnia: Dawn Treader Fox .53 (1,030) -40% 514 102.6
Gulliver’s Travels Fox .67 (1,030) -42% 495 41.14
Another Year Sony Classics .48 (2,030) 55% 236 1.7
Barney’s Version eOne/Sony Classics .43 (3,570) -13% 119 2.7
Weekend Total ($500,000+ Films) $84.70
% Change (Last Year) -22%
% Change (Last Week) -20%
Also debuting/expanding
The Illusionist Sony Classics .19 (2,850) 46% 68 0.77
Incendies eOne/Seville .14 (3,050) 30% 47 2.8
Rabbit Hole Lionsgate .12 (890) -32% 131 1.7
What Women Want China Lion 58,900 (2,030) 29 0.06
Adele Blanc-Sec Seville 51,300 (1,900) 27 0.05
Midway to Heaven Excel 42,400 (4,240) 10 0.04
Cold Weather IFC 14,800 (14,800) 1 0.01
Troubadours PBS 13,200 (4,400) 3 0.01
Waiting Forever FreeStyle 8,700 (2,900) 3 0.01
The Other Woman IFC 5,800 (2,900) 2 0.01

Top Domestic Grossers – 2010

Distributor Gross Market Share
Paramount (7) 163.5 20.90%
Sony (7) 130.7 16.70%
Universal (4) 103.7 13.30%
Buena Vista (3) 79.6 10.20%
Warner Bros. (10) 70.1 9.00%
Weinstein Co. (3) 66.2 8.50%
Fox Searchlight (2) 55.7 7.10%
Fox (4) 45.1 5.80%
Relativity (2) 24.1 3.10%
CBS (2) 15.1 1.90%
Alliance (5) 4.9 0.60%
Other * (46) 22.3 2.90%
781 100.00%
* none greater than 0.4%

Oh, Hello, You Talented Harvard-Attending, Rhodes Scholar, Dog-Don’t-Hunt-Hating Guy, You!

Sunday, January 23rd, 2011

“It did neither of us any favours. Nevertheless, I persisted until my time was up. After exactly 15 minutes, Jones said, “I hope I’ve given you enough material for your article. I have another phone call to make.”
Oh, Hello, You Talented Harvard-Attending, Football Tackle, Rhodes Scholar, Dog-Don’t-Hunt-Hating Guy, You!

Friday Estimates — January 22

Saturday, January 22nd, 2011

No Strings Attached|7.2|3018|NEW|7.2
The Green Hornet|5|3584|-55%|50.4
The Dilemma|3|2943|-52%|26.6
The King’s Speech |2.1|1680|-43%|51.6
True Grit|2.1|3464|-37%|132.7
Black Swan|1.7|2407|-28%|79.1
Little Fockers|1.2|2979|-41%|138
The Fighter |1.2|2275|-20%|69.7
Tron: Legacy|0.9|2018|-35%|160.5
Yogi Bear |0.75|2510|-29%|85.6
Also Debuting
The Way Back|0.39|659||0.39
The Company Men|0.17|106||0.17
Dhobi Ghat|0.13|79||0.13
Evangelion: 2.0|7,950|15||7,950
Un Vie Qui Commence|4,700|13||4,700
L’Autre Dumas|3,800|8||3,800
The Woodmans|1,800|1||1,800
* in millions

Wilmington on Movies: The Way Back, The Company Men and Blue Valentine

Friday, January 21st, 2011

The Way Back (Three and a Half Stars)
U.S./Poland: Peter Weir, 2011

Movie tales of  agonizing attempts at human survival against long odds in dangerous conditions — from Robert Aldrich‘s The Flight of the Phoenix (plane-crash in the desert), Kalatozov’s The Red Tent (Arctic expedition gone wrong) and Kurosawa’s Dersu Uzala (lost in Siberia) to Danny Boyle’s recent 127 Hours (trapped in a crevasse) and Peter Weir’s current The Way Back — serve one very useful function. They help us keep our own difficulties in perspective. They remind us of how fragile life really can be, of how relatively small and manageable most of our own civilized daily problems are. Money messes? Romantic failures? Bad co-workers? Tough, but manageable.

But, what would we do, for example, if we were faced — as are the eight central characters of The Way Back — with trekking on foot through  freezing, wolf-infested Siberian forests during the height of World War II, with the soldiers of the Soviet Gulag and their guns somewhere behind us? Or crossing the Gobi Desert under a scorching sun with little water, and boots falling apart?

What if we had to walk 4,000 miles through those forests, and that desert, then face climbing and crossing the Himalayan Mountains before reaching the safe haven of India — only to have World War II still raging all across the world all around us?

The Way Back is based on a famous book by Polish writer and ex-gulag prisoner Slawomir Rawicz, the bestseller The Long Walk: The True Story of a Trek to Freedom. Weir’s movie, co-scripted by Keith R. Clarke, with a multi-national cast headed by Jim Sturgess, Ed Harris, Colin Farrell and Saoirse Ronan,  purports to tell us that story of that 1940 escape and the people who made it. And though Rawicz’s facts have been seriously challenged (it’s said by some investigators that he never escaped from the Gulag at all, but was released in 1942, and that thus the whole tale of the trek is fictitious), Weir’s movie still has lots of visual and emotional impact.

Stunningly shot in Bulgaria (standing in for Siberia), Morocco (standing in for Mongolia) and India, The Way Back is an old school adventure movie made without the aid of CGI enhancement or technical trickery. It has an often overwhelming visual impact. Filled with over-powering landscapes and spectacular desolation, Weir’s movie creates an often riveting vision of escape, of the wilderness and survival, with the seven men — a colorful, diverse group that includes an American (Ed Harris), a Stalinist thief/killer (Colin Farrell), and an artist who keeps drawing pictures — sometimes pitted against each other, or hurled into wolf-infested forests, and vast scorching stretches of the Gobi desert. Along the way, they’re joined by another fugitive/pilgrim, a fragile-looking young Polish girl on the run named Irena (Saoirse Ronan). As the grueling journey proceeds, some of them die, some survive  — and all of them are constantly battered and tested.

There may be soldiers somewhere behind them too, ready to take them back to the gulag, villagers ready to betray them. But, as the commandant tells the newly arrived prisoners at the beginning — including the movie’s main character, Polish prisoner Janusz (Jim Sturgess) — it is the land itself  that is their jailer, their nemesis, their tyrant, their gulag.  
Few filmmakers alive can wring as much mystical splendor and dangerous-looking beauty out of a landscape or seascape (or here, a mountain-scape and desert-scape) as Weir — especially when he’s joined by his fellow Australian, cinematographer Russell Boyd (an Oscar winner for Weir‘s last film, the 2003 sea saga Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World). Together, Weir and Boyd lavish on Way Back the gifts for outdoor moviemaking Weir displayed in films like Gallipoli, The  Mosquito Coast, and Master and Commander, showing once again that great talent he has for immersing us in the excitement and strangeness of the world around us.

The dramatic elements of The Way Back aren’t as strong — even if, compared to most would be action or adventure films these days, they’re strong enough.  Sturgess’ Janusz, sent to Siberia because of a political frame-up in which his wife (Sally Edwards) participated, is a protagonist with a kind heart (the reason, one character tells him, that he’s wanted for the escape and journey), but few interesting quirks. (Janusz’s betrayal by his wife and the climactic aftermath, are two of this story’s least plausible elements.)

Of the other characters, the most forcefully or memorable drawn are Irena (Ronan), whose ethereal face lends weird contrast to the elemental backdrops; the American Mr. Smith (played broodingly by Ed Harris); and the thug Valka (played explosively by Colin Farrell), who kills a man for his sweater, and has Stalin and Lenin tattooed on his chest.

It’s been said, by Roger Ebert, that the movie might have done better dramatically to compromise and create some more involving romantic drama around Irena. True. But is that really a compromise? Not having read the book, I don’t know what happened in real life — there apparently was a woman refugee described by Rawicz along with the escapees, but not a teenager like the movie’s Irena (Ronan is 16) — or even if Irena really existed (or existed only in a made-up memoir). But I found it down-right weird that there was so  little sexual tension between Irena and any of the men. That’s another area where the human interiors of The Way Back seem scanty next to the film’s transfixing exteriors.   

A word about Weir. Even if his material here lacks some depth and power (and even if it has a pretty corny ending), it’s a daring, worthwhile project. Weir is a marvelous filmmaker, at his best with large or exotic canvasses like this — an expert portrayer of the spectacle and mysteries of the world, and the shadows of the human mind and heart. It’s good to see his work on screen again. I thought his last film, 2003‘s Master and Commander, which was adapted (and somewhat changed) from Patrick O’Brian‘s excellent sea stories, starring Russell Crowe as Jack Aubrey, was a rousing, first-class adventure movie, and I would have been happy if that movie had had as many sequels as Pirates of the Caribbean.

So I hope we won’t have to start waiting as long between Weir films as we eventually did for those of David Lean — a superior filmmaker, but one to whom Weir can be fairly compared. Ambition and the desire to make movies for adults shouldn’t be penalized, or made into marks against you. There are artistic and financial gulags as well as physical ones, and after all the fine films Weir has made — Picnic at Hanging Rock, The Last Wave, The Year of Living Dangerously, and The Truman Show as well as the ones I‘ve already mentioned — he‘s earned the right to make the kind of films he wants to.   

Now, a word about Ed Harris. Two words. Great actor. Furthermore, as always, a reliably fine actor, one you can count on. All of the roles in The Way Back, though mostly well-played, are somewhat sketchy, which is odd for a story allegedly taken from life. But if Ronan supplies pathos and Farrell adds tension and conflict (the movie loses a lot when he departs), Harris is the one actor in The Way Back who really adds the element of human suffering and stoicism, the measure of how we react to danger and hardship, how we can survive. Almost effortlessly, Harris’ Mr. Smith takes over the movie, supplies its true emotional center — and he does this not by succumbing to the dangers and difficulties of the trek, or pushing his role obviously forward, or obviously registering anguish and pain, but by constantly fighting against them. (At one point, when it looks as if Mr. Smith will succumb, the movie seems ready to collapse around him.)

I’d be remiss in not mentioning the other actors as well — Dragos Bucur, Alexander Protocean, Gustaf Skarsgard, Sebastian Urgandowsky, and Igor Gnezdilov. They’re all good, even if, frankly, the dramatic elements of the movie — however close or far they may be to the book or to fact, or how moving they may be to us  — don’t feel especially true. Against the overpowering, dangerous physical world of Way Back, the men and woman enact what is often a typical adventure movie fable of suffering, quest and redemption. They and the story tell us what we’ve heard before, in ways we expect, and that rarely surprise us. But that’s not bad. Weir and Boyd make sure that the landscapes around those escapees have their own fierce truth.    


The Company Men (Three Stars)
U. S.; John Wells, 2010

Three executives at a vast Boston-based conglomerate called GTX, caught in the opening crash of the G. O. P.‘s Great Recession, see their careers derailed or destroyed when their company’s callous, greedy, phlegmatic CEO, James Salinger (played viciously and perceptively by Craig T. Nelson), starts closing divisions, cutting jobs and downsizing with a vengeance. Those company men are 37-year-old yuppie Bobby Walker (Ben Affleck), 50-something longtime original employee Phil Woodward (about to get caught in the crucible of ageism), and tough but compassionate 60ish Gene McClary (Tommy Lee Jones),  who started the company (as independent shipbuilders) with Salinger, but is about to find out he’s no safer from the current economic mess than anyone else — especially when he proves too tough, and too compassionate, for the tastes of his  oldest friend, that same Salinger.

The Company Men is the first theatrical feature written, directed and produced by longtime TV writer-producer John Wells (a multiple Emmy winner for shows like E.R. and The West Wing), and it’s the kind of drama that, back in the ’50s would have been rolling off the typewriters of Rod Serling and Reginald Rose. (In fact, Serling told a similar story about corporate brutality in his breakthrough ’50s teleplay Patterns.) It’s good to see somebody sticking it to the corporate establishment for their entrenched selfishness, their blank-faced brutality toward their employees (and toward society as a whole), and their longstanding sins of ageism, obsession with the stock market, and social irresponsibility. (Wells writes and Nelson portrays these real-life vices of the corporate super-rich and their minions with economy and force.)

It’s also good to see somebody trying to reawaken the Serling-Rose-Chayefsky tradition of adult, issue-oriented popular drama — and doing it, for the most part, this well. Since its brief Academy qualifying opening, I’ve decided to bump up the rating, though I still agree with some of its detractors that Company Men is an unabashed message drama, with some flaws, and that there are people who are suffering much, much more from the bilked, ravaged economy, than the desperate execs we see here.

But I also still disagree strongly with those Company Men critics who think this movie is too preachy or too obvious. If all these lessons were so clear to the movie-going public, and not just to some of the friends and social acquaintances of us movie critics, then the country as a whole might not have voted for the political party in cahoots with the same damned greed-crazed creeps and idiots who got us in the mess in the first place.

Wells does a good job of needling the guys at the top, of sketching in the milieu, laying down the table stakes, and giving us a large gallery of mostly well-cast and well-played characters — including all above, plus Bobby’s wife Maggie (Rosemarie DeWitt) and her blue collar carpenter brother(Kevin Costner). Special kudos to Jones (as usual), to Nelson, to DeWitt, to Cooper (who plays Woodward like a walking raw wound) and to Costner.

Especially Costner. His part here, independent builder Jack Dolan, in fact, reminded me a bit of my own Swedish-American Wisconsin carpenter grandfather Axel Tulane — though Grampa was funnier, more jocular and more congenial than Jack. Here’s what was amazing about Axel and why Costner’s expert worker reminds me of him: When I was in school in Williams Bay, Axel planned and designed and got the materials for, and actually built with his own hands, several houses, the last when he was in his 70s. He planned that last house by himself, and, working mostly alone, did nearly everything, with no fellow carpenters, and only a little help that I knew of from my mother and me. I suppose my Grampa must have had some specialists, plumbers or electricians or such, but I had the impression he was doing that too. Axel knew how to build a house, you see. And he would have known what to do with a bastard like Salinger.


Blue Valentine (Three Stars)
U.S.: Derek Cianfrance, 2010
An uncompromising drama about a busted romance, told in two alternating story-tracks: one where the couple (Ryan Gosling and somewhat higher-class Michelle Williams) first comes together, one where they finally split apart. The subject of some idiotic MPAA controversy about sex, this a real moviemaker’s showcase for newcomer Derek Cianfrance, and an actors’ showcase for Gosling and Williams, who burn up the screen. With their acting. As for the sex, isn’t that what most couples do? 


No Strings Attached (One and a Half Stars)
U.S.; Ivan Reitman, 2010

 A movie critic friend of mine wrote me the other day that my review of Ben Stiller’s and Robert De Niro’s Little Fockers should have ended right after the first sentence. Thus: After rambling on and on about the Coen Brothers’ True Grit, I wonder if there’s any real need to say anything at all about Little Fockers  except just this: This movie is not funny.

Well, I’ve got a second chance to follow his advice, thanks to director Ivan Reitman and his mystifyingly unentertaining (to me) so-called romantic comedy, No Strings Attached, starring the unchemical couple of Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher, doing a sort of cross between Last Tango In Paris (sex without mush)  and When Harry Met Sally (friendship and sex) and Mutt and Jeff (the long and the short and the tall).

Here goes: After rambling on and on about The Way Back, there’s no need to say anything about No Strings Attached except this: It ain’t funny. It ain’t sexy. It looks like it was shot in a permanent smog attack. And what a criminal waste of Kevin Kline.

There, that’s already more than I should have said. (Maybe more next week, if I feel up to it.) But I’ll add this: I think I’d rather walk from Siberia to Tibet than watch this movie again.


 Dissolution (Three Stars)
Israel-U.S.: Nina Menkes, 2010

I love black and white cinematography, I love the styles and moods of noir, and off-Hollywood director-writer-editor Nina Menkes (Magdalena Viraga, The Bloody Child) uses them both pretty well here. Her latest movie, a kind of modern Israeli Crime and Punishment, heavy on angst and sin and lighter on philosophy, follows a brooding, dark John Lurie-ish looking sort of guy (Didi Fire), who kills a pawnbroker and starts falling apart. The scenes are sometimes a little too early Chantal Akermanish — one take, distanced, minimalist, sometimes almost actionless — but the movie has a mood. And a style: art-house noir. (Israeli and Arabic, with subtitles. (At Facets, Chicago.)


The Gronvall Files: Good Company: A Conversation with The Company Men Director John Wells

Wednesday, January 19th, 2011

As this year’s Sundance Film Festival unfolds, one of the films that made a splash there a year ago, The Company Men, John Wells’s feature directorial debut, is gathering steam in its commercial rollout. The acclaimed writer-producer behind TV hits like ER and The West Wing, as well as Southland (which found a new home on TNT after NBC jettisoned it for Jay Leno’s short-lived prime time experiment), was in Chicago recently to scout locations for Shameless, a new Showtime series starring William H. Macy, and to promote The Weinstein Company’s expansion of The Company Men on January 21st.

The film showcases a terrific ensemble, with Tommy Lee Jones, Ben Affleck, and Chris Cooper playing executives who lose their jobs at a shipping firm when boss Craig T. Nelson decides to streamline operations. Kevin Costner, in his best role in years, costars as a salt-of-the-earth carpenter who lends a hand to brother-in-law Affleck when the downsized exec most needs it. Wells and company have made a film that eloquently sums up much of what American workers have experienced in alarming numbers over the past few years. Relaxed and affable despite a grueling schedule, Wells proved equally eloquent in an early morning interview on a day when Chicago was as cold and grey as Park City.

Andrea Gronvall: It’s great that you launched The Company Men at Sundance last year, because it’s an excellent forum for serious films with something to say.

John Wells: Festivals have become even more important, what with the major studios basically out of the business with these kinds of films now—that’s a generalization, as occasionally a wonderful film like The Social Network will come through the studio system. But not often, and most studios can only point to maybe one every couple of years, not one every couple of months, which is what it used to be. So you really need the festivals if you’re going to get any kind of airing or distribution. But that has turned festivals more into marketplaces, where most were originally there just to show films that often nobody would see otherwise.

AG: There’s a current of social consciousness, and frequently, social activism, throughout your work—obviously in The West Wing, ER, and now The Company Men. Did growing up the son of a minister affect your worldview? Were your parents social activists?

JW: My mother’s a schoolteacher and a union activist and my father’s a minister in the Episcopal Church and very much a peace and justice advocate. So I grew up in an atmosphere [where] part of your responsibility as a citizen was to try to participate in the democracy in some way and work toward changes that you believed in. I come from a long line of Democrat activists and FDR supporters. I was born in Virginia, and grew up in Colorado–again, in a very progressive environment: in Denver those were the Pat Schroeder years.

AG: When you first began your research on The Company Men, you talked to about 300 downsized workers one-on-one. Did they consent to interviews on video, or on audiotape?

JW: It started [when] my brother-in-law lost his job, as many people have. He’s very accomplished academically; he had an MBA and a graduate level electrical engineering degree. His company was bought out by a foreign company and 5,000 people lost their jobs on the same day. He started telling me about his experiences, something I didn’t know that much about. So I went online to a bunch of the downsizing and unemployment chat rooms, saying I might be interested in writing about this if you have anecdotes. And I had a couple of thousand responses.

My researcher and I started culling the people who might be more compelling when you actually spoke to them, and then followed that up with phone calls. A lot of them I did, a lot of them my researcher did, and then there were a certain number of people that I interviewed in person because they lived locally, or lived someplace where I was going to work.

AG: One of the many things I like about The Company Men is how you convey the sense of shame Chris Cooper’s character feels; he’s harder hit by the loss of his job than the others. And then his sorrow, disbelief, rage—for him, losing his job is not so very far removed from losing a loved one.

JW: I found among all the people that I interviewed, that no matter how many other people were losing their jobs at the same time, and no matter how you process it intellectually — that it really was no personal responsibility of yours that led to your losing your job — that people always felt like they’d done something wrong, were trying to figure it out, and felt ashamed that they had lost their jobs. I think it’s a cultural thing, the way we so much connect our jobs to who we think we are.

AG: You’ve put your money where your mouth is by taking on the presidency of the WGA West, for a second time. Clearly you believe in labor rights. Where do you see the future of unions in this country? And where do you find the time to do everything you do: two TV series, directing a movie and promoting it, plus heading the Writers Guild of America?

JW: I work with and depend upon a lot of really wonderful, talented collaborators; many I’ve worked with for 20 years and more. So, that’s how I do all those things. I absolutely do believe in unionism and this notion that through collective action people can take care of each other, like in the Writers Guild. We’re basically all freelancers, and people don’t work for individual companies for long periods of time.

The health and pension benefits that are going to be provided when you’re moving from job to job through a multi-guild employer plan, the kind of protections for our work, and the credits and some things like that, are essential for writers to string together a real career. Otherwise, without those protections I think it’d be very difficult for people to raise families.

AG: Are you a news junkie?

JW: I don’t know if I’m a “junkie,” but I spend a tremendous amount of time actually reading the news. I get the New York Times and L.A. Times every day. I regularly read the Washington Post and Wall Street Journal. I have lots of friends who send me various articles from all over the country, one of the advantages now of the Internet. I got into the [news] habit as a child—I was raised in a home in which Time Magazine was revered–but as a writer it’s been furthered by the kinds of television shows and things that I’ve written.

When we were doing The West Wing we got the exact same newspapers on our doorstep every day that come into the White House. A large part of the responsibility of the writers on each one of the shows — ER, and The West Wing, and now for what we do on Southland — is to be constantly reading different periodicals, and have researchers pull things.

One of the difficulties in The Company Men was that the economic situation was literally changing as we were shooting, so on a daily basis I was making changes to the script to try to keep it up to date because events were unfolding so quickly during the depths of the credit crisis.

AG: I like that you end the film on a note of hope, and I’m wondering if in all your research you came across a lot of real-life instances of downsized folks who were able to reinvent themselves.

JW: I never want to minimize the economic and emotional difficulty of going through these experiences, but I was really struck by the resiliency of the people that I talked to. It’s one of the great things, I think, of the American character; it is why the country has been successful over time, is that there’s a quality of picking yourself back up and figuring out what to do next. And everybody found other things to do.

My brother-in-law is a perfect example. He had a rough period; there was a huge contraction in his industry so there were lots of people with his exact resume who were out looking for jobs at the same time. And he ended up eventually, after some rough years, going back to school, and getting a law degree, and now is [using] his electrical engineering and business background as a patent attorney up in Silicon Valley. You find a way to get to the other side, and often discover who will actually come to your aid. Americans are a very individualistic and proud people, but we’ve moved away from a time not that long ago in which you were required to depend upon your community to simply survive.

We’ve moved away in the sense [that it’s expected] that everybody should be able to take care of themselves, no matter what the circumstances. And the reality is that in these situations, the first thing that you need to do is to gather your resources, your family and friends, and people who can support you, to pull through the more difficult times.

Frenzy on the Wall: Downsized and Dispirited, The Company Men Still Has Feeling

Monday, January 17th, 2011

The Company Men is a satisfying film, but not an altogether successful one. However, I’m inclined to give it a pass for a lot of its faults because its cause is such a noble one. The film will serve as a time-capsule for future generations to be able to look back and pinpoint this particular time in our nation’s history, a time when we were all so terrified about the economy, when stock prices mattered more than employing people, and when lay-offs became more and more common.

New York Online Crix Make Their Picks

Sunday, December 12th, 2010

New York Film Critics Online, composed of thirty critics whose outlets are exclusively online and two who are print journalists with a strong online presence, met at Lincoln Center’s Walter Reade Theatre on December 12th and bestowed these awards at its 11th annual meeting:

The Complete List:

The Social Network

David Fincher – The Social Network

James Franco – 127 hours

Natalie Portman – Black Swan

Christian Bale – The Fighter

Melissa Leo – The Fighter

Matthew Libatique – Black Swan

Aaron Sorkin – The Social Network

I Am Love

Exit through the Gift Shop

Toy Story 3

Clint Mansell – Black Swan

Noomi Rapace – The Millennium Trilogy

John Wells – The Company Men

The Kids Are All Right

TOP 10 PICTURES (Alphabetical)

127 Hours (Fox Searchlight)
Another Year (Sony Pictures Classics)
Black Swan (Fox Searchlight)
Blue Valentine (The Weinstein Company)
The Ghost Writer
(Summit Entertainment)
Inception (Warner Bros.)
The Kids Are All Right
(Universal Pictures)
The King’s Speech (The Weinstein Company)
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (Universal Pictures)
The Social Network (Columbia Pictures)

Best Picture Chart

Thursday, August 5th, 2010
The Films Most Likely (by release date)
June 18
Toy Story 3
July 16

July 30
Get Low



Oct 22
Dec 25
True Grit



The Next Tier Of Likely (by release date)
Dec 17
Everything You’ve Got


Oct 1

The Social Network
Nov 12
Morning Glory


Oct 8
Nov 24
The King’s Speech
Dec 1
The Black Swan
Nov 19
Made In Dagenham
Dec 25




The Rest Of The Legitimate Contenders (by release date)
Feb 19
Shutter Island

June 11 Winter’s Bone
July 9
The Kids Are All Right


Aug 13
Eat Pray Love
J Roberts
Sept 1
The American
Sept 15
Never Let Me Go



Sept 17
The Town




Sept 24

It’s Kind Of A Funny Story


E Roberts
Sept 24
Wall Street 2


Oct 15
Nov 5
127 Hours


Nov 24
Love & Other Drugs


Dec 1
Dec 10
The Fighter
O. Russell
Dec 10
The Tempest
Dec 29
Another Year


Dec 31
Blue Valentine




London Boulevard


30 Weeks To Go Yeah… It’s Time To Start Thinking Oscar Again

Thursday, August 5th, 2010

We’re a few weeks away from Venice/Telluride/Toronto, which kicks off the Oscar season in one 19-day period. What these festivals do is to get a few titles rolling, but mostly, they start eliminating would-be contenders from the race.

It’s not just press, fans, and reality in play here … it’s the studios too. Fox Searchlight has four Oscar-thinking films this fall, really leading the pack in density of potential. And they will throw all four at the wall and see what sticks in the next seven weeks. Darren Aronofsky and Danny Boyle, who shared the Oscar Wars of 2008, are both back with Black Swan and 127 Hours, respectively. The great Mark Romanek, who rarely makes features, lands in theaters just days after his Toronto slot with Never Let Me Go, featuring Oscar-nominated girl goddesses Carey Mulligan and Keira Knightley (plus Spider-Man!). And then there is perhaps the wildest of the cards, Conviction, starring two-time Oscar winner Hilary Swank as a hard-ass woman out of her depth, but unable to be deterred … sounds swanky, eh?

Searchlight, which is as good as anyone in the Oscar game, will do as they have done repeatedly in the past … put the work out there … test the waters … smell the breeze … set their real strategy for the fall. It’s ballsy, but they get the joke. There are two pushes going on for these films: the films need to work commercially, and if they can also work as Oscar-bait – especially if it improves their commercial prospects – great.

I’m not saying that Searchlight won’t honor their directors and their sense of what’s necessary. But how realistic the future for these films is in awards season will be determined under festival circumstances. Aronofsky would likely have gotten a BP nod for The Wrestler in a 10-film field … so Black Swan will be measured in that way … unless it plays badly. Is the Boyle an Oscar-bait film or just commercial? The release date says that it is probably commercial, but they will see how it plays. And Conviction could be a dark horse surprise, hitting people hard in the heart and sticking. You never know.

Rule of thumb overall, not just for Searchlight, is that you can secure acting nominations in September, but you need to ride it out for much longer if you’re looking for a Best Picture nod. So from the outside, one can assume that the September 15 release date means that they don’t really think of Never Let Me Go “that way” and would be happy if Knightley or Mulligan can stir it up. (Carey also has Fox’s Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps due nine days after Never. There is some buzz for her in Supporting there.)

Looking back at 2010 to date … well, let’s not yank chains …

Shutter Island is brilliant, but its legacy is not the strongest. Still, it’s one of the very few realistic pre-September hopefuls. Toy Story 3 will test to see whether we are now going to see a Pixar film in the ten every year. The only other 3s to get nominated were Godfather III and Lord of the Rings: Return of the King.

Inception, which inspires lots of debate and discussion, won’t win many critics awards (though Nolan might, for director or writing), and would be very unlikely in a field of five … but becomes likely in a field of 10. And last, but not least by any means, Get Low, a very small, intimate portrait of a man considering the end … but funny … and with sure-bet nominated performance by Robert Duvall, possibilities for Sissy Spacek and Bill Murray (a long shot), and a first-time director.

That’s it for the pre-September titles with realistic Best Picture ambitions. There are plenty of additional titles with potential for acting, writing, and other noms. Of these four, I like three to get in.

Moving back into the fall … let’s start with the surviving Dependents…

Focus Features, like Searchlight, has an interesting line-up. They have the hit indie of the summer, The Kids Are All Right, though it seems more likely to break through in acting and writing than elsewhere. They are releasing The American, a George Clooney action-drama from Anton Corbijn, the legendary short-form director who is making his second feature here. The September 1 slot would smell funny … except that that is where they launched The Constant Gardener, which won Rachel Weisz an Oscar and did surprisingly strong adult business.

Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck (Half Nelson and Sugar), who are highly thought-of young directors, are up next with It’s Kind Of A Funny Story, which seems to be a psych ward ro-mental comedy … (500) Days of Summer with better meds. And what seems to be The Big Dog for the distributor is Somewhere, the new one from Sofia Coppola, who puts Stephen Dorff in the Bill Murray seat in what seems to be her version of Jim Brooks’ failed I’ll Do Anything … but without music being anywhere near it. (Was that an obscure and twisted enough list of references for you?)

Sony Classics always makes a big splash in Toronto. This year, their new product will feel familiar, but with no expected 95 mph fastball like Capote or Penelope Cruz on hand. Nigel Cole gives Sally Hawkins another Oscar shot with the bright & breezy version of Norma Rae in Made in Dagenham. The great Mike Leigh returns with the Cannes-launched Another Year. And Sylvain Chomet, who threatened to upset Finding Nemo (which had that year become the biggest grossing animated film of all time) with The Triplets of Belleville, will now face this year’s threat to become the new biggest-grossing animated film of all time (Toy Story 3) with L’illusionniste. Of course, SPC’s big gun for Oscar will be Get Low, mentioned above as one of the few pre-September contenders this year.

In spite of being sold, Disney’s Miramax division is still scheduled to release The Tempest, now off the table for Toronto but premiering in Venice and then centerpiecing the NY Film Festival. However good or great the film, it is hard not to imagine that NY was a much cheaper choice than Toronto and that the plan was hatched from that perspective as much as any other. Taymor’s last two films (Across The Universe and Frida) played Toronto. Titus, a Christmas Day release, did not. I LOVE Titus. Hopkins was stunning. The imagery was truly spectacular. And for very tough Shakespeare, it was very accessible. We’ll see what comes of a female Prospero, though the cast, from Mirren down, is absolutely first rate.

There are only three True Indies who have shown themselves to have Oscar firepower.

The Weinstein Company is not without ammunition this season, even if the company hasn’t released a film this year (well … one … on two screens … oy.) They’ll release The Tillman Story in a couple of weeks, in time to qualify for Oscar noms without a sneaky run in a corner of LA. But that’s a doc play only. The loudest noise for Oscar will be around Julian Schnabel’s Miral, a Palestinian-Israeli flick that is all but guaranteed to get months of stories and op-eds in the NY Times, as well as being a favorite of Fox News for not being 100% pro-Israel. Julian and his pajamas will be the hottest Fox topic since Obama’s birth certificate.

Nowhere Boy is the John Lennon bio-pic-ish film, which has left both fans and the non-plussed in its wake. Also on the docket, Sundance slow-sellers The Company Men and Blue Valentine. Blue Valentine has more heat … but also more people who HATE the film. And perhaps the dark horse for their season … The King’s Speech, a Brit tale of a stammering king, loaded with faves like Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Guy Pearce, Helena Bonham Carter, Michael Gambon, Tim Spall, Derek Jacobi and so on.

Lionsgate is not scheduled to be in the Oscar game this year. The one possible last-minute entry would be Tyler Perry‘s For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf, a classic piece of theater converted with an all-star cast. The film is currently slotted for Martin Luther King Day weekend, but it’s hard to imagine that Perry is going to settle for this to be another commercial success. We’ll see.

Summit won Best Picture last year, but has no film in position to chase the award this year. There are a couple of interesting floaters out there – no US distributor – in William Monahan‘s London Boulevard and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarittu‘s Biutiful. Either could end up with Summit just before or after Toronto … or not. All that really matters for Summit is caring for the fang hags, so it’s hard to imagine the studio getting into a tough sell like Biutiful. If London Boulevard gets some heat, maybe.

And this year’s Little Indie Distributor Who Could – last year, it was Oscilliscope with The Messenger – is Roadside Attractions, who could hit an awards jackpot with Jennifer Lawrence‘s performance in and Debra Granik and Anne Rosellini‘s script for Winter’s Bone, a film that drew a lot of LA eyeballs during a slow summer for quality films. Could that convert to a Best PIcture nod? It’s a longshot… but that’s a lot better than a no shot.

Moving on to The Majors …

The two major studios deepest into this season will be Warners, Sony, and Paramount, each with at least two serious contenders and at least one interesting Maybe Something.

Paramount closes out the season with big potential films David O. Russell‘s The Fighter (via Relativity Media) and, especially, The Coen Bros’ True Grit. Not much to say about those, except, “Let me at ‘em!” A dark, dark horse for the studio is the comedy Morning Glory, directed by Roger Michell. Could it be this year’s unexpected Working Girl? It has the right players. And you never know. I know that I am looking forward to seeing Harrison Ford playing a prick for laughs. And McA still remains The Superstar Most Likely.

Sony is relying on David Fincher, who scored 13 nominations with The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, to deliver some golden action with The Social Network. The studio is very high on the film and decided to open the film at the New York Film Festival, precluding every festival before it. On either side of this one is Eat Pray Love, a film in the same slot as Julie & Julia, with similar awards aspirations and higher commercial expectations, and Everything You’ve Got, a James Brooks film with Oscar winners Nicholson and Witherspoon and princes-in-waiting Paul Rudd and Owen Wilson.

Warner Bros has Inception already in play and I think it’s safe to assume that they will push it. They also have the new Affleck film, The Town. The release date makes me nervous, but his first feature behind the camera was so promising, this film has to be considered. Also, they have a slightly more veteran director, Clint Eastwood, with what sounds like an Arriaga-esque triptych of stories involving death. Hereafter. The biggest surprise on this one is that it is not opening or closing NYFF? So the studio will know where they are before October is over – their commercial onslaught begins in December – and decide how into the Oscar game they are.

One additional potential player for WB is Due Date, the new comedy from the director of The Hangover 2 … and Robert Downey, Jr., who they could chase acting nods for after he managed to be nominated for being funny in blackface once before.

he other three majors are not going into the season with a deep awards line-up … but that doesn’t mean they can’t get nominations or even the Big Win.

“Big” Fox’s only real Oscar play this year is Ed Zwick’s Love and Other Drugs. If any director should be excited about 10 nominees, it’s Zwick, who has been right there and missed the cut a number of times in his career. Ironically, his two BP nominations are for Traffic and Shakespeare In Love … OPF … Other People’s Films. Of course, this is a romantic comedy, so not the serious turf of Glory or The Last Samurai or Blood Diamond. But who knows? Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps will be touted … but the September release date is not a good sign. Acting campaigning is the most likely trend here.

Besides Pixar’s Toy Story 3, Disney is also in the Oscar hunt with Secretariat. The owner is too female, the jockey’s from Entourage, the trainer’s too scary, and the audience is too forgetful to remember that Seabiscuit was only seven years ago … they hope.

And Universal is pretty much out of the Best Picture game this year. They will focus on a Best Animated Film push for Despicable Me … which will be most interesting because Universal stalwart Tony Angellotti handles Oscar for Disney for animation only. Universal will soldier along in-house with a hand from a consultant or two while Tony does his very successful thing for Disney.

So, there you go … a starting point. Things will change – including the design of this page after seven seasons – as we get through Toronto and into October. But you have to start somewhere, right?

Trailer: The Company Men

Friday, July 23rd, 2010
The story centers on a year in the life of three men trying to survive a round of corporate downsizing at a major company – and how that affects them, their families, and their communities.

Trailer: The Company Men

Wednesday, January 13th, 2010

Bobby Walker is living the American dream: great job, beautiful family, shiny Porsche in the garage. When corporate downsizing leaves him and co-workers Phil Woodward  and Gene McClary jobless, the three men are forced to re-define their lives as men, husbands, and fathers.

Bobby soon finds himself enduring enthusiastic life coaching, a job building houses for his brother-in-law which does not play to his executive skill set, and perhaps the realization that there is more to life than chasing the bigger, better deal.