Tuesday, August 18, 2009
Well, I was right.
After peaking in 535 domestic US theatres two weekends ago, "The Hurt Locker" took a step backward this weekend, falling to 478 screens.
57 screens may not seem like a precipitous drop, but when you're only on 535 to begin with, it's a healthy chunk and probably spells pretty much the end of the picture's earning days at the domestic B.O.
Which is shit, it should be at $50 million or $75 million or more by now, but it just doesn't have enough screens and in that limited of a release word of mouth is only gonna carry so far. Hey, I'm just glad that *I* got to see it.
On the slightly brighter side, it still finished in the top 20 (although barely) and has made nearly $10.5 million to date, which is pretty nice for such a small picture, and there are still DVD and overseas monies yet to come. I can see this movie doing OK in certain European theaters and maybe Japan, because the bomb suit looks kind of sci-fi.
Is it too early to hope for a limited re-release in some larger markets closer to awards time? If I was any good at organizing grassroots events I might just try that.
Sunday, August 16, 2009
Timing: time was, Best Picture winners never got released before December. The late-year release came to signify award bait. It's not an ironclad rule anymore, because a few early-openers have taken the prize ("Crash"--0ne of the least deserving Best Pictures in Oscar history--springs readily to mind). But the biggest problem with an early release is that a movie's just going to be out of theaters--and voter's minds--for too long.
DVD releases have created a bridge over that cap to a degree. But when it's time to pick movies for an Awards ballot, something that's been off of screens for several months just has an inherent disadvantage against a movie that might still be playing, might still be advertised on TV or billboards or wherever else a voter might see it.
Of course, you'd like to think that quality is the ultimate barometer, and that a great movie is gonna have a shot no matter when it was released. But I've followed the Academy Awards long enough to know that isn't the case.
Box Office Gross - the Academy doesn't seem to fawn on movies that don't make at least a respectable pile. Why? Some might say it's because unpopular movies don't attract viewers to the broadcast, which is a huge ratings warhorse for ABC every year. So that would mean the network is exerting some pressure on the voters to nominate certain films. I'm not nearly naive enough at this point in my life to say that's completely impossible, but it's a little too Machiavellian for me to tackle right now.
So let's just assume that it's a simple matter of popularity. Box office=popularity and attention=buzz=a movie that stays in people's minds after it's over.
I have no doubt that anyone who saw "The Hurt Locker" will remember it long after it's over. It's a powerful, memorable, excellent and impactful movie. But after peaking on less than 600 screens (and now on its way down), and around $10 million in gross domestic box office, it just isn't a big, big picture. Which is a damn shame.
Star Power: There basically is none. There are recognizable faces in the film: Guy Pearce, David Morse, and Ralph Fiennes all show up, but they are all also minor, minor characters -- cameos, really. Kathryn Bigelow has been around for 20 years but hasn't made a ton of movies in that time, and while she's well known in her way, she doesn't have any of the immediately recognizable "oh yeah" factor of a Spielberg or Scorsese or even Peter Jackson or David Fincher. There are a lot of new directors getting nominated for Academy Awards these days, so a name director isn't necessarily a must - but it can help a lot.
Jeremy Renner, the lead, has been in movies, but not enough to be instantly recognizable. He's excellent as Sgt. James, as good a lead acting performance as I've seen in many years, and fully deserves a Best Actor nomination if not the trophy itself - but who is he going to find himself up against at year's end, and are voters going to remember his performance enough to nominate it?
Thursday, August 13, 2009
I've been thinking about the movie's advantages (credits) and disadvantages (debits) in that regard. Here's the breakdown as I see it:
Critical Acclaim - not only does Roger Ebert call "The Hurt Locker" a leading contender for Academy Awards, critical reaction has been generally very positive across the board. I haven't seen any critical drubbings or pans; there may have been a few reviews that aren't as gushing as others, like The New Yorker's, but The New Yorker is too fucking proper to gush. That magazine has never met a movie, book, or even painting that it couldn't damn with faint praise.
Awards so far - there have been a few smaller awards and award noms; I don't have the complete list, but anytime a movie has any sort of awards resume prior to the main event, it can't help but be a plus in my opinion.
The director - Kathryn Bigelow has primarily been known as an action-oriented cultish director for much of her career. As much as I loved "Point Break" and "Near Dark," Oscar material they ain't. But neither was much of Danny Boyle's filmography until last year, and look at him now: entitled to put "Academy Award winner" before his name for evermore.
Also, the Academy does love to appear progressive at times, and now that the ranks of African American actor winners has grown significantly in recent years (once appallingly low, the total is now merely pathetic), isn't it high time a woman director was at least nominated again? The critical applause for this movie means the Academy won't have any need to justify a nomination for her; and, of course, a directing nod would seem to increase the chances for at least a shot at the big prize.
Subject matter - Best Picture nominees and winners are usually on the heavier side. A lighter-hearted picture might make the list, but it's usually a token nomination to acknowledge popularity and appear hip. A lot of people are slobbering about "(500) Days of Summer" right now, but does that stand a snowball's chance at a Best Picture? No. Nobody really thought "Little Miss Sunshine" or "Juno" were gonna win, did they?
Also, the fact that a more lighthearted picture like "Slumdog Millionaire" (yeah, I know it was about life in the slums, but it was a musical love story at heart) won last year all but guarantees that this year's winner is probably gonna trend a bit darker.
Timeliness - now that the page has officially been turned on the Bush era, maybe America is ready for a Best Picture that takes place in Iraq. M-m-m-maybe. We had to be at least a few years out of Vietnam before people could watch "The Deer Hunter," "Apocalypse Now," and "Platoon." Of course, we're not out of Iraq yet, but you also hardly hear about it anymore. And "The Deer Hunter" (undeservedly) won Best Picture; so did "Platoon" in '86; "Apocalypse Now" probably didn't because of the craziness attending its creation and also because Francis Ford Coppola already had two Best Pictures to his name. But it could have. The ending's a mess and it's too long-winded at times, but there are plenty of Best Picture winners that have committed worse sins. And "The Hurt Locker" is neither as hallucinogenic as "Apocalypse," as ponderous and self-important as "The Deer Hunter," or as downright sermonistic as "Platoon."
Number of nominees - and finally, there's the far-from-insignificant fact that the Academy increased the number of Best Picture nominees from 5 to 10 this year. The front half of '09 hasn't exactly been loaded with cinematic achievement; "Up" got a ton of great reviews and people loved it (I didn't see it), but it's still a cartoon and there's a separate category for that. Critics really seemed to dig the new "Star Trek," and it was fun and cool and cool to see a "Star Trek" that didn't suck, but Good Lord, we're not ready for a world where a "Star Trek" movie can be the Best Picture of the Year. I mean, the first non-white President and a "Star Trek" Best Picture in roughly the same year is probably too much change for America to handle.
Will there be ten better films with more positive critical reaction released between now and the end of December? Of course, it's hard to say.
There's not really that much on the radar* - I'm sure December will bring the usual slew of calculated-for-prestige star turns, but all I really know about is Scorsese's "Shutter Island," but Scorsese already won, it's a glorified B movie, and the book sucked. I don't know what Clint Eastwood is doing, so there's always that threat -- the guy works so damn fast in his bland-but-loveable way that he could probably start from nothing and get a nominee in the can by Christmas. But Eastwood also has two awards now and a number of nominations; the fact that "Gran Torino" didn't make much of an awards splash last year means that maybe the Academy is saying enough's enough and he should just retire already.
I was originally intending to do all of the pluses and minuses in one post, but I'm getting too into it and I should be working. So I'm gonna break this into two parts. Part two coming soon...
* and I totally forgot about "The Lovely Bones" when I first wrote this. Dammit! That's gotta be the 500-lb gorilla in the Best Picture conversation at this point.
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
Today being August 12, 2009, there are just about 200 days between now and Oscar night. Which kind of works to both the advantage and disadvantage of "The Hurt Locker."
To the movie's advantage, there's a lot of time on the clock to raise its profile.
But for all practical purposes, I've gotta think that the film's theatrical run will end in another week or two. Maybe I'm wrong, but it's been in domestic distribution for almost two months and is now on only 535 screens. Although "The Hurt Locker's" per-screen average this past Friday, Saturday, and Sunday was better than such box office luminaries as "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen," "The Proposal," "Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs," and "The Hangover," it's still grossed just north of $9 million overall.
Now, there aren't that many BIG SUMMER BLOCKBUSTERS left. Everyone knows that "G.I. Joe" won't have much in terms of legs. It's a silly piece of tripe--maybe enjoyable for a lot of people, but in the end just as disposable as the paper popcorn carton a lot of moviegoers will leave on the theatre floor as they shuffle out with the funny feeling that maybe they should've been doing something more worthwhile the last two hours of their lives.
"District 9," due this Friday, has a lot of buzz--and an Entertainment Weekly cover--going for it, but it's still a Sci-Fi picture, and thus primarily a fringe work, a niche product if you will (and I'm not ragging on SF, I've seen a lot of it in my day and I still watch and like a good bit of it, and I've even been to conventions, thank you--if SF is fringe material, then I'm on the fringe at least sometimes too). I think "District 9" will do well because it looks good and is being marketed well and is getting good reviews so far and has Peter Jackson's name on it, but it isn't going to be on 4,000 screens. Maybe half that. We'll see.
So the bottom line is that while there are some screens available for "The Hurt Locker," this far into the run, there's going to have to be compelling case made for it to get to them. Again, we'll see. I'd love nothing better than to see that 535 screen total jump to 700 or 800 or even 1,000 this weekend, and see it start raking in some bucks, but I don't know that much about the vagaries of movie distribution so that could just be a cheap-seater's pipedream.
But let's assume that "The Hurt Locker" has peaked on domestic US screens, and may hold on for another week or two, but much after the end of August, experiencing the film in a theater -- where it really deserves to be seen -- is going to be a lost cause.
That means around six months will remain between the time "The Hurt Locker" leaves US cineplexes and the awarding of the 2009 Oscars; of course, the nominations have to come out first, shortening that gap a bit. And there are critics' year end lists and all sorts of smaller awards to hand out. Still, keeping the movie on the Academy selectors' radar screens is going to be a challenge.
I hope that Summit Entertainment and the producers and marketers behind the movie can pull it off. Oscar doesn't usually like lower-grossing pictures that open before December. There are exceptions, but in general, it's a short attention-span world, and out of sight of course equals out of mind.
By the way: just because time may be running out to see this movie on a big screen DOESN'T MEAN THAT IT'S TOO LATE. I urge everyone who hasn't seen "The Hurt Locker" and who even remotely enjoys films to give this movie a shot if it's playing anywhere that's even slightly accessible. Like I wrote in one of my posts yesterday, if you're afraid of some preachy, angst-ridden "why-are-we-there?" dissection of the Iraq War, don't be. If you're afraid of some chest-thumping jingoistic claptrap, don't be. IT ISN'T ABOUT THAT.
By the way #2: I realize that some may be wondering just who in the world I think I am. It's a little bit pompous and delusional that think that I, who's outside of even the Hollywood outsiders, can have any bearing whatsoever on the success of this movie.
But I thought the movie was great and I love it and I want people to see it because I think a lot of people would love it too. Assuming the average movie ticket is around $10 (that's what I paid), and the total domestic gross is just about $9 million, that means only around 900,000 people have seen it to date - roughly, .3% of the country.
Now a lot of people like escapist entertainment, and a lot of people would rather go and see giant robots kicking the crap out of each other for two and a half hours (the 2.5 hour running time of the new "Transformers" still blows my mind -- when did "Transformers" become "Lord of the Rings?!?")
I've got nothing against escapist entertainment myself, having indulged in quite a bit of it in my 3+ decades on earth. It has a place and like chocolate cake with a cold glass of milk, it may not be the best thing in the world for you but sometimes it's just what you need.
But "The Hurt Locker" is smart cinematic art, intelligent and well-made, and it deserves an audience. And maybe I won't impact the movie's box office intake or awards chances one iota with this blog, but what the hell, I feel like I want to try.
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
S0 why do I think that you should go and see the movie?
After all, it isn't playing in a lot of places. According to Boxofficemojo.com, it was running in only 535 theatres nationwide during the weekend of August 7-9. Compare that to the two high-profile big-studio releases of the same weekend and you'll see a pretty wide gap: "G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra" (4,007 screens); "Julie and Julia" (2,354).
"Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen," which opened the same week to almost universal critical derision (which is really a dreadful, mind-numbing and overlong piece of shit), is still playing in nearly FOUR TIMES as many theatres.
That means that you're probably going to have to seek "The Hurt Locker" out. So why should you?
I could just say "because it's a great film," and that's true, but it isn't enough.
"The Hurt Locker" delivers everything that a discriminating filmgoer wants from a cinema experience, namely:
- Great acting
- Great, memorable scenes and no bad ones
- Great dialogue
- A totally immersive movie experience, best had communally, on a big screen with an audience
- And as a bonus, no character looks earnestly into the camera and says something like "man, we're really in the hurt locker now." In other words, the movie respects your intelligence a bit.
The movie is Rated R, and deservedly so - it is a war picture, there is violence and death and the ugly realities of combat, and plenty of salty G.I.-type language for seasoning. But you won't see fountains of gore. Aside from one sequence, the blood is more or less offscreen. The most impactful aspect of the movie is its intensity, the tension of its carefully constructed sequences.
The subject matter may not be everyone's cup of tea. There haven't been that many movies about the Iraq War yet, but they have generally not done well at the box office, which is of course the bottom line in the movie business. ("The Hurt Locker," again according to Boxofficemojo, has earned just a shade under $9 million in box office to date - pretty respectable for a small film on a few hundred screens, but a mere pittance in the big-studio ballgame.)
I think the general failure of Iraq War movies to date is largely because of fatigue from debating the rights and wrongs of the war. It was (and still is) a polarizing issue. I've got my own opinions, but in the spirit of the film, I'm not going to spell them out here, at least not now.
Just know this: if you're afraid of a preachy, message-filled two hours, don't be. THE MOVIE DOES NOT JUDGE THE WAR. In the movie, the war simply is. And the characters of Sergeant James, Sergeant Sanborn, and Specialist Eldridge as just guys doing a job, and hoping to go home when their job is done. That's all. Kind of - make that a lot - like the same guys I knew in the 90s in the 2nd Infantry and 3rd Infantry Divisions.
Just guys doing a job, hoping to get out and go home alive and intact.
I could go on. But instead, I'd like to offer the viewpoint of some far more prominent critics:
Roger Ebert - I've been reading and watching his reviews for nearly 30 years, and I've never seen him make a statement like he makes at the end of this review.
I don't know what effect this blog will have on the Academy Award race, if any at all. I'm not an actor, writer, director, or producer; as such, I'm not a voting member of the AMPAS or MPAA or whatever it's called, and therefore I have no direct effect on the nominations for Academy Awards or the ultimate winners.
I'm not directly connected to the film in any way. I didn't work on it, and I don't know anyone who did. I don't have friends of friends who were peripherally involved. I don't have anything to gain from the movie receiving a Best Picture nomination or winning the award.
I'm just a passionate moviegoer who saw the film and loved it. It was the most riveting moviegoing experience I've had in a long time, and I want to see that rewarded somehow.
Now maybe this is just tilting at windmills, but sometimes you just want a crusade. Sometimes you need something to wake you up. "The Hurt Locker" woke me up.
This is a movie that was made (as nearly as I can tell) largely outside the Hollywood studio system, on a comparatively small budget, by artists and craftspeople who believed in the material and the power of the story.
I fancy myself to be a bit of a storyteller, albeit a blocked and sometimes (frequently) self-handicapping one. Maybe this effort will help something break lose and get some long-gestating projects in motion again.
Time will tell. Maybe over time this blog with change and mutate and grow to encompass other ideas. But for now, it's focused on tracking the 2009 Academy Awards and analyzing the chances of "The Hurt Locker" to be nominated for and to bring home the big prize early next year.