The stars were out as the beautiful city of Toronto rolled out the red carpet for another edition of the Toronto International Film Festival. Ryan Gosling, Dustin Hoffman, Ewan McGregor, Ben Affleck: you name ‘em, they were there to present the latest and greatest films that will compete for your attention and for Oscars next February. Some of the highlights: SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK – David …
The stars were out as the beautiful city of Toronto rolled out the red carpet for another edition of the Toronto International Film Festival. Ryan Gosling, Dustin Hoffman, Ewan McGregor, Ben Affleck: you name ‘em, they were there to present the latest and greatest films that will compete for your attention and for Oscars next February. Some of the highlights:
SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK – David O. Russell returns with his latest film, a heartfelt, convention-defying film that features one of the finest acting ensembles this year. Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence give career-topping turns, and Robert De Niro delivers his finest performance in years. The streets of Toronto were buzzing after the film’s premiere, catapulting it to the top of Oscar prediction lists everywhere.
THE SESSIONS – After this Sundance crowd pleaser hits theaters in October, anyone who wasn’t already familiar with the talented John Hawkes certainly will be. After memorable supporting performances in WINTER’S BONE and MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE, Hawkes finally takes center stage, to the great pleasure of everyone who watches this film. But Hawkes isn’t alone, as this film features another extraordinary ensemble, including the always reliable Helen Hunt and William H. Macy. This film has now won over Sundance and Toronto, with the rest of the world soon to follow.
QUARTET – Having enjoyed one of the most highly praised acting careers of all time, Dustin Hoffman has made the move to directing with QUARTET. The transition to the other side of the camera could not have gone more smoothly. In his directorial debut, Hoffman has been put in charge of a formidable British cast, including all-stars like Maggie Smith and Michael Gambon. Certainly, everyone went into the film excited to see how Hoffman would fare as a director. Based on this evidence, we are witnessing the beginning of an exciting new chapter for one of our most beloved filmmakers.
The list goes on and on. From ANNA KARENINA to CLOUD ATLAS, TO THE WONDER to A LATE QUARTET, Toronto offered up a wealth of riches to get the fall film season started with a bang. Stay tuned for AFF’s Film Lineup announcement on Tuesday September 18, when we will be announcing our slate of world premieres, foreign finds, and yes, a few of these TIFF treasures.
It seems like we can’t go a week without sweating over some perceived fadeout of film criticism in America. Between the millions spent on targeted marketing for major studio extravaganzas and the broader concerns over the waning of print journalism, many argue that film critics lack the power that the Pauline Kaels and Roger Eberts once had to affect moviegoer decisions, going so far as …
It seems like we can’t go a week without sweating over some perceived fadeout of film criticism in America. Between the millions spent on targeted marketing for major studio extravaganzas and the broader concerns over the waning of print journalism, many argue that film critics lack the power that the Pauline Kaels and Roger Eberts once had to affect moviegoer decisions, going so far as to label any potential blockbuster as “critic-proof.” But I would argue that two remarkable stories in the past week alone go a long way toward proving that critics are still having their say, and that people are still listening.
First, the trades have been abuzz in the past couple days over death threats being issued to critics who have dared to dislike the latest Batman epic, THE DARK KNIGHT RISES. In fact, Rotten Tomatoes has seen fit to remove the comments section from its DARK KNIGHT RISES page, as the vitriol and cruelty being spewed back at critics by Dark Knight defenders were apparently too distasteful even for the Internet, which is truly saying something.
I’ll let someone else speaks to the ills of our society reflected in these comments, but the point I want to make from this overwhelming response is that average moviegoers are clearly still reading the critics’ reviews. Indeed, considering that all of this is happening days before the film even opens, it seems that people are reading them as soon as they can get their hands on them, desperate for a hint as to whether or not a film will meet their expectations. Sure, these people are likely to go see THE DARK KNIGHT RISES regardless of what they read in the reviews. But the opinions contained in those reviews obviously still mean something to readers. Apparently, they mean a great deal.
Second, while DARK KNIGHT is clearly the theatrical release on everyone’s minds, last week, a little film that could was the home video release that had all the critics talking, loudly. Kenneth Lonergan’s latest film, MARGARET, had a truly extraordinary (for some, excruciating) journey to its ultimate Blu-ray/DVD release last Tuesday. The woes of the film have been well-documented but, long story short, the film was originally scheduled for release in 2007 yet ultimately didn’t make its way to theaters until last September.
While YOU CAN COUNT ON ME, the last film Lonergan directed before MARGARET, was an Oscar-nominated indie hit, Lonergan himself was certainly not a household name. In other words, while the film was languishing in post-production and then on studio shelves, there wasn’t a legion of fanboys fighting tooth and nail for its release, a benefit that filmmakers like Guillermo del Toro or Peter Jackson would certainly enjoy. So who was responsible for the growing tide of support that ultimately washed MARGARET to the shores of theatrical and home video release? You guessed it: the critics.
One by one, film critics got the chance to see Lonergan’s film and immediately began declaring it a “thwarted masterpiece,” a “cinematic wonder.” Then something extraordinary happened, and it happened on Twitter. Followers who kept up with these critics’ tweets began to notice an overwhelmingly positive consensus forming around MARGARET, and these followers decided they wanted to see the film for themselves, resulting in the hashtag #TeamMargaret. The number of tweets begging for the film to be released continued to grow, all featuring this hashtag, until the film was finally released in theaters and, now, on home video in both a theatrical and extended cut.
Go back and look at just about any film critic’s Twitter feed from the past few weeks, and you’ll see that MARGARET was the focus of everyone’s attention. From debates over the theatrical cut vs. extended cut to links featuring Lonergan’s Q&As that followed recent MARGARET screenings, the critical ardor for this film has been all-encompassing and infectious, guiding thousands of followers to band together and resurrect a film long thought lost.
That’s why I struggle to worry too much about the state of film criticism in this country. Beloved critics like Dana Stevens (@thehighsign) and Matt Zoller Seitz (@mattzollerseitz) are some of the liveliest presences on Twitter. Last week, I enjoyed a vigorous debate between A.O. Scott (@AOScott) of the New York Times and Richard Brody (@TNYFrontRow) of The New Yorker on the merits of BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD, carried out entirely on Twitter. Sure, we must acknowledge the economic implications that might prevent critics from earning a living writing for print or online periodicals, which is where they do their most fleshed-out work. Stephanie Zacharek (@SZacharek), one of the finest critics writing today, was recently released from her post at Movieline, robbing that site of a great journalistic voice. But they can’t take her Twitter followers away from her. And that’s why everything is going to be okay.
Considering the dozens of box office records that have been broken (and continue to be broken) by THE AVENGERS, it may be tempting to label this Marvel blockbuster the success story of the summer. But, despite all the big numbers these superheroes are racking up, I would argue that the numbers worth talking about are the somewhat smaller but equally impressive crowds showing up for …
Considering the dozens of box office records that have been broken (and continue to be broken) by THE AVENGERS, it may be tempting to label this Marvel blockbuster the success story of the summer. But, despite all the big numbers these superheroes are racking up, I would argue that the numbers worth talking about are the somewhat smaller but equally impressive crowds showing up for R-rated male stripper movies and explosion-free comfort films. Let’s talk about the adults for a change.
Indeed, it’s hard to get Hollywood to think about anything except the treasured demographics of children, teenage boys, and the all-important 18-25 year-olds. That explains why we have THE AVENGERS, THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, and THE DARK KNIGHT RISES all showing up at the local multiplex within a few weeks of one another: Hollywood wants to get those young folks into the theaters and convince them to stay until the first school bell rings in August. But, as the art houses and indie cinemas of America have proven over the past couple months, grown-ups want to go to the movies, too, and they’re looking for something original.
We’ve had the record-breaking per-screen averages of Wes Anderson’s MOONRISE KINGDOM, the holdover power of Richard Linklater’s BERNIE, and the shock success of Fox Searchlight’s THE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL (lovingly nicknamed “The British Avengers” for its shimmering, all-star British cast), not to mention that TO ROME WITH LOVE looks like it will carry over Woody Allen’s good fortune from MIDNIGHT IN PARIS and audiences are only just being introduced to BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD, which wowed festival crowds from Sundance to Cannes. Add to that this past weekend’s double triumph: Seth MacFarlane’s R-rated raunchfest TED and Steven Soderbergh’s defrocking of Channing Tatum and Matthew McConaughey, MAGIC MIKE. Adults are going to the movies in droves and making a huge statement by doing so.
Are we witnessing a sea change in moviegoer demographics, or is this all just a fluke? I have a theory that we are seeing what happens when the first generation to come of age during the “blockbuster era” grows up. Before 70’s megahits like JAWS and STAR WARS launched the opening-weekend-focused blockbuster trend, movies were held over at local theaters for weeks at a time. My grandparents grew up in a time where GONE WITH THE WIND would be the only movie playing on the only screen in town for a few months, meaning that you would see a movie once and then find yourself waiting a few weeks before something new came out.
So what happened when that generation got older? Numbers suggest that they continued to see only one or two movies every few months, even though the blockbuster phenomenon meant that there were new films in the theater every week. Hollywood took notice and stopped trying to provide content for older audiences.
But now, moviegoers who were 16 when JAWS came out are now 53 years old, and they’ve been conditioned to expect something new every Friday night. Unfortunately, many of them no longer find killer sharks, caped crusaders, or alien invasions intriguing. So who’s going to give them what they want week after week? If Hollywood is paying attention, they’ll recognize that these little success stories aren’t flukes but signs that a new demographic is there for the taking. The grown-ups are staying in the picture.
Let me start this post by saying that I am a huge Star Wars fan. As a child, I wore out more than a few VHS copies of the original trilogy, and if I hadn’t fallen in love with the magic of the movies through George Lucas’s work, I don’t believe I’d be doing this job today. This being said, I couldn’t help but head …
Let me start this post by saying that I am a huge Star Wars fan. As a child, I wore out more than a few VHS copies of the original trilogy, and if I hadn’t fallen in love with the magic of the movies through George Lucas’s work, I don’t believe I’d be doing this job today. This being said, I couldn’t help but head back to the theaters for the 3D redux of “Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace.” Why would I do this? Even as a 14-year-old, I recognized in 1999 that The Phantom Menace was not quite up to snuff with the earlier films. Sure, the fantastical worlds and sense of adventure were still there, but the performances were mostly leaden and the characters fairly uninteresting. Why would I want to go through two hours of trade blockade confusion and Midichlorian mumbo jumbo again? Simple answer: I wanted to see that awesome podracing sequence in 3D.
That’s right. Against all the odds, I’m trying desperately to be a fan of the new 3D experience. But some studios aren’t making it easy, as they continue to drown the marketplace in faded, uninspired 3D conversions. All the arguments against 3D were in full force at the screening of “The Phantom Menace” I attended. The bright color palette and visual splendor of the film, really its greatest strengths, were drained through the filter of the 3D glasses. Not to mention the fact that the three-dimensional effect was almost unrecognizable, which is no surprise considering that the film wasn’t shot with 3D in mind.
So why do I keep going back to 3D movies when experiences like this leave me disappointed? Because, believe or not, there are occasional glimpses into the wonderment that 3D can provide. What about “Coraline,” the staggeringly beautiful animated film from stop-motion master Henry Selick? That film displayed remarkable depth and clarity in the 3D format, and when I watch it at home, I find myself wishing I were back in the theater experiencing all three dimensions.
That is the feeling that 3D should leave us with. If it’s done right, 3D can keep us going back to the cinema despite the wealth of home-viewing options at our fingertips. Before “The Phantom Menace,” I saw a 3D trailer for the upcoming Focus Features release “ParaNorman.” The film was created by many of the same animators and crew members who worked on “Coraline,” and it appears to have the same charm that film had. But, even more importantly to the future of moviegoing, it looks amazing in 3D. Glasses on.
The current state of Hollywood could not be more clear this month, with two bright, shining examples of why certain films get made and others get bypassed. JOHN CARTER, a film based on a short story so old and obscure that it’s just about the closest Hollywood comes to “original idea,” opened with disappointing numbers despite a shimmering cast/crew (Andrew Stanton! Michael Chabon! Bryan Cranston! …
The current state of Hollywood could not be more clear this month, with two bright, shining examples of why certain films get made and others get bypassed. JOHN CARTER, a film based on a short story so old and obscure that it’s just about the closest Hollywood comes to “original idea,” opened with disappointing numbers despite a shimmering cast/crew (Andrew Stanton! Michael Chabon! Bryan Cranston! Willem Dafoe!) and the marketing reach of the Walt Disney Company. Meanwhile, THE HUNGER GAMES, based on the mega-best-selling young adult novels proclaimed as the new TWILIGHT or HARRY POTTER, is already selling out screenings nationwide despite a cast of young no-names.
These results are essentially foregone conclusions. CARTER had been tracking poorly for weeks, with journalists and industry veterans writing it off as a legendary flop before it even had its first public screening. THE HUNGER GAMES, on the other hand, was destined for glory, as it has been in the hearts and minds of the all important teen and 18-25 demographics for months now.
What has emerged from the stories of these two films is not simply a battle for box office but a war for the future of Hollywood filmmaking. When people involved with JOHN CARTER took to Twitter to beg people to go see their film, they weren’t asking simply to improve their profit margins or avoid embarrassment. They truly felt that CARTER’s success at the box office could prove to the industry at large that an original (or quasi-original) idea could sell tickets, which would open doors for more original ideas. Instead, CARTER proved to be the disappointment that everyone expected, which communicated to studio execs that working off of already popular brands and franchises is still the way to go.
Does this mean we will see fewer and fewer original films? I’m not that pessimistic. There will always be a place for thoughtful, new ideas. But they will become harder and harder to make, and studios like Walt Disney will be less likely to throw $250 million at them when they can make TWILIGHTs and HUNGER GAMEs for much less.
Which isn’t such a bad thing. Looking back on the history of filmmaking, there have always been ebbs and flows. From the New American Cinema of the 70s to the indie craze of the late 80s/early 90s, filmmakers like Coppola, Scorsese, Cassavetes, Soderbergh, Tarantino, etc. have always found ways to bring original ideas back into the public eye in a big way. So, let’s not be discouraged by JOHN CARTER but instead look forward to what the next wave of new ideas will bring us. In the meantime, let’s also admit that not all unoriginal ideas result in bad movies. See you on Friday for 21 JUMP STREET?
A few weeks ago, I wrote that 2012 might be a great year for film marketing. So far, someone is definitely doing something right. Ticket sales have been soaring, breaking records and dragging the industry out of the minor slump that was 2011. Previously unknown directors and screenwriters have been spinning low-budget films into box office gold, establishing themselves as new voices and signing on …
Additionally, the studios have truly made an art out of not stepping on each other’s toes. Generally, when two films that are similar in theme or feature the same star suddenly find themselves scheduled to open on the same Friday, one of the studios will budge and move to another date. This ultimately is best for everyone involved, as each weekend brings a new option for different types of moviegoers without overcrowding the marketplace. There could be no better example than this past weekend, which saw four movies open with more than $20 million in ticket sales (The Vow, Safe House, Journey 2, Star Wars: Episode I 3D). This is a truly staggering testament to the benefits of studios playing it smart and counter-programming each other.
For example, This Means War, the romantic-action-comedy starring Reese Witherspoon, Chris Pine, and Tom Hardy, abandoned its original plan to open on Valentine’s Day after realizing that it would have to directly compete with The Vow, which proved to be a wise decision. The Vow sold more tickets yesterday than any film ever has on a Valentine’s weekday. Now, This Means War can make its entrance this Friday with some of the excitement over The Vow having already died down. If the studios continue to play it safe, and play nice, 2012 could be a particularly great year for the film industry.
- Stephen Jannise, Film Program Director
As you have no doubt noticed in recent years, there are more ways than ever to experience films. Want to watch in the comfort of your own home? You can stream on Netflix, rent from iTunes, or order Video-on-Demand from your cable provider or video game system. Prefer the old fashioned method of going to the theater? You can choose the optical trickery of 3D, …
On the other hand, this means that fewer indie filmmakers will experience the exquisite feeling of screening their film in a movie theater. As far as we have come with on-demand movies, and as comfortable as most people have become with viewing films at home, the allure of the movie theater is still not lost on a majority of filmmakers. Playing in an actual cinema remains the ultimate dream, but the low costs and accessibility of VOD are so appealing to studios and distributors that this dream is even less likely to come true.
Not that most filmmakers are likely to complain if a VOD deal comes knocking on their film’s door. In this economy, an indie filmmaker with a walletful of maxed-out credit cards will be more than happy to take any opportunity to get their movie watched and their debts erased. Luckily, these opportunities abound, with Netflix, YouTube, Hulu, and others offering a multitude of channels through which a film could find an audience.
Unfortunately, these opportunities also eliminate the risk-taking that sparked the independent film scene into vibrant life. Would “Reservoir Dogs” have been given a chance on the big screen? Would “Sex, Lies, and Videotape” have been labeled a “small screen movie” and gone straight to iTunes? It’s hard to say, but one thing is certain right now: if you don’t have James Cameron’s cameras or Peter Jackson’s special FX units or the Fox Searchlight/Weinstein Company/Sony Pictures Classics logos on your poster, you’re going to have a difficult time getting your film on the big screen.
What does this mean for those of us who can appreciate the potential of VOD but ultimately still enjoy the rush of discovering indie films at the local arthouse? It means we should go, and go as often as we can.
-Stephen Jannise, AFF Film Program Director
The cinematic juggernaut that is The Artist continued steamrolling toward the Best Picture Oscar with several wins at the Golden Globes this past Sunday.Not too shabby for a black-and-white silent film from France that initially scared away several distributors before being picked up by The Weinstein Company.Anyone who has seen the film would say that these awards have been justly earned based on …
The cinematic juggernaut that is The Artist continued steamrolling toward the Best Picture Oscar with several wins at the Golden Globes this past Sunday.Not too shabby for a black-and-white silent film from France that initially scared away several distributors before being picked up by The Weinstein Company.Anyone who has seen the film would say that these awards have been justly earned based on the film’s quality, and they would be correct.The Artist is an absolute delight.However, that doesn’t stop industry cynics from crediting this silent film’s accolades to one of the most aggressive campaigners in the history of awards, Harvey Weinstein, who is anything but silent.
The validity of film awards has increasingly come under question over the years, and the lengths to which awards campaigners will go to win awards for their films are the stuff of legend.Listen to rumors and hearsay, and you’d think that Weinstein stops just shy of threatening murder to get his films the recognition they deserve, which leads many to believe that these awards are meritless and unimportant.But I’d like to take this opportunity to make a bold statement: They’re wrong.
Ask any filmmaker or production studio, “Who do you want in your corner come Oscar season?” and you’ll more than likely hear them say Harvey Weinstein’s name.That’s because they recognize how important these awards truly are.The value of having “Academy Award Winner” stamped on a DVD cover is immeasurable; in fact, it is almost required if an independent or foreign film hopes to sell any copies at the local Target.That’s because, for the average moviegoer, the Oscars provide a quick summary of the best (well, one version of the best) films in a given year, films that an average moviegoer may not have had access to in their local movie theater.
I can speak to this issue from a personal angle.As a young film lover growing up in small-town Texas, my first chance at seeing a film like The Artist would’ve been home video.Films that run for weeks in LA or NYC cinemas never make it as far as Southeast Texas, so I used award nominations and critics lists as a guide to what I should look for at my local movie rental.Although the circumstances have changed a bit (rentals have given way to iTunes and Netflix), the basic facts are still the same: many great films don’t reach a broader audience until after they leave the cinema.That’s why these films need the awards season, and that’s why we need it, too.
– Stephen Jannise, Film Program Director