Box Office Predictions: March 1-3

A busy weekend at theaters as four new pictures try to shake up a rather sluggish box office in which only Melissa McCarthy’s Identity Thief has broken out with moviegoers.

Bryan Singer’s Jack the Giant Slayer, a “reimagining” of the Jack and the Beanstalk fairy tale, was pushed back from its original June 2012 release date. The reason given was more time needed to work on visual effects. Singer has directed the well-received first two X-Men features, as well as the not-so well-received Superman Returns from 2006. With a huge $190 million dollar budget, Warner Bros. is taking quite a gamble here. It’s one that may not pay off. The picture’s trailers don’t seem to convey this as a “must-see” event and plenty of moviegoers may just wait until next weekend to see what appears to be 2013’s first real tentpole release, Oz the Great and Powerful. Anything below a $30 million opening would have to be considered disappointing and I suspect Slayer is headed in that direction.

Touting itself as from the writers of The Hangover is the R rated teen comedy 21 and Over. Shot on a puny $13 million budget, 21 and Over seems to have run a fairly effective marketing campaign and audiences might be ready for a raunchy comedy. On this very same weekend last year, a similar title (Project X) managed to exceed expectations and deliver a $21 million opening. There is even a small possibility 21 and Over could open #1 if Slayer falls far below expectations. An opening in the high teens for 21 seems likely, but it could tick up even higher.

Our next offering is The Last Exorcism Part II, the sequel to the successful 2010 original. This is another title looking to exceed expectations. I’m not so sure with this one, just like Slayer. While the original managed a truly impressive $20 million opening, it dropped fast. Audiences didn’t seem to particularly care for it, so the thought that they would be clamoring for a sequel seems unlikely. The second Exorcism may be lucky to open at half of  its predecessor’s gross. However, like most horror titles, it could surprise and deliver a much bigger opening than anticipated.

Last, and most certainly least, is Phantom. This submarine thriller, set in the 1960s, stars Ed Harris and David Duchovny. Inexplicably, it’s opening on a hefty 2,000 screens. This kind of movie has “made for TV” or “direct to DVD” written all over it. I have no idea how this got a major theatrical release. Expect it to post embarrassing numbers.

The three newbies talked about first should open 1-3. This leaves last weekend’s two top grossers, Identity Thief and Snitch, likely to round out the top five.

And with that, here are my box office predictions for the weekend:

1. Jack the Giant Slayer

Predicted Gross: $25.4 million

2. 21 and Over

Predicted Gross: $18 million

3. The Last Exorcism Part II

Predicted Gross: $10.6 million

4. Identity Thief

Predicted Gross: $8.2 million (representing a drop of 42%)

5. Snitch

Predicted Gross: $7.3 million (representing a drop of 45%)

Finally, I look for Phantom to open with a tiny $2.3 million.

Check back through the weekend as final numbers come in!

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Movies You Might Not Know: Stephen King Edition

A more appropriate heading for this post could be Movies You Might Think Todd Is Crazy For Recommending.

The literary works of the great Stephen King has given us some classic films from 1976’s Carrie to 1980’s The Shining to 1990’s Misery to 1994’s The Shawshank Redemption. There’s also been major disappointments. Two pictures from 1993 immediately come to mind: The Dark Half and Needful Things. There’s a whole lot more from Arnold Schwarzenegger’s guilty pleasure The Running Man to that creepy clown played by Tim Curry in “Stephen King’s IT”, an effective and frightening TV movie.

Any self-described movie buff has those films that they seem to like, even though pretty much no one else seems to agree. One of those titles for me is undoubtedly 2003’s Dreamcatcher, based on King’s 2001 novel.

First off: I will readily admit Dreamcatcher is a mess of a film. Tonally it’s all over the map, switching from psychological drama to gross-out horror flick to alien invasion military thriller, sometimes from scene to scene.

There is a lot of talent involved here. The director is Lawrence Kasdan, who brought us The Big Chill and Silverado. He also co-wrote the screenplays to The Empire Strikes Back, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Return of the Jedi. His co-writer here is William Goldman, writer of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Marathon Man, All the President’s Men, and The Princess Bride. And, once again, it’s based on a work by one of the world’s most celebrated novelists.

The cast includes Morgan Freeman, Tom Sizemore, Damian Lewis (Brody from “Homeland”!), Jason Lee, Thomas Jane, Timothy Olyphant, and Donnie Wahlberg.

With all the pedigree involved, audiences had a reasonable expectation that Dreamcatcher could join the pantheon of classic King adaptations. What audiences got is a movie that is just… well, way out there. Its plot involves a group of guys reuniting for their annual Maine hunting trip at a cabin when they encounter alien forces… including in one extremely disgusting and shocking bathroom scene. Turns out the group all became telepathic as young boys after they befriended a mentally challenged boy who also possessed similar abilities. It’s as strange as it sounds. When the alien forces who have infiltrated the cabin are revealed, the military moves in with Morgan Freeman playing a ruthless commander.

Just when you think Dreamcatcher can’t get more bizarre, it does. Consistently. And there is no doubt that moviegoers were probably completely blindsided by it. I know I was. Strangely enough, though, I totally dug it. I sincerely admired its go-for-broke attitude, even though it doesn’t always work. I found it quite entertaining.

Film goers did not respond positively. Dreamcatcher grossed a weak $33 million domestically and suffered a nearly 60% drop in its second weekend, indicating that audiences were not telling their friends to go see it.

Now, ten years later, I am telling my friends to go see it. You may resent me for it if you take me up on the offer. Or you might have the same positive reaction I did. That’s what movies are all about and that’s why I’m proud to recommend Dreamcatcher for your consideration.

 

Movies You Might Not Know: Matt Damon Edition

He might be Jason Bourne or Will Hunting to most moviegoers, but in my humble opinion, Matt Damon gave the performance of his career in an under appreciated 2009 feature that I highly recommend if it’s a Movie You Might Not Know.

Steven Soderbergh’s The Informant! give us one of those stories that’s so unbelievable, it must be true. Kind of like Argo, for an ultra timely reference. Damon plays Mark Whitacre, a corporate executive who becomes a famous whistle blower shedding light on his company’s price fixing activities. All the while he’s embezzling millions from that same company.

The depth of Whitacre’s illegal activities becomes more and more wild as the film moves along. Did he take $500,000? $1 million? $2 million? It keeps getting crazier and crazier as the FBI, who started out working with Mark, are simply dumbfounded by his actions.

Based on a true story, Soderbergh makes the choice to make The Informant! a comedy. It’s a decision that pays off. The script is razor sharp and filled with terrific supporting characters. They include Scott Bakula (Sam from “Quantum Leap”!) and Joel McHale (“The Soup”, “Community”, Ted) as the FBI partners tasked with unenviable job of working with Whitacre. Melanie Lynskey shines as Marc’s poor wife, who’s just as duped by him as everyone else. There’s also a great musical score by the late Marvin Hamlisch, who was honored at last night’s Oscars.

Ultimately, though, it is Damon’s often hilarious and sometimes touching portrayal of Whitacre that makes The Informant! a special movie. This is a guy who has serious issues, namely the fact that he simply can’t stop lying. Mr. Damon should have been nominated for Best Actor for his work here. I truly believe this a career-best performance.

The Informant! is one of those films that I’ve grown to like more and more with each viewing. It did not connect with audiences in 2009, grossing a meager $33 million. The film deserves a larger audience and if you haven’t seen it, do yourself a favor.

 

The 2012 Oscars: My Final Thoughts

After a whole lotta speculation on this here blog, the 2012 Oscars have come and gone. Soon enough, I’ll be speculating on what/who gets nominated for 2013 movies. That’s a little ways off, however, so let’s talk about the ceremony last night.

As far as the winners, no huge surprises. I went 15/20 on my picks (not bad). In the six major categories, it was 5 for 6. I picked Tommy Lee Jones to win for Lincoln, but the Academy honored Christoph Waltz for Django Unchained. As I mentioned before on the blog, this category was more wide open than many others and I saw Jones, Waltz, and De Niro as real possibilities to win. Needless to say, Mr. Waltz’s association with Mr. Tarantino has turned out quite well.

The precursor award ceremonies like the SAG and Golden Globe awards made it much easier to predict Argo for the win and that’s what happened. When I made that decision, it made it easier to predict Ang Lee would get honored for his achievements directing Life of Pi, with Argo director Ben Affleck not being nominated. The folks out there expressing shock that Lincoln and Spielberg didn’t win probably should have paid more attention to the precursors… in which the film and Mr. Spielberg pretty much got nothing. While the film and director weren’t victorious, Daniel Day-Lewis being honored was a foregone conclusion and he becomes the first to win Best Actor three times. Jennifer Lawrence for Silver Linings Playbook had gained the momentum in the last few weeks, giving her the edge over Jessica Chastain in Zero Dark Thirty. And Anne Hathaway, like Day-Lewis, was an obvious choice as she’d won every major precursor.

I was slightly surprised Brave won Best Animated Feature over Wreck-It Ralph, but lesson learned. Don’t bet against Pixar in that category. I also predicted Anna Karenina would win Production Design. Lincoln won. I picked up Skyfall for Sound Mixing and Les Miserables won. And I wrongly picked against Les Mis for Makeup/Hairstyling, incorrectly guessing The Hobbit. An interesting note in another race: I did correctly pick Skyfall for Sound Editing, but it actually tied with Zero Dark Thirty. That is the only the sixth time in 85 years of Oscars where a tie has occurred.

Interestingly, the six major categories were awarded to six different movies that were all nominees in the Best Picture race. This shows you more than anything else what a strong year 2012 was in the theaters.

As for the ceremony itself? Eh, it was decent. It went way longer than it should have, like it always does. Seth MacFarlane proved to be an adequate host. He was probably a bit tamer than some would have expected, but “edgy” and “Oscar host” usually doesn’t mix. I love David Letterman and Chris Rock, but they seemed a bit out of place when they handled hosting duties. There was nothing particularly memorable about MacFarlane in his hosting gig (let’s face it: it’s a thankless job). But he was pretty solid. If I was producing the Oscars, I’d have Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake co-host. I think they’d be great.

The show’s focus on musicals produced a mixed bag. For me personally, there were probably a couple too many song and dance numbers. And I found it a strange choice to honor “the history” of musicals with Chicago, Dreamgirls, and Les Miserables, three films released in the past decade. I mean, Jennifer Hudson is a wonderful singer, but I seem to recall that same Oscar performance only six years ago. On the flip side, two terrific musical moments came from the James Bond franchise, with Shirley Bassey and Adele killing it with “Goldfinger” and “Skyfall”, respectively.

Some of the acceptance speeches were quite good. I’m particularly thinking of Mr. Day-Lewis and a clearly emotional Ben Affleck accepting Best Picture. And J-Law is just great!

All in all, the Oscars closed a chapter on a truly impressive year in film in satisfactory fashion.

We’re two months into 2013 and I think I can safely say none of next year’s Best Picture nominees have come out yet. Not even Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters.

Box Office Results: February 22-24

It was, as expected, a quiet week at the box office as Identity Thief returned to the #1 spot as two newcomers posted mediocre results.

Thief was back on top with a gross of $14 million, slightly below my $14.9M projection. The Rock’s action drama Snitch opened second with a soft $13.2 million, inches below my $13.3M estimate. At third, the animated Escape from Planet Earth with $10.7 million (I said $11.1M). A Good Day to Die Hard fell from 1st to 4th, dropping farther than I thought it would. The fifth installment in the franchise grossed $10.2 million in its second weekend, well below my $14.1M projection. Finally, the horror thriller Dark Skies was a big disappointment in sixth with $8.2 million, less than my $10.6M estimate.

Be sure to check back Wednesday for next weekend’s prediction, when Jack the Giant Slayer, The Last Exorcism Part II, 21 and Over, and Phantom all debut.

Historical Accuracy in Movies: Todd’s Take

This post could also be titled “One of Todd’s Biggest Pet Peeves with Other Moviegoers”.

Allow me to explain. Over the past year, we’ve seen a number of pictures based on historical events, some more recent and some much older. Quite a few are Best Picture nominees. Argo, centered on events during the Iranian Hostage crisis in 1979. Lincoln, focusing on the passage of the 13th amendment. Zero Dark Thirty, about the manhunt and raid to kill Osama Bin Laden. Even Django Unchained, which isn’t a true story but has self-appointed historians talking about its realism or non-realism during the slavery era in which it takes place.

There were biopics like Hitchcock, with Anthony Hopkins as the great director. And Hyde Park on Hudson, casting Bill Murray as President Franklin D. Roosevelt. This year, we’ll see Naomi Watts in a Princess Diana biopic. Also The Butler, about a White House caretaker who served eight Presidents.

Inevitably, these kinds of pictures serve as fodder for followers of those times to harp and complain about “historical inaccuracies”. This picking apart is often used as a convenient crutch to explain why one doesn’t care for a particular title: “I didn’t like Zero Dark Thirty because I don’t think that’s how detainees were tortured” or “They were certain politicians just as important to the 13th amendment in Lincoln that weren’t talked about”.

And, yes, this serves as one of my biggest pet peeves with other film fans. Why? I’ll explain my position. It’s pretty simple. It’s these three words. Read carefully: It’s a movie. 

It’s. A. Movie.

Even movies based on historical events are not meant to be documentaries. Why? Because those are called documentaries.

Let me repeat: Documentaries are supposed to be historically accurate. This is not required of movies.

Again: It’s. A. Movie.

To me, movies are meant to be judged on how well you liked it or not. How entertained you were. How thrilled you were. How funny it is. How moved you were. And so on and so forth.

The biggest examples with this pet peeve of mine occur when political opinion interferes with a movie watcher’s experience. Oliver Stone’s Nixon is a perfect example. Those on the right felt it was far too harsh on the President. Those on the left felt it didn’t hit the President hard enough. My opinion? Nixon is a terrific picture about a man whose demons get the best of him at the highest levels of power. It’s a fascinating portrait of someone who has the power to do nearly anything, but goes too far in pursuit of that power for small and unnecessary reasons.

Here’s the important thing: do I think everything in Nixon happened in “real life”? Of course not. Did the film change my personal opinion of Mr. Nixon? Not it did not. Why?

Because… It’s. A Movie. It’s Oliver Stone’s take on the Nixon presidency. And filmmakers have a right to make movies signifying… well, whatever the heck they want.

Films such as Michael Mann’s The Insider, about the cigarette companies misleading the public as to health risks, were criticized for some inaccuracies. In my mind, The Insider is one of the best films of the last 20 years. I could care less whether certain events happened in a particular order, etc…

I could go on and on. You get the idea. I respect everyone’s opinions when it comes to movies. What I don’t quite respect is being so nitpicky when it comes to pictures based on actual events. That’s not what movies are all about. Not to me, at least.

Movies You Might Not Know: Sylvester Stallone Edition

Rocky Balboa and Lando Calrissian as New York City cops battling the bad guy from Blade Runner!?!?!

Yep, it’s a movie and quite possibly one you haven’t heard of or seen. It’s 1981’s Nighthawks, a gritty crime thriller that is one of the best pictures of Sly Stallone’s career.

Stallone and Billy Dee Williams are tracking an international terrorist with dastardly plans, played by Rutger Hauer. Why this film didn’t connect with audiences in beyond me. Stallone was certainly popular at the time, but Nighthawks earned just $19 million upon release.

For fans of the action and crime movies genre, this is well worth seeking out. Especially if you only know Mr. Stallone as Rocky and Rambo.

My FINAL Oscar Predictions: All in One Place

As you faithful readers have seen throughout the week, I’ve written several blog posts predicting what I believe will win in the feature film categories at this Sunday’s Oscars.

If you’re filling out your own Oscar picks, I felt it would be convenient to post all my predictions in one place. So, from me to you, Todd’s Final Oscar Predictions:

Best Picture: Argo

Best Director: Ang Lee, Life of Pi

Best Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln

Best Actress: Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook

Best Supporting Actor: Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln

Best Supporting Actress: Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables

Best Foreign Language Film: Amour

Best Adapted Screenplay: Argo

Best Original Screenplay: Django Unchained

Best Animated Feature: Wreck-It Ralph

Best Cinematography: Life of Pi

Best Costume Design: Anna Karenina

Best Editing: Argo

Best Makeup and Hairstyling: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Best Original Score: Life of Pi

Best Original Song: “Skyfall” from Skyfall

Best Production Design: Anna Karenina

Best Sound Editing: Skyfall

Best Sound Mixing: Skyfall

Best Visual Effects: Life of Pi

So there you have it! My predictions give Life of Pi the most wins at four, with Argo and Skyfall picking up three and Anna Karenina and Lincoln with two.

I am also predicting the James Bond tribute will be totally awesome!

Movies You Might Not Know: Darkman

1990’s Darkman holds the interesting distinction of being one of the best comic book movies not actually based on a comic book. 2000’s Unbreakable, directed by M. Night Shyamalan and starring Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson, is another contender for that award.

Here’s the back story: director Sam Raimi was a celebrated cult filmmaker in the 1980s best known for the Evil Dead series. When the director was unable to get the rights to adapt famous comic book characters Batman or The Shadow, he moved on to Plan B and created his own superhero. That hero is Darkman, played by Liam Neeson. His girlfriend is played by Frances McDormand. And the main bad guys are played by Colin Friels as a ruthless billionare and Larry Drake from the TV series “L.A. Law” and the cult 1992 horror flick Dr. Giggles, as a crazy mob boss.

Watching Darkman now, you’ll swear it’s based on a comic book and that’s a testament to Raimi’s ability to transform a well-known genre into original material. It’s no masterpiece and certainly isn’t on the level of a Dark Knight or X-Men 2, but it works well on its own terms. It’s considerably more violent than similar genre titles and it definitely earns its R rating.

Darkman was a financial success in 1990, earning a solid $48 million dollars. There were even direct-to-video sequels made, albeit without the involement of Raimi or Neeson. Ironically, its success contributed to Raimi later being able to direct a “real” comic book movie… three of them actually when he was behind the camera for the Tobey Maguire Spider-Man trilogy. Raimi’s latest work, Oz the Great and Powerful, opens March 8th.

For genre fans who have not see Darkman, I found it to be a lot of fun and it’s well worth checking out.

Best Picture and Director Oscar Winner Predictions: FINAL

Well, my friends, we have arrived at my FINAL Oscar Winner Predictions for the two FINAL categories I’ve yet to predict and they’re the big ones: Best Picture and Best Director. I made an editorial decision to combine these together because explaining my pick on each race go hand-in-hand.

Additionally, these two categories have historically matched up. Explanation: of the 85 titles that have won Best Picture in Academy history, 62 of those film’s directors won Best Director. From a more recent historical perspective, the last 25 Best Picture winners have seen their directors honored 21 times. That’s 84% of the time over the last quarter century, math fans!

Based on those numbers, it would stand to reason that whomever wins Best Director will see their movie win Best Picture, right?

… Not so fast. 2012 has been anything but typical, especially in the Best Director category. When the nominations were announced a few weeks ago, the five nominees sent shock waves through Hollywood and with Oscar prognosticators, such as yours truly.

Why? While Steven Spielberg (Lincoln), Ang Lee (Life of Pi), and David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook) were not surprising, the inclusion of Benh Zietlin for Beasts of the Southern Wild was. To a lesser degree, so was Michael Haneke for Amour.

But, it wasn’t necessarily who was nominated, but who wasn’t that confounded everyone. Especially in the case of Ben Affleck, who was seen as a surefire nominee for Argo. And while not totally surefire, it was widely expected that Kathryn Bigelow would be nominated for her work in Zero Dark Thirty. 

Since the nominations came out, Affleck has pretty much won everything else, including the Director’s Guild of America Award and the Golden Globe. Argo itself has been cleaning up, winning Best Ensemble at the SAG Awards and winning Best Picture at the Golden Globes and Critic’s Choice Awards.

Let me put it to you this way: if Affleck had been nominated for Best Director, I would pick him to win. Yet he’s not. This leaves Spielberg, Lee, Russell, Zietlin, and Haneke. Let’s cross off Zietlin and Haneke right now. They don’t really stand a chance.

So we’re left with Spielberg, Lee, and Russell. And this is a truly difficult pick among the three. Spielberg is obviously one of the biggest directors of all time (probably the biggest) and he’s won Best Director twice, in 1993 for Schindler’s List and in 1998 for Saving Private Ryan. Lee is also a past winner for 2005’s Brokeback Mountain. Russell has yet to win, but he’s a critically acclaimed auteur with credits such as Three Kings and The Fighter. It could come down to current momentum of the pictures they directed. Lincoln has seemed to be losing it; Silver Linings Playbook has seemed to be gaining it. This would make it more likely that Mr. Russell wins than Mr. Spielberg. I’m not sure if I buy this argument, however. Silver Linings Playbook is one of the films with major momentum at the right time, but it may be seen as more of an actors showcase than a directorial achievement. And Lincoln could certainly have enough good will to propel Spielberg to the win. At the end of the day, however, it doesn’t matter when it comes to my final prediction. Life of Pi is a dark horse candidate to win Best Picture, but I believe the Director category will recognize its significance for what Ang Lee was able to accomplish. With Affleck out of the race, it is a three person competition and any one of them could win. A pick must be made and, for the reasons given, I will go with:

Best Director Prediction: Ang Lee, Life of Pi

Which brings us to Best Picture and its nine nominees.

First things first: Amour, Beasts of the Southern Wild, and Django Unchained are not going to win. Period.

We have two titles that at one time seemed strong contenders: Les Miserables and Zero Dark Thirty. Since that time, neither has won any significant precursors and their buzz has faded greatly. Neither Les Mis or Zero Dark will win Best Picture.

This creates a legitimate race between four titles: Argo, Life of Pi, Lincoln, and Silver Linings Playbook. Let’s look at each:

Argo, upon its release in October, immediately vaulted to the top of the list for Best Picture contenders. It was critically acclaimed and was a huge box office success. It ended up losing some momentum when Lincoln, Les Mis, Zero Dark Thirty, Life of Pi, and Silver Linings came out after it. Then a strange thing happened. Some of the movies ended up losing their momentum. The film won the Golden Globe for Best Drama and the Critic’s Choice Award for Best Picture, as well as the SAG Award for Best Ensemble. Affleck started winning all the Best Director awards at other ceremonies, even though Oscar snubbed him.

Life of Pi was also a critical and commercial from very well-respected director Ang Lee. Fans of the novel were nervous that it would be a tough one to adapt for the screen, but it ended up being a success. This is indeed a movie where those who love it really love it.

Lincoln was a front runner for the award since the moment it was announced to start filming. Spielberg + Day-Lewis + Lincoln? I mean, come on! It also earned great reviews and terrific box office. However, other than Day-Lewis winning Actor constantly, the film itself has under performed big time at precursor awards shows. Still, that doesn’t mean the Academy wouldn’t honor it.

Silver Linings Playbook is the hot movie of the moment. Keep in mind that voting for the Oscars ended just on Tuesday. So whatever is carrying the momentum now could be the victor. The film is the first picture in 31 years to see four performers nominated in all four acting categories. Like Life of Pi, those who love it love it. Like the other three likely winners, it also received fantastic reviews and audiences loved it.

So where does that leave us? Well, it leaves me with having to make a prediction and this is one of the most competitive and unpredictable Best Picture races in history. It really is. Of the four titles that I believe have a shot, I put Life of Pi fourth, even though I’m predicting Ang Lee will win Best Director.

The absence of Lincoln winning any well-known precursors has to say something, right? While a Day-Lewis victory is near certain and I’m predicting Tommy Lee Jones will win Supporting Actor (something I’m much less certain of), I am not predicting Lincoln wins Best Picture.

This leaves Argo and Silver Linings Playbook, the two movies with the right buzz at the right time. If Argo were to win, it would only the fourth time in 85 years that a movie won and its director wasn’t even nominated. It would be only the second time that’s happened in (get this) 81 years. That historical fact alone should be enough to warrant against picking Argo for the win.

However, 2012 has been a strange year for nominations and I will predict the strangeness continues. While Silver Linings Playbook has a solid shot, my FINAL prediction is:

Best Picture Prediction: Argo

And there you have it! My FINAL predictions in all feature film related categories are officially complete. I will certainly have a post late Sunday or Monday with my reaction to what went down. Enjoy the Oscars on Sunday, my friends! I know I will.