Bob and Justin's Mad Movie Blog

My name is Bob. My friend Justin and I are aspiring filmmakers and we have pretty similar tastes in movies. This will include our take on what's going on in film and television today as well as updating you on the status of our own work.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

The Fall Movie Season: Too Much of a Good Thing

No, I STILL haven't seen "Flags of Our Fathers" or "Marie Antoinette" yet. I want to. I REALLLLY want to. You would think that working at a theater would make that easier but lately no, it's actually made it more difficult. Anyway, here's a great article from the "LA Times" about the ridiculous outpouring of good movies that we get in the fall. When will the studios learn that there are three other seasons they could be spreading these out over?

It's time for the good movie glut
The real reason so many good movies are coming out at
exactly the same time is because everyone in Hollywood
is smoking the Oscar crack pipe.
By Patrick Goldstein, Times Staff Writer
October 24, 2006

Did you notice that there are suddenly a lot of good
movies in town?

From early October until New Year's, the floodgates
are open, with a stylish, daring or thought-provoking
adult film arriving every week. This past weekend
alone saw the arrival of a potential best picture
candidate, Clint Eastwood's "Flags of Our Fathers,"
along with two confections of classy entertainment,
Christopher Nolan's "The Prestige" and Sofia Coppola's
"Marie Antoinette," as well as "Running With
Scissors," a literary adaptation with a stellar cast.

There is so much more to come that it raises the
question: Why does Hollywood put out virtually all of
its best adult-oriented movies in the last 12 weeks of
the year?

The simple answer: Oscar fever. The industry's
obsession with the Academy Awards, which began as a
symbol of achievement and are now a high-powered
marketing tool, has transformed the end of the year
into the Oscar Follies, offering a legitimate batch of
award contenders surrounded by a scrum of hapless
pretenders being released at year's end only because
of studio delusions, blind adherence to conventional
wisdom and arm-twisting by narcissistic stars and
filmmakers.

The result is often a bloodbath. Steve Gilula, chief
operating officer at Fox Searchlight, a studio
division famous for its discipline in such matters —
it releases its films only when the studio thinks they
will make the most money — doesn't mince words. "The
fall can be a demolition derby for serious,
thought-provoking movies. There are just too many of
them."

With a multitude of highbrow movies competing for the
same adult audience, film after film takes a nasty
tumble. Last year, for example, a host of movies
tanked at the box office despite being touted — either
by the studios or some breathless Oscar prognosticator
— as having Academy Award potential. A partial sample
includes "Jarhead," "Memoirs of a Geisha," "The New
World," "North Country," "Casanova," "The Producers,"
"Elizabethtown" and "In Her Shoes."

Some of these movies would undoubtedly have failed no
matter when they were released. But I'd argue that
many of them would've had a better chance for survival
if they'd had a chance to find an audience in a less
competitive environment. In the fall, the bar is
perilously high: Every movie is graded on an Oscar
curve instead of being judged on its own merits. If
some of these movies had been released in a quiet
weekend in the spring when quality-starved adults had
nothing else to see at the multiplex, they might have
had a fighting chance for survival.

What the studios don't seem to grasp is that a film's
reception, both from critics and filmgoers, is all
about context. Not every movie can bear the weight of
award season expectations. Released last October,
after a dismal reception a month earlier at the
Toronto Film Festival, "Elizabethtown" was written off
as a creative mess. Its fall release proved
disastrous. If the film had arrived this spring, after
audiences — and critics — had suffered through an
endless parade of homely comedies and horror films,
"Elizabethtown" might have been viewed as a minor gem,
not as a big disappointment.

It's gotten to the point where there are five seasons
of movies in Hollywood, four of them largely bereft of
anything that would satisfy the hunger pangs of a
serious filmgoer.

The first six weeks of the year make a barren winter,
full of movies that the studios are usually too
embarrassed to even show to critics. This is followed
by a false spring, when an occasional cheery romance
or animated family film is drowned out by a slew of
noisy comedies and action films not good enough for
summer. That season brings with it a stretch of sleek
special-effects films, teen comedies and
steroid-injected sequels that run the gamut from good
to extremely ugly.

Fall, which lasts from Labor Day to the first days of
October, is full of either earnest inspirational
stories ("Gridiron Gang," "Everyone's Hero" and
"Flyboys") or films being dumped on the scrap heap
("Wicker Man," "Idiocracy").

Then — voilà — just when we thought we'd never go near
a multiplex again, the buzz begins to ricochet around
the word-of-mouth corridor inhabited by adult members
of the tribe, from the carpool line at school to the
gym, the farmers market and the sidelines of the
Saturday afternoon soccer game — the good movies are
here!

Most of the credit — or blame — goes to Harvey
Weinstein, who in his years at Miramax was the
industry's leading Oscar impresario, with a
decade-long string of best picture nominations. A
canny marketer without the deep pockets of a big
studio czar, Weinstein essentially invented the modern
Oscar campaign. The key ingredient to his success was
his realization that by opening a movie at year's end
he could essentially run two campaigns at once, using
his ad dollars to market the movie to general
audiences and Oscar voters simultaneously.

Every nomination became a marketing hook. As 42West
partner Amanda Lundberg, Miramax's former head of
publicity, explains: "Harvey used nominations not just
for recognition but to help market the films. He
always believed that he could make $1 million in ads
go a lot farther if you tagged them to the message —
'Chicago': Five Golden Globe nominations' or 'Seven
Academy Award nominations.' It made every ad buy
count."

Unfortunately, now that every studio has adopted
Weinstein's strategy, we have a glut of Oscar
pretenders every fall and an unhealthy suspicion that
if a quality film isn't being released at year's end,
there must be something wrong with it. The accepted
wisdom is that it's impossible to get adults to see
movies any other time of year. When I asked Sony
Pictures chief Amy Pascal why she was releasing what
are arguably her studio's five most artistically
ambitious films in the last eight weeks of the year,
she replied: "Because it's the time when adults go to
the movies."

On back-to-back weekends in December, Sony is
releasing two star-driven films: "The Holiday" and
"Pursuit of Happyness." I couldn't help but wonder
whether they wouldn't cannibalize each other, not to
mention suffer from having to compete with a dozen
other quality adult films arriving in December.

"Not at all," Pascal says. "They're very different
kinds of movies. It's sad, but the truth is that
nobody wants to see those kinds of movies in the
summer. We've done the research. It's impossible to
get adults into theaters except during the holidays."

Warner Bros. chief Alan Horn acknowledges that Oscar
hopes play a big part. "If we're going to spend a
significant amount of money on a thought-provoking
film, as we've done with 'Blood Diamond' [an upcoming
Leonardo DiCaprio film], you really get a lot of help
from Oscar consideration. And Oscar voters, like all
of us, have a better memory for recent films, so it
helps to put them out in the fall."

Studios are storehouses of conventional wisdom, so
once the Miramax late-season strategy proved
successful, everyone copied it. As recently as 1995,
four of the five best picture nominees were released
in summer. By 2003, the year "Chicago" won, all five
nominees opened in December.

It took Lionsgate, a maverick independent, to show
what lemmings the studios had become. Suspecting the
correlation between Oscars and year-end releases was
largely a self-fulfilling prophecy, Lionsgate followed
the Fox Searchlight strategy of releasing a film when
it had the best chance for commercial success. When
the studio acquired "Crash," it saw the racially
charged drama could be both a box-office hit as well
as an award performer. Released in early May to good
reviews, the movie not only ended up being one of
Lionsgate's biggest hits, it also went on to win best
picture nearly 10 months later. "We thought, since we
had the goods, that getting out in front was a plus,"
says Lionsgate President Tom Ortenberg. "All the films
in the fourth quarter were judged against 'Crash.'
And, as we suspected, a lot of people ended up saying,
'Well, we liked this film or admired that film, but we
really loved 'Crash.' "

But this year the Oscar Follies are back. I'm sure
every studio chief believes he or she is simply doing
what's best for the film's box-office chances, since a
best picture nod often gives adults an added incentive
to see a serious movie. Unfortunately, of the 25 or so
adult movies jammed into the last 12 weeks of the
year, only five will get one of those cherished
nominations.

The rest will be orphans, ignored instead of adored,
left to wither on the vine when all the free media
hype goes to the five nominees. The problem is simple:
No one wants to tell a hotshot filmmaker — or admit to
him or herself — that a film isn't good enough to
compete. Instead the studios put the blame on us,
claiming that we won't support any serious movies the
other 40 weeks of the year.

But the real reason all these good movies are coming
out at exactly the same time is because everyone in
Hollywood is smoking the Oscar crack pipe.

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