Friday, June 24, 2011

2011 Halfway Report

Hard to believe that this year is already halfway over, it feels like just yesterday I was kvetching about The King's Speech and it's awards run (oh wait, it was-- I have difficulty letting go sometimes), however it feels like a good time to check in on the offerings already tasted.  It's been a bit shaky so far, and there's a succinct scent of desperation running through the Hollywood machine.  Box office is down, a critical apathy and a feeling of growing pains throughout the cinema.  3-D may not be the cure, as evident by the showings of Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides and Kung Fu Panda, where the 2-D screenings had a higher attendance, and a sense of being ripped off by the steep surcharges for less than stellar viewing experiences...good luck to Transformers: Dark of the Moon and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II (which is experiencing higher pre-sales for 2-D showings.)  There's been a great few truly desirable films to come out in the first six months of 2011, yes Midnight in Paris, Bridesmaids, Super 8 and depending of the time of day The Tree of Life were all welcome, but there hasn't much in the way of magic yet this year.  For example, this time last year had "A" quality filmmaking with Toy Story 3, Winter's Bone and Please Give.

Highest Grossing Films of 2011 so far:
  1. The Hangover Part II- $236 million
  2. Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides- $223 million
  3. Fast Five- $207 million
  4. Thor- $176 million
  5. Kung Fu Panda 2- $147 million
  6. Bridesmaids- $140 million
  7. Rio- $139 million
  8. X-Men: First Class- $124 million
  9. Rango- $122 million
  10. Hop- $108 million
What we've got here is five sequels (or prequel, reboot whatchacallit with X-Men), five films in 3-D, four animated features, one obvious advertisement for another film (a few others perhaps less obvious), four original scripts (only one of which is live action, the only one that's a genuine surprise: Bridesmaids) and zero films that had less than two credited screenwriters.  One wonders the fate of these films in the long run.  If I were a betting man I'd suggest that based solely on number The Hangover will be granted a third entry (hopefully they'll go to rehab), as will Fast & Furious (Fast Six?), Pirates will hopefully be laid down to rest, as it's the lowest grossing flick of the franchise (though $200-plus million can hardly seem underwhelming, at least to anyone except for bitter studio execs), Kung Fu Panda 2, Rango and Rio might be nominated for an Oscar, more because the animated slate this year is sad. Thor will The Avengers, and that's it (hopefully Chris Hemsworth will be big though).  Hop will likely has already been forgotten.  X-Men: Fate Unknown and Bridesmaids will become a TBS staple forever and not the feminist revolt that pundits have branded it...whew!
Highest Per-Screen Averages of 2011 so far:
  1. Midnight in Paris- $99,834 on 6 screens\$23 million so far
  2. The Tree of Life- $93,230 on 4 screens\$4.3 million so far
  3. Jane Eyre- $45,721 on 4 screens\$11.1 million
  4. Bill Cunningham New York- $33,677 on 1 screen\$1.3 million
  5. Win Win- $30,072 on 5 screens\$10 million
  6. Kill the Irishman- $29,086 on 5 screens\$1.1 million
  7. Beginners- $28,268 on 5 screens\$1 million so far
  8. Cave of Forgotten Dreams- $27,820 on 5 screens\$4.1 million so far
  9. Evil Bong 3-D- $24,775 on 1 screen\$91,250
  10. The Hangover: Part II- $23,775 on 3,615 screens\$236 million so far
Any surprises?

While it's silly to think about end of the year kudos in June, it's fun to tinker with the idea of what's already at play.  Of course the sad truth is that it's not much.  Last year by this time, we had two Best Picture nominees already in release: Toy Story 3 and Winter's Bone, and two more in July: The Kids Are All Right and Inception; the year before both Up and eventual winner The Hurt Locker had already arrived.  This year, and especially due to the Academy's loopy new rules, it might be harder to gauge anything.  The Tree of Life has opened, it's fairly timidly started expanding outside major cities, may have a chance as it's a auteur-drive meditation with astounding visuals and coming from a major director.  It's top win at this years Cannes Film Festival can't be reflective of any lingering Oscar chance, but it does offer a bit of prestige to a film that, while divisive and frustrating (my take), will likely be remembered by the critics later in the year, plus it has a marketing pro in Fox Searchlight who just last year managed Best Picture nominations for two hard-to-sell films with 127 Hours and Black Swan.  That being said it's also a huge longshot for anything outside of Best Cinematography; if Emmanuel Lubezki is ignored this year, I imagine a small (and geeky) riot in the streets.

The safest bet right now must be Midnight in Paris, which has proven to be a warm summery surprise from America's favorite screenwriter.  And while Best Picture may be just outside this inventive, charming Parisian tales reach, one must never doubt Woody Allen as a threat in the Original Screenplay category, or who knows, perhaps even a Best Director threat.  Already one of Allen's highest grossing films (one has to journey back to the mid-1980s and Hannah & Her Sisters time to see a Woody Allen film perform so well) and critically and commercially admired, it's easily his best chance in a longtime for some Oscar love.  The main problem may come from the fact that this is such an ensemble driven film, one in which no single performer has been universally acknowledged with a best in show stamp, one in which Allen is clearly seen as the film's star that the film may struggle in other categories other than writing.  But critical approval, audience love, and the "comeback" angle (a weird statement for a filmmaker that delivers a film promptly once a year) may work, and Sony Pictures Classics is usually a shrewd, if cautious, awards marketer...they sure as hell have more to work with this year and with their last venture with Allen, last year's dreadful You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger.

Two other critics darlings of 2011 were Jane Eyre and Win Win, and both did fairly respectable business so one can't entirely write either of them off.  However both films already somewhat seem forgotten only a few months after release and it will take a major campaign (from Focus Features and the very busy Fox Searchlight) to reignite passion for both.  It will also take critics groups to focus on both films fairly strongly.  As of now, I would suspect Jane Eyre's best chance at a nomination might lie in it's Costume Design, and Win Win's only legitimate prospect is in Original Screenplay, one must think that writer\director Tom McCarthy was this-close a few years back with The Visitor and The Station Agent.
Other possibilities (outside of tech nominations for a few of big bad blockbusters or a few animated features and a potential Documentary nod for Werner Herzog's Cave of Forgotten Dreams) are pretty sparse at the moment.  It would be nice to think that Michelle Williams may have a shot for her quiet, luminous work as a frontier wife in Meek's Cutoff, but that will never happen.  At this point, I'd welcome the idea of Michael Fassbender possibly getting recognition for his pre-Magneto, Magneto in X-Men: First Class-- he's a major badass and jolts the film with any spark it has, and coming from an actor (who's seemingly been a breakthrough performer for the last three years with Hunger, Fish Tank, and Inglourious Basterds) of such intense distinction and dangerous bravado, he makes a role that could never be described as awards bait utterly captivating.  Another non-baity, but entertaining possibility is Ellen Page in Super, the little-bitty superhero parody indie that did little in terms of box office, and has no chance of anything, but there's something utterly remarkable about her performance, playing a highly caffeinated strange young woman, there's a daring rawness to her go-for-broke buffoonery that elevates the silly little movie and incongruously charms and alienates at the same time.  Another no-shot, but worthy performance is Elle Fanning's expressive, muse-like work in Super 8 (after Somewhere and this, she's definitely showing up older sister Dakota, I'd argue.)  Kristen Wiig, while wonderful in Bridesmaids, will likely have to settle for a Best Actress in a Comedy Golden Globe nomination, if my crystal ball is accurate.

However, there's really only one performance in 2011 that I feel has the strongest shot of lasting until nomination day: Christopher Plummer for Beginners.  It may feel like a longshot because the film itself, a bit uneven and meandering, it is a twee and sometimes achingly precious little tale, but Plummer is terrific, and his reviews have been wonderful (his screen partner Ewan McGregor is also very good, but he's in the more recessive role, one of which awards bodies hardly notice), and while it while the film will have to continue to play well this summer, with a nicely calibrated marketing campaign from distributor Focus Features, and critics prizes to make this claim valid, I feel it's the strongest bet of 2011 thus far.  Plus he's Christopher freaking Plummer, and he's playing, no less, a dying gay man, which has always been a source of salivation for the Academy.

My 5 Favorite Films of 2011 so far:
  1. Midnight in Paris
  2. Bridesmaids
  3. Super 8
  4. Beginners
  5. Meek's Cutoff
Why only five?  Well this years been fairly stingy with the goods, and while I could have included the nifty sci\fi puzzle Source Code, or the acid-like hallucination of The Tree of Life (a film in which my mood changes by the second) or the quiet humanity of Win Win, there's precious little to hold onto in the first six months of wish is for a brighter second half.

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