Did I not predict the return of Award Season Harvey? Yesterday, the Weinstein Co. netted the most Golden Globe noms of any company — and while the proof in the pudding will be the prestige hardware his movies rack up — it does appear Weinstein’s once again ready to mix it up.
“Hold onto your hat. Harvey’s back,” the NYT observed.
Only a couple years ago, Weinstein, who elevated campaigning to an art form at Miramax, sounded detached from the process, telling the same paper “you leave when you’re ahead.”
Now, however, the company is singing a different tune; Weinstein is much more hands-on; he was intimately involved, for example, in the decision to send the “Nine” cast to an “Oprah” taping. Weinstein has particularly high hopes for “Inglourious Basterds”: “We’re going to do a big Academy charge for the film and for Quentin,” he told the NYT.
Everyone: You’ve been warned.
Manohla Dargis’s barbaric yawp about Hollywood went viral yesterday, and for good reason: The NYT critic let loose on rampant sexism in an interview with feminist-leaning Jezebel, spewing four-letter words with abandon. The interview made explicit that which her Sunday NYT essay on female directors suggested: She’s deeply pissed off about studios that repeatedly fail women in their choices of material and talent.
Among the many choice bits:
Working within the system has not worked. It has not helped women filmmakers or, even more important, you and me, women audiences, to have women in the studio system.
and a personal pet peeve — the constant surprise that women like seeing entertaining movies about women:
This, gee whiz, Sex and the City‘s a hit, Twilight, hmm, wonder what’s going on here. Maybe they should not be so surprised. In the trade press, women audiences are considered a niche. How is that even possible? We’re 51 percent of the audience.
It’s not just the trade press, either; this surprise seems to creep into consumer box office reports as well.
Dargis is equally scathing about the suggestion that she take it easy on films directed by women, calling the notion “incredibly insulting.” But mostly she hopes that Kathryn Bigelow (pictured above) wins the Oscar for directing “The Hurt Locker,” a muscular action movie.
What can I tell you about “Up in the Air” that you haven’t already heard (or read) before? It’s very good. Manages to be topical, touching and lightly satirical, no mean feat.
Let me add, as one of the terminated, that Jason Reitman does a very fine job conveying the absurdity and pathos of this particular recession. I burst out laughing when my company’s HR chief oulined job placement services similar to the ones George Clooney’s Ryan Bingham smoothly proffers: What type of assistance could this outfit contracted by my now ex-company realistically provide a laid-off journo? The industry was already in a free fall — and it wasn’t about to get better.
Almost one year later, journalists are still getting pink slips as one round of layoffs begets another. I’m back to freelancing while my former coworkers work harder than ever to get the papers out with sharply reduced manpower. Everyone, it seems, is crabbier.
But back to the movie. Reitman explores something else in the movie, based on a Walter Kirn novel published after the first economic downturn of the decade, and it’s this: Rootless, unencumbered adults who like it that way. I didn’t expect to identify with Bingham’s character — after all he was the professional terminator and I was among the whacked — but I did. You know that depressing Omaha way station that passes for Ryan’s residence? I had an apartment like that for a brief period, and the initial attraction was its antiseptic hotel feel. (In actuality I hated it and soon moved to a cozy old triplex several towns over.)
There were other aspects of Ryan’s character that resonated: I don’t travel that much, but others in my family do, my older brother taking flight where my father left off. The movie’s tension between middle-aged professionals and a bright-eyed go-getter short on empathy? Also on the money.
The first movie I saw — okay, maybe it was the second — was “The Jungle Book.” My brothers and I loved the movie, so naturally we were tickled pink when our grandmother gave us the soundtrack, singing along over and over to “The Bare Necessities.” (My Dad was less charmed, since the album was a free giveaway from Texaco and he was a loyal Arco company man.)
Anyway, I especially loved Baloo’s joie de vivre. Louis the alligator shares that same spirit in “The Princess and the Frog,” Disney’s first hand-drawn toon in five years. You simply can’t create characters like that through computer animation, Disney toon king John Lasseter recently told me for this Variety story.
The directors, who have been known Lasseter for decades, felt like they had something to prove with the movie, as did the cast and crew still smarting from Disney’s decision to abandon hand-drawn animation in 2002. They tried some different styles — evoking painting of the Harlem Renaissance in one fantasy sequence and going psychedelic for the villain — and while those gambits didn’t always work, the movie was pleasantly upbeat in the way you could always count on Disney toons to be. The young crowd at the Bridge screening — mostly African-American, incidentally, for a toon with the Mouse House’s first ever black heroine — really seemed to enjoy it, barely fidgeting even during the goopy romance scenes.
The studio has at least two more hand-drawn toons in the works. First up: a new “Winnie the Pooh,” another childhood fave with its share of sing-along tunes. “Surf’s Up” co-director Chris Buck is busy on another.
“Hi Paula. It’s Joey.”
Only then did I realize that the flamboyantly-dressed gent across the room was Joe Pantoliano aka Joey Pants aka Ralphie Cifaretto from “The Sopranos.” Thesp commandeered the microphone at Variety’s Future of Film Summit to quiz keynote speaker Paula Wagner, she the former partner with Tom Cruise and head of UA. Why, Joey wanted to know, were studios asking him to take 80% to 90% pay cuts without offering him a piece of the action? Specifically, why did Warner Bros. ask him, a working class actor, to take an 85% cut? After all, he said, Fox gave him a piece of “Daredevil.”
Wagner, a one-time actress who made her bones as an agent and now toils as an indie producer, had no easy answer for Joey Pants. Later in the day, however, QED founder Bill Block, another former agent, stressed the need to give talent a “a fair shake with a real transparent back end,” adding, “We need to find our way to a better model that rewards today’s box office performance.”
Throughout the day, panelists stressed the need for filmmakers to trim costs in line with the realities of today’s movie economics. But studio execs, Pantoliano pointed out, have not been willing to do the same. Hence, the hard feelings.
“At what point do we not need studios anymore and when do they start taking that cut?” he implored.
Again, no easy answer.
There’s something really great about Lewis Lapham’s decision to slow down, rather than speed up, his publication pace. The long-time editor of Harper’s magazine stepped down from the monthly two years ago and now devotes his editorial attention to Lapham’s Quarterly, a scholarly journal.
The focus is on historical writings. The target audience? “People who wished they had paid more attention in school,” Lapham told the NYT. Yes, there’s a website, Tim Arango goes on to write, “but up-to-the-minute is not the mantra.”
Best yet, the dapper 74-year-old plans to start blogging. “I’m looking forward to that,” he told the NYT. “It’s a new form.”
I just hope more would-be publishers join him and Dave Eggers’ McSweeney’s in a slow-lit movement.
Those fretting that Comcast will immediately and drastically close theatrical windows once it takes over NBC Universal should take a breath.
Yes, Comcast has been a leading proponent of video on demand, and would like to shorten the theatrical window AND the cable window. But now it will have a big stake in the content creation side as well. And one thing studio execs do NOT want to do is diminish the much larger revenue streams from exhibition and homevideo sales.
Rather, they are engaged in a delicate balancing act, trying to adjust to consumer demand for content in home more quickly while also protecting established revenue streams. (For more on this, read my Variety story from last week here.)
Brian Roberts is not a digital revolutionary. He is, by all accounts, a button-down businessman who wants more control over his company’s destiny. And that he will have control over both sides of the equation. Will he push for premium VOD ahead of disc releases? Probably.
When I was reporting this Variety story, everyone wondered about Harvey: Will he revert to form this awards season? Can he still pull it off? Can he afford to?
One thing the Weinstein Co. does have is four hopefuls — “Nine,” “The Road,” “Inglourious Basterds” and “Simple Man.” And if anyone will go for it this constrained awards season, Bob Berney predicted, it will be Harvey Weinstein.
Weinstein execs, meanwhile, compare the company’s prospects — and Harvey’s focus on it — to the Miramax days. We’ll see what happens when push comes to shove.