Looking at the headlines today, it sounds like Universal threw a drink in Kristen Wiig's face in the middle of a restaurant.
I think the truth is probably a little more nuanced than what we're reading so far. No doubt Universal would like another helping of whatever just earned them almost $300 million worldwide. Basic studio math says "We paid $30 million, we made about $300 million. Yep. More, please." The film is not just a commercial success, but a genuine awards-season contender, a critical hit.
There's a fair degree of speculation in the Hollywood Reporter piece that kicked this off today, suggesting financial tensions between Wiig and Universal. If you read closely, Wiig did not speak to them for their story at all. I think the choices she's making indicate that she's not looking at immediate superstardom or purely financial factors in what she's signing on to do. She's been building towards this for a while, and things like "Friends With Kids" or "Clown Girl" or "The Comedian" all have personal, independent origins, and they sound like challenges, movies that won't be easily sold in 30-second spots.
Looking at the headlines today, it sounds like Universal threw a drink in Kristen Wiig's face in the middle of a restaurant.
Of course the moment we publish our list of the films we're anticipating most for 2012, we start to see trailers and things for movies we've never heard of that are coming out this year that immediately look like something we need to see.
"Upside Down" is a fantasy film from an Argentinean director named Juan Diego Solanas, and based on this peek at the movie, it's a big lovely Andrew Niccol style "imagine if the world was like this" movie. Jim Sturgess and Kirsten Dunst are the stars of this one, and it looks like Solanas has spent his money well, creating a great big visual hook that everything hinges on. Movies like this are tricky to pull off, and most of the time, it's coming up with a tone that matches the big visual decision and making it work beyond the gimmick.
The first thing I can't help but notice is that one of the most iconic moments in any of Kirsten Dunst's films was in "Spider-Man," with the upside-down kiss in the rain. Casting her in this is one of those choices that seems like a big bag of duh. The question mark for me is Sturgess, who has had a number of shots as a leading man, and so far, I haven't felt like he really connected at all. He does have his fans, though, and I suspect this will play an extended run on a double-bill with "Across The Universe" at the New Beverly for three or four months.
It's one of those accidents of timing that I would decide to finally watch the documentary "These Amazing Shadows" on January 1, the same day that I read an article about what works would have been entering the public domain on January 1, 2012, if not for a new law that revised copyright in the United States in the late '70s.
Even so, those two different bits of information at the same time caused me to really consider the idea of the public domain and what that even means. Look at this year's Oscar poster, look at something like "The Artist" or "Hugo," or look at that documentary, and it's apparent that the main message Hollywood wants to sell you is that the memories Hollywood creates are the things that we all share, that unite us.
Isn't that the big idea behind public domain in the first place?
If you create something that everyone eventually internalizes, something like… let's pick a random example that has nothing to do with anything I happened to publish in the last week on this blog like, say, "Lord Of The Rings"… something that is hugely influential and widely commercialized and heavily exploited… then after a certain amount of time, you're going to have to expect things like fan fiction and different interpretations and parody and homage and plain old fashioned borrowing, and there comes a point where law was designed to finally say, "Okay, everyone, have at it. The creator has had enough time with it. Everyone knows it at this point. It's all yours. Do with it what you will." That's what the law originally had in mind, with a set time period that could be renewed if the author still had an active interest in the thing. If not, if no one stepped forward to claim something, then it would become public domain.
Ted Turner may be the greatest accidental hero in the history of film preservation.
Let me back up and take the long way around to get to this point. I'm going to try something different this year and keep a media journal for myself, to not just break down what movies I watch but every bit of media I ingest. When, how much, where, what I used to watch them. I'm curious about my own diet, but also about our media diets in general.
With this in mind, I realized that I wanted to pick just the right thing to start 2012, and so I opened Netflix Instant and pulled up the documentary "These Amazing Shadows," a movie about the National Film Registry and why it was created, how the films are chosen, who chooses them, and what it all means.
I had not seen the film before, and it's a lovely piece on the cultural importance of movies, the nature of film preservation, and how we share our cultural history. One thing the movie reminds me of is the way these films that have become old hat, ingrained to the point of white noise to some of us, are always new to someone, and there's an importance to the idea of keeping them pristine and available so that future audiences have their chance to have that experience. Yes, I've seen "Wizard Of Oz" so many times over the course of my life that I barely "see" it when it's on, but this ongoing Film Nerd 2.0 project with my kids underlines the idea that every viewer has their first time with films, and setting the stage the right way for that first viewing can mean so much. You can ruin a movie by showing it wrong, and you can make an afternoon into magic if you show it right.
I made a mention of a Girl Talk concert the other night on Twitter… well, actually, that's not true. I RT'd someone else's mention of the show, and I got a surprised response from someone who seemed amazed by the idea that I have any other interests than film, which is fair. When you spend as much time writing and talking about one subject, it would seem to be the defining thing about you.
But of course, there are other ways I spend my time, and other things I give my mental real estate to, and music and games and books are all part of what I feel keeps me sane and interesting and engaged each and every year, all of them ingested for different reasons and in different ways and in different quantities. I decided that the last thing I run every year should be this article, the one that bats clean-up for all the other End-Of-The-Year pieces.
The big one, of course, in terms of time spent putting it together and considering it, is my Ten Best Films of 2011 list. And I think that turned out pretty well. My piece about the next ten film, the Runners-Up, was also solid, I thought. And then there was my list of The Ten Worst Films of 2011 as well. All of those took time.
The mail from you guys about the liveblogging this week has been interesting, and if it's something you'd like to do on some sort of regular schedule, we can try that in the new year. I would happily pick some of my favorite movies on Blu-ray and a time when we can watch them together. Or newer movies. Or movies I've never seen, but should have, which could be interesting as well.
Whether we continue it or not, though, I'm glad to have finally sat down to see these movies again. Time had diminished them somewhat in my mind, reduced them to the set pieces and the spectacle and the hype, and I had forgotten what really makes them special, the human and emotional content of the movies. And now, as I gear up for "Return Of The King," I'm nearly as excited as I was before I saw the film for the first time in 2003, eager to see everything tied together.
Tonight's going to be a long one, so I just had a sandwich, I've got a few drinks set aside, and I'm powdered and primped and ready to go. We've got over four hours of movie ahead, which will make this an Oscar-length live-blog. A marathon. And as I said last night before "The Two Towers," it's been long enough that I really have forgotten much of this movie already.
I'm amazed at how many remarkable moments I'd forgotten. That whole bit at the end of "Towers" between Frodo and the Nazgul is gorgeous and creepy and bizarre, and I'd totally forgotten it, and I'd forgotten the way Frodo almost attacks Sam for stopping him, furious at the idea that he didn't get to hand the Ring over. Wonderful, and this revisit is giving me all of these moments anew, which is one of the reasons I intentionally set them aside for a while.
Toshi has been arguing his case like he's appealing his own death sentence, passionate and determined, absolutely ready to sit down and watch all three films with me right now. Only... he's not. Not really. He gets images in his head and treats them as nightmare fuel in a way that even Allen doesn't. Toshi tends to really feel the movies he watches, engaging with them deeply, and I think these films are full of stuff he's really not equipped to see yet.
But the interest is there, and so I showed him the trailer for "The Hobbit." He immediately understood that it was "more" of "Lord Of The Rings," and I made him a deal. He can see the movie in theaters next Christmas with me, but only if we read the book (as in I read, he listens and discusses) before the film comes out. He says he's up for it, and if so, this should be a real treat of a year.
But for now... let's press play and start the final steps of this giant journey...
Sorry we missed the second night, but a horrifying stomach flu raced through the McWeeny household over the last 36 hours or so, and last night was my turn to transform into some sort of horrifying Slurpee Machine From Hell. Now that we've conquered that and banished the illness, it's time to dive back in with a second round of liveblogging our Return To Middle-Earth.
Two quick notes. First, I promise to spell Ian McKellen's name correctly tonight. And second, I am startled to realize that I remember very little about the way these next two films actually work. I know I've seen them, I know I've reviewed not only the theatrical but the Extended cuts before, and I know the general shape of things. But when it comes to remembering the specific beats and scenes, I'm drawing a bit of a blank...
... and I LOVE that.
I love that these return viewings are fresh for me. As fresh as possible, anyway, considering how many times it feels like I watched everything the first time around. In this case, they're so massive that it feels like I'm wading into something new all over again. I'm excited. And now the disc is in the player and here we go...
We just wrapped up a Film Nerd 2.0 screening of "The Muppet Movie," and the boys are irritated that they have to leave the room now. I love that they're excited about these movies, and they know the time is coming that they'll see them. But this time through is all about me enjoying them anew and getting a better sense of them as movies, something that's been a long time coming.
So why now?
That's the question that seems most appropriate as we begin the journey. It's 6:00 PST on December 27, and we just hit play on "Fellowship Of The Ring" for the first time since mid-2004.
After all, "The World Has Changed." That first line seems very appropriate now. It's been ten years since this was released, and the landscape of the modern blockbuster seems very different. It's strange to see a new production diary for "The Hobbit" or to see the first trailer and to see how well Jackson appears to be recapturing the exact vibe of his first trip to Middle-Earth. I wasnt sure he'd be able to do it, but more importantly, I wasn't sure audiences would still want to see it. As acclaimed as these three films were, and deservedly so, I still think this is one of the great weird flukes in film history.
Watching the prologue play out again, I'm amazed they were able to start the films this way, kicking off with this crazy infodump, but he makes this history lesson feel positively lyrical. It helps when you have a voice as hypnotic as Cate Blanchett's telling you this tale of how the Ring was created and changed hands. I think it's also smart because it sets up that there is magic and the scale of the world and the darkness that is possible in the series, and it lets you know up front what sort of ride you're in for.
I find that the act of making a Top Ten list each year probably takes up way more headspace than it should for me. I sweat over it. I wrestle with each spot on that list. I spend days moving things up and down the list until I feel like there's nothing that I can movie anywhere else.
And the films that just narrowly miss that Top Ten are almost always films I love just as much as the films that made the Top Ten. It's just that the order shook out in a way that often leaves me tied in knots. How can I love a film this much and not find a spot for it in that top ten? It's a good problem to have, and 2011 was a year where I could easily have made three totally different Top Ten lists and each one would have been equally valid and filled with things I adore. I'll leave it at 20, though. There's the main Top Ten that we ran the other day, and now this, my list of the runners-up. And what a strange and diverse group of titles it is.
As with the Top Ten list, if it showed at a public screening this year, it qualifies for my list, and I think this represents a pretty strange and wonderful range of experiences that were possible to have for ticket-buyers this year.
Just as 2011 delivered some delirious highs, there were also some moments of jaw-dropping wrong-headedness, movies that aimed high and failed completely, and ineptitude on a level that is almost infuriating. If we're passionate enough to pick the ten films that did everything right, you can bet we're passionate enough to pick the ten that got it all wrong.
I considered titles like "Jack and Jill," but the Happy Madison stuff is such a uniform sort of terrible that I find it hard to work up the energy to truly hate them. I may think the "Twilight" films are terrible, but "Breaking Dawn" is so well-made that even if I don't like the text, I can respect the wrapping paper they've put it in.
No, to make this list, a film had to really spectacularly fumble it all, and if you throw in some truly nasty subtext, you've got a winning combination. I dislike every single one of these films in an active and engaged way, and I have no interest in ever sitting through any of them again. The great part about the end of the year is that you can put awful movies like this in your rearview mirror and move on.
But not without one more kick to the ribs...