OFF THE CARPET: Dolla billz, y’all!

Posted by · 10:15 am · November 8th, 2010

A reader comment got me thinking on box office and Oscar as the usual blockbuster and genre fare led the way in ticket sales this weekend.  It dawned on me that pickins might be extra slim when it comes to representing populist filmmaking in 2010’s Best Picture crop.

Box office and finding room for ratings-friendly titles have long been assumed considerations in the decision to expand the Best Picture category to 10 nominations last year. One year after Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight” nearly reached “Titanic”-level numbers and was snubbed of a Best Picture nomination, there were suddenly five more spots to be filled, widening the net.

Academy members had seven films to choose from the $100 million-plus club in 2009 that had any legitimate excuse for being in the conversation. They were: “Avatar,” “The Blind Side,” “District 9,” “The Hangover,” “Inglourious Basterds,” “Star Trek” and “Up.” And some would consider “The Hangover” and “Star Trek” to be a stretch.  As such, they missed, and the other five made it.

The great irony of “Avatar” is that it didn’t need extra padding; it would have cleared a five-slot line-up.  “Inglourious Basterds” was also largely considered a top fiver with the Academy, but the other three were great successes for box office power on the Oscar slate.

This year, it’s possible that “Inception” and “Toy Story 3” are the only films in the generally accepted Best Picture conversation that will have at least nine digits in the bank by the time nominations are announced.  With that comes assumptions that a number of latter-year releases will come up shy of the mark, but, due respect to “TRON Legacy,” there isn’t another “Avatar” coming and there simply isn’t enough time for any other contender to get there without being an unforeseen hit out of the box.

Of the films already in release, “The Social Network” could still limp to $100 million, but it would take some last-gasp legs.  And It’s considered a given nominee, regardless.

I’ve always maintained that “The Town” would have a great shot at a nomination if it took off at the box office. The film finally bowed out of the top 10 this week with an $89 million cume and will probably come up just short of $100 million once it runs its course.  But the film should be considered a popular success, and an upcoming DVD release will keep the coals stoked; it could still find its way to the line-up.

“Secretariat” has also needed box office help to maintain a case, and after a bleak opening weekend, it seems to be holding pretty well. But bringing in another $50 million is a tall order.  It would take some serious pushing to get this film to a nod and word is Disney has been tightening its belt.  (Though witness a campaign already up and running for billion-dollar grosser “Alice in Wonderland.”)

Tyler Perry, meanwhile, has yet to break the $100 million ceiling, even when starting with better opening grosses than “For Colored Girls” saw this weekend.  The awards chatter died quickly on that one the more it screened, anyway (despite raves in curious corners).  I’ve yet to see it…and no one seemed to be in a rush to invite me.

Nothing else really fits.  But if I’m DreamWorks, I’m looking to this as an opportunity to beef up the “How to Train Your Dragon” Best Picture conversation.  Obviously box office is a uniform asset for animated contenders, but being a part of a shorter list is an even better asset.  If I’m Sony, and in the face of the perennial uphill battle for comedies, I’m chasing box office first with “How Do You Know” for the extra caché (and cash).  Ditto Fox and “Love & Other Drugs.”

And though I don’t think there’s any second-guessing going on, if I’m Paramount, I’m understanding the value “Shutter Island” really has this season.

No one wants to force a square peg into a round hole, so I’m certainly open to the possibility of 2010 being an indie-heavy year.  I don’t suffer from “slot”-itis like some, but it’s fair to suggest that these considerations might be made, however subconsciously.  And if not, well, the 10-nominee schematic was only locked in through this year.  Would “only” two $100 million grossers send the signal that the beast can’t be tamed?  Or would it be seen as a win for the Academy?  I admit to you I’m not entirely sure.

The Contenders section was updated throughout the weekend.  The predictions sidebar, meanwhile, reflects all updates.  As always, check out what Guy Lodge and Gerard Kennedy are predicting at their dedicated pages.

[Photos: Warner Bros. Picture, Paramount Pictures]

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35 responses so far

  • 1 11-08-2010 at 10:24 am

    Duncan Houst said...

    I still have faith that “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1” will enter the conversation once it is released. The footage released so far has been superbly written, acted, and directed. If they can keep that up throughout the entire film, I’d imagine a Warner Bros. Best Picture push to be extremely likely.

  • 2 11-08-2010 at 10:26 am

    americanrequiem said...

    well the town is is, hmmm. cool. so far its certainly in a top 10 id make. still holding out for shutter island, fasinating year. the year of indies while next year looks to be the year of the blockbusters. well see…

  • 3 11-08-2010 at 10:36 am

    Rob said...

    Finally saw “The King’s Speech” last night. Besides just generally being underwhelmed by the movie, I’m dumbfounded at what people are seeing in Bonham Carter’s (admittedly good) performance that is making them scream “Oscar”

  • 4 11-08-2010 at 10:44 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Duncan: You may have missed this when I mentioned it on Oscar talk, but WB is planning to go all out on part two.

  • 5 11-08-2010 at 10:45 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Rob: Chalk it up as anticipatory, as far as I’m concerned. I don’t think it’s a stellar performance but the moment I saw it, I knew it would find its way into the supporting actress conversation.

  • 6 11-08-2010 at 10:50 am

    Loyal said...

    It’s part of the reason why I think Inception could win. It’ll be the highest grossing live-action film by a mile and this whole 10 BP nominee nonsense is because of Nolan. Inception would still need a big win like PGA (Globes won’t do) on top of its 800m worldwide box office. A possible scenario could be

    Inception – Best Picture
    The Social Network – Best Director
    The King’s Speech – Best Actor

    Talk about spreading the love.

  • 7 11-08-2010 at 10:52 am

    Antonio A said...

    The Fighter could make some money, the cast is certainly strong and boxing movies tend to do well, it may not cross the 100M but it could do around 75M. I second that Harry Potter still has an outside shot, I think it will be the most successful since the first financially and it has a strong shot to become the best reviewed of the 7.

  • 8 11-08-2010 at 10:59 am

    Maxim said...

    “Academy members had six films to choose from the $100 million-plus club in 2009 that had any legitimate excuse for being in the conversation. They were: “Avatar,” “The Blind Side,” “The Hangover,” “Inglourious Basterds,” “Star Trek” and “Up.” ”

    What about “District 9”? Pretty sure that one grossed over $100 million making the final tally a rather populist friendly five.

    By the way, I can easily foresee a scenatio when “True Grit” becomes a hundred million dollar film. This may not happen by the time the nominations are announced but, when everything is said and done, the combination of the assumed good word of mouth plus untapped genre appeal might carry it farther moneywise than “No Country”.

  • 9 11-08-2010 at 11:01 am

    Ivan said...

    If ´Tron: Legacy´ kick hard, it easily could get film editing, sound mixing & editing, visual effects and best picture nods.

  • 10 11-08-2010 at 11:05 am

    Maxim said...

    I also have a lot fewer reservations about “Social Network” crossing a $100 million mark. I am very confident that it will happen.

  • 11 11-08-2010 at 11:06 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    On the one hand, if it takes an indie-dominated Best Picture slate to put Academy brass off the lousy 10-nominee idea, you’ll hear loud cheers from my corner.

    On the other hand, if that’s what happens, it’ll just prove what a disingenuous move it was in the first place.

  • 12 11-08-2010 at 11:08 am

    Chad Hartigan said...

    I really think Shutter Island is in.

  • 13 11-08-2010 at 11:14 am

    Graysmith said...

    If you consider that only four $100m+ grossers made it last year, you could stack it up like this: Inception = Avatar, Toy Story 3 = Up and The Social Network = Inglourious Basterds. Yes, The Social Network will probably fall short of the marketable $100m mark, but on the other hand it cost $20m less than Inglourious Basterds too. But I’m comparing them mainly because they’re the kind of films you don’t often do the kind of box office they did. And if you then write off The Blind Side as one of those once-in-a-blue-moon freak show movies that will rarely have an equivalent, you’ve got a line-up of hits fairly similar to last year.

  • 14 11-08-2010 at 11:30 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Good catch, Maxim. Forgot District 9.

  • 15 11-08-2010 at 11:38 am

    JJ1 said...

    The whole ‘Shutter Island’ thing is so interesting to me:

    Scorsese, Leo, huge acclaimed cast, wonderful techs, positive reviews (RT and metacritic, though plenty of those are pans), great box office, and a good campaign cooking.

    I think it has just as much of a chance at getting in (and easily) as much as it has of completely missing. I’ll be watching closely.

    And Kris, interesting that you took off ‘Another Year’ for now. A shame. But buzz does seem pretty quiet right now, doesn’t it? Could the buzz leave Manville off somewhere (actress, supp. actress)?

  • 16 11-08-2010 at 11:40 am

    JJ1 said...

    Oh, and if ‘The Way Back’ goes over well, I really think the 5 supp. actors you have down will be the 5, ultimately. I think it’s the surest looking group of the 4 acting categories.

  • 17 11-08-2010 at 11:48 am

    Maxim said...

    “this whole 10 BP nominee nonsense is because of Nolan”.

    Umm, no. Decisions like that don’t come down to one movie. Rather, “TDK” became an excuse for Academy to justify what they were planning, for years.

    As Kris put it, “Avatar” didn’t need padding to make it in, just like Cameron’s best director nomination didn’t require any extra help.

  • 18 11-08-2010 at 11:48 am

    Drew said...

    Personally, I was never a fan of District 9 and have never understood why it was nominated. If they were going to award more commercial films then I think Star Trek or The Hangover, both of which were bigger hits than D9, should’ve made the ten.

  • 19 11-08-2010 at 12:09 pm

    Keil Shults said...

    District 9 is better than Star Trek, and both films are leagues better than The Hangover, which I’ve always felt was incredibly overrated. I’d rather see Very Bad Things earn a Best Pic nom than The Hangover. Didn’t think Galifianakis was that special in it either.

    @Tapley: I think the guy mentioning HP VII earlier was just thinking it deserved a mention in your article, given that it’s one of the few financial heavyweights due out by year’s end. But I totally agree that it makes the most sense for WB to sit tight and heavily promote the (actual) final installment.

    @Tapley (again): While I doubt it will be good enough to be part of the Oscar race, especially where Best Picture is concerned, do you think that the new James Brooks film has a chance to make big bucks at the box office? People seem eager enough to spend money on bad romantic comedies, so if his turns out to be a decent one, it just might make some waves.

    And finally, I’d love to see a Trash Humpers FYC ad in the trades. Just…for the hell of it.

  • 20 11-08-2010 at 12:20 pm

    Keil Shults said...

    Alice in Wonderland and Shutter Island were both disappointing, though the former was certainly worse than the latter. Burton and Scorsese both need to take some time off and work on something smaller and more personal. Not together, of course. I don’t need to see Joe Pesci running around in a zebra-skin coat.

    While Hugo Cabret will be anything but small, I think it could at least touch on Scorsese’s lifelong love affair with cinema (and old films in particular). If done right, it could easily become one of next year’s 10 BP nominees.

  • 21 11-08-2010 at 12:20 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Like I mentioned, I think How Do You Know needs to make money in order to get over comedy bias and I’d be focusing on that if I were Sony.

  • 22 11-08-2010 at 12:45 pm

    Mr. F said...

    You say on the Cinematography contenders page that you can see Black Swan getting nominated if the Academy got over their digi-bias, but wasn’t it shot on 16mm and not on digital?

    And for that matter, Avatar won last year, and that is 100% digital (sure, it made a ton of money, but still)

  • 23 11-08-2010 at 12:48 pm

    Keil Shults said...

    I’m sorry, Tapley. I thought I’d read the article closely enough. I’ll just blame the terrible, forgettable title as being the reason my eyes glazed over it.

  • 24 11-08-2010 at 12:51 pm

    Keil Shults said...

    eh, ignore the last 4 or 5 words of my previous post. i need a nap.

  • 25 11-08-2010 at 1:21 pm

    Eric said...

    Kris, why the ommission of Another Year for Best Picture?

  • 26 11-08-2010 at 1:32 pm

    j said...

    The Town/Way Back>Another Year, interesting.

    Also, Way Back>Conviction in supp actor.

    Hope King’s Speech is not the sole Director/Editor disagreement. I’d rather that go to, say, True Grit.

  • 27 11-08-2010 at 1:39 pm

    Drew said...

    How was District 9 ‘better’ than Star Trek, to you Keil?

  • 28 11-08-2010 at 1:49 pm

    Duncan Houst said...

    I did hear that Kris, but I don’t see why they wouldn’t push “Part 1” as well if it turns out to be a critical success. Unless Warner Bros. plans on taking the film out of the running this year entirely, which is not the case, I still think an awards push may definitely come.

  • 29 11-08-2010 at 2:06 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Mr. F: That was actually a weird typo mixture of two notes pertaining to The Social Network (which was shot on digital) and Black Swan. Odd. Thanks for the catch, it’s been adjusted.

    Duncan: I can only tell you what I’ve been told, explicitly, by the studio. I doubt a cliffhanger first part of one installment would have the same foothold as the one that wraps things up. Sure, you’ll see ads mentioning “FYC Best Picture,” but it won’t be near the campaign and push you’ll see next year.

  • 30 11-08-2010 at 2:27 pm

    Patriotsfan said...

    Guy, what don’t you like about the ten nominees? I was originally against the idea too, but I thought it worked out really well last year. I don’t see the harm in recognizing a wider range of movies.

  • 31 11-08-2010 at 5:40 pm

    Michael said...

    Even though this may turn out to be an “indie” year, when you look at the BP predix in the sidebar they are all quite commercial, crowd-pleasing films.

    Sure The Kids Are All Right is a very small film but its a fun comedy and The Way Back is supposedly quite a tough sit yet its still a sweeping epic covering numerous continents by the director of Master and Commander and The Truman Show.

  • 32 11-08-2010 at 7:29 pm

    Rodney Hollis said...

    Any place where “Shutter Island” is championed as a sleeper contender is a place I feel at home. I’m so glad I’m not the only one on this “island.” Leo has rarely (if ever) been better. Michelle Williams was haunting. The script was top shelf, as were all of the tech achievements.

    Best Picture +
    Best Actor +
    Best Supporting Actress +
    Best Cinematography +
    Best Original Score +
    Best Editing +
    Best Art Direction +
    Best Adapted Screenplay +
    = a smile on my face Oscar Nod morning…

    Hey, I can dream, can’t I.

  • 33 11-08-2010 at 7:37 pm

    Wilson said...

    I just saw a clip from harry potter and the deathly hallows with ron arguring with harry it looked really good ahhhhjkasfhkjashjkhkjfsahjks I cant wait for it any longer

  • 34 11-09-2010 at 4:48 am

    Paul Outlaw said...

    Re: Helena Bonham Carter’s performance in The King’s Speech. It’s not only very good, seeing her in this kind of role comes as a relief after all the Tim Burton projects (and the Harry Potters). In addition, her Queen Elizabeth is a true supporting role: She really anchors the film and functions as a stand-in for the audience. I don’t think I would have enjoyed it nearly as much without her. When you add to that the length of her career and the fact that she’s only been nominated once before, it’s no wonder that she’s considered a shoe-in for a nod this year. At this point, I hope she wins.

  • 35 11-15-2010 at 7:56 am

    BrianA said...

    Wow. I had forgotten that Bonham Carter only had one nom to date. In my opinion, she should have won for Wings of the Dove. I know the general consensus is that Best Actress should have gone to Dame Judi instead of Helen Hunt in 1998, but Helena’s performance in Wings was better than either of them.