Tuesday, January 18, 2011

More Rewards For Less

An ongoing bout of crippling insomnia, now in its third week, along with other major distractions have meant that I’ve missed commenting on a fair few things of late. None of them have really been that important, although I may try and shoehorn one or two in sometime in the near future. I was scribbling something new while I took a break for lunch but that got pushed aside, later, when I belatedly discovered that today the nominations for the 2011 BAFTA Film Awards were announced.

With the odd exception, most years the films nominated are the smaller artistic endeavours, usually ignored by the mass audiences who have spent the previous twelve months gorging on popcorn junk. This means that filmmakers and distributors, though pleased with the recognition, however belated, can immediately slap their nomination totals onto posters or DVD covers (if they’ve already come and gone from the cinemas) in the hope that this sudden attention might help toward clawing back their production and advertising costs, and maybe even have enough to splash out on a fish supper if they eventually nab one of the shiny prizes.

This year the only super–duper big–budget movie in the major categories is Christopher Nolan’s Inception – one of only five of the movies given a nod across the board that I’ve seen so far – which only goes to show that the BAFTAs, like the Academy Awards, have a completely different motivation when it comes to handing out gongs to the Hollywood Foreign Press Association’s Golden Balls, where their modus operandi was expertly deconstructed in the opening monologue of Sunday’s ceremony.

The difference with the BAFTA list this year is that remarkably, and thankfully, the “smaller” pictures actually have made money. And I find that really gratifying. At last year’s Oscar ceremony The Hurt Locker may have made Kathryn Bigelow the first woman to win the Academy Award for Best Director but the film itself had the distinction of being the lowest–grossing movie to in Best Picture. Five of the film’s six awards exactly duplicated the BAFTA categories it won so there’s more than a good possibility that the five BAFTA nominations will appear next month when the Oscar nominees are announced.

Lined up for BAFTA Best Film line up are Black Swan, Inception, The King’s Speech, The Social Network, and True Grit, and all five of them have been raking it in since their theatrical releases in the US and, for all but two films, around the world, far surpassing their production budget. Black Swan isn’t my kind of movie. I liked Darren Aronofsky’s The Fountain but from the trailers for his new film it looks like a Dario Argento remake of The Red Shoes. And if I’m going to see a ballet movie I’ll simply stick with The Red Shoes, thank you. Still, over $75m domestic on a $13m production budget isn’t too shoddy. Meanwhile The King’s Speech, which opened here last Friday, has already accrued a worldwide take of nearly $80m on a $15m budget.

Even the bigger films, The Social Network and True Grit, had relatively small production budgets of $40m and $38m respectively. David Fincher’s facebook film has returned nearly $203m worldwide, while the Coen brothers’ take on Charles Portis’ tale of retribution has roped in over $128m in the US while waiting for worldwide distribution. So that leaves Inception, exceeding them all with a worldwide box office of $823.5m, but from a hefty budget of $160. So even including the additional revenue from eventual TV sales and DVD, then offsetting that against money spent on the ad buys, the film that made the most might not have the best investment to return ratio.

And that should get champagne corks popping. Because it’s about time the big Hollywood studios started making these smaller, better movies. It has to be the inflated above the line salaries that really fuck the budgets, otherwise how can you explain nonsense like Little Fockers costing $100m, or The Dilemma, the rather unsavoury looking Ron Howard–directed comedy starring Vince Vaughn and Kevin James, needing $70m to gasp from script to screen. Still, Universal won’t get as badly screwed as Sony who stumped up the $120m for James L. Brooks’ How Do You Know, which has only yielded a piddling $30m–odd after five whole weeks in American cinemas.

Even of we can’t get the staffers to look interested or the majority of patrons to stop tinkering with their mobiles, shut the fuck up and generally behave, no weak–ass star vehicles for Ben Stiller, Jack Black, Seth Rogen and Vince Vaughn (and... the list goes on), no less–than–spectacular, empty special effects spectaculars, along with anything else that wastes utterly obscene amounts of money for very little reason at all, might make the cinema a far better place to visit in the future. After all, what’s the point of creating something that both the backers and viewers think is a complete waste of money, or is that the new definition of art these days?

This Friday I have a midday lunch in town followed by an early evening drink. I’m really hoping the former runs long and the latter starts earlier because yesterday I found myself absently scribbling down the afternoon screening times for The King’s Speech. And after being something of an exceptional jerk last month, I’d like to keep my no cinema outings in 2011 promise. At least for a little while longer.


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