July 13, 2015

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R.I.P. James Horner: A top tier contributor to cinematic music

It was with great sadness that we learned yesterday of the death of composer James Horner at just 61 years old. Horner died in a plane crash, piloting a small aircraft that went down a day ago in California. The composer is a multiple Oscar winner, taking home Academy Awards for Best Original Score and Best Original Song for Titanic, marking just one of his many collaborations with filmmaker James Cameron. All told, Horner was nominated by the Academy ten times, with various other nominations and wins to his credit. He was a well respected musician and giant in the industry, so he will certainly be missed in a big way.
Horner was cited by the Academy for his work on not just Titanic, but also Aliens, An American Tail, Apollo 13, Avatar, A Beautiful Mind, Braveheart, Field of Dreams, as well as House of Sand and Fog. All of the nods came in Best Original Score, except for ones in Best Original Song for An American Tail (the song Somewhere Out There) and with one of his wins for Titanic (for his work making My Heart Will Go On happen). Those Original Score and Original Song noms just scratch the surface of Horner’s talents, but it gives you an idea just how beloved he was in Hollywood. This is truly a loss, and that’s putting it mildly.
Here’s how I’d quickly rank his ten best scores to date, though honestly everything he did was pretty top notch. You can’t go wrong with anything of his, but these scores from Horner really stand out from the rest, at least for me. No list is wrong, but off the top of my head, this is what mine would look like:
10. Windtalkers
9. A Beautiful Mind
8. Braveheart
7. Avatar
6. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
5. Titanic
4. Deep Impact
3. Apollo 13
2. Field of Dreams
1. Aliens
Honorable Mentions: The Amazing Spider-Man, Courage Under Fire, and Legends of the Fall
That list above makes for quite a career, right? Just think, that top ten list doesn’t even include An American Tail, Courage Under Fire, Glory, House of Sand and Fog, Jumanji, The Land Before Time, Legends of the Fall, The Rocketeer, Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, or Troy. You could easily go 25 deep on his catalogue and only be talking about scores that you’ll recognize as some of the industry’s best. My honorable mentions merely scratch the […]

“American Sniper” and “Whiplash”: Best Picture nominees on opposite sides of the box office spectrum

If you take a look at the Best Picture lineup, there’s one really interesting comparison to be made among the nominees, specifically with two of them. Those two are American Sniper and Whiplash. What’s the comparison to be made? Well, they exist on opposite sides of the box office spectrum. That got me thinking about the highest grossing nominees for Best Picture to date, as well as the lowest grossing ones, and where these two current nominees stand in those crops. As such, indulge me while I go over the biggest blockbusters ever to be up for the prize as well as the smallest indies ever to play David to those Goliath competitors.
As a general rule, Best Picture winners tend to be profitable films. With only a few exceptions, they’re never the biggest movies of that year, or all time, obviously…but they’re still ones with a healthy haul at the box office. You almost never see the nominees with tiny budgets go on to win, though there are a few victors with decidedly lower totals, as you’ll see below. Still, the odds favor something in the middle ground, veered towards slightly higher totals. We’ve yet to really see anything with a micro budget go on to win. Hell, they often struggle to even get nominated.
Among the highest grossing nominees of all time, we’re obviously led by James Cameron’s two behemoths. Both Avatar and Titanic are at the top of this list, with the latter being the highest grossing Best Picture winner ever. Both made over $600 million, which is more than double what your average nominee/winner in the category tends to make (Avatar was well over $700 million, in fact). This year, American Sniper could wind up in the $300 million range (as of today it’s at about $213 million), which would put it in the upper tier of nominees to date. It won’t translate into a win, but it’s still impressive, nonetheless. Other high grossing winners include Argo ($136 million), Chicago ($170 million), The Departed ($132 million), Forrest Gump ($329 million), Gladiator ($187 million), The King’s Speech ($135 million), Rain Man ($172 million), and Slumdog Millionaire ($141 million). A surprise win for American Sniper would quickly put it in the top five highest grossing Best Picture winners of all time, but don’t bet on that happening.
On the flip side, the lowest grossing winner ever is The Hurt Locker at […]

Spotlight on the Stars: James Cameron

For this week’s spotlight piece, I wanted to take a look at one of directing’s biggest A-listers of them all. The filmmaker in question? Well, that would be James Cameron, of course. A filmmaker who also does his best to literally change the world, Cameron is pretty special. In many ways, he really is the king of the world, so it’s only appropriate that we take a look at him in this particular article series. In any event, here we go now.
Cameron got his start working behind the scenes on low budget exploitation before being given a chance to direct Piranha Part Two: The Spawning. He was fired from that project, but still has a credit. If ever there was an outlier on a resume, it’s that one. From there, he set out to make a true first feature, one that turned out to be none other than The Terminator. Basically from there, he was on his way to becoming an untouchable. The Cameron we all know was born once The Terminator was a hit.
Of course, he went on to make a succession of insanely popular and technologically advanced films, starting with the high octane Alien sequel Aliens. From there, he was allowed to push the visual effects envelope with The Abyss and then make a sequel to his own work, which resulted in Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Next up was a bit of a change of pace with True Lies, but then came the monster that was Titanic.
In crafting that flick, Cameron not only won Oscars, but crafted what was the highest grossing film of all time, at least until he got behind the cameras again for a narrative feature and broke records all over again with Avatar. Between those two, he directed a pair of documentaries. They are Ghosts of the Abyss and Aliens of the Deep, both hybrids of The Abyss and Titanic. They showcased his interest in the ocean and also technology, something that continues to this day.
This weekend, Cameron has another doc hitting screens, one called Deepsea Challenge 3D. He didn’t direct this one, but he’s basically the star in all other ways. It’s an interesting look both at his real life work and also the man as well. At the very least, it’s a good delay before he gets back into fantasy land with sequels to Avatar.
Beyond films, he’s also someone who has done […]

“Batman”: The Top 25 (Best Production Design)

Here we go again folks with another Top 25. Today I’ll be knocking off another one of the technical categories, with this one being the always elaborate Best Production Design field. The category is usually a feast for the eyes, but there’s plenty more to it than that. The sets and the environment on the whole are put on display here in an often magical way. I have a few specific titles I’ll be citing below, but I know the game here. You all mostly just want to see the lists anyway, so I have no problem obliging you there in that particular regard. All you have to do is just be patient over the next few paragraphs once again…
This time around, I’m once again going the overview route, since as mentioned above the look of these winners is really what matters here. Also, it really just depends on what sort of winner you’re partial to here. There are all different sorts that have won the Academy Award here for this category, so it’s pretty much a matter of taste. Period, Sci-Fi, etc…all have their moment in the sun.
I’ll basically just discuss my top ten a bit. To me, the best winner of this category so far to date has been Tim Burton’s Batman, which isn’t the best movie in the world, but features some breathtaking Production Design by Anton Furst. It’s amazingly unique, you have to give the design that. Close behind I had Pan’s Labyrinth and Titanic, two other films I don’t love but think have amazing Production Design. On the next tier are two flicks I like a lot more in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Star Wars. Wrapping up the top ten you have the likes of Avatar, Barry Lyndon, Chicago, Dick Tracy, and Raiders of the Lost Ark, all very worthy winners. This is actually a pretty stacked category, so there were tons more than 25 winners that I could have chosen from in this field.
Here now is how I’d rank the 25 top winners of the Best Production Design Oscar:
25. The Aviator
24. The Great Gatsby (2013)
23. Memoirs of a Geisha
22. Amadeus
21. Cabaret
20. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
19. The Last Emperor
18. Moulin Rouge!
17. The Godfather: Part II
16. Doctor Zhivago
15. Schindler’s List
14. The Apartment
13. All That Jazz
12. Hugo
11. Lawrence of Arabia
10. Dick Tracy
9. Avatar
8. Raiders of the Lost Ark
7. Chicago
6. Barry […]

Oscars®: The Top 25 (Best Visual Effects)

Continuing on with a new weekly series I’m doing here at the site…we’ll be talking the top 25 Oscar winners in just about every single one of the Academy Award categories out there. Aside from the shorts and something like Best Sound Editing or Best Sound Mixing like I mentioned previously, I’ll be hitting them all over the coming weeks and months, including of course the big eight categories. I’m also potentially going to do one that doesn’t exist (a fictitious Best Ensemble category), but that’s just an idea I currently am toying with. We’ll see about that one.
Today I’ll be knocking off another one of the technical categories, with this one being the always interesting Best Visual Effects field. Depending on the category in question, I may wind up discussing the individual winners I’m citing pretty specifically or just giving more of a broad overview of the winners, but for now, I’ll still keeping it simple early on. Like I said over the past few weeks though, in all honesty, you all mostly just want to see the list anyway, so I have no problem obliging you there in that particular regard. All you have to do is just be patient over the next few paragraphs…
This time around, I’m just going the overview route, since seeing is believing for this category more than anything else. Also it really just depends on what sort of effects you prefer. We’ve got traditional in camera effects, blended animation, computer generated effects, and of course motion capture as well. Some folks might be partial to the older winners, while some really get it up for the newest winners. Me? Well, I’m caught somewhere in between.
I’ll basically just discuss my top ten a bit. To me, the best winner of this category so far to date is
Jurassic Park, which captured the imagination in a way that few other works have ever been able to do. Some other recent and groundbreaking winners in my top echelon include Avatar, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and Gravity. In most of those cases, they basically invented new technology for their films, and that’s worth something to me. I also have the unique Who Framed Roger Rabbit high up, as well as the immortal classic 2001: A Space Odyssey. Those movies have stood the test of time in a big way. I also have a personal favorite flick […]

From 1997 to 2009 there were five $1 billion film grossers. Between 2010 and 2012, we added an additional ten such films.

Just a few years ago, had I written a piece entitled “There are no films guaranteed to gross $1 billion this year”, you likely would have laughed and said “Of course not!”. As recently as 2010, the idea that any movie could or would gross $1 billion in worldwide ticket sales was somewhat of a pipe dream.
From 1997 to 2006, there were just two films to reach that milestone, they being Titanic (the biggest movie of all-time with a seemingly insurmountable $1.8 billion) and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, the Oscar-winning chapter to what can be argued is the finest screen trilogy of our time (that’s a debate for another day). In 2006, we saw the powerhouse success of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest which parlayed the unexpected popularity of the first film into an even larger haul for its sequel, breaking the domestic opening weekend record at the time ($135 million) and earning a massive $423 million in America and $642 million overseas.
In 2008, The Dark Knight pulled another “massively popular sequel to unexpectedly well-liked original” trick to the tune of $533 million in America (good for the second biggest grosser of all time in America, if only for a year) and just over $1 billion worldwide despite not playing in China due to that pesky “Chinese gangster hides Gotham mob money” subplot. 2009 saw James Cameron do that trick that James Cameron does yet again, with Avatar earning $1 billion worldwide in about seventeen days and going on to earn an eye-popping $2.7 billion.
to read more go to Mendelson’s Memos
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The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey opens with an expected (and record) $84 million

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (review/teaser/trailer) basically opened like a Lord of the Rings film, give or take various variables. Its $84.7 million estimated debut clobbered the December record, which is the $77 million earned by Avatar ($77 million, $80 million adjusted for inflation) and I Am Legend ($77.2 million, $89 million adjusted for inflation) in 2009 and 2007 respectively.
It soundly thumps the various other Lord of the Rings films, but this is where it gets tricky. The prior Peter Jackson Middle Earth pictures opened on the weekend before Christmas week, which I’ve long argued is the best weekend of the year to open your picture. So the fact that The Hobbit opened a week earlier makes this number a little more impressive, although the pre-Christmas weekend is more about legs than opening weekend. On the other hand, the prior films all opened on a Wednesday, meaning that their would-be opening weekend was spread out of five days. And of course, we have to take into account nine years of inflation and the whole 3D/IMAX price bump. So purely looking at inflation and comparing the Fri-Sun portion, this opening is about on par with The Two Towers ($62 million, but $84 million adjusted for inflation) and well ahead of Fellowship of the Ring’s ($72 million, but adjusted-for-inflation $66 million) and King Kong ($50 million, and $62 million adjusted for inflation) for what that’s worth. It’s a bit behind the $72 million/$95 million opening of The Return of the King.
To read more go to Mendelson’s Memos
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‘The Hunger Games’ wins box office for 4th week in a row

HollywoodNews.com: ‘The Hunger Games’ has been more than a little popular as the film has taken the #1 spot for box office earnings for the 4th week in a row.
The film reportedly brought in another $21.7 million this weekend while ‘The Three Stooges’ premiered and only brought in $17.1 million, states RadarOnline.com. With a fourth week as #1, ‘Hunger Games’ was able to do what no other film has done since ‘Avatar.’
The film has brought in about $337 million so far while it was only made for about $78 million.
What do you think about its success?
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Image by PR Photos

John Carter is sci-fi fantasy done wrong

By Scott Mendelson
HollywoodNews.com: I understood Brian DePalma’s Mission: Impossible the first time I saw it in theaters. I had no trouble following Chris Nolan’s brain-twister thrillers (Memento, The Prestige, Inception). It was work, but I more-or-less ‘got’ the core narrative beats of LA Confidential and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. But by golly John Carter is a confusing muddle of a movie. There has been all kinds of hand-wringing about the film’s rather large budget and its lousy marketing campaign.

I’ve taken the film to task for representing Disney’s obsessive desire to ditch their core female audience while spending untold millions on boy-friendly franchises that don’t pay off (HERE). But putting all of that aside, Andrew Stanton’s visually ambitious and cheerfully innocent boys’ adventure film does indeed have a few moments of visual splendor and gee-whiz action. But it is saddled by a needlessly convoluted narrative that goes nowhere slowly, and that further strains patience by telling its story through cryptic exposition as well as inexplicable casting and costuming choices that renders a large chunk of the supporting cast indistinguishable from each other at key junctures.
The plot, such as it is, concerns John Carter (Taylor Kitsch), a bereaved Confederate soldier who ends up transported to Mars through sci-fi happenstance and ends up embroiled in a civil war. That’s the gist of the story, but the film spends nearly an entire act getting him to Mars and much of the film establishing and then explaining the various complications that I’m sure were in the original novel but feel like needless padding in the cinematic adaptation. It may not be fair to compare John Carter with other recent fantasy franchises, especially as the Edgar Rice Burroughs 1912 novel is seen as a major influence on the last 100 years of genre storytelling, but Stanton and his team make a key mistake in the construction of this film. In short, instead of giving us complex and/or nuanced characters in a relatively simple (but engaging) story, they give us simple and visually confusing characters in a needlessly overwrought and distracted narrative that spends most of its time merely establishing the ‘scientific proof’ of what we saw before our eyes in the opening reel. Yes, John Carter is from Earth and yes some weird otherworldly force (represented by the always villainous Mark Strong) has given one […]

Skyfall becomes the first 007 film to go the IMAX route

By Scott Mendelson
HollywoodNews.com: Not much to report beyond the news itself. IMAX has announced that the Sam Mendes 007 picture Skyfall will debut day-and-day in 35mm and IMAX screens on October 26th, 2012 (in the UK) and November 9th, 2012 (in the US and elsewhere). Back in the post-Avatar era, there was talk of Skyfall becoming the first 007 film to be released in 3D. That seems to have been scuttled, which means that James Bond fans will be able to enjoy the next 007 entry in glorious IMAX 2D. The Hollywood Reporter also notes that the highly successful pre-release IMAX sneak of Mission: Impossible- Ghost Protocol will indeed lead to more IMAX pre-releases of major titles, although no specific examples were offered (I’m betting Warner Bros. goes that route with Superman: Man of Steel if it’s any good).
There was also a promise of sorts from the company to do more ‘fanboy-friendly’ films alongside the animated fare, which doesn’t seem like news to me, but oh well. Also of note? They are expecting big IMAX business for their one-week engagement of The Hunger Games starting March 23rd. Point being, this is rather good news for 007 fans, as well as further evidence that IMAX, not 3D, is going to be the sign of big-budget prestige in the near future. And if Sony makes good on their threat to charge theaters for Real-D 3D glasses in May, it could have a ripple effect throughout the 3D business overall. I’ve long argued that the only thing stopping IMAX from making further inroads (and thus booking more titles at a time) is the shortage of available screens, but that will slowly become less of a concern over time.
To paraphrase the late Whitney Houston, I believe the IMAX is our cinematic future, the one thing (massive screens plus utterly surround sound) that home theaters cannot replicate. Anyway, share your thoughts below. Does the IMAX move give you more confidence in Skyfall? Does it make you want to see the film more?
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