Stars matter. Sort of.
This one’s kind of up in the air (heh). On the one hand, it’s possible to launch and/or sustain a franchise these days with players who wouldn’t have the ghost of a prayer in opening a movie on their own (take Shia LaBeouf’s non-success-causing hand in the “Transformers” series, or the mostly low-rent “Star Trek” crew). But it decidedly helps if you have some kind of “star” to anchor your Indiewood movie, whether directly on-screen (George Clooney in “Up In The Air”) or in some other important association (Tyler Perry and Oprah Winfrey’s double-team on “Precious”). It gives the impression your film’s something special enough to encourage someone famous to take a pay cut.
Theory: a star like Clooney may have trouble launching his own studio product on a regular basis, but is nothing but an asset to the lower-budgeted fare. In the future, as “stars” decline, all it’ll take is a couple of solid hits where you’re not the main draw all on your lonesome (as in Clooney in the “Ocean’s” movies) to give you enough cred to launch low-/mid-budget fare. So don’t count the name value of marquee names out yet; your local Sundance aspirant needs them.
3D is here forever and ever.
It’s a truism that blockbusters are just old-fashioned B-movies with A-movie budgets (and that, nowadays, it’s the A-movies that get the B-movie budgets, but never mind). So what’s different about the new wave of 3D movies is that they aren’t the cheapie novelties of yesteryear (except for maybe “Battle For Terra”); they have real budgets and muscle behind them. No longer is 3D just for the third installment in some godforsaken franchise, and the equipment being installed is permanent. After two false starts in the ’50s and ’80s, looks like it’s here to stay.
People really, really like “Mulholland Dr.”
David Lynch’s final dispatch from the world of real film has been topping decade polls with surprising regularity. The reason’s obvious: “Mulholland Dr.” (frequently accompanied by “In The Mood For Love” and “Yi Yi”) came out at the beginning of the decade and has had more time to sink in than, say, “There Will Be Blood.” I have to admit I never though I’d be living in a time where one of Lynch’s more inscrutable exercises is a consensus pick. We live in a beautiful world, etc, etc.
Mumblecore’s been around long enough to be backlashed, dead and reborn.
It’s hard to believe that it’s been almost seven years since I first saw “Funny Ha Ha” projected in an ad hoc theater at the back of a coffee house in Austin, but sure enough the “mumblecore” movies (apologize to all those who automatically wince at this still-useful catchphrase) have been with us so long that “Team Picture” director Kentucker Audley could claim “Mutual Appreciation” as an influence.
In 2009, Andrew Bujalski’s third feature “Beeswax” was received at the Berlinale with mixed reviews, as if mumblecore rearing its head on the international premieres circuit was too much to bear. Meanwhile, Mark Duplass joined an FX show about fantasy football and mumblecore It Girl Greta Gerwig is working opposite Ben Stiller. (If you want to go back even further and accept the argument that David Gordon Green’s “George Washington” was the first m-core movie, it’s actually been a decade and “Bright Star”‘s Paul Schneider could well get an Oscar nomination.) However these movies age or are remembered, they’re the work of a group of filmmakers who stuck around longer than expected and left traces all over in ways that are still working themselves out.
We live in a golden age for supporting comic players.
Having had the professional task of watching weak comedies like “The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard,” “Imagine That” and “All About Steve,” I can say with a fair degree of confidence that it’s hard to make a totally unredeeming studio comedy these days. Even your average mediocrity has turns worth treasuring from a newly ubiquitous group of second bananas — Ken Jeong, Thomas Haden Church, Romany Malco and so on. These guys deserve to be in the lead parts, really, but they make most everything go down a little easier.
Less movies are a good thing for everyone.
In the middle of a conspicuously underpopulated winter release schedule, everyone’s prospering as Hollywood completes another record box office year. A diminished release calendar (which looks to be the case for next year as well) doesn’t just help everyone make money; it frees up theater screens, maybe allowing some smaller films more space to play, and letting word-of-mouth hits to have time to stick around and build crowds. Everyone wins.
China is more important than you.
The PRC keeps popping up in all kinds of unexpected ways in film news, whether it’s creating an entirely internally-self-sustaining industry or becoming a huge new source of income for Hollywood product (something that’s only going to expand in 2010 as China is forced to take steps towards opening up the market even further).
[Photos: “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen,” Paramount/Dreamworks, 2009; “All About Steve,” Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation, 2009]