Beliefnet nominates 2007′s best “spiritual” films

Beliefnet has announced the nominees for its own annual movie awards, and this year, I’m one of the judges. There are three categories — Best Spiritual Film, Best Spiritual Performance and Best Spiritual Documentary — and there are five nominees in each category, and each of the nominees is accompanied by an argument “for” and “against” the film in question. It fell to me to write the argument “against” Sarah Polley’s Away from Her.

Son of Rambow — the trailer is now online

Behold the trailer for Son of Rambow, the long-delayed Sundance favorite about a Plymouth Brethren boy who discovers the Rambo movies on VHS and decides to make his own with a camcorder. The film opens in the U.K. in March, and in the U.S. in May.
Click here if the video file above doesn’t play properly.

BC Christian News — February 2008

The newest issue of BC Christian News is now online, and with it, my film column, which includes brief, brief notes on There Will Be Blood, The Bucket List, The Golden Compass, The Hobbit and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

Russian movie spoofs Russian movies

Gadzooks. It seems the Russian film industry has its own equivalent of Meet the Spartans and Epic Movie. Variety reports:

MOSCOW — A Russian comedy that spoofs the country’s recent string of hit domestic movies broke all box office records to take $19.5 million in its first week on release, distrib Caroprokat said Wednesday.

Very Best Film” (Sammi Luchi Film), which was produced by entertainment TV channel TNT, was released across Russia and surrounding former Soviet territories Jan. 24 on 702 copies and took $16.5 million it is first weekend alone.

The record-breaking average of more than $23,000 a copy marks a new high-tide mark for box office takings in Russia. . . .

The spoof, which pokes fun at such local hits as fantasy thriller “Day Watch” and Afghan war drama “The 9th Company” and was produced in association with popular TNT show “Comedy Club,” has been seen by more than 3.5 million viewers so far.

The film was made on a budget of $5 million and promoted through a $5 million advertising campaign that has put posters on billboards, bus stops, metro stations throughout Russia, in addition to television plugs. . . .

I wonder if films like this get shown to critics over there.

Newsbites: Trek! Genies! Bush! CleanFlicks! U2!

Time to round up another batch of blurbs and things.

1. Well, now we know why the actor playing James T. Kirk’s father in Star Trek XI is only 24 years old. reports that Spencer Daniels, who is 15, and Jimmy Bennett, who turns 12 in less than two weeks, will be playing George Samuel Kirk Jr. and his brother James T. Kirk, respectively. Looks like someone other than Chris Pine can lay claim to playing “the young Kirk” now, eh?

2. The nominees for the Genie Awards have been announced, and, as Variety reporter Brendan Kelly puts it:

For the first time in years, it looks like English-Canadian pics rather than French-Canadian ones will dominate the Genies, the Canuck film awards.

The leading contenders are David Cronenberg’s London-set mob thriller “Eastern Promises” and Roger Spottiswoode’s Rwandan-set drama “Shake Hands With the Devil” with 12 nominations each for the March 3 awards.

The other top nominees, announced on Monday, are Sarah Polley’s Alzheimer’s drama “Away From Her” with seven noms; Bruce McDonald’s troubled-teen drama “The Tracey Fragments” with six noms; and, with five nods apiece, Stephane Lafleur’s black comedy “Continental, a Film Without Guns” and Francois Girard’s romantic epic “Silk.”

The leading French-language nominee is “Continental.”

The contenders for best picture are Denys Arcand’s “Days of Darkness,” “Away From Her,” “Continental,” “Eastern Promises” and “Shake Hands With the Devil.” . . .

Incidentally, that ‘Canada’s Top Ten of 2007‘ list that I mentioned here last month is coming to Vancouver; seven of the ten films will be at the Pacific Cinematheque between February 13 and 22.

3. Variety says Oliver Stone has lined up financing for Bush, his just-announced biopic on George W. Bush, and this means the film “could be in theaters by November’s presidential elections, and certainly before Bush leaves the White House in January.”

4. The Salt Lake Tribune reports that Daniel Thompson, co-owner of the CleanFlicks service which edits all the naughty bits out of mainstream movies so that families can watch them guilt-free, was arrested “on suspicion of having sex with two 14-year-old girls”:

The booking documents state Thompson told the 14-year-olds that his film sanitizing business was a cover for a pornography studio. He asked the girls if they would participate in making a porn movie, but they refused, the documents state.

Police found a “large quantity” of pornographic movies inside the business, along with a keg of beer, painkillers and two cameras hooked up to a television. Thompson told police he didn’t know the teenagers were under 18 or that they were paid for sex. He said pornography found at the business was for “personal use,” according to the documents.

The Tribune also says CleanFlicks was “closed in December after threats of legal action from Hollywood studios”, but the company’s website still seems to be working. Maybe Thompson closed only one or more of the “four CleanFlicks shops” that he owned two years ago.

5. Entertainment Weekly has an interview with Mark Pellington, one of the directors of the new IMAX concert movie U2 3D:

Were you at the U2 premiere screening? People dancing in the aisles?
It was great. Look. If you’re a fan of U2, you’ll love it. If you’ve ever seen them live, their lighting, their set, their show is amazing. So to capture that and the energy of 80,000 people, that’s a pretty religious experience. That’s why we specifically chose Latin America. The band hadn’t been there in eight years, and [the fans are] nuts. I mean, think about it. It’s like a totally different, religious, spiritual fervor that goes on. It’s in the blood. It’s in the DNA of the culture, differently than it would be in Eastern Europe or Australia. It’s inherent in the generational history of the culture, and its relationship to music.

I find it hard to believe that there is an entire continent of people who are even more fanatical in their religious devotion to U2 than some of the people I have met, but, well, anything’s possible!

6. The New York Times has a fun little article on Michel Gondry’s Be Kind Rewind and the nostalgia it evokes for the bygone days of VHS. Among reporter Dennis Lim’s interesting observations:

Since they function as elegies for a departed medium, “Be Kind Rewind” and “Son of Rambow” differ substantially in tone from most other movies that have prominently featured videotapes and video technology. During its lifetime VHS often symbolized alienation and malevolence, perhaps because video quickly became the medium of choice for pornography and surveillance.

7. Variety says Dennis Quaid will star as General Hawk in Stephen Sommers’ upcoming G.I. Joe. Quaid, eh? That kind of makes me interested in this film. Then again… Sommers, eh? This better not be as much of a chore to sit through as Van Helsing (2004) was.

8. Dave Gordon, writing in the National Post, doesn’t like the fact that Mathieu Amalric, who is playing the bad guy in the James Bond movie Quantum of Solace, says he is basing his performance on such “invisible villains” as former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and current French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Oscar winners slipping at the box office re-redux

On Sunday, Juno became the first and probably only one of 2007′s Best Picture nominees to gross over $100 million — and that tells me I should probably follow up the posts I wrote in 2005 and 2006 on the relationship between the Oscars and the box office.

2005 marked the first time since 1996 that the Best Picture winner did not gross at least $100 million, the first time since 1985 that not one of the Best Picture nominees grossed at least $100 million, and the first time in living memory that the Best Picture winner was not one of the Top 25 grossing films of its year. (In fact, the winning film for that year, Paul Haggis’s Crash, ranked way, way down at #49.)

2006 brought a return to Hollywood form with the Best Picture victory of Martin Scorsese’s The Departed, which grossed $132.4 million and ranked #15 for the year.

But now, once again, the nominees pretty much all come from the “independent” or “arthouse” segment of the industry — with the exception of Michael Clayton, which was produced on a low budget and failed to find a very big audience, so it might just as well be an “independent” or “arthouse” movie anyway. Here are the nominees’ current grosses and box-office rankings, as of yesterday:

  1. Juno — $100,742,315 — 27th
  2. No Country for Old Men — $51,956,842 — 48th
  3. Michael Clayton — $41,847,879 — 62nd
  4. Atonement — $38,158,571 — 70th
  5. There Will Be Blood — $15,167,802 — 123rd

Of course, these totals can and will change, and the rankings of the various films will no doubt slide up a bit. In fact, all five nominees were in this past weekend‘s Top 16, and only one of those films — Michael Clayton — was a re-issue; the rest have been playing more or less steadily, gradually building their respective audiences, since they were released one or two or three months ago.

Anything can happen between now and February 24, when the Academy Awards ceremony takes place, but right now it looks like No Country for Old Men will win the top prize — given that it won the DGA award and the SAG ensemble award last weekend — and if that turns out to be the case, then this could very well be the second time in my lifetime that the Oscar for Best Picture went to a film of unusually limited commercial appeal. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course!

I’ll copy the list that I compiled two years ago below, and I’ll add this year’s winner after it is announced next month.

2007 — 40 — $64.6 million — No Country for Old Men
2006 — 15 — $132.4 million — The Departed
2005 — 49 — $53.4 million — Crash
2004 — 24 — $100.5 million — Million Dollar Baby
2003 — 1 — $377.0 million — The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
2002 — 10 — $170.7 million — Chicago
2001 — 11 — $170.7 million — A Beautiful Mind
2000 — 4 — $187.7 million — Gladiator
1999 — 13 — $130.1 million — American Beauty
1998 — 18 — $100.3 million — Shakespeare in Love
1997 — 1 — $600.8 million — Titanic
1996 — 19 — $78.7 million — The English Patient
1995 — 18 — $75.6 million — Braveheart
1994 — 1 — $329.7 million — Forrest Gump
1993 — 9 — $96.1 million — Schindler’s List
1992 — 11 — $101.2 million — Unforgiven
1991 — 4 — $130.7 million — Silence of the Lambs
1990 — 3 — $184.2 million — Dances with Wolves
1989 — 8 — $106.6 million — Driving Miss Daisy
1988 — 1 — $172.8 million — Rain Man
1987 — 25 — $44.0 million — The Last Emperor
1986 — 3 — $138.5 million — Platoon
1985 — 5 — $87.1 million — Out of Africa
1984 — 12 — $52.0 million — Amadeus
1983 — 2 — $108.4 million — Terms of Endearment
1982 — 12 — $52.8 million — Gandhi
1981 — 7 — $59.0 million — Chariots of Fire
1980 — 11 — $54.8 million — Ordinary People
1979 — xx — $106.3 million — Kramer Vs. Kramer
1978 — xx — $49.0 million — The Deer Hunter
1977 — xx — $38.3 million — Annie Hall
1976 — xx — $117.2 million — Rocky
1975 — xx — $109.0 million — One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest
1974 — xx — $47.5 million — The Godfather Part II
1973 — xx — $156.0 million — The Sting
1972 — xx — $133.7 million — The Godfather
1971 — xx — $51.7 million — The French Connection
1970 — xx — $61.7 million — Patton

FEB 27 UPDATE: Updated to include the winner for 2007.