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Biggest Disappointments and Surprises of 2012 Movie Review

Awards Season is here, and "Texas Chainsaw 3D" has become the first 2013 film to win the Weekend Box Office, but let's continue to look back at 2012 with my biggest disappointments and most pleasant surprises:

TOP 10 DISAPPOINTMENTS

1. WRECK-IT RALPH
Was really looking forward to Disney's latest animated film. The trailers made the film look original, fun and emotional. The film itself has none of those qualities.

2. MOONRISE KINGDOM
Wes Anderson's 2009 animated film "Fantastic Mr. Fox" was phenomenal. "Moonrise" is just too quirky and offbeat, and the characters are underdeveloped.

3. THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN
From the Denis Leary dinner table scene, to the casting of Emma Stone and Andrew Garfield playing 17-year-olds, even to Stan Lee's cameo, this Spidey was all over-the-place.

4. ICE AGE: CONTINENTAL DRIFT
Mediocre script and flat film, apparently made for 6-year-olds and no one else. Franchise should have ended after "Dawn of the Dinosaurs".

5. THE ODD LIFE OF TIMOTHY GREEN
Promising idea, but really no pay-off.

6. ROBOT & FRANK
Great concept: Frank Langella and a robot. Unfortunately nothing works, including (sadly) Langella's performance.

7. TROUBLE WITH THE CURVE
Clint Eastwood and Amy Adams are fine together, but the script strikes-out early on with no hope for a late comeback.

8. HYDE PARK ON HUDSON
Director Roger Michell last directed the charming 2010 comedy "Morning Glory". However, "Hyde Park" has absolutely no focus.

9. THE BOURNE LEGACY
Action scenes work, but 90% of the film is dialogue-driven; way too talky.

10. THE MASTER
Had all the early Oscar buzz but will likely not get nominated for Best Picture on Thursday because story was forgettable and pointless.

TOP 10 PLEASANT SURPRISES

1. THE THREE STOOGES
For once, A slapstick comedy I enjoyed. "Stooge" fans were not disappointed either.

2. KATY PERRY: PART OF ME
Fascinating and well-made documentary. More in-depth than Bieber's "Never Say Never".

3. HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA
From the trailers, looked like Sony Animation's first bomb. But it's funny and the animation is unique.

4. THE GUILT TRIP
A rare "adult comedy" that didn't go the easy raunchy route. Rogen and Streisand make nice pair.

5. MADAGASCAR 3: EUROPE'S MOST WANTED
2008's "2" wasn't very good. But with a perfect cast and sharp script, this is the best of the franchise.

6. THE TWILIGHT SAGA: BREAKING DAWN - PART 2
The twist is excellent (and the only positive feature).

7. THE CAMPAIGN
From the trailer it looked like it could be one of Will Ferrell's worst, but I couldn't stop laughing.

8. MEN IN BLACK 3
Josh Brolin is just terrific as the younger Tommy Lee Jones. And the story has some surprising emotional depth.

9. SNOW WHITE & THE HUNTSMAN
Serious but fun action film with a fantastic villain (Charlize Theron).

10. ANNA KARENINA
Director Joe Wright's fresh take on the classic period piece is genius. Using the stage as a centerpiece for the drama) works very well.

The 10 Worst Movies of 2012 Movie Review

2013 is underway, but let's continue to look back at 2012. Here are my selections as the 10 Worst Movies of the Year:

1. FUN SIZE
Not only bad, it's WRONG on so many levels. Halloween comedy starring Nickelodeon's Victoria Justice. The main character is an 8-year-old boy who is ignored by his family, abducted by strangers several times and even locked in room by a maniac. Who thought this would be funny? Not to mention the bathroom humor, sex, adult language, underage drinking, a gunfight and many other inappropriate scenes. This wasn't a treat, it was a complete mess.

2. DIARY OF A WIMPY KID: DOG DAYS
The second in the series (2011's "Rodrick Rules") miraculously avoid that year's worst list. But not this dreadful, mediocre third installment that is by far the worst of the franchise.

3. PARENTAL GUIDANCE
Here's hoping you didn't spend part of Christmas Day watching this bomb. Billy Crystal and Bette Midler play grandparents who take care of three bratty, "only in the movies weird" grandchildren for a week. The most stereotypes of any film this year, not to mention the corniest and lamest script.

4. TOTAL RECALL
2012's Worst Action film (but not by much) is tough to get through because of the intentionally complicated plot. You simply don't care enough to want to follow along. Performances are bland and the visuals are unspectacular. It does get the honor for having characters use the word "sh--" more often than in any other movie this year. Not exactly something to be proud of.

5. HOPE SPRINGS
Don't be deceived by Meryl Streep's Golden Globe nomination. There wouldn't be the Globes without Streep, as she's received 27 Globe nominations over the past 35 years. I felt bad for her having to do the things she had to do in this film. And it's no fun for Steve Carell and Tommy Lee Jones either. But it's the audience that suffers the most.

6. BATTLESHIP
Actor Taylor Kitsch didn't have a great year (He'll make another appearance later on in the countdown). From the dialogue, to the action, to the weak supporting cast (Brooklyn Decker and Rihanna), to the look of the aliens, "Battleship" both sunk and stunk.

7. STEP UP REVOLUTION
Completely unnecessary fourth effort in this franchise. Only highlight is the dancing, but even that's getting old. Many of the scenes are unintentionally hilarious. There's a shot of Peter Gallagher starting to cry towards the end of the film sums things up nicely.

8. WRATH OF THE TITANS
Believe it or not, "Wrath" is better than its predecessor "Clash" thanks to a more impressive 3D post-conversion. Otherwise, not much changed from original to sequel. Except the dialogue got even lamer: "Brother!" "Yes, Brother."

9. HYDE PARK ON HUDSON
Bill Murray also snagged a Globe nomination for his portrayal of FDR.  He's by far the best thing about "Hyde Park". The rest of the film is surprisingly bad, from Laura Linney's narration to the endless conversations about hot dogs, which drove me INSANE.

10. JOHN CARTER
Disney's $250 million sci-fi action film grossed a mere $73 million in the US. Even though it made its budget back thanks to the foreign box office, it's still one of Disney's biggest bombs of all-time. The movie is long, dull, and unoriginal, with some of the worst special effects seen on screen in years. And Kitsch is an uneffective and unappealing action hero.

HONORABLE MENTIONS

BIG MIRACLE - Saving whales just isn't that exciting.
HERE COMES THE BOOM - Few laughs, but certainly no "Paul Blart".
THE MASTER - Still don't know what the point of it was.
MIRROR MIRROR - Bizarre. Case in point: Armie Hammer licking Julia Roberts.
TO ROME WITH LOVE - Woody Allen tried to duplicate the success of Oscar winner "Midnight in Paris", but with a mediocre script, over-the-top performances (including his own) and bland, careless characters, he reverts back to pre-"MiP" form.

The 10 Best Movies of 2012 Movie Review

2012 was a pretty solid year for movies. There were a lot of fantastic films, but these 10 stood-out above the rest in their own, unique ways:

1. ARGO
Ben Affleck not only stars-in but masterfully directs this drama based on the true story of six Americans hiding-out during the Iran Hostage Crisis. Affleck’s achievements both in front of and behind the camera are amazing. Bryan Cranston (who appeared in practically every movie this year) has some strong moments. And Alan Arkin and John Goodman are 2012’s best duo playing a producer and make-up artist who are key characters in this daring rescue plan. Arkin’s a frontrunner for every Best Supporting Actor award. “Argo” is part drama; part movie about the making of movies; part suspense thriller, and it was the only film this year where my heart was truly pounding while I was watching it and it’s made a lasting impression on me since.

2. SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK
Bradley Cooper stars in this “slice of life” comedy about a some-what dysfunctional guy who’s looking to put his life back together. It works every step of the way. Jennifer Lawrence is excellent; Robert De Niro and Chris Tucker help maintain a perfect tone throughout. It’s an engaging story with very believable characters. Probably the most FUN I had at the movies this year.

3. RUBY SPARKS
It’s rare that someone in Hollywood comes-up with an original concept for a film - and then can pull-it-off. Writer/Star Zoe Kazan created this story of a struggling writer who dreams-up a character - a young woman, and after he writes about her, she literally comes to life. Great cast: Paul Dano, Annette Bening, Antonio Banderas, Chris Messina and Steve Coogan. Watch it.

4. SEEKING A FRIEND FOR THE END OF THE WORLD
I’ve been telling you about it since it opened in June because it’s simply incredible. Steve Carell and Keira Knightley are at their finest, dealing with a “what would you do if the world was ending in a few weeks” scenario. Funny, sad, smart and an honest pay-off at the end.

5. THE IMPOSSIBLE
Based on a true story, Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor play parents vacationing with their kids in Thailand when the deadly 2004 tsunami hits and tears them apart. Strong performances by Critics Choice nominee Watts and newcomer Tom Holland - and McGregor is great as well. This is a powerful and moving film.

6. LINCOLN
Daniel Day-Lewis is simply outstanding as our 16th President. It has the best ensemble of the year - including Sally Field, Tommy Lee Jones, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Hal Holbrook. And Steven Spielberg stages it all perfectly.

7. FRANKENWEENIE
Tim Burton’s first animated film since 2005’s “Corpse Bride” is smart, funny, emotional and visually stunning. It’s the best animated film of the year and has a real shot at taking home the Oscar.

8. SEARCHING FOR SUGAR MAN
It was a great year for documentaries, and this is the best of the bunch. Tells the story of a singer from Detroit named Rodriguez who is unknown in America, but his music becomes legendary in South Africa. Fascinating, featuring some candid interviews, amazing footage. Inspiring filmmaking.

9. LES MISERABLES
The first movie musical in which actors performed every song live (no prerecorded music), and it paid off. Credit to Director Tom Hooper. Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway are locks for Oscar nominations.

10. MARVEL'S THE AVENGERS
Director Joss Whedon’s extravaganza brought together all of the Marvel superheroes and dominated the box office, becoming 2012’s highest-grossing film with $623 million. Action-packed, good performances, particularly by Mark Ruffalo and Samuel L. Jackson, and a whole lot of fun.

HONORABLE MENTIONS

BERNIE - Jack Black and Shirley MacLaine star in this true-life crime story. Fascinating and fun.
BULLY - Powerful documentary about the current state of bullying in our education system.
HITCHCOCK - Anthony Hopkins is perfect as the legendary film director, and Helen Mirren is equally strong as his wife. One of the best times I had at a theater in years.
MADAGASCAR 3: EUROPE'S MOST WANTED - The best of the trilogy. Great script and vivid animation.
ZERO DARK THIRTY - Kathryn Bigelow's hunt for Osama bin Laden drama may be the most authentic-looking film of the year.

The 20 Best Scenes of 2012 Movie Review

From the nearly 100 films I've seen (so far) this year here is my list of the 20 best scenes of 2012:

- Karenin (Jude Law) is grasping the news of his wife Anna (Keira Knightley) announcing that she's having an affair and a child with the other man. Law goes to centerstage and sits in a chair, with the stage lights dimmed low (Anna Karenina).

- Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) needs someone to answer the phone and prove their phoney movie is real while Lester Siegel and John Chambers (Alan Arkin and John Goodman) are being being held-up by the shooting of a scene on the lot. (Argo).

- Cam Brady (Will Ferrell) recites his version of The Lord's Prayer (The Campaign).

- Pilot Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington) intentionally inverts his plane and crash-lands into a field (Flight).

- The opening scene with Victor, his parents and dog Sparky watching one of his home movies wearing old-fashioned 3D glasses (Frankenweenie).

- Andy Brewster (Seth Rogen) demonstrating his product - Scieoclean - to HSN execs at a Las Vegas convention (The Guilt Trip).

- Bilbo Baggins plays a riddle game with iconic "Lord of the Rings" character Gollum (The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey).

- Henry (Ewan McGregor) shares his story with other victims of the tsunami and one of them shares his cell phone allowing him to make two emotional calls to his family (The Impossible).

- Anne Hathaway (Fantine) sings "I Dreamed a Dream" in one effortless take (Les Miserables).

- Mary Todd Lincoln (Sally Field) explains her importance to Thaddeus Stevens (Tommy Lee Jones) and others while in a White House receiving line (Lincoln).

- Chantel DuBois (voiced by Frances McDormand) rounds-up her troops by singing Edith Piaf (Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted).

- Madea (Tyler Perry) going through airport security (Madea's Witness Protection).

- Lancaster Dodd (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) defending himself and The Cause to a critic (The Master).

- Younger Agent K (Josh Brolin) comforts a young boy who has no idea that his father was just killed or who he would become (Men in Black 3).

- Calvin (Paul Dano), in the movie's final scene, meets a woman similar to his creation Ruby, but she isn't (Ruby Sparks).

- M (Judi Dench) is testifying at a hearing and is finally allowed to speak. At the same time, Silva (Javier Bardem) is on his way to kill M, and Bond (Daniel Craig) may show-up a little too late (Skyfall).

- Whitney Houston's solo number "His Eye Is On the Sparrow" (Sparkle).

- After an intense fighting sequence, there's a shocking and surprisingly effective twist (The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2).

- Schoolteacher Nona (Viola Davis) admitting to her son something she did in the past that dramatically affected them both (Won't Back Down).

- Navy S.E.A.L.s quietly storming the bin Laden compound (Zero Dark Thirty).

And there's still a few days remaining in 2012, and a few more films to see, so I may have to add one or two to the final, official list.

Christmas Countdown Calendar Movie Review

It's the final stretch before Christmas - a crazy time for last minute shopping and planning. This is also one of the wildest series of days for movie releases in the entire year. Here's a handy countdown calendar to help you keep track of what's coming-out and when:

Wednesday

"The Guilt Trip" - Buddy road comedy starring Seth Rogan and Barbra Streisand. 2300 screens

"Amour" - Both Best Foreign film and Best Picture contender. Limited release

"Monsters, Inc. 3D" - Disney's latest 3D re-release of a Pixar classic. Only animated film of the holidays. 2400 screens

"Zero Dark Thirty" - Highly-anticipated Oscar contender. Limited release on only 5 screens, goes wide Jan. 11

Friday

"Cirque Du Soleil: Worlds Away" - Concert film starring famous dance troupe. 800 screens

"Jack Reacher" - Tom Cruise stars in this crime drama. Third Paramount film of the week. 3200 screens

"This is 40" - Judd Apatow follow-up to "Knocked-Up". Leslie Mann, Paul Rudd, Jason Segal return. 2900+ screens

"The Impossible" - True story of American family caught in the Asian Sunami. 14 screens, expands in Jan.

Christmas Day

"Les Miserables" - Beloved musical brought to screen by Dir. Tom Hooper. Major awards contender. Wide

"Django Unchained" - Quentin Tarantino's latest is a Western. Jamie Foxx, Leo DiCaprio. Wide

"Parental Guidance" - Holiday comedy with Billy Crystal, Bette Midler, Marisa Tomei. Wide

Very likely could be the biggest Dec. 25 at the Box Office of all-time. Hopefully Santa will leave you some tickets and gift cards in your stocking.

 

 

It's the 18th Annual "Critics Choice Movie Awards" but the FIRST for me as a voting member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. So I was even more anxious than usual to see the nominations list, which was unveiled on Tuesday. The deadline to submit our ballot was Sunday night. I sent mine late Saturday night after having seen as many screeners as possible before voting.

This was the most fun I've ever had as a critic and even though not all of my picks (we got to make only three selections in all categories except for five with Best Picture) made the cut, I'm very proud with the final results of the 28 categories. Great job by all of my colleagues at the BFCA.

Some observations:

- 2012 is NOT the year that a blockbuster superhero film gets a Best Picture nomination as both "The Dark Knight Rises" and "Marvel's The Avengers" fall short.

- Very strong Best Actor category. 6 big-time performances, but hard to see anyone beating DD-L.

- Happy for Naomi Watts, and she could emerge as the favorite for Best Actress as more people see "The Impossible".

- Big "Skyfall" support in the Supporting categories, as both Judi Dench and Javier Bardem get noms. Didn't see that coming.

- For the first time ever there are 6 nominees in the Best Animated Feature category. I'm getting credit for getting "Madagascar 3" into the finals.

- "Django Unchained" gets a Best Picture nomination, but no directing or acting nominations. Hmmm.

- Other snubs include: Hellen Mirran, Ewan McGregor and the Anderson directors (Wes and Paul Thomas).

- Comedy categories dominated by "Silver Linings Playbook", "Ted", "Bernie" and "This is 40". No love for "The Campaign" or "The Guilt Trip".

- Only acting double-nominees (for separate roles): Jennifer Lawrence ("Silver Linings Playbook", "The Hunger Games") and Anne Hathaway ("Les Miserables" and "The Dark Knight Rises").

The final vote will take place Jan. 7-8 and winners will be announce LIVE on Jan. 10 on The CW. Mark your calendars. I promise it will be a memorable night.

2012 LCJ Animated Movie Awards Movie Review

Best Animated Feature

Brave
Frankenweenie
Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted
ParaNorman
The Pirates! Band of Misfits

Best Director

Tim Burton - "Frankenweenie"
Chris Butler and Sam Fell - "ParaNorman"
Eric Darnell, Tom McGrath and Conrad Vernon - "Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted"
Peter Lord and Jeff Newitt - "The Pirates! Band of Misfits"
Peter Ramsey - "Rise of the Guardians"

Best Animation in an Animated Feature

Brave - Pixar Animation Studios
Hotel Transylvania - Sony Pictures Animation
ParaNorman - Laika
The Pirates! Band of Misfits - Aardman
Rise of the Guardians - DreamWorks Animation

Best Voice Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role
 

Alec Baldwin - "Rise of the Guardians"
Danny DeVito - "Dr. Seuss' The Lorax"
Hugh Grant - "The Pirates! Band of Misfits"
Adam Sandler - "Hotel Transylvania"
Martin Short - "Frankenweenie"

Best Voice Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role

Anna Kendrick - "ParaNorman"
Kelly MacDonald - "Brave"
Frances McDormand - "Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted"
Catherine O'Hara - "Frankenweenie"
Imelda Staunton - "The Pirates! Band of Misfits"

Best Voice Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role

Bryan Cranston - "Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted"
Jeff Garlin - "ParaNorman"
John Goodman - "ParaNorman"
Martin Landau - "Frankenweenie"
Atticus Shaffer - "Frankenweenie"

Best Voice Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role

Jessica Chastain - "Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted"
Fran Drescher - "Hotel Transylvania"
Elaine Stritch - "ParaNorman"
Emma Thompson - "Brave"
Betty White - "Dr. Seuss' The Lorax"

Best Voice Ensemble

Frankenweenie
Hotel Transylvania
Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted
ParaNorman
The Pirates! Band of Misfits

Best Screenplay

Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman, Irene Mecchi and Steve Purcell - "Brave"
John August, Tim Burton and Leonard Ripps - "Frankenweenie"
Noah Baumbach and Eric Darnell - "Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted"
Chris Butler - "ParaNorman"
Gideon Defoe - "The Pirates! Band of Misfits"

Best Original Song

"Learn Me Right" - "Brave"
"Let it Grow" - "Dr. Seuss' The Lorax"
"Little Ghost" - "ParaNorman"
"Strange Love" - "Frankenweenie"
"Touch the Sky" - "Brave"

Best Animated Short Film

"Daffy's Rhapsody" - released with "Journey 2: The Mysterious Island"
"Paperman" - released with "Wreck-It Ralph"
"Partysaurus Rex" - released with "Finding Nemo 3D"
"The Longest Daycare" - released with "Ice Age: Continental Drift"
"Tangled Ever After" - released with "Beauty and the Beast 3D"

Holiday Movie Gift Guide '12 Movie Review

It's that time again! Here's my 5th Annual Holiday Movie Gift Guide - suggestions on what you can get for those movie fans on your Holiday list:

Young Boys - “Madagascar 3”: One of my favorite animated films of the year. Be sure to get the DVD/Blu-ray Gift Pack, which comes with the free Rainbow Wig.

Older Boys - "The “Dark Knight Trilogy" DVD Limited Edition Gift Set": All three Christopher Nolan/Christian Bale Batman films, including this year’s “Dark Knight Rises”. Includes “The Art and Making of the Dark Knight Trilogy” book. Available Dec. 4.

Young Girls - Disney’s Diamond Edition “Cinderella”: This classic is finally out on Blu-ray with some great extras. Restored and re-mastered. A can’t miss gift.

Older Girls - “Sparkle”: Just out on DVD. Story of a young singing group back in the Motown days trying to make it big. Jordan Sparks is very good. Also this is Whitney Houston’s final film and she has some great moments.

Dads - "Bond 50": 22 Bond films together for the first time on Blu-ray. Plus over 120 hours of special features. Sean Connery to Daniel Craig and everyone in between. An incredible set.

Moms - Two of my favorites from 2012 that she probably hasn't seen:
- “Ruby Sparks”: Stars Paul Dano and Zoe Kazan (who also wrote the screenplay). It’s about an author who dreams-up a character for a new book, and she comes to life. Delightful and insightful.
- "Seeking a Friend for the End of the World": Keira Knightly and Steve Carell play strangers who come together help each other in the final few days before an asteroid is schedule to destroy the Earth. It gets everything right.

Grandparents -  The 60th Anniversary Special Edition of the greatest musical of all-time: "Singin' in the Rain": It's re-mastered in HD and is spectacular.

The Family - "Arthur Christmas": Under-appreciated present from Sony Pictures Animation that captures the spirit and magic of the season better than any film in a long, long time. The movie for everyone to watch together on Christmas Day.

Last Minute Gift - "The Words": It doesn’t come-out on DVD until Christmas Eve. Bradley Cooper stars as a struggling writer who suddenly, through luck and some tough choices, becomes an “over-night success” must deal with the consequences.

#1 Movie Fan on your shopping list - The 50th Anniversary Edition of "Lawrence of Arabia": Winner of 7 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, is on Blu-ray for the first time. It's packed with special features, including a “Making of…” documentary. This is the gift for the movie fan on your list who’s been especially nice this year.

Happy shopping! Ho - Ho -Ho !

Getting into the

"It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year."

For some that means the holidays are here but for film fans it means it's Awards Season once again. The first of the major groups to release their nominees is Film Independent, which has unveiled their contenders for this year's Independent Spirit Awards. And, as always, there are a few surprises.

No surprise that "Silver Linings Playbook" leads the way with five nominations (tied with "Moonrise Kingdon"). "SLP" is a lock for Best Picture Oscar nomination, and could be joined in that category by "Moonrise" and "Beasts of the Southern Wild" if academy members max-out the category to 10. However, "SLP" is the only one that could actually win. Co-stars Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence each get acting nominations and Director/Writer David O'Russell gets nominated for both.

Of the other Best Picture selections, "Beasts" was expected, but "Bernie" and "Keep the Lights On" are both mini-shockers. "The Sessions" being left off that list is surprising. Co-stars John Hawkes and Helen Hunt are nominated.

My personal favorite nomination (along with all the "SLR" selections) is Zoe Kazan for her "Ruby Sparks" screenplay. I was hoping she'd get an acting nom. as well.

Biggest surprise for me - Robert De Niro being snubbed for a Best Supporting Actor nomination. He appears to be a favorite among critics and should be part of this category in many of the other awards competitions.

The big winner has to be Matthew McConaughey, who's a double nominee - Best Lead Actor for "Killer Joe" and Best Supporting Actor for "Magic Mike". This should provide a major boost to the on-going campaign to get McConaughey an Academy Award nomination for his "Magic Mike" role, something that, earlier this year, seemed like a long-shot at best.

The Independent Spirit Awards will be handed-out on February 23rd, 2013.

 

DreamWorks Animation Celebrates 25 Films Movie Review

"Rise of the Guardians" is DreamWorks Animation's 25th film. It's also director Peter Ramsey's first feature. Here's my interview with Ramsey.

So now that DreamWorks has made 25 films, let's take a look at their highs and lows:

THE BEGINNING

In 1998, the studio's new division released it's first film - the CGI comedy "Antz". While it made $90 million, that figure was $70 million+ less than a similar animated film released later that year: Pixar's "A Bug's Life".

DISAPPOINTMENTS
Following "Antz", DreamWorks continued to go back and forth between CGI and hand-drawn animation movies. However, the traditional hand drawn films were not as popular with audiences and critics. While "The Prince of Egypt" made just over $100M, the next three hand-drawn films - "The Road to El Dorado", "Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron" and "Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas" all disappointed at the box office. "Sinbad", in fact, grossed only $26M. DWA realized CGI was the future, and they haven't created a hand-drawn film since "Sinbad".

Also during this time DreamWorks partnered with Aardman on three films, starting with 2000's "Chicken Run", which was a commercial hit. But "Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit" (2005) and "Flushed Away"(2006) were not as successful, even though "Gromit" won the Animated Oscar in 2006. In recent years Aardman has partnered with Sony Pictures Animation on "The Pirates!" and "Arthur Christmas", great films, they also didn't make much $$$.

FRANCHISES
DreamWorks Animation started to get people's attention with the release of 2001's "Shrek", which is still their 3rd-highest grossing film to date, and won the first-ever Best Animated Feature Oscar. In the U.S. alone, the four "Shrek" films have combined to make over $1.2 Billion. 2005's "Madagascar" was a surprise hit, and became their next franchise. The three movies in that series have grossed close to $600 million domestically, with 2012's "Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted" becoming only the seventh DreamWorks animated film to make over $200M. "Kung Fu Panda" made over $200M in '08 and was nominated for an Oscar. However, in a busy Summer 2011, "Kung Fu Panda 2" only managed $165M.

OTHER HIGHLIGHTS
Even though "How to Train Your Dragon" and the "Shrek" spin-off "Puss in Boots" had two of the lowest box office openings, they still managed to gross $217M and $150M respectively. 2004 was a big for DWA, as it was the first time they released two CGI films in a single year: "Shrek 2" is still their biggest moneymaker at $441M, and "Shark Tale" (with Will Smith and Jack Black) was also a hit, reeling-in $160M.

UNSUCCESSFUL FARCES
2009's "Monsters vs. Aliens" is one of DWA's biggest films ($198M), but other flat-out comedies haven't been as successful. The comic-strip adaptation "Over the Hedge", Jerry Seinfeld's "Bee Movie" and Will Ferrell's superhero filck "Megamind" combined grossed less than "Shrek 2", and none of them hits with critics either.

THE FUTURE OF DWA
This year, DreamWorks Animation signed a five-year distribution deal with Fox (they had been working with Paramount since 2004). Also DWA announced that, beginning in 2013, they will release between 3-4 films a year, including "How to Train Your Dragon" sequels and more of "Kung Fu Panda", plus a "Penguins of Madagascar" spin-off and some original material. This means in just three years time, DreamWorks will have over 35 films under its belt, compared to only 17-18 for rival Pixar's. Could this be a case of too much of a good thing?

Happy Thanksgiving from Abe Movie Review

Another amazing fact about our 16th President that I didn't know: On October 3, 1863 Lincoln proclaimed Thanksgiving a National Holiday. It was to be celebrated each year on the final Thursday of November.

Wonder what he'd think about us NOT celebrating Thanksgiving on the final Thursday of November this year. And stores being open so people could get an early start on their Black Friday shopping. 

Abe was thin, but I bet he could eat a lot of turkey! Not sure if he was a fan of parades or football. But I bet he would have approved of you seeing his movie this holiday week if you haven't as yet.

 

 

 

Interesting Strategy for

The last-minute decision by the Weinstein Co. not to give "Silver Linings Playbook" it's wide release next week as expected may not be as surprising as it sounds.

The Bradley Cooper-Jennifer Lawrence dramedy was supposed to open in about 2000 theaters on Nov. 21, and the buzz from great film festival reaction and early awards season success is strong. And there's the current TV ad campaign, including spots on Monday Night Football. So why decide to hold the film back now?

The studio says it's following it's own playbook with the gradual release (starting with only 400 theaters week one, maybe 800 the second week and then wide week three or four). But it seems like they're taking a page from recent campaigns such as "The Descendants" last year and Weinstein's own "The King's Speech" in 2010. Both were rolled out slowly during the holiday season, building momentium with strong reviews and buzz that carried into awards show time and eventual box office success.

But there is a downside to this strategy. First of all, theaters around the country are now scrambling to fill their screens for the big Thanksgiving weekend that were supposed to be showing "Silver Linings Playbook". But, more importantly, movie fans in these cities will now have to wait to see what is clearly one of the best films of the year. Instead of going after the box office money now, the studio is gambling that these same people - and many, many more - will pay to see the film a few weeks from now, as the word-of-mouth grows and award nominations start to pile up.

And they're probably right. But I think "Silver Linings" would be a financial success either way. When a movie is good people will see it. Consider "Argo", which opened wide week one as the first, serious film of this awards season. It started slowly (only $20 million) but has held strong at the box office thanks to great reviews and strong WOM, and is now on it's way to $100M (and multiple awards consideration).

 

 

 

Can

The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences has announced the 10 finalists for the Best Animated Short Film Oscar. One of the contenders is "The Longest Daycare" - the "Simpsons" short that aired before "Ice Age: Continental Drift" in theaters this Summer. "The Simpsons" is very mainstream, but the committee apparently loves the short enough to give it the consideration it deserves.

In case you didn't see it, "The Longest Daycare" is a 4 1/2 minute 3D short starring Maggie, focussing on her adventure at a daycare center. It's (almost) completely silent, but is laugh-out-loud funny throughout: packed with funny references and creative situations, and features a cameo from Marge. The show's executive producer James L. Brooks came-up with the idea to do a "Simpsons" short and it turned-out to be 100x better than "Ice Age 4".

So the question is, can "The Simpsons" win an Academy Award? They had an opportunity in 2008 with "The Simpsons Movie", but that didn't even get nominated, which was a crime. However, it would've been difficult to beat "Ratatouille".

56 elidgible animated short entries were cut-down to 10, five of which will be nominated and one will ultimately walk away with the statue on Oscar night. So, looking at the odds, "The Longest Daycare" has a 50% chance of getting nominated, and then a 20% chance of winning. Of course, a lot will have to do with the competition:

Disney's "Paperman" is also a finalist. It's being shown before "Wreck-It Ralph". It's OK, but nothing special. The other eight finalists I haven't seen and know little about. But you'll all get to see the nominees, and a few extras, as part of the Animated Oscar Shorts screening that's shown in theaters every February. It would be great to see Maggie make that event.

Coincidentally, "The Simpsons" aired an episode called "Angry Dad: The Movie" on Oscar Week, 2011. Homer and Bart make an animated short film that sweeps awards season. Look for the show's writers to include some jokes/references about this real-life recognition into some shows over the next few months leading-up to Oscar Night 2013 on Feb. 24.

More of

"What have they done? Sweet Jesus, what have they done?"

Well, I'll tell you what they've done: Universal and Regal have created maybe the best marketing campaign of all-time for the studio's upcoming release of "Les Miserables". The Extended First Look that's running prior to practically every movie in every Regal theater throughout the country is creating a tremendous buzz for the film, which comes-out on Christmas Day.

If you've seen it you know what I'm talking about: It's the 5-minute "we're singing every song in the movie live" piece that features most of the stars of the film, including Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway and Russell Crowe (though we never see/hear Crowe singing. I guess they want to save that for the actual "Les Mis" audiences). The feature describes, in detail, the decision by director Todd Hooper to film the movie with the actors signing LIVE ON FILM, as opposed to how most other movie musicals are done - the actors lip-singing to pre-recorded songs.

It doesn't matter if you're a fan of movie musicals or a fan of "Les Miserables", when this preview feature is over it's impossible not to want to run out and buy a ticket to see this movie. For me "Les Mis" went from a "I hope it's worth seeing" to "I can't wait for this movie!" after watching this the first time.

By now I've seen this Extended First Look nearly a dozen times. I think I can do Jackman's soliloquy by now. But it's still compelling and each time when it's over the same reaction takes place throughout the theater: people saying - "we've got to see that."

Congratulations to whoever came-up with the idea for this marketing tool. Look for other studios to copy this idea in the future. And I hope the folks at "The Golden Trailer Awards" come-up with a special category for this feature, which deserves to be honored.

 

 

Animated Horror Trilogy Recap Movie Review

Focus Features' stop-motion animated comedy "ParaNorman" is a lot of fun. It's also the scariest and most thought-provoking of the three. It pulled-in $55 million at the box office.

Sony Pictures Animation's "Hotel Transylvania" is the box office champ, making $130 million so far. It's my least favorite of the trio, but is still worth seeing thanks to its interesting animation style and frantic pace.

Tim Burton's "Frankenweenie" is the best of the group, but has made the least amount of money (only $32 million). Thanks to strong critical praise, "Frankenweenie" has the best chance to scare-up some honors this awards season.

The trick this Halloween is finding a theater that's showing all three - a spooky triple-header. That would be a treat!

New Animated Players Movie Review

You can add Relativity Media and Krayon Pictures to the growing list of studios getting into the animated movie business.

Relativity Media has announced it will be distributing it's first animated feature, titled "Turkeys", which is scheduled for release in 2014. It stars the voices of Owen Wilson and Woody Harrelson as two turkeys who discover a time machine. The gobblers travel back to the first Thanksgiving in hopes of getting turkey off the menu. Wilson is no stranger to voice work, having appeared as "Lightning McQueen" in "Cars" and "Cars 2", as well as in "Fantastic Mr. Fox" and "Marmaduke". This will be Harrelson's first major animated movie role.

The project, which has been in the works since 2010, will be directed by Jimmy Hayward ("Horton Hears a Who!"). Reel FX, the animation studio, is also currently working on the Guillermo Del Toro produced "Day of the Dead".

We won't have to wait until 2014 for the first full-length Bollywood animated feature to get nation-wide release in the US. "Delhi Safari" was written and produced entirely in Delhi, India. It's being released and distributed in the US by Applied Art Productions. "Delhi Safari" focuses on a group of jungle animals who stand-up for their land and their right to exist in nature and the film includes plenty of musical numbers inspired by it's Bollywood roots.

The 3D film features some major Hollywood voices, including Jane Lynch, Vanessa Williams, Jason Alexander, Brad Garrett and Cary Elwes. It will be released in top 20 major markets on Dec. 7. No word yet if it will go wider.

Screener Guy Movie Review

This is my first official year as a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association which means I will be voting for this year's Critics Choice Movie Awards. And it also means that I will get getting screeners - a lot of screeners. In fact a few have already arrived, including Sony Pictures Classics' documentary "Searching for Sugar Man", which I haven't been able to see on the big screen. I'll now be watching it on my smaller screen.

Last year, I only watched one of the big award-season releases as a screener. It was "The Artist", which, of course, was nominated for and won the Best Picture Oscar. It was certainly a different experience watching a major film in the comforts of my own home. Luckily the phone didn't ring and nobody came to the door while the film was playing. And, since it's a great movie (my favorite of 2011) I wasn't tempted to grab the remote and turn it off (a temptation I may have to fight when screening bad movies).

I'm really looking forward to getting more screeners, especially of the major movies that will only be out in limited release (or not at all) before I have to fill-out my nomination ballot in early December. I've been watching the Critics Choice Movie Awards for years and haven't always agreed with the winners so it will be fun to add my opinion as to who should be honored. And if I happen to vote for an actor or film that ends-up tied with another, I can proudly say: "If it weren't for me there wouldn't have been a tie and you wouldn't be holding that statue."

As for watching all these important films at home - well, my bed is a lot more comfortable than any theater seat I've ever sat in and this may be the perfect reason to get a bigger TV.

Views on the News Movie Review

My thoughts on some news-worthy events of the week:

The MPAA has rated "Fun Size" PG-13 for crude and suggestive material, partying and language. This is only Nickelodeon's second movie to be rated PG-13 (the first was "Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging", which was only released on DVD here in the US). That makes "Fun Size" Nick's first PG-13 in US theaters. Very interesting since the film stars Nickelodeon's own Victoria Justice, who's seen as a role model to young girls. We'll see if this has an affect on the box office, when it opens on 10/26.

Earlier this year, the Weinstein Company announced that they would be releasing four animated movies in 2013: "Escape from Planet Earth" (Feb. 14), "Leo the Lion" (Aug. 30), "The Trick or Treaters" (Oct. 25) and "Santapprentice" (Dec. 6). Weinstein isn't known for their animated films ("Hoodwinked!" is their only successful release). I mentioned at the time that four seemed like a lot for them. Well, now the studio has decided to change the last three to "undetermined 2013 release dates". "Planet Earth" will still open on Valentine's Day.

It seems like the studio just wasn't ready to handle four movies in a year. And if rushed each of them could have turned out badly. We could still see new release dates for these films sometime in the future: "Hoodwinked Too!", you may remember, was supposed to open in 2010, but didn't come out until last year. It bombed at the box office, but partly because of the problems with the release schedule.

And Joss Whedon has asked Clark Gregg, who played Agent Coulson in "The Avengers", to reprise his role on the TV series "S.H.I.E.L.D.". Gregg also starred alongside Julia-Louis Dreyfuss on the comedy "The New Adventures of Old Christine". I like this decision, especially since Gregg is getting a chance to return to the Marvel universe, even though his character...(well, you know) in "The Avengers". The show is currently in development for ABC.

Blue Sky gets to Work for

The "Peanuts" gang is returning to the Big Screen! Not even Charlie Brown himself could say "Good Grief" to that news.

The announcement on Tuesday of a new, full-length feature set for a Nov. 25, 2015 release has spread excitement throughout the animation world. 2015 will mark the 65th anniversary of Charles Schultz' iconic characters and so it makes sense that his family would want to do something big (his son Craig and grandson Byran helped write the screenplay and are producing the film). But there are so many questions that don't have answers right now:

- 2015 is the 50th Annivesary of "A Charlie Brown Christmas". Because the new film is going to be a holiday release could it be a remake, prequel or sequel to that classic TV special?

- If not, what's the story?

- Since Blue Sky Studios is producing the film, will the charatcers be CGI? Blue Sky has never done a hand-drawn animated feature.

- What does Blue Sky/20th Century Fox do with the "Ice Age" franchise? "Ice Age 5" would have likely been scheduled for 2015.

- Even though Snoopy and his friends are some of the most popular animated characters of all-time, and their TV specials are loved by billions, they haven't been a big hit in theaters. The previous 4 Peanuts movies are:

"A Boy Named Charlie Brown (1969), "Snoopy, Come Home" (1972), "Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown" (1977), Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown (And Don't Come Back!!)" (1980) and none were box office successes.

Will fans rush to theaters to see this new Charlie Brown film? We'll have a better answer to that question when we learn more about the project, but I know I will.

Animation Double-Header Movie Review

UPDATE: "Hotel Transylvania" drops to 2nd place (behind "Taken 2") at the weekend box office, with $26.3M (I was only off by $300k). "Frankenweenie" opened to a lesser than expected $11.5M. "Corpse Bride"'s wide-release opening weekend gross in 2005 was just over $19 million, so "Frankenweenie"'s gross is quite lower, especially considering that "Corpse" wasn't in 3D or IMAX 3D. However, stop-motion animated films usually open between $10M and $15M. Hopefully the strong word of mouth and Oscar buzz will make people who missed out this weekend go see it next weekend.

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Sony Pictures Animation's "Hotel Transylvania" has dominated the box office since it opened last Friday. But another animated movie is opening this weekend and it could steal some of its thunder: Disney/Tim Burton's "Frankenweenie". You might think it's unusual that two major studios would release two major animated films back-to-back, but it has been done before:

2004

"The Incredibles" opened to $70 million on November 5th. "The Polar Express" came-out 5 days later, and grossed a 5-day total of $30 million - #2 for the weekend, behind "Incredibles". On the 19th, "The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie" was released and took in $32 million and was crowned top animated film of the weekend (barely losing the overall top spot to "National Treasure").

2006

On July 21st, the Oscar-nominated "Monster House" came in at #2 with $22 million. The next weekend, WB's "The Ant Bully" bombed, making just $8 million (behind "Monster"). One week later, Nick's "Barnyard: The Original Party Animals" was released and grossed $16 million to come in second behind the Will Ferrell comedy "Talladega Nights".

2009

"9" was released appropriately on 9/9/09. But because of the film's PG-13 rating, it only made $15 million in its first five days. On the 18th, Sony's "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs" tore-up the box office with $30 million, and another $25 million the next weekend.

A couple months later, "Planet 51" (starring Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson) was released by Sony partner Tri-Star. The film immediatly struggled by going up against "New Moon" and "The Blind Side", only managing $12 million. Five days later, the Oscar nominee "Fantastic Mr. Fox" opened in wide release. but making just $9.5 million over the long Thanksgiving weekend.

2010

Lionsgate's "Alpha and Omega" (featuring the voice of the late Dennis Hopper) grossed just over $9 million on the weekend of September 17. "Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole" opened the next week to $16 million, losing to "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps".

2011

"Happy Feet Two" went up against "Breaking Dawn Part 1", and only grossed 1/3 of the original's open this past November. Thanksgiving weekend brought three new family films: "The Muppets", "Hugo" and the underrated "Arthur Christmas". Because of the season's huge competitors, "Arthur" only made $16 million in the first five days, but only losing to "Happy Feet Two" by $2 million.

WHAT HISTORY HAS TAUGHT US:

1) A lot of animated films are released over the Thanksgiving weekend (or on a Wednesday), and they never do as well as the previous week's animated films.

2) Triple-headers are tough on studios, that's why there hasn't been one since 2006.

3) The first of the two films doesn't always open the strongest; PG-13 animated films don't have mass appeal (aside from "The Simpsons Movie").

WEEKEND PREDICTIONS ARE BASED ON:

1) "Hotel Transylvania" and "Frankenweenie" are both similar in genre: animated horror comedy.

2) Stop-motion animated films don't open huge: This year's "The Pirates!" - only $11M; "ParaNorman" only $14M. But "Corpse Bride" (Burton's last stop-motion film) made $20M in 2005.

3) Even if "Transylvania" dropped a incredible 50% in its second weekend, it would still make over $20M.

4) "Frankenweenie" is opening in 300+ fewer theaters than "Transylvania"; both films are in 3D.

PREDICTION:

1. "Hotel Transylvania" - $26M

2. "Frankenweenie" - $15M


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