2013 is now behind us, which means we can take stock on what the biggest news stories of the year were, and how they’ll affect the industry in 2014 and beyond. There were no shortage of hits and bombs, but ultimately, what we’ll take away from it were the developing trends, the evolving methods of storytelling, and the behind-the-scenes insanity that made it all happen. A simple click through will take you back to the times when “The Lone Ranger” seemed like a can’t-miss proposition, when Steven Spielberg seemed like a complete optimist about the industry, and when studios funded their own movies for once. Bright days, those were.
Here are the ten biggest movie news stories of the past year.
The Loneliness Of “The
Everyone wants to paint
themselves as an ace box office prognosticator, and rarely does anyone get
everything right. But early on, anybody who knew anything about the industry
could tell you that “The Lone Ranger” was easily going to be the year’s
biggest flop. 2012 was filled with stories about budget cuts and revisions to
the material, but by the time 2013 rolled along, we were ready to see the
thing. But an early Super Bowl spot bored, and the trailer played for months in
theaters to absolute silence.
By the time the movie
arrived, it carried a target on its back from legions of critics, some of whom
had been sharpening their knives all year, others who merely saw this big
budget jalopy as the unwieldy marriage of western action and Trail Of
Tears-inspired mournfulness. The film didn’t even break $100 million domestic,
a near-guarantee for any wide release opening around Independence Day, causing
the actors to go on the warpath against critics, those mighty arbiters of taste
that doom blockbusters to obscurity (though Quentin Tarantino loved it). It got so bad that star Johnny Depp, still
making private-island money from Disney for the “Pirates Of The
Caribbean” films, was contemplating retirement. Ultimately, Disney claimed a $190 million write-off, and the relationship between “Lone Ranger” producer Jerry Bruckheimer and the studio led to the postponement of the 2015 release of “Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales.”
We’ll Fund It For You
Warner Bros. went ahead and
double-dog dared “Veronica Mars” fans to show their fandom for the
cult show by ponying up the cash, specifically $2 million, through crowd-funding site Kickstarter, for a
movie spinoff. It almost seemed like a bluff, but there they were, scads and
scads of fans lining up not to give to charity, but to bring themselves one
more unnecessary addition to a show that already lasted three years.
$5.7 million later, and “Veronica Mars” was a go picture. Kickstarter used to be reserved for amateurs and newcomers, and now the very
successful were crashing the party.
Zach Braff was next, seeking
$2 million, crowdsourcing support for his latest, the preciously-titled “Wish I Was
Here,” landing at his goal in less than a week. Earning the most scrutiny,
however, was Spike Lee. Months before his $30 million remake of
“Oldboy” was hitting theaters, he requested a cool $1.25 million to complete
funding on his very low budget “Da Sweet Blood Of Jesus,” and after
more than a few weeks, some generous contributors, and several sharp critiques,
he too hit his mark.
Controversy Is The Warmest
One of the year’s most
divisive films was unquestionably “Blue Is The Warmest Color,” which
Cannes jury head Steven Spielberg surprisingly gifted with the Palme d’Or. This
three hour epic about the relationship between a young lesbian and her older,
urbane lover immediately generated controversy over its explicit sex scenes, which
earned an NC-17 rating and angry complaints from critics that it was merely
servicing the male gaze (including, surprisingly, Julie Maroh, the writer of the graphic
novel that inspired the film). A complex issue, that, once further complicated
by the reveal of a very challenging shoot that bore the weight of several
Exarchopolous and Lea Seydoux repeatedly cited the abusive tactics of director Abdellatif Kechiche, who in turn reacted in anger through the press about
the finished product and its content. The two claimed they would never work with him again, and he threatened to take them to court. Seydoux claimed she felt “like a prostitute,” and Kechiche claimed they didn’t go far enough with the sex scenes. He hinted at a sequel, before suggesting the film should never be released, while the crew fired back about the hostile conditions. “Blue is The Warmest Color”
ultimately became one of the year’s best films, though not before further rocky
roads: it was eventually banned in the state of lesbian-allergic Idaho, while
in New York the IFC Center boldly opted to not enforce the MPAA rating,
allowing younger audiences to freely see the film. What this means for Lars Von
Trier‘s “Nymphomaniac” is a mystery: that sexually-confrontational
film made headlines all throughout 2013 with its staggering plans for a four
hour-plus semi-pornographic epic that has already vexed critics in Europe.
DC Comics Brings The Ruckus
It landed on Comic Con like a bomb: in the follow-up to “Man of
Steel,” which not many of us really liked, Superman would come face to
face with Batman. A quote was read onstage sourced from the seminal graphic
novel “The Dark Knight Returns,” suggesting conflict between the last
son of Krypton and an older, more bitter Caped Crusader. That description stuck
as the WB shook the internet with news that former “Daredevil” Ben
Affleck was going to don the cape and cowl, in a deal that likely joined
Affleck with Warner Bros. for life after the staggering success of his “Argo”
Best Picture win. We took a shot at guessing what this all meant.
That wasn’t all, however. What seemed like a teaming of two heroes started
to look a bit more ambitious. The return of “Man of Steel” stars Henry Cavill, Amy
Adams, Harry Lennix, Diane Lane and Laurence Fishburne was already guaranteed,
as well as a big name likely popping up as villain Lex Luthor. But the rumors
about Nightwing and Doomsday surfaced, and it became clear this was not the
superhero two-hander people were expecting. By the time Gal Gadot was cast as
Wonder Woman, fans were excited about a coming superhero mash-up that would
make “The Avengers” look like “The Avengers,” and by that we mean the 1998 film
with Ralph Fiennes and Uma Thurman. As filming gears up to start in Michigan,
casting rumors continue to pop up, suggesting we’re in for a long year of
speculation before the film’s release in 2015.
The Others Follows Suit
Marvel had a relatively quiet year as far as industry-shaping news. “Iron
Man 3,” the year’s biggest film, became their second straight billion dollar hit,
and the mostly-alright “Thor: The Dark World” handily outgrossed its predecessor, while Comic Con
fans got to experience a first-look at this year’s ambitious “Guardians Of The
Galaxy,” and the new title for “The Avengers: Age Of Ultron.” They have untitled releases set for 2016 and 2017, but remain quiet
about what those might be, instead opting to subtly, but aggressively, push “Ant-Man”
to a prime summer release date and launch a development deal with Netflix. In comparison, Sony, who owns “Spider-Man,” was
a relative romper room of activity, and it’s their actions that may be the most
influential as far as how blockbuster filmmaking happens in the next few years.
Before the 2012 release of “The Amazing Spider-Man,” Sony announced a
release date for this year’s sequel. But they topped that in ’13 by selecting
release dates for “The Amazing Spider-Man 3” (2016) and “The Amazing Spider-Man
4” (2018) a year before the release of the second film. Then, in a
strategy nakedly similar to Marvel, they announced a “Venom” film for writer/director
Alex Kurtzman (“People Like Us”) and a “Sinister Six” spinoff written by and
likely helmed by Drew Goddard (“Cabin In The Woods”). But crediting these films
to a single director might get dicey: Sony announced these films as part of a
franchise “brain trust,” one that involved Goddard and Kurtzman collaborating
with Roberto Orci, Ed Solomon and Jeff Pinkner to ensure that these films all
informed each other as far as stories, themes, and ideas, basically working on
a series of films like a television staff would for a show. Comparatively, Fox’s
announcement of 2016’s “X-Men: Apocalypse” felt like small fries. None of this seems good for the industry.
You Will Be Missed
It was a difficult year for the passing of acting legends,
none bigger than Peter O’Toole. The “Lawrence Of Arabia” icon passed on in
December at the age of 81. O’Toole lived a full life, and leaves
behind an endless collection of great roles. More surprising was the loss of
James Gandolfini, the beloved “Sopranos” actor who is posthumously earning Oscar
talk for “Enough Said,” where audiences got to witness his sweet, bearish
charisma one more time. Gandolfini will also be seen in 2014’s “Animal Rescue,”
the final role of a prolific character acting career. Other losses this year
include Joan Fontaine, Michael Winner, Ray
Harryhausen, , Karen Black, and, most painfully to
some of us, the great Roger Ebert.
The unlikeliest passing of the year might be 40 year-old
Paul Walker, an established leading man who made his name on the back of the “Fast
And Furious” series. Sadly, his death created a massive obstacle for his final
project, the seventh feature in the “Fast And Furious” franchise. With only half
of his role completed, debates circulated internally as to whether they should
eliminate the Walker footage already shot and write his Brian O’Connor out of the
series, or if they had enough usable material to shoot around his absence.
Ultimately, Universal pushed the film’s release back a full year in order to accommodate
a retooled film, allowing O’Connor, an integral part of the beloved series, to
drive off into the sunset unharmed.
A Disturbance In The Force
After the 2012 snatching of Lucasfilms by
Disney, most assumed that the studio’s bold plans for a new “Star Wars” would
come together quickly. Not so fast: it took months to reveal that the man
offered the keys to the kingdom would be “Star Trek” re-inventor J.J. Abrams (we have some thoughts on this). But
what followed were twelve months of nothing but endless rumors and conjecture,
and we had to wait until November to actually get a release date for the film.
It still has no title, and there are still no concrete plans for the alleged
spinoff films that Disney will spread around their annual schedule (though we have some ideas). Instead,
the project switched a writer, while literally every major actor in Hollywood (we mean literally)
was linked to a part in the new series. There’s a lot of time between now and December 18, 2015, but we know almost nothing about this movie. Well, at least we know John Williams is back.
Big Bad Harv Continues To Hold Sway
Harvey Weinstein had another banner year of chaos, drama and tension. The thorniest issue was “The Butler,” a title that was used both for Lee Daniels‘ new film and a 1916 short belonging to Warner Bros. WB blocked the studio from using the title, claiming they had the rights, and the MPAA agreed, forcing The Weinstein Company to re-title their summer release “Lee Daniels’ The Butler.” Classic Harvey didn’t let this deter the film, which went on to become a box office hit. Later, the organization would do him the Weinsteins a solid: when the original R-rating of “Philomena” seemed excessive to the studio, a Dame Judi Dench-powered appeal won them the newer rating.
2013 didn’t curb his tinkering spirit, however. He was at loggerheads with Olivier Dahan over “Grace Of Monaco,” which eventually landed a surprising spring 2014 bow. His monkeying with Wong Kar-Wai‘s “The Grandmaster” also turned a lengthy, mournful film into a shorter, more “audience friendly” cut that openly condescended to audiences. And “Snowpiercer” was a box office sensation overseas, but a battle was waged where the Weinsteins sought the need to trim heavily from the film for American consumption, a controversial issue that remains unresolved. For them, at least the year ended on a good note: the Weinsteins recovered the rights to the films they made at Miramax, and are pushing ahead with sequels to several of their most beloved titles.
One of the more deceptive mergers of the year occurred when Focus Features, a highbrow wing of Universal Pictures, absorbed genre-friendly FilmDistrict. But with the change, which meant Focus would effectively run FilmDistrict, came a switch at the top, with Focus CEO James Schamus being displaced by FilmDistrict CEO Peter Schlessel. The shift was an open acknowledgement that Focus would attempt to “broaden” their brand, which is loaded, given that this year Focus brought us “The Place Beyond The Pines” and “Dallas Buyers Club” while FilmDistrict was the home to “Olympus Has Fallen,” “Oldboy” and “Insidious Chapter Two.”
It’s no coincidence that Focus is also now the home of Universal’s would-be blockbuster “Fifty Shades Of Grey.” It’s part of the consolidation and elimination of smaller studios in favor of a bigger, multi-conglomerate piece of the pie. Universal is, like most other studios, heavily protective of a tentpole culture that includes franchises like “Jurassic Park,” “The Bourne Identity” films, and cross-brand efforts like “Warcraft.” The effort to make expensive entertainments for young male audiences is enough to turn Focus from a boutique arthouse division into a downmarket genre vending machine of sorts. It’s indicative of a larger industry shift, but it was easily the year’s most disheartening example of that trend. We discussed it further here.
Unemployed Guy Rails Against Dying Industry
All it takes is for a guy to get his pink slip, and suddenly the sky is falling. Okay, fine, Steven Spielberg has never been “fired,” per se, but this was a pretty frustrating year for the legend, who lost the Best Picture and Best Director Oscars and ends the year with no current directorial commitments. First the mega-budgeted “Robopocalypse” shut down. Then he had to drop out of “American Sniper.” It wasn’t long before he joined George Lucas in front of a massive audience, telling scads of young people that they were entering an industry set for an “implosion.” It wasn’t dissimilar to the fiery statements Steven Soderbergh had made days earlier about why he retired from directing movies, suggesting that this wasn’t an isolated opinion, suggesting that maybe, just maybe, we’re at the end times. If that’s true, at least we went out with 2013. Could have been worse.
Any new items that stuck out for you in 2013? Let us know below!