Ten years ago, I was submitting short entertainment articles to The Hamilton Spectator, my local newspaper. In the Go section, there was a page called YourPlace where writers, unaffiliated with the broadsheet, could send in arts-related pieces for consideration. I was fortunate to have a few of my own accepted and published during this period. They have all since been reposted on this website.
However, most of the work I offered to The Spec was rejected including this piece about late summer movies. It’s been quite a while since I’ve posted anything old in this space, so with August 2012 just days away from arriving it’s more than appropriate to dust off this old nugget from 2002 and share it with all of you. Not a word has been changed.
Making public predictions is a fool’s game that I’ve thankfully restricted in recent years to just the Academy Awards (although the 2012 go-round was not one of my better showings). That being said, it’s nice to remember that my gut feelings about XXX and Signs becoming commercial hits in 2002 were right. (I know. Everyone expected them to do well. Please don’t take away my moment of glory. I have so few of them.) The otherwise ordinary Vin Diesel action flick made almost 300 million worldwide while Mel Gibson’s last good movie made over 400 million.
In the end, of course, only the studios really care if a movie makes money or not. (They invested all that money, after all.) All that really matters to everybody else is whether it’s good or bad. As for this year, it will be interesting to see if anything special is headed our way next month. One thing’s for certain, however. I’ll be leaving the guessing to others.
AUGUST SLEEPERS AND BLOCKBUSTERS
Preparing for the next surprise hit
By Dennis Earl
August is traditionally a bad month to go to the movies. To be more blunt, Hollywood dumps its deadwood, its guaranteed bombs, its mediocre money-losers on a mostly uninterested public who are far too preoccupied with earlier summer hits. And while it’s still true today that bad movies continue to be released near the end of summer where no one will notice them, every once in a while a sleeper or a big blockbuster breaks through.
This August will probably be no exception. Familiar players are involved and big money is at stake. But that probably would never be the case were it not for the successes of past August sleepers and blockbusters.
It was 10 years ago that Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven exceeded expectations and became an August success story, a Hollywood rarity. Eastwood had bought the script in 1981 and sat on it until he was old enough to tackle the lead role of William Munny, a reformed bounty hunter, widowed with young children, called back into action one last time. The film found a decent-sized audience and eventually gave Eastwood 2 Academy Awards for Directing and Producing the movie. (Gene Hackman won his second Oscar for playing the iron-fisted corrupt sheriff, Little Bill Daggett, a role he initially turned down.) This month, Eastwood hopes for another hit with his latest film, Blood Work.
Since that time, Hollywood has delivered other unexpected delights in August.
The following summer, Harrison Ford was eluding the clutches of Tommy Lee Jones while finding the real killer of his hottie wife, Sela Ward, in The Fugitive, the best movie ever made from a TV show. Jones went on to win an Oscar for his great performance while the movie had to settle for a Best Picture nomination. Ford was unjustly snubbed.
In 1994, a dull August was livened up considerably with the release of Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers, one of his best films, at the end of the month. Although it was stupidly passed over for Oscars, the film gave audiences much to think and argue about for the rest of the year.
August 1995 gave us two more surprise success stories. The wonderful Babe, another Best Picture nominee, and the overrated, but nevertheless, popular mystery, The Usual Suspects. Yet another film that delighted audiences with a surprise plot twist. (Kevin Spacey won his first Oscar for his work in that film.)
The Motion Picture Academy can’t resist dark horse British films and several months after the August 1997 release of The Full Monty, the film received 4 Academy Award nominations. (Anne Dudley won the only Oscar for her original score.) A moving, often hilarious and surprisingly touching film that spawned imitators.
In 1999, a young, unknown writer/director named M. Night Shyamalan unveiled his commercial blockbuster, The Sixth Sense, a film that made a star out of Haley Joel Osmont (and gave him an Oscar nomination along with non-stop film work) and which benefitted greatly from a brilliant plot twist that kept movie houses packed through the fall. Like Unforgiven, it would receive recognition from the Motion Picture Academy but only in the form of nominations. Shyamalan is hoping for more of the same magic with his latest acclaimed film, Signs. Starring Mel Gibson, it has a very good chance of finding an audience.
Which brings us to August 2002. I already mentioned Blood Work and Signs, the latest offerings from Clint Eastwood and M. Night Shyamalan respectively. Another potential hit is XXX, the latest vehicle for Vin Diesel who it appears is being molded as the next Schwarzenegger. I’ll be surprised if it bombs.
In an increasingly competitive industry, it’s becoming more and more difficult to find the right release date for a potential hit. Even more frustrating is convincing audiences to spend money on sleepers. But if the past has taught us anything about the month of August, particularly in the last 10 years, at least one film, whether it’s hyped to death or quietly praised, is bound to stand out amongst the usual late summer dreck. This year, there may be more. Let’s hope so.
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, July 29, 2012