Plus: Is Oscar really ready for a makeover?
So maybe movies aren’t such a bad investment after all.Compared to the turmoil on Wall Street, Hollywood seems like an object lesson in prudent management. That’s why billions keep flowing into the movie business even when other industries are starved for capital. OK, I know that’s really not the reason. Sucker money traditionally flows to Hollywood because investors want to meet girls, attend parties with movie stars and say they’re business partners with Steven Spielberg. Nonetheless, it’s still surprising to count the big bucks involved in the DreamWorks deal or in Ryan Kavanaugh’s Relativity Media or in Media Rights Capital’s portfolio at a time when the rest of the economy is locked in a liquidity crisis. Suddenly, Hollywood’s managers seem downright austere compared with the crazies at Lehman Brothers. And movie-star salaries are pathetic relative to Wall Street payouts. In view of all this, perhaps Hollywood, too, should line up for an occasional bailout. Why should Warner Bros. and Village Roadshow bear the burden of “Speed Racer”? The taxpayers should chip in, too — entertainment is for public consumption, yet the public isn’t bearing its share. If Hollywood wants to continue attracting big bucks, it had better learn the new American Business Model.
* * *Oscar, take a lesson from Emmy Two new producers for the Oscar show, Larry Mark and Bill Condon, have now been anointed, and surely they would be wise to take a hard look at the Emmy debacle. It seemed as though the five harassed Emmy hosts could sense their ratings plummet as they plodded through the 28 awards categories. Even the winners looked daunted: Variety‘s Brian Lowry pointed out that they were raced on and off stage “as if everybody had hot dates waiting at the HBO party.” Despite all this, the Oscar planners appear unwilling to make any fundamental changes in the structure of the Oscar show, other than to replace faithful Gil Cates as the producer (one has to admire Cates for announcing early on that he was “unavailable”). This year, as before, there will be too many awards on camera and too many arcane industry tributes. The Academy’s only ray of hope: that a few awards might be dispensed to movies that filmgoers actually have seen. Judging from past performance, however, Oscar voters may vote for a “Blindness” over “Dark Knight.” That will ensure that the Oscars head the way of the Emmys.
* * *‘Mamma’s’ family prospers While we’re talking about hits, let’s pay a passing tribute to the most critically lambasted, filmgoer-adored movie in modern film history: “Mamma Mia.” With the movie continuing to run up astonishing numbers overseas, an ultimate worldwide gross of $600 million is within view. This would make it the fourth biggest hit in the history of Universal Pictures — a bizarre fact unto itself (“Jurassic Park” leads the pack with $914 million). The movie represents a formidable payday for an unexpected range of players. In the winners circle are Meryl Streep, who never had a big payday until “The Devil Wears Prada” but, thanks to “Mamma Mia,” emerges as one of filmdom’s wealthiest actresses; Tom Hanks, who doesn’t need the money but had the smarts to buy the project; Judy Craymer, the secretary-turned producer, and Catherine Johnson, the pub-cleaner-turned-playwright, who, thanks to the stage musical and movie, are two of the richest women in England; and Phyllida Lloyd, whose work got slammed onstage and onscreen but who got the last laugh big time. So why was “Mamma Mia” such a giant hit? Critics cite the Abba score for the worldwide success of the show, but there was another factor as well. As Colin Firth, one of the stars of the movie, told me, “Never have actors been allowed to indulge themselves and have such a rollicking good time as we had on ‘Mamma Mia,’ and I think audiences pick up on this fact.” He has a point.