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Best of 2012: Movies February 17, 2013

Posted by David Card in Media.
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According to Box Office Mojo, the U.S. box office was up 6.5 percent last year, driven by the mega-hit The Avengers (a whopping $620 million in domestic ticket sales) and two pretty big monsters: The Dark Knight Rises ($450 million) and The Hunger Games ($410 million). Nothing broke $400 million in 2011, and both superhero movies did well enough to crack the top 10 all-time. Critical consensus is that it was a pretty good year from a quality perspective, too.

I was prepared to agree, but then I reviewed my ratings on Rotten Tomatoes’ Flixster site. While I gave three movies 3.5 stars on a 5-point scale – one more than last year – I saw a pretty similar number of 3- and 2.5-star movies both years. I go to the movies in the theater a little less than once a week on average, and I’m no highbrow, as you’ll see from my list of favorites. Before we get there, though, let’s take a look at the key takeaways from Box Office Mojo’s yearly tally:

  • In 2011, there was no $400 million blockbuster, and only two movies broke $300 million (Potter 7B and Transformers 3). Ticket prices were up a bit, but 2012 was driven by hits, not 3D.
  • Of 2012’s top 10, only two were cartoons (Brave, Madagascar 3) but all were fantasies and three featured superheros. Sadly, for DC/Warners, Batman’s now done for a while and we all remember what happened to the last Superman re-boot.
  • Twilight has run its course, as has Harry Potter, but it looks like The Hunger Games and The Hobbit , along with Marvel’s refreshed superheros, will carry the franchise load. And James Bond will never die.
  • Lincoln ($176 million, no. 14) and Django Unchained ($156 million, no. 16) were the only grown-up movies in the top 20. DK3 could have been, but after Dark Knight, director/scripter Christopher Nolan only teases big ideas without delivering an intellectual payoff.

My three favorite movies of the year, all scoring 3.5 stars were:

  • Zero Dark Thirty – Way more relevant than the feel-good Argo. It’s hardly morally ambiguous: it takes fascists to beat terrorists. But did it really take a lone Ahab to get this whale?
  • Lincoln – Sure, it’s manipulative, but if you don’t get a few lumps in your throat watching, you’re no true Amuhrican. Day-Lewis is utterly convincing. Too much to hope Lincoln will inspire modern Congressional compromise.
  • The Hunger Games – Nailed the emotional if not visceral impact of the book. Great cast led by a spectacular Jennifer Lawrence. Shakycam effective during games, over-used elsewhere, but overall look worked. This is how to do a franchise.

And to get to a top 10 list, pulling from the 3-star rankings:

  • The Avengers – Hulk smash!
  • Argo – Very well made and highly entertaining. But Argo feels oddly disconnected from current affairs – does that come from its feel-good vibe, or perhaps from its 70s-fetish production design?
  • Wuthering Heights – Effectively taps the cruelty and pagan energy of the novel, and a far more interesting re-visioning than Anna Karenina. The kids smolder more convincingly than the adults.
  • Flight – This only-slightly more ambiguous than usual morality/addiction fable is redeemed by a spectacular opening sequence and Denzel’s best flawed cool guy since Training Day.
  • Lawless – This shaggy dog fable meanders along and then hammers you with ultraviolence. 2/3rds of the cast is terrific, Georgia stands in beautifully for Franklin County VA, and the eclectic score is top-notch.
  • Beasts of the Southern Wild – There’s a little North Eastern liberal white guy (both parents are folklore scholars) noble-savage voyeurism here – okay, there’s a lot of it – but there’s also plenty to think about in this beautifully-shot, no-budget fable. Hushpuppy is ferocious, but her dad – also a non-actor – deservers the Oscar nom.
  • The Master – The story of Amuhrica via Scientology by way of father/son belief/doubt individualist/groupthink. Sadly, great cinematography and production design can’t save a static script that does nothing after the great setup. Hoffman is spectacular; critics will disagree on Phoenix, who I thought went over the top.

I wanted to like Silver Linings Playbook more than I did; it started strong but ended up just a slightly edgy RomCom. Skyfall was very good Bond – until the third act. And I found Killing Them Softly more fascinating than flawed. As for the rest of the best picture nominees: Django was a lesser Inglourious, I probably wouldn’t like Les Mis on stage and I found it tedious onscreen, and I haven’t seen Life of Pi or Amour yet.


Time Warner no longer believes in “invisible network” February 14, 2013

Posted by David Card in Uncategorized.
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Back in the day, I used Time Warner as an example of an “invisible network.” That is, a reader of Time magazine or Sports Illustrated – or a user of their web sites – might not know that they were both owned by Time Inc., but big advertisers and sponsors did. The Wall Street Journal is reporting that TWX is considering spinning off most of its magazine titles, possibly into a joint venture with Meredith. It would keep Time, Fortune, and Sports Illustrated, whose brands complement its TV business better, but People would find a comfier home next to Better Homes and Gardens.

It’s fairly obvious, but branded visible networks that try to drive audiences across related properties work best when the audience is common. Disney can cross-promote entertainment to families, but its audience and ESPN’s rarely need to meet. Meredith could create a good visible network for People. Yahoo’s making noise lately about zeroing in on fewer content topics itself, a refinement of its classic broad-reach, very visible portal strategy.

Time Warner used to be the biggest media company in the world. It never really exploited the potential of its invisible network in the physical or digital media era. As predicted, the invisible media networks like Google and Facebook changed many of the rules, but Time Warner never learned them.

Get an early heads-up on how the media industry will change next at our paidContent Live event in the media capital of the world, NYC,  in April.