Hollywood Playbook: Wednesday's Top 5 News Items

Hollywood Playbook: Wednesday's Top 5 News Items

Gordon Willis Never Won a Competitive Oscar

Gordon Willis, a cinematographer who changed the game completely and defined the look of film in the 1970’s, died Sunday night. Willis was such a talent that even without knowing his name and resume, when you think of his movies, you think of how they feel and look. “The Godfather Trilogy,” “The Parallax View,” “The Paper Chase,” “Presumed Innocent,” “Comes a Horseman,” and his long association with Woody Allen: “Annie Hall,” “Interiors,” “Manhattan,” “Stardust Memories,” “Zelig,” and “The Purple Rose of Cairo.”

One film Allen and Willis did together that I’m especially fond of is “A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy” (1982). Allen’s period romp about a weekend in the country set in the early 1900s doesn’t get as much attention as those listed above. I guess it’s considered “lesser-Woody,” due to a whimsical, light, and breezy  tone (with a touch of fantasy).

Primarily because of its look and feel, though, this is one of Allen’s movies I revisit again and again. The story is set in and around a country home in upstate New York and Willis captures the idyllic beauty of the countryside in a way that has stuck with me for all of my adult life. After the 88-minutes come to an end, you actually feel as though you have spent a couple of days in an earthly paradise.

The primary reason for this is the restraint Willis shows. He doesn’t horse around. He doesn’t show off. He captures the country as it is. You recognize it. Willis isn’t interested in Terence Malicking the known into something… cinematic. Nothing seems artificially heightened. This has the effect of making you appreciate what you already have or at least have easy access to. If after watching “Midsummer” you don’t consider moving your dinner table outside, you need to watch it again.

At the risk of putting too fine a point on it, “Midsummer” makes me appreciate my home in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Western North Carolina all the more. Can’t wait for a Bluray release.

Did you know Willis never won a competitive Oscar. Never. Not one. Oh, the Academy threw him an Honorary Oscar a few years ago, but he never WON one.

In fact, he was only nominated twice, for “The Godfather III” in  1991 and for “Zelig” in 1984.

And so, one of the greatest talents of the art form has ever known joins Hitchcock, Kubrick, Welles, Lumet, Hawks, Lubitsch, DeMille, Cary Grant, Kirk Douglas, Barbara Stanwyck, and Edward G. Robinson as never having won a competitive Oscar.

But Matt Damon won one. Yep. Matt Damon.

Screw you, Hollywood.


End of an Era: NBC Ends Thursday Night Comedy Block

Remember Must-See TV? It actually was as advertised, especially on Thursday nights from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. when NBC broadcast the most reliably entertaining shows on television. Now the era that began in 1983 is officially over. NBC will air “The Biggest Loser” at 8 p.m. and “The Blacklist” at 9 p.m.


The era officially began in 1984 with … get this … “Cheers,” “Family Ties,” “The Cosby Show,” and “Night Court.” Eventually “Friends” and “Seinfeld” would move in.

 My interest in the sitcom ended with “Married: With Children” and “Seinfeld,” so what happened afterwards is of no interest.  

Over the decades, there was a lot of crap stuffed in there. I seem to remember a sitcom with Jonathon Silverman and … was it really Ernest Borgnine? Anyway, quite a run.


Ryan Gosling Directorial Debut Leads to Critical Drubbing at Cannes


Did you know that “Cannes” is French for “movie nobody else will ever see”?

I’m serious.

Look it up.

What I want to know is where the money comes from to produce dozens of million-dollar flops. A billion people on this planet without clean water but vanity projects all around!

Between all the hatespeak from critics, it looks as though Gosling’s “Lost River” is set near Detroit and explores themes of income inequality and urban decay.

I don’t know, maybe the millions frittered away on this apparent ego trip that is a Cannes (see definition above), might have actually done some good in the department of income inequality through some private charity operating in Detroit…?

Just a thought.


Analyst: Wachowski’s ‘Jupiter Ascending’ Will Be Summer’s Biggest Flop

Doug Creutz regularly predicts the summer’s biggest hits and flops. With a track record containing many more hits than misses, it’s always fun to take a look. This summer he has already over-estimated “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” (it will do nowhere near $325 million) and under-estimated “Godzilla,” but last year he was right about a string of flops (“After Earth,” “White House Down” and “R.I.P.D.”) and this year sees the Wachowski’s “Jupiter Ascending” as the summer’s biggest disaster.

According to Wikipedia, the space opera starring Channing Tatum and Mila Kunis cost $150 million to produce.  Here’s the trailer:

After “Cloud Atlas” (2012) and “Speed Racer” (2008),  the Wachowskis haven’t had a respectable showing at the box office since 2005’s “V for Vendetta.”  

“Jupiter Ascending” hits theatres July 18. It looks a cut above the brother/sister team’s last two efforts but not by much. Critical acclaim could boost it considerably. We are all waiting for the Wachowskis to do it again.


Stephen King’s “It” to Be Two-Part Feature Film

THR reports that the long-gestating feature film remake of “It” will be a two-part film for New Line. The first film will focus on the characters as children. The second will pick up the story as adults.


“It” was perfect material for a two-part television movie, which we saw in 1990 with a terrific adaptation that starred an unforgettable Tim Curry as Pennywise, the demonic clown and child killer. The three-hour, two-part movie wasn’t all that scary, but the story was good, the actors were good, and there was a nice sense of nostalgia as the old friends gathered together.

The novel itself is one of King’s very best.

If New Line can add some serious chills without losing the heart of the story (the relationships), this could be a magnificent adaptation. “It” also needs a stronger climax. As I recall, King’s climax was more literary than cinematic and the miniseries’ climax was a real dud.

The real  key to making it work, though, is to be sure to include the line, “Kiss me, fat boy.”

Without that, you might as well forget the whole thing.


Quick Hits

‘The Shield’ Actor Michael Jace Arrested on Suspicion of Killing Wife

Led Zeppelin Being Sued for Alleged ‘Stairway to Heaven’ Plagiarism

It’s Official: ‘Star Wars: Episode VII’ Filming in Abu Dhabi

Seth MacFarlane Calls Charlize Theron’s Son ‘Little Republican’

The Ultimate 2014 Summer Movie Trailer


Special Note:

My friend and manager Josh Silver is a producer of the new play “Unorganized Crime,” which is playing in Los Angeles and stars Chazz Palminteri. It’s a limited engagement that closes May 31. The play is getting impressive reviews and if you are in the area and interested, there are still tickets available.


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Follow  John Nolte on Twitter @NolteNC