Celebrating Great Films

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

How much does it cost to make a film?

$218. That's how much it costs to make a film.

At least, that's how much it cost Jonathan Caouette to make Tarnation, released in 2003. And it grossed well over half a million at the worldwide box office, making it the film with the second highest return on investment ever (the highest being The Blair Witch Project with a 354,614% return on investment - eat that William Hill).

Ironically, IMDb users rate Tarnation as a better film than Titanic, which is one of the costliest films ever made.

Face on Mars
The whole Mars Pathfinder mission cost
millions less than the film Titanic

A quick glance over The Numbers list of Movie Budget Records reveals what a terrifying risk studios take when they agree to spend a 9 digit sum to make a film. God knows how Warner Bros. is still solvent after losing some $96million on The Adventures of Pluto Nash. That's the same amount that Bush Senior and Clinton managed to raise for their entire Hurricane Katrina Fund.

And yet it's Warner Bros. that are about to release the most expensive movie ever made. The budget for Superman Returns is $250,000,000. A quarter of a billion simoleons. That's the Queen of England's whole fortune. No pressure, then, folks.

Personally, I quite like the idea of spending the $218 I have in my bank account on making a film.

Match Point

Match PointUnranked at time of writing.

Woody Allen has a talent for capturing those awkward moments that make up the bulk of real life and real relationships. He understands what makes people hate the people they most love.

And he does not shy away from allowing people to talk over each other, which creates a conversational atmosphere that makes you feel right at home - makes it personal.

This film has some moments of true genius. It is a very simple concept (a love triangle), with simple characters, but it's so artfully put together. At least until about the halfway point.

Now don't get me wrong, I enjoyed the film. But the act of desperation that the protagonist resorts to midway through the film felt so out of character that I was left feeling skeptical. It may have worked if the character's past had been infused with a bit more mystery, or if there had been some other clues, but it fell short.

There was also an unnecessary indulgence towards the end; a violation of point of view that made the final story point seem contrived. I suppose I can forgive that, though, especially for Woody Allen who makes a virtue of breaking the rules.

Opera is used as a theme in this film, and the story excels as opera. However, as a film, I found the unexpected behaviour of the main character irreconcilable.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith

Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith#241 at time of writing.

Yes, the CGI is a little too slick for its own good. Yes, there are scenes that make you want to punch the screen and yell "NOOOOOOOO!" But it would be unfair to deny that this film wraps us the Star Wars story fantastically well.

I'm going to be controversial now and say I enjoyed this at least as much as Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back, and much more than the original Star Wars (Episode IV). And it goes without saying that it's in a different league to the first two prequels.

Anakin's descent into betrayal is persuasive, the fall of the Jedis is affecting, and the light sabre duels kick ass. My favourite has to be Darth Sidious literally tearing down democracy by throwing bits of the Senate chamber at Yoda.

Trivia for the day: which two actors have appeared in all six Star Wars films?

Monday, January 09, 2006

Box office musings

I've just been browsing through IMDb's list of films that grossed the most money in worldwide box offices. It makes for interesting reading.

The big three are represented right at the top, as you would expect: Star Wars: Episode I comes in at number four with $922,379,000 of box office receipts. That in itself is incredible - it's 15 cents for every single person alive.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone enjoys the number three spot with $968,600,000 - which approaches the GDP of Belize. Number two goes to The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King with an astronomical $1,129,219,252. That's more than all three Indiana Jones films put together.

And guess how much the number one grossed. Nope, guess again. A little more... You're getting warmer...

Titanic stands alone with $1,835,300,000.

That's incredible. There are fewer than 40 films that have ever grossed more than half a billion, and then there's Titanic, which grossed nearly two billion. Look, I've put it on a graph so you can see how ridiculous it is:

Titanic spike

A Titanic spike indeed.

Adjust for inflation, however, and there's a different story. Titanic drops to sixth, according to Box Office Mojo's list. The number one, thanks to 67 years of inflation and a re-release or two, is Gone with the Wind.

Interestingly, there is almost no correlation between the films with that grossed the highest at the box office and the films that were ranked as best by IMDb users. In other words, no correlation between popularity and quality:

Popularity versus quality

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Batman Begins

Batman Begins#111 at time of writing.

This is what a Batman film should be. In fact, this film outdoes all other serious superhero films, ever.

Christopher Nolan hasn't made a lot of films yet, but he already proved his capacity for genius with Memento, and now he's risen to the challenge of a big-budget blockbuster.

I have to admit I was skeptical after the last two Batman films, particularly Batman & Robin, which easily makes it into my Worst 10 Films of All Time. But this film is something special. Based on the darkest and most grounded of the graphic novels, and infused with a compelling realism, this film gets a ten out of ten from me.

The film rewrites the history of the Dark Knight, giving us glimpses into Bruce Wayne's childhood, and his reasons for becoming Batman, without ever being schmaltzy. The resulting epic makes the possibility of a Batman more believable than ever before. And it makes for a thrilling ride.

And the thing that seals the deal is that every single supporting character could stand alone. A monumental achievement considering the first draft of the script was written in less than two months. And helped along by the all-star line-up cast, of course.

It makes me proud as well that a lot of this film was done with British actors and a British studio. Gotham City is largely a full-size indoor city built in a hangar in Bedford (which was previously used for building Zeppelin-sized airships). And the Batmobile is not CGI, it is a £500,000 monster built by Brits at Shepperton Studios.

Hope is reborn for the Batman franchise.

Almost Famous

Almost Famous#212 at time of writing.

"The only true currency in this bankrupt world... is what you share with someone else when you're uncool."

For me, this film is about what we do and what we say when our defences are down. And this film is about those rare wonderful times when we're surrounded by friends and there's nothing to do but have fun. Those times that you want to last forever - but they don't. However hard you try, real life gets in the way. Jealousy, guilt, responsibility.

Actually, this film isn't really about either of those things, it's about ROCK AND ROLL.

Nobody can fail to fall in love with Penny Lane (pictured, played by Kate Hudson); the scene that did it for me was after William Miller tells her that the band leader sold her for 50 bucks and a crate of beer. She smiles as she cries, and asks "What kind of beer?" Such beautiful vulnerability! Such optimistic willingness to fly in the face of real life! Such sadness!

The film is semi-autobiographical for Cameron Crowe, who started off as a reporter for Rolling Stone. That adds a level of the most genuine kind of sentimentality, in a way that makes you want to have been a teenager in 1973. And the film is littered with in-jokes and nods to bands.

It has a tear-jerkingly uplifting twist at the end, and the whole film is so optimistic and full of great music that you can't help but fall in love with it.

I almost forgot - one brilliant scene deserves a mention: the band leader being cowed by William Miller's mum (mom, I guess, as we're in America) speaking on the phone. I laughed so hard! "Your mom kinda freaked me out."

Oh - and the groupie running into the wall! Yes, this is a great film.

Friday, January 06, 2006

The mission

I love films.

Nothing beats the feeling of watching a great film. The credits roll and you feel a surge of adrenalin - as if reality itself has risen and changed to meet your wildest fanatasies. It can change your life.

For the most part I take an unashamedly populist attitude towards movies. I'll go and see whatever catches my eye at the cinema, rather than digging through the archives of an art house rental shop. I am not a film geek (although I am a geek in so many other ways), but I know what I like.

So I have decided to turn this hobby into an ambition.

There are hundreds of Top 10/100/250 Films lists. So why choose IMDb's?

Why the hell not?

So let the fun begin. Bring on the widescreen, technicolour, Dolby Surround glory!