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A year in Hollywood

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OK... I wasn't going to post this because it is a freaking epic at an hour and a half, but this is probably the next best thing, being just two months old. There is a LOT of material covered here because she talks-talks-talks but has NOTHING that is boring to say. I am sure anybody here will not mind wasting the time as she relates all of her personal behind-the-scenes details that is so endlessly fascinating.

 

One aspect of her talk that stands out to me is how much importance she puts in The Story (and it is a shame that I am not discussing screenwriters enough in these dopey posts). She, herself, is drawn towards strong central characters that many people can relate to, regardless if they have anything in common with that character or even if the character is all that likeable. When she goes on about this, I am thinking of a much older Paramount film made long before her time, PSYCHO, succeeding so well because audiences are really intoxicated with Anthony Perkins' Norman, sharing his nervousness when that '57 Ford doesn't sink fast enough in the swamp water and wondering where Lila is when Sam is holding him hostage since he is so protective of "Mother". Apparently not everybody wanted Michael Douglas in FATAL ATTRACTION because he wasn't terribly "likeable", but she knew she was right demanding he stayed in the role when the audience she was watching it with started applauding him roughing up the bed sheets so that his wife thinks he stayed home rather than cheating on her.

 

 

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Plopping another this 4th of July. I keep going over these and re-editing. Just so everybody knows, I am not out to make great literature. Just simple posts continuing a thread.

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A Year In Hollywood 1993

 

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There were many memorable features released this year, a cornucopia in fact. Yet if one had to pick just three that characterized the year, they would be Steven Spielberg's back-to-back JURASSIC PARK and SCHINDLER'S LIST and Jonathan Demme's PHILADELPHIA. The first was the biggest blockbuster up to that time and pushed special effects to a new level with its animatronic and cgi dinosaurs, even if they soon looked archaic once paleontologists were more convinced that Velociraptors sported feathers. The second was Spielberg's ode to the Holocaust and one of the great biopics to rest beside GANDHI and LAWRENCE OF ARABIA; this one making more decade end top ten lists than any other American film. The third was a straight forward “disease of the week” drama with all-too-familiar courtroom scenes featuring a moody Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington essentially playing, well, Denzel Washington with his usual straight face.

 

It was the third film, the seemingly more generic of the trio, that had the greatest impact in the long run. Tom Hanks was certainly not the first heterosexual actor to play a sympathetic gay character on screen, but he was the first to be among Quigley's top ten. (Of course, his heterosexual role in this summer's smash SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE played a much bigger role in that.) There had been earlier productions like LONGTIME COMPANION and this year's TV movie AND THE BAND PLAYED ON tackling the HIV/AIDS epidemic, an epidemic that the administrations of presidents Ronald Reagan and George Bush considered a much lower priority than Gerald Ford had considered Legionnaire's Disease. Like other industries, Hollywood lost its fair share of victims by the early nineties, including Brad Davis, Anthony Perkins, Peter Allen, Robert Reed of THE BRADY BUNCH and Rudolf Nureyev, just to name a few. Yet Hollywood was still a rather cautious industry. Since this was still the era of “I don't care what others do as long as I don't have to see it” (albeit more tolerant than earlier times), a key scene with Hanks and Anthony Banderas showing affection was cut before its release.

 

Outside of PHILADELPHIA, not much was “gay” in mainstream theaters, although there was a gradual increase in supporting characters in story-lines; one great example being British director Mike Newell's FOUR WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL (filming this spring for a January 1994 release) with a Simon Callow/John Hannah relationship in the background to the front-center Hugh Grant/Andie MacDowell one... even if most viewers wouldn't notice it until after one dies (hence the funeral). Of course, there was a burgeoning independent gay-centric film movement, but it was still restricted to inner city film festival showings. This year did see at least two 20-25 minute short subjects enjoy some exposure. Elaine Holliman and Jason Schneider's CHICKS IN WHITE SATIN was a documentary profiling lesbians trying to get a Jewish wedding with much trouble. Brian Sloane's POOL DAYS featured Josh Philip Weinstein as a 17-year old working at a Maryland fitness spa who questions his orientation with a patron there (daytime soap star Nick Kokotakis). This second film differed little from the kind of teen dramas that the Learning Corporation of America was putting out a decade earlier, except for some peekaboo rear nudity and a brief same-sex kiss that certainly would not get aired in ABC's “After-school Specials”, but the kiss scene was cleverly set up with the young lifeguard giving CPR to his buddy after a pool “accident”.

 

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Shorts were not dead yet, as long as they had something to say: POOL DAYS

 

As cautious as the industry still was at this time regarding any kind of same sex affection in mainstream releases, there wasn't much caution with male/female relationships and nudity in bedroom situations were on the rise. Jane Campion's THE PIANO, imported from New Zealand as Miramax's second Best Picture nominee and co-starring Irish-New Zealander Sam Neill just before he fought raptors and T-Rex in JURASSIC PARK, was a “provocative” art-house piece set in 19th century Victorian times, but certainly not “Victorian” in how exposed stars Holly Hunter and Harvey Keitel were. Most other 1992-93 productions released this calendar year weren't quite as graphic, but there was plenty of heterosexual wooing. In THE FIRM, Tom Cruise's big “sin” is cheating on wife Jeanne Tripplethorn with another woman, but we all know that boys will be boys and he will be forgiven in the end. The only thing indecent about INDECENT PROPOSAL was Demi Moore potentially enjoying Robert Redford more than Woody Harrelson. Bill Murray “solves” his repetition of GROUNDHOG'S DAY over and over by his romance with Andie MacDowell. GRUMPY OLD MEN had Ann-Margret at the mercy of both Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau who otherwise act like a grumpy old married couple. Robin Williams only cross-dresses to be a British nanny in MRS. DOUBTFIRE so he can reunite with his wife Sally Field and kids, although he still belts out a nifty Streisand tune while Harvey Fierstein works on his make-up.

 

Action dramas were easier to handle than... ugh!... relationships. Harrison Ford was back on top of the Quigley lists of box-office stars and THE FUGITIVE, co-starring Tommy Lee Jones, was ranked third for the year in receipts. This was part of a revival of TV shows making the theatrical conversion, only the story was very different in style (updated for the nineties) and also involved different studios (the original series was made by United Artists Television in the sixties but the movie was from Warner Brothers). 1993 was a popular year for standard suspense thrillers that didn't have a lot of special effects, but plenty of chase scenes and a key climax even though you knew the hero would still survive. Clint Eastwood knew the tastes were changing, even if the plot-lines were not, and his IN THE LINE OF FIRE had him protecting the president, of all people. (The comedy version shot the same year, but released '94, was GUARDING TESS with Shirley MacLaine as First Lady being protected by Nicolas Cage.)

 

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These were the final years of in-your-seat roller coaster rides done the old fashion way with a lot fewer digital effects than we are used to today. Digital editing itself was only just starting to take hold. In September, principal photography started on SPEED, with Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock as the unstoppable romantic duo and villain Dennis Hopper taking over a Los Angeles bus; this film still used real stunt buses, which would be less commonplace a decade later. Renny Harlin's already-in-release CLIFFHANGER with Sly Stallone made the Guinness Book of World Records thanks to stuntman Simon Crane getting paid over a million for a heart-stopping (only try it once) aerial transfer scene. That one went over successfully, but another involving just a simple hand stunt-gun did not: Brandon Lee was accidentally killed on the set of THE CROW and, while the inquest was settled faster than THE TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE back in the eighties, it still put the pressure on studio safety and security. This added one more incentive to go the digital way in terms of special effects.

 

Before his death in December 1992, Steve Ross of Time-Warner once said “If you are not a risk taker, you should get the hell out of the business”. This was true not only in stunts in action films, but also gambling on what will make or break a company. While current CEO of Warner, Gerald Levin, was starting out his tenure with quite a bit of caution (and... oh how looks can be deceptive at first), Peter Guber over at Sony certainly had no shame to his game. Somehow he persuaded his executive brass to pay Arnold Schwarzenegger an incredible $15 million to appear in LAST ACTION HERO (still more than any actress, including Demi Moore by the same company three years later), only to see it get very negative reviews when it was previewed in May and still somehow manage a small profit. Barely breaking even was THE AGE OF INNOCENCE with director Martin Scorsese choosing a 19th century romance for a change of pace and an attention for detail that went beyond just 1870s costumes. As critic Marc Savlov of the Austin Chronicle fussed: “At two hours and 13 minutes, Scorsese has allowed himself enough time to follow Wharton's book to the letter, and also enough time to include long stretches of painfully wearisome society functions and banter.”

 

Animation was going through an important transitional phase, with old fashion animation techniques getting “twinked” by digital work. More risky was the first full-on digital feature-film, John Lasseter's TOY STORY, starting production in January for a then scheduled mid-1995 release with Disney arranging to distribute. Also working with Disney, Tim Burton returned to the stop-motion animation roots of his early Disney short VINCENT '82, this time with some computer generated help, in a Touchstone backed feature NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS that he produced and Henry Selick directed. Disney was busy in production with a more traditional project, THE LION KING, but was happy to be associated with something this avant garde that surprised those who thought stop-motion was no longer marketable with a cool $76 million over a production cost of $18 million.

 

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The fortunes of struggling Orion Pictures and MGM-UA were very much at the mercy of individual films. Orion Pictures only released three in-house productions, the most anticipated was ROBOCOP 3, another bomb. Many others stayed on the shelf, including a future Jessica Lange Oscar-winner BLUE SKY, completed by Tony Richardson before his passing two years back. Its Classics division still took over distribution of BOXING HELENA in January, barely earning $1.4 million; this bizarre obsession horror was more famous for a high profile lawsuit involving Kim Bassinger who refused to appear in it. Meanwhile, Crédit Lyonnais had taken full control of MGM-UA the previous year, dropping the Pathé connection and trying to deal with all of the securities frauds of already ousted Giancarlo Parretti. Then it ousted Alan Ladd Jr. from his executive chair, Ladd taking his pet-project BRAVEHEART as a settlement prize to re-boot his old Ladd Company.

 

MGM was ready to celebrate its 70th anniversary, but it no longer owned its reduced-in-size Culver City studio. Sony had it now, while MGM's offices were relocated to Santa Monica. Ted Turner owned all of its glorious pre-'80s back-library, which he wanted to promote with a third THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT! By special arrangement, the Sony studio and MGM's participation allowed Gene Kelly to make another (his final) walk down memory lane along Culver City sets late in the year. January 7, 1994 would also mark the 100th anniversary of Thomas Edison's THE SNEEZE and the industry would be doing a lot of looking back in the months ahead.

 

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Plopping another this 4th of July. I keep going over these and re-editing. Just so everybody knows, I am not out to make great literature. Just simple posts continuing a thread.

 

And you've been doing great! Thanks for the excellent contributions.

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And you've been doing great! Thanks for the excellent contributions.

Just forgive me for the mountains in this next one. Too pooped to re-edit and am behind with these.

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A Year In Hollywood 1994

 

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Of special importance to this messageboard, Turner Classic Movies was launched on April 14th to compete with American Movie Classics on cable TV, making a vast chunk of motion picture history available to a wider audience than ever before. This was a year loaded with much nostalgic looking back as the centennial of Thomas Edison's earliest copyrighted titles and the development of the Kinetoscope was getting much press attention. ED WOOD, played by Johnny Depp, was an unlikely film-maker (most famous for PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE) to get equal attention this year, but Tim Burton's biopic also fit in well in a year that saluted the centennial of SANDOW THE MUSCLE MAN and BOXING CATS. Entertainment is still entertainment and different arenas, not only movies, were getting profiled: Woody Allen's BULLETS OVER BROADWAY took on the stage of the roaring twenties, Universal and director Russell Mulcahy revived '30s radio icon THE SHADOW, Robert Redford's QUIZ SHOW took on the most famous TV game show scandal of the fifties and Spike Lee's CROOKLYN blended urban life of the seventies with the popular musical groups of the era. The Coen Brothers' HUDSUCKER PROXY borrowed gags from old classics of Frank Capra and Billy Wilder and presented corporate boardrooms as yet another “stage” for entertainment, hoola hoops included. With all of the nostalgia in the air, Columbia executives probably shouldn't have been so surprised that Gilliam Armstrong's reboot of Louisa May Alcott's LITTLE WOMEN did so well during the holiday season, even though it was done just as straight forwardly as it was back in 1917-18, 1933, 1948 and 1978.

 

In February and March, the mountain of stars underwent its latest transformation. Viacom, initially CBS Films Inc. way back in 1952 and now run by Sumner Redstone (a multi-talented man with plenty of theatrical experience running National Amusements), had successfully outmaneuvered Barry Diller's QVC company to take over Paramount at a cost of $9.6 billion. Then it acquired Blockbuster Video for a much more modest $8.4 million as a way of combining two industries that vaguely resembled Paramount's ownership of its own theaters prior to 1948. In addition, Blockbuster added Spelling Entertainment and the old Republic Films library to their coffers. Jonathan Dolgen (a veteran of Columbia and Fox) was made chairman of the Viacom Entertainment Group and Frank Biondi as CEO. Sherry Lansing stayed on as the most powerful woman in the business, but her old partner Stanley Jaffe was the high profile casualty, attempting an unsuccessful lawsuit against them for $20 million after getting booted.

 

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Among Sherry Lansing's personally invested projects, FORREST GUMP starring Tom Hanks got released nationwide that June and its immediate success proved she wasn't leaving any time soon. The novelty of this fantasy-drama spanning the mid '50s through early '80s was Robert Zemeckis and his team cleverly interspersing (digitally) the main character with famous figures like JFK and John Lennon, a novelty that some critics thought Woody Allen did with much more creativity in ZELIG over a decade earlier. Its bombardment of cultural pop references (sometimes shown out of place chronologically in story-line “dates”) appealed to both Baby Boomers and the nerdy “information highway” enthusiasts seeking more mental stimulation in their entertainment. Later there was much outcry when this film ousted Quentin Tarantino's trendier PULP FICTION at the next Oscars, but both films had more in common than many would care to admit. PULP, which opened at Cannes a month before GUMP, was quite different than other mainstream features with its New Wave manipulation of movie “time” (a bit like HIROSHIMA MON AMOUR), but it too tossed everything from forgotten kiddie television CLUTCH CARGO to the Statler Brothers 1965 country song “Flowers on the Wall” regardless whether or not it fit the storyline. As Vincente Minnelli (whose classic musicals were being revisited in THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT III) once put it, every great movie “is made of a thousand different little things” and these often make you go back to re-watch.

 

Obviously FORREST GUMP was hardly original in concept and execution. One could argue that its appeal to Academy voters was little different than past Best Pictures going back to CIMARRON and CAVALCADE, which also featured one or two easy-to-identify-with characters dealing with the changing culture in their environment. In this era of reflection of times past, dramas heavy on narration were climaxing, as demonstrated by another competitor at awards season, Frank Darbot's THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION with Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman as leads and Freeman telling-us-a-story much like Tom Hanks' character. Like GUMP, it resembled favorites of yesteryear, but in this case prison dramas like Mervyn LeRoy's I AM A FUGITIVE FROM THE CHAIN GANG and Robert Bresson's A MAN ESCAPED.

 

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Problematic with PULP FICTION, as with Tarantino's earlier RESERVOIR DOGS, was it non-judgmental portrait of crime and murder. Some of the funniest black humor featured Mister “Clean-up” Winston, played by Harvey Keitel, forcing mobsters Samuel Jackson and John Travolta to wipe off exploded brain parts and blood from the back of a car so that their buddy won't be brutalized by his clean-freak wife. Although its humorous tone spared Miramax some of the grief that Warner faced with Oliver Stone's NATURAL BORN KILLERS, films like these were often used as “exhibit A” for crimes done off-screen by citizens who claimed they were too easily “influenced” when defending themselves in court hearings. While one could often argue that the media should not be blamed (i.e. children don't simply jump off cliffs because Wile E. Coyote does so), Hollywood suffered a colossal headache when politicians in particular got angry that the industry wasn't taking full responsibility for its own “freedom of expression”. When the Columbine tragedy occurred five years later, much of the debate was less about gun control and more about whether or not NATURAL BORN KILLERS should be held accountable.

 

Steven Spielberg's Amblin was currently basking in the Oscar glow of SCHINDLER'S LIST and providing MCA/Universal their one big hit of this year, a live-action version of THE FLINTSTONES (with lovely Liz Taylor ending her theatrical, if not her TV, career with a Razzie Award). However the company was increasingly hit and miss without Spielberg's help and the Japanese owners at Matsuschita were already nervous with how Sony was struggling in their similar Japanese-U.S. set-up. That Ron Howard project utilizing Tom Hanks and NASA's support in recreating a 1970 space flight was not a sure thing. On the whole, Universal was doing better overall than Fox, despite the latter sporting a new nifty cgi logo from Kevin Burns (with “A News Corporation Company” added to remind the masses that Rupert Murdoch was still boss). Both studios profited that summer with their splitting distribution of James Cameron's Lightstorm Entertainment production, TRUE LIES, which teamed Jamie Lee Curtis with Arnold Schwarzenegger. That spring, both companies again decided to split costs on the Cameron produced, but Kathryn Bigelow directed, STRANGE DAYS which was a futuristic take on racism and voyeurism. (The O.J. Simpson situation became international news one month into production.) Sadly, lightning doesn't always strike twice, even for Lightstorm.

 

The Samuel Goldwyn Company was doing very well with as many foreign imports as American indy productions, temporarily surpassing both Sony (which helped distribute Gaumont's LEON THE PROFESSIONAL) and Bob and Harvey Weinstein's Miramax. Predictably their most popular import was your usual British one: THE MADNESS OF KING GEORGE, directed by Nicholas Hytner and featuring Nigel Hawthorne at his most trumpian. Yet Zhang Yimou's TO LIVE from the Shanghai Film Studio got a great many American moviegoers sold on the wonders of Chinese cinema, since China was now the top customer of Hollywood product and it was important to maintain some mutual interest in each other; the director being no stranger to Hollywood either, thanks to his earlier Oscar nominated RAISE THE RED LANTERN. Always keeping a sharp eye on talent overseas, Hollywood producer Lindsay Doran saw great potential in Taiwan's Ang Lee, who scored back-to-back international smashes through Goldwyn with THE WEDDING BANQUET and EAT DRINK MAN WOMAN. Both Doran and Columbia-Tri Star would soon have Lee taking on Jane Austen with an all British and American cast.

 

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In September, Peter Gubers, the remaining half of a team that Sony spent roughly 2 billion dollars to run their Columbia/Tri-Star company, left to form Mandalay Entertainment. According to chief executive, Michael P. Schulhof, it was his decision and not theirs. As reported by James Bates and Elaine Dutka in the LA Times on September 30th: “Guber's departure is yet another chapter in Sony's five-year ordeal in trying to build a movie business, which it calls 'software', to complement the company's electronics 'hardware'. Sony bought Columbia Pictures for $3.4 billion in 1989, and by some estimates has overall sunk $6 billion to $7 billion into Hollywood, an investment that so far remains far from paid off. Sony's experience serves as a vivid reminder of the minefield that foreign investors face trying to turn a profit in Hollywood.”

 

With so many coming and going in executive chairs on such short notice, any unexpected event out of the blue could prompt a tsunami. In April, a helicopter crash in Nevada's Ruby Mountains claimed the life of top executive Frank Wells, while on a ski trip with his friend Clint Eastwood who... in a curious twist of fate... almost took the same helicopter. This, in turn, shook the Disney company to its core as Wells' well regarded patience and authority had previously helped keep the fiery rivalry between Michael Eisner and Jeff Katzenberg under control. After several months of post-Wells battles in the house of mouse, Eisner succeeded in booting out his rival... at a price... and one that Katzenberg would use to help fund a new company along with buddies Steven Spielberg and David Geffen (riding high with Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt in INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE). Each chipped in with $33 million that October to get DreamWorks created, with Microsoft's Paul Allen supplying an additional $500 million. Alas... getting started was still a challenge. DreamWorks would have nothing to present on screens until 1997.

 

Despite the crash, Frank Wells had never been afraid of heights in his life. In addition to keeping Warner Brothers afloat throughout the seventies and early eighties with SUPERMAN up in the air, he also managed to climb a few mountains before co-running Disney, attempting Everest twice unsuccessfully, but succeeding on others. Mount Kilimanjaro was his first, way back in 1954 after being inspired by Sir Edmund Hillary with Everest, and telling People magazine (2-13-84) “Even though I was sick all the way up, I just climbed the tallest mountain in Africa. Now I want to climb the highest mountain on each continent.” It is no surprise that African aerials are in abundance in the one film everybody today sees his name on as “in remembrance of”. Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff were the primary directors-in-charge supervising the animated THE LION KING, which borrowed freely from the “great prince of the forest” BAMBI, Shakespeare's MACBETH and, unintentionally according to them, the 1965-67 anime TV series JANGURU TAITEI. Yet there was little question whose film this really was.

 

Frank was one who favored looking at everything from high up.

 

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A Year In Hollywood 1995

 

You... are... a... toy!!!!”

 

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So yells Woody (voiced by Tom Hanks) to Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) in the cgi-animated feature TOY STORY. Computers were just “toys” for so many years; the completely “digital” short subjects that utilized them (profiled as far back as Year in Hollywood 1973) were seldom taken seriously. What set TOY STORY apart was the man providing financial backing: Apple Inc. head Steve Jobs was now bringing Silicon Valley to Tinsel Town. Although prints of this movie were often shown on film in theaters, it was not originally made on film like traditional movies and, thus, the very definition of “film” was under scrutiny. Also setting it apart from the competition was the talent involved: besides director John Lasseter, there was plenty of creative writing involving Andrew Stanton, Pete Doctor, Joss Whedon, Joel Cohen, Alec Sokolow and Disney veteran Joe Ranft. Regardless of the medium used, any great movie is dependent on a great story. One common mistake made in the entertainment business is a tendency to get too bogged down on visual appeal rather than substance.

 

No doubt, better story structure could have saved SHOW GIRLS, which both MGM-UA and Carolco had high hopes for, cashing in on Carolco's earlier block-buster BASIC INSTINCT with its explicit censorship button-pushing female nudity and frank sexual dialogue (although viewers today may question why it was rated NC-17). It only earned $37 million after a $45 million price tag but was compensated later in video sales as one of the great cult favorites of the decade. Another epic, the Geena Davis star vehicle CUTTHROAT ISLAND, tanked mightily underwater ($98 million price tag, $10 million in earnings). Carolco soon went kaput, but MGM-UA managed to stay afloat thanks to LEAVING LAS VEGAS, GET SHORTY and the return of 007 with Pierce Brosnan in GOLDENEYE after a six-year hiatus. For a brief period, Frank Mancuso Jr. and John Calley, the latter head of the United Artists unit, were running that operation quite efficiently.

 

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MGM-UA had been slower than the other companies in establishing a more consolidated TV factory, even though both MGM and UA as separate companies had started with small screen affairs back in the fifties. The other companies had long since outpaced them, with Paramount now even launching its own TV network in January, UPN. Despite much hooplah, it wasn't all that successful long-term like Fox TV and neither was the WB network which would later combine forces with it. Meanwhile the ever Machiavellian Rupert Murdoch kept cleverly avoiding all of the Federal Communications Commission questioning as to whether or not his Australian connections through News Ltd. made his ownership of Fox TV illegal; he continued expanding his media empire with a new magazine The Weekly Standard and preliminary work started on a news cable network to compete with Ted Turner's CNN. Turner himself was, during this time, in negotiations with Time-Warner's Gerald Levin for yet another association of interest (which we will get to in 1996).

 

However Michael Eisner, in full control of Disney and nobody battling his authority, had his eye on the biggest prize of all: Capital Cities/ABC. This was an interesting move with plenty of history behind it. Walt Disney broadcast his DISNEYLAND on the ABC network back in 1954 and the TV network had partial ownership of his amusement park at the time as well. Michael Eisner worked for ABC before joining Paramount, then Disney. It was obvious that Paramount's new launch eight months earlier did not go unnoticed.

 

MCA/Universal was not far behind the others in the amount of TV productions it produced, but that wasn't enough for the increasingly frustrated Japanese owners at Matsushita. In April, 80% of their interest was sold to, of all companies, the Canadian drinks oriented Seagram. Lew Wasserman of MCA announced his semi-retirement as “chairman emeritus”, followed shortly by Sidney Sheinberg. Ron Meyer was the new one running things. Despite a few theatrical hits involving a cgi ghost (CASPER), a pig (BABE) and the now indestructible Tom Hanks saving APOLLO 13 (with Ron Howard's Imagine co-productions continuing its winner streak), most of this company's recent focus was on theme parks much like Disney. In an effort to broaden the income of one particular summertime movie release, WATERWORLD, there were tie-ins with a novel, video games and no less than three new theme attractions at the Universal parks in Burbank (California), Singapore and Osaka, Japan. Meanwhile their Orlando, Florida resort celebrated its fifth anniversary as construction began on an Islands of Adventure extension.

 

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APOLLO 13: Bringing the fashions of the Nixon years to the Clinton era

 

The films of the mid nineties have aged comparatively better than many films of other decades, yet they do display a distinctive look and sound to them that is almost as easy to date as mid sixties mod fashions. All of the new technology was being trotted out with grand fanfare, but not always enough restraint. The multi-channel system from Digital Theater Systems Inc. (“dedicated to sound”) became popular thanks to JURASSIC PARK and was suddenly bombarding moviegoers from all directions, not unlike the sometimes clumsy bombardments of “quadraphonic” Dolby sound in the seventies. Speaking of JURASSIC PARK, there was quite a creature boom at this time, still utilizing puppets and animatronics in addition to some cgi manipulation; CONGO also culled from Michael Crichton and made a tidy profit, if hardly pleasing the critics. The latest cgi “effects” were gradually invading (but not in full force just yet) every scenic aspect from action stunts to weather effects to, of course, animals speaking (looking great in BABE, but more hackneyed in its imitations). In this last great decade of actual film-making, an increased use of yellow filters replaced the '80s love affair with “cool” blues and purple and virtually every “rom-com” and “rom-dram” had key establishment shots capturing the setting sun's “golden hues” in an effort to make them more romantic and nostalgic. (Director-star Clint Eastwood did well in the rom-dram genre with co-star Meryl Streep in BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY, but this genre was now pretty standardized in its heavy emphasis on narration, flash-backing and dramatic family disagreements until The Great Understanding is achieved late in the show.) Also rather interesting was a return to the big hair-dos of the early '80s a.k.a. DYNASTY/DALLAS years of prime-time TV, especially now that men's dreadlocks were in season. The contemporary characters in Paramount's reboot of THE BRADY BUNCH look more “dated” today than the sunshine happy seventies family that is ridiculed for being out-of-style.

 

There was another wave of sequels invading the box office, but this didn't mean that the industry was afraid of experimenting in modest projects put out by the little companies and sub-companies owned by the majors (the latest being Fox Searchlight). One reason there were so many “neo-noirs” (vaguely resembling the classic 1940s-50s crime dramas) was because they were so cheap to make and offered more confidence in trying new story ideas with less fear of failure. Gramercy/Polygram only intended to release their $6 million THE USUAL SUSPECTS in select theaters since they were uncertain of its potential, but it quickly became one of the biggest sleepers on the market thanks to a major plot twist. “Gotchas” were much the rage as David Fincher's SE7EN did equally well for New Line Cinema. Comedies were also getting more experimental, even if their freshness may have dimmed in the years since. Paramount's then trendy CLUELESS was essentially Jane Austen's EMMA meets BEVERLY HILLS 90210.

 

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Hardly CLUELESS

 

Jane Austen was suddenly big business, with Ang Lee's more traditionally 19th century-set SENSE AND SENSIBILITY racking up awards late in the year. Close to 11 million Brits watched Simon Langton's mini-series of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE on BBC 1, but only 3 million in the U.S. bothered with its A&E airings later. If the Austen boom could potentially become a bust, there was still Shakespeare to fall back on. In December, the United Artists division of MGM-UA unveiled RICHARD III, updated with Ian McKellen in the lead to a 1930s fascist setting. Adapting the familiar plays to modern (or at least 20th century) settings was an especially '90s fad, one that occasionally hit the mark successfully. Australia's Baz Luhrmann of STRICTLY BALLROOM fame was signed by Fox to reboot ROMEO + JULIET, which would start filming the following January in Australia and Miami, Florida to give commentary to modern day gang/mafia rivalries.

 

With the Internet Movie Database (imdb.com) now in its fifth year online and a new generation of movie fans more nitpicky than ever about goofs and anachronisms, some films went the extra mile to present historical recreations as accurately as possible. APOLLO 13 was blessed with NASA help and pretty much was the textbook example of Hollywood “getting it right”, while the Merchant-Ivory team's take on JEFFERSON IN PARIS, with Nick Nolte playing Thomas Jefferson, also tried their best. To be fair, others like Disney's animated POCAHONTAS were never intended to be history lessons; their version of John Smith, voiced by Mel Gibson, looked like a blonde-haired cross pollination of hulky bulky Prince Eric in THE LITTLE MERMAID and the macho Gaston whom Belle tried to get away from in BEAUTY AND THE BEAST. Certainly Mel's other big hit, BRAVEHEART, is quite the curio when viewed today despite how much money was spent on it by the Ladd Company, 20th Century Fox and Paramount combined. Great care did go into the battle scenes with digital effects helping with the realism and preventing horses from getting injured like so many war and western epics of yesteryear. Yet there are fruit and Scottish kilts shown two hundred years or more too early for its setting, antiquated (even for the 13th century) use of blue make-up (but it sure was trendy), peekaboo wrist-watches on some of the soldiers (oops!), an overly dramatic sequence involving the king overthrowing his effeminate son's gay lover out the balcony, Princess Isabella featured as an adult when the real historical figure was a baby at the time of the key events (but our hero still needed another romantic “conquest” to spread his “seed” to) and Mel Gibson's William Wallace looking surprisingly well SoloFlexed.

 

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The spring of ninety-five did see some interesting medieval Scottish trends in men's fashions. Top, Liam Neeson in ROB ROY. Bottom, Mel strutting.

 

Director-star Mel felt, like Cecil B. DeMille, that a movie is supposed to be a grand show and not a museum exhibition. Obviously historical inaccuracy has not hurt BRAVEHEART in any way, since it still stocks many a Wal-Mart DVD shelf, especially around Father's Day gift-giving time. One could say that its appeal resembles the more historically accurate but still slightly flawed DOCTOR ZHIVAGO in that it reflects the period it was made even better than the period it depicts, looking more “nineties” than even the present-set CLUELESS and SHOW GIRLS. Not that the latter film has suffered in its cult popularity in recent years, thanks to dated-but-memorable lines like “This isn't champagne, this is holy water” and “Molly, can you bring that flashlight over here? I want to see how big it is.” Also we have Elizabeth Berkley's Nomi constantly mispronouncing Versace. Sadly, the great designer would be brutally murdered just over a year and a half after SHOW GIRLS was released, making it a time capsule in more ways than one.

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A Year In Hollywood 1996

 

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Ted and Gerald just before the full “marriage”.

 

CASABLANCA was back with the company that made it. Before Disney's merger with Capital Cities/ABC the previous year, Time-Warner's Gerald Levin had started negotiations with Ted Turner to combine forces with the Turner Broadcasting System, with the finalization taking place in October of this year. After Levin took charge following Steve Ross' death in 1992, many in the industry viewed him as a bit of a prude, being too fussy about keeping the company out of debt and keeping production costs down with little interest in further mergers or corporate expansions. Yet this was an ultimately rewarding move of his. Time-Warner regained a film library that Jack Warner himself sold off back in 1956 in addition to CNN, Turner Classic Movies, Rob Reiner's Castle Rock Entertainment and New Line Cinema. As surprised as others in the industry were, little did they realize that Levin was not finished yet. Time-Warner would only get bigger and bigger in upcoming years.

 

Gerald Levin was vice-president of programming with Home Box Office way back in its infant years (while Richard Nixon was president) and, as a major player with Time Inc., helped make sure that company didn't lose its own investments in the thriving cable network even after combining forces with Warner Brothers in 1989. HBO still operated as a separate company, but there were enough apron strings still attached that Warner's TV production benefited greatly by the close association, even though their Emmy Award sweep that September involved programs produced by different companies. THE LARRY SANDERS SHOW was, for example, Sony/Columbia's baby. (While HBO was leading in solo movie “events” for the small screen, Ted Turner's TNT was temporarily a leader in mini-series such as ANDERSONVILLE and MOSES.) For fall 1996, the slogan changed from “Something's Special's On” to “It's Not TV. It's HBO” due to all of the developing technology. Since 1991, it and its sister network Cinemax had been the primary “multi-plexed channel” providers (again, expanding consumer choices of what to watch on their TV screens) and had been the leading digitally transmitted service since 1993, another wave of the future for American television.

 

Thanks to the Turner acquisitions, a huge chunk of MGM's back library was also under Time-Warner's umbrella. MGM-UA itself, by 1996, was back under Kirk Kerkorian's control, prompting an angry John Calley to quit his post with the United Artists unit and join Sony. The former owner, Crédit Lyonnis, was having a particularly bad, bad year. As an epitaph to their roller coaster ride with both this film company and Kerkorian himself, their main offices in Paris experienced a devastating fire in May that echoed the one hitting MGM Grand in Las Vegas decades before. Yet one can't knock Kerkorian himself. He was running this company more years than the great L.B. Mayer himself and still keeping it afloat. Just when it looked like the company would die, he managed to save it.

 

 

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Harvey & Bob, the Weinstein brothers, at the British Academy Awards

 

Although Disney technically “owned” Miramax, Harvey and Bob Weinstein were still operating as independent tycoons resembling the Cohn brothers, Warner brothers and Laemmle “family” of yesteryear. Their sub-company Dimension Films handled the lower budget popcorn trade like SUPERCOP and its sequel and, in December, they hit the jackpot again with a scare comedy SCREAM. A British import TRAINSPOTTING (directed by Danny Boyle) was a key early hit for Ewan McGregor, who resembled Harvey Keitel in his willingness to “bare all in the name of art” both here and in Peter Greenway's PILLOW BOOK, which Miramax's newest rival LionsGate handled. The $1 million dollar SLING BLADE featuring Billy Bob Thorton earned $24 million thanks to positive word-of-mouth and good ol' Weinstein muscle power. A master in promotion, Harvey in particular pulled all the stops each Oscar season and, starting with THE PIANO, at least one (or two) Miramax releases made the Best Picture nominee cut for a consecutive ten years... an impressive record not seen since MGM pulled off such a streak ending in 1947. If PULP FICTION failed against FORREST GUMP last year and THE POSTMAN against BRAVEHEART this year, then THE ENGLISH PATIENT can make up for it with just enough persuasive influence... and Harvey could be quite ruthless in his persuasion. October Films did offer some challenge with Lars von Trier's imported BREAKING THE WAVES, but the highly charged Emily Watson/Stellan Skarsgård relationship would be a bit too avant garde for some Academy voters' tastes in comparison to the more traditional Kristin Scott Thomas/Ralph Fiennes romance.

 

Rupert Murdoch was less fussy about how many Oscars 20th Century Fox received for its film product. His goal was America's soul.... and also to get even with Ted Turner, whom he had a fierce rivalry going back to an infamous 1983 yacht race battle. If Newt Gingrich could cause havoc with the Clinton administration in Washington D.C., then he and Republican strategist Roger Ailes could be equally successful in manipulating a vast media audience. After Murdoch acquired New World Communications and added ten more TV stations, they started Fox News on October 7th... only a few months after MSNBC got started as yet another competitor to Turner's CNN. What Fox News offered was a more focused-on-the-right point-of-view, repeating “the stories that matter” and presenting them with a bit more cinematic polish. (In the early years, they even had the neat gimmick of re-broadcasting old 35mm Fox Movietone Newsreels.) With so many networks available with the flick of a remote, it is extremely important to make sure your message is very, very concise so that it is easily understood and subconsciously absorbed. Little did anybody, including Murdoch, Ailes and even Turner himself, realize just how well this strategy worked.

 

Politics aside, film production continued as business as usual, with Bill Mechanic temporarily in charge of Fox's theatrical releases and a mega-hit INDEPENDENCE DAY having Will Smith battling aliens rather than Democrats. Aliens were big business, with the infamous Roswell incident of 1947 getting a lot of press attention at this time, thanks to a (later proven bogus) “alien autopsy” film. Coinciding with Fox's big hit was Fox TV's cult success of THE X-FILES, now entering its third season with better ratings than before as the pop trends mid-decade were focusing on the supernatural. MARS ATTACKS!, featuring Jack Nicholson as president defending the United States much like Bill Pullman in the other film, was Warner's comedy version by Batman veteran Tim Burton. Most critics didn't find it terribly funny even if it had the advantage of almost as many familiar faces as Michael Todd's AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS: Glenn Close, Annette Bening, Pierce Brosnan, Danny DeVito, Rod Steiger and even Tom Jones and Sylvia Sidney included. Not to be outdone, Will Smith was cast in yet another spoof follow-up to his earlier hit alongside Tommy Lee Jones; principal photography began on MEN IN BLACK in March even before INDEPENDENCE DAY made it into theaters.

 

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Will Smith was the latest of a new crop of movie idols bypassing old racial barriers, making the Quigley top 25 this year along with veteran Eddie Murphy (his THE NUTTY PROFESSOR was Universal's top hit). Combined with the unexpected success of Forrest Whitaker's WAITING TO EXHALE, released by Fox in late 1995 and earning over $80 million over its modest $16 million, one could no longer argue that Hollywood was too “lily white” anymore. No, there weren't many non-Caucasians calling the shots on the executive level, but progress was being made. Whitney Houston was featured with Angela Basset and others in EXHALE, being the latest pop diva to make the transition to movie stardom even if she ultimately proved no more sustainable than Diana Ross back in the seventies; THE BODYGUARD back in 1992 being a key breakthrough for her. This year she was directed by the top lady director Penny Marshall with Denzel Washington in a remake of the BISHOP'S WIFE called THE PREACHER'S WIFE (for Sam Goldwyn/Disney). If a black star made it big on screen, he or she could command more producer power and push films with more diversity than was customary for the industry, as Whitney would do the following year on a TV production of CINDERELLA. That autumn, Samuel L. Jackson not only agreed to star in Kasi Lemmons' EVE'S BAYOU, but also handle some of the production himself.

 

Tom Cruise and Mel Gibson were in the top two spots on Quigley, the former having an especially great year with MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE and JERRY MAGUIRE back to back. MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE was, again, Paramount tapping its TV resources. It was essentially re-packaging an old sixties and seventies series in a new up-to-date razzle-dazzle much as THE FUGITIVE was updated three years back by Warner. The gap between small screen and big screen was quite narrow. Paramount's ties with Viacom meant that both Nickelodeon and MTV had successful theatrical releases under the mountain-of-stars. HARRIET THE SPY, starring Michelle Trachtenberg, got better reviews than the animated BEAVIS AND BUTTHEAD DO AMERICA, but the latter certainly didn't do poorly in competition with Disney fare like THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME.

 

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Disney started a new trend, ever so tentatively, that differed from Warner and Paramount re-booting TV shows for the big screen. 101 DALMATIANS was given a live-action update with Glenn Close playing Cruella De Vil and John Hughes of HOME ALONE fame co-producing. Surprisingly, just this and its sequel were made by decade's end, but Disney knew that reissues of classic animation weren't enough. In the future, the company would become obsessed with remaking animated favorites in live-action with cgi helping with any fantasy elements necessary. Right now, the focus was on direct-to-video animated sequels of the ALADDIN AND THE KING OF THIEVES kind, often made economically overseas by studios acquired by Disney: Brizzi Films of Paris, Pacific Animation Corporation of Japan, Disney Animation Canada and DisneyToons Australia. Unfortunately its interest in stop-motion (spruced by cgi) petered when Henry Selick's JAMES AND THE MAGIC PEACH failed to succeed as his earlier THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS.

 

The first American film to be released on the new DVD format (initially in Japan) was the summertime special effects opus TWISTER, yet another of many, many joint-ventures between companies (Universal and Warner this time). How else could the $92 million price tag get covered? As production costs on another project of Fox got too high, Sherry Lansing persuaded the Paramount brass to chip in; again, the plan had one company reap U.S. distribution rights and the other international. On May 31st, Fox studios started building a makeshift studio over 40 acres of waterfront property in Playas de Rosarito, Mexico to help accommodate James Cameron, now dubbed “the scariest man in Hollywood” much like notorious perfectionist Erich von Stroheim. Although digital effects would be employed as with all special effects extravaganzas, there was still a ship reconstructed at Fox Baja full-scale of the R.M.S. Titanic. Practically everybody involved in this got sick at one point; in Nova Scotia that July, Cameron and actor Bill Paxton were hit by a PCP drug in their food and, later that autumn, a flu epidemic hit due to too much time spent in cold water.

 

There were eminent fears by the end of 1996 that another CLEOPATRA or, worse, HEAVEN'S GATE was in the making...

 

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A Year In Hollywood 1997

 

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A new format competed with VHS for home-alone film enthusiasts to re-watch what the Academy favored

 

In March, the first wave of digital compact discs hit the market, offering an easier, cheaper and more improved picture quality than VHS. Some companies involved in perfecting the process already had strong Hollywood ties, including Sony and Matsushita Electric Industrial (Panasonic) and, thus, saw continuing revenue for the industry with all of the technological upgrading. The timing of this was crucial: the first successful High Definition TV broadcast was held the previous year on July 23rd over the Raleigh-Durham-Fayetteville area of North Carolina (WRAL-HD) and home entertainment had to adapt. All of this, in turn, set to motion a mad-dash among the studio majors to expand their film libraries. On April 11th, Kirk Kerkorian of MGM-UA bought out the Metromedia companies, which included the slowly dying Orion Pictures along with the lucrative Samuel Goldwyn Company and Motion Picture Corporation of America, all with extensive titles in their catalogs. However he was outbid late in the year by Polygram in taking over the library of Consortium de Réalisation, affiliated with MGM-UA's former owners at Crédit Lyonnis.

 

With all the new digital special effects being trotted on screens, the motto this year was Action! Action! Action! There were a couple popular comedies like LIAR LIAR (which earned Jim Carrey a Golden Globe nomination), but most of the moneymakers this year bombarded viewers with as much motion on screen as possible. Pierce Brosnan was back again as 007 in TOMORROW NEVER DIES and Harrison Ford as president saving his plane in AIR FORCE ONE. The Touchstone (Disney)-Tri Star (Sony) collaboration STARSHIP TROOPERS, with Paul Verhoeven at the helm, wasn't quite as popular as INDEPENDENCE DAY and the critics didn't know what to make of it at the time, but its satiric digs at patriotism and warfare (even paying a little homage to WW2 propaganda such as Frank Capra's WHY WE FIGHT series) has made it one of the more durable nineties escapism these past two decades... and the insect like aliens haven't aged badly either. (In the late nineties, cgi was still being used with some restraint.) Not to be outdone, even Disney had a cartoon HERCULES battling it out with beasties.

 

Beasties, of course, were the stars in Steven Spielberg's THE LOST WORLD: JURASSIC PARK, which pretty much matched the original in mopping-up the competition that summer. This was a much darker film than the original with a much higher human fatality count on screen. There was a sinister ghoulish delight in the myriad ways humans became “lunch” to raptors and T-Rex, the latter let loose in San Diego like the brontosaurus invading London in the 1925 film of the same title. Not even the Blockbuster video store was safe from city buses pushed by a carnosaur in rage... and knocking over posters featuring Robin Williams in JACK & THE BEANSTALKS and Arnold Schwarzenegger playing KING LEAR. (Perhaps Spielberg was hyper-critical of the direction movies were going these days?) The cherry on top was a scene with evil Peter Ludlow (Arliss Howard) getting treated like an injured baby warthog by “lion” T-Rex to Junior, who must finish the kill.

 

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Almost as many casualties would later be seen on screen in Spielberg's upcoming SAVING PRIVATE RYAN; the filming of his take on D-Day (with great attention to detail, culling from photographs and newsreels) began that June on Ballinesker Beach and other coastlines of Ireland, the very same month Terence Malick took on the Pacific side of the war in Australia and later the Solomon Islands for his upcoming THE THIN RED LINE. Sandwiched in-between RYAN and the earlier THE LOST WORLD was the often overlooked AMISTAD, the second release for the new DreamWorks that he co-founded three years back with Jeff Katzenberg and David Geffen and currently distributing through Universal and Paramount. It brought to life a half-forgotten 1839 slave mutiny off the coast of Cuba. Aside from the usual obsessive attention to period detail, Spielberg was eager to expose the race relations of the 19th century with unflinching coverage. America's darker history can't be swept under the rug and the Hollywood mainstream was showing quite a bit this year. The January release of John Singleton's ROSEWOOD created a ruckus in presenting a 1923 town massacre involving a white mob in Florida, while Spike Lee took a break from his usual fictional productions to cover in documentary form the 1963 church bombing and death of 4 LITTLE GIRLS.

 

There was a belated, but much appreciated, effort to show as much diversity as possible in these more enlightened times. 1997 was the year Ellen DeGeneres had her “coming out” party on national TV, an event that created a lot more hub-bub than necessary. By this stage, still skittish heterosexual characters in popular TV sitcoms like SEINFELD and FRIENDS at least reached the stage of saying “not that I have anything against the 'gay' thing”. Comedies handled such subjects best. IN & OUT had Kevin Kline trying to prove he is not gay despite how much he likes Broadway tunes, then finally giving in when the residents in his small Indiana town suddenly decide they are all “gay” as well. AS GOOD AS IT GETS was a comic-drama that was bogged down by a very depressed and certainly not “gay” Greg Kinnear, who showed more affection for his pooch than with any human male on screen, while Jack Nicholson acted like his disciplining heterosexual father when not wooing Helen Hunt. MY BEST FRIEND'S WEDDING at least had Rupert Everett enjoying his role as the abstinent boy-friend to star Julia Roberts. In the surprise hit that spring, Kevin Smith's CHASING AMY, Ben Affleck tries unsuccessfully to convert his girlfriend (Joey Lauren Adams) away from other chicks. Meanwhile, filmed that spring for 1998 release, THE OBJECT OF MY AFFECTION had the genders reversed: Jennifer Aniston's Nina was trying to do the same with Paul Rudd's George. As a sign of the changing times, biopics were more truthful than in the past a.k.a. NIGHT AND DAY (1946) so that Bill Condon's GODS AND MONSTERS (which started filming in August) could now depict an “out of the closet” director James Whale played by “out of the closet” Ian McKellen... and... whew!... beefcake Brendan Fraser is still able to confirm “I am not... you know”.

 

One genre that was both consistent in box-office appeal and unflinching in its sharp criticism of American ways was the “neo-noir”. 1997 saw one of the biggest bumper crops, the majority opening in the months of August and September just after all of the “brain relaxation” explosions and dino attacks outlasted their summertime welcome. Among the high profile examples were COP LAND (mostly utilizing its star appeal of Sly Stallone, Robert De Niro, Harvey Keitel and Ray Liotta), AFFLICTION (Nick Nolte as a cop obsessed in solving a hunting accident to distract him from family troubles), DECEIVER (with Tim Roth in a tale of paid sex and murder being intertwined and the investigators very much involved), THE GAME (with Michael Douglas and Sean Penn, exposing conspiracies in investment banking) and THE SPANISH PRISONER (adapting a David Mamet story with Steve Martin getting a corporate espionage role to counter his usual comedy slapstick). Also influential was the Norway import set in the Arctic Circle, INSOMNIA. Slightly different than the others, DONNIE BRASCO was more of THE GODFATHER school (also with Al Pacino teamed with Johnny Depp) and Quentin Tarantino choosing Pam Grier of seventies “blaxploitation” fame to lead his ensemble in JACKIE BROWN. Taking their cue from Tarantino, noirs and crime dramas going into production for 1998 release tended to be more comic and lighter in tone: the Coen brothers were returning to their RAISING ARIZONA period with THE BIG LEBOWSKI.

 

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Both comic and deadly serious was LA CONFIDENTIAL, Warner Brothers' Cannes festival critics-darling that went back to the early fifties to cover how the police force was covering up a lot in Tinsel Town to avoid the impact of Hush Hush (a Hollywood Confidential knock-off) and any other unwanted publicity. Curtis Hanson received much praise for directing his cast (Kevin Spacey, Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce, Kim Basinger, Danny DeVito, James Cromwell and Simon Baker), but some felt he copped out with a too-eager-to-please happy ending. Much of the film's appeal was showing how the public's insatiable need to know anything and everything about their celebrities was no different back then than today. LA CONFIDENTIAL was a rather strange companion piece to the year's biggest news story, three months after its theatrical premiere: the auto accident death of Princess Diana in Paris was blamed by some on pursuing paparazzi.

 

On a lighter note, IMAX was celebrating its third decade as the Canadian wide-screen that successfully invaded Hollywood. In addition to two under 40 minute documentaries that would later compete for Oscars, AMAZON and ALASKA: SPIRIT OF THE WEST, the Nutcracker Suite was also given the additional 3-D treatment along with a few other experiments. Although Hollywood wasn't quite ready, they were certainly noticing. Disney planned to make its FANTASIA CONTINUED (later becoming FANTASIA 2000) in IMAX but not necessarily 3-D. George Lucas had high hopes for using both IMAX and adapting 35mm prints to IMAX as well, reissuing the 20th anniversary “special addition” of STAR WARS in a not quite IMAX but still wide screen. This was also a new cgi- “enhanced” version that added extra space ships and creature characters digitally to many scenes originally released without them. He saw it as one way of making these older films more contemporary, since he was unhappy that his toy box of special effects was much more limited back in the seventies. His master plan was to make the old films blend in better with newer installments that preceded in storyline: CHAPTER 1: THE PHANTOM MENACE started filming on June 26th.

 

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STAR WARS included, the 1990s saw an obsession with the “ME” decade that was even greater than the '80s love of GOOD MORNING, VIETNAM and THE WONDER YEARS, the original “ME” decade with HAPPY DAYS and GREASE and the '60s with THE DIRTY DOZEN and HOGAN'S HEROES. So many popular titles of the '90s were set in the '70s or featured a huge stretch of material then: MY GIRL, DAZED AND CONFUSED, CROOKLYN, FORREST GUMP, Paramount's twice reboot of THE BRADY BUNCH MOVIE, APOLLO 13, CASINO, NIXON and Miloš Forman's THE PEOPLE VS. LARRY FLYNT, with this year's high profile contributions being Ang Lee's THE ICE STORM, set against the backdrop of Watergate and a defining moment in the career of Tobey Maguire, and Paul Thomas Anderson's BOOGIE NIGHTS with Mark Wahlberg, Julianne Moore and Burt Reynolds. The “golden age of porn” seemed like an unlikely topic for a mainstream production (at least for New Line Cinema) that was aiming for an R-rating rather than NC-17, but it was inevitable that this integral part of the decade's kitsch would be analyzed along with everything else. Picked up by Fox Searchlight was a British import THE FULL MONTY that wasn't exactly set in the seventies but featured some vintage seventies travelogue footage early on and the Sheffield working class guys taking on striptease (less provocative than porn) with great use of a seventies soundtrack featuring Donna Summer, Gary Glitter and Hot Chocolate.

 

One film genre of the seventies that the industry was ready to try, try again with was the disaster film. Already AIR FORCE ONE was this year's counterpart to AIRPORT and its sequels. Now it was time for the latest POSEIDON ADVENTURE, although not one with many survivors. James Cameron's version of TITANIC finished principal photography in March, but many more months were needed for post-production special effects work. Per Cameron: “We labored the last six months on TITANIC in the absolute knowledge that the studio would lose $100 million. It was a certainty.” A planned summer release was postponed, although July 14th test screenings in Minneapolis of the film-in-progress generated positive feedback. It finally premiered at the Tokyo International Film Festival on November 1st to a somewhat indifferent response. The big joke was than some were expecting Harrison Ford to appear in it. Initially both Fox and Paramount got paranoid that their $200 million investment would bomb. Yet the publicity surrounding it was more than enough to cause a holiday stampede during the final two weeks in December when it opened nationwide in America. The first $28 million earned before New Years at least was a promising sign...

 

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Poor Doctor Bombay... Bernard Fox was aboard that sinking ship again. Pictured above is Fox in A NIGHT TO REMEMBER (1958) as the first to see the iceberg. This epic was produced by J. Arthur Rank but distributed in the United States by Paramount, the same company co-producing the 1997 version. Likewise, this was also the second version for co-producer 20th Century Fox. Their previous version, also titled TITANIC but without Fox the actor, was historically significant as the first Hollywood film promoted on a popular TV show: Ed Sullivan in 1953.

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A Year In Hollywood 1998

 

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The first half of the year was focused on two big events. As Monica Lewinsky remembered later for the New York Times (after Roger Ailes' passing): “Just two years after Rupert Murdoch appointed Mr. Ailes to head the new cable news network, my relationship with President Bill Clinton became public. Mr. Ailes, a former Republican political operative, took the story of the affair and the trial that followed and made certain his anchors hammered it ceaselessly, 24 hours a day.” Such was the almighty power of Fox News, along with CNN, MSNBC, the ABC, NBC, CBS and PBS news shows and an endless array of tabloid periodicals. The other ongoing event was Fox the film company jointly enjoying the spoils with Paramount over TITANIC, showing in no less than 3,200 national screens by March. There were plenty of off-color jokes combining the two, such as “while the ship went down once, Monica did so more than once”.

 

This was not a good year for the prudish easily embarrassed by bodily fluid talk. Even the word “hair gel” now meant something else altogether thanks to the Cameron Dias and Ben Stiller comedy THERE'S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY. Hollywood may have gingerly poked fun at Washington and its scandals when WAG THE DOG was released a bit earlier in 1997, but this year saw the film, music and TV industries slammed just as hard. In fact, 1998 seemed so much more eventful than the 1921-23 Fatty Arbuckle-WD Taylor-Wallace Reid years combined: Robert Downy Jr. was back in prison for violating his probation, fellow stars Brad Renfro, Charlie Sheen, Kate Moss and Daniel Baldwin all were struggling with their own addictions, Gérard Depardieu was motorcycling drunk, music star George Michael was caught enjoying himself in a park restroom, Christian Slater got arrested for beating both his girlfriend and an officer and, more ominously, details involving actor Phil Hartman's unexpected murder by his suicidal wife were all over the place. Celebrities had been living in a fish bowl for decades, but Tinsel Town was a lot more sensitive about it than in the past.

 

Peter Weir's THE TRUMAN SHOW came out in theaters this spring at just the right time. Jim Carrey's Truman Burbank (his last name synonymous with Hollywood's sleepy neighbor town, also involved in entertainment) is literally born on a reality television show. While movies try to replicate reality with studio sets, he only belatedly realizes that his entire life is all on a studio set. Not that there weren't occasional clues like a ceiling lamp falling from the “sky”. On the plus side, he is also scandal free. Was this because he was under the control of his TV executive “parent” (Ed Harris) and, thus, prevented from doing anything foolish?

 

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Roberts and Grant on the set with director Roger Michell.

 

THE TRUMAN SHOW was filmed during a quieter and gentler time (December 1996 through April 1997), but NOTTING HILL started principal photography this April at the height of tabloid mania. It featured Julia Roberts as Anna Scott, movie star, and Hugh Grant as “average” Will Thacker; its script written by Richard Curtis of FOUR WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL fame. Anna goes into hiding when an old film showing her nude resurfaces and even Will's flatmate Spike (humorously played by Rhys Ifans) is enjoying the magazine blow-ups. After telling her new London friends about getting “work” done on her face in order to maintain her public image, she moans “one day not long from now, my looks will go, they will discover I can't act and I will become some sad middle-aged woman who looks a bit like someone who was famous for a while.”

 

One reason Julia Roberts made the top ten in the Quigley polls for at least six years this decade was due to her displaying as much caution as her character Anna. The genders were still not being treated equally, as actresses had to struggle staying young enough and pretty enough while there was more latitude among actors. Not that Tom Hanks, Jim Carrey, Leonardo DiCaprio and Robin Williams were all suffering in the looks department. All however surpassed Meg Ryan (Hanks' co-star in YOU GOT MAIL) in popularity that year, with only Julia and Cameron Dias coming close to her as top actresses. Sherry Lansing was still one of the few ladies with executive power at this time even though quite a few releases this year featured historical women in power. Two actresses would later get Oscar nominations playing one particularly powerful lady of the past, Elizabeth I: SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE (which would cause a fury overtaking Steven Spielberg's SAVING PRIVATE RYAN at the next awards show) earned Judi Dench an Oscar for only eight minutes of screen time playing her, while Cate Blanchett in ELIZABETH would lose out to Gwyneth Paltrow in the other film playing an actress who must pose as a man in order to get professional acting recognition.

 

This year's 70th anniversary ceremony was probably the most watched Oscars in recent memory, dominated by TITANIC and the surprise upset of youthful bro-buddies Matt Damon and Ben Affleck winning for their screenwriting in Gus Van Sant's GOOD WILL HUNTING (also earning for actor Robin Williams). Yet another award can't be overlooked: Jan Pinkava's five minute animated short GERI'S GAME, featuring an elderly chess player competing with himself. This experiment in realistic cgi human-like animation was a necessary extra that Pixar needed to put out during the long waiting period between features TOY STORY and A BUG'S LIFE. With Andrew Stanton directing, the latter was well worth the wait, but it now had competition with DreamWorks' first cgi feature ANTZ, directed by Eric Darnell and Tim Johnson and also featuring anthropomorphic insects (and voiced by a huge cast: Woody Allen, Gene Hackman, Sharon Stone, Sylvester Stallone, Jennifer Lopez, Christopher Walken, Jane Curtin, Anne Bancroft, Dan Aykroyd and Danny Glover). It was now obvious that Pixar was no longer unique as every major studio had to have its own cgi animation studio. Fox took over the already established Blue Sky Studios based in Greenwich, Connecticut; its first “test” was the next Oscar one-reel winner, Chris Wedge's BUNNY. Although traditional animation styles were not neglected, the latest Disney “in-house” efforts like MULAN were getting more ballyhoo for their digital effects than their blood-and-sweat drawing work; in particular, the new “Atilla” software that created 2,000 Hun soldiers in battle.

 

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A cgi BUNNY

 

The American film industry was operating from two angles: the independent “anything goes” versus the formula-that-worked-before. Sony/Tri-Star's GODZILLA got a new cgi-enhanced face lift to match better with the recent JURASSIC PARK films, but it was just another disaster pic like Disney's ARMAGEDDON and DreamWorks/Paramount's DEEP IMPACT that moviegoers complained about after spending their hard earned money. Even TITANIC's flaws were secondary to what were perceived as microwaved leftovers of better offerings in the past. The “neo noir” cycle was just starting to decline in fashion, but there were still more critical successes in the bunch: Scott B. Smith's A SIMPLE PLAN, with Bill Paxton, Billy Bob Thorton and Bridget Fonda, made interesting use of the Minnesota winter to match the ominous mood of FARGO a decade earlier.

 

An episode of Trey Parker and Matt Stone's animated SOUTH PARK televised August 19th featured a cartoon version of Robert Redford angry at the Hollywood “jet set” taking over the Sundance festival in Park City, Utah and wanting to move it all to South Park, Colorado... until that town becomes overloaded with tourists like Park City and Hollywood. All jokes aside, this and other festivals like Toronto's held each September and, of course, Berlin, Cannes and Venice had lately become battlegrounds for studio executives seeking the next “Oscar bait” that was cheaper to distribute than make from scratch. The film festivals also were a testing ground for controversial subject matter covered in experiments such as Todd Solondz' HAPPINESS and the latest in international cinematic styles like the new “Dogme 95” discipline of Danish directors Thomas Vinterberg (FESTEN) and Lars von Trier (IDIOTERNE). Sadly a great many worthy films got under promoted, even when bought. Miramax clearly had higher hopes for SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE than it did for Maya Angelou's DOWN IN THE DELTA (the final film of GOOD TIMES star Esther Rolle) or Peter Chelsom's THE MIGHTY (which at least gave Sharon Stone a Golden Globe nomination). Both were pretty much treated as limited-release “extras”. (Maya was a familiar enough face on TV and the literary circuit and this was a rare film she directed. Again, African American women operated best getting independent financing, like Cauleen Smith did with DRYLONGSO that same year.)

 

1122297.jpg

 

Most often purchased by the majors were the comedies featuring teens and twenty-somethings struggling to be themselves and dealing with dis-functional families. Although Ben Stiller in Fox's more mainstream THERE'S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY was much older, he blended well with this fabric. John Waters may have enjoyed a retrospective for his past “gross out” work at Sundance with DIVINE TRASH, but his current production, PECK ER, was much more moderate; the title referring to a self conscious teen's eating habits and the main part of the story concerning his photography talent getting discovered. Sort of a hybrid between an “indy” and major studio production was the Disney-Touchstone supported RUSHMORE, directed by Wes Anderson with newcomer Jason Schwartzman as a teen eccentric befriending (and later declaring war on) a rich industrialist played by Bill Murray. Sporting the glasses, Schwartzman's Max Fischer resembled an older version of Harry Potter gone wild and would invite comparison to Reese Witherspoon's equally over-achieving lady counterpart in the next year's (but filmed this year) ELECTION.

 

The movie rights to J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series was sold to Warner Brothers this year, but these were to be much sweeter productions. As the successes of both Harry and Max proved, being different than everybody else was the new “normal”. Gone were the days of trying to maintain a fixed image. Even if you tried to pose with a public persona that was carefully built up, any possible scandal in the tabloids will remove your mask... as it was doing with a great many celebrities this year. As the millennium was drawing to a close, the screens would become more diversified and individualistic than ever...

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A Year In Hollywood 1999

 

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Disney takes on George Gershwin and Al Hirschfeld

 

Although Entertainment Weekly quickly dub this specific year as the one “that changed movies”, the changes weren't all abrupt. On the surface, it seemed like nothing unusual was happening to the industry. Once again, there was a James Bond offering, THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH, a spoof on sixties spy adventures called AUSTIN POWERS: THE SPY WHO SHAGGED ME (with Mike Myers offering ample competition to Will Smith and Adam Sandler in comedies), Universal reviving THE MUMMY with better effects work and, most importantly, George Lucas was back with STAR WARS EPISODE 1: THE PHANTOM MENACE. Pixar's TOY STORY 2 did even better than the original, while Disney was doing quite well with more traditional animation (plus a little cgi), repeating HERCULES in the jungle with TARZAN and releasing FANTASIA 2000 at the end of the year. As usual, animated features that were not Pixar or Disney branded still struggled, such as Brad Bird's critically acclaimed THE IRON GIANT (which did enjoy a cult following after Warner put it on DVD). If nothing else, this was a nice bow-out to what, in hindsight, was a not-so-bad-decade for mass entertainment... much as 1939 was.

 

Richard Gere and Julia Roberts were together again in RUNAWAY BRIDE and Julia was back on top of the Quigley polls after being nestled at #10 last year. The release of NOTTING HILL certainly added to her fortunes and she was given a lucky role that spring playing ERIN BROKOVICH in Steven Soderbergh's latest for Jersey Films/Universal. Performers like her were still very cautious at how experimental their roles were. Critics were not kind to EYES WIDE SHUT, filmed mostly in 1996-97 by Stanley Kubrick (who died this year) with Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman in their strangest roles, but Cruise did earn another Oscar nomination for Paul Thomas Anderson's MAGNOLIA. While stars like Johnny Depp already had an eccentric edge spanning their entire careers, others were taking greater risks in their gambles. Case in point was the very fluctuating career of former disco 70s icon John Travolta, whose PULP FICTION marked a spectacular comeback as a jack-of-all-trades character actor who carried through some offbeat hits like FACE/OFF and THE GENERAL'S DAUGHTER before over-challenging himself with an ill-advised L. Ron Hubbard project BATTLESHIP EARTH. New Zealand import Russell Crowe was yet another chameleon emphasizing diversification with LA CONFIDENTIAL and THE INSIDER, the latter co-starring Al Pacino, and now devoting the first five months of the year playing a Roman GLADIATOR for Ridley Scott and DreamWorks, essentially the nineties QUO VADIS epic but with as much post-filming cgi work required as TITANIC.

 

While each company came out with something unusual this year, Warner Brothers was on a roll. They weren't expecting such a huge hit that spring with THE MATRIX, an action packed but still bizarre Keanu Reeves vehicle set in a simulated reality state and directed by the unique Larry/Lana and Andrew/Lilly Wachowski, exemplifying the new just-be-yourself-regardless-of-what-anybody-thinks mentality. Apparently audiences weren't confused at all by it and long sensed that something was taking over their brains, especially at a time when lives were so easily manipulated by the latest TV and computer technology. David O'Russel had directed the somewhat more traditional THREE KINGS with George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, Ice Cube and Spike Jonze. This started out as a standard Gulf War saga but suddenly morphed into a gold heist adventure since everybody has their own objective when it comes to invading new territories. Handheld cameras and Steadicams were used more frequently here than in other mainstream productions, giving it a distinctive on-the-go look for its time.

 

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Again, the common theme this year was “it is OK to be different”. Hilary Swank would win an Oscar for Best Actress playing a transgender who gets assaulted in BOYS DON'T CRY, Fox Searchlight's latest indy hit ironically filmed in the same month Matthew Shepard's murder got publicized nationwide as a hate crime. Masculinity was put to the test in another 20th Century-Fox release, FIGHT CLUB, adapted from Chuck Palahniuk's popular novel by David Fincher and featuring Brad Pitt, Edward Norton and Helen Bonham Carter. Then there was DreamWorks' AMERICAN BEAUTY (with Sam Mendes directing), which was the type of film one either loves for its unique story telling (the ghost of Kevin Spacey's frustrated settle-down husband narrating) or finds annoying with all of its talk about beauty in bags blowing in the wind. It also tested public tastes with a main character obsessing over his daughter's best friend, fondling himself in showers and under covers due to a lack of wifely affections and dealing with a next door military neighbor expressing his homophobia too blatantly. As in FIGHT CLUB, conformity is not good for the soul.

 

Comedy films were at their peak in oddball strangeness, some considered cult classics today and others just... odd. Many were focused on eccentric characters who were finished keeping up with the Joneses and breaking the third wall in psycho-analysis. Mike Judge followed his Beavis & Butthead cartoon stars with a live-action satire of a software IT worker habits in OFFICE SPACE; this being unsuccessful when 20th Century Fox initially released it in February, but growing a following with time. At the Venice festival that September, Spike Jonze (one of the stars in THREE KINGS) promoted his BEING JOHN MALKOVICH, scripted by Charles Kaufmann with an initial “story about a man who falls in love with someone who is not his wife”, if proving to be a lot more cerebral than that. Characters who strove to be over-achievers and making oaths to keep up with their buddies were now the ones being ridiculed, like the teenage boys competing to lose their virginity in AMERICAN PIE (Universal's biggest hit and spawning sequels).

 

The supernatural fad that peaked mid-decade X-FILES style continued, but it varied from film to film and the emphasis was less on aliens than old fashion spooks. Critics were divided in their opinions regarding the novel “found footage” video-like technique employed by Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez in THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, but this $60, 000 budgeted indy shot in 8 days in October 1997 was a mammoth surprise this year at Sundance, eventually earning an incredible $248 million for distributor Artisan. A twist “gotcha” at the end of M. Night Shyamalan's THE SIXTH SENSE made it Disney's most profitable release of the year, with Bruce Willis helping young Haley Joel Osment (originally FORREST GUMP's son) get over all of his “I see dead people” stigma. Nicholas Cage was also seeing the deceased as an unsuccessful paramedic in BRINGING OUT THE DEAD. These last two were filmed almost simultaneously in the autumn of 1998 and released just two months apart to critical acclaim. Why one would be a hit and the other a huge flop is hard to explain, except that audiences can sometimes suffer from over-saturation of a particular genre in too short of a time period.

 

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Despite its failure, BRINGING OUT THE DEAD was just another of many Disney-Paramount co-productions that also included the very popular RUNAWAY BRIDE. Sherry Lansing had been running Paramount for eight years and her talent was keeping financial risks down with just the right amount of inter-company cooperation and dividing of profit shares. By this year, practically half of Paramount's releases were co-productions: SOUTH PARK was made BIGGER, LONGER & UNCUT with Warner participation, ANGELA'S ASHES had Universal support and THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY was another in a decade long run with Miramax (still owned by Disney “technically”).

 

The merging of big screen with little screen continued its due course when Paramount also found itself a sibling of the Columbia Broadcasting System, as Viacom succeeded in taking over the TV network with its head Mel Karmazin now “chief operating officer” of Viacom as well. With Paramount tied with CBS, Disney with ABC, Fox having its own networks, Warner with Turner and HBO and Sony also dominating cable TV, what was left to be determined were the fortunes of MCA/Universal and NBC. NBC seemed to be doing fine, but the other a little less so. TV production was down after Seagram executive Edgar Bronfman Jr. sold much of its holdings to the USA Networks, although the mother company also acquired Polygram and sold off its DuPont stake to help compensate its investments in entertainment. Doing less well, but still hanging in there, was Kirk Kerkorian's MGM-UA, despite Alex Yememidjian being forced to restructure United Artists just as it was celebrating its 80th birthday with only the 007 franchise still keeping the doors open. (In an interesting move, Francis Ford Coppola attempted unsuccessfully to buy UA.)

 

Once upon a time, movies were in direct competition with television. Hollywood was in a state of shock when Hal Roach decided to invest in half-hour TV sitcoms in 1948 (filmed in 35mm rather than “live”) and, when the rest of the studios made tentative steps into TV production (Columbia in 1952, the others in 1954-55), there was constant re-assurance to theater owners that they weren't turning their backs on them. Now both theatrical screen and TV screen was at the mercy of the newest monster, the World Wide Web, and it was better to combine forces. (Gerald Levin of Time-Warner had another trick up his sleeve regarding that, but that will have to wait until 2000.) In the nineties, data usage was still much more limited than today. It was slower to download video material online while YouTube was still a couple years into the future. Yet everybody could see the real TWISTER brewing on the horizon. Both VHS and the newer DVDs were given special anti-copy protections, the latter using the Content Scramble System or “CSS”.

 

Also this year, Taiwanese-turned Hollywood director Ang Lee returned to his Asiatic roots with the filming of CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON for Sony. By now it was vitally important for every film expected to recuperate its production costs to please an international market. Outsourcing had also become more common in this industry than even the automobile business, with a typical Disney Channel cartoon show involving as many as five different countries in its production process... and, of course, each soundtrack is dubbed in multiple languages. China was gradually becoming the biggest customer for Hollywood productions despite their own Hengdian World Studios rivaling Rome's Cinecittà and the Burbank Universal and Warner facilities combined. Globalization was the key to survival in a new century as the roads were now built by computers and cellular technology just as by railroads and telephones at the start of the 20th.

 

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Next week I will plop 2000, then I will take a break. By 2001, there is no "Hollywood" with the business fully international. Also movies are such a small part of mass entertainment today. Few of us even watch them in actual theaters these days.

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"

 

A Year In Hollywood 1998

 

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The first half of the year was focused on two big events. As Monica Lewinsky remembered later for the New York Times (after Roger Ailes' passing): “Just two years after Rupert Murdoch appointed Mr. Ailes to head the new cable news network, my relationship with President Bill Clinton became public. Mr. Ailes, a former Republican political operative, took the story of the affair and the trial that followed and made certain his anchors hammered it ceaselessly, 24 hours a day.” Such was the almighty power of Fox News, along with CNN, MSNBC, the ABC, NBC, CBS and PBS news shows and an endless array of tabloid periodicals. The other ongoing event was Fox the film company jointly enjoying the spoils with Paramount over TITANIC, showing in no less than 3,200 national screens by March. There were plenty of off-color jokes combining the two, such as “while the ship went down once, Monica did so more than once”.

 

This was not a good year for the prudish easily embarrassed by bodily fluid talk. Even the word “hair gel” now meant something else altogether thanks to the Cameron Dias and Ben Stiller comedy THERE'S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY. Hollywood may have gingerly poked fun at Washington and its scandals when WAG THE DOG was released a bit earlier in 1997, but this year saw the film, music and TV industries slammed just as hard. In fact, 1998 seemed so much more eventful than the 1921-23 Fatty Arbuckle-WD Taylor-Wallace Reid years combined: Robert Downy Jr. was back in prison for violating his probation, fellow stars Brad Renfro, Charlie Sheen, Kate Moss and Daniel Baldwin all were struggling with their own addictions, Gérard Depardieu was motorcycling drunk, music star George Michael was caught enjoying himself in a park restroom, Christian Slater got arrested for beating both his girlfriend and an officer and, more ominously, details involving actor Phil Hartman's unexpected murder by his suicidal wife were all over the place. Celebrities had been living in a fish bowl for decades, but Tinsel Town was a lot more sensitive about it than in the past.

 

Peter Weir's THE TRUMAN SHOW came out in theaters this spring at just the right time. Jim Carrey's Truman Burbank (his last name synonymous with Hollywood's sleepy neighbor town, also involved in entertainment) is literally born on a reality television show. While movies try to replicate reality with studio sets, he only belatedly realizes that his entire life is all on a studio set. Not that there weren't occasional clues like a ceiling lamp falling from the “sky”. On the plus side, he is also scandal free. Was this because he was under the control of his TV executive “parent” (Ed Harris) and, thus, prevented from doing anything foolish?

 

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Roberts and Grant on the set with director Roger Michell.

 

THE TRUMAN SHOW was filmed during a quieter and gentler time (December 1996 through April 1997), but NOTTING HILL started principal photography this April at the height of tabloid mania. It featured Julia Roberts as Anna Scott, movie star, and Hugh Grant as “average” Will Thacker; its script written by Richard Curtis of FOUR WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL fame. Anna goes into hiding when an old film showing her nude resurfaces and even Will's flatmate Spike (humorously played by Rhys Ifans) is enjoying the magazine blow-ups. After telling her new London friends about getting “work” done on her face in order to maintain her public image, she moans “one day not long from now, my looks will go, they will discover I can't act and I will become some sad middle-aged woman who looks a bit like someone who was famous for a while.”

 

One reason Julia Roberts made the top ten in the Quigley polls for at least six years this decade was due to her displaying as much caution as her character Anna. The genders were still not being treated equally, as actresses had to struggle staying young enough and pretty enough while there was more latitude among actors. Not that Tom Hanks, Jim Carrey, Leonardo DiCaprio and Robin Williams were all suffering in the looks department. All however surpassed Meg Ryan (Hanks' co-star in YOU GOT MAIL) in popularity that year, with only Julia and Cameron Dias coming close to her as top actresses. Sherry Lansing was still one of the few ladies with executive power at this time even though quite a few releases this year featured historical women in power. Two actresses would later get Oscar nominations playing one particularly powerful lady of the past, Elizabeth I: SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE (which would cause a fury overtaking Steven Spielberg's SAVING PRIVATE RYAN at the next awards show) earned Judi Dench an Oscar for only eight minutes of screen time playing her, while Cate Blanchett in ELIZABETH would lose out to Gwyneth Paltrow in the other film playing an actress who must pose as a man in order to get professional acting recognition.

 

This year's 70th anniversary ceremony was probably the most watched Oscars in recent memory, dominated by TITANIC and the surprise upset of youthful bro-buddies Matt Damon and Ben Affleck winning for their screenwriting in Gus Van Sant's GOOD WILL HUNTING (also earning for actor Robin Williams). Yet another award can't be overlooked: Jan Pinkava's five minute animated short GERI'S GAME, featuring an elderly chess player competing with himself. This experiment in realistic cgi human-like animation was a necessary extra that Pixar needed to put out during the long waiting period between features TOY STORY and A BUG'S LIFE. With Andrew Stanton directing, the latter was well worth the wait, but it now had competition with DreamWorks' first cgi feature ANTZ, directed by Eric Darnell and Tim Johnson and also featuring anthropomorphic insects (and voiced by a huge cast: Woody Allen, Gene Hackman, Sharon Stone, Sylvester Stallone, Jennifer Lopez, Christopher Walken, Jane Curtin, Anne Bancroft, Dan Aykroyd and Danny Glover). It was now obvious that Pixar was no longer unique as every major studio had to have its own cgi animation studio. Fox took over the already established Blue Sky Studios based in Greenwich, Connecticut; its first “test” was the next Oscar one-reel winner, Chris Wedge's BUNNY. Although traditional animation styles were not neglected, the latest Disney “in-house” efforts like MULAN were getting more ballyhoo for their digital effects than their blood-and-sweat drawing work; in particular, the new “Atilla” software that created 2,000 Hun soldiers in battle.

 

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A cgi BUNNY

 

The American film industry was operating from two angles: the independent “anything goes” versus the formula-that-worked-before. Sony/Tri-Star's GODZILLA got a new cgi-enhanced face lift to match better with the recent JURASSIC PARK films, but it was just another disaster pic like Disney's ARMAGEDDON and DreamWorks/Paramount's DEEP IMPACT that moviegoers complained about after spending their hard earned money. Even TITANIC's flaws were secondary to what were perceived as microwaved leftovers of better offerings in the past. The “neo noir” cycle was just starting to decline in fashion, but there were still more critical successes in the bunch: Scott B. Smith's A SIMPLE PLAN, with Bill Paxton, Billy Bob Thorton and Bridget Fonda, made interesting use of the Minnesota winter to match the ominous mood of FARGO a decade earlier.

 

An episode of Trey Parker and Matt Stone's animated SOUTH PARK televised August 19th featured a cartoon version of Robert Redford angry at the Hollywood “jet set” taking over the Sundance festival in Park City, Utah and wanting to move it all to South Park, Colorado... until that town becomes overloaded with tourists like Park City and Hollywood. All jokes aside, this and other festivals like Toronto's held each September and, of course, Berlin, Cannes and Venice had lately become battlegrounds for studio executives seeking the next “Oscar bait” that was cheaper to distribute than make from scratch. The film festivals also were a testing ground for controversial subject matter covered in experiments such as Todd Solondz' HAPPINESS and the latest in international cinematic styles like the new “Dogme 95” discipline of Danish directors Thomas Vinterberg (FESTEN) and Lars von Trier (IDIOTERNE). Sadly a great many worthy films got under promoted, even when bought. Miramax clearly had higher hopes for SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE than it did for Maya Angelou's DOWN IN THE DELTA (the final film of GOOD TIMES star Esther Rolle) or Peter Chelsom's THE MIGHTY (which at least gave Sharon Stone a Golden Globe nomination). Both were pretty much treated as limited-release “extras”. (Maya was a familiar enough face on TV and the literary circuit and this was a rare film she directed. Again, African American women operated best getting independent financing, like Cauleen Smith did with DRYLONGSO that same year.)

 

1122297.jpg

 

Most often purchased by the majors were the comedies featuring teens and twenty-somethings struggling to be themselves and dealing with dis-functional families. Although Ben Stiller in Fox's more mainstream THERE'S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY was much older, he blended well with this fabric. John Waters may have enjoyed a retrospective for his past “gross out” work at Sundance with DIVINE TRASH, but his current production, PECK ER, was much more moderate; the title referring to a self conscious teen's eating habits and the main part of the story concerning his photography talent getting discovered. Sort of a hybrid between an “indy” and major studio production was the Disney-Touchstone supported RUSHMORE, directed by Wes Anderson with newcomer Jason Schwartzman as a teen eccentric befriending (and later declaring war on) a rich industrialist played by Bill Murray. Sporting the glasses, Schwartzman's Max Fischer resembled an older version of Harry Potter gone wild and would invite comparison to Reese Witherspoon's equally over-achieving lady counterpart in the next year's (but filmed this year) ELECTION.

 

The movie rights to J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series was sold to Warner Brothers this year, but these were to be much sweeter productions. As the successes of both Harry and Max proved, being different than everybody else was the new “normal”. Gone were the days of trying to maintain a fixed image. Even if you tried to pose with a public persona that was carefully built up, any possible scandal in the tabloids will remove your mask... as it was doing with a great many celebrities this year. As the millennium was drawing to a close, the screens would become more diversified and individualistic than ever...

 

Rushmore" is sooo terrific" ($18m.,) (***1/2) Bill Murray won just about all the pre-*Oscar awareds-(s. actor) but no nomination

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Top Top, I'm a wee bit confused, do you go when a lot of this was shot, or did fans send you these?

 

 

THAT PHENOMENAL MENTION IN THE PEERFECTLY DETAILED_(& I don't care for stuffy costume dramas) BUT IT WAS DIFFERENT, ESPECIALLY *SIR ANTHONY AS MR. STEVENS! I PERSOINALLY RATE HIS WORK IN THAT AMONG THEE FINEST IN THE 35 YEARS I'VE BEEN GOIG TO NEW RELEASES!  Though I knew *Hanks would win for ""Philadelphia" that year)

 

 

HE HASN'T BEEN HONORED WITH THE AFI AWARD AS TET EITHER & 80  PRETTY LONG LIFE FOR AN ALCOHOLIC!

 

IT REMINDED ME ON THE MANSION IN THE BRILLIANT 1979 "BEING THERE"

 

 

(But please let me know)

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Top Top, I'm a wee bit confused, do you go when a lot of this was shot, or did fans send you these?

 

Spence,

 

I wrote the yearly reviews from 1930 to 1969 (sound films during the studio era). And Jlewis has been covering modern Hollywood from 1970 up to the present.

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... and just one more to end three decades.

 

A Year In Hollywood 2000

 

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Case and Levin provide the latest “gotcha” surprise

 

Media will become the dominant industry in the 21st century, and the global media will become even stronger than the government.”

 

So stated Gerald Levin. In January, he succeeded with a Time-Warner merger with AmericaOnline, combining forces with fellow CEO Steve Case. The dotcom bubble hadn't burst yet, but there was already much “oh no... he didn't” shock expressed since the share values were obviously valued higher than they should have been.

 

Levin's statement about a “global media” became true in more ways than one. Yet the very definition of “media” was changing. Even movies themselves were no longer movies in the traditional sense, as computer screens could show some video entertainment made in a myriad of formats and even the word “film” would gradually become obsolete. With Danish filmmakers of the Dogme 95 movement popularizing digital cameras (Lars von Trier's IDIOTERNE was among the first two years back) and influencing many American “indy” movie makers this year, “film” might be the printed format for exhibition but not necessarily in creation. Super 35mm and Panavision were still the favored formats for high budget Hollywood productions, but so much work still required computers. The biggest blockbusters GLADIATOR and THE PERFECT STORM still had most of their production done digitally after actual “filming” ended.

 

Stunt work was still not something you could merely create with the click of a mouse. Yuen Wo Ping still choreographed the impressive martial arts moves in Ang Lee's CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON even if some cgi enhancement made it all the more impressive. On June 10th, the accidental death of Terry Forrestal took the industry by surprise. This often un-credited actor contributed to so many familiar action adventures of the past two decades, including four James Bond blockbusters, INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM, BATMAN ('89 version), BRAVEHEART and TITANIC.

 

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Two animated features competed for theatrical attention this May and June, one that was all created in a computer and the other only using it very selectively. CHICKEN RUN was imported from Brits Peter Lord and Nick Park's Aardman Animations with DreamWorks providing some of the finances. This was among a final crop of feature length stop-motion pieces animated one frame at a time. A few years later, Aardman would feature-alize their popular short-subject characters Wallace and Gromit in much the same fashion, but later works of theirs would go full cgi just like the popular Pixar fare that Disney distributed. Disney, in turn, was making its own “Pixars” in-house: DINOSAUR was directed by Ralph Zondag and Eric Leighton with a price tag was $127.5 million since digital technology still didn't come cheap. Nonetheless DINOSAUR did earn a profit while the more traditionally produced THE EMPEROR'S NEW GROOVE merely broke even, a first for Disney and a sign that its earlier post-LITTLE MERMAID “renaissance” might be officially over.

 

In terms of trends in subject matter, 2000 pretty much continued where 1999 left off, with some of the same innovation and some of the same repetition. Among the more critically acclaimed successes were Cameron Crowe's latest valentine to 1970s rock & roll, ALMOST FAMOUS, while the successful Sundance festival hit that January was AMERICAN PSYCHO, a pet production of Edward R. Pressman with Mary Harron directing and Christian Bale in the lead that officially kick-started the new decade's love affair with the corrupt and greedy 1980s. Gay-centric biopics were increasing in number, if not in profits: Julian Schnabel's BEFORE NIGHT FALLS lost money at the box-office despite considerable praise for Javier Bardem's performance as Cuban poet Reinaldo Arenas and established star Johnny Depp in support.

 

There was also a seemingly never ending love affair with TV re-boots, highlighted by a newer CHARLIE'S ANGELS and a partly cgi-animated THE ADVENTURES OF ROCKY AND BULLWINKLE. Meanwhile MISSION IMPOSSIBLE scored its first sequel. Steven Soderbergh's crime drama TRAFFIC was a bit different in that it was adapted from a less popular British Channel 4 series TRAFFIK. Perhaps all of this was inevitable since more movie buffs were seeing their big screen entertainment on the small screen anyway.

 

One interesting aspect to this year was the unusually high number of comedies, thrillers and comic book spook adventures that spawned sequels. These included X-MEN (a Marvel project started by Orion Pictures in its better days, but continued by 20th Century Fox) , PITCH BLACK (Polygram's final production before merging with Universal), SCARY MOVIE (Dimension/Miramax spoofing its own horror franchises), M. Night Shyamalan's more serious UNBREAKABLE, and perhaps the most successful was the Ben Stiller and Robert De Niro comedy MEET THE PARENTS. BIG MOMMA'S HOUSE was the first of a wave of slapsticks featuring Martin Lawrence dressed in drag. One could argue that the industry was now driving on “auto pilot”, often merely remaking what worked before with less thought put into it. Even the much praised experiment the previous year, THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, already had a quick-to-cash-in sequel called BOOK OF SHADOWS which Roger Ebert (who adored the earlier film) dubbed “not a very lucid piece of filmmaking”.

 

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X-MEN in its digital enhancement

 

Dr. Seuss was the latest in-thing as Ron Howard's HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS was given a live-action (with some cgi) treatment with Jim Carrey in green costume. Critics loathed this holiday release that expanded greatly on what many felt worked better in just 25 minutes as a 1966 TV animated special by Chuck Jones. Universal, in contrast, was crying all the way the bank. Overall, this was a good year for the company despite another change in ownership. In a situation vaguely resembling MGM-UA a decade earlier, Vivendi & Canal Plus stepped in from France with a $34 billion deal to create Vivendi Universal. Jean-Marie Messier, Edgar Brofmann Jr. and Pierre Lescure took over the executive chairs.

 

By this stage, the overall budgets of mainstream films were bigger than ever since there were still no signs of the bottom falling out just yet. No doubt the Disney company was sighing some relief that producers Michael Bay and Jerry Bruckheimer managed to get their recreation of the PEARL HARBOR attacks at least $60 million less than the proposed budget of $208 million; this being produced at the same Rosarito Beach in Mexico as TITANIC. Joe Johnston was selected to take over JURASSIC PARK III, which started filming that September in Hawaii, so that Steven Spielberg could stay focused on a former pet project of the late Stanley Kubrick that he started two months earlier: A.I. ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE. Likewise, Warner Brothers had to settle on Chris Columbus after both Spielberg and Rob Reiner (among a couple others) turned them down to get HARRY POTTER AND THE PHILOSOPHER'S STONE started, with Leavesden Film Studios in Hertfordshire, UK being a hive of activity that fall. Concurrently Tim Burton was rebooting Fox's THE PLANET OF THE APES with Mark Wahlberg. Towards the close of the year, Peter Jackson wrapped up the first installment of J.R.R. Tolkien's LORD OF THE RINGS series in New Zealand for New Line Cinema; now came the long task of adding cgi special effects that would outdo both the Spielberg and James Cameron efforts, featuring a new digital animation system labeled “MASSIVE”.

 

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Very early sketch storyboard for Spielberg's A.I.

 

While the big budget spectaculars focused on the exotic and fantasy, a great many more modest crime dramas, romances and comedies made economic use of New York City as its backdrop, examples including 28 DAYS, CENTER STAGE, BAIT, AUTUMN IN NEW YORK, THE ART OF WAR, HIGHLANDER: ENDGAME, BEDAZZLED, THE INTERN, THE FAMILY MAN and even THE ADVENTURES OF ROCKY AND BULLWINKLE. By now, American moviegoers were so used to seeing the Manhattan skyline with the Twin Towers protruding in the background, that it was putting them to sleep. Since mid-decade with the success of INDEPENDENCE DAY, Hollywood had made great use of its cgi “play station” to show all of the familiar landmarks tumbling down in wreckage after wreckage, both on the big screens with DEEP IMPACT, ARMAGEDDON and GODZILLA and, with the Emmy nominated TV two-parter AFTER SHOCK, in which the Big Apple gets rocked by an earthquake.

 

Unfortunately the fantasy of destruction created by the entertainment dream factories would not remain just a fantasy for much longer.

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