Friday, December 05, 2008

Hungry for Hunger? You'll Starve

If you live in LA, you have seven days to catchthis new movie about the battle of wills between Maze Prison hunger strikers and Margaret Thatcher's regime that took place in 1981. Michael Fassbender (300) is mesmerizing in the lead role of Bobby Sands, doing a Christian Bale Machinist self-nihilism act. The rest of you/us will have to wait until 2009 to see Hunger. Or you could save it on your rental queues though this is not an ideal way to experience it. It's a brutal challenging film, fond of jaw dropping sustained takes and the ease of pausing at home or thinking "i'll finish this later" will dilute its cumulative power.

I've thought long and hard about L.A. only "qualifying runs" for Oscar and I'm considering disqualifying them for my own awards (I allowed for 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days last year... but it still felt off. It's the principle of the thing. It makes me crazy) One week qualifiers circumvent what I've always believed was a crucial aspect of cinema: the audience. You. Only industry and press can see these movies and here's the thing: movies should not be hard to see. If you can afford a ticket, nobody should be keeping your desired movie from you. The cinema is an artform for the masses [however abusive the masses happen to be to it with their dollars, continually requesting more talking dog movies and whatnot --but that's another topic. Sorry for the tangent. -ed.] and should remain that way.

It saddens me that the Academy, who regularly tweak their rules, still allow for these one-week qualifiers. Even though it's technically legal it's like cheating. It's a loophole. You are not really a 2008 movie if you open at one theater in one city for one week and then remove yourself quickly to plan for 2009. The idea, for all films that try this tactic, is to win Oscar nods and hope that that will boost their profile when they open for real. But this is rather like trying to pay rent by buying yourself a lottery ticket. It's not easy to get Oscar nods --particularly for small art films -- and many films that go this route never make good on their "opening in February/March" claims when they find themselves without Oscar nods... which is the case more often than not. Oops. The system as it is stinks; It's not healthy for these small movies, it screws with the structural calendar idea of awards systems and most importantly, it's no good for the movie loving audience who are left out of the conversation altogether.



Actionman said...

I agree with everything you said 1000%

And thanks for Kiss of the Spider Woman, it arrived earlier this week!

Notas Sobre Creación Cultural e Imaginarios Sociales said...

I suggest they start opening blockbusters in limited release, G-d knows we don't need as many of those and actually give art films a chance to grow audiences.
And you're right "Hunger" is outstanding, in a just world Fassbender would be a slam dunk for an Oscar nod.

Simone said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Simone said...

Hi Nathaniel, I totally appreciate your comment and agree with you 110%. As you may know, I saw Hunger at TIFF and was completely blown away by it. I was so blown away that I was turned off a bit by the realism and didn't want to see it again. However, during my vacation to London Nov 12-18, I saw it at the Soho Curzon, a suave arthouse theater, and I was more comfortable and more prepared to deal with the visual and verbal assault of this film.

This time, I left feeling more conviction that Michael Fassbender MUST be recognized for an Oscar for the simple reason that this is an Oscar caliber performance.

Unfortunately, IFC, the production company of Hunger, dropped the ball back in September in putting all its pennies in the basket to promote 'Che'. They failed to realize the true gem that they have with Hunger. So when Stephen Holt of the Stephen Holt Show on Youtube, asked the director and producer of Hunger at the New York Film Festival, after the screening in October, if they were going to push Michael Fassbender for Oscar consideration, they were shell shocked and blindsided by this question as they simply were not prepared for it. Then it was said that IFC doesn't have the money to do it. Hence, the measely now one-week qualifying Oscar pimp at the Nuart starting tonight, where Michael Fassbender will be there to rub elbows with TPTB of Hollywood. It should also be shown in New York too.

I have no shame in my bias for Hunger and Michael, and I understand and support this one-week showing in Los Angeles so that those who are in the position to nominate him for an Oscar, are the ones who will actually have a chance to see this performance and judge for themselves.

So again, I agree with you and appreciate so much that you praise this film like I do, but bottom line, Michael deserves a chance to be recognized because if and when Hunger is released in March 2009, no one will care about it and he sure as hell won't be remembered for it at the 2010 ceremony.

Fassinating Fassbender


but see somewhere it has to stop. The more praiseworthy films being to spread themselves throughout the year the more the system can eventually auto correct itself.

there's no reason why great performances released in March can't be recognized the following February. No reason except for everyone's desires to play this December game. and it's silly because smaller films have an easier time (sometimes) being remembered if they open outside the crushing weight of December's huge movies (see THE VISITOR / FROZEN RIVER doing well so far during awards season and though there's no way to prove it I highly doubt that either would have received this much attention had they been trying a one week qualifier right now.

it wasn't always this way as i will explain in a later article.

Simone said...

I agree, it has to stop. This is all a game. The same could be said for why Clint's 'Gran Torino' waited to be released, this month, as well as Sean Penn's 'Milk', and don't get me started on 'Slumdog'.

In a fair world, Hunger could be released in March 2009, and reap loads of Oscar love in February 2010. But the world is not fair, and Hollywood ain't fair, and they have acute short-term memory and it's worse if you're not an American A-lister in a film produced in America.

Anonymous said...

hey nat i thought it used to be ny and la when did that change.


but my point is that i don't actually believe december releasing for small movies does them any good. They get buried in the massive studio stuff. I firmly believe that that killed 4 MONTHS 3 WEEKS AND 2 DAYS last year ... to get that one week and then disappear for a nomination that didn't materialize. It still made a million (which is pretty good for how harsh it was) but it SHOULD have been available to people while the critics were talking it up in the fall and not months and months later when it had to open directly after the Oscar snub.

better to release smaller films with critical appeal earlier in the year and see if they catch on (like The Visitor, Frozen River, City of God, etcetera) or even as late as November and give them a couple weeks of wiggle room before the December Madness (like what they do with Almodovar movies) ...

my theory at least. Nobody in hollywood believes me of course but i think there's ample theoretical evidence that this isn't really helping the cause of these movies. At the very least these films would get more media attention if everyone wasn't busy talking about the two handfuls of huge star vehicles vying for Oscars each December. There's only so much time in the day. Only so many magazine articles a month. Etcetera.

kaifu said...

Che, in both parts, is also going to be doing an oscar-qualifying thing next week. I'm actually very tempted to head down to LA just for that (well and otthermovies, it appears now) since it's hard to tell under what form it'd be released next year.

But since this sorta shenanigan happens every year, it doesn't bother me as much as how almost all "award" movies are being released in december -- some very late in december this year. It's very irritatting for us regular moviegoers and i wonder how the decision was made. They certainly didn't hold off No County for Old Men last year.

Matthew Lucas said...

I totally agree. I've been ranting about the exact same thing a bit in my own coverage of "Hunger" over the last few days.


kaifu i've opted to skip CHE myself. I have only so much time and I'd rather see things that are actually playing for everyone to see in movie theaters than these fake-ish releases. Especially around the holidays.

i'm not sure why they still all believe december is the only answer either. as i've detailed before. It's at least partially about control. The longer they withhold the movies the more they can control what people think of them. If you hear something is OSCARWORTHY enough times before seeing it... it will undoubtedly affect you, even if only in a small way.

Anonymous said...

And then there was the way Fox completely botched the release for another great Irish film, The Wind That Shakes the Barley. It won the Palme d'Or in May 2006, played in UK and Irish cinemas that summer, came out on Region 2 DVD in the autumn (which I got my mitts on), was getting nice buzz for Oscars... and Fox kept delaying its release in the US. It was finally snuck into US theatres on March 17, 2007. Because on St. Pat's Day what we really want to see is the Black & Tans committing atrocities against the Irish. Hide the pliers!

I've long been annoyed by the 1 week in LA trick, ever since I was a kid and Disney tried a similar stunt to try to nab a nom for Barbara Harris in the original Freaky Friday. Yeah, I was aware of Oscar strategizing that young. Scary, huh?

Matthew Lucas said...

I've decided to basically ignore the one week qualifying runs when it comes to my own awards and top ten consideration.

I count "4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days" as a 2008 film because its official release date was in January.

I will count "Hunger" as a 2009 film. Unless by some miracle it nabs an Oscar nomination. At which point I will count it as 2008.

God this is so confusing!

Brian Darr said...

I basically agree with you on this, Nathaniel, but Devil's Advocate here: mightn't the box-office of Ballast been higher if it were coming out now, after its independent spirit awards nominations and during the critic top 10 season? A lot of people who weren't that interested in it before it tied Rachel Getting Married in Spirit nominations are now. But of course competition for screens right now is way too tough with all the other contenders out there with even bigger awards-talk boosts. So perhaps the best thing for its box office would have been for it to hold back after a qualifying run and release in the comparatively dead period in the first quarter of 2009?

As it is, what's probably going to happen is that it'll do much better on DVD than it did in theatres. But it's really a film, like your description of Hunger, that ought to be seen on the big screen for it to make an impact.


well Brian i understand the box office argument but it's all based on these assumptions that things will do well in awardage which is a crapshoot and political and all of that.

the lottery.

If your release plans and financing can't come through without awards nominations i don't think you should be making the movie in the first place (because you can't control those thing)

Better to let things play out naturally. Some movies will fail and some will succeed but all of this teasing is disastrous for a lot of movies. It just isn't good for audiences -- i honestly think given that our culture is so now now now now now that the movie culture is very behind the times because everything within the movie culture seems to be wait wait wait wait wait.

for instance a couple of years ago I really loved that Swiss German FRAULEIN movie. I kept mentioning it in passing and I really wanted to encourage people to see it but the release strategy got so confusing and there were so many delays that I lost interest myself (even though I loved the movie!) and by the time it was on DVD years later I wasn't even aware so I couldn't talk it up to readers.

Brian Darr said...

Yeah the slow, slow path through the guardians of the distribution world is a) hard to fathom and b) increasingly a stumbling block to the relevancy of film in this fast-paced, interconnected world.

It's a shame that theatrical audiences for challenging fare are becoming so anemic except during "awards season". The only way to turn back this tide is to get audiences used to attending small quality films year-round, by making sure there's plenty of quality product available all year. The studios tend to play the game as if it were a prisoner's dilemna: "We can't release quality films throughout the year because it'll give our competitors and advantage at awards season." Hopefully the films (like the Visitor) that buck the trend don't get slapped down for it. But critics and probably awards group voters want to seem up-to-the-minute too.

Anonymous said...

You mean the modern way of releasing films is bad? Whoulda thunk it.

Nathaniel, first off, I'd urge you to consider Hunger (which I haven't seen) as a 2008 film for several reasons. The main one being there is no actual guarantee of it being released widely. Now, I think it'll be released - it won't actually peak above 100 screens, but it'll be released. But I recall another film that had a highly praised performance (from you) that has yet to be released: Korea's SECRET SUNSHINE - and now you've lost the chance to celebrate it in your personal awards (you implied that Do-yeon Jeon would've been nominated). Additionally, I think context plays an important role here. You have seen it, and may not get to see it again (in theatres) any time soon. You've seen it in context of other 2008 releases, and frankly, are judging it similarly. I'd embrace the idea of ignoring "actual release dates" and going by what new films you've actually seen. I wouldn't go the whole hog (aka, don't include a foreign film from 1969 because distributors decided to wait forever to release the film) but I think acknowledging festivals (a key way in which films are viewed by the active cinephile) is an idea worth pursuing.

As for this continually crappy way of distributing films, well, I don't understand it and I doubt I ever will. It's a release strategy that actively hurts films, and I don't get why Hollywood plays the game that way

Simone said...

One more thing, since Hunger may have a very strong showing at the BAFTAs, I think it's even more appropriate for IFC to at least meet the bare minimum requirement to have it be considered by the Academy via this sneaky one week one city screening.

Imagine if Michael were to be nominated for a BAFTA and then win it, and not have him or Hunger be even a thought at this year's Oscars. It doesn't make any sense.

Other than that I truly do agree with how small films are at a disadvantage when they are released late in the year with the big budget oscar bait films. It's stupid how all the cerebral films are released in September and later, as if people who do like those films don't go to the theater at all during the other 8 months.


this is what i keep saying. People do not go to every movie that they're interested in. it's not financially viable or timeclock viable for most people. So if you stack all the types of movies that might appeal to an audience segment into one particular short season you are really cutting into box office profits for all