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Oscar's Worldly Wares: A Sign of the Industry?

by Anthony Kaufman
February 19, 2007 2:44 AM
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In Variety's last Oscar special issue "Down to the Wire" -- and if you follow these redundant things, it comes not a moment too soon -- I wrote a feature story about the globalized nature of this year's Oscar contenders, and what it means for the industry. Has Hollywood, indeed, become Globowood, finally waking up to the rest of the world's stories and talent?

It might seem so from the prevalence of foreign nominees, from "Babel" to "Letters From Iwo Jima," "Pan's Labyrinth" to Penelope Cruz (even "The Departed" is a remake of Hong Kong's "Infernal Affairs"). But what I neglected to mention in the story is that most of the films have not exactly done "boffo" business. "Letters from Iwo Jima" has got to be one of the least commercially successful Best Picture nominees ever (with grosses of about $12 million). "Babel" is struggling to crack $35 million, and without a picture win, I doubt it'll survive much longer in theaters. With the exception of "Pan's Labyrinth," which had its first major drop over the weekend, most of these foreign-influenced films haven't been strong-and-steady titles with U.S. ticket-buyers.

When I spoke with Alexandro Gonzalez Inarritu, he admitted, "As far as audiences, I think Americans in the middle of the country are not used to reading subtitles. The culture has changed a lot for the good, but it's still got a long way to go."

Picturehouse's Bob Berney retains a reserved optimiism about the global surge. "I'm really glad they let me do 'Pan's Labyrinth' and 'Mongol,'" he told me. "But you have to convince people that this particular film will cross over. It's one thing to tak about the general trend, but it always comes down to the specific projects. There is always the perception of limited theatrical potential and extremely limited DVD and TV potential. It's still tough," he continued. "And even on 'Pan's,' it's not going to be easy."

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