Peter Bart and Mike Fleming Jr. worked together for two decades at Daily Variety. In this weekly column, two old friends get together and grind their axes, mostly on the movie business.
BART: The demonstrations in Paris in response to the Charlie Hebdo assassinations have been stirring, but now come the inevitable debates about “correctness” and “sensitivities.” Salman Rushdie refers to emergence of the “but brigade” – those leaders who advocate free expression, but…
There’s no room for a “but” – and all the constraints that entails. Were the French cartoonists wrong in creating their cartoons? No, I applaud them. That’s what political satire is all about. Were Seth Rogen and James Franco wrong in depicting a specific North Korean dictator? No, their film was, once again, political satire — albeit a clumsy one — and specificity added to its relevance. At many American universities these days, scores of political speakers are being banned because their talks might offend the sensitivities of religious or political groups. My attitude: If college students are so damned sensitive they shouldn’t be in college. Legislatures in 10 states are weighing legislation to permit businesses to refuse service to gay people – in other words, the proverbial florist who won’t sell flowers to a gay wedding. Newspapers simply aren’t covering this important issue because they’re afraid of offending the “sensitivities” of the religious zealots. So I return to Rushdie’s “but brigade.” The fight for free expression cannot stop in Paris. … We’re either free to say what we think, or we’re a bunch of “butts.”
FLEMING: Well, this is a serious start to what I imagined would be a frivolous confection that is the Golden Globes. I agree with your outrage over Charlie Hebdo, and share disgust that any American legislative body, much less 10, would propagate homophobia. There is a part of me, though, that finds tragedy in the “causes” behind recent calamities. Sony suffers an unprecedented cyber attack by North Korea, sees personal info of current and past employees made public and endures huge damages, creating an international incident that pulls in the President of the United States. And for what? A forgettable comedy whose makers unwisely stood stubborn on their insistence to blow up the standing leader of a hostile foreign country as its plot punchline. The Charlie Hebdo massacre was over a cartoon sketch. Brave, sure, and maybe this is emblematic of the times we live in. But compare that to Selma and those stakes — blacks denied the voting rights, which preserved all-white juries and a racist caste system. People died there, changing the world. Don’t get me started on how these Muslim radicals exploit and twist a religion. You just want to carefully choose battles and be sure the cause is worth the potential consequences when you wave a red flag in front of a bull. This is too complex and painful to belabor in this forum, so let’s move on to the Globes, yeah?
BART: OK. Next topic. Since so many awards are being given out this week, it’s high time we dispense our own tributes for dubious achievement in film and TV. Here’s one: Most Shrewdly Misleading Ad Campaign: Into the Woods, for persuading audiences this dark Sondheim musical was Maleficent-meets-Frozen.
FLEMING: OK, I will play this game. That’s a worthy dubious award. How about One Studio’s Trash Is Another’s Treasure? That goes to Universal, which lost Furious 7 but still had a decent 2014, helped by discards from rivals. Start with Ride Along, a big hit that already has completed production on its sequel, and add Dumb And Dumber To, which everybody passed on. This year it will be the N.W.A biopic Straight Outta Compton in August. And Uni just picked up Steve Jobs when Sony wavered over Michael Fassbender as the Apple genius. After Home Alone went from Warner Bros to Fox, studios didn’t put stuff in turnaround and risk embarrassment, but now they want back their development costs.
BART: Best Solo PR Effort: Angelina Jolie, for stalwartly selling Unbroken as an inspirational upper when it was, in fact, an exhausting downer.
FLEMING: I’m crying foul on your continued persecution of Jolie. She stepped up, honored an American hero and was kind enough to show Louis Zamperini the film at his bedside when it was clear the 97-year-old wouldn’t hang in until the premiere. Unbroken crossed $100 million domestic this weekend. How about the audacity of a woman taking on a big, brutal war movie? Who does she think she is — Kathryn Bigelow? Jolie and Selma director Ava DuVernay made big strides for the sister set by showing women can handle rough topics as unflinchingly as men.
BART: Most Inept Marketing Campaign: Begin Again, for convincing filmgoers that neither the filmmakers for the distributor had any idea what it’s about.
FLEMING: You got this one all wrong. The category should be, The Annual Benign Again Award For Worst Generic Retitling. Tie between John Carney’s Can A Song Save Your Life (Begin Again), and the equally terrific Tom Cruise summer film All You Need Is Kill (Edge Of Tomorrow). Carney’s movie felt honest to me, grounded in its love of music, and his original title captured its theme. I have no idea what the benign Begin Again or the dull Edge Of Tomorrow are trying to convey, but it didn’t help either film.
BART: Smartest Soft Sell Campaign: The Fault In Our Stars, for bringing tears to the eyes of its audience, and its distributor, Fox, when it grossed $300 million on a $12 million budget.
FLEMING: How about a prize for worst misread that Fault‘s success meant sick teens are in? That goes to the series Red Band Society, which kicked around and got on the Fox sked after Fault’s outsized success. It lasted only 10 episodes. They forgot Fault’s secret weapon was author John Green and his book’s massive youth following. It was the love story, not the setting.
BART: Cleverest Avoidance Strategy: Brad Pitt for insisting the only controversy surrounding Selma was how to pronounce the name David Oyelowo.
FLEMING: My Selma award is How Many Brits Does It Take To Tell An American Story? Oyelowo as MLK, Tom Wilkinson as LBJ, Carmen Ejogo as Coretta Scott King and Tim Roth as segregationist Alabama Governor George Wallace. All played by Brits I’d have pegged more likely to be Downton Abbey guests.
BART: Bravest Promotional Effort: Sony Classics for trying to persuade members of the Academy to see a movie about Alzheimer’s disease: Still Alice.
FLEMING: You’ve forgotten the other players in this category. SPC also lured viewers to a tragic slaughter in Foxcatcher; Warner Bros humanized soldier angst in American Sniper, and Weinstein lured viewers to see Alan Turing — as big a WWII hero as Patton — get pinned not with a medal but chemical castration in The Imitation Game. Don’t forget The Theory Of Everything: We watch Stephen Hawking physically deteriorate and his wife refuse to let his his genius be trapped in his ruined body. And then he … dumps … her! And still, one of my fave awards-season films! Still Alice has stiff competition.
BART: Oddest Nomination Speech: Shirley MacLaine at the Palm Springs Festival for informing that when an actor asks Richard Linklater to explain a scene, all he will say is, “I don’t know.” (Linklater’s response: “You have to talk to Shirley on another plane of reality.”)
FLEMING: Give that award to everyone who accepted a Hollywood Film Award in its recent inaugural CBS telecast. Saying thanks on TV while making it clear you know your prize is a sham, that’s hard work. Johnny Depp captured the absurdity, showing up three sheets to the wind.
BART: There are others we could think of, but some award has to go to the members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association for their year of traveling thousands of miles on studio-funded boondoggles, eating all those free meals and keeping out other determined semi-journalists who want to raid their ranks – and for one-upping the august Academy yet again by putting on a vastly more enjoyable evening of narcissistic ego-maniacal self-congratulation.
FLEMING: I’ll be live-blogging the Globes with my Deadline co-editor-in-chief Nellie Andreeva and our team today, so is it OK if I cling to some sanctity for this event? Ah, who the hell am I kidding; assigning credibility to Globes is harder to swallow than that guy who offered himself as snake food for the giant anaconda on Discovery Channel. But we do have Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, who always remind the viewers this is nothing more than a fun, decadent party where liquored up Hollywood sells its goods and pretends to enjoy it.