The endless news cycle of 2020 is brutal. So, let’s get straight to it. Here are some Hollywood headlines you might have missed.
1. Netflix pushed out a legacy executive with two decades at the company in favor of someone with more international experience. The entire industry has been playing a game of musical chairs with its executives recently thanks in large part to massive reorganizations at WarnerMedia and NBCUniversal but this is the most shocking of all the changes. Cindy Holland – Ted Sarandos’ long-time right-hand woman, chief of the company’s TV content for nearly 20 years, and thus one of the people most responsible for building up Netflix’s original content juggernaut – was thought to be in line for a promotion. Makes sense. Sarandos got his own promotion, upgraded from Chief Content Officer to Co-CEO. Naturally, Holland could move into his old position and maybe even someday succeed him should he choose to retire or move on. Instead, Holland is out of the company completely, replaced by Bela Bajaria, who came to Netflix from Universal Television 4 years ago and recently moved into focusing on international productions.
As Vulture’s Josef Adalian explained, this is a significant shift that signals just how willing Netflix is to disrupt itself as it shifts toward a global domination mode while its competition fight over the domestic market’s table scraps. It’s also a reminder that under its current model Netflix makes more off something like Money Heist than it does Ozark and with Bajaria now in charge, the world can expect more foreign-language programming from the streaming giant. Holland, meanwhile, has not been gifted with the typical soft landing that Hollywood usually throws at departing executives. She’s been given no production deal nor advisory role. Simply put, she’s out and thus suddenly the hottest free agent in all of Hollywood, likely a dream candidate to join HBO Max or any of the other streaming competitors.
2. The Academy formalized its previous announcement that in the future Oscar nominees will have to meet certain diversity markers to be considered for nomination. The Academy likes to make big announcements without thinking them through, adopting a rush-to-the-press-and-figure-it-out-later strategy. Example: Remember the Best Popular Movie fiasco? So, earlier this year when the Academy waved its hand at some kind of affirmative action-like model for its awards criteria no one really knew what the heck that meant. Now we have our answer: potential nominees must meet minimum requirements in four different categories – On-screen representation, themes and narratives; Creative leadership and project team; Industry access and opportunities; Audience development.
The Academy looked to the British Film Insitute (which uses diversity criteria to help determine funding eligibility) and BAFTAs (which apply diversity requirements toward certain categories) as models. The BAFTA people approve. So does the NAACP. Not everyone is so happy, though. There’s the “the Academy went way too far” crowd as well as the “the Academy didn’t go far enough” shouters. (The new criteria wouldn’t have actually impacted a single Best Picture winner over the last 20 years, they argue.)
3. The Venice Film Festival – the first international festival held in person since COVID-19 – happened. There were stars, movies, press junkets, and everything! Tilda Swinton, Cate Blanchett, Andrew Garfield, and other famous folk attended. Mask-wearing audiences got the first glimpse at the next wave of indie film. How’d they pull it off? Mandatory mask-wearing and temperature checks as well as multiple COVID-19 tests for anyone visiting from high-risk countries like the U.S.
4. Meanwhile, the Toronto International Film Festival is underway and about to lead to big business for Halle Berry’s directorial debut. Described as an “MMA drama about a washed-up fighter struggling for redemption as both an athlete and a mother,” Bruised marks the longtime actress’s first time behind the camera, and Netflix is closing in on acquiring it for $20 million. In addition to directing, Berry also plays the lead.
5. Is Alex Gibney is about to have his Farhenheit 9/11 moment? In his effort to kneecap the George W. Bush administration in the middle of an election year, Michael Moore released his documentary Farhenheit 9/11 – about the lies that led to the Iraq War. The film did record-setting business. Bush still won re-election, defeating John Kerry in both the popular vote and electoral college. Alex Gibney – the man behind such adored documentaries as Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room and Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief – presumably hopes for a different result. He’s, partnering with Neon on Totally Under Control, about Trump’s failed response to the global Coronavirus pandemic, for an October theatrical release.
“With an extraordinary team of collaborators, I was compelled to mount this production when I saw the scale of incompetence and political corruption by the Trump Administration in the face of a global pandemic,” Gibney said in a statement on Thursday. However, given the current state of the movie theater industry and chronically fractured nature of our politics, I expect Totally Under Control will make no more difference than the average news cycle over the latest tell-all book about the Trump administration. Given Gibney’s track record, though, it will still probably be a top-notch documentary.
6. Megyn Kelly is building a podcast empire. Because what else does one do with their time when they are Scrooge McDuck-swimming in “fuck you” money from NBC? The story.
7. If you live in Los Angeles, you can finally see Tenet at a drive-in theater. Warner Bros. reversed course on its initial policy of “open your damn indoor movie theaters, LA, and then maybe we can talk about also putting Tenet in drive-ins.” LA’s indoor theaters are still closed, but now 5 LA drive-ins are showing Tenet. The film’s so-so box office last weekend likely had something to do with the decision. “You tell us this now!” shouts The Big Picture podcast co-hosts, each of them LA residents who drove to San Diego – where theaters are open – just to see Tenet last weekend.
Date to Watch
12/18 – As expected, Wonder Woman 1984 has been pushed back again, this time from 10/2 to 12/25, reportedly because Warner Bros. wants to wait a little longer in the hopes that the theaters in Los Angeles and New York will finally re-open. As of now, however, WB’s other big movie Dune – due 12/18 and widely expected to be pushed if WW84 was – is actually staying put even though this now means WB will release two movies with budgets in the $200 million territories in consecutive weeks. THR reasons this might be because Dune is actually a Legendary production. WB is merely releasing it on their behalf, which means the studio’s financial exposure is minimal. As with everything else in 2020, these plans are written in pencil and could change again in a month.
This leaves theater owners with no major new movies for the foreseeable future, especially since after WB’s announcement Universal joined in and delayed Candyman from 10/16 to sometime in 2021. Tenet now has the market to itself until Death on the Nile (currently due 10/23) and Black Widow (due 11/6), though either or both could be delayed as well. MGM and its various distributors, however, are reportedly dead serious about putting No Time to Die into theaters on 11/20.
In Case You Missed Them
The Dune trailer debuted. The internet – increasingly desperate for a distraction in these dystopian, “holy shit, the sky is orange now?” times – lost its mind. Take a look:
Blumhouse and Adam Sandler separately released trailers for new horror movies. From Happy Death Day director-writer Christopher Landon, Freaky (due in theaters on Friday the 13th in November) follows the suddenly popular trend of taking a well-worn genre, grafting basic horror conventions on top of it, and then upping the laughs. For Happy Death Day, the pitch was “it’s like Groundhog Day, but as a slasher.” In the case of Freaky, it’s Freaky Friday, but as a slasher. Vince Vaughn is the slasher and Kathryn Newton his presumptive victim but somehow they end up switching bodies. Much hilarity – and slaughter – ensues. I’m excited.
Hubie Halloween (due on Netflix 10/7) is part of Sandler’s neverending Netflix pact, and it gives off strong “a lot of people are going to watch this with their kids” vibes. The plot seems to be a variation on the boy who cried wolf if “the boy” was a fiftysomething town loser who talks like The Waterboy without the Southern accent. When bad shit goes down on Halloween night, one small town is doomed if it doesn’t listen to the marble-mouthed warnings of a one-time hall monitor. Lots of famous people, Sandler pals, and SNL alums co-star.
What I’m Watching This Weekend
The Boys, Ted Lasso, and Justified (I just got to the mid-point of the second season. So good!). What about you? Let me know in the comments.