With 12 nominations, DreamWorks' Kung Fu Panda 2 sequel led all other nominees in the 39th annual Annie Awards nominations announced this morning by ASIFA-Hollywood International Animated Film Society. Another DreamWorks toon, Puss in Boots, together with Paramount's Rango, garnered 9 nominations apiece. Blue Sky's Rio and DIsney's Winnie the Pooh copped 8 nominations, while Pixar's Cars 2 had 7 and Sony's Arthur Christmas fielded 6. Amblin's Adventures of TinTin managed 5 nominations, and Touchstone's Gnomeo and Juliet fielded 4 nominations.
All of the leading contenders previously qualified for this year's best animated feature Academy Award. Interestingly, Happy Feet Two received no nominations. It is considered a box office disappointment and an uninspired sequel to its Oscar-winning predecessor.
Awards for feature films are given in 14 categories for both production and individual achievements. The metal will be handed out in a ceremony on February 4, 2012.
For a list of all nominees, click here.
SEQUELS: With the final installment of the Harry Potter juggernaut opening this weekend -- with $32 million already collected in advance ticket sales and counting, thank you very much -- it's safe to say that the bulk of the 2011 summer box office blockbusters will have had their official debuts. The three biggest hits to date are all sequels: Transformers: Dark of the Moon, The Hangover Part II, and Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. It appears that only Transformers will cross the $300 million mark. In the animated arena, Kung Fu Panda 2 is not performing nearly as well as its predecessor and is not likely to come close to $200 million. Pixar-Disney's Cars 2 is also struggling to reach beyond that mark (the original Cars brought in $244 million). In spite of better-than-average reviews, X-Men: First Class (yet another sequel) is the lowest performing film of that franchise.
Lesson: While sequels almost always drive the summer box office, the lack of innovation in followup screenplays can hurt the final gross. Miscalculations of appeal and popularity are evident with the passing of time as generations get older and move on to more adult fare. Nevertheless, sequels are here to stay.
HITS: Bridesmaids, a comedy starring Saturday Night Live goddess Kristen Wiig, is a major hit with $160 million already in the coffer and made on a $32 million budget. On the arthouse circuit, Woody Allen has his highest-grossing film ever with Midnight in Paris, with box office grosses a few million higher than either Hannah and Her Sisters, Manhattan, and Annie Hall (not counting for inflation, of course).
Lesson: An all-female comedy, mixed with aggressive behavior, vulgarity, and crude situations, will appeal to a large segment of the movie-going crowd. And who knew that the introduction of famous artists and writers of the early 1900s into a contemporary story set in Paris would be as charming and entertaining as Woody Allen's latest oeuvre. Personal kudos to Adrien Brody and Corey Stoll for their takes on Salvador Dali and Ernest Hemingway, respectively.
MISSES: Star-driven vehicles such as Bad Teacher (Cameron DIaz), Green Lantern (Ryan Reynolds), Mr. Popper's Penguins (Jim Carrey), and Larry Crowne (Tom Hanks-Juia Roberts) have been critically panned and are not bringing in the bucks at the multiplpexes. The recently opened Kevin James' Zookeeper will also join this group.
Lesson: Concepts are either tired or uninteresting, or maybe the stars' appeal has started to fade or their personalities aren't necessarily suited for the story's characters.
CURIOSITIES: Super 8 was widely anticipated but has fizzled out around $120 million with so-so reviews and not-so-kind comparisons to early Spielberg films. The Tree of Life won top prize at the Cannes Film Festival in May, but the Terrence Malick opus divided critics and confused general audiences. Made for $32 million, it has barely eked out $9 million in ticket sales.
Lesson: Mimicking a major director -- who just happens to be your producer -- doesn't always mean box office grosses will be in the stratosphere. And in Malick's case, who has only made his fifth film in the last 40 years, he remains a head-scratcher for many and a genius for others. Nature, spirituality, philosophy, and human behavior all seem to combine in variously interpreted ways.
WHAT'S AHEAD?: July 29 is the opening date for Jon (Iron Man) Favreau's Cowboys & Aliens, with Harrison ("Indiana Jones") Ford and Daniel ("James Bond") Craig going toe-to-toe in a combo western-sci-fi movie. The trailer is intriguing, but will this blended genre deliver the goods? Crazy, Stupid, Love has a great cast (Steve Carell, Julianne Moore, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Kevin Bacon, Marisa Tomei)and opens on July 29 as well. Friends with Benefits is looking for success when it premieres on July 22. On the same day, another superhero film, Captain America: The First Avenger, will try to bring in the masses, and August will see yet another sequel, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, starring James Franco.
Perhaps the most anticipated film of the late summer is The Help, based on the excellent novel by Kathryn Stockett and starring Viola Davis, Emma Stone (again), Sissy Spacek, Cicely Tyson, Allison Janney, and Octavia Spencer. The only question mark here may be the director, Tate Taylor, who has been the author's best friend since kindergarten in Jackson, Mississippi, where they grew up together. They were both cared for by black housekeepers there, but Taylor's casting eye and insistence on shooting in Mississippi could produce box office rewards if the adaptation equals the emotional experience of the book.
Sequels, sequels, sequels -- Cars 2, Transformers 3, Pirates of the Caribbean 4, X-Men 5, Harry Potter 8, Kung Fu Panda 2, The Hangover Part 2 -- they're the bread and butter of summer releases. But they're also often noisy, mediocre, and lousy rehashes of an original idea. It's rare for a sequel to make more money than any of its predecessors. With any luck, some of these summer films may actually achieve higher grosses (the Harry Potter finale being the likeliest candidate).
I'm more interested in some other films that should have distinctly more substance and cachet than most of the sequels they'll be competing with this summer. Super 8, The Help, and The Tree of Life are chief among them.
As for box office records, these films will need rave reviews and careful handling to do well at the box office. But it's not likely that they will rank in the $200-400 million range of the sequels.
Peter Reiher has a yearly contest in which he asks participants to estimate box office grosses for six films he arbitrarily chooses. He also asks those who enter to name what film they think will be the sleeper hit that he does not include in his six chosen titles. Reiher's six films are Cars 2, Cowboys & Aliens, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, Super 8, and Transformers: Dark of the Moon. My sense is that either Kung Fu Panda or The Hangover Part 2 may earn more money than Super 8, and maybe even Cowboys & Aliens.
What do you think?