Hollywood Brief: Who’s Up, Who’s Down in This Week’s Showbiz Rankings

Will Smith, Ariana DeBose, and Robert Downey Jr. all earn a placement in this week’s rankings but the question is, where?
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Welcome back to the Hollywood Heat Index, where we determine who’s hot and who’s not! Let’s take the town’s temperature, shall we?

HOT

10. CODA –  If Apple didn’t know what it had on its hands before, it certainly does now. After winning Best Ensemble at the SAG Awards, CODA appears to have pulled into pole position in the Oscar race, with Variety currently predicting it to win Best Picture. That would be a fairy tale ending for this moving indie, which many awards bloggers predicted would be an also-ran early in this race, noting that no Sundance premiere has ever won Best Picture. It would be pretty ironic if Apple won Best Picture before Netflix, given the ungodly amount of money Ted Sarandos has spent chasing the top Oscar, and it might just be because the streamer is taking its campaign cues from the wrong group of critics — those who think with their head instead of their heart.

Heart is what wins Oscars, whether you’re Green Book or Crash, or even Moonlight. And that’s why I’m almost certain that The Power of the Dog is going to come up short on Oscar night. Because all the craft in the world is no replacement for heart. CODA has the stuff this season and I just hope Sam Elliott didn’t give voters a reason to rally around TPOTD with some real “WTF” remarks on Marc Maron‘s podcast of the same name. It’s always dangerous to be the frontrunner, and perhaps Netflix has Apple right where it wants ’em, but this is going to be a photo-finish come March 27. Which film will win? The bitter, starry Western with 12 nominations, or the crowdpleaser with just three nods? I believe in miracles. Do you?

9. Will Smith and Michael B. Jordan – Two of Hollywood’s biggest stars are teaming on a sequel to 2007’s I Am Legend, which is a bigger deal than you might think.

Let’s take a look at WB’s top 16 biggest domestic grossers of all time: All of them either star Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman or Harry Potter, or they’re based on the work of J.R.R. Tolkien, though there are three exceptions — Christopher Nolan‘s InceptionAlfonso Cuaron‘s Gravity... and Francis Lawrence‘s I Am Legend, which took in $256 million here in the U.S.

So it was only a matter of time that Warners would find a way to resurrect this property, which is simply too valuable to the studio for it to allow Richard Matheson‘s vampire tale to continue collecting dust on a shelf. The only catch? Did you see the end of I Am Legend? It didn’t turn out so well for Smith’s character. But guess what? This is Hollywood, baby, and 15 years later, Smith is still a huge star, so naturally, he’ll be back in some capacity, whether to pass the last-man-on-earth torch to MBJ, carry it together, or wrestle it from Jordan’s bare hands.

WB has actually been tinkering with an I Am Legend sequel for a few years, as it quietly tried to use Gary Graham’s then-hot 2014 spec A Garden at the End of the World as the basis for a quasi-sequel that nearly starred Mark Wahlberg, though it ultimately never came to fruition. I Am Legend producers Akiva Goldsman and James Lassiter were both producers on that project, and they’ll return to produce the sequel as well, though there’s no director attached yet. Lawrence deserves a shot at the sequel, but if they decide to go bigger, Warner Bros. should consider giving J.J. Abrams a call — you know, the guy who signed a five-year, $250 million deal with WarnerMedia.

8. The Afterparty and Euphoria Finales – Let’s face it, both of these episodes were really good. Euphoria capped off an excellent sophomore season (no slump here) with a tense shootout culminating in tragedy, and Zendaya proved her Emmy win was no fluke, as she was absolutely dynamite all season. Eric Dane also impressed me tremendously this season, as did newcomer Dominic Fike, and I foresee big things for Jacob Elordi, who has a darkness about him that should serve him well down the line. Meanwhile, Sydney SweeneyAlexa Demie, and Barbie Ferreira all auditioned for the Madonna biopic and are front of mind for casting directors across town given the popularity of the HBO show.

Meanwhile, The Afterparty finale delivered a satisfying conclusion to its murder mystery, which should be the top priority of any good whodunit. I always thought The Afterparty was going to be a limited series, but clearly, it was a strong performer for Apple, which just renewed the show for Season 2. Tiffany Haddish will reprise her role as Detective Danner, and I hope some other cast members find their way into the narrative, as it’d be a shame to lose Sam Richardson, who really showed what he can do with a lead role.

WARM

7. The Alien Franchise – Speaking of bringing back popular genre properties, Fede Alvarez has been tapped to write and direct a new standalone Alien movie that will be produced by Ridley Scott. The film is expected to be made for Hulu under 20th Century Studios’ new mandate to produce 10 movies a year for the streamer, ranging in genres. Naturally, the studio wasted no time in raiding its IP chest, as one of the first films under the deal will be Dan Trachtenberg‘s Predator movie Prey, which is expected to debut this summer.

As for Alien, this new movie is not expected to be connected to any of the past films — or Noah Hawley’s upcoming FX series — and Fox exec Steve Asbell said it was the original characters that sparked his interest, with the studio committing to Alvarez’s pitch on the spot given Ridley’s stamp of approval. Apparently, this was an idea that Alvarez had pitched the maestro years ago and just stuck in his brain ever since.

I’m a fan of Alvarez, though his experimental Apple series Calls was probably the worst TV show I brought myself to watch last year, and THR conveniently omitted the fact that he directed The Girl in the Spider’s Web, which was pretty bad. And while I happened to like the Texas Chainsaw Massacre movie he produced for Netflix, I must admit that Don’t Breathe 2 (which he simply co-wrote and produced) didn’t quite deliver on the promise of the first film. Here’s hoping Alvarez can recapture his mojo with Ridley’s help, because he could use a hit and I do think he’s talented.

I also think that the Alien franchise could stand to move away from the philosophical themes that permeated Prometheus and Alien: Covenant and get back to embracing its horror roots, and Alvarez might just be the perfect person for that particular job. I guess we’ll see…

6. Ariana DeBose – I still think Hollywood veteran Kirsten Dunst could possibly pull off an upset win at the Academy Awards, but until then, DeBose remains the clear Oscar frontrunner, and now she has found a high-profile follow-up gig, as she has been cast as Calypso in Sony’s Kraven the Hunter movie. Aaron Taylor-Johnson is set to star as the Spider-Man villain, while Russell Crowe and Fred Hechinger will play his father and his half-brother, Chameleon, respectively.

I can’t blame DeBose for signing on to Kraven, as Sony has proven it can turn non-Spidey properties like Venom into huge hits, and seeing as how this is one of the only comic book movies casting right now and she’s looking to capitalize on the moment, it makes sense. You’ve gotta take these offers while you can get ’em, particularly as a young woman in an industry where the Next Big Thing is right around the corner.

But isn’t it kind of a bummer at this point that when someone does a great job, whether we’re talking about DeBose’s performance in West Side Story or Chloe Zhao directing Nomadland, that the practically automatic next step in their career is a comic book movie? It’s becoming a pattern, one that is a clear reflection of where the industry stands at this moment.

5. The Batman – Robert Pattinson helped deliver the second-best opening weekend of the pandemic, as his Caped Crusader brought in $128 million — right in line with industry expectations. This was never going to perform at the level of Spider-Man: No Way Home, but it was important for Warner Bros. to pass the $100 million mark with ease, and that goal was clearly accomplished. Not bad for a movie that is decidedly not a four-quadrant release.

Reactions predictable ran the gamut, as comic book movies often do, and while some critics were less than impressed, I think there was a lot to like, which is why I gave the movie a ‘B’ despite its challenging three-hour running time. The important thing is that audiences seem to be enjoying Matt Reeves‘ pitch-black vision of the Dark Knight, as The Batman boasts a 90% Audience Score on Rotten Tomatoes. Bring on those HBO Max spinoffs, baby!

COOL

4. Robert Downey Jr. and Shane Black – The duo behind Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, which I must confess to finding rather overrated, are teaming back up again to tackle Donald E. Westlake‘s beloved protagonist Parker in a new movie taking shape at Amazon, which is also planning other projects based on the author’s series of crime novels.

The first project will be titled Play Dirty, and it’ll find Downey playing a professional thief with a brutal work ethic. Black will co-write the script and direct the film, which will be produced by Joel Silver, who has been working with the filmmaker since the ’80s.

Though this does feel like the perfect show for Amazon, as this kind of character is basically their bread-and-butter, that’s also part of the problem. This just doesn’t feel like it’s breaking any new ground for the streamer, and personally, Parker has always felt pretty creaky to me, an anti-hero from another time. I mean, how many times can this character be mined for the big screen? I’ve seen Mel Gibson and Jason Statham play Parker in my lifetime, and it never turns out as good as it should.

3. Adam Aron – Leave it to the AMC CEO to institute variable pricing in movie theaters across the nation, thereby gouging a nation of Batman fans for an extra buck, knowing full well they’ll have little choice but to shrug their shoulders if they want to see the Caped Crusader.

To be honest, I don’t hate the variable pricing idea — it’s something I’ve been talking about for nearly 25 years, ever since David Spade suggested in his 1998 HBO special Take the Hit that he’d pay $20 dollars to see Titanic, and 5 cents to see a grainy indie movie out of Sundance. Though this was all part of a very funny standup bit, Spade actually made some sense, as he didn’t understand why he was being asked to pay the same ticket price for a movie that cost $200 million, like Titanic did, or $2 million, like many Sundance movies. Indeed, it doesn’t really make sense!

But the variable pricing has to go both ways, so movies that have already been out for a week or two or longer should cost less than the price of the average movie ticket. Right now, this variable pricing thing seems to be a one-way street for Aron, so here’s hoping he sees the light and makes sure the calls go both ways.

COLD

9. The Academy – Look at that, the Academy is actually up a spot from last week! But things didn’t get too much better for the embattled organization, which saw Guillermo del Toro speak out against the timing of its decision to hand out eight Oscars an hour before the start of the live show, and directors like Denis Villeneuve and Jane Campion decry the move, which felt like a slap in the face to many members of the below-the-line community.

Meanwhile, Oscar-winning sound engineer Tom Fleischmann resigned from the Academy in protest. This all comes at a time when the Academy should be celebrating the nominees, not focusing its social media channels on “fan favorites” like Malignant and Cinderella, which don’t belong within a mile of the ceremony. CEO Dawn Hudson and President David Rubin sure aren’t making life easy for their incoming comms chief Jennifer Davidson.

10. Russia – Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is a disaster and the rest of the planet has banded together in unison against Putin, with Hollywood imposing its own sanctions. All five major studios said they would no longer release movies in Russia, where streamers have cut off service and major credit card companies have ceased all transactions. Hopefully, this terrible look will encourage an uprising of sorts in the Russian people and inspire them to take back their government. Until then, no Batman for you!