Bee Vang, left, and Clint Eastwood are shown in a scene from "Gran Torino."
Now that ballots have been mailed to Academy Award voters, here’s a wrinkle in this year’s Oscars. The man Oscar snubbed this year is the only one cleaning up at the box office.
The man would be Clint Eastwood, and his movie, Gran Torino, is a runaway smash hit. I told you when I first saw it in early December that Gran Torino was just terrific, that Eastwood had pulled a fast one on everyone. I also thought he and the movie were headed to Oscar gold. Boy, was I ever wrong!
Warner Bros., for whatever reason, decided to put all their eggs in the Dark Knight basket. Despite lots of other great early reactions on Gran Torino, the studio rolled over and played dead. In fact, it took a whole month — from December 12 to January 9 — before they even went “wide” with Torino.
By that time, the movie had no awards momentum. It was shown so late in the game to reviewers that it missed most top 10 lists. It was also shown with little advance word or preparation to fuddy duddy film groups like the National Board of Review and the Hollywood Foreign Press. They didn’t understand it, didn’t like it, and didn’t “get” it.
But look at Gran Torino now. Producers of the five Oscar nominated Best Pictures would give their best Prada cashmere socks to have box office results like this: $110.5 million so far. About $100 million of that didn’t start coming in until January 9th, either.
For Eastwood, who owns the movie, the box office is his reward, I guess. The production costs came to $33 million, making Gran Torino the most profitable movie with a big star of at least the last year — and then some. I don’t know what the promotional costs were, but they couldn’t have been very much. Warner’s did pretty much nada for Gran Torino in New York. If there was a New York premiere, it was held in secret.
What a shame, too: I said from the beginning Gran Torino should have been a Best Picture nominee, and that Eastwood could win Best Actor without a doubt. It should have happened. Re-watching the film over the weekend, I was impressed again with its simplicity and elegance. Torino is many ways as classic a western as Eastwood’s masterwork, Unforgiven.
And here’s this superstar of film working with young Chinese American actors, elevating them, highlighting them. They’re as good as the Indian actors in Slumdog Millionaire, and yet, we know almost nothing about Bee Vang, the excellent young actor who plays Thao, or Ahney Her, as his on screen sister, Sue. Where are there big feature stories, nominations for Best Newcomers, etc? And how about Clint’s son, Scott, who plays Sue’s date, the one who almost gets beaten up by a gang. Wouldn’t that have been a little p.r. peg?
So chalk up Gran Torino as the Lost Movie of 2008-2009, a classic that will wind standing the test of time without any awards. I guarantee you five years from now, this film will be the subject of articles about “Films that Shoulda Been Nominated,” that sort of thing, and everyone will be scratching their heads trying to explain what happened.
The big New York Super Bowl party? It was held at the Oak Room at the Plaza Hotel, organized by Peggy Siegal with a group of “hosts” including Dan Abrams (ex MSNBC anchor, now running his international Abrams Research from Greenwich Village), Dave Zinczenko, Men’s Health editor in chief and abs specialist, and Terry McDonell of Sports Illustrated. Who else could get Liz Smith, yours truly, George Rush, and Richard Johnson all into one room? Liz looked smashing, and, bemused, accepted the card of the Oak Room manager who told her she’d be his guest at the hot new restaurant “forever.”
… The guests: how about Debra Winger and husband Arliss Howard, Ronald Perelman, Ann Dexter Jones (yes, now known also as Samantha Ronson’s mother — hilarious!), WNBC’s Chuck Scarborough, plus CBS’s Harry Smith, the New Yorker’s Ken Auletta, famed Gay Talese, Lewis Lapham, concert giant Ron Delsener, ABC’s Cynthia McFadden, producer Tom Fontana, Rocco diSpirito, singer Peter Cincotti, Portfolio editor Joanne Lipman, legendary architect Peter Meier, Andrew and Nancy Jarecki, a bunch of Newhouses, Felicia Taylor, and so on. These were just the people in the front room, too!
…Before Jennifer Hudson wowed the crowd — and got a huge ovation from the Plaza gang — Wendy Parr performed “My Country Tis of Thee” beautifully! It takes guts to precede the magnificent Ms. Hudson — and she pulled it off with aplomb.
…Bruce Springsteen’s set lived up to the hype, too: “Tenth Avenue Freeze Out.” “Born to Run,” “Working on a Dream,” “Glory Days” — all spectacular — I only wish there’d been time for “Born in the USA,” but you can’t have everything. Bravo, Bruce!...
…Best commercial: Jay Leno in one of his sports cars, to Sam & Dave singing “Hold On I’m Coming” — See it here ....