Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Hollywood: Conservative Money Won’t Pay for Liberal Films as Oracle-Backed Annapurna Pics Faces Crisis


I’m not here to bury Megan Ellison. I like her a lot. When Megan (not to be confused with her billionaire father Larry) was making films, not distributing them, she quickly garned a top notch rep for good taste. She worked with smart directors who made cool movies with talented, hip actors.

But then Megan’s Annapurna Pictures– with unending money from Larry Ellison, who founded Oracle Corporation– wanted more too fast. She decided to distribute the movies. Since then, it’s all gone wrong. even Megan’s BFF, her president of production, Chelsea Barnard, is gone. Her other close colleague, Matthew Budman, with whom she was inseparable, left before that.

Annapurna has also start dropped out of projects. They just stopped “Fair and Balanced,” about Roger Ailes’s downfall, and the sexual misconduct at Fox News, directed by Jay Roach, before production. This was a stunner. But Larry Ellison– who is where the money comes from– is a pretty intense Republican. He’s given millions –he’s worth $54 billion — in the last election cycle to conservative PACs and candidates. Now that Annapurna’s fortunes are riding on Adam McKay’s $60 million “Vice,” about Dick Cheney, Ellison may have to concede the former VP is old news. But eviscerating Rupert Murdoch in “Fair and Balanced”? That was too much.

The bad news for Annapurna started in summer 2017 when she released Katherine Bigelow’s “Detroit” without marketing or publicity. A good film, “Detroit” died instantly and could not be resuscitated.

Today, all the trades are writing about Annapurna’s stunning spiral down. They’ve lost millions on “The Sisters Brothers,” which also had no prep except festivals and has died a stunning death in open.

Coming shortly is Barry Jenkins’ “If Beale Street Could Talk.” It was premiered last night at the Apollo Theater. “Beale Street” is not going to make money for Annapurna. It’s very dull, it’s no “Moonlight.” It’s too reverential an adaptation of James Baldwin’s novel. “Beale Street” is loved by critics who don’t want to admit that the film has limited commercial appeal.

What I’m worried about is Karyn Kusama’s “Destroyer” starring Nicole Kidman as a burnt out police detective. I saw it in Toronto. But since then the buzz has gone cold on Kidman’s stunning performance. Annapurna has not conveyed anything about “Destroyer” as the fall unravels. You can’t build word of mouth in a day. The “Destroyer” producers would do well to stop the clock, and move their film elsewhere for the spring.




Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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