Universal Pictures has the odd distinction of having the best and worst movie of the 2019 season.
“Cats” has been a spectacular failure, and a meme, and just an unmitigated disaster. There aren’t enough jokes in the world for the furry adaptation of the Broadway musical. Now and never.
But Sam Mendes’s extraordinary “1917” has gone into wide release and it’s a major, major hit. On Friday, “1917” went into wide release and scored $13,970,000. That should give the “one-shot” movie at least a $40 million weekend. And this is a war movie with no stars, just good actors and brilliant technology, as well as a terrific screenplay.
Last weekend, “1917” won the Golden Globe for Best Feature, and Mendes won Best Director. Its later release in the season has put the film and its director (as well as cinematographer Roger Deakins and editor Lee Smith) in position for multiple Oscar nominations on Monday morning, and potential wins.
This must come as a shock to Netflix, which came into the Oscar race with four very good films that seemed like they’d be overwhelming the competition: “The Irishman,” “Marriage Story,” “Two Popes,” and “Dolemite is My Name.”
The first two of those were all but assured Oscars dominance. They’ve already won many accolades. The question remains how Netflix will battle “1917” after Monday’s announcements. Can “The Irishman” be resurrected? Or has the whole theater vs platform debate crystallized with this situation?
I wrote after its initial screening that “1917” was a masterpiece and I meant it. Make no mistake, it’s sensational. But Martin Scorsese’s work on “The Irishman” is, too. Let’s call it a masterwork. It is neither too long nor a retread of his previous work. But not having it in theaters after its first month may have damaged the cause. On a smaller screen, with interruptions at home, “The Irishman” can be lost to divided attention. It requires your full focus. Maybe Netflix can put it back into theaters with an intermission and snacks starting next Friday, make it an event.
Meantime, Universal can claim this phrase: “well played.” Indeed.