ZAMM.COM: Ridley Report

By Martin Grove,

Ridley report: Ridley Scott is one of those filmmakers who automatically commands attention whenever he makes a new movie.

With about $1.3 billion in domestic ticket sales for the 19 films he's directed since his first feature, Alien (1979), Scott's delivered more than his fair share of hits. Alien did $80.9 million domestically in 1979. That was big money then. Adjusted for ticket price inflation, it would be about $259 million today.

Scott's list also includes hits like Blade Runner ($32.9 million in 1982 or about $86 million today), Thelma & Louise ($45.4 million in 1991 or about $88 million today), Gladiator ($187.7 million in 2000 or about $284 million today), Hannibal ($165.1 million in 2001 or about $238 million today) and most recently Prometheus ($127.1 million in 2012).

With an enviable box office track record like that, there are, understandably, high hopes now for Scott's new R-rated crime thriller The Counselor, opening wide Friday. 

In The Counselor, a lawyer (Michael Fassbender), gets into drug trafficking to pay his debts, soon discovers he's in way over his head.

It's an impressive package that Scott's assembled for Counselor, starting with himself as director and one of its producers. Scott's a three time Oscar nominee--for directing Thelma & Louise (1991), Gladiator (2000) and Black Hawk Down (2001).

So you have to start out by thinking that pretty much any film he makes for the rest of his life is going to wind up on awards voters' radar screens. They're going to attend screenings or, at least, look at a DVD screener of anything new from Ridley Scott. And that's a great advantage. Awards marketers will tell you that just getting a film seen by the voters is half the battle. Adding to Counselor's strength is that Scott brought in Pulitzer Prize winning novelist Cormac McCarthy to write its screenplay. Between Scott and McCarthy, it's a safe bet Counselor is more than just a crime thriller.

Although this is McCarthy's first screenplay, he's been around the moviemaking track before. His novel No Country For Old Men was directed and adapted to the screen by Joel & Ethan Coen. He wrote and sold Counselor as a spec script.

No Country won numerous awards in 2008, including Oscars for best picture, directing, adapted screenplay and supporting actor (Javier Bardem, who's now one of Counselor's stars). And McCarthy and the Coen Brothers shared a USC Scriptor Award for Men.

Scott's also cast his film with actors who are no strangers to the Oscars, Golden Globes and BAFTA's. Starring are Michael Fassbender, Penelope Cruz, Cameron Diaz, Javier Bardem and Brad Pitt, all of whom have spent many hours walking the awards shows' red carpets.

Bardem won the supporting actor Oscar in 2008 for No Country For Old Men, for which he also won a BAFTA and Globe. The film was adapted from Cormac McCarthy's novel.

Cruz, who's Mrs. Bardem in real life, won the supporting actress Oscar in 2009 for Vicky Cristina Barcelona, for which she also was a BAFTA winner and a Globe nominee.

Pitt's a three time Oscar nominee--in 1996 for supporting actor in Twelve Monkeys, in 2009 for lead actor for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and in 2012 for supporting actor and as a producer of Moneyball. He's also received three BAFTA noms and five Globe noms, including a supporting actor Globe win in 1996 for Monkeys.

Fassbender was a lead actor Golden Globe and BAFTA nominee in 2012 for Shame. There's already a big supporting actor buzz underway for Fassbender's performance in Steve McQueen's drama 12 Years a Slave. Fassbender could also have a shot at a best actor nod for Counselor, but it doesn't help that this is an unusually competitive awards season with many more contenders than there are nominations slots.

Fassbender and Pitt, by the way, first worked together in Inglourious Basterds and again in Slave, for which Pitt was a producer and played a small role. Fassbender previously worked with Scott as a star of Prometheus.

Diaz is a four time Globe nominee--in 1999 for lead actress for There's Something About Mary, in 2000 for supporting actress for Being John Malkovich (for which she was also a BAFTA nominee), in 2002 for supporting actress for Vanilla Sky and in 2003 for supporting actress for Gangs of New York.

Bottom line: Counselor's a big studio thriller not an indie art house drama targeted to critics, but it's worth remembering that last year's Argo also was a studio thriller and that it wound up winning the best picture Oscar, Globe, BAFTA and Critics Choice Award plus numerous critics' groups prizes. It also received top honors from the Screen Actors Guild, Producers Guild of America, Directors Guild of America and Writers Guild of America.

It's too soon as this column is being written to know how Counselor will do with the critics or at the box office, two factors that typically drive films for awards consideration. Since the film didn't play at any fall film festivals, there's no early buzz to suggest what's ahead. But given its creative pedigree, Counselor could wind up competing for some prime noms, including directing and original screenplay.

(Martin Grove's Hollywood Report will be on vacation Oct. 28 and will return Nov. 4.)

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