Not many people care to admit it, but Hollywood is run by fear. Fear is an emotion generated by things that are not known or understood, and in the movie business, no one ever knows what's going to happen. (William Goldman was right when he said, "Nobody Knows Anything.") All those accountants, producers, publicists, entertainment TV shows, ad campaigns, etc. are all an attempt to get a handle on the unknown, an attempt to control the uncontrollable. Anything can happen. The world's biggest movie star can jump up and down on a couch and suddenly become a weirdo outcast. Or the star of a dismal turkey like Showgirls can turn around and find herself cast in a Woody Allen film. This fear, in essence, is why so many movies are so bad. The more investors and business people try to control their investment, the more they clamp down on it, and the more it gets smothered.

See, movies can live and breathe like an organic life form, but they have to have a chance. If brave producers step back and let the movie come to life in the hands of a genuine artist, they could wind up with something extraordinary like Joel and Ethan Coen's No Country for Old Men (229 screens), a film that somehow pleased critics both highbrow and middlebrow, won a handful of Oscars and has nearly grossed $75 million. This film has already entered the cultural canon as a classic of cinema. More or less the same can be said of Paul Thomas Anderson's There Will Be Blood (224 screens), which, having lost the Oscar for Best Picture, is now in a position of being an underrated underdog. But those are exceptions to the rule. No one is immune to the fear: a few years back the Coen Brothers teamed up with sleazy producer Brian Grazer, of all people, and came up with their first dud, Intolerable Cruelty.

categories Columns, Cinematical