Those aren't sleigh bells you hear coming from the direction of Hollywood, but the sound of movie executives counting all the change they made this year. With one week to go, 1987 will go on the boards as the biggest-grossing year in motion picture history -- and that suggests that Christmas will indeed be merry in executive suites around town, right?
Well, right and wrong. Certainly, the holidays will be happy for the folks responsible for "Broadcast News," "Hope and Glory" and "Empire of the Sun," winners of the three Best Picture awards handed out so far and definite Academy Award contenders, all.
(Looking for an early Oscar forecast? My bet is that the academy members will fall for New York Film Critics Circle winner "Broadcast News," this week's front-runner for a variety of reasons: It's got momentum, via that Newsweek cover; director James Brooks won a bunch of awards with his last movie, "Terms of Endearment," which established him as an Important Director in the eyes of the Motion Picture Academy but which was released long enough ago not to work against him; early box office figures suggest it will be a hit but not a blockbuster, precisely the kind of movie academy voters like; and it's about the media, a subject that's endlessly fascinating to the media.)
Paramount's Blockbusters Paramount Pictures, meanwhile, should also be having an especially nice holiday. The company has by now perfected the big commercial movie: "Top Gun," "Beverly Hills Cop," "Beverly Hills Cop II," that kind of thing. As usual, Paramount had most of the year's blockbusters -- some of them even relatively daring movies, at least by that studio's standards. Given Brian De Palma's track record of late, his version of "The Untouchables" didn't figure to be a massive hit, but it was.
And then the director of "9 1/2 Weeks" came out with a movie about infidelity and obsession; it had an effective, audience-milking slasher-movie finale, but otherwise "Fatal Attraction" hardly seemed the sort of picture to become the year's big cocktail party conversation movie. But it was, helped along by sexual paranoia and by its controversial new ending. (Michael Douglas ended the year by telling everybody who'd listen that they didn't sell out by adding a crowd-pleasing ending, because in fact they'd considered several other endings, too; Glenn Close gracefully kept quiet, which was appropriate considering that from all reports she was unhappy about the reshoot.)
But for every bit of good news in 1987 there was a fiasco, flop or mess somewhere else. It was the year that the highest paid guy in show business, Bill Cosby, made a movie, "Leonard Part 6," that was so bad almost nobody went to see it. And it was the year that Elaine May finally finished her comedy about two inept singers in the desert -- only to find that even with Warren Beatty and Dustin Hoffman, nobody cared, and that "Ishtar" would henceforth have "Howard the Duck"-style status as one of those expensive, extravagant disasters.
And it was the year that Columbia Pictures, which released both "Leonard Part 6" and "Ishtar," provided the most intriguing studio-watching of the year. Its maverick studio chief, Puttnam, bucked the Hollywood system; he was forced out of the company before any of his movies had a chance to be released; and then the company was reorganized and, essentially, put in a subsidiary position to Tri-Star, a Columbia spinoff that had only been mildly successful on its own.
But it's probably wrong to think of David Puttnam as a loser in 1987 -- after all, he came into Hollywood already championed as a vital, revolutionary force, and lost his job before he had the chance to sully that reputation with any bad movies. In retrospect, the guy will probably look pretty good -- which means he might be another one of the movie business folks having a merry Christmas.