film reporter

Tarot cards, tea leaves mostly flop in H'wood

As 2007 looms on the horizon, the media, marking time until the new year begins, is often tempted to begin tossing off predictions about the coming year. The temptation should be resisted.

Sure, it's possible to extrapolate from ongoing trends. Heading into 2006, with the studios reining in talent deals, it was possible to predict that Paramount Pictures and its biggest resident star, Tom Cruise, would probably end up in a tough negotiation when it came time for the studio to renew its deal with the producer-actor's C/W Prods. It even was possible to speculate that they might be heading toward a parting of the ways.

But no one could have foreseen that Viacom chairman Sumner Redstone would show Cruise the door with a public drubbing. And even when Cruise and his producing partner, Paula Wagner, left Paramount in August, no one would have predicted that MGM would hand them the keys to United Artists just three months later.

As for those prognosticators who dared to foresee the events of 2006, they almost always got it wrong.

Jim Cramer might be a savvy stock-picker on CNBC's "Mad Money," but when USA Today asked him whether the boxoffice would rebound in 2006, he flatly answered, "No! I had a free afternoon, and I wanted to go to the movies with my wife. I looked at the listings, and there was nothing — NOTHING! — that I'd even rent! … Movies stink these days. Sell!"

Wrong answer. Theatrical exhibition might not have staged a roaring comeback, but this year's domestic boxoffice returns were up more than 4% compared with 2005.

Late-night radio host Art Bell took a more democratic approach, soliciting predictions from his listeners. While most of them weighed in on global conflicts, natural disasters and alien visitations, a few ventured into the even more mysterious workings of show business.

One — possibly a loyal Sony employee? — flatly predicted that "Blu-ray will win the DVD format war." That war, however, is still in its early skirmishes. Another was far more specific, predicting, "Mel Gibson will release the most controversial movie ever about the U.S. being held hostage by terrorists." Well, Gibson's "Apocalypto" did generate some controversy, but its Mayan protagonists had other things on their minds besides terrorizing Americans.

Let's hand it to the Amazing Kreskin, who bills himself as the "world's foremost mentalist." Among his predictions for 2006, he proclaimed, "There will be another announcement of a movie to be made on the life of Houdini." And, sure enough, along came Gillian Armstrong's "Death Defying Acts," starring Guy Pearce as Houdini, which sold U.S. rights to the Weinstein Co. at this year's AFM.

Ah, but then Kreskin went too far: He foresaw a revival of interest in the late Nipsey Russell that, sadly, hasn't yet occurred. He claimed that innovative theater operators will re-institute double features, a move that hasn't yet swept the exhibition industry. And he flatly predicted, "Steven Spielberg will produce a film in the style of the films of Katherine (sic) Hepburn and Spencer Tracy features."

Spielberg did have a hand in producing three films released in 2006: He served as an executive producer of the animated "Monster House," and he was one of the producers of Clint Eastwood's "Flags of Our Fathers" and "Letters From Iwo Jima." None of them was exactly a Hepburn-Tracy vehicle.

Safe to say, then, that when it comes to crystal-balling show business, the only safe prediction is that 2007 is sure to be unpredictable.
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