Big Movies, small films

‘Big’ and ‘small’ are relative terms.

According to Box Office Mojo, the production budgets for this year’s Oscar Best Picture nominees are as follows (in million of dollars):

Toy Story 3:  200

Inception:  160

The Social Network:  40

True Grit:  38

The Fighter:  25

127 Hours:  18

The King’s Speech:  15

The Black Swan:   13

The Kids Are All Right:  4

Winter’s Bone:  2

Strange that we call some motion pictures ‘movies’, and others ‘films’.  Other than the generic meaning which is used interchangeably, they sometimes denote certain inherent differences. The money that goes into making them just might be a factor: The higher the cost, the more likely it’s a movie… the lower, a film.  A movie is likely a Hollywood studio production, with better-known stars, big budget marketing, and aims at popularity among a wider spectrum of viewers.  A film is more or less associated with indie, art-house, and caters to a much smaller range of audience.

Such was the dichotomy between last year’s Oscars’ David and Goliath scenario: Avatar and The Hurt Locker.  And I was glad to see the little guy win.

But this year is a bit different.  Many of the Best Picture nominees are small budget productions.  They draw big buzz because of the pictures themselves, the quality of their productions, their subject matter, and the characters that drive the story.  They all depict little persons achieving big, however reluctantly.

Here’s a small glimpse of what’s big in some of these stories:

127 Hours:  The real life, harrowing ordeal of Aron Ralston, who is caught in a small crack of a big boulder and how he used a penknife to cut his arm off to free himself.  James Franco nominated for Best Actor.

True Grit:  A small, 14 year-old girl by sheer guts and determination, ventures out in the big, wild West to seek justice for her father’s death. Newcomer Hailee Steinfeld nominated for Best Supporting Actress.

Winter’s Bone: A teenaged Ozark Mountain girl trying to keep her family intact in utter poverty, and save the shack they call home by finding her father who has fled bail for drug dealing, an act that threatens the big crystal meth economy of the area. 20 year-old Jennifer Lawrence nominated for Best Actress.

The Fighter:  A down and out boxer with a small name like Micky Ward from a dysfunctional home in a drug-infested neighbourhood bounces back to win the WBU champion.

The Social Network:  A college student called Mark Zuckerberg in his little dorm room launching a big business by changing the way people in the whole wide world connect and socialize. Jesse Eisenberg nominated for Best Actor.

The King’s Speech:  A big role of a king being filled by a small, shy man hampered by a debilitating stammer big as cancer.  It could be all psychological, sure, that’s why it’s insurmountable… and overcoming it takes big courage.  Colin Firth nominated for Best Actor.

A small person overcoming big obstacles one small step at a time always makes a good story. It is so with the little character, true also with the little film.

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If she’s not birding by the Pond, Arti’s likely watching a movie, reading, or writing a review. Creator of Ripple Effects, bylines in Asian American Press, Vague Visages, Curator Magazine.

9 thoughts on “Big Movies, small films”

  1. When I stop to think about this, it’s clear to me I have some sort of internal criteria for labeling something either a “movie” or a “film”. In the simplest terms and just for me, “films” are “good movies”! And, I think of films as being something more than “just entertainment”.

    “Jaws”, “Social Network”, “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes” and “Avatar” are, for me, movies. “The King’s Speech”, “Driving Miss Daisy”, “Casablanca” and “Saturday Night Fever” are films. My distinction is purely subjective, and I’d be willing to throw a few into both categories, but it works for me.

    By the way, you might find a blog I discovered called Hearing the Movies of interest.


    The definitions are aways open to debate. But one thing is clear, the quality of the production is not determined by its being called a movie or a film. There are great movies and less than ideal films… and I’ve enjoyed both categories, as long as they’re just that, enjoyable. Of course, personal tastes and subjectivity play a major factor too. Anyway, thank you for that link. It has led me to some very informative and interesting sites. But as the poem goes, as links lead on to links, I might just enjoy the scenery along the way … so, thanks for a good starting point for my explorations. 😉



  2. Interesting to think about the difference between “film” and “movie.” I agree with your distinctions.

    I am still blown away that Toy Story 3 cost that much to make! How is that possible??


    $200 million may sound like a huge figure, but it took back half of it just on the first opening weekend, from Friday to Sunday, with box office sales of $110 million. It’s domestic gross so far is $415 m, foreign $648 m … add the two for the total. Toy Story is a huge industry in itself.



  3. oooeeee, excellent film summaries, Arti. And while I’m not wild about some of the nominees, I am glad to see the “smaller” films high on the list this year.

    OK, about the “lightbox.” I have one that you actually set up – it comes folded up. HM gave it to me for Xmas. In principal, it forms a box, with white walls. I can then choose a blue or grey background. A pro photographer suggested I stick with the grey for now. Because the sides are made of fabric, the intense spotlights that came with the setup can be set/aimed to shine through the walls OR down from the top. With those as adjustable, as well as the camera settings, I’m able to work through getting some decent book pictures. I literally put the books in the “box” , adjust the lighting in various ways and snap ’til I get one I think is better than the rest.
    Now, I read somehwere on someone’s blog how she made her own, using a real box, and putting holes in the walls for light to shine through (I think she used flashlights.) I think if you google it, you’ll get some really good (and likely different ideas. Wait…I’ll look right now, cuz I haven’t been terribly helpful except to say that shooting “in the box” eliminates the glare.
    Here’s one link that might help (and note, he calls it a “light tent.”)


    Thanks so much for the detailed info and the link. Will definitely check that out… and try it. Looking forward to seeing more pics on your blog using that technique.



  4. Wow, Toy Story 3 cost a lot to make! (I thought it was great! I like all three in the series, which seems a rare thing. So often sequels just make me think they should’ve left well enough alone, lol.)

    I saw Social Network & found it interesting, but not especially memorable. I’m looking forward to The King’s Speech — keep hearing good things about that one!


    You must see The King’s Speech, before the Oscars. Actually if you have time, try to see them all. 😉 You’re welcome to click on the pictures on my side bar to read my reviews of them.



  5. I like your distinctions between “movie” and “film.” Have seen two of the movies (Toy Story 3–cute; Inception–false from beginning to end); wish I could see some of the films…


    As I mention in my reply to Linda, the distinction of course is quite arbitrary… and quality, or the lack of it, could be found in both. But as for this year’s ‘films’, I think they are all good to excellent pictures. By all means, go for as many of them before the Oscars. In particular, I think you’ll enjoy these two: The King’s Speech and True Grit.



  6. The “Movie”/”Film” thing has always been something I’ve pondered, too, and I think you may have it! To me, “films” tend to be smaller, character driven, and don’t rely on special effects to move a story along. They may or may not have big box office stars. And when they are over, I generally feel my time is well spent. Sometimes it is well spent in movies, too. But they are a bit like empty calories, Like potato chips, they are good at the time, but in the end, a quick fix. They are less likely to stay with me!


    Interesting comparison… empty calories vs. wholesome meals. But you know, we need all of them: comfort food, sumptuous offerings, as well as nutritious and substantial meals. Oh… the varieties of life.



  7. It’s funny, because my taste in films is mostly not represented these days. I like films that don’t have big powerful premises. I really loved the Eric Rohmer films I saw, in which nothing at all happens, and yet it’s a very watchable nothing. And I love Hitchcock when he spends forever elaborating a suspicion – Rear Window is my all-time favourite. And then I love Woody Allen who is funny about not very much in particular. I so enjoy seeing actors and directors at their most creative with completely ordinary stories. But alas, those films just aren’t around much lately.


    1. litlove,

      The dichotomy between ‘movies’ and ‘films’ is of course, arbitrary. It arises in recent years as a reaction to the Hollywood spectaculars, the hi-tech, special-effects-filled big productions, action packed and plot driven. The other end of the spectrum is your art-house films… indie, character or dialogue driven, or, as you said ‘nothing at all happens’ type of smaller prodcutions. I think your favourites are well within this category.

      I can think of a parallel in the literary sector, and that would be ‘popular’ vs. ‘literary’ fiction.

      I admit I haven’t spent enough time watching French films, which I love. I have only limited experience with a few works represented by Bresson, Godard, Assayas and Claudel. Woody Allen’s early works are some of my all time faves, and I think he’d like to call them ‘films’ rather than ‘movies’.

      As we’re in the midst of Oscars Season, there are currently a few titles that you might enjoy: “Blue Valentine” (Michelle Williams Best Actress nom), “Rabbit Hole” (Nichole Kidman Best Actress nom), “Another Year” (Mike Leigh Best Original Screenplay nom), and “Somewhere” (Last year’s Venice FF winner). “Another Year” and “Somewhere” adhere to your ‘nothing happens’ style, and depict similar themes. You’re welcome to read my next post “Somewhere (2010)… or Nowhere”, where I compare the two.

      Thanks for sharing!



  8. Arti – thank you so much for the recommendations! I find it hard to know where to begin with films, particularly when my taste is a bit eccentric. I was trying to think of which French films I really like – Un Coeur en hiver, was great, ‘Tous les matins du monde, The Swimming Pool, Bon Voyage and L’appartement were all ones I very much enjoyed (some quite event-driven!).


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