Monday, October 28, 2013

'Bad Grandpa' schools 'The Counselor'

It finally happened: Gravity has been dethroned. The reigning victor, Bad Grandpa, debuted to a successful $32 million this past weekend. While the film’s opening haul is a good $20 million less than 2010’s Jackass:3D, the last movie released by the popular Jackass franchise, it’s still more than double Grandpa’s $15 million production budget. In other words, the old man’s antics didn’t disappoint. Certainly, fans of the series, its spate of films and Johnny Knoxville himself have remained loyal: 63% of viewers were over the age of 25, meaning they were most likely those same teenagers, now all grown up, who first watched the "Jackass" TV show in their parents’ basement when it aired in the early 2000s.  Never underestimate the pull of nostalgia. Pundits believe Grandpa’s older crowd and relatively even gender breakdown (56% male) bodes well for its continued box-office success.

Though Gravity has finally slipped from the top slot, its fall hasn’t been from grace. These past three days have seen the thriller rake in another $20 million, experiencing a dip of 32%. The weekend’s sales have helped the film inch ever closer to the $200 million domestic mark. Unfortunately, Gravity’s earning power will likely wane come Friday, when Ender’s Game opens and overtakes the country’s IMAX theatres. By the time Gravity does fade, many speculate the film will have earned $250 million overall.

Chugging along at No. 3 is the ever-solid Captain Phillips. Tom Hanks’ pirate drama and something of a career comeback vehicle dropped just 28% to earn a little under $12 million. Its respectable total domestic earnings have been tallied at $70 million.

And then there’s The Counselor. With everything going for it – acclaimed director, acclaimed writer, acclaimed x 5 cast of actors – how could it have gone so wrong? The much-maligned chatty drama earned a disappointing $8 million, although, to be fair, its earnings are on par with Fox’s predictions. Critics didn’t like it, and either audiences listened, or determined for themselves from viewing the film’s trailer there just wasn’t enough there there to be of interest. Another week or two and The Counselor will most likely pack up and bow out.

Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs 2 completes this weekend’s top 5. The kid favorite has tenaciously and consistently ranked among the box office’s top performers, even if it is tracking a little behind the first Cloudy. This weekend may have seen the last of its glory days, however – Free Birds is looking to take a sizable peck out of the family market when it opens this Friday.


Wrapping up with two films heavily weighted beneath their considerable buzz – and efficiently moving tickets for all that – 12 Years a Slave and Blue Is the Warmest Color made the specialty box office a great success over the weekend. After expanding to 123 theaters, Steve McQueen’s Slave earned a little over $2 million, bumping its total to $3.4 million. The film’s wide release is slated for this coming weekend, when audiences across the country will have their pick of 400 theatres from which to view the harrowing artistic achievement.

Despite (because of?) the public controversy surrounding French flick Blue Is the Warmest Color, the Cannes Palme d’Or winner did very fine business. Its weekend earnings amount to $101,000, with, hopefully, more $$ on the way.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Latest 'Jackass' looks to unseat 'Gravity'

Jackass spinoff Bad Grandpa may finally have the popular heft to unseat Gravity this weekend, bringing the latter’s nearly month-long reign over the box office to a worthy end. It’s been quite a run for Alfonso Cuaron and co.: Gravity has earned $177 million domestically and close to $300 million worldwide. Business this weekend is expected to remain steady, if no longer stellar. Pundits predict a haul in the mid $20 million range, which would amount to a 25% downturn in sales.

Bad Grandpa, on the other hand, is reportedly on track to double its production value. The Borat-style comedy, in which Johnny Knoxville plays the titular geriatric pervert on an eventful roadtrip with his chip-off-the-ole’-block troublemaker grandson, was produced for approximately $15 million. Odds are the Jackass faithful will help carry the film to a $30 million opening weekend. As respectable a figure as that may sound, however, it nonetheless pales in comparison with the franchise’s last debut. Jackass: 3D , released in 2010, was buoyed by expensive 3D sales to earn a whopping $50 million its first weekend out of the gate (or should we say pen?).

Ridley Scott/Cormac McCarthy collaboration The Counselor, also bowing tonight, certainly has a fancier pedigree to its name, but the critical drubbing it’s received will most likely undercut its ability to perform, and certainly compete with wide-appeal Grandpa. Our Rex Roberts didn’t completely pan the film that attracted the likes of megawatt stars Brad Pitt, Michael Fassbender, Javier Bardem, Penelope Cruz, and Cameron Diaz, but neither did he place himself in the minority of lauders. “The Counselor isn’t a bad movie,” he wrote, “just a bombastic one.” Audiences aren’t expected to bang down the doors in their haste to view this exhibition of hubris (on multiple levels). Fox believes the movie will earn between $8 and $10 million.

On the other end of the critical spectrum, French film and Cannes Palme d’Or winner Blue Is the Warmest Color may reap the benefits of universal praise and a healthy dose of salacious controversy. Not only does the three-hour drama about a young woman and her intense relationship with a female artist carry with it an NC-17 rating, but the film’s two leading ladies and their director have been engaged in a very public media battle over who was or was not exploited during the movie’s graphic lesbian sex scenes. The most recent installment of the he-said she-said argument/publicity gambit took the form of an open letter by director Abdellatif Kechiche, in which he charged actress Lea Seydoux with making “opportunistic calculations.” It all seems a bit juvenile for such high-brow fare, but let’s see if the nonsense helps move tickets. Blue Is the Warmest Color opens in just four theaters tonight.

12 Years A Slave expands considerably this weekend, playing in 123 theaters. After it over-performed at 19 locations last weekend the historical drama is expected to only gain momentum. Its recent Gotham Award nominations probably won’t hurt its earning potential, either.

Monday, October 21, 2013

'Gravity' holds strong amid weak box office

To no one’s very great surprise - albeit to much industry excitement - Gravity completed another successful box-office orbit this past weekend. With yet another $30 million haul, the intergalactic thriller has now earned over $170 million in domestic sales.  At 28%, its fiscal drop was a little steeper this weekend (compared with last weekend’s dip of 23%), but at this point in the film’s wildly successful run, focusing on five percentage points is akin to splitting hairs.

Furthering the déjà vu nature of today’s roundup, Captain Phillips again clocked in at No. 2. Tom Hanks’ suspense tale suffered from a larger slip in sales than Gravity did during its sophomore outing: Down 33%, to gross $17.3 million. In all, the Paul-Greengrass directed, modern day-pirate touting, Oscar-chasing Phillips has earned $53.3 million.

Unfortunately, it seems the rest of the domestic box office offered little audience incentive. Even with Halloween right around the corner, the lone horror feature, Carrie, proved itself unable to scare up business. The film didn’t perform nearly as poorly as the worst of the box-office naysayers had predicted Friday morning, though neither did it justify those optimists who thought (wished?) it could compete with Gravity. Instead, Carrie made an all right $17 million. Compared with Gravity, which skews slightly male, and Phillips, which draws an older crowd, those viewers who did see Carrie were mostly female (54%) and under the age of 25 (56%). Maybe it’ll fare better when it streams on Netflix?

Rounding out the top five (Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2 took the No. 4 slot with another solid weekend, earning $10 million to boost its overall gross to $93.1 million) Escape Plan earned roughly $9.8 million. The mostly male audience (66%) was also mostly over the age of 30, neatly aligning the Stallone/Schwarzenegger vehicle with this weekend’s theme of “to no one’s great surprise.”

Well, almost no one. Even given The Fifth Estate’s middling reviews, fans of Benedict Cumberbatch may not have expected the film to fare quite as poorly as it did. Apparently, American audiences found little of interest in the Julian Assange/WikiLeaks feature. The Fifth Estate raked in just $1.5 million, earning the lowest gross of any film that opened in over 1,500 theatres this year.
Thankfully for Cumberbatch, his other movie out this weekend, 12 Years A Slave, managed to exceed expectations. On Friday we speculated the film might make $30,000 or so at each of its 19 locations. This morning we learned Steve McQueen’s latest, acclaimed feature averaged $50,000 per theatre. Its total weekend haul amounts to $960,000, a wonderful start for an art-house flick. Fox Searchlight will screen the film in 100 more theatres this coming weekend.

Fellow critical darling All Is Lost may end up competing with Slave at the Academy Awards, but it proved itself a weak opponent at the box office. Robert Redford’s one-man drama took in just $97,400.

To pull the camera out, so to speak, and take a wider view of this weekend’s earnings: Those films that made up the top 12 earned a total of $96.4 million. Even given the endurance of Gravity’s run, that number still signals a 20% drop in earnings from this time last year. Let’s see if this coming weekend can improve October’s outlook.

Friday, October 18, 2013

High hopes for 'Carrie' still fall short of 'Gravity'

For the third week in a row, we feel compelled to frame our box-office speculations using the rhetoric of comparison. How will this weekend’s movies fare… in relation to Gravity? Does Carrie have what it takes to topple the thriller from its tall, tall pedestal? Or will Captain Phillips prove its real-life tenacity and inch ahead into the No. 1 slot? Perhaps Escape Plan will find unexpected power in the pull of nostalgia, and ride dark-horse success past Alfonso Cuaron’s 3D stunner? Will audiences line up for yet another man-against-the-odds survival tale, and help Robert Redford’s All is Lost reign supreme?

Can anyone out-gross Gravity?


Pundits have predicted a $30 million haul for director Cuaron’s box-office king. As of Wednesday, the film had earned $204 million internationally. Some are speculating Gravity will hit the $300 million mark by weekend’s end.

Though backed by a strong marketing campaign (including this hilarious video), Carrie has received a chilly critical reception. The horror remake and Steven King adaptation is currently tracking 47% rotten on Rotten Tomatoes.  Opinions on the movie’s likely success – or failure – are mixed: Some see the film earning a figure that falls somewhere in the mid-teens, others the low 20s, and a few optimists (they just want to see the Gravity tyrant tumble!) are predicting Carrie could pull in as much as $30 million.

In its second weekend out of the gate, Captain Phillips will most likely land somewhere in the high teens, suffering from a less-than-catastrophic drop of just 25% (Gravity dipped 23% its sophomore weekend). Tom Hanks’ enjoyable tale of human fortitude had, as of October 16, earned $34 million.


Robert Redford is looking to give Hanks a run for his considerable money with his own Oscar-bait vehicle, All is Lost, opening tonight. While the suspense feature isn’t expected to match Phillips’ gross, Redford’s turn as a lone yachter lost at sea has fellow Best Actor nominee scrawled all over it. 

Speaking of leading men with more than their fair share of talent, Benedict Cumberbatch may be one of the industry’s hottest up-and-coming stars to land increasingly serious, high-brow roles, but his The Fifth Estate is unlikely to add to his caché. A biopic/thriller about Julian Assange and his WikiLeaks, Estate has been called (by our critic, Daniel Eagan) “trumped-up Hollywood hokum.” Audiences are expected to react accordingly – by staying away.  Most likely, The Fifth Estate will clock in around $5 come Monday morning.

Opening in limited release to much buzz among specialty circles/Fassbender cults, 12 Years A Slave (also co-starring Cumberbatch) is expected to do great art-house business: around $30,000 per location. Nineteen theaters will play the slavery feature, which, though difficult to watch, is reportedly yet another artistic achievement for director Steve McQueen, whose slim albeit impressive oeuvre includes Hunger and Shame.

Is there a graceful way to transition from the realities of our brutal national history to… Stallone? Nonetheless, the Rocky writer and sexagenarian action star also has a new film opening this weekend, co-starring fellow golden oldie, Arnold Schwarzenegger, in which the two plot their escape from a maximum-security prison. To small surprise, Eagan called Escape Plan “a guilty pleasure,” or rather, “the movie equivalent of junk food.” Odds are, Plan will pull in around $10 million.

In sum: It’s still very much Gravity’s game.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Saying goodbye to 'The Booth'

Earlier today, Slate published a brief spread of gorgeous photos from Joseph O. Holmes’ ongoing exhibit at the Museum of the Moving Image, “The Booth: The Last Days of Film Projection.”

The exhibit’s themes are neatly summarized within the title: Intimacy and farewell, the former a natural byproduct of those small working spaces, the projection booths, often made homey with “family pictures [and] notes between the projectionists;” the latter an implied echo behind the word “last.”

“These things are going away, so I wanted to preserve what I think is a really beautiful setting,” said Holmes. “Those reels and the projectors and the film and the editing equipment almost feel like they could come from any decade in the last hundred years… It feels like tapping into something ancient.”

Which is precisely how your kids will feel when they flip through these photos, bound in a coffee-table book (should those still exist), only a few short years from now.

To view Slates’ full spread and interview with Holmes, click here, or keep scrolling for Holmes’ own moving-image paean to the projection booth, a 12-minute compilation of film clips where the space serves as a key setting, below:


Monday, October 14, 2013

'Gravity' proves its staying power, plucky 'Phillips' is No. 2

Continuing to monopolize film industry headlines and ticket receipts, Gravity soared through a banner sophomore weekend. The film experienced only a minor drop-off in sales these last several days, slipping just 21% to gross $44.3 million. That’s the strongest box-office hold any non-holiday movie that debuted over $50 million has ever experienced.  To further contextualize: Gravity had the second best weekend ever in IMAX sales, grossing $9 million – ahead of previous IMAX juggernaut The Dark Knight Rises.

All in all, Alfonso Cuaron’s trendy thriller – and we’d imagine one of this year’s most popular Halloween costumes – has managed the difficult task of impressing both critics and audiences alike,  earning itself the title of bona fide success story. The early Oscar favorite currently boasts a $123 million haul – and counting.

Itself no financial slouch, Captain Phillips grossed a respectable $26 million its opening weekend. While this stable debut may not elicit the awe of, say, a $50 million premiere weekend, it’s a much-needed hit for Tom Hanks: His last few movies, including Cloud Atlas, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, and Larry Crowne, were financial disappointments.

As many pundits speculated last weekend, Phillips drew an older crowd. The film’s demographic breakdown is unequivocal: 62% of audience members were over the age of 35. Fifty-two percent were also male, so we think Sandra Bullock’s Oscar campaign should begin in full force… yesterday.

If the adults were all out gripping their armrests in a wonderfully fun state of suspense at Captain Phillips and Gravity, where had the kids got to this weekend? The littlest ones were watching, and perhaps re-watching, Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2, which took a bit of a tumble, down 32% with a $14.2 million draw. The movie has earned $78 million so far, which is just a little less than what the first Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs had taken in at the same point in its theatrical run.

Older kids/teens were most certainly not out mooning over Romeo & Juliet. The poorly received reimagining of the Bard’s story of doomed love and overactive hormones earned a meager $509,000 at the box office. While R&J’s decided flop may come as no surprise to those who read our David Noh's review of the adaptation, more disappointing is the poor showing of the generally well-received The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete, which grossed just $260,000 after playing in 147 theatres.

The box-office doom and gloom for those films that are not either Gravity or Captain Phillips continues with the intake (or lack thereof) reaped by Machete Kills. The sequel to the more successful Machete can now claim one of the poorest openings of the year. It did just a third of the business its predecessor managed, bombing with $3.8 million. Not even a wacked turn by Charlie Sheen/Carlos Estevez as the leader of the free world could drum up much interest in the lackluster effort.

Escape From Tomorrow amounts to another debut unable to spin novelty into profits. Though the film had generated early buzz for its unique/stunt shooting – all on location at Disney World, without the consent or approval of Walt’s camp – the end product doesn’t appear to be nearly as interesting as the story of its creation. It earned just $66,100.

Ending this Monday’s weekend wrapup on a lighter, promising note, the little rom-com that could, Nicole Holofcener’s Enough Said, earned another $1+ million this weekend after expanding to 606 theatres. That boost has brought the film’s total up to over $8 million, and, with strong word-of-mouth continuing its laudatory chatter, it’s looking as if next weekend will only see more gains.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Can anyone free herself from 'Gravity's' orbit?

For the past week, Gravity has dominated the box-office discussion – and it doesn’t look as if anyone else will be sneaking a word in edgewise any time soon. The blockbuster thriller managed to compound its record-breaking opening weekend by earning roughly an additional $18 million over the last several days. That brings the movie’s total domestic earnings up to around $73 million.  Interestingly, however,  it seems Gravity’s word-of-mouth buzz hasn’t been quite as effusive as its critical reception, leaving some industry experts to predict a (small) financial dropoff this coming weekend.

Given the general trendiness of #Gravity though, not to mention the success the movie has enjoyed (and one can imagine will continue to enjoy) from pricey 3D ticket sales, we think it'll be just fine. Odds are Gravity will pull in another $35-$40 mil this Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Less certain is the opening weekend fate of Tom Hanks’ Captain Phillips. Hanks has been generating the expected Oscar buzz for his turn as sea-captain-turned-pirate-hostage Richard Phillips, and the film has a 94% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Giving the movie a timely if perhaps unnecessary publicity boost is news that the real-life crew of the Maersk Alabama is suing Captain Richard Phillips for allegedly ignoring maritime warnings and putting all their lives in danger. (Tom Hanks would never.) Far from keeping audiences away, however, it’s likely the scandal will only help drive sales. According to Deadline, the movie has already raked in $600,000 in late-show tickets.

But even with this seemingly fortuitous alignment of stars, does Captain Phillips really have what it takes to outshine Gravity? Many believe Phillips’ core demographic is a 25+ crowd, which doesn’t bode well; consensus has Millennials opting for director Alfonso Cuaron’s more visually innovative work, eschewing Paul Greengrass’ “traditional” suspense flick. We’ll see how the generation wars play out when the receipts are tallied come Monday.

While these two Oscar giants battle it out this weekend, a few other releases will vie for the rest of the country’s eyeballs. Machete Kills is another major release bowing tonight. The sequel to 2010’s Machete, itself a spinoff of Grindhouse, Machete Kills includes an eclectic mélange of cameos: Charlie Sheen (using his real name, Carlos Estevez) as the POTUS, as well as Mel Gibson, Lady Gaga, and Sofia Vergara. The Hollywood Reporter critic Justin Lowe wasn’t a fan, but if nothing else, the film’s rollout of wacky should provide just what the movies ought: entertainment.

Our David Noh wishes the same could be said of the latest film to tackle Bill Shakespeare’s greatest (or at least his most famous/oft-adapted) love story, Romeo & Juliet. The talented Hailee Steinfeld of True Grit fame has nabbed the starring role of poor dopey (er, doomed) Juliet, reciting Julian Fellowes’ (“Downtown Abbey”) odd mix of Elizabethean/modern-English lines with great and unfortunately stultifying care. This is no Baz Luhrmnan reimagining. The film opens in 461 theatres tonight.


The Inevitable Defeat of Mister & Pete will also open tonight, in 147 theatres. Though the film revolves around the hard-luck life of two impoverished Brooklyn kids (Skylan Brooks and Ethan Dizon, both newcomers, both critically lauded for their ability to tug on the viewer’s heartstrings) Lionsgate’s newest release has two famous adult draws to its name: Oscar-winner Jennifer Hudson and her fellow “American Idol” alumna Jordin Sparks. Film pundits see the movie earning around $1 million. Escape From Tomorrow, a black-and-white dramedy whose claim to fame includes a “guerrilla-style” shoot on location in Disney World, will also most likely reap a smaller haul.

And then there are those still holding strong: the tenacious Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2, and Enough Said, which expands nationwide to 606 theatres this weekend.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

The best of Nobel Prize-winner Alice Munro onscreen

We were thrilled to learn this morning that Canadian author Alice Munro has won the Nobel Prize in Literature. Word on the street inhabited by the world’s literati (a crumbling back alley, perhaps, but one paved with centuries’ old cobblestones and smelling wonderfully of musky first editions) had for weeks been buzzing about Japanese author Haruki Murakami, who was widely favored to win. In the press release announcing Munro as the award’s recipient, however, a single line proclaimed what fans of the writer have known for decades: Munro is simply the

master of the contemporary short story.”

(Spaces included in the original announcement; we assume for maximum aesthetic/dramatic effect.)

Filmmakers, too, have long known of Munro’s cinematic potential. Directors have been adapting her short stories and novels for the silver screen and its competitive younger brother, TV, since the ‘70s. Like all enduring authors with a definite sense of their art, the kind you can identify by their opening sentences alone, Munro has certain themes to which time and again she returns. Broadly and simplistically speaking, these include the complicated nature of family relationships – frequently mother/daughter pairings – aging, and that subject a professor of mine once told me every story, no matter how dark or silly or cynical, is really about (and if yours isn’t, you’re writing wrong and probably shouldn’t be writing at all): the various manifestations of love.

All of which may make Munro sound as if she’s an especially girly and sentimental authoress. The wonderful thing about Munro as a writer, however, is her ability to turn an unsentimental eye on those situations which, in lazier hands, could easily lend themselves to the Nicholas Sparks treatment: A man who must admit his aging wife, suffering from Alzheimer’s, into a rest home. An abused wife who snaps. Lives of Girls and Women.

Her inclination toward and incisive handling of universal themes makes her work ripe for dramatic interpretation. It’s no wonder her output has inspired several screen adaptations. Below, we’ve included the trailers or other related media (where available) to most of these projects, as well as the original Munro titles on which they’re based, for your viewing - and hopefully supplemental reading - pleasure:

Film: Hateship Loveship (TBA. Stars Kristen Wiig, Guy Pearce, and Hailee Steinfeld)
Based On: Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage (collection of short stories)


Film: Away From Her (2006. Julie Christie was nominated for a Best Actress Academy Award; director Sarah Polley was nominated for a Best Adapted Screenplay Academy Award.)
Based On: “The Bear Came Over The Mountain” (short story)


Film: Edge of Madness (2002)
Based On: “A Wilderness Station” (short story)


TV Movie: Lives of Girls and Women (1996)
Based On: Lives of Girls and Women (novel)

TV Series: “The Newcomers” (1977)
Based On: Actually, nothing – she wrote it!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Remembering Stanley Kauffmann: a sampling of his works

Acclaimed film critic Stanley Kauffmann, whom the late Roger Ebert called “the most valuable film critic in America,” passed away from pneumonia earlier today. He was 97.

As Variety notes, Kauffmann may not be the most famous of the “Film Generation” critics (who include Pauline Kael and Andrew Sarris), but his wit, insight and erudition – not to mention the assured manner with which this author of several novels and plays wrote euphonic, prose-like reviews – has earned him the mantle of cult favorite.  His career included a stop as chief drama critic for The New York Times and a long-held, beloved position as film critic for The New Republic. Kauffmann initially started off as an editor at Bantam Books, however. It wasn’t until he read a film review by William Tory of The Nation during the early 1930s that Kauffman came to appreciate the literary possibilities of film criticism. The realization that movies were as legitimate an art form as theater or books and so worthy of serious criticism was a revelation.

“I’m not sure that my jaw actually dropped, but that’s the feeling I remember,” Kauffmann wrote.

To cull through and annotate the very best of Stanley Kauffmann’s extensive film oeuvre would be a Sisyphean, though worthy, task. In the interests of remembering this accomplished forerunner of the work we love – film reviewing – however, we have compiled a brief if eccentric list (admittedly skewed toward my own tastes) of several of his reviews.

The following is a sampling of Kauffmann’s opinions on both famous and smaller works spanning the 1960s to the present day:

8 ½ (The New Republic, 1963)

My Fair Lady (The New Republic, 1964)

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (NYT, 1966)

The Departed (The New Republic, 2006)

Amour/Barbara/Beasts Of The Southern Wild (The New Republic,

Do you have favorite Stanley Kauffmann pieces of your own? We'd love to hear - and post! - your top reviews.


Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Early Oscar 2014 predictions: best actor

With fall comes more than just a cooling of temperatures – within the film industry, the advent of chillier weather signals the heating up of that grand poobah competition, the Oscar race. This year’s crop of contenders is one of the strongest in recent memory. Already, records are being set (Alfonso Cuaron’s ‘Gravity pulled in the largest October opening-weekend haul to date), expectations exceeded (haven’t we already seen a million or two little-kid-gone-missing films? Not like Prisoners, we haven’t) and nerves shot (thank you, Paul Greengrass, for inducing a lingering headache after I felt compelled to hold my breath over and over again while watching Tom Hanks attempt to outwit a band of determined Somali pirates in your Captain Phillips). While the women of this season’s Oscar-bait films will be given their kudos in good time – Meryl’s back! – the men vying for the industry’s most coveted, or at least its shiniest, prize are worthy of particular note. The five-nominee limit seems particularly restrictive this year.


Those with the largest amount of buzz surrounding their performances include Chiwetel Ejiofor for Steve McQueen’s 12 Years A Slave, Matthew McConaughey in Dallas Buyers Club, Robert Redford in All is Lost, Forest Whitaker in The Butler, and the aforementioned pirate captive, Tom Hanks, in Captain Phillips. So that’s five, right? Technically speaking, yes. But with such a talented group to choose from, we wouldn’t be surprised if five or six other actors slipped into one of the coveted nominee slots.

Take Bruce Dern in Alexander Payne’s (Sideways) latest film, Nebraska. The twilight (referring to age, happily no association with the franchise) actor took home the Cannes Film Festival prize for Best Actor for his performance as a sick old man who travels with his son (Will Forte) from Montana over to the titular state in the hopes of claiming a $1,000,000 lottery prize. Word has it Nebraska was a festival crowd-pleaser, a sentimental favorite whose popularity (assuming the Cannes enthusiasm translates to a wider viewership when the film opens next month) could boost Dern’s chances.

Prisoners certainly has widespread appeal on its side, if box-office numbers are anything to go by (according to Rotten Tomatoes, the film is currently tracking at $47.5 million). And Hugh Jackman has been turning the heads of critics who’ve felt a bit lukewarm about the actor since his turn in the “mild box office hitThe Wolverine. In Prisoners, Jackman plays the father of a six-year-old girl gone missing, a man whose natural paternal anxiety evolves into something far darker when the investigation stymies and he feels compelled to take matters into his own hands. Prisoners boasts solid performances by Jake Gyllenhaal and Paul Dano as well, but the movie really is the Jackman show.

Making a strong showing of his own, Idris Elba as Nelson Mandela in the upcoming biopic Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom should also not be discounted. The Academy loves an epic, loves a romance, loves a history film, loves great actors playing giants of politics… it may very well love Elba and the vehicle behind him enough to give him a nomination.

For a few longer, though by no means faulty, shots, there’s Leo DiCaprio in Martin Scorsese’s upcoming The Wolf of Wall Street, as well as Oscar Isaac in the Coen Brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis. After five films together the pairing of DiCaprio and Scorsese could almost be called classic, and certainly one which highlights Leo to great effect. And who doesn’t love a Coen film?

Finally, my particular vote for underdog (for all the aggressive campaigning behind his film) nominee goes to Michael B. Jordan for his star turn in Fruitvale Station. Our Tomris Laffly said Jordan turned in a “remarkably mature and humanistic performance,” one which proves the former cult TV staple (he’s previously appeared on “The Wire” and “Friday Night Lights”) is an eminently watchable adult force to be reckoned with.

In alphabetical order, then, here is our list of would-be Best Actor contenders for the 2014 Academy Awards:

-Ejiofor, Chiwetel (12 Years A Slave)

-Elba, Idris (Mandela: The Long Walk to Freedom)

-Dern, Bruce (Nebraska)

-DiCaprio, Leonardo (The Wolf of Wall Street)

-Hanks, Tom (Captain Phillips)

-Isaac, Oscar (Inside Llewyn Davis)

-Jackman, Hugh (Prisoners)

-Jordan, Michael B. (Fruitvale Station)

-McConaughey, Matthew (Dallas Buyers Club)

-Redford, Robert (All is Lost)

-Whitaker, Forest (The Butler)

Monday, October 7, 2013

'Gravity's' record-setting haul flies past expectations

While many of us were expecting Gravity to achieve great financial heights over its opening weekend, the 3D thriller performed even better than predicted. The latest film from Alfonso Cuaron, his first since 2006’s Children of Men (don’t call it a comeback), earned a soaring $55.6 million this past Friday, Saturday and Sunday. It now holds the record for the largest opening in October, outpacing previous record-holder Paranormal Activity 3, which clocked in at $52.6 million back in 2011. Perhaps the most noteworthy aspect of Gravity’s impressive haul is its breakdown: 80% of the film’s revenue came from 3D showings, amounting to roughly $44 million in sales. With #Gravity blowing up social media, I think it’s safe to call the movie a cultural phenomenon, granting pop-culture enthusiasts a much-needed trend on which to expound following the end of last week’s hot topic, “Breaking Bad.” Both star Sandra Bullock and her chatty partner-in-space George Clooney can also thank the survival flick for giving them their best – biggest – domestic opening ever.

More in-line with last week’s expectations and predictions, Justin Timberlake and Ben Affleck’s Runner Runner failed to drum up much foot traffic. The stars’ action/drama feature earned a disappointing $7.6 million in domestic box-office; its international gross has been tallied at $23.6 million. Luckily, the movie only cost roughly $30 million to make, so stars and studio alike can pretty much cut their losses on this one and, much like Gigli or JT’s blonde curls, move beyond it in the interest of making wiser choices. (Let’s hope Ben Affleck’s turn in the new Batman movie falls into the latter category!)


The charming Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs 2 continues to hold strong sway with audiences. The animated sequel boasted the second-best weekend behind Gravity, earning $21.5 million and bringing its total domestic earnings up to $60.5 million.


Tom Hanks’ new, captivating thriller Captain Phillips, based on a true sequence of events involving modern-day pirates, also saw some enthusiastic responses when it opened for several preview showings this past weekend.  On average, theaters at most of the 800 screening locations were 75% full, with many playing to sold-out crowds. The movie opens wide this coming weekend.

Though we could write all day about box office grosses and who’s out-drawing whom, we’ll end today’s recap with an update on the late James Gandolfini’s final feature, Enough Said. The romantic comedy co-starring the woman with an infallible sense of comedic timing, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, finally cracked the top 10 over the weekend, earning $5.4 million.  It will expand to around 650 more theatres this Friday.

Friday, October 4, 2013

'Gravity's' Box-Office Should Be Out of This World, Make for Tough Competition

Alfonso Cuaron’s acclaimed intergalactic thriller Gravity is poised for a stellar opening weekend,with predictions running as high as a $40 million debut. That would amount to quite a few 3D glasses needing to be recycled. Given its heavy advance buzz (it’s currently trending 98% on Rotten Tomatoes), it seems the film’s plastic pileup is only fated to grow: Boasting a wonderful performance by Sandra Bullock, which has Academy Award pundits seeing Oscar (not to mention a charming turn by George Clooney, in which he plays George-Clooney-acting-charming-in-a-spacesuit), Gravity is already outpacing modern -effects posterchild Avatar in 3D pre-sales, with 91% of advanced tickets reserved for 3D viewings. In other words, expect this star vehicle to snuff the competition.

Looking to give Cuaron’s early Oscar contender a – pardon the phrasing – run for its considerable money, the Justin Timberlake/Ben Affleck vehicle Runner Runner also opens this weekend. Most critics have panned the action/suspense flick about gamblers acting shady, although our Maitland McDonagh is a bit more understanding. “Both Affleck and Timberlake have fought uphill battles to be taken seriously as actors,” she says, citing the difficulty many have encountered when they try to picture JT as the adult version of the boy who once matched denim outfits with Britney Spears, and when they attempt to look beyond Ben Affleck’s extraordinarily gifted face. However, “Runner Runner gives both room to show what they can do,” she concludes.


Parkland, boasting yet another all-star cast with turns by Billy Bob Thornton,
Paul Giamatti, Zac Efron, and Colin Hanks, is being released (in 217 theaters) 50 years and a little over a month to the day JFK was assassinated.  Reviews of the feature, which takes place in the hospital where the president was rushed the afternoon of the shooting, have been mixed to negative. Even given its full talent roster, Parkland's box-office expectations are pretty grim.


More promising is the new feature starring the elder Hanks, Captain Phillips. The thriller based on the real-life captain and his harrowing encounter with a band of Somali pirates will have a sneak preview in 800 locations this Saturday, with a wide release scheduled for the following week.

Traveling to the world of smaller specialty releases, a pair of foreign dramas is slated for an American premiere. The French movie Concussion takes a frank look at a lesbian’s couple sexless marriage – and one partner’s risqué efforts to rebel.

Dramatic in a more over-the-top and epic way is the new Chinese film from director Jia Zhangke, A Touch of Sin, which, with its interconnected stories espousing  a dour view of modern China,  has been called by our Chris Barsanti “a sprawling tragicomedy” that amounts to an “exhilarating expose” on the country’s increasingly troubled state.


Metallica Through the Never will see a wider expansion this weekend, to 650 theaters. The documentary about the popular metal band had a solid opening weekend this past week, grossing$1.07 million from 305 Imax theaters.

In all, the nascent fall season is shaping up to be excitingly varied. However, it remains to be seen whether any of the above will have the popular appeal to match, let alone compete with, the Gravity juggernaut.