New Line fuels Yule logjam

'Schmidt,' 'Gangs,' 'Chicago' among 11 big pix

Christmas, as the old carol goes, is the warmest time of the year. And this year’s edition is already getting hot at the B.O.

New Line just shifted its Jack Nicholson-Alexander Payne drama “About Schmidt” to Christmas Day from early November. It joins a roster of 11 major pics bowing either on Christmas or the following Friday, Dec. 27.

Not all are wide releases, and a few will likely find a new home. For now, though, the Yule logjam includes “Gangs of New York,” “Catch Me if You Can,” Jennifer Lopez starrer “The Chambermaid,” musical “Chicago,” Spike Lee’s “The 25th Hour,” Roberto Benigni’s long-awaited “Pinocchio,” Chuck Barris biopic “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind,” a large-format reissue of “The Lion King” and arthouse titles “Max” and “Love Liza.”

With “Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers” sure to cast a long shadow after its Dec. 20 launch, the playing field is not exactly wide open.

Holiday entrants are trying to emulate the rare feat of a graceful Christmas arrival like last year’s “A Beautiful Mind” and “The Royal Tenenbaums.” Previous years saw titles like “As Good as It Gets” and “Shakespeare in Love” capitalize on the Christmas moviegoing spirit.

Miramax has four of the Christmas debuts: “Gangs,” “Chicago,” “Pinocchio” and “Confessions.”

That may seem an untenable number, but last year the company managed to put out wide releases “Kate and Leopold” and “The Shipping News,” plus limited debuts “Iris,” “Pinero” and “Behind the Sun” in a weeklong pre-Christmas stretch.

When there is still some breathing room in November and early December, why is everyone focusing on Christmas? One word: prestige.

“For some reason, the public views that as an important date, and once they have that perception, the film really takes on an air of significance,” said David Tuckerman, distribution chief at New Line.

In some respects, however, the fixation on Yuletide can be ill-advised. The moviegoing pool expands, but it also fragments, unlike at Thanksgiving, and kids can be too distracted by toys to flock to a film.

Adults, therefore, become a fiercely competitive demo, and a lot of big-budget serious fare tends to get hurt.

“Ali,” “The Majestic,” “The Shipping News” and “Charlotte Gray” all misfired in the final 10 days of 2001. Older-skewing ghosts of Christmas past include “The Postman,” “Man on the Moon” and “All the Pretty Horses.”

The challenge is surviving the mad dash to the holiday — “that last piling on,” as Nielsen EDI prexy Tom Borys puts it — which is inevitably followed by a long drought of new titles.

Tuckerman is undaunted by the crowded finish to what looks like a record-smashing year. Or at least he claims to be, given the comforting distance of summer.

“A lot is going to happen between now and December,” he predicted. “Exhibitors say they’re not really paying much attention to Christmas until the summer dies down.”

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