Quiet week allows awards pics to prosper

LONDON — A fairly flat weekend at the European box office in terms of newbies offers Oscar hopefuls the opportunity to extend their B.O. legs and run.

In Germany, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” is likely to remain high in the charts, despite a slew of openers.

Constantin presents the Oscar-nominated “Milk,” which is getting plenty of buzz due to Sean Penn’s starring role, although mainstream prospects are limited for the biopic, while Warner rolls out Jim Carrey laffer “Yes Man.”

Disney’s homegrown children’s pic “Lilly the Witch,” from Stefan Ruzowitzky, director of the Oscar-winning “The Counterfeiters,” is sure to entice tyke viewers and their parents, while Fox is betting action aficionados will turn out for revenge actioner “Taken,” starring Liam Neeson.

Sony is looking to attract young auds with teen drama “Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist.”

Majestic may muster up cross-over appeal with “Der Knochenmann” (The Bone Man), Wolfgang Murnberger’s Austrian comedy-thriller, which unspooled in the Berlinale’s Panorama section, while “Adam Resurrected,” Paul Schrader’s drama about a Holocaust survivor, could generate arthouse and specialty interest as it goes out via 3L.

In Italy, “Bride Wars” is the biggest opener in a crowded frame, which also sees “Inkheart,” “The Reader” and “Underworld: Rise of the Lycans” make their bows.

The Kate Hudson and Anne Hathaway catfight laffer goes out on 300 via Fox amid unanimously negative reviews. “Who cares?” blasted La Repubblica, while Corriere della Sera called it “a yawn.”

Still, frivolous chick pics rarely fail with Italo auds.

“Inkheart,” which launches in Italy on 280 via local distrib Eagle Pictures, also hasn’t found much favor with local crix. “Very infantile,” lamented La Repubblica about the family adventure fantasy toplining Brendan Fraser.

Not the case with “The Reader.” The five-times Oscar-nommed pic starring Kate Winslet and Ralph Fiennes has elicited rave reviews in Italy. Corriere praised helmer Stephen Daldry for “his mastery in playing his cards on different temporal and narrative levels.” RAI Cinema’s 01 Distribution arm is outing “The Reader” on 158 with strong prospects.

“Lycans” goes out on 121 via Sony with solid if not stellar expectations for the third installment in the vampire-werewolf saga.

Smaller Italo outings include “Hotel for Dogs” and Shia LaBeouf thriller “Eagle Eye,” both bowing on 50 via Universal.

Also debuting on 50 playdates is Italo tyke Ago Panini’s dark drama “Aspettando il Sole,” being released by Mikado to mixed notices.

In the U.K., the main releases are “Confessions of a Shopaholic” (Disney), “Gran Torino” (Warner Bros), “Cadillac Records” (Sony) and Paul McGuigan’s paranormal fable “Push” (Icon).

On a more modest release, Benicio del Toro starrer “Che: Part Two” enters the marketplace hoping to build on the success of the first part.

Oscars hopefuls “Slumdog Millionaire” and “Button” are still going great guns in Blighty and likely to do more bouncy biz this weekend. Other holdovers with gas left in the tank are “Bolt” and “He’s Just Not That Into You.”

In France, “Le Code a change” (Change of Plans), the much-anticipated latest from Daniele Thompson (“Orchestra Seats”), took top spot for new releases on Wednesday. Offering a strong ensemble cast of top thesps including Dany Boon, Karin Viard and Marina Fois, the comedy of bourgeois manners bowed at $972,800 on 523 for StudioCanal — the third-best opening of the year so far, and the top debut for a French feature. Bow was buoyed by love from the crix. Thompson’s “love of clever dialog and of her actors comes through in every scene,” praised Tele 7 Jours.

Gallic actioner “Banlieue 13-Ultimatum” (District 13: Ultimatum), the follow-up to “District 13” (2004), opened well for EuropaCorp at $834,000 on 410.

A slew of four-star reviews for “The Wrestler” may make for a good weekend after a day one bow of $164,530 on 107 for Mars. Mickey Rourke, long a star in Gaul, “gives the performance of his life” felt TeleCineObs.

Family laffer “Hotel for Dogs” had a decent debut of $133,850 on 241 for Paramount.

In Spain, Doug Liman’s “Push” is expected to take top spot in its opening weekend, according to bookers. Pic debuts on 276 via Aurum with a $6,000 screen average forecast, based partly on the success of Liman’s “Jumper.” The fantasy pic bagged $8.5 million in Spain last year.

“The Wrestler” bows on 155 via UPI, the second widest opening of the weekend. Expectations vary, with bookers welcoming Mickey Rourke’s return, but lamenting that his days as a teen heartthrob are over. Crix have been more upbeat.

Smaller bows include Sony’s “Cadillac Records” and Golem’s adult toon “Waltz With Bashir.”

Holdovers like Filmax’s “Slumdog” and BVI’s “Beverly Hills Chihuahua” are expected to show good legs and Nirvana Films’ “The Milk of Sorrow” widens to 29 sites after winning the Golden Bear last weekend.

Additional reporting by Ed Meza (Germany), Nick Vivarelli (Italy), Emilio Mayorga (Spain) and David Hayhurst (France).

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