'Ribbon,' 'Teardrop' and more count on awards buzz

Distribs are hoping their prestige titles survive the holiday season and then blossom in January and February as awards season enters the final stretch.

The final two entries debut Wednesday in Los Angeles and New York: Michael Haneke’s “The White Ribbon,” from Sony Pictures Classics, and “The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond,” based on a recently rediscovered play by Tennessee Williams and distributed by Paladin.

It’s been a tough couple of years for the specialty film biz even as domestic B.O. grosses continue to run at record levels. The Christmas season has been no exception, as pics such as “Avatar,” “Sherlock Holmes” and “Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel” clean up.

The good news: Award voters don’t necessarily pay attention to B.O. grosses. They vote how they want to vote, regardless.

Distributors are another matter, as recouping costs is at the top of their holiday wishlists.

Last weekend, the Weinstein Co.’s Rob Marshall-directed musical “Nine” expanded nationwide to poor results after a dazzling limited debut the week before. TWC said that in hindsight, it might have waited to expand the musical nationwide until after the Christmas rush.

Paramount fared better as it expanded Jason Reitman’s “Up in the Air” nationwide, but it wasn’t an out-of-the-park performance.

One Par insider said “Up in the Air” should stay aloft based on strong reviews and word of mouth, as well as awards notice. Pic received the most Golden Globe nominations of any film, with “Nine” No. 2.

Par points out that so far, “Up in the Air” is pacing as well as Fox Searchlight’s “Slumdog Millionaire” did over Christmas 2008.

The top-grossing film of the year that started as a limited release is Lionsgate’s “Precious” ($41.8 million through Sunday). Film unspooled on Nov. 6.

Late November and December brought the usual flurry of limited releases lining up to do battle in the awards race.

Those entries included Paramount/DreamWorks’ “The Lovely Bones,” Fox Searchlight’s “Crazy Heart,” Sony Pictures Classics’ “Broken Embraces,” Apparition’s “The Young Victoria” and SPC’s “The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus,” Heath Ledger’s final film.

Also in the mix are “The Road” and “A Single Man,” both from the Weinstein Co.

None of these films has emerged the clear frontrunner, and some have gotten off to disappointing starts, including “Crazy Heart,” “Lovely Bones” and “Single Man.”

Searchlight had intended to open “Crazy Heart,” toplining Jeff Bridges and Maggie Gyllenhaal, in spring 2010 but moved up the release after it became clear that “Amelia” wouldn’t be an awards contender.

Despite good reviews, “Crazy Heart” and “A Single Man” haven’t quite found their stride, but distribs believe they can still pick up the pace. Both pics, as well as “Lovely Bones,” are looking for awards attention to boost their profiles.

Apparition’s Bob Berney said he believes the Christmas sesh was the ideal time to unspool “Young Victoria,” toplining Emily Blunt, because it is more of an audience-pleaser than a serious pic.

Over Christmas weekend, grosses for “Young Victoria” jumped 50% from Friday to Saturday, the most of any film in the market. Cume through Sunday was $927,963.

“Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus” grossed $129,980 from four locations in New York and L.A. to score the best per-location average of the entire frame with $32,495.

Many limited releases in the past have scored strong location averages on opening weekend (“Nine’s” was north of $60,000), only to see the numbers drop in the following weeks.

But with the New Year, specialty distribs are hoping it will be their time to shine.

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