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Arthouse Audit: Awards Contenders Ramp Up for Oscar Bounty, ‘The Rocket’ and ‘In Bloom’ Open Modestly

Arthouse Audit: Awards Contenders Ramp Up for Oscar Bounty, 'The Rocket' and 'In Bloom' Open Modestly

The seasonally-normal low pace of new openings continues, with only two first-weeker’s reporting grosses. Overall, highlighting the issue of an overabundance of theatrical releases, 20 new films opened in New York and/or Los Angeles, most of them to be little heard from again (at least five are already on Video on Demand).

The two that reported were both Oscar submissions that did not make the shortlist of nine: the Australian/Laotian “The Rocket” and Georgia’s “In Bloom.” They make up a record number of films submitted that have been released in the U.S. before the Oscar nominations, which is a positive trend.

The Top Ten weekend grossers (11, including weak performer “Her”) are stealing the bulk of the business from audiences inclined to venture into more specialized films, with the competition not only intense for the wider releases but also more limited ones like “Inside Llewyn Davis” and “Nebraska,” both struggling as they expand. 


“In Bloom”  (Big World) – Criticwire: B+; Metacritic: 67; Festivals include: Berlin 2013, Hamptons 2013

$10,000 in 2 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $5,000

A new distribution company focusing on subtitled films is risky these days, so Big World is to be commended for its goals as well as booking two top quality New York theaters for its first release. The film managed to get decent critical attention and scored the top new opener, but these are modest returns. This Georgian film, set in 1992 after the country broke away from the Soviet Union, didn’t get top level North American festival exposure (not that this guarantees success these days), but was positioned to benefit had it made it further in the Oscar race. Whatever the results here, the distributor will be in the mix going forward.

What comes next: A slow release, with dates set in Los Angeles and elsewhere in weeks ahead.

“The Rocket” (Kino Lorber) – Metacritic: 71  Festivals include: Berlin 2013, Tribeca 2013, AFI 2013

$7,000 in 2 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $3,500

Though Australia of course is an English-speaking country, this Laotian-made and spoken film qualified for the Oscars, and seemed, based on its audience awards from both Tribeca and AFI and appealing child-centric story to have a shot at getting awards attention. The initial result at two New York theaters is disappointing, but did show a doubling in attendance yesterday from Friday, suggesting at least the seeds of possible continued positive audience response.

What comes next: Los Angeles opens for a one-week calendar initial run before spreading out to other cities in similar playoff.


The top 11 has five films that initially were platform (not including “Frozen”), all but “Lone Survivor” intended to chase the same upscale, educated urban older audiences. Thus not every film is grabbing the same level of interest. One key story is how the studios are now driving this, at least in awards season, with Paramount, Sony, Warner Brothers, even Disney (“Saving Mr. Banks”) joining Weinstein and others at the high-end level of specialized-adjacent playoffs. “August: Osage County” (Weinstein) made #7, and completely outshone the more limited competition this weekend by a wide margin.

Among the top grossing films, “Her” (Warner Bros.) has taken the biggest hit, with its 1,700 theater break clearly not working, whether because it lags in interest because of the competition or just doesn’t connect with either younger or older audiences much at all after some initial signs of interest. But however it grossed, that meant around 600,000 ticket buyers not as readily available for other films nationally in this intense period.

Two other Oscar contenders, “Inside Llewyn Davis” (CBS) and “Nebraska” (Paramount) expanded without really aiming for the top 10 (yet, if ever)  A third, “Philomena” (Weinstein) keeps playing strong and looks likely to outpace both. “Davis” grossed best, with $1,876,000 in 729 (+573), PSA $2,573, total $9.3 million, now getting it on a par with the Coen Brothers most recent limited release “A Serious Man” (this has gone much wider). CBS has been pushing this film hard since its initial huge opening, not far below what “The Master” did in 2013. Though this has had a somewhat slower release pattern, this likewise has limited appeal, and will need unexpectedly big (at this point) Oscar success to continue its momentum.

“Nebraska” continues it much slower roll-out (this is already its ninth week). The pattern, recognizing the more limited appeal despite director Alexander Payne because of its rural, black & white and older-character elements, has always been to maximize its run around the time of the nominations. Its weekend gross — $820,000 in 521 (+281, PSA $1,574, total $8,150,000 shows no sign of this really gaining any traction yet. But a strong showing on Thursday — this could end up among the top films in total numbers if all breaks right — is vital for its continued presence, at least on the level to help prime best actor contender Bruce Dern. Otherwise, it could be in risk on not being around much longer.

“Philomena” is similar to past Weinstein successes like “Chocolat” (apart from the presence of Judi Dench). Staying at 607 theaters despite the screen pressure (including their own “August: Osage County” this weekend) it took in another $1,306,000 (PSA $2,241) and is now just shy of $22 million. Its continued awards presence – this is another film that could go either way on Thursday — will factor into going significantly higher, but these are impressive numbers even if it goes not that much further.

On a smaller level, but these days also significant, is “The Great Beauty” (Janus), expected to be a Foreign Language nominee, which is nearing $1.1 million with another $72,000 this weekend in 38 theaters. It is well positioned to continue to play if the nomination comes along.

Several other contenders are waiting til next week or later to take advantage of awards with wider runs. “12 Years a Slave” (Fox Searchlight), though down to 114 screens (-37) still added $267,000 (total $38.9 million), while “Dallas Buyers Club” did $242,000 in 125 (-3), now at $16.7 million. Both will add much more ahead.

Among other once hoped-for Oscar contenders above $50,000 this weekend were “The Book Thief” (20th Century Fox) with $400,000 in 303 (-26), total $19,750,000, “Mandela: A Long Walk to Freedom” (Weinstein), $265,000 in 363 (-647/$7,750,000) and “The Past” (Sony Pictures Classics), $86,600 in 17 (+12), PSA $5,094/$257,000 so far.

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