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Arthouse Audit: ‘Manchester by the Sea’ Opens Stronger than ‘Nocturnal Animals’

Two Oscar hopefuls opened reasonably well this weekend, as holdovers "Moonlight" and "Loving" wait for a lift from awards and Ang Lee's technological experiment fails with audiences.

“Manchester by the Sea”

Roadside Attractions/Amazon Studios

The fall specialized season (with attached awards campaigns) is going into high gear. This weekend brings the release of Amazon Studios Sundance pickup “Manchester by the Sea” (Roadside Attractions), one of the year’s most anticipated films, to a strong initial response in its first two cities. Also, Focus Features released buzzy festival hit “Nocturnal Animals” somewhat wider to enough interest to suggest ongoing adult audiences ahead.

"Nocturnal Animals"

Amy Adams in Tom Ford’s “Nocturnal Animals”

None of these grosses challenge 2016’s top limited releases, though, consistent with what has been a decline in overall specialty numbers this year. But they join “Moonlight” and “Loving” among successful launches that perform well enough to keep their awards chances alive along with their commercial prospects.

That’s in stark contrast with Ang Lee’s technological experiment “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk.” After what seemed to be a decent start in two theaters last weekend, its wider national break ranks with the biggest disasters ever seen for a studio film of such importance.

Opening to qualify for animation awards for a single week, “The Red Turtle” (Sony Pictures Classics) per normal industry practice did not have grosses reported. Unusually however, its reviews in New York were held back, though it did score a rave in the Los Angeles Times.

"The Red Turtle"

“The Red Turtle”

Opening

“Manchester by the Sea” (Roadside Attractions) Metacritic: 95; Festivals include: Sundance, Telluride, Toronto, New York 2016

$241,230 in 4 theaters; PTA (per theater average): $60,308

Kenneth Lonergan’s long-anticipated third feature was screened to great acclaim at Sundance in January. These days, delaying release until the awards-adjacent end of the year for Park City successes has become less frequent. But as this tragic drama about Casey Affleck taking custody of his teen brother is a top contender for critics awards and Oscars, presenting it late was not such a big risk.

The opening numbers at four prime New York/Los Angeles theaters show that the gamble by Amazon Studios and its distribution partner Roadside Attractions has, at least initially, paid off. The PTA places it at third-best for 2016 (after “Moonlight” and “Cafe Society”) among two-city multiple theater platform released films this year. In a period where previously numbers for films of this pedigree are mostly out of reach (“Grand Budapest Hotel,” “Birdman,” “The Master” and “The Imitation Game” are among those in recent years to open with PTAs over $100,000; “The Big Short” last December managed $88,000, with “Steve Jobs” yielding a staggering $130,000), this is a strong if not anywhere close to a record-setting showing. (Roadside Attractions reports numerous sellouts in a weekend where some of the theaters had intense competition for seats).

Coming in at about 60 per cent of the less-cast driven and perhaps more limited “Moonlight” could be the result of its release not only in a competitive time frame for adult audiences, but during a post-election funk that could make serious dramas somewhat less of a draw. But that’s only a surmise for why this terrific number (with a terrific 24 per cent Saturday increase) isn’t quite as high as some earlier highly acclaimed films.

What comes next: Eight more cities open this week ahead of an initial expansion to 800+ in mid-December.

“Nocturnal Animals” (Focus)  Metacritic: 69; Festivals include: Venice, Toronto 2016

$494,000 in 37 theaters; PTA: $13,351

Tom Ford’s second film (after “A Single Man” in 2009) opened in multiple theaters rather than the conventional two-city platform. With Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal as marquee draws, the risky move looks to have paid off well enough to get this stylish thriller launched well enough to set it up for initial and later holiday expansion.

A recent initial similar release pattern was tried by Fox Searchlight in early December (a weaker grossing period) for”Wild” in 204. In fewer (21) theaters it grossed considerably better ($607,000) as it headed for a $38 million total and Best Actress nomination for Reese Witherspoon.

What comes next: This quickly jumps to 200 theaters this week and wider on Dec. 4

Hal Prince and Stephen Sondheim

Hal Prince and Stephen Sondheim

YouTube/Abramorama

“Best Worst Thing That Ever Could Have Happened” (Abramorama)  Metacritic: 77; Festivals include New York 2016

$22,573 in 2 theaters; PTA (per theater average): $11,262

Excellent initial figures for this documentary which hits the show business/creative world sweet spot by retelling the story of “Merrily We Roll Along.” That 1981 Broadway musical was a rare Stephen Sondheim flop then, but then found new life. Footage from the show along with reuniting many of the principles combine to provide the core of the film, which opened at two prime Manhattan theaters to start its national run.

What comes next: Los Angeles comes aboard this week at the Royal, with other niche dates to follow across the country.

“A Street Cat Named Bob” (Cleopatra) Metacritic: 52

$35,070 in 2o theaters; PTA: $1,403

Based on a best-selling memoir about a man and his cat and directed by Roger Spottiswoode, whose credits include a Bond film (“Tomorrow Never Dies”), this opened in major cities cross-country to little impact.

What comes next: This could have interest in home-viewing situations, but theatrical looks like a dead end.

Daughters of the Dust

“Daughters of the Dust”

Cohen Media Group

“Daughters of the Dust” (Cohen)  (reissue)

$10,842 in 1 theater; PTA: $10,842

The restoration of Julie Dash’s seminal 1991 film set in an early 20th century African-American community set apart from its place by its island location opened at New York’s Film Forum to a decent initial response as part of a nationwide release ahead.

What comes next: Los Angeles, Chicago, Detroit and Toronto open this Friday, with a significant slate of theaters set in December and beyond.

Also available on Video on Demand:

“The Take” (Focus) – $39,000 in 100 theaters

International releases:

“Ekkadiki Pothavu Chinnavada” (Indin/India) – $(est.) 420,000 in 92 theaters

“I Am Not Madame Bovary” (WellGo/China) – $(est.) 200,000 in 40 theaters

"Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk"

“Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk”

Week Two

“Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk” (Sony)

$930,000 in 1,176 theaters (+1,174); PTA: $791; Cumulative: $1,100,000

Two-time Best Director Oscar-winner Ang Lee (“Brokeback Mountain,” “Life of Pi”), was at least spared the ignominious fate of Michel Hazanavicius after he won a Best Director Oscar.  The French director’s follow-up to “The Artist,” “The Search,” has never been released in the United States. But that’s small comfort for Lee who, after the massive worldwide success of “Life of Pi,” seemed at the height of his A-list career.

These are staggeringly bad numbers. At any theater where “Billy Lynn” might possibly have gained traction, the film pulled in fewer than 100 customers for the whole weekend. This is not much better than Weinstein’s cursed “Jane Got a Gun” last January, when it was given a make-the-best-of-a-bad-situation release.

It comes, apart from Lee’s name, after what on paper looked like a decent two-theater opening last weekend. But the problems were already apparent. With its special 3D/120 fps showings and higher ticket prices, prime placement and huge ad spending, its $57,000 PTA to discerning eyes appeared problematic.

The quick wider break came without the edge of this cutting-edge presentation and accompanied by the most mediocre reviews of Lee’s career, at a time when most of the top wider releases have yielded strong reviews and adult interest. And Mel Gibson’s “Hacksaw Ridge” is playing to audiences interested in military-themed films.

But still, the scale of this disaster is hard to imagine for a top director. It does suggest, after Robert Zemeckis’ “The Walk” and the complicated playoff of Quentin Tarantino’s “The Hateful Eight,” that letting directors push technical experiments that aren’t available to many theaters is counter-productive. A serious drama about post-traumatic stress may not be the right draw at the moment, particularly without any marquee leads to sell.

Whatever the contributing factors, this looks going into an incredibly crowded Thanksgiving weekend to have a quick fade-out and even worse result despite the holiday.

Elle Isabelle Huppert

“Elle”

Sony Pictures Classics

“Elle” (Sony Pictures Classics)

$128,701 in 24 theaters (+22); PTA: $5,363; Cumulative: $214,787

The initial expansion for Paul Verhoeven’s French thriller with Isabelle Huppert continues its initial strong response. These second weekend numbers are ahead of what the strong performing “A Man Called Ove” achieved at the same early point.

“The Love Witch” (Oscilloscope)

$28,500 in 20 theaters (+14); PTA: $1,425; Cumulative: $55,162

Anna Villers’ homage to female-centered horror films from the 1960s expanded this weekend to modest results. This is likely enough to gain it cult attention in other venues ahead, but it shows the difficulties of getting traction theatrically even with a smart campaign and compelling content for films aimed at younger specialized audiences.

"Moonlight"

“Moonlight”

Ongoing/expanding (grosses over $50,000 in under 1,000 theaters)

“Moonlight” (A24) Week 5

$1,583,000 in 650 theaters (+474); Cumulative: $6,739,000

As the fall’s biggest indie success more than tripled its theater count, the “Moonlight” per-theater average fell. At $2,436, it’s down almost two-thirds from last weekend. A24 has been nurturing this in its initial wave, but it appears for the moment to have reached its widest point at least until inevitable awards start piling up. It’s a success with further potential, but at this point does not yet boast the crossover appeal as such past top contenders like “Spotlight” ($3.5 million in 598 theaters) and”Birdman” ($2.5 million in 857 theaters) at similar points in their runs.

“Loving” (Focus) Week 3

$854,000 in 137 theaters (+91); Cumulative: $1,737,000

Jeff Nichols’ acclaimed retelling of the 1960s interracial marriage that became a crucial legal battle expands to respectable if not spectacular results in its third weekend. The best comparison is to Focus’ “The Theory of Everything” in an almost identical release pattern. That crossover success in its third weekend just before Thanksgiving grossed just over $1.5 million in 140 theaters. That’s a little less than twice as good. “Moonlight” in its recent third weekend in fewer (83) theaters grossed nearly 50 per cent better ($1,235,000). This is doing well enough to maintain awards attention at a critical time, but at this point needs some boost from awards to sustain a lengthy run.

“A Man Called Ove” (Music Box)  Week 8

$222,568 in 157 theaters (-37); Cumulative: $2,790,000

The leader among specialized subtitled releases this year is off its highest grosses and theater count, but is still holding well. With its upcoming Oscar chances it still has a chance to hit what for these days is very unusual among foreign language films — a $4 million total.

“The Eagle Huntress” (Sony Pictures Classics)  Week 3

$195,649 in 39 theaters (+8); Cumulative: $556,000

A small expansion in theaters combined with terrific holdovers resulted in another encouraging week for SPC’s Kazakh-set documentary of a young girl’s quest to break gender barriers. Word of mouth looks positioned to keep this steady and propel it to more theaters into next year.

“The Handmaiden” (Magnolia)  Week 5

$(est.) 135,000 in 93 theaters (-33); Cumulative: $(est.) 1,470,000

This acclaimed Korean period drama, a rare subtitled entry from burgeoning Amazon Studios, has passed its widest point but still looks headed for a decent $2 million-plus total.

“Denial” (Bleecker Street) Week 8

$67,894 in 84 theaters (-37); Cumulative: $2,976,000

Rachel Weisz in the middle of a London libel case winds down its run with a $4 million-plus gross looking to be its final total.

Also noted:

“Certain Women” (IFC) – $34,020 in 63 theaters; Cumulative: $1,011,000

“Christine” (The Orchard) – $20,020 in 45 theaters; Cumulative: $250,045

“Off the Rails” (Film Collaborative) – $8,795 in 1 theater; Cumulative: $11,894

“American Pastoral” (Lionsgate) – $8,000 in 20 theaters; Cumulative: $533,970

“The Beatles: Eight Days a Week – The Concert Years” (Abramorama) – $7,776 in 11 theaters; Cumulative: $2,857,000

“Disturbing the Peace” (Abramorama) – $4,298 in 2 theaters; Cumulative: $20,653

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