By Indiewire | Indiewire February 5, 2008 at 2:23AM
Oscar contender "There Will Be Blood," director Paul Thomas Anderson's adaptation of Upton Sinclair's novel about California oil men, battled the 3-D Hannah Montana concert film and extensive Sunday drops from the top-rated Super Bowl to lead the Best Picture Oscar pack with a per-screen average of $3,088 and a 4% drop in weekend box office. "Praying with Lior," First Run Features' documentary about a devout teenage Jewish boy with Down's syndrome; enjoyed a glorious debut with $8,401 from New York's Cinema Village. Joining "Lior" in the iWBOT Top Five, which ranks films by per-screen average, were the Spanish-language experimental film "The Silence Before Bach," Roadside Attractions' Beirut-set melodrama "Caramel," "4 Months 3 Weeks and 2 Days," filmmaker Cristian Mungiu's abortion drama, and "Live and Become," Menemsha Films' drama about an Ethiopian refugee starting over in Israel.
The iWBOT is based on per-theater averages reported by Rentrak Theatrical, the complete indieWIRE BOT weekly chart is available at indieWIRE.com.
Of all Best Picture Oscar-nominated films, "There Will Be Blood," a Paramount Vantage release and Paramount Vantage/Miramax co-production, performed strongest with a $3,088 per-screen average, adding 622 to reach 1,507 venues. In its sixth week, "Blood," director Paul Thomas Anderson's adaptation of Upton Sinclair's novel about California oil men, featuring Daniel Day Lewis in an Best Actor Oscar-nominated role, was in the tenth spot in the overall office chart and a cumulative gross of $21,145,644. "Blood" has already out-earned past Lewis films "The Boxer," "The Crucible," "My Left Foot," "My Beautiful Laundrette" and "The Ballad of Jack and Rose" and gained on "In the Name of the Father" and "The Age of Innocence." Paramount Vantage plans to expand "Blood" to 1750 venues Friday.
The top performer on the iWBOT was "Praying with Lior," director Ilana Trachtman's documentary about Lior, a devout teenage boy with Down's syndrome about to experience his Bar Mitzvah, for First Run Features. "Lior" earned $8,401 from its debut weekend at New York's Cinema Village; far out-performing ThinkFilm's Iraq War-themed documentary "Taxi to the Dark Side." "First Run is very much a champion of the political doc but to release an Iraq doc right now among so many others would be an uphill struggle to say the least," said Paul Merchant, Director of Theatrical Sales, First Run Features. "Releasing a film that features a kid with Down's syndrome preparing for his Bar Mitzvah is a challenge but "Praying with Lior's" unique inspirational tone is what ultimately attracted us to the feature and is why it will continue to connect well with audiences." "Lior" travels the Jewish film festival circuit throughout early 2008 in an addition to a mid-March theatrical run in Los Angeles.
Close behind "Lior" was "The Silence Before Bach," Spanish artist Pere Portabella's surrealist drama, which earned $7,280 from a solo debut at New York's Film Forum.
Menemsha Films opened "Live and Become" at New York's Sunshine Cinema and the Paris and reached a $5,304 per-screen average; good enough for the iWBOT top five. "Live and Become," from writer/director Radu Mihaileanu, is the story of an Ethiopian boy who is taken from a Sudanese refugee camp and brought to Israel to start a new life.
Other new releases included French director Andre Techine's romantic drama "The Witnesses," for Strand Releasing, and "Caramel," director Nadine Labaki's Beirut-set melodrama for Roadside Attractions. A 1984-set romance involving four friends, whose relationships grow under the cloud of AIDS, "Witnesses" debuted strongly in New York earning $11,228 at the IFC Center. Poor openings in Berkeley and San Francisco brought its iWBOt top ten per-screen average down to $4,933 from total weekend earnings of $14,800. Strand plans to expand "Witnesses" to Boston and Seattle in mid February and Washington DC and Atlanta in mid March.
"Caramel," a women's drama set among five female friends who bond in a Beirut beauty salon, earned $78,400 from 11 venues for Roadside Attractions, strong enough for the iWBOT top five.
The Art House Films documentary "Black White + Gray" returned to the big screen with a run at San Francisco's Roxie. Director James Crump's documentary about the relationship between artist Robert Mapplethorpe, curator Sam Wagstaff and musician Patti Smith earned $1,318 at the Roxie.
IFC's "4 Months 3 Weeks and 2 Days," continued to do strong business with a per-screen average of $6,958 from 17 venues. About a young woman who undergoes an underground abortion in 1987 Romania, the 2007 Cannes Film Festival Palme d'Or winner has earned an impressive $192,341 to date.
Director Jason Reitman's teenage pregnancy comedy "Juno" continued to be a powerhouse for Fox Searchlight Pictures. The comedy, boasting four Oscar nominations including Best Picture and Best Actress for lead Ellen Page, earned $7.5 million from 2,475 runs and passed $110 million in cumulative box office.
On the independent side of the theatrical landscape, "Lost in Beijing," Chinese filmmaker Yu Li's drama set in the growing middle class of Beijing; earned $2,350 at New York's Cinema Village for New Yorker Films. "Still Life," director Jia Zhang-ke's drama about villagers forced to relocate due to the construction of China's Three Gorges Dam, earned $4,956 from a solo run at the nearby IFC Center and a robust $40,030 cumulative box office for New Yorker Films. For New Yorker, one of the strongest advocates of world master filmmakers, offering alternatives to heavily marketed hits like "Juno" remains a constant battle, although one they plan to continue. "The superlative press "Still Life" received in New York helped make it one of our best exclusive openings in a while," said Jonathan Howell, Head of Theatrical Distribution, New Yorker Films. "But we're moving "Still Life" really slowly, we want to be sure to give it a chance to build good word of mouth.
Steve Ramos is a Cincinnati based writer.
indieWIRE:BOT tracks independent/specialty releases compiled from Rentrak Theatrical, which collects studio reported data as well as box-office figures from North American theatre locations. To be included in the indieWIRE Box Office Chart, distributors must submit information about their films to Rentrak at firstname.lastname@example.org by the end of the day each Monday.