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Arthouse Audit: ‘What We Do in the Shadows’ Stuns, ‘The Last Five Years’ and ‘Gett’ Also Score

Arthouse Audit: 'What We Do in the Shadows' Stuns, 'The Last Five Years' and 'Gett' Also Score

As the Oscar films start to fade, the weekend brought three out of ten decent openers in theaters, six of which went to Video on Demand as well. The best of the group, far better than anyone expected, is New Zealand festival fave “What We Do in the Shadows,” which with hard-to-reach youth appeal could be the sleeper specialized success of the year.

“The Last Five Years” boasted particularly strong grosses given its VOD availability. Israel’s top film of 2014, “Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem” also thrived in its first two theaters. With Sony Pictures Classics opening their strong Oscar contender “Wild Tales” next weekend, badly needed fresh product is finally arriving.


“What We Do in the Shadows” (Paladin/Unison) – Criticwire: A-; Metacritic: 73; Festivals include: Sundance, Berlin, Toronto, AFI 2014
$65,830 in 2 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $32,915

Not exactly coming out of nowhere (it premiered at Sundance 2014, and costars and was co-directed by Jermaine Clement of “Flight of the Conchords”) but still unheralded and not on most distributors’ elevated radar, this vampire comedy managed a stunning initial weekend PSA almost twice as good as any new limited opener since the first weekend of the year (“A Most Violent Year”). Described as a New Zealand variation on a Christopher Guest mockumentary, this opened on a single screen each at the Sunshine in lower Manhattan and Los Angeles’ Arclight Hollywood (which likely kept the gross down and reveals what a surprise this is, since theaters normally anticipate a big opener with multiple screens).

What comes next: Attention will now be paid beyond expanding to the top 20 markets over the next two weeks. This looks like it could be the sleeper specialized success of the first part of 2015.

“Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem” (Music Box) – Criticwire: A-; Metacritic: 92; Festivals include: Cannes, Toronto, AFI 2014, Palm Springs 2015
$27,000 in 2 theaters; PSA: $13,500

Continuing the recent trend of one or two Israeli films a year to launch well, this drama about the difficulties an Orthodox woman has in obtaining a religious divorce was their Oscar submission (and Golden Globe nominee). It opened at the two right-fit theaters — the Lincoln Plaza in New York and Los Angeles’ Royal –to promising results.

What comes next: Expect a strong multiple for this as it reaches it core audience around the country.

“The Last Five Years” (Radius/Weinstein) – Criticwire: B- ; Metacritic: 63; Festivals include: Toronto, Chicago 2014, Santa Barbara 2015; also available on Video on Demand
$45,107 in 3 theaters; PSA: $15,036

Director/writer Richard LaGravenese (“Freedom Writers,” “P.S. I Love You,” “Beautiful Creatures”) went independent with this romantic multi-year story with a musical overlay. Radius acquired this around the time of its Toronto debut. Per their normal pattern, they are releasing this on VOD parallel to its limited theatrical play. The timing over Valentine’s Day helped, but considering the three theaters involved — the Village East in New York, the Sunset and the Pasadena Playhouse in Los Angeles, all not normally top-end first run venues — and the VOD availability, these are exceptional numbers. It’s also a nice boost for top-billed actress-singer Anna Kendrick, also recently warbling in “Into the Woods.” Radius reports this is currently ranked #8 on the overall ITunes movie sales chart.

What comes next: Though VOD is the main home, these grosses will encourage additional theatrical interest.

“Da Sweet Blood of Jesus” (Gravitas) – Criticwire: C+; Metacritic: 53;
Festivals include: American Black 2014; also available on Video on
$(est.) 11,000 in 8 theaters; PSA: $1,375

Spike Lee’s
updated redo of the 1973 independent (and groundbreaking) “Ganja and
Hess” has been on VOD for several weeks. Its limited theatrical run, not
helped by mediocre reviews and limited festival exposure, is minor.

What comes next: Home viewing will be its future.

“Hits” (Honora) – Criticwire: C+, Metacritic: 45; Festivals include: Sundance 2014; also available on VOD
$5,000 in 2 theaters; PSA: $2,500

the ultimate in outside-the-box releases, actor David Cross’ first feature, a comedy about the cost of pursuing fame, played
Thursday night in 45 cities with a pay-what-you-want price (which raised
about $10,000 from 2,000 attendees). It added multiple VOD platforms
this weekend, on BitTorrent and VHX with similar self-pricing as well as
more conventional play on other outlets. The BitTorrent availability
has had over 300,000 downloads so far, revenues not yet announced. This
is a risky proposition, but it is a way, via smart social media
marketing, to get a film attention.

What comes next: The theater play is likely limited ahead, but this might actually manage to become something of a success via this route.

“Temper” (Independent)
$(est.) 600,000 in 122 theaters; PSA (est,): $4,918

The top Asian release this week (at least in gross), this Telugu language film is yet another from this Indian region which has recently broken through in the U.S. market. Like so many Indian films, this cop actioner involves corruption.

What comes next: Likely limited to these initial theaters.

“Somewhere Only We Know” (China Lion)
$(est.) 350,000 in 45 theaters; PSA: $(est.) 7,778

This time-travel Chinese rom-com had a more limited release than “Temper” but a higher PSA. It indeed is the biggest opening gross for up-and-coming American-based distrib China Lion.

What comes next: This looks primed to be a multi-week release and add additional theaters.

Week Two

“Ballet 422” (Magnolia)
$(est.) 31,000 in 6 theaters (+4); PSA: $(est.) 5,200; Cumulative: $(est.) 69,000

This dance-troupe documentary had a solid expansion to several California theaters and looks to do solid niche business ahead.

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

“Still Alice” (Sony Pictures Classics) Week 5
$1,730,580 in 502 theaters (+367); Cumulative: $4,631,000

This is a textbook case of riding the Oscar wave, but rare for such a limited appeal film. This played only a week’s qualifying run, then opened parallel to the nominations, then expanded to become available in most regions by this point, and then its widest break is aimed for Oscar night. This has been easy to pull off as there has rarely been such a certain winner, at least for a film not widely seen (due to the acclaim for overdue Julianne Moore’s performance and none of her competition getting much traction). But however pre-ordained this might seen, there still wasn’t a certainty that a small drama about early-onset Alzheimers would connect, and a perception of lack of interest was the one thing that might have hurt Moore’s chances. SPC has managed to come through and position themselves to make the ultimate title much bigger before they are done.

“Old Fashioned” (Freestyle) Week 2
$1,095,000 in 224 theaters (+221); PSA: $4,888 Cumulative: $1,138,000

This faith-based romance (an ex-frat boy cleans up his act and tries a chaste pursuit of a woman) expanded to heartland audiences this weekend after its three-theater test last week to more than respectable results.

“Birdman” (Fox Searchlight) Week 18; also available on Video on Demand
$870,000 in 481 theaters (-185); Cumulative: $36,471,000

That’s a $10 million bump since the nominations, with the slight favorite to win Best Picture and Actor held back ahead only by its parallel initial VOD play. If it wins, the demand there could make the heavy spending in the last few weeks worth the effort.

“The Theory of Everything” (Focus) Week 15
$796,000 in 466 theaters (-136); Cumulative: $33,231,000

Still adding up the gross, with how much further it goes mostly dependent on whether Eddie Redmayne takes the Best Actor Oscar.

“Whiplash” (Sony Pictures Classics) Week 19
$570,230 in 515 theaters (+36); Cumulative: $10,417,000

The second (third?) wind for this sure Oscar winner (supporting actor) and possible multiple wins continues, but its DVD release on March 3 will keep its total take not much above $12 million barring a long-shot chance at winning Best Picture.

“2015 Oscar Nominated Shorts” (ShortsHD/Magnolia) Week 3     
$(est.) 300,000 in 181 theaters (+36); Cumulative: $(est.) 1,576,000

multiple programs of the nominees is falling off, but still once again it brings in a nice take ahead of the award, with a $2.5 million ultimate
total likely.

“Wild” (Fox Searchlight) Week 11
$275,000 in 185 theaters (-101); Cumulative: $36,921,000

adding to its gross, and still ahead of Best Picture nominees “Birdman”
and “The Theory of Everything” with less of a marketing push. Reese
Witherspoon isn’t winning next week, but her draw has been strongly
reinforced by this lengthy run.

“A Most Violent Year” (A24) Week 7     
$245,458 in 186 theaters (-520); Cumulative: $5,276,000

This took a big hit on theater count this tough weekend and is heading towards a domestic total of $6 million, somewhat below A24’s hopes.

“Mr. Turner” (Sony Pictures Classics) Week 9
$205,095 in 95 theaters (+16); Cumulative: $2,715,000

Still in under 100 theaters, and without the benefit of major nominations in an otherwise strong year for SPC, this now has a shot of surpassing any of Mike Leigh’s U.S. releases since “Topsy-Turvy.”

“Two Days One Night” (IFC) Week 8
$142,100 in 116 theaters (+8); Cumulative: $1,084,000

Marion Cotillard’s nomination has propelled this to over $1 million while still not getting much beyond core art houses.

“Foxcatcher” (Sony Pictures Classics) Week 14
$88,787 in 98 theaters (-76); Cumulative: $11,867,000

Winding down with its home availability set for Feb. 22 and no Oscar wins expected, SPC has been pushing this hard (and not inexpensively including awards marketing) for four months to get to $12 million domestic.

“Leviathan” (Sony Pictures Classics) Week 8
$63,680 in 29 theaters (+5); Cumulative: $574,000

Still quite limited, and in the chase for the Foreign Language Oscar (SPC also has “Wild Tales,” which opens in New York and Los Angeles this Friday), these are still modest grosses.

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