"The Sessions" led the way among new films this week, performing as expected for this unusual drama, looking even better without a lot of other Oscar contenders opening in recent weeks. Three other review-driven films -- two documentaries and a controversial French film -- with much lower profiles found receptive audiences initially as well.
But fewer films are sustaining successful runs. The quality of wider release films and their appeal to the same audience -- "Argo" leading the way, but the expansions of "The Master" and "Perks of Being a Wildflower" among others also competing -- has taken its toll on most other recent openers.
"The Sessions" (Fox Searchlight) - Metacritic score: 80; Film festivals include: Sundance 12, Toronto 12
$120,000 in 4 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $30,000
Definitely a good opening for this acclaimed drama. The subject matter (a polio survivor with limited mobility seeks a sex surrogate) makes it a tougher sell than some other recent stronger limited openers ("Moonrise Kingdom," "The Master" and "The Perks of Being a Wallflower"), all with bigger openings in recent months. But this still ranks as one of the best this season.
Stars John Hawkes and Helen Hunt are both potential awards contenders, and the positioning of this as the competition gears up, the reviews and the excellent theater placement all help their cause.
What this means: The key now is upbeat word of mouth. It was more important for Fox Searchlight to get audiences in early than necessarily scoring a huge number ("The Master" underscores that initial excitement doesn't guarantee consistent success and growing awards momentum). Five new cities open next week, along with small expansions in NY/LA heading toward a slow national roll-out over the next five weeks.
"Brooklyn Castle" (PDA) - Metacritic score: 74; Festivals include: South by Southwest 12, HotDocs 12
$22,122 in 2 theaters; PSA: $11,061
One of the best openings for a documentary in recent months, this urban high school chess competition film benefited from two strong NY theaters and positive reviews for a promising start. It won audience awards at both SxSW and HotDocs, which by itself guarantees nothing for how a film will open, but suggests that this could grow in coming weeks.
What this means: Another opening that has a shot at being helped by word of mouth, even though other similar docs have had an uneven track record. This seems to have been helped by targeted marketing at least in NY initially, giving it a chance to break through in other upcoming cities.
"The Flat" (IFC) - Metacritic score: 82; Festivals include: Jerusalem 11, Tribeca 12
$20,800 in 2 theaters; PSA: $10,400
Another decent beginning in NY for a doc without the recent formula for success (artist/creative personality focus). An Israeli-based film about what a filmmaker discovered when his grandmother died, and then tracing ties to Germany (which she had fled in the 1930s), this was helped by strong reviews and theater placement.
What this means: IFC opens this in LA Wednesday, with 20 more cities very quickly, a faster than usual expansion indicating confidence in its appeal (and aimed like other doc releases in elevating its position as the Academy doc committee moves toward its list of semi-finalists).
"Holy Motors" (Indomina) - Metacritic score: 84; Film festivals include: Cannes 12, New York 12, Chicago 12
$19,488 in 2 theaters; PSA: $9,744
After its divisive premiere at Cannes and disinterest from the bigger US specialized distributors (as well as surprisingly not being shown at Toronto), Leos Carax's most recent adventure in flamboyant outre narrative scored some key rave reviews (NYTimes and Village Voice included). These led to an OK if not phenomenal opening at two NY non-profit theaters (Film Forum and the Walter Reade) whose audiences should be more receptive. The Wednesday opening led to a $28,300 five-day total.
What this means: This is decent enough to increase wider interest, although this is going to likely be more of a cult than general specialized audience film.