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Arthouse Audit: Niche Docs Lead Specialized Openers, Oscar Contenders Tally

Photo of Tom Brueggemann By Tom Brueggemann | Thompson on Hollywood February 9, 2014 at 7:28PM

Art-house exhibitors eagerly await the Fox Searchlight stateside release of Wes Anderson's "The Grand Budapest Hotel," which premiered in Berlin to wide acclaim, but it's still a month away. In the meantime, award season releases continue to show uneven results, although non-nominated "Gloria" is expanding well. As was the case last week, the leading new openers are documentaries with more limited appeal. 
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Ben Wheatley's 'A Field in England'
Ben Wheatley's 'A Field in England'

"The Last of the Unjust" (Cohen Media) - Criticwire: A; Metacritic: 76; Festivals include: Cannes 2013, Toronto 2013, New York 2013

$14,519 in 8; PSA: $1,816

Claude Lanzmann's epic documentary "Shoah" is considered not only the greatest film on the Holocaust, but one of the greatest films ever made (at #29 in last year's Sight and Sound international poll of critics' all-time best, it was the highest ranked doc). In the decades since that film's release (which despite its nearly 10-hour length drew significant U.S. audiences) Lanzmann has taken material not included in the original and created new films. This one focuses on one survivor from a camp set up by the Nazis as a showcase settlement used in propaganda to mislead the world about how residents were treated. The man portrayed, a rabbi who worked closely with his German masters, defends his actions, with Lanzmann letting audiences make up their own minds about his complicity. At 3 1/2 hours, six hours shorter than "Shoah," it is a tough sell for conventional exhibition, and these initial figures (which include the ideal two core theaters in New York and Los Angeles) are a disappointment.

What comes next: The main market for this going forward will be a significant number of non-theatrical venues and small festivals before it heads to a long life on DVD and online.

"A Field in England" (Drafthouse) - Criticwire: B; Metacritic: 75; Film festivals include Karlovy Vary 2013, Toronto 2013

$5,000 in 10 theaters; PSA: $500

Showcased in Toronto's more offbeat Wavelength section (usually home to less commercial though ambitious titles), the adventuresome Drafthouse took a bigger-than-usual risk with this black-and-white English Civil War story from director Ben Wheatley. It failed to find a home at the top New York or Los Angeles venues, and with mixed and buried reviews in the two major papers had little chance of finding an audience.

What comes next: This won't help Drafthouse gain much traction for additional theaters.

Ongoing/expanding

"Tim's Vermeer" (Sony Pictures Classics), which has had a much higher profile and more significant marketing than the top two new documentaries this week, added 3 theaters to its initial 4 (all in outlying Los Angeles) to gross $39,000 (PSA $5,571). It will take new cities and their results to have a clearer picture of the film's future, but at this point it looks like a niche, narrow performer, though as usual SPC will make sure it has the widest possible exposure.

Expanding much more quickly, "Gloria" (Roadside Attractions) took in $250,000 in 64 theaters (+35, PSA $3,922, total $555,000 in its third weekend). This is continuing to look despite its Oscar snub like one of the higher grossing art-house oriented subtitled films of the year, while it is still in the early stages of release.

The pacesetter among foreign language films continues to be Oscar favorite "The Great Beauty" (Janus), which added another $105,000 in 53 theaters to reach $1.8 million (already in its 13th week). Though this will never have the wider breaks SPC gave the last two winners ("A Separation" and "Amour"), "Beauty" has quietly amassed an impressive total which, if it should win, might grow substantially higher.

Oscar Performer Tally:

Among the Oscar nominees, the more specialized ones all trailed three studio contenders who placed 11th-13th ("American Hustle," "The Wolf of Wall Street" and "Gravity," all on the plus side of $100 million and adding more to their totals than the other nominees). The new totals for these are as follows, in order of this weekend's grosses: "August: Osage County" (Weinstein) $34.4 million, "Philomena" (Weinstein, due for its widest expansion next weekend) $28.7 million, "12 Years a Slave" (Fox Searchlight) $47.3 million, "Her" (Warner Bros.) $22.5 million, "Nebraska" (Paramount) $14.9 million and "Dallas Buyers Club" $23.7 million, grossing in the range of $1.5 million to just over $600,000. There has been a lot of Oscar action this year, though divided among a wide array of films that has reduced the individual take of many of these. Notable among these is the small (-16%) drop for "Philomena" and an uptick in the PSA for "Nebraska."

This article is related to: Box Office, Box Office, Box Office, Arthouse Audit


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