By Tom Brueggemann | Thompson on Hollywood February 23, 2014 at 4:08PM
The range of new art films this weeks shows the diversity of the specialized world, with an acclaimed animated feature, another show business documentary, two subtitled films and a higher-budget period drama all debuting to quite variable results. "The Wind Rises" and "Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me" are the standouts.
"The Wind Rises" (Buena Vista) - Cinemascore: A-; Criticwire: A-; Metacritic: 83; Festivals include: Venice 2013, Toronto 2013, New York 2013
$306,000 in 21 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $14,571
Animation master Hayao Miyazaki's Oscar nominated final film opened in New York and Los Angeles last November to qualify for awards (it has already earned many kudos), and now has been officially released right before the awards to maximize attention ahead of its 450 theater expansion next week. The PSA is within range of previous Miyazaki initial releases (other than "Ponyo," Disney has always opened them in limited multi-city runs). This is the English-language version (apart from some select showings of the original Japanese version, which is the one officially eligible for the Oscars) which will be the basis for the wider release.
Anything other than "Frozen" winning the Oscar would be an upset of historic proportions. Miyazaki previously won ("Spirited Away" totaled $10 million). The later "Ponyo" got even wider, to $15 million on 927 screens. Despite its acclaim (and worldwide success -- over $113 million so far) this might be more limited in its U.S. release. It is an older-person's film, both creatively and in audience appeal, telling the story of the life of a Japanese inventor whose expertise in aviation leads to his talents being used in his country's military machine -- a tougher sell than Miyazaki's earlier more innocent stories.
What comes next: The trailer has been seen by "Frozen" audiences, which along with the Disney stateside release (Miyazaki's films are produced by his own Studio Ghibli) give the feature additional heft beyond the Oscar nomination as it goes wider.
"Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me" (IFC) - Criticwire: A-; Metacritic: 83; Festivals include: Tribeca 2013
$30,000 in 2 theaters; PSA: $15,000
The legendary theater icon might have appeared to retire (at 89, though she denies it) and moved home to Detroit, but she is still drawing loyal fans anxious for another dose of her dynamic personality and talent. This isn't the first documentary about her - the 2002 HBO Emmy-winning "At Liberty" got considerable attention. Two New York theaters showing this did decent business, once again showing the endless interest for docs about creative figures, particularly their personal side. This got major placement in New York where fan interest was guaranteed, but still ranks as one of the better limited openers this year so far.
What comes next: The top 20 markets will roll out over the next few weeks, parallel to imminent Video on Demand availability.