The travails of three women led by Annette Bening “coming of age” in Santa Barbara in the 1970s is among the specialty films rolling out this holiday week. Awards contender 20th Century Women, an Annapurna/A24 film which also stars Elle Fanning and Greta Gerwig, is opening in New York and Los Angeles starting Wednesday. Only two months following the release of his Stooges documentary Gimme Danger, Jim Jarmusch is back with his latest narrative feature, Paterson, starring Adam Driver and Golshifthe Farahani. Amazon Studios/Bleecker Street will begin its limited release on Wednesday as well. Germany’s Oscar shortlisted comedy Toni Erdmann opened Christmas Day and continues its rollout via Sony Pictures Classics. The film did solid business in its initial release, though its length will limit its number of daily screenings. And Gkids is giving big-screen due to Japan’s 1993 animated feature Ocean Waves, in select showings.

20th Century Women
Director-writer: Mike Mills
Cast: Annette Bening, Elle Fanning, Greta Gerwig, Billy Crudup, Lucas Jade Zumann, Elle Fanning
Distributor: A24

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A24

Producer Anne Carey first heard about the idea for 20th Century Women at the 2011 Independent Spirit Awards, where she ran into director Mike Mills. Carey had worked on Mills’ 2005 feature Thumbsucker. “Mike said he wanted to make a movie about his mom and the women who helped raise him,” said Carey. “He had an early version of the script. We began a process in which he would write and send me drafts. He drew from his own experience, but he was also doing research from the period.” Producer Youree Henley joined the project, and Carey noted that distributor A24 expressed interest “early on” in its development.

“Mike said he wanted to get the script to Annapurna. We never really showed it to anyone else,” said Carey. “Mike has a way of building a ‘family’ around him. The cast came together relatively quickly, though we had some work to do finding the boy [who plays Annette Bening’s son]. Adolescent boys can change very quickly. Lucas Jade Zumann is a discovery, and he was the final piece for the team.”

Set in 1970s Santa Barbara, 20th Century Women follows Dorothea Fields (Bening), a determined single mother in her mid-50s who is raising her adolescent son, Jamie (newcomer Zumann, in a breakout performance) at a moment brimming with cultural change and rebellion. Dorothea enlists the help of two younger women in Jamie’s upbringing — via Abbie (Greta Gerwig), a free-spirited punk artist living as a boarder in the Fields’ home, and Julie (Elle Fanning), a savvy and provocative teenage neighbor.

“By the time we gave the script to Annapurna, we had a point of view of how we want to shoot it, but they were also creative [contributors], so they were very much a part of it,” said Carey. “So many times you send a script out widely, but what was unique with this was that Mike wanted to be partnered with Annapurna from the beginning.”

Carey gave praise to the female leads in the cast. Bening is nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy for her role. Carey said that the actress’ “intellectual and emotional characteristics” also reminded Mills of his own mother. “It’s a coming-of-age movie for everyone but mostly for Dorothea,” said Carey. “Had we not been more careful, this could have ended up being a boy coming-of-age story in the ’70s, but Mike was careful to make it from Dorothea’s point of view.”

20th Century Women shot over 35 days in fall 2015. The house where the family lives was shot in Los Angeles, while exteriors etc. were shot in Santa Barbara. Carey said that A24 would “check in periodically” to see how the project was progressing. The company officially picked up the title last June.

A24 opens 20th Century Women in two New York and two Los Angeles theaters Wednesday, then expands it selectively early next month ahead of a wide rollout planned for January 20.

Paterson
Director-writer: Jim Jarmusch
Cast: Adam Driver, Golshifthe Farahani
Distributor: Amazon Studios/Bleecker Street

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Amazon Studios/Bleecker Street

Longtime Jim Jarmusch producer and collaborator Carter Logan said that like many of the director’s stories, Paterson existed in Jarmusch’s head for a number of years. While doing promotion for his last round of projects, he told Logan that he was going to finally put the idea into a script.

“Jim carries around ideas with him for a long time — he may have had the idea for Paterson like 20 years ago,” Logan said. “We had finished Only Lovers Left Alive and had been working on Gimme Danger when he said he was going to write the script for Paterson.”

Logan said he went away to write an initial draft, which was a fairly quick process. “He had been making notes over the years,” said Logan. “Within a few weeks, he had a draft.” Logan was still working on Gimme Shelter, a documentary about punk pioneers the Stooges, when others were joining the filmmaking team for Paterson, including fellow producer Joshua Astrachan. Jarmusch’s agent at ICM helped raise financing and the title’s two main leads, Adam Driver and Golshifthe Farahani, were approached initially in late 2014.

In the feature, Driver plays Paterson, a bus driver in the city of Paterson, NJ. Every day, Paterson adheres to a simple routine: He drives his daily route, observing the city as it drifts across his windshield and overhearing fragments of conversation swirling around him; he writes poetry into a notebook; he walks his dog; he stops in a bar and drinks exactly one beer. He goes home to his wife, Laura (Farahani). By contrast, Laura’s world is ever-changing. New dreams come to her almost daily, each a different and inspired project. Paterson loves Laura, and she loves him. He supports her newfound ambitions; she champions his secret gift for poetry. The history and energy of the city of Paterson is a felt presence in the film, and its simple structure unfolds over the course of a single week.

“We went into pre-production summer of 2015, shooting in the fall in Paterson, NJ, of course, as much as we possibly could. But this is a New York State tax credit project, so we had to shoot mostly in New York,” said Logan. “Fortunately, we had great locations scouts that found locations in Queens, Yonkers and Garneville, NY, which have a similar industrial past and period look.”

Paterson shot over 30 days. Jarmusch and the team worked with a familiar crew and were close to home, which eased the work demand. “It’s a stone’s throw away from where we live,” said Logan. “We also had a great crew, many of whom [Jarmusch] has a close relationship with.”

Logan said that Amazon had inquired about Paterson early on, noting that Ted Hope and Bob Berney reached out about the project soon after signing on with the company. Amazon along with K5 Film and Le Pacte in Europe contributed to the title’s finance.

Paterson opens today at the Sunshine and Lincoln Plaza in New York, in LA at ArcLight Hollywood and Landmark. Next week it will open in Washington, D.C., and San Francisco, and on January 13, it expands into Philadelphia, Chicago, Minneapolis, Atlanta, Portland, OR, Denver and Phoenix. It will continue to roll out over the following weeks.

Toni Erdmann
Director-writer: Maren Ade
Cast: Peter Simonischek, Sandra Hüller, Michael Wittenborn, Thomas Loibl, Trystan Pütter, Hadewych Minis, Lucy Russell, Ingrid Bisu, Vlad Ivanov, Victoria Cocias
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics

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Sony Pictures Classics

Germany’s Toni Erdmann won three prizes at the European Film Awards this month including Best Writer and Best Director for Maren Ade as well as Best European Film. It is on the shortlist for this year’s Foreign Language Oscar and is nominated for an Independent Spirit Award in the foreign language category. The title is also the New York Film Critics Circle’s choice for best foreign film.

Toni Erdmann’s U.S. distributor, Sony Pictures Classics, opened the title stateside Christmas Day in New York and Los Angeles, launching a slow rollout for the Cannes debutant heading into 2017. The feature grossed an estimated $30,972 on Christmas and Monday, averaging $10,324 per theater. Not bad considering the title comes in at 2 hours, 42 minutes, which, of course, limits its number of showing.

Toni Erdmann centers on a father and daughter who don’t quite see eye to eye. Winfried (Peter Simonischek) doesn’t see much of his working daughter Ines (Sandra Hüller). The suddenly student-less music teacher decides to surprise her with a visit after the death of his old dog. It’s an awkward move because serious career woman Ines is working on an important project as a corporate strategist in Bucharest. Practical joker Winfried loves to annoy his daughter with corny pranks. What’s worse are his little jabs at her routine lifestyle of long meetings, hotel bars and performance reports. Father and daughter reach an impasse, and Winfried agrees to return home to Germany.

Enter flashy Toni Erdmann: Winfried’s smooth-talking alter ego. Disguised in a tacky suit, weird wig and even weirder fake teeth, Toni barges into Ines’ professional life, claiming to be her CEO’s life coach. As Toni, Winfried is bolder and doesn’t hold back, but Ines meets the challenge. In all the madness, Ines begins to understand that her eccentric father might deserve some place in her life after all.

“It will be a slower rollout because it’s important to have word-of-mouth on this,” said Sony Classics co-president Michael Barker. “We are very gratified we have all these groups saying it’s the best picture of the year, including many [publications]. This helps the reputation of the picture. … It’s a radical film and so refreshing and entertaining. I feel like it’s a game changer for such a young writer and director.”

Along with this foreign-language film, SPC has Elle by Paul Verhoeven in theaters, which has grossed nearly $796K in seven weeks in the U.S. Barker made a point of giving the title and its filmmaker kudos, though it did not make the shortlist. French actress Isabelle Huppert, however, is nominated for a Golden Globe for her role in the film and could snag an Oscar nomination. “Elle is doing well. Isabelle Huppert is winning all these accolades for best actress, including the Golden Globe nomination, which is very rare for a foreign-language film.”

Barker added that while the company continues to release mostly English-language movies in its yearly slate, it will continue to pick foreign films it believes can work in the box office. “You go after the foreign-language films you think will do business. You can’t count on nominations,” he said. “Their choices are unpredictable. We’ve had years when we’ve had no nominations [in the Best Foreign Language category] and we’ve had years with three. It’s never a product of an ad campaign.”

Toni Erdmann will go to additional markets going into 2017.

Ocean Waves
Director: Tomomi Mochizuki
Writers: Kaori Nakamura, Saeko Himuro (novel)
Voices: Nobuo Tobita, Toshihiko Seki, Yoko Sakamoto, Yuri Amano, Kae Araki
Distributor: Gkids

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GKids

Ocean Waves is the latest animated feature released stateside by Gkids from Japan’s Studio Ghibli. Its origins, however, date back to 1993 — though it wasn’t originally slated for the big screen. The feature also has other distinguishing characteristics from other Studio Ghibli films, Gkids noted. “It’s an oddity in their universe because it was originally meant to be a TV movie,” said the distributor’s Dave Jesteadt. “Ocean Waves was also made by younger staff [at Studio Ghibli] in order to [hone] their filmmaking skills.”

Ghibli titles are typically spearheaded by the studio’s founders, Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata. Tomomi Mochizuki, however, took the mantle for Ocean Waves, which is an adaptation of Saeko Himuro’s best-selling novel.

Gkids describes the feature as a “subtle, poignant and wonderfully detailed story of adolescence and teenage isolation.” Taku and his best friend Yutaka are headed back to school for what looks like another uneventful year. But they soon find their friendship tested by the arrival of Rikako, a beautiful new transfer student from Tokyo whose attitude vacillates wildly from flirty and flippant to melancholic. When Taku joins Rikako on a trip to Tokyo, the school erupts with rumors, and the three friends are forced to come to terms with their changing relationships.

“We have been doing retrospective programming for years with Ghibli’s older films,” said Jesteadt. “Ocean Waves was given ‘short lift’ because it was only on a digi-beta, so not a best-use scenario. But when we heard they were remastering it for a Blu-ray release in Japan, we figured it would be a great time to show it the way it should be seen.”

Gkids will screen Ocean Waves in a limited number of limited screenings beginning December 28 at IFC Center in New York and a one-night showing at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood leading up to the 20th anniversary re-release of Studio Ghibli’s Princess Mononoke in January. Added Jesteadt: “Ocean Waves will have a roadshow approach where we think it will do well. It’s about finding the right audience where screens are available.”