Oscar nominee Gary Oldman takes on one of the most prominent figures of the 20th century, facing a dramatic showdown with a lethal adversary. Focus Features opens Darkest Hour in several locations Wednesday ahead of a wider roll-out later in December. Sony Pictures Classics’ Call Me By Your Name begins its theatrical run after a long but vibrant festival run beginning at the Sundance Film Festival back in January. The film by Luca Guadagnino and starring Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer is packing awards momentum as clearly seen by this week’s Independent Spirit Awards nominations. Bleecker Street has the holiday weekend’s widest roll-out among the limited release newcomers. Bharat Nalluri’s The Man Who Invented Christmas with Dan Stevens, Christopher Plummer and Jonathan Pryce bows with over 500 runs on the big screen. The company sees the feature as evergreen beyond its theatrical run this season. And China Lion is carving its niche as the only company on this side of the Pacific with a new Chinese film hitting the market. The distributor opens Chang Zheng’s Explosion starring Duan Yihong. The thriller had a positive response at the Shanghai International Film Festival earlier this year.

Focus Features

Darkest Hour
Director: Joe Wright
Writer: Anthony McCarten
Cast: Gary Oldman, Kristin Scott Thomas, Lily James, Stephen Dillane, Ronald Pickup and Ben Mendelsohn
Distributor: Focus Features

Focus Features has done very well this fall with Victoria And Abdul, the little known story about the unlikely close friendship formed by Great Britain’s Queen Victoria and a Muslim clerk from India. The film has cumed nearly $21.7M at the North American box office alone since opening September 22, the highest gross so far among the autumn limited release awards contenders. This weekend, the distributor hopes to strike gold again with another drama straight out of British history, this time the 20th century. In Joe Wright’s Darkest Hour, the spotlight turns to Oscar-nominee Gary Oldman as Sir Winston Churchill.

During the early days of World War II, with the fall of France imminent, Britain faces its darkest hour as the threat of invasion looms. As the seemingly unstoppable Nazi forces advance, and with the Allied army cornered on the beaches of Dunkirk, the fate of Western Europe hangs on the leadership of the newly-appointed British Prime Minister Winston Churchill (Oldman). While maneuvering his political rivals, he must confront the ultimate choice: negotiate with Hitler and save the British people at a terrible cost or rally the nation and fight on against incredible odds.

“Gary Oldman’s performance is beyond anything people have seen,” enthused Focus Features president of Distribution Lisa Bunnell. “The film is rousing and entertaining. The ensemble cast is also great. Ben Mendelsohn is fantastic as King George VI. For people who saw The King’s Speech, this story adds a lot of context.”

Darkest Hour, of course, isn’t the first film this year to depict Great Britain rising from the nearly certain grips of defeat. Christopher Nolan’s WWI-set Dunkirk is also tipped as an awards heavyweight. Not surprisingly, of course, Darkest Hour’s roll-out this Thanksgiving weekend will more closely mirror Victoria And Abdul’s than Dunkirk.

“We’re going to be very careful with it,” added Bunnell. “This will definitely have legs and good word-of-mouth. It’s a movie that needs to start out slowly. We’ve already seen great responses. The experience is that you feel it from the perspective of the people in the film. It can also be related to today, and that’s what makes audiences enthusiastic. Darkest Hour is very relevant, and there’s a lot of humor. I watched [a recent] Q&A and audiences get the humor of the movie. It’s nice to see a movie that rouses people. This is a movie you should see in the theater.”

Focus Features is opening Darkest Hour in four theaters including the Arclight and Landmark in Los Angeles as well as Lincoln Plaza and Union Square in New York. The company will likely keep the title in its four locations until December 8 before expanding to the top ten markets. Darkest Hour will then go nationwide December 22.

Sony Pictures Classics

Call Me By Your Name
Director: Luca Guadagnino
Writers: James Ivory, Andrè Aciman
Cast: Armie Hammer, Timothée Chalamet, Michael Stuhlbarg, Amira Casar, Esther Garrel, Victoire Du Bois, Vanda Capriolo, Antonio Rimoldi, Elena Bucci, Marco Sgrosso, André Aciman, Peter Spears
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics

Call Me By Your Name has had a splendid festival run with packed audiences starting from Sundance, through Berlin and into the fall festivals. If the circuit enthusiasm is a good gauge, the feature by director Luca Guadagnino and by screenwriter James Ivory may be a hit at the box office waiting waiting in the wings as well as an awards heavyweight.

On the final day of the Berlin International Film Festival in February, the final day of screenings, a time period when most of the industry has departed and the locals buy tickets, the only film that sold out its big theater was Call Me By Your Name. That enthusiasm carried into Toronto, New York, Chicago, Mill Valley, Denver and most recently the Key West Film Festival where it screened as the centerpiece.

The film, based on the novel by Andrè Aciman, also scored six Film Independent Spirit Award nominations this week.

Call Me By Your Name is set in northern Italy in the summer of 1983. Elio Perlman (Timothée Chalamet), a precocious 17- year-old American-Italian boy, spends his days in his family’s 17th century villa transcribing and playing classical music, reading, and flirting with his friend Marzia (Esther Garrel). Elio enjoys a close relationship with his father (Michael Stuhlbarg), an eminent professor specializing in Greco-Roman culture, and his mother Annella (Amira Casar), a translator, who favor him with the fruits of high culture in a setting that overflows with natural delights. While Elio’s sophistication and intellectual gifts suggest he is already a fully-fledged adult, there is much that yet remains innocent and unformed about him, particularly about matters of the heart. One day, Oliver (Armie Hammer), a charming American scholar working on his doctorate, arrives as the annual summer intern tasked with helping Elio’s father. Amid the sun-drenched splendor of the setting, Elio and Oliver discover the heady beauty of awakening desire over the course of a summer.

“We monitored the movie from the very beginning,” said Sony Pictures Classics co-president Michael Barker who added that the company had read the novel in 2008. “Luca [Guadagnino] sent us a scene. When we watched it, we realized how faithful it was to the novel. We’ve been tracking it a long time and it’s of such high quality in so many areas.”

The film itself was filmed in Crema in Italy, Guadagnino’s adopted hometown in a house that he said at NYFF he had once “wanted to buy but couldn’t afford it.”

“The process of shooting this film felt as languorous and relaxed and laissez-faire as the movie itself,” Armie Hammer told Deadline’s Joe Utichi. “Effort does not necessarily equal talent, right? I’ve been on movies where it feels like everyone is working really hard, but it doesn’t necessarily make anything better.”

“We have high hopes,” added Barker ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday and the theatrical launch of Call Me By Your Name. “The response has been terrific, so we’ll see what happens. Luca’s incredible direction along with the great performances are [all there]. And all the technical crews deserve recognition.”

Sony Classics will open Call Me By Your Name in four New York and L.A. theaters including the Paris and Union Square in Manhattan as well as the Landmark and the Arclight Hollywood.

Bleecker Street

The Man Who Invented Christmas
Director: Bharat Nalluri
Writers: Susan Coyne, Les Stanford (book)
Cast: Dan Stevens, Christopher Plummer, Jonathan Pryce
Distributor: Bleecker Street

Bleecker Street has been involved with holiday bio-drama The Man Who Invented Christmas since the script stage. Early on, the distributor was attracted to the project for its potentially enduring appeal. “What we all agreed on at the beginning is that due to the fact its about A Christmas Carol, it becomes an evergreen [film],” said Bleecker Street’s president of Distribution, Jack Foley. “It will have a life beyond its theatrical [release] due to the fact it works on an enjoyable and entertaining level. That’s what positioned the project for us. You’re always bound to release this film during the holiday season obviously.”

The Man Who Invented Christmas recalls the journey that led to the creation of Ebenezer Scrooge (Christopher Plummer), Tiny Tim and other classic characters from A Christmas Carol. Directed by Bharat Nalluri (Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day), the film shows how Charles Dickens (Dan Stevens) mixed real life inspirations with his vivid imagination to conjure up unforgettable characters and a timeless tale, forever changing the holiday season into the celebration we know today.

“From the distribution and marketing [standpoint], we see that it is appealing to [both high-end cinema-goers] as well as to families who celebrate Christmas. They have a grasp of A Christmas Carol — they know the story,” said Foley. “This film gives meaningful insight, but it’s not like homework. It’s joyous and a great elixir for the mood the country and maybe the world is in right now. All these factors have come together to make us excited about this playdate.”

Foley said part of the film’s appeal is with faith-based groups. The title has seen traction with local faith communities in places like Salt Lake City and San Antonio as well as on a bigger scale with the 700 Club. “We’re hoping this will add [momentum] to major markets, while at the same time it appeals on the high-end. It’s a diverse marketing and distribution approach. We have a great presence with Landmark Theaters around the country. And from there, we are hoping for good word-of-mouth.”

Bleecker Street opens The Man Who Invented Christmas in about 530 theaters beginning Wednesday, with Canadian locations joining the roster Friday bringing its count to about 620.

China Lion

Explosion
Director: Chang Zheng
Cast: Duan Yihong, Wang Jingchun, Yu Nan
Distributor: China Lion

China Lion picked up Explosion after seeing the audience reaction to the feature at this year’s Shanghai Film Festival. The company also was impressed with its star. “Duan Yihong is a name to watch and his performance in this film is spot-on,” said China Lion’s Robert Lundberg.  “[There are] equally great performances by the supporting cast, highlighted by Nan Yu and Wang Jingchun. It’s a well-made thriller that we’re looking at as a big hit for us.”

In the feature, Duan Yihong plays a blast technician in a mining town, which survives an explosion. There’s suspicion, however, that it may not have been an accident. While investigating the truth, he becomes the prime suspect and must use his unique skillset to clear his name.

“First language speakers will be aware of the lead actor and this is a film that should be a ‘must see’ for our core audience,” said Lundberg. “Given it’s an action-thriller, we are skewing our efforts toward a more male demographic —and our social media micro-targeting reflects that — but we think this is a solid film that will appeal to both genders.  We’re making sure to focus on the star power, followed by the prestige factor that played out in its festival runs.”

China Lion will open Explosion day and date with mainland China. The company also pointed out that the film is the “only new Chinese language release for the U.S. Thanksgiving weekend.” Added Lundberg: “It’s a great movie with great set pieces and great performances. We’re confident that audiences will leave spreading good word-of-mouth.  We’ve already set a handful of expansion locations for December 1.”

China Lion is opening Explosion in 45 theaters in 40 cities on this side of the Pacific in mostly exclusive runs, though it will be in multiple locations in Los Angeles, Vancouver and Toronto — China Lion’s top three markets.

Said Lundberg: “We’re looking to play as long as screen availability and interest allows given the very crowded holiday season, which starts with our rescheduled Feng Xiaogang film Youth on December 15 and ends with highly anticipated Namiya on January 5.”