Over a decade in the making, Alexander Payne’s black and white road trip Nebraska starring Bruce Dern makes its way to theaters after festival runs beginning in Cannes as well as the New York Film Festival and Telluride this fall. The feature had a long journey itself before arriving on the big screen and is platforming this weekend via Paramount Vantage. Janus Films is opening Italy’s Best Foreign Language contender The Great Beauty in an exclusive run. The film is the Criterion related label’s one new release of the year and is beginning with a targeted roll out. Millennium Entertainment’s Charlie Countryman starring Shia LaBeouf and Evan Rachel Wood is also joining the weekend’s newcomers in limited release as well as day and date. Also opening in theaters and simultaneous VOD is Submarine Deluxe and Gravitas’ Calvin and Hobbes doc Dear Mr. Watterson. Gravitas is also partnering with Samuel Goldwyn on a separate opener this weekend, Sunlight Jr. which stars Naomi Watts, Matt Dillon and Norman Reedus, in a story about trying to make it on minimum wage. Also in the mix this weekend is TWC’s 12-12-12 by directors Amir Bar-Lev & Charlie Lightning and producer Meghan Ohara. The film is a behind-the-scenes look at the televised benefit concert to raise relief funds for Hurricane Sandy victims in 2012. It will open at the Angelika in New York and the Arclight Sherman Oaks this weekend.

Director: Alexander Payne
Writer: Bob Nelson
Cast: Bruce Dern, Will Forte, June Squibb, Bob Odenkirk, Stacy Keach, Mary Louise Wilson
Distributor: Paramount Vantage

Nebraska had been on Oscar-winning filmmaker Alexander Payne’s plate for over a decade. The director, who won accolades for Sideways in 2004 did not want to embark on another road trip movie after the wine guzzling box office hit, so he told producers and its identified star Bruce Dern that there would be a waiting period until he finished another feature — which would eventually be The Descendants. “It’s the first film from a script that Alexander didn’t write,” noted Megan Colligan, Paramount’s head of domestic marketing and distribution. Producers Ron Yerxa and Albert Berger teamed with Paramount for the project. Initially, Payne had been an “advisor” on the title, but had hoped he’d come on board as director. “Bob Nelson said it was incredible he did exactly what he said he would,” added Colligan about the time gap Payne had discussed between Sideways and Nebraska. “It was about Alexander’s availability and then it took him a bit to make The Descendants.” A black and white film, Nebraska centers on an aging boozer (Dern) who insists on a trip to neighboring Nebraska in order to claim a sweepstakes he believes he has won. His estranged son (Forte) eventually agrees to go. “It’s an Alexander Payne movie that had his vision and it was a cool thing to be involved with it,” said Colligan when asked about the decision to go black and white. “It took some finessing and conversation. We had to figure out the economics, which aren’t as easy as with a color movie. There wasn’t that much time between The Descendants and when he started working on this. The budget was $12 million. We also sold the movie in some [overseas] territories.”

Nebraska debuted at Telluride and the New York film festivals this fall before a hefty round of regional events. “We had a strategy of screening early and often,” noted Colligan. “Word of mouth is going to be the key here. There’s a strong through line of relatability. Some people will think a movie with octogenarians will think it’s for old people, but their children will relate to connecting with their parents and that has strong emotional pull people will connect to. The comedy community and comics in general love the humor of this movie.” Released through the Paramount Vantage label, Nebraska will open in four theaters Friday at Lincoln Plaza and the Angelika in New York and the Arclight and Landmark in Los Angeles. It will head to ten additional markets the following week and will be in up to 100 runs by Thanksgiving.

The Great Beauty (La grande bellezza)
Director-writer: Paolo Sorrentino
Writers: Umberto Contarello
Cast: Toni Servillo, Carlo Verdone, Sabrina Ferilli, Carlo Buccirosso, Iaia Forte
Distributor: Janus Films

Italy’s submission for Best Foreign Language Oscar consideration, The Great Beauty is a sumptuous look at Rome’s upper crust told through the POV of a well-connected author who trips through one lavish party to the next. “It was on our list of films we really wanted to see,” said Peter Becker, co-founder of Janus Films and president of Criterion Collection. “We really love [Sorrentino’s] past films. My first impulse is to tell other people that we work with to go and see the film, but I wrote to Pathé and said they had a fantastic film on their hands. Our passion for the film appealed to them.” Becker noted that The Great Beauty is their only new theatrical release of the year (outside of its Criterion titles), though the label has worked on previous foreign-language submissions including Aki Kaurismaki’s Le Havre, which screened in competition at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. “There’s a dialog with Fellini, Antonioni and Rossellini, but Sorrentino is also one of those great last name directors too,” added Becker, noting that the film has had comparisons to the likes of La Dolce Vita, though Sorrentino himself said that while there may be some overlap in themes, he took strains to de-emphasize any connection to the Fellini classic. “The structure of the film is not exactly traditional. It’s definitely not written out of the same book as [most films] and that’s a marketing plus,” added Becker. “For people who are coming at it from an art film point of view it has great potential.” Becker said the company has been tapping into its cinephile base to engage potential audiences ahead of this weekend’s roll out and it is also reaching out to the fashion world, which it sees as a potential draw. “We live in a world where there is massive wealth concentrated in a small space,” noted Becker. “This film is outlandishly entertaining, vivid and pulsing on the one hand, but at the same time it’s relevant politically…I think audiences are going to respond to that. There’s also incredible fashion in the story, so we’ll work with them as well.” Janus has tapped former IFC Films exec Ryan Werner (in New York) and Nancy Willen (in L.A.).

Janus will open The Great Beauty, which had its U.S. debut at AFI Fest, which ended Thursday, at Lincoln Plaza exclusively Friday and the NuArt in L.A. The film will add 9 additional cities November 29 and will head to additional markets in December. “It’s Italy’s submission and we’ll do everything to support that effort should that become a reality,” said Becker. “We’re looking to reach a wider swath of cities through an Italian program called Cinema Made In Italy. We may hit more cites more quickly but we’ll see.”

Charlie Countryman
Director: Fredrik Bond
Writer: Matt Drake
Cast: Shia LaBeouf, Evan Rachel Wood, Mads Mikkelsen, Til Schweiger, Rupert Grint, James Buckley
Distributor: Millennium Entertainment

Producer Craig Flores, president of Voltage Productions worked on Robert Redford’s last directorial The Company You Keep where he got to talking with one of its stars, Shia LaBeouf. During a conversation, LaBeouf pulled out a script for Charlie Countryman, which had been on the Black List and the two began a collaboration that would take it to the screen. “He had been a part of it on previous attempts [to bring it to production],” said Flores who added that at one point, Zac Efron had also been attached to a previous effort to bring the project together. “I said, ‘I want to get this made for you,'” said Flores. “We really believe in Shia as an actor and someone who throws himself into every role. Director Fredrik Bond and others were still attached as well. I was quite pleased because he was a director I had met during a deal I had at Warner Bros.” The film centers on a traveler who falls for a Romanian beauty whose unreachable heart has its origins in her violent charismatic ex. After introducing him to Bond, the production team began building out the cast. “The script is actor-bate,” said Flores. “Everyone wanted the role that Evan Rachel Wood ended up getting.” Flores noted that Mads Mikkelsen, who also stars in the film, had his previous effort The Hunt in Cannes. In the middle of production, he asked if there could be a delay so he could pick up his best actor win at the Cannes Film Festival where The Hunt debuted. “We said no problem, that would be the best thing ever,” added Flores. Millennium came on board after seeing Charlie Countryman at the Berlin International Film Festival earlier this year. It will open in 15 cities this weekend with one or more theaters per locale in addition to day and date.

“I think the day and date platform is best way to release the film,” added Flores. “I think college and post college-age kids are the [principle] target. Increasingly it’s taking a lot to get them into theaters, so this allows them to bypass the theater viewing experience. And they are the best [crowd] to spur Twitter or word of mouth among their peers. It’s the first day and date Voltage has done.”

Dear Mr. Watterson
Director: Joel Allen Schroeder
Subjects: Berkeley Breathed, Jef Mallett, Stephan Pastis, Seth Green, Bill Amend
Distributor: Submarine Deluxe, Gravitas (VOD/digital)

Brendan Gallagher, VP Of Business Affairs at Gravitas first saw documentary Dear Mr. Watterson at the Cleveland International Film Festival in April and acquired rights. He and brother Nolan Gallagher then contacted Submarine Deluxe’s Dan Braun to partner in the film’s release. The doc explores the impact of the newspaper comic strip Calvin & Hobbes, created by Bill Watterson. “I found the film charming and emotional; given our company’s sensibilities, it was a natural fit for us and I agreed it would be fun,” said Braun. “After some discussion we agreed that a day and date release was the right way to go with this film.” Braun noted that Watterson himself shies away from attention and did not allow the popular series to go the way of many of its cartoon brethren in exploiting merchandising and film adaptation potential. “There seems to be a pent up demand for Calvin and Hobbes on the big screen, even though it’s in the form of a documentary,” said Braun. “There has been palpable excitement in the air about this release for years and the director, [director] Joel Allen Schroeder, successfully raised over $120,000 on Kickstarter to help him finish the film.” The film has played the Chagrin Documentary, Buffalo and Savannah Film Festivals and 30,000 postcards have been handed out at events including Comic Con in San Diego and the New York Comic Con. “And, I can tell you that almost every person who took those cards was truly excited and we had more than a few gasps,” added Braun. Schroeder has also appeared on MSNBC and NPR ahead of this weekend’s roll out. The release also coincides with Calvin and Hobbes’ publisher’s release of the strips on e-books for the first time. “I think the core audience is fans of the strip but they are a legion, and they are incredibly loyal,” added Braun.

Dear Mr. Watterson will open day and date November 15. It will play runs at Cinema Village in New York and L.A. at the Laemmle NOHO as well as Pasadena, Santa Fe, Chattanooga and Toronto. Added Braun: “In week two we’ll expand to 7 more markets. Then we’ll be in over 20 markets by the 3rd week of the release including the home of Bill Watterson and Gravitas Ventures, Cleveland OH. On digital it will be available in over 100 million North American Homes with major VOD operators like Apple, AT&T, Cox, Comcast, Charter, DirecTV, Dish Network, Google, Sony Playstation, Time Warner Cable, X-Box, Vudu and Verizon among others.”

Sunlight Jr.
Director-writer: Laurie Collyer
Cast: Norman Reedus, Naomi Watts, Matt Dillon, Tess Harper, Yvonne Gougelet,
Distributor: Samuel Goldwyn Films, Gravitas (VOD/digital)

Goldwyn and Gravitas saw Sunlight Jr. following its Tribeca Film Festival premiere earlier this year. The drama revolves around a Florida couple who are faced with an unexpected pregnancy while holding minimum wage jobs. Watts’ role as a gas station attendant will be in clear contrast to her more recent turn as the late Princess of Wales. “It’s a great time to be a Naomi Watts fan,” noted Samuel Goldwyn Films’ Peter Goldwyn. “This is a great time to be a Naomi Watts fan, to go from Princess to gas station attendant. It shows her versatility as an actress.” Gravitas began Sunlight Jr.‘s Ultra-VOD window October 7, but is keeping the figures quiet for now. Peter Goldwyn said he expects its Ultra-VOD run will augment its theatrical roll out this weekend. Targeted 30-second spots on E, OWN, Lifetime and others are also running. The film will open in 13 theaters this weekend and will expand based on performance. “It’s a quality independent film,” added Goldwyn. “The subject matter may not always be the easiest but the direction and performances elevate it and we hope the word of mouth etc will drive it. With a movie like this, there’s no gimmick to go on…”