Kim Jong-un could not contain a boxoffice-specialty__111212022432-200x150-1__140530221134gaggle of indie theater owners including those in the Art House Convergence, Tim League and others to unleash The Interview as the Christmas holiday weekend opened. The much talked about hacking scandal that lead to the film’s demise, then resurgence, is clearly the week’s big news story (even on the likes of CNN), even garnering the attention of the POTUS on his vacation in Hawaii. The Interview falls rather ironically into the limited release category with its now 300 or so showings across the country. A number of independent exhibitors were quite giddy with landing The Interview on their screens with New York’s Cinema Village boasting Wednesday in a release, “Cinema Village Saves Christmas From the Terrorists,” in announcing its Christmas day screenings of the film. Though the feature is also now on-demand, nothing could quite compete with the hyped atmosphere of a theatrical screening of the comedy, and the independent/art house theaters will deservedly reap the rewards for doing what the chains did not. (For more on how the independents resuscitated The Interview, see my colleague Jen Yamato’s article )

The weekend’s limited release newcomers include Paramount’s Selma and Warner Bros. American Sniper, which will each begin what will be wide roll outs with targeted screenings this weekend. Both titles will go wide in January. Two foreign-language titles are also opening with limited bows, offering a clear alternative to the Xmas brouhaha. Sony Classics will open its Golden Globe-nominated Leviathan in New York and L.A., while IFC Films will open Two Days, One Night with an exclusive NYC run before heading to Los Angeles and other markets after the New Year.

Director: Ava DuVernay
Writer: Paul Webb
Cast: David Oyelowo, Carmen Ejogo, Tim Roth, Oprah Winfrey, Cuba Gooding, Jr., Martin Sheen, Tessa Thompson, Alessandro Nivola, Dylan Baker, Tom Wilkinson, Lorraine Toussaint, Common
Distributor: Paramount

Filmmaker Ava DuVernay made a splash at the Sundance Film Festival in 2012 where she won the Directing Award for her feature Middle Of Nowhere. Her next feature came a year later courtesy of Paramount, Plan B, Harpo Films and Pathé for Selma, which shot in Atlanta, Georgia, Montgomery and Selma, Alabama. Lee Daniels had been eyed early on as director, but went on to make The Butler. The historical drama is based on the 1965 Selma to Montgomery voting rights marches that were headed by a coalition of civil rights leaders including Martin Luther King, Jr., James Bevel and others. The feature chronicles the tumultuous three-month period in 1965 during which King and others lead a coalition to secure voting rights in the face of violent opposition. The epic march from Selma to Montgomery culminated in President Johnson signing the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

“I think the film is an incredible achievement,” said Paramount’s Megan Colligan, president of worldwide distribution and marketing. “[Initially] it wasn’t clear if we’d have the film in time for Christmas, but our sneak screening at AFI Fest [in November] accelerated that process.” Paramount is going for a mixture of urban and art house audiences as it opens Selma over the holiday weekend, bowing the title in an initial 19 locations before going wide with up to 1,800 theaters January 9.

American SniperAmerican-Sniper-Movie-Poster
Director: Clint Eastwood
Writers: Jason Hall, Chris Kyle, (book), Scott McEwen (book), James Defelice (book)
Cast: Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, E.R. Ruiz, Luke Grimes, Jake McDorman, Max Charles, Brian Hallisay
Distributor: Warner Bros.

This is certainly not Clint Eastwood’s first time to take on a war story, but the director has said he was attracted to this one because “it was a cross between Chris’s exploits in combat and the personal aspects of his life.” The bio-drama stars Bradley Cooper as Chris Kyle, an American soldier in Iraq who emerged as the most lethal sniper in the history of the U.S. military, saving countless lives, earning the nickname “Legend.” His reputation grows and even goes behind enemy lines, making him a prime target for insurgents. On the home front, he’s also trying to be a good husband and father from half a world away. In the face of pressure, he nevertheless does four tours of duty. But after finally returning to his wife, Taya (Sienna Miller) and children, Chris sees that it is in fact the war that he can’t leave behind.

As a director, Clint Eastwood has traversed both the blockbuster and limited release route with his 30-plus titles he’s lead as filmmaker. His last December limited release was 2008’s Gran Torino, which added theaters through Christmas before going wide in January. Warner Bros. debuted it, however, in just 6 theaters December 12 grossing $271,720 for a $45,287 per theater average, adding a dozen locations the following week and another 65 theaters over the Christmas weekend. December, 2006 title Letters From Iwo Jima, which followed on the heels of Flags Of Our Father, also bowed in a relatively few 5 theaters, grossing over $89K for a $17,819 PTA. That film went on to cume over $13.75M (Flags Of Our Fathers opened in 1,876 theaters averaging $5,461, going on to cume $33.6M). December, 2004 release Million Dollar Baby bowed in 8 locations grossing nearly $180K. The Warner Bros. film starring Eastwood and Hilary Swank went on to cume $100.049M. Mystic River, another Warner Bros. title remains his highest limited release PTA bow at $49,293 when it opened in October, 2003 in 13 theaters. The feature starring Sean Penn and Tim Robbins grossed over $90.13M. Warner Bros released his last feature, Jersey Boys in June of this year in 2,905 theaters for an initial $4,585 PTA from a $13.3M gross. It went on to cume over $47M domestically.

Paramount will open American Sniper in select locations Christmas day before going wide January 16.

Director-writer: Andrey Zvyagintsev
Writer: Oleg Negin
Cast: Elena Lyadova, Vladimir Vdovichenkov, Roman Madyanov, Aleksey Serebryakov, Anna Ukolova, Kristina Pakarina
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics

Russian filmmaker Andrey Zvyagintsev brought his drama Leviathan to the Cannes Film Festival, picking up a Best Screenplay prize, and better yet, a distribution deal with Sony Classics in the U.S. Set in a Russian coastal town the film follows Kolya who owns an auto-repair shop that stands right next to the house where he lives with his young wife Lilya and his son Roma from a previous marriage. The town’s corrupt mayor Vadim Shelevyat (Roman Madianov) is determined to take away his business, his house, as well as his land. First the mayor tries buying off Kolya, but Kolya unflinchingly fights as hard as he can so as not to lose everything he owns including the beauty that has surrounded him from the day he was born. Facing resistance, the mayor starts being more aggressive…

“We saw Leviathan at its first screening in Cannes and we bought it immediately,” said SPC co-president Michael Barker. “Leviathan is one of the great foreign language films of the year. This director whose name we may have difficulty pronouncing is a major filmmaker.” Zvyagintsev, who also counts acting as part of his resume, previously released Elena in May 2012 via Zeitgeist Films in the U.S., grossing $233,380. His 2003 feature directorial debut received a Golden Globe nomination in the foreign language category. That film went on to cume over $504K in the U.S. SPC’s highest grossing foreign-language title this year is The Lunchbox ($4,235M cume — and in both Hindi and English). The company released Amour in December, 2012 eventually grossing nearly $6.74M and picking up the Oscar for Best Foreign Language film in 2013. Leviathan is nominated for a Golden Globe in the foreign language category and was recently shortlisted by the Academy in the same category. SPC will open Leviathan in New York and L.A. this weekend in four theaters with a steady expansion in the coming weeks.

Two Days, One Nighttwo days one night poster
Directors-writers: Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne
Cast: Marion Cotillard, Fabrizio Rongione, Catherine Salée, Batiste Sornin, Pili Groyne, Simon Caudry, Lara Persain, Alain Eloy
Distributor: IFC Films

Oscar-winner Marion Cotillard has shown some awards momentum with her latest role in the Dardenne brothers’ Two Days, One Night, picking up Best Actress nods from critics groups including The New York Film Critics Circle earlier this month. Set in a small Belgian town, Sandra (Cotillard) is a young mother who works at a small solar panel factory. She suffers a nervous breakdown, and during her time off, her co-workers are able to cover her shifts by working slightly longer hours. Realizing this, management proposes to her colleagues a €1,000 bonus to the staff if they agree to make her redundant. After returning to work, Sandra realizes that her fate rests with her 16 co-workers. She then embarks on visiting each at their home to convince them to reject the bonus.

“We worked with them on their last film [Kid With A Bike] which was their highest grossing film,” said Arianna Bocco,” SVP of Acquisitions and Production at IFC Films. “We’re a director-driven company and end up working with [filmmakers] multiple times. There wasn’t even a question that we’d be involved.” IFC Films opened the Belgian filmmakers’ Kid With A Bike in the U.S. in March, 2012 in three theater, grossing $45,933 its first weekend for a $15,311 PTA. It went on to cume $1.47M stateside.

“The film premiered in Cannes and we took it to Telluride, New York Film Festival and AFI Fest to build up that word of mouth,” added Bocco. “And obviously Marion Cotillard has her fans.” Though Cotillard has won accolades for her performance, Two Days, One Night did not get shortlisted in the Best Foreign Language category. Cotillard, however, did win Best Actress at the European Film Awards for her part last week. “I don’t think it will affect box office, but I think the system [that is in place] failed,” added Bocco who cited other critically acclaimed foreign titles the company released including Cristian Mungiu’s 4 Months, 3 Weeks And 2 Days, which won the Palme d’Or at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival ($9.84M cume) and 2008’s Gomorrah by Matteo Garone (nearly $1.58M cume), neither of which received an Oscar nomination in the category. IFC Films opened Two Days, One Night in New York December 24 and will take the title to L.A. January 9 with other cities to follow.