It was clearly "Winter's Bone's" night at the 20th Anniversary Gotham Awards. The Sundance Film Festival dramatic jury prize winner won both the best film and best ensemble awards. The Gothams certainly have a place in the heart of New York's independent film community, but you could easily argue the Independent Spirit Award nominations themselves (not even the winners) have a bigger impact on most of the year end races. Here's a rundown of this year's list of winners and some quick reaction.
FESTIVAL GENIUS AUDIENCE AWARD
"Waiting for Superman" - WINNER
Analysis: Beating out "Winter's Bone" is no easy feat. Nice coup for the Paramount Sundance pickup that's hoping to win the best doc award at the Oscars.
Mark Wahlberg is a sports fan. And he's a big Boston sports fan. So, while speaking to the press a few weekends ago for his new spirited drama "The Fighter," Wahlberg made sure there was a flat screen TV eyesight so he could keep track of a very close Patriots and Colts game. I was lucky to get Wahlberg's complete attention because of a commercial break, but it was endearing to hear him scream for joy when the Patriots sealed the deal. He was so loud you could probably have heard it on either floor above and below his room. It's that personal passion that fueled Wahlberg's four-year journey to get "The Fighter" made.
"The Kids Are All Right" had a stellar run, but the Focus Features indie hit has officially abdicated its title as highest per-screen opener of the year. Best picture contender "The King's Speech" had a knockout debut this weekend with $349,791 in four theaters or $87,448 per screen to take the crown. And yes, it looks like The Weinstein Company has a hit on their hands…at least in limited release.
"King's" mark surpasses "Kid's" per screen of $70,282 on seven screens in July. It's more impressive when considering another best picture player, the much buzzed about "127 Hours," grossed $66,213 per screen in four theaters earlier this month. In fact, when considering the all time limited openers "Speech" fared better than "Up in the Air's" $78,763 per on 15 last year and was just behind "There Will Be Blood's" $95,370 per in 2007.
The anointed best picture frontrunner since its stirring debut at the Telluride Film Festival and winning the People's Choice Award at the Toronto Film Festival, "King's Speech" has kept a low, but steady profile as the awards season race has slowly heated up. The film will get it's share of critical end of year accolades, but The Weinstein Company knows nothing will help cement its odds at defeating "The Social Network" or "Inception" for the best picture Oscar more than impressive box office. The mini-major plans to aggressively expand "Speech" over the next month so chances are if you live outside of New York or Los Angeles you'll find it at your local multiplex way before the Golden Globes air on January 16.
As for "127 Hours," the inspirational Danny Boyle drama had a solid Thanksgiving run with $1.7 million from 293 theaters for a new gross of $4.4 million. The picture hasn't been the twentysomething phenomenon many expected, but awards heat -- especially for Franco's performance -- should eventually get it to a $12-15 million gross. Any more will be dependent on year end accolades and a big showing at the Globes and Oscars.
A number of other awards contenders are still in theaters including the aforementioned "Social Network" which hit the $90 million mark today. Expect Sony Pictures to keep the film in theaters as long as possible to try and hit that "magic" $100 million mark. Other potential contenders such as "Black Swan," "The Fighter, "True Grit" and "Another Year" will hit theaters over the next few weeks.
Also notable, potential best documentary winner "Waiting for 'Superman'" has grossed an admirable $6.2 million so far and is closing in on "Babies'" $7.3 million summer take for the largest doc gross of the year.
Another funny thing has happened in the best animated feature category. First, animation and Oscar fans everywhere were disappointed to learn earlier this month that only 15 films qualified for this year's award. By Academy rules, that means only three pictures can be nominated in the category. Last year, five films made the cut and it was expected 2011 would duplicated that feat. No dice. Not when you don't have 16 qualified films. Yep, that's right - just one additional qualifying picture would have bumped it up to five.
When that news broke, most pundits and animation industry watchers made "Toy Story 3" and "How To Train Your Dragon" locks for two of the three nomination slots. The third? That would most likely be a battle between Universal Pictures' monster hit "Despicable Me" and Sony Classics' "The Illusionist." That was, however, until this past week.
When pre-release polling hit studio E-mail in boxes this past Monday, Sean Bailey no doubt took a huge sigh of relief. Along with Walden Media and 20th Century Fox's "The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader," Bailey's pet project "Tron Legacy" is tracking as though it will hit theaters like a monster. Both films should be two of the biggest openings since the summer season. Considering how much the studio has invested in production and marketing the film for over three years, that's very good news.
Thanksgiving isn't just a time for friends, family and quieter Southern California highways. For Academy and SAG nominating committee members, it's the first extended period to really start digging through the always daunting screener pile.
Any consultant and serious Oscar aficionado will tell you there is arguably nothing more important than timing the delivery of your screener. Many nominations have been won or lost by getting copies of contending movies in front of voters when they actually have time to watch them (or not).
Moviegoers in New York and Los Angeles are going to get a late Thanksgiving treat on Friday as Tom Hooper's "The King's Speech" is finally coming to theaters. Ever since it debuted at Telluride in September, "Speech" has been the buzz of awards pundits and the industry. Not only is the historical drama a prime contender for a number of key Academy Awards categories including best picture, best actor (Colin Firth), best supporting actor (Geoffrey Rush) and best director (Hooper), but it's also The Weinstein Company's biggest potential hit since "Inglourious Basterds" in the summer of 2009.
Whew, Sally Hawkins isn't going to be a one movie wonder. The 2009 Golden Globe winner for her charismatic role in Mike Leigh's "Happy-Go-Lucky," Hawkins' hasn't been embraced by Hollywood yet, but the Brit is making it increasingly difficult for filmmakers stateside to ignore her. After two supporting roles in "An Education" and "Never Let Me Go," Hawkins has returned with another impressive turn in the new drama "Made in Dagenham" and was almost revelatory in the Toronto Film Festival comedy "Submarine" which will be released next year.
Like a political campaign, awards season is about making the right moves at the right time to take the biggest prize of them all; best picture. There are over 5,000 Academy members studios are looking to win over and some experts argue you can never start too early. While most filmmakers insist they want audiences of any kind to see their films in a theater, the true contenders know screeners sent to member's homes are how you really play the game.
The two prime periods to get Academy and SAG members' attention is over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend and during the week between Christmas and New Year's when the town pretty much shuts down. You can argue when is the better time to mail them out, but if you wait until after Christmas, you can become a quick afterthought. This week, two prime best picture contenders, "The Kids Are All Right" and "The Social Network" made sure their screeners arrived before anyone went out of town for Thanksgiving. For "Network," it's a significant move (and gamble) considering the drama is still playing well in theaters. Focus Features also showed it was serious about another drama on its slate, "Somewhere," but sending a screener out over a month before Sofia Coppola's latest even opens in limited release.