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With a healthy but still humble $7,743,294 gross so far in the US, Richard Linklater's "Before Midnight" isn't exactly an art house blockbuster, but it's one of the summer's strongest survivors. Ten weeks after it first went into limited release back in May, the critics' favorite isn't just hanging around in theaters -- it's expanding once more. Sony Pictures Classics is tripling the film's screen count this weekend to 226 theaters, a move that should see the season's artiest franchise entry comfortably through to the fall.
That's good news for the film commercially, of course -- it's already out-grossed "Before Sunrise" and "Before Sunset," and its performance so far proves the validity of releasing well-chosen prestige films as summer counter-programming. (Particularly one that evokes summer as naturally as "Midnight" does.)
But what, if anything, does it mean for its chances in the upcoming awards season? "Before Sunrise," of course, made no dent on the 1995 awards season, after winning Best Director at the Berlin fest -- at that point, Celine and Jesse's love story (like Linklater himself) was too youthful and too hip to resonate with Academy types. Nine years later, they were feeling it a little more: the slightly more weathered romance of "Before Sunset" was released in early July to even warmer reviews than the first film, and held on quietly through the year to eventually score a Best Adapted Screenplay nomination for Linklater, Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy.
"Before Midnight" is following a similar path. A summer release that is handily one of the year's most ecstatically reviewed films, it should at least repeat its predecessor's screenplay nod -- the writers being among the Academy's most receptive branches both to low-key art house fare and early releases. But does SPC have reason to hope for more?
Julie Delpy's performance is widely agreed to be worthy of Best Actress consideration, though she seems to have had her summer thunder stolen by a fellow SPC stablemate, "Blue Jasmine" star Cate Blanchett. And while the expanded Best Picture category has been kinder to small summer films with devoted critical support -- think "Winter's Bone," "The Kids Are All Right," "Beasts of the Southern Wild" and SPC's own "Midnight in Paris" -- it already has competition in that niche from the likes of "Jasmine" and the Weinsteins' "Fruitvale Station."
It'll probably need critics' group to rally for it at year's end to improve on "Sunset"'s one-nomination haul. That's by no means an impossibility, however, and with the film's extended release meaning there will probably be a pretty short gap between its disappearance from theaters and its eventual DVD release, the little film's doing a good job of remaining subtly on the radar. Either way, between the staying power of "Before Midnight" and last weekend's remarkable debut for "Blue Jasmine," Sony Classics is doing a lot right this summer.
Are you still waiting to see "Before Midnight?" Will you be seeking it out this weekend? And do you think it can stay the course? Tell us in the comments.
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