John C. Reilly looks like a late breaking Academy Award player in the Trailer for "Stan & Ollie"                Brie Larson saves the day in the First Trailer for "Captain Marvel"                The Toronto International Film Festival boosts "Green Book" with its Top Prize                Updated Academy Award predictions for early September                "White Boy Rick" is a compelling character study and period piece                Taking a look at potential Best Supporting Actress contenders                Shane Black gives "The Predator" his signature clever spin                Venice Film Festival award winners include "The Favourite" and "Roma"                Taking a look at potential Best Supporting Actor contenders                Watch out for Ben Foster in Best Supporting Actor for "Leave No Trace"                "The Favourite" releases a new Trailer to build off of its positive festival buzz                "All About Nina" and "Fahrenheit 11/9": Films to look forward to in September                Trailer for "The Front Runner" and Buzz from Telluride suggest another Oscar player for Jason Reitman                Taking a look at potential Best Actress contenders                "First Man" launches a New Trailer after a soaring debut at the Venice Film Festival        

‘True Grit’ takes the lead, while ‘Season of the Witch,’ ‘Country Strong’ lead off 2011

By Scott Mendelson The crowd-pleasing, critically-acclaimed Coen brothers western remake/adaptation True Grit took the box office crown in its third weekend of release, setting itself up as a major Oscar contender. The Jeff Bridges/Hailee Steinfeld vehicle grossed $15 million in its third weekend, dropping a reasonable 38%. The post-holiday weekends usually see hefty drops, so this isn’t anything to be concerned about. What is impressive is that, in its third weekend, True Grit has a Fri-Sun amount right on par with the opening weekends of recent (justifiably) acclaimed westerns such as 3:10 to Yuma and Open Range, both of which opened with $14 million within the last seven years. The (slightly overrated) film crossed the $100 million mark on Saturday, and ended day 19 with $110.4 million. That makes it the third-biggest grossing western in domestic history, behind the sci-fi tinged Wild Wild West ($113 million) and the revisionist epic Dances with Wolves ($184 million). It is also now the highest-grossing picture amongst the Oscar-bait contenders this year, although probably nominees Inception ($292 million) and Toy Story 3 ($415 million) are obviously out of reach. Alas, unless you only count pure traditional westerns, most of these genre-related box office records will likely fall when Jon Favreau’s Cowboys and Aliens (trailer) is released this summer.

Coming in at second place was Little Fockers, which is not quite the disaster that many (including me) predicted after its sub-par opening weekend. The ‘part 3’ added another $13.8 million over its third weekend, dropping an okay 47% in its first post-holiday frame and ending the first weekend of 2011 with $123 million. Comparably, Meet the Fockers (which opened over Christmas back in 2004) dropped 31% in its third weekend and had grossed $204 million. Still, the big issue is not so much the success or failure of the film itself, but that the $100 million comedy is basically playing out like a slightly profitable tent-pole, as opposed to the massive cash cow that was supposed to help Universal after two years of challenging and/or original pictures that have struggled at the box office. It’s no flop, and it may even reach the $166 million earned by Meet the Parents back in 2000, but it’s not the mega hit that Universal needed at this point.

Third place goes to the first wide release of the year, Season of the Witch (trailers). This medieval horror romp was supposed to be released by Lionsgate earlier last year, before it was unceremoniously dumped by the studio and picked up by Relativity. The Nicolas Cage/Ron Perlman action picture grossed a patently mediocre $10.7 million over its debut weekend. Still, that’s nearly double the $5.5 million opening weekend of Relativity’s previous stand-alone theatrical release, The Warrior’s Way (review). So while it may be fun to pile on Nicolas Cage and his seemingly arbitrary choice of roles, this may be a case where the blame lies more with a small studio struggling to compete in a crowded marketplace. Whether or not the film would have opened stronger under the Lionsgate banner (and/or with an R-rating), the picture cost $40 million and should break even at the end of the day. This is the kind of picture that screams casual rental and runs on FX until the end of time. Expect Cage’s next picture, the 3D grindhouse action throwback Drive Angry, to perform quite a bit better.

The other major wide release was the nationwide expansion of Country Strong. The critically-savaged Gwyneth Paltrow country music melodrama opened with $7.3 million on 1424 screens. That may not seem like all that much, but it’s nearly double the biggest weekend gross ($4.25 million) for Jeff Bridges’s Crazy Heart. It’s doubtful that the picture will have the legs to match the $38 million final gross of last year’s Oscar winner, but Paltrow’s turn at twang only cost $15 million, so a solid profit is inevitable. I’m not entirely sure why this one opened in limited release over Christmas, as it exposed the picture to the very sort of audiences who were likely to ridicule it, if only based on the almost satirical trailer. This one is a mass audience picture, so all the two weeks of limited play gained it was two weeks of bad buzz. Come what may, this is an interesting show of Paltrow’s genuine star power. While the film opened to just over $7 million, Paltrow is responsible for most of that all by herself.

In holdover land, the three big Oscar contenders continue to burn up the charts. Black Swan (review) dropped just 4% over the weekend, grossing $8.4 million over the weekend. The psycho-sexual ballet thriller now sits with $61.5 million mark, which is a little astonishing for a picture such as this. The Fighter (review) sits at $57.8 million, meaning it will easily outgross the far more high-profile boxing dramas Ali ($58 million), Cinderella Man ($61 million), and Rocky Balboa ($70 million). And The King’s Speech grossed another $6.8 million (-12%), giving the film a $33.3 million total and insuring that it will top $50 million before the Oscar nominations are even announced. Blue Valentine remained in limited release for another weekend, but the acclaim marital drama grossed over $17,000 per each of its 40 screens. Say what you will, but this year’s Oscar crop will be filled with films that connected with audiences and critics alike, which is always refreshing. Results like this encourage studios to actually make more mid-to-low budget dramas. As I’ve been saying for years, the adult drama isn’t dead, it just shouldn’t cost $80 million. In less successful expansion news, the comedy I Love You Philip Morris expanded to 100 screens but grossed just $226,000. It looks like Jim Carrey’s hosting stint on Saturday Night Live last night was for naught.

To read more about tis article go to Mandelson Memos

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