EXCLUSIVE: As CAA continues to bolster its presence in China, the agency has added one of the country’s premier filmmakers to the client roster. It has signed Zhang Yimou, whose film Ju Dou became the first Chinese …
Hollywood films continue to be globally dominant with overseas playing an increasingly big part of studio groses. But a number of local films found success in their home territories this year. Below is a look at the international box office trends and some of the local breakouts of 2011 as well as some insights into 2012:
As the Harry Potter era ends in Britain, local indies are vying to pick up the slack. Last year’s Oscar winner The King’s Speech brought in about $75 million, according to distrib Momentum and Ben Palmer’s adaptation of the TV teen comedy The Inbetweeners Movie, per Entertainment Film, took a healthy $70 million+. Overall, Warner Bros., spurred on by Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows – Part 2, was the studio box office winner in the UK this year with a record £205.8 million in takings. While 2011 was a strong year overall for British films, 2012 will be a tough one. Not only will there be no Potter, the industry is also facing a big dent in its coffers thanks to competition from the summer Olympics and the European football championships.
Local films were a huge boon to the box office this year with 41.6% of the market share. The total box office was the highest seen in France since 1966. Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano’s crowd-pleasing Untouchable (for which the Weinstein Co has US distribution and English-language remake rights) opened on November 2 and as of the end of its 9th weekend was still going strong with about 16.7 million tickets for over $129 million, according to studio Gaumont. By the end of 2011, the film was less than 3.8 million tickets behind the country’s biggest French hit of all time, Welcome To The Sticks. Only Titanic sits above that pic. It’s not unusual for France to have a homegrown hit at the top of the charts, but the one-two punch of Untouchable and the year’s No. 2 film, Pathe’s Nothing To Declare, is nevertheless notable. As he did on Welcome To The Sticks, director and star Dany Boon does double duty on Nothing To Declare which has sold over 8 million tickets. It just debuted on pay-TV and with 2.1 million viewers gave Canal Plus its largest audience for a film since 2009 when Sticks garnered 2.6 million subscribers. Other local films faring well include Cannes Jury Prize winner Poliss, EuropaCorp’s Un Monstre A Paris and awards contender The Artist with about $13 million in sales. Warner Bros. will re-release the film in France this month on 200 screens to capitalize on expected Golden Globes glory.
Italy’s box office continued its trend of tight run-time comedies at the top of the charts. Gennaro Nunziante’s bumbling security officer comedy Che Bella Giornata (What A Beautiful Day) surpassed Roberto Benigni’s Life Is Beautiful as the territory’s biggest all-time grosser. With just under $60 million in receipts the Medusa release ruled a box office that included 2 other local pics in the top 5. Giulio Manfredonia’s comedy Qualunquemente (Whateverly) from Fandango took roughly $23 million while Paolo Genovese’s thirtysomething comedy Immaturi (The Immature) scored about $20 million in receipts for Medusa. Also in the top 10 was Fausto Brizzi’s sequel Femmine Contro Maschi (Women Vs Men) with $15 million in takings, according to Medusa.
The 62nd Berlin International Film Festival has set its first five competition films, and has selected the Stephen Daldry-directed Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close and the Zhang Yimou-directed The Flowers Of War to screen out of competition. The selected productions and co-productions are from Indonesia, Spain, the People’s Republic of China, Hong Kong/China, the Philippines, Great Britain, Germany, the U.S. and France.
Here are the films so far:
Captive, France/Philippines/Germany/Great Britain. By Brillante Mendoza (Serbis, Kinatay, Lola.) With Isabelle Huppert, Katherine Mulville, Marc Zanetta. World premiere.
Dictado (Childish Games), Spain. By Antonio Chavarrías (Susanna, Volverás, Las vidas de Celia) With Juan Diego Botto, Barbara Lennie, Mágica Pérez. World premiere.
Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close, USA By Stephen Daldry (Billy Elliot, The Hours, The Reader) With Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock, Max von Sydow, Thomas Horn International premiere / Out of Competition.
Jin líng Shí San Chai (The Flowers Of War), People’s Republic of China. By Zhang Yimou (The Red Lantern, Hero, A Woman, A Gun And A Noodle Shop) With Christian Bale, Ni Ni, Atsuro Watabe International premiere / Out of Competition.
Kebun binatang (Postcards From The Zoo), Indonesia/Germany/Hongkong, China. By Edwin (Kara, Anak Sebatang Pohon, The Blind Pig Who Wants To Fly) With Ladya Cheryl, Nicholas Saputra. World premiere.
Here’s a test of whether any publicity is good publicity: Christian Bale was in China for the world premiere of his historical drama The Flowers Of War but found time afterward for an eight-hour drive outside Beijing in an attempt to meet with a blind Chinese dissident. Instead his group …
Zhang Yamou’s fact-based drama The Flowers Of War is China’s entry into Oscar’s foreign-language race and the nation’s most expensive movie ever at a budget of almost $100 million. Here’s an exclusive trailer for the pic, which centers on a man (Christian Bale) who finds refuge with a group of …
This season, 63 countries have submitted films for consideration in the Foreign Language Film category for the 84th Academy Awards. The 2011 submissions are vying to be among the 9 long-listed by the Academy Of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences before the 5 finalists are announced with Oscar nominations on January 24. Here are the films that AwardsLine London Contributor Tim Adler believes will make the semifinal round:
Declaration Of War (France)
Sundance Selects, U.S. release date: January 27
Valérie Donzelli’s Declaration Of War has been a huge hit with critics and the public alike. The movie, which opened Cannes Critics’ Week this year, has sold to more than 30 territories and has already generated over 810,000 admissions in France for distributor-sales agent Wild Bunch. Declaration Of War is based on Donzelli’s own life story. She and her former partner Jérémie Elkaïm play themselves in the film, which charts their fight to save the baby they had together after he is diagnosed with a brain tumor. The film’s success with audiences is largely attributed to its happy ending: the baby survives. Donzelli tells me, “The audience is confronted with the worst thing you can imagine, and yet they see people overcoming the situation. It’s not about the anguish of death but passion for life.”
The Flowers Of War (China)
Wrekin Hill, U.S. Release: 2012
Flowers marks a return to high drama for China’s favorite director Zhang Yimou and represents his fourth attempt at an Academy Award,
following defeats for Hero (2003), Raise the Red Lantern (1992) and Ju Dou (1991). With a budget of nearly $100 million, The Flowers of War – starring Christian Bale – is Zhang’s most expensive film ever. Zhang’s problem: Judges of the Best Foreign-Language Film category don’t really go for blockbusters. The film is based on events in the former Chinese capital of Nanjing when the Japanese occupied it during the Second World War. Bale plays a mortician who goes to collect the body of an American priest from Nanjing Cathedral, where he discovers local schoolgirls hiding from the carnage outside. Pledging to protect them, he dresses up as a priest and also shelters a group of prostitutes who have arrived at the cathedral. The Flowers of War ran for seven days in a 22-seat Beijing cinema to meet entry standards for the Oscars, which requires films to be shown in domestic theatres for at least a week. (It’s reportedly 40% English-language and 60% Mandarin, which lets it squeak by one of the Academy’s rules.) Despite little promotion and tickets costing 200 yuan ($30), double the normal price, Zhang’s latest sold out within 40 minutes of its box office opening. Chinese producer New Pictures Films handled U.S. rights with exec producers Chaoying Deng and David Linde and Stephen Saltzman of Loeb & Loeb. Wrekin Hill has acquired for U.S. distribution and releases on December 23.
With the deadline for submitting films in the Foreign Language Oscar race looming, the competition is taking shape. Some 44 films have been entered by Deadline’s count. Last year, 65 films were entered, so expect 20 or so more to be announced. After the October 3rd cutoff, the Academy’s Foreign Language Executive Committee, led by Oscar-winning producer Mark Johnson (Rain Man) will vet the list and approve the final rundown before the 3-month screening process begins to pick 9 finalists and the eventual 5 nominees. Already, Johnson has indicated to me there is controversy. Albania has entered The Forgiveness of Blood, the hit at Telluride and Toronto directed by LA-born and -bred Joshua Marston. Apparently, other Albanian filmmakers are balking at the nationality of the movie’s helmer. It will be up to the committee to determine whether the film has enough Albanian elements to qualify despite being in the unique situation of having an American director (and co-writer). The very internationally inclined Marston had the official 2004 Colombian entry, Maria Full of Grace, before it was disqualified for not being Colombian enough. It did eventually win a Best Actress nod for Catalina Sandino Moreno.
The Russians are also squabbling over their official entry, Nikita Mikhalkov’s Burnt By the Sun 2: Citadel, the sequel to his 1995 Oscar-winning foreign language film. Even though the full Russian Oscar selection committee voted for it, Mikhalkov has been “burnt” by committee head Vladimir Menshov, who is against putting the critical and box office flop forward to the American Academy. (Despite a $45 million budget, it grossed only $1.5 million). He is awaiting Mikhalkov’s formal response to his request that he pull the film. He has until October 1, according to the Russian rule book.
China’s choice of three-time nominee Zhang Yimou’s (Ju Dou, Raise the Red Lantern, Hero) period epic The Flowers of War (formerly known during production as Heroes of Nanking), starring Oscar winner Christian Bale, is China’s most expensive film ever. It’s reportedly 40% English-language and 60% Mandarin, which lets it squeak by under Academy rules. Twenty minutes of footage from the film, which opens its regular run December 16 in China, was shown to buyers and press in Toronto and was well-received. Executive producer and former Universal Pictures honcho David Linde told me in Toronto that if the film gets a domestic distribution deal in time, it is entirely possible to open in the U.S. to qualify for all categories – presumably including a Best Actor bid for Bale. (Linde was non-committal on that, so we will have to wait and see.) If it gets nominated and the film is held from American release until next year, that would make it ineligible for other categories in 2012.
Among the countries still waiting to be heard from are frequent nominees Italy, Spain and Turkey. I fully expect those countries to select films that were all in the official competition in Cannes this year: Italy’s Habemus Papam from Nanni Moretti; Turkey’s Cannes Grand Prize winner Once Upon a Time in Anatolia from director Nuri Bilge Ceylan; and Spain’s The Skin I Live In, the first “horror” effort from two-time Oscar winner Pedro Almodovar. The latter has had a spotty track record with the Spanish Academy that makes the selections, but the rift is said to have eased. If they are in their right mind, they will certainly select Skin, which I think is one of Almodovar’s best and most entertaining films.
I am a bit surprised to see Belgium select Bullhead over Cannes prizewinner The Kid With a Bike from the highly respected Dardenne Brothers and also over Cannes’ Directors’ Fortnight grand prize winner, the brilliant coming-of-age story Les Geants.
France usually picks something out of the main competition in Cannes, especially because festival director Thierry Fremaux is also on France’s official Oscar selection committee. But this year the country chose the well-received film that opened the smaller Critics Week competition, Declaration of War, an emotional story of young parents trying to deal with their child’s cancer diagnosis. Perhaps after seeing the Academy ignore last year’s home-grown Cannes Grand Prize winner Of Gods and Men they decided to go in a different direction. They ignored potential candidate Polisse, which won the Jury Prize in this year’s main competition at the fest. They also passed over another French-bred competition entry, the enormously popular The Artist (which added to its laurels by winning the Audience Award today at the San Sebastian Film Festival). The black-and-white silent film set and shot in Hollywood is probably not perceived as French enough, despite the Gallic credentials of director Michel Hazanavicius and star Jean Dujardin (Best Actor in Cannes). A Weinstein Company source told me they aren’t upset as they are aiming for a Best Picture slot and don’t necessarily want the film perceived as a foreign language picture.
Highlights among other official selections so far: