All attention is on the Oscars (and Spirits) this weekend, but a couple new specialty releases managed to gain some sparkle as they rolled out in limited release. Sony Pictures Classics’ Cannes debut The Lunchbox from India reigned over a half-dozen newcomers that rolled out Friday. The feature from the subcontinent (and not a “usual Bollywood” film) found traction to the tune of $51K-plus in an NYC & LA platform release for a solid $17,108 average, while Cinedigm’s Bag Man also bowed decently, grossing over $28K for a $14,245 average.
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“It’s one of those engaging foreign films that has a potential to cross over [audiences],” SPC’s Michael Barker said about the film this week. “It’s culturally Indian, however the story crosses all borders.” Barker said the film will head to up to a dozen markets the following week, eventually playing the top 50 markets within five weeks of this weekend’s initial rollout.
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Big Sony is opening Russian epic Stalingrad in a record number of IMAX theaters this weekend. The roll out may be a watershed for Russian filmmaking in the U.S. and it marks another blending of “specialty” and “Hollywood” though that isn’t really new as the grey areas have mounted for years. Hollywood’s biggest stars have long had indies intervals between studio cash cows. Cinedigm will open The Bag Man with Robert De Niro and John Cusack theatrically, while the Universal acquisition will remain with the studio’s non-theatrical lineup. Lionsgate/Codeblack will bow Repentance with Anthony Mackie and Forest Whitaker in over 150 theaters, targeting its primarily African-American audience. On the traditional end, Sony Classics will platform Cannes debut The Lunchbox this weekend, while Velvet Films will open an exclusive engagement at Film Society of Lincoln Center for Raoul Peck’s Fatal Assistance.
The Bag Man
Director-writer: David Grovic
Writers: Paul Conway, James Russo, Marie-Louise von Franz (inspired by her short story, The Cat)
Cast: John Cusack, Rebecca Da Costa, Robert De Niro, Crispin Glover, Dominic Purcell
First-time feature filmmaker David Grovic landed quite a cast for his crime thriller The Bag Man. Starring John Cusack, Rebecca Da Costa and Robert De Niro, the title centers on a criminal who bides his time at a seedy motel, waiting for his boss after killing several men and making away with a mystery bag. “We were incredibly fortunate to get essentially first choices in all the roles,” said Grovic. “Unless you’re a studio paying huge money, I think the only way you can get this quality of cast is by making it a passion project.” Grovic said that the cast responded to the script’s non-stereotypical traits including De Niro’s hair and eccentric dialog as well as Da Costa’s wonder woman outfit for starters. Read More »
Ritesh Batra’s debut feature The Lunchbox recently screened in the Spotlight section of Sundance. It earlier played Toronto, Telluride and the AFI Fest. But the film first came to international attention when it charmed Cannes Critics’ Week audiences. That’s when Sony Pictures Classics acquired it for North America. In September, the film became the focus of some controversy when India did not select it as the Foreign Language Oscar entry. Many felt it had real chance at a nomination, or at least a shortlist slot, but India instead went with Gyan Correa’s The Good Road (it did not make it past the first stage). Sony Classics will release The Lunchbox in the U.S. on February 28. The film follows widower Saajan who is delivered the wrong lunchbox by the local dabbawalas. The meal has been prepared by Ila, a woman whose marriage is in crisis. When she learns of the error, she sends a note to Saajan in the lunchbox, kicking off their epistolary romance. Irrfan Khan and Nimrat Kaur star. Check out the trailer:
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences has just released the list of a record-setting 76 contenders for the 2013 Best Foreign Language Film category and members start viewing them in a two-month process that begins Friday night. But in a year that has produced any number of eye opening choices and omissions, there may be changes in store for next time that could significantly alter the process as it has been played for decades. One change could involve eligibility dates. Rules now state a country can’t enter a film unless it has opened in that country by September 30th of the qualifying year. That rule eliminated the high profile Cannes Festival Palme d’Or winner Blue Is The Warmest Color which doesn’t open in France until Wednesday, nine days after the cutoff date. It’s a rule that doesn’t really reflect the realities of international distribution these days as some American distributors have recently complained. The Academy has maintained it is necessary just so all the films can be screened in time before nominations have to be announced in January.
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Also, continuing controversies due to the increasing politicization of the selection process of Foreign Language film entries in their individual countries could lead to what returning Foreign Language Committee Chairman Mark Johnson termed “radical” changes in the process and rules leading to the choice of the final five nominees.
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Ever since it debuted in Cannes and was acquired by Sony Pictures Classics, Ritesh Batra’s The Lunchbox was largely considered the favorite to be submitted by India as the Foreign Language Oscar entry. But last week, the selection committee chose Gyan Correa’s The Good Road. In the intervening days, The Lunchbox filmmakers, local and international press and other pundits have decried the choice. The committee in turn demanded an apology from Lunchbox helmer Batra for “unsavoury comments” that crossed a boundary, it said in a long letter. Batra produced his mea culpas today, but also urged a rethink of the way films are chosen. Batra wrote, “I sincerely hope that the annual reactions to our Academy selections from the national press, and this year from even the international press, prompt a new policy for the selection. Sir, please use your good offices to give us a transparent, objective process with a public and not a secret jury. It is a direct and humble request, not a criticism.”
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