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Welcome to another Reject Report, and get ready for a big rant from me this week. The story this weekend, of course, is the announcement of the Oscar nominations made on Thursday morning. As a result, this weekend sees a glut of nominated movies, all going wide in hopes of getting that coveted Oscar bounce. We also have two new movies rolling out: Inkheart, and Underworld: Rise of the Lycans, both of which ought to do better than any of the Oscar nominees.

It’s about time that these Oscar-season movies have gotten a wider release — I’d been complaining about it for ages . Some of the movies finally coming to a theater near you include Frost/Nixon, which is now on 1,100 screens; Revolutionary Road, also on 1,000 screens; Slumdog Millionaire, the Golden Globe-winning Best Picture which has been doing good business and now expands to 1,400 screens; The Wrestler, now up to 400 theaters; and Rachel Getting Married, now up to 345 screens. Also fresh on the heels of ten nominations, The Dark Knight’s much-anticipated re-release is out this weekend and according to the latest information it should be in 350 theaters. Many of those will be IMAX locations.

Now, a lot of these awards-season flicks have been playing in the big cities for weeks on end, in very few theaters. The Oscar watchers have been trying to convince themselves that these movies have potential to be hits with the general public, and have been feverishly calculating their per-theater averages and so on. Of course, these box office numbers are kind of misleading because these flicks have been in very few theaters. Only now are these movies seeing the light of day in a lot of places.

What has struck me — and a lot of people — has been the absolute disconnect between popular tastes and the Oscar nominations this year. I’ve written about it before — you have a bunch of movies that are aiming for Oscars getting the lions’ share of the press from these serious film websites and Hollywood publications. Yet the great unwashed rabble out there, the ones who actually bother to stand in lines to watch movies at the local theaters everywhere in North America, aren’t going to these movies. They’re opting for something else (cartoons, spy movies, dog movies, movies with superheroes, and other populist entertainment). Alternatively, they’ve been forced to see something else because these “Oscar movies” had yet to show up.

What really bugs me is there were movies out there that got really good business from the public and which were praised left, right and center. Yet all they can hope for at Oscar time are awards in the technical categories because the Academy members seem to reserve the Best Picture category for these “art” movies that only the upper crust people go see in the big cities. Look at what happened to The Dark Knight. I know, it got eight nominations, but so what? These were mainly in what I call the “Arnold Schwarzenegger” categories for technical awards and the like. Yes, Heath Ledger may be up for Best Supporting Actor, but The Dark Knight was shut out completely for Best Picture.

Same for another box-office winner, WALL-E. At least it should win for Best Animated Feature, but I know there are a lot of people out there who feel the “Best Animated Feature” category is some sort of second-class status and that these animated flicks deserve better. I dunno about that – it is an Oscar, after all. It’s pretty remarkable that the three movies up for the animation category – WALL-E, Kung Fu Panda and Bolt – all did better business and were released on far more screens than any of the Best Picture nominees.

As for Gran Torino, I can quit talking about it being an Oscar contender now, because it was completely and utterly shafted. It was nominated for NOTHING. Not even an acting nod for Clint Eastwood. So much for all that talk in the last few days that the great box office for this movie would help it win awards or be nominated. What a bunch of baloney that turned out to be.

Now, I know that the movie grosses aren’t a reliable indicator of whether a movie is of high quality — after all, Paul Blart: Mall Cop won the 4-day Martin Luther King Jr. holiday with $39 million. The public is definitely capable of showing bad taste. But gosh darn it, man! Can’t the Academy at least throw a bone to audiences and recognize movies that people actually bothered to go and watch? These were three good movies out there that a lot of people spent money to go see, movies that all finished first at the weekend box office at least once. In the case of The Dark Knight, it was for four weeks in a row. Yet those three, and for that matter every single first-place-for-the-weekend movie from 2008, has completely gotten the shaft from the Academy in the Best Picture category.

Of the five flicks left to duke it out for Best Picture, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (13 nominations) is the only one to do any kind of decent wide-release business. Yes, it did spend a couple of evenings in first place in early January in the middle of the week, and its domestic gross is now up to $103 million in business. Still, it’s never finished first for an entire weekend. Slumdog Millionaire has been doing better business as of late, but Slumdog Millionaire hasn’t come close to winning the weekend. Frost/Nixon, Milk and The Reader have done great business with the art-house crowd, but that’s about it.

Things won’t change much this weekend, either. Slumdog Millionaire will probably make it to $10 million for the weekend and Revolutionary Road may make it to $5 million. And maybe Frost/Nixon will get up to $4 million. The Reader should do a little less than that and Milk is pretty much finished at the box office anyway. I notice Rachel Getting Married is being expanded to 345 theaters on the basis of Anne Hathaway’s Oscar nomination for Best Actress. Still, that’s not very many theaters.

Sure, there are some movies out there that need help and deserve a push from the Academy to alert people about what they are all about. But there isn’t one single film up for Best Picture that anyone can call popular with the general public– certainly not in the way that award-winning movies like Patton, The Sting, Rocky and other films were back in the Seventies. (Unless you consider Benjamin Button popular, and even that is a stretch.)

Looking at these Best Picture nominees, it’s unbelievable how out of synch the Academy is with what the public wants to see. Nobody cares about most of these nominated movies beyond the vocal minority of people obsessed with “the Oscar race.” Who the heck else is going to them? The cultural elites? The film’s backers? Friends and relatives of the actors? Seems like it, because hardly anyone else has been going to them — especially those poor folks stuck living in places where these movies haven’t played at all until now.

When the ONLY movies that get awards nominations for Best Picture are these art-house flicks that do not get released wide for a long period of time — and when movies that get the biggest audiences and create the most excitement amongst rank-and-file movie fans are shut out of categories or relegated to the tech awards — I have got to say something’s wrong here, folks. This Academy is out to lunch. They are out of touch with the moviegoing public.

I guess I wanted to rant and rave about the depressing Oscar nominations this week because (a) that’s all people care about, and (b) the two new releases look kind of uninteresting to me. Still, I think some fans will like them. Here they are:

Underworld: Rise of the Lycans is a horror-action flick featuring Rhona Mitra, Bill Nighy and Michael Sheen. This is the prequel to those two vampire movies that Kate Beckinsale starred in wearing her hot leather outfit. Both Underworld (2003) and Underworld: Evolution did pretty decent low-to-mid-$20-million business when those first rolled out.

As we have seen the last couple of weekends, horror-based flicks have done decent business at the box office (usually opening at around $21 million ), so the hope is for the trend to continue.

You know, I just don’t see how this movie will keep pace with the hauls of The Unborn and My Bloody Valentine 3D. I am picking Underworld: Rise of the Lycans to maybe do, I dunno, about $20 million. I think people might be a little tired of horror and vampire movies. And besides, Kate Beckinsale isn’t in it, so that won’t help either. Face it, guys, a lot of you went to those first two movies to see Kate Beckinsale in spandex. She’s not in it this time, so it’ll be a tougher sell — that’s all I’m saying. On the other hand, Rhona Mitra is in it, and maybe the fans of the first two will come out in full force for this on and make an even bigger hit of it. Anyway, that’s your likely box office winner this weekend. It better be — I’ve been wrong about the number one movie the last couple of weeks and I want the losing streak to end, fast.

The other new release Inkheart, a fantasy movie starring Brendan Fraser. It’s based on the fantasy novel by Cornelia Funke of the same name. Fraser plays Mortimer, who has a gift of bringing storybook characters to life. Unfortunately, he also brought to life some evil villain who intends to destroy them all.

Anyway, the kids should like this, but that’s about the only audience I see for it. I am predicting around $13 million for Inkheart.

So here is what I am predicting, a tight race at the box office with a lot of movies closely bunched together at the box office:

  1. Underworld: Rise of the Lycans $20 million
  2. Paul Blart: Mall Cop $17 million
  3. Gran Torino $15 million
  4. Inkheart $13 million
  5. My Bloody Valentine 3D $10.5 million
  6. Hotel for Dogs $10.2 million
  7. Slumdog Millionaire $10 million
  8. Notorious $9.5 million
  9. Bride Wars $6 million
  10. Revolutionary Road $5 million

That about does it for now. I hope I’ve gotten my ranting and raving out of my system. Seriously, folks — this year’s breathtakingly non-populist Oscar race had me angry and fed up. Now that the nominations are in, I just had to say my piece about it.

See you at the end of the weekend for more award-winning coverage of the box office here at the Reject Report.


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