One of the most commercially successful and critically acclaimed actors of her generation, Kate Winslet has been in movies that have collectively grossed more than a billion dollars and she’s three-fourths of the way to an EGOT — and although this weekend’s Triple 9 won’t get her any closer to that hallowed achievement, it offers us the perfect occasion to take a fond look back at some of the brightest critical highlights in a filmography full of them. It’s time for Total Recall!


Heavenly Creatures (1994) 93%

Director Peter Jackson’s impressively violent early work might have made him a natural fit for a movie about the grisly true-life tale of two teenage girls (played by Winslet and Melanie Lynskey) whose obsessive relationship leads to a shocking act of brutality — but few of his fans could have been prepared for Heavenly Creatures, an absorbing, assured film that blended elements of drama, science fiction, and romance while drawing beautifully compelling performances from its leads. Ultimately nominated for a Best Original Screenplay Oscar at the Academy Awards, Creatures vaulted Jackson and his partner Fran Walsh to international acclaim, jump-started Winslet’s film career, and wowed critics like David Rooney of Variety, who wrote that it “Combines original vision, a drop-dead command of the medium and a successful marriage between a dazzling, kinetic techno-show and a complex, credible portrait of the out-of-control relationship between the crime’s two schoolgirl perpetrators.”

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Sense and Sensibility (1995) 97%

Jane Austen’s books have inspired countless films, but with 1995’s Sense and Sensibility, director Ang Lee proved there was still cinematic gold yet to be spun from her stories. Working from an Oscar-winning screenplay by Emma Thompson (who also starred as the noble Elinor Dashwood), this adaptation offered a faithful representation of Austen’s 1811 novel about the financial and romantic aftershocks that reverberate through a landed British family after their patriarch passes away. Bolstered by an excellent ensemble cast that also included Winslet, Hugh Grant, and Alan Rickman, Sensibility resonated with Jeanne Aufmuth of the Palo Alto Weekly, who echoed the sentiments of the vast majority of her peers when she asked, “Enduring love, heartbreak, undying passion and bitter betrayal. What more could you ask from Jane Austen, and for that matter, from a film?”

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Jude (1996) 81%

Thomas Hardy’s novel Jude the Obscure got the big-screen treatment with this 1996 adaptation courtesy of director Michael Winterbottom, who cast Winslet and Christopher Eccleston as the tormented couple at the heart of the story. The tale of 19th-century cousins who attempt to build a life for themselves in spite of many cruel obstacles imposed by class, culture, and religion, Jude is decidedly dark stuff, with a final act that packs a gut-punch even by the standards of Victorian-era arthouse pictures. If watching it isn’t exactly easy, it was well worth the effort according to most critics — including James Berardinelli of ReelViews, who wrote, “This is a film of tremendous scope and emotional depth that uncovers the soul of a novel and brings it to life on the screen.”

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Hamlet (1996) 95%

Try adapting Hamlet for the screen after all these years, and you’d better bring something special to the table — and to his credit, that’s exactly what writer/director/star Kenneth Branagh did with his 1996 take on the classic Shakespeare play, leaving no dramatic stone unturned in a sprawling four-hour epic boasting the acting talents of an equally hefty cast that included Winslet, Jack Lemmon, Robin Williams, Billy Crystal, Richard Attenborough, Judi Dench, Charlton Heston…you get the idea. Although they’d seen it adapted countless times before, critics couldn’t help but be impressed by Branagh’s Hamlet; as James Berardinelli wrote for ReelViews, “I have seen dozens of versions of this play (either on screen or on stage), and none has ever held me in such a grip of awe.”

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Titanic (1997) 89%

Take one of the most infamous seafaring disasters in history and overlay it with a tragic love story between two beautiful people, and what do you have? Titanic, otherwise known as the blockbuster that sent millions of moviegoers fumbling for their Kleenex while Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio fought for their lives aboard the titular capsizing ocean liner. It wasn’t the first Titanic film — or even the first one named Titanic — but James Cameron’s iceberg-bound romance certainly struck a chord with audiences, setting sail to the tune of more than $1.8 billion in worldwide grosses. And it’s a good thing, too: at $200 million, it set a new record for the most expensive film ever made, causing many an ulcer on the Fox executive board (and ultimately earning Cameron a hefty chunk of money through his percentage of the profits). And oh by the way, while audiences were filing into the 194-minute Titanic in droves, critics were lining up to give it praise — including Newsweek’s David Ansen, who called it “big, bold, touchingly uncynical filmmaking.”

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Iris (2001) 79%

Acting opportunities don’t come much meatier than Iris, a dramatization of literary critic and writer Jim Bayley’s memoirs about his life with novelist Iris Murdoch — and director Richard Eyre lined up a cast more than willing to make the most of it. Both Winslet, who stars as Murdoch as a younger woman, and Judi Dench, who portrays the author in her later years, earned Academy Award nominations for their work — as did Jim Broadbent, who played the elder Bayley. “It’s not only that Murdoch and Bayley had just that kind of kinship over the span of a 40-plus year marriage,” marveled Kenneth Turan for the Los Angeles Times. “It’s that the actors manage an identically close and intimate relationship both to each other and to the characters they play.”

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Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) 92%

It would take a special kind of heartbreak to make a person want to completely purge their memories of a former love — and it’s very much to Winslet’s credit that she managed to convincingly embody just that sort of tempestuous, bewitchingly unobtainable affection in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Starring opposite Jim Carrey, Winslet played one-half of a star-crossed couple whose agonizing ups and downs lead them to seek out a groundbreaking therapy that will rid them of their pain…and that’s when things get really weird. A mindbending, critically beloved love story as well as one of the most eye-catching films of the early aughts, Sunshine finds director Michel Gondry (working from a script by Charlie Kaufman) riddling the drama with stunning visual effects that, depending on what you want out of the movie, either deepen its metaphorical layers of meaning or are simply really cool to look at. It’s admittedly too strange and/or chilly to appeal to everyone, but at its heart, the movie lives up to Mariko McDonald of Film Threat’s assessment of it as “fresh, heartfelt and ultimately heartbreaking in its honest portrayal of a modern relationship.”

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Finding Neverland (2004) 83%

Sticklers for accuracy bristled at the liberties it took with J.M. Barrie’s life story, but Finding Neverland was still good enough for audiences — who made it a $100 million-plus hit — and the Academy, which bestowed Johnny Depp with a Best Actor nomination for his work as the playwright and Peter Pan author. Neverland finds Barrie nursing his wounds after the failure of his most recent play, befriending a widow (Kate Winslet) and her young boys, and taking inspiration from their unorthodox friendship — even as helps cost him his own marriage and puts him at odds with the boys’ grandmother (Julie Christie). “Plenty of narrative liberties have been taken,” admitted Jason Blake of the Sydney Morning Herald, but argued that “It doesn’t matter a jot. At heart, this isn’t a biography anyway, it’s an ode to the power of the imagination.”

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Little Children (2006) 80%

Winslet earned a Best Actress Oscar nomination for her work in Little Children, a harrowing ensemble drama that explores how outside events can nudge even the most well-worn domestic orbits wobbling off their axis. With writer/director Todd Field at the helm, this adaptation of the Tom Perrotta novel looks at a suburban community whose beautiful facade masks untold conflicts — and whose carefully calibrated order is disrupted by the arrival of a registered sex offender (Jackie Earle Haley). It’s the kind of yarn that’s been spun countless times over the last few decades, but many critics still took fresh pleasure from this particular telling — including J.R. Jones, whose Chicago Reader review argued, “the characters are drawn with such compassion their follies become our own and their desires seem as vast as the night sky.”

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Steve Jobs (2015) 85%

By the time Steve Jobs premiered in 2015, audiences had already seen a number of films about the Apple co-founder, both documentary (Alex Gibney’s Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine, released earlier in the year) and narrative (2013’s Jobs, starring Ashton Kutcher). This Steve Jobs needed something special, in other words, to overcome the familiarity of its subject; fortunately, it boasted several unique ingredients, including direction from Danny Boyle, a script from Aaron Sorkin, and a cast that included Michael Fassbender as Jobs and Winslet as Apple marketing exec Joanna Hoffman. All that talent still didn’t do much to move the needle with a moviegoing public that might have been pretty Jobsed out at that point, but it had the desired effect with critics who applauded Steve Jobs as the definitive Steve Jobs biopic. As Bob Mondello argued for NPR, “The film feels so electric while you’re watching, it’s hard to believe that after two hours, it doesn’t even get to the iPod, let alone the iPhone.”

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The biggest titles new to streaming services this week include the final chapter in Peter Jackson’s journey through Middle-earth, an Oscar-nominated thriller, and a little-seen but highly acclaimed comedy starring Chris Rock. After that, we’ve got some excellent choices on Netflix, including the latest season of its original drama House of Cards and old favorites like Donnie Brasco and Ground hog Day. Read on for the full list:


The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
59%

After going up against the fire-breathing dragon Smaug, Bilbo (Martin Freeman), Gandalf (Ian McKellen), and makeshift battalions of men, elves, and dwarfs must join forces to fight off an onslaught of orcs and restore order to Middle-earth.

Available now on: Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, Google Play


Foxcatcher
87%

Channing Tatum, Steve Carell, and Mark Ruffalo star in this Certified Fresh drama about an Olympic wrestling hopeful who falls under the influence of a questionable patron.

Available now on: Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, Google Play


Top Five
86%

Chris Rock (who also directed) plays Andre Allen, a popular comic actor who’s about to be married to a famous reality TV star. He agrees to be profiled by a New York Times reporter (Rosario Dawson), and as they stroll about the city, Allen begins to question the decisions he’s made in his life and career.

Available now on: Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, Google Play


House of Cards: Season Three

In the third season of Netflix’s acclaimed political drama, Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) and his wife Claire (Robin Wright) attempt to maintain the powerful positions to which they’ve risen, even in the face of troubling global events and adversaries much closer to home.

Available now on: Netflix


A Summer’s Tale
98%

Eric Rohmer’s naturalistic, low-key dramedy follows the lives and loves of young people over the course of a summer.

Available now on: Netflix


Groundhog Day
97%

Bill Murray stars in Harold Ramis’s classic comedy about a jaded reporter whose bitter outlook on life changes when he’s caught in a time loop that forces him to relive the same day over and over again.

Available now on: Netflix


Donnie Brasco
88%

Johnny Depp goes undercover to bring down mob boss Al Pacino — and finds himself taking something of a shine to the old man — in this Certified Fresh gangster drama.

Available now on: Netflix


Finding Neverland
83%

Johnny Depp, Kate Winslet, and Dustin Hoffman star in Marc Forster’s warm, heartfelt biopic of Peter Pan creator J.M. Barrie.

Available now on: Netflix


Bridget Jones’s Diary
79%

Renee Zellweger, Colin Firth, and Hugh Grant star in this comedy about a brash thirtysomething woman who decides to shape up and meets a couple of eligible bachelors.

Available now on: Netflix


Hawaii Five-0: Season Four

The fourth season of CBS’s cop show reboot starring Alex O’Laughlin and Scott Caan focuses on McGarrett and Co. facing new adversaries and playing both sides of the law.

Available now on: Netflix

Today is Halloween, traditionally a big day for horror movies, but for 2008, this long standing tradition has been usurped by the return of a bigger, better, badder and more British institution. Today sees the release of Bond 22. Daniel Craig returns in his sophomore outing as Commander James Bond of Her Majesty’s Secret Service in Quantum Of Solace, but what did the critics have to say?

Quantum Of Solace is the first true ‘sequel’ of the James Bond franchise, and picks up the story mere moments after the end of Casino Royale, with Bond pursuing the shadowy organisation responsible for the death of his love interest from Casino, Vesper Lynd, with revenge on his agenda.

When producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson decided to reboot the Bond franchise after the much derided Die Another Day (a surprisingly middling 60% on the Tomatometer), they took a bold move by taking Bond back to his brutal roots, ditching the gadgets and quippery so prevalent in Pierce Brosnan’s era, for a more hard hitting and modern take with a much tougher earthier lead in Daniel Craig. The big gamble paid off and Casino Royale, which went on to break Bond records left right and centre, was a huge critical success at 94% on the Tomatometer. So the standard was set; Daniel Craig signed on for another movie, the producers recruited Marc Forster, a ‘serious’ director with Monsters Ball, Finding Neverland and The Kite Runner – all critical successes – under his belt, a bewilderingly cerebral title was announced, and then we waited. But was it worth the wait?

Well, currently standing at 79% on the Tomatometer, the figures seem to speak for themselves, namely that QOS is better than Die Another Day, but not as good as Casino Royale.

All the critics were universal in their praise for Daniel Craig’s portrayal of James Bond, agreeing that he has made the role his own, a tricky task considering the rough ride given to all previous actors in the role (including Sean Connery, dismissed by Ian Fleming himself as ‘an overgrown stuntman’).

“I doubt that there’s a better actor at bottling rage than Daniel Craig. All muscles, he has defined himself as a darker and more bare-knuckle Bond than any of his elegant predecessors” James Christopher, The Times.

“Daniel Craig has really settled into the role of Bond, making it completely his own and even bringing a slightly softer side that previous Bonds have lacked.” Matthew Turner, ViewLondon.

Craig puts in another powerhouse performance.” David Edwards, Daily Mirror.

The supporting performances were rightly praised too.

“The French Mathieu Amalric makes the smarmy fake environmentalist Greene a suitably loathsome character” Kim Newman, Empire.

Gemma Arterton is superb in her brief role as an agent whom Bond encounters in Bolivia, cementing her position as one of cinema’s brightest young stars.” Lizo Mzimba, BBC.

“The ridiculously beautiful Olga Kurylenko is a kind of counter-point to 007. She excels as another damaged secret service agent who is similarly motivated by revenge” Orlando Parfitt, IGN UK.

The critics also enjoyed the breathless pace, crunching action and impressive set-pieces, as well as the more tender, thoughtful and emotional moments that Forster has brought to the film.

“Frenetic, full of chase sequences and sudden switches in location, the film has a demented energy about it, as if it’s taking his feverish tempo from Bond himself.” Geoffrey McNab, The Independent.

Some griped at the film’s dark and brutal tone and nature, however, with many asking where Bonds sense of humour had gone.

“The gags have gone, along with the gadgets. Wit and fun have deserted the franchise.” Christopher Tookey, The Daily Mail.

“There are times during this grey, not very sexy and rather humourless new 007 epic when you actually wish for a sighting of Roger Moore’s suave and insouciant version of Bond.” Derek Malcolm, Evening Standard.

Some also felt that the actions scenes were a little untidy, suggesting Forster may be more suited to the dramatic side of things.

“Fashionable fast-cut editing will play well to videogame fans. Anyone else may be left wondering who’s doing what to whom in the carnage of Aston Martins.” Victor Oliver, Teletext.

“The drawback to the frenetic approach is that the chases risk merging into one another.” Geoffrey McNab, The Independent.

Overall, whilst most felt the film underwhelming in comparison to the superior Casino Royale, QOS‘s slender running time (at 106 minutes the shortest in the franchises history), makes for a hard hitting and brutal entry to the Bond canon. With Daniel Craig set to return in Bond 23, all eyes will again be on the nations favourite secret agent to see whether 007s recent one-two will result in a killer knock out third movie.


Since
David Benioff‘s
intriguing screenwriting debut (adapting his novel
25th Hour
,
eventually directed by
Spike Lee in
2002), the New York-raised writer has been bouncing back and forth in Hollywood
between studio-event blockbusters (Troy,
the upcoming X-Men
Origins: Wolverine
) and character-driven dramas (Stay).
His latest project fits mostly in the former category. It’s an adaptation of
The Kite Runner

(directed by Stay‘s Marc Forster), a multi-generational story of
Afghanistan, class conflict, and atonement.

In our final Kite Runner interview — click
here to
read our interview with lead actor Khalid Abdalla, and
here for
our author Khaled Hosseini interview — we speak with Benioff in San Francisco
about the challenges of adapting a 400-page book, excessively long movies, and
how

Amanda Peet
‘s pregnancy affected his travel schedule.

How did you take on the task of taking a book that’s about 400 pages and spans over 30 years and adapting it into a screenplay that would work?

David Benioff: Ruthlessly. I don’t like extremely long movies. I tend to get a bit impatient. There are definitely exceptions, like Lawrence of Arabia, but for the most part I feel that movies should usually be shorter and not longer. I went into it knowing I wanted the movie to be about two hours. The funny thing is that people at the studio talk about it like it’s a little movie with kids speaking Dari, but it’s not a little movie. I understand it’s not going to be Spider-Man 3. It’s not going to be this massive blockbuster. But it is an epic.

The real trick was trying to figure out what to cut. The first time I read the book, I read it like anyone else and fell in love with it. The second time reading it was after I got the job and was trying to figure out what’s the skeleton that will hold this movie together, because I had to cut away so much of the fat and the muscle and I needed to find the bones that keep the story standing. So there were a lot of things that were cut, a lot of things I loved from the book.

For instance, the whole sequence with Hassan’s harelip where Baba brings in a plastic surgeon from India to repair it; that was one of my favorite sequences in the book and it was in the early drafts of the script, but we knew ultimately that things would have to be cut. Eventually, I had to choose to cut things that wouldn’t hurt the story or our knowledge of the characters.

Luckily I was working with a director and an editor who both share my impatience for things that become too long and lugubrious and we finally got the script to where it needed to be.

Part of it was also knowing that the book is always going to be there. The book is on my shelf and those scenes will always be in there. It’s not like I’m ripping pages out of the book. I knew the film had to stand on its own and work for people who have never read the book. It’s definitely a frightening one to take on because so many people love it so much, but you can’t write in fear.

How closely did you work with Khaled Hosseini?

DB: He was wonderful. I’ve been lucky, but I have friends who have adapted books and often the relationship between the screenwriter and the novelist can be tense. I’ve heard some horror stories. In this case, Khaled was very supportive from the beginning. Not only of what we were trying to do but also of understanding that the film was going to be different from the book in some respects. I think he had faith. He knew we all loved the book and wanted to tell the story properly. Once he met us and knew how passionate we were about it, I think he probably relaxed a bit. Going forward, when I was actually working on the script, he was a great resource. I’m not Muslim and I didn’t grow up in Afghanistan, so I had many questions about different aspects of the story. I could always call or email Khaled and get a detailed response back within an hour.

The best part for me, the nicest thing I heard throughout the whole process was when we were recording the DVD audio commentary at Skywalker Ranch. It was really cool just to be at Skywalker Ranch. But at one point, Marc Forster said, “That’s a really nice line, was that in the book?” Then Khaled said that at this point, he couldn’t remember who had written it. To hear that from the author was incredible.

I was relieved to see that the film wasn’t completely in English. Was it always the intent to have the film be primarily in Dari?

DB: It was always clear that it was the only way to do it properly, but I never thought it would happen, because it was a huge money-losing proposition. Movies that are subtitled don’t usually do as well in American theatres. Honestly, the hero in the whole situation was Marc Forster, who said that he wouldn’t do it unless it was in Dari. Who was responsible for the casting of the young actors?

DB: The nice thing about working with Marc is that he’s so good at casting, especially kids. If you look at Finding Neverland, Marc cast Freddie Highmore, who’s a huge child star right now. I always felt confident he would find the right kids. It’s an interesting story because they went all over the world. It was a global casting call, and finally he went to Kabul which is where they found the kids.

How did the translation process work?

DB: I just learned Dari. [Laughs.]. It was a smaller movie, it was kind of all in the family and Khaled’s father ended up being the one who translated the English screenplay into Dari for the actors. Then I translated it back during post-production for the subtitles. Most of the time, it was from the original script. Sometimes I wrote one thing and then it got translated and I was sitting there with an Afghan woman who would tell me what the literal translation was, and sometimes it was very different from what the original screenplay said. Every now and then it was a lot better, but other times I could write my line. It was nice because usually as the writer, the actors take the lines and play with them and it’s out of your hands. This was the first time I could sort of reassert control over that.

Much of the book is internal. How did you deal with that challenge?

DB: That was one of the toughest challenges of the adaptation. I love reading novels and I love going to movies, but I kind of hate going to an adaptation of a novel and it starts off with a voiceover. To me it seems like the lazy way of adapting a book and I didn’t want to do it. One of the things I loved about this book is that it’s incredibly visual in terms of the landscapes. The kites in the sky, the clothes — there are so many pictures in your head when reading the book and I wanted the story to be told with the pictures and the dialogue. I didn’t feel that it needed narration, the story Khaled created could be told without having to have someone explaining it to you. We just had to adjust scenes to tell the story.

The last few scenes of the film are very similar to the book, almost word for word.

DB: It’s always easiest for me as a writer if I know I have a great ending. It can make everything else work. If you don’t have a good ending, it’s the hardest things in the world to come up with one. I always loved the ending of The Kite Runner and the scenes that are most faithful to the book are the last few scenes. I’m so biased, but I love the movie. I feel like we didn’t screw it up.

Were you able to travel to the set?

DB: Only to China for one week. My wife [Peet] was really pregnant so I didn’t want to take more than one week because she was about to pop. I went to Beijing, because it’s easier to get to than Kashgar. To get to Kashgar is a flight to Beijing, then an eight hour flight to Kashgar, and a six hour drive to where they were filming. So I went for a week and it was incredible. This movie is based on a novel by an Afghan-American, directed by a Swiss-German, produced by an Australian and a bunch of Americans. And the cast is Afghan, Iranian, English, French and American, with a screenplay by a New Yorker. It could not have been more global. It’s like a U.N. movie — bizarre and very cool. It seems appropriate for this movie, based on a book that has captured the imagination of the world. It was a special place to watch it coming together, even for the brief time I was there, it was surreal.

And it’s certainly nobody you’d expect!

The director of "Bond 22" will be … Marc Forster. Yes, the guy who gave you "Stranger Than Fiction," "Stay," "Finding Neverland," and "Monster’s Ball," is about to give you a James Bond movie. (The director also has "The Kite Runner" on the way.)

Production doesn’t get underway until December, but Paul Haggis is presently doing his polish of the Neal Purvis / Robert Wade screenplay. (All three writers also worked on "Casino Royale.")

Obviously Daniel Craig will be returning as 007, and I’m betting we’ll see some more of Judi Dench too.

So I can’t be the only one who thinks this is kind of a weird choice. Not a BAD one, necessarily, but a strange one. Guess we’ll find out in November of 2008.

Source: Variety

Curious to know who’ll be directing the next James Bond flick? Join the club. One source has a short list of potential helmers, all of whom would be pretty … distinctive.

Here’s who Latino Review mentions as possible "Bond 22" directors:

Marc Forster ("Monster’s Ball," "Finding Neverland," and "Stranger Than Fiction")

Tony Scott ("Man on Fire," "Top Gun," and "Crimson Tide" — among many others)

Alex Proyas ("Dark City," "I, Robot," and "The Crow")

Jonathan Mostow ("Breakdown," "U-571," and "Terminator 3")

Our source seems to think that Mr. Forster is among the front-runners for the job, which is a little odd considering he’s the only one who’s never directed an action scene. (Good director, tho.) Personally I’d love to see what a Tony Scott 007 flick would look like.

We’ll let you know when the Bondmakers decide on the director they choose to follow "Casino Royale."

Source: Latino Review

This weekend, multiplexes hope to cram in lots of moviegoers thanks to a wide selection of new films. Six movies open or expand nationally on Friday making for what will be one of the most competitive weekends of the holiday season.

Adult audiences looking for a laugh can see Will Ferrell in a more mature role in "Stranger Than Fiction." The female vote will be split with daughters going for a scare with Sarah Michelle Gellar in "The Return" while their mothers can spend the evening with Russell Crowe in the romantic comedy "A Good Year." The action flick "Harsh Times" rounds out the menu of new releases targeting young men.

In addition, the cross-continent drama "Babel" expands across the country after two weeks of stellar results in limited release. Despite all the new opponents entering the field, reigning box office incumbent "Borat" will go fully national in an attempt to be re-elected for a second term as commander-in-chief. Rarely does a November weekend have so many new offerings. The fight for screens and moviegoer attention will be fierce. Not every film will survive so some casualties will be left behind on the battlefield by the end of the frame.

After battling Sacha Baron Cohen with race cars last summer in "Talladega Nights," Will Ferrell once again takes on the British comedian at the box office with "Stranger Than Fiction" which will try to stop the seemingly unstoppable "Borat" machine. In the PG-13 film, the funnyman plays an agent with the IRS who begins to hear a voice narrating his life and his every move. Emma Thompson provides the voice while Maggie Gyllenhaal, Dustin Hoffman, and Queen Latifah co-star. Directed by Marc Forster ("Finding Neverland," "Monster’s Ball"), "Stranger" takes an A-list comedian and puts him in a more mature and serious film that still has some comedic elements. That means that the 14-year-old boys who powered "Talladega Nights" to a $47M opening will take a pass this time around.

When Jim Carrey went arthouse, he saw "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" open to $8.2M with a $6,042 average and "Man on the Moon" bow to $7.5M with a $3,615 average. Adam Sandler‘s "Spanglish" debuted to $8.8M and a $3,617 average. It can often be a tough sell to take a comedian known mostly for mainstream comedies and put him into a more mature film, even if it still has laughs. "Stranger Than Fiction" might find it difficult to pull in teens and young adults, but mature adults will have interest. Reviews have been generally good and the concept makes the film stand out in the current marketplace. Competition for adults will come from both "Babel" and "A Good Year" while "Borat" will continue to steal away millions of moviegoers looking for a good laugh. Launching in 2,264 theaters, "Stranger Than Fiction" might open with roughly $16M.


Will Ferrell screaming at a bus in "Stranger Than Fiction."

Halloween may have passed but those in search of a scare, and were disappointed that "The Grudge 2" did not have Sarah Michelle Gellar in a full role, will have a chance to see their favorite vampire slayer in the new supernatural thriller "The Return." With a commercially friendly PG-13 rating, the spookfest finds Gellar playing a young businesswoman guided by mysterious forces to avenge her own death from a previous life. In the horror genre, Gellar is a bonafide star and can pull in teens and young adults. But with so many fright sequels cramming into theaters recently during the pre-pumpkin period, many genre fans might be all scared out by now. Luckily for "The Return," competition will not be too fierce as nothing else is exciting teenage girls at the moment. The marketing push has been decent, but in many ways it does not stand out as something special or unique that is worth seeing right away. Opening in 1,986 theaters, "The Return" might gross around $8M over the weekend.


Sarah Michelle Gellar, padding her horror credentials in "The Return."

Russell Crowe reteams with his "Gladiator" director Ridley Scott for a trip to a new genre (romantic comedy) in "A Good Year." The PG-13 film finds the former Maximus playing a financial guru who finds women and wine at a french vineyard he inherits. Talk about a tough sell. On paper, the Scott-Crowe combo is box office gold, only they chose to try out a type of film that will repel fans who spent $187.7M on the 2000 Best Picture Oscar winner. Plus the Fox release has no notable female star to boost its potential. Add to that the bad buzz that "Year" received at the Toronto Film Festival plus the mostly negative reviews from critics, and it surely will have its work cut out for it. Could this be "All the King’s Men" all over again?

"A Good Year" stands as that rare film which reunites an Oscar-caliber director with an Oscar-winning actor that earns bad reviews and lukewarm studio support. Crowe’s last film "Cinderella Man" bowed to $18.3M from 2,812 theaters for a $6,515 average in June of last year and was considered an underperformer. The actor’s latest picture lacks the Ron Howard film’s strong critical support, added starpower from Renee Zellweger, and sizable push from Universal. "A Good Year" should play mostly to adult female audiences as the male appeal is low. That makes "Babel" and "Stranger Than Fiction," which have better cross-gender appeal, direct competitors this weekend for mature couples. Opening in 2,066 theaters, "A Good Year" could find itself with about $8M this weekend and a rough road ahead.


Russell Crowe and Ridley Scott enter chick flick territory with "A Good Year."

Still in the top ten with "The Prestige," Christian Bale comes back for double duty in the new action thriller "Harsh Times" from MGM. The R-rated film from the writer of "Training Day" finds the Caped Crusader playing an ex-Army Ranger enlisting with the LAPD who still has ties into the crime world in South Central. "Harsh" will play to urban audiences and should skew male but will find the marketplace difficult to navigate with bigger titles like "Borat" and "Saw III" already doing strong business with that demo. Bale lacks the drawing power of Denzel Washington in his Oscar-winning role in "Training Day" so the grosses should not be in the same ballpark. A moderate national release in over 900 theaters will also limit the potential. "Harsh Times" will have to fight hard in order to crack the top ten and could finish the frame with around $3M.


Christian Bale as a psychopath in "Harsh Times."

Among holdovers, all eyes will be on "Borat" this weekend. Can the Kazakh superstar spend another weekend at number one? Following its robust $26.5M bow from 837 theaters, the Sacha Baron Cohen starrer has delivered solid midweek results grossing over $3M on both Monday and Tuesday. Now, Fox will expand the raunchy comedy on Friday by more than tripling the run to 2,565 theaters allowing everyone to have easy access to the most-talked-about film of the season. Word-of-mouth has been encouraging and "Borat" might even reach the Holy Grail of the box office – repeat business.

Last weekend’s potent average of $31,607 will certainly come crashing down since the film will be in more theaters and most of the hardcore fans have now already seen it. But the buzz is still hot and the Uzbekistan-hating TV journalist is now trying to crossover into new audience segments not initially sold on the concept last week. With the frame’s new films all a mixed bag without a surefire smash among them, "Borat" looks ready to retain its hold on the number one spot. A weekend gross of around $24M could result giving Fox a stellar $62M in only ten days.


"Kazakhstan is the greatest…"

Another cross-cultural film with a five-letter title starting with a B expanding over the weekend is "Babel" starring Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett. Paramount Vantage has attracted scorching results in limited release for two weeks and is now hoping that moviegoers nationwide are ready for the acclaimed drama. Last weekend, "Babel" popped into the Top 20 with a stellar $26,264 average from 35 locations. On Friday, the R-rated film expands to over 1,200 sites and should continue to play to an upscale adult audience.

"Babel" is likely to play to the same crowd that powered last December’s "Syriana" to a $11.7M bow from 1,752 theaters for a $6,699 average. That film had more theaters and a star, George Clooney, who is despised by many American moviegoers for his political beliefs. On the other hand, Pitt can cheat on his wife and father a baby with another woman, and the public still can’t get enough of him. That’s pure starpower. But "Babel" is not the type of commercial role that Pitt attracts large crowds to. Still, the average should be solid so given its level of distribution, "Babel" could gross about $10M this weekend.


Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett, looking rather disheveled in "Babel."

Disney and Paramount went head to head last weekend with competing kidpics and split the family vote in half pretty evenly. "Flushed Away" is getting better word-of-mouth and is offering audiences something new so its decline might be smaller than that of "The Santa Clause 3." Kid movies opening in early November typically have good legs and enjoy strong second weekend holds. Sophomore drops for recent films of the genre include 21% for last year’s "Chicken Little," 29% for 2004’s "The Incredibles," 15% for 2003’s "Elf," and 15% for 2002’s "The Santa Clause 2." This weekend, "Clause 3" might drop by 25% and "Flushed" could wash away 20% leaving each with a three-day tally in the neighborhood of $15M. That would push ten-day cumes to roughly $39M a piece for the Mouse House pic and the rat toon.

LAST YEAR: Disney’s poultry toon "Chicken Little" stayed at number one for a second weekend with an impressive $31.7M. Three new releases followed within a tight range. Sony’s big-budget kidpic "Zathura" bowed in second with $13.4M on its way to a disappointing $28.2M. Jennifer Aniston was close behind with her thriller "Derailed" which opened to $12.2M. The Weinstein Co. release went on to gross a moderate $36M. Paramount’s urban action pic "Get Rich or Die Tryin’" debuted in fourth place with a $12M weekend and $17.7M over five days. The 50 Cent starrer finished its run with $31M. Rounding out the top five was the military drama "Jarhead" which tumbled 58% to $11.7M. Premiering to sensational results was the period film "Pride & Prejudice" which grossed $2.9M from only 215 theaters for a sizzling $13,326 average. The Focus release went on to become an awards contender and took in $38.4M making it the top-grossing pic among the weekend’s new films.

Author: Gitesh Pandya, www.BoxOfficeGuru.com

This week at the movies, we’ve got pirates back for more box office bounty (“Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest“) and a journey to the center of the mind (“A Scanner Darkly“). What do the critics have to say?

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl” was a delightful left field surprise: a funny, rollicking, swashbuckling adventure (as well as the greatest film ever based on an amusement park ride). So what does director Gore Verbinski do for an encore? According to critics, more, more, more. And that’s not necessarily a good thing. In “Dead Man’s Chest,” Johnny Depp is back as the scoundrel Jack Sparrow, with Keira Knightley and Orlando Bloom along for the ride, this time aboard a craft containing the cephalopodan Davy Jones and his crew. The scribes say that while there are plenty of interesting effects and exciting set pieces, there’s just too much in this “Chest,” and it lacks the easygoing, organic charm of the original. At 55 percent on the Tomatometer, this “Pirates'” life may or may not be for you. And it’s well below the high watermark set by the original (at 79 percent).


“Dead Man’s Chest”: Rated ARRRGH!

The writings of Philip K. Dick have inspired a bunch of good-to-great movies (“Blade Runner,” “Total Recall,” “Minority Report“) and it’s easy to see why: Dick spun futuristic, Orwellian sci-fi tales that are chock full of paranoia and multilayered plot points. With “A Scanner Darkly,” Richard Linklater adapts Dick’s novel with the rotoscoping techniques he applied to “Waking Life.” The story involves a cop (Keanu Reeves) who is so far undercover in a drug investigation that it’s unclear he’ll ever find his way out. The critics say this one’s a visually arresting head trip, but some say it’s not quite as compelling as it wants to be. At 63 percent on the Tomatometer, this one may be worth a “Scan.”


“You’re sayin’ the FBI’s gonna pay me to learn to surf?”

Also in theaters, albeit in limited release: “Once in a Lifetime,” a documentary about the New York Cosmos soccer team of the 1970s, is at 90 percent on the Tomatometer, and “Heading South,” starring Charlotte Rampling, is at 62 percent.

Recent Johnny Depp Movies:
————————————
31% — The Libertine (2005)
83% — Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005)
83% — Corpse Bride (2005)
84% — Finding Neverland (2004)
47% — Secret Window (2004)

Recent Richard Linklater Movies:
—————————————-
47% — The Bad News Bears (2005)
94% — Before Sunset (2004)
90% — School of Rock (2003)
75% — Tape (2001)
79% — Waking Life (2001)

ComingSoon.net shares with us a press release from the workaholics over at Walden Media, and the newest news is this: Production has already begun on Walden & Disney’s "Bridge to Terabithia," a sprawling fantasy adventure inspired by the works of author Katherine Paterson. Flick’s got a pretty solid cast & crew lined up, too.

Bridge to Terabithia, the motion picture adaptation of Katherine Paterson’s Newbery Honor award winning best-selling novel, began principal photography on location in Auckland, New Zealand. The project is a co-production between Walden Media (The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, Because of Winn-Dixie) and The Walt Disney Studios. International sales and distribution will be handled by Summit Entertainment.

Josh Hutcherson (Zathura, The Polar Express) stars as Jess Aarons, an 11 year old boy whose efforts to be the fastest runner in his grade are thwarted by a new girl who outruns all the boys. AnnaSophia Robb (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) stars as Leslie Burke, the new girl who becomes friends with Jess despite their awkward introduction.

She ultimately opens up a world of imagination for Jess in the land of Terabithia that changes his life forever. "Bridge to Terabithia" also stars Zooey Deschanel (Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, Elf) as Miss Edmunds, the music teacher at Jess and Leslie’s school, and Robert Patrick (Walk the Line, Ladder 49, Terminator 2: Judgement Day) joins the cast as Jess Aarons’ father.

Together Jess and Leslie create the world of Terabithia, an imaginary kingdom filled with all manner of magical beings. While the real world of family and school may be filled with challenges, in Terabithia, Jess and Leslie rule as King and Queen.

Brimming with fantastical creatures, palaces and beautiful forests – the kingdom of Terabithia will be brought to life by the creative wizards at the Academy Award winning visual effects facility Weta Digital in Wellington, New Zealand. Weta Digital is responsible for effects in the Academy Award winning "Lord of the Rings" films and King Kong and is co-owned by a team of Academy Award winners including director Peter Jackson, effects specialist Richard Taylor and editor Jamie Selkirk.

The film marks the big screen directorial debut of famed Academy Award nominee and Emmy-Award winning animator Gabor Csupo (Rugrats in Paris, The Wild Thornberrys Movie). Former Production President of Universal Pictures Hal Lieberman (Around the World in 80 Days, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines) produces with Lauren Levine (I am David), and the author’s son David Paterson (Love Ludlow), who wrote the screenplay, based on the novel by Katherine Paterson, with revisions by Jeff Stockwell and Kevin Wade.

The talented team of filmmakers includes two-time Oscar-nominated cinematographer Michael Chapman (Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, The Fugitive), Production Designer Robert Gillies (The World’s Fastest Indian, Boogeyman), Costume Designer Barbara Darragh (River Queen, The Frighteners) and film editor John Gilbert ("The Fellowship of the Ring").
Katherine Paterson’s Bridge to Terabithia is a timeless classic from one of the world’s most renowned children’s book authors.

Ms Paterson is the author of 14 novels, numerous non-fiction and essays for children and young people including Bridge to Terabithia and Jacob Have I Loved, both winners of the prestigious Newbery Medal in 1978 and 1981. Her novels have sold over 5 million copies since 1978 and are published in over two dozen languages worldwide.

Bridge to Terabithia will film on location in West Auckland, New Zealand including the rural forest areas of Riverhead and Puhoi. The company will film for 10 weeks and production will conclude in early April 2006, with Walt Disney Pictures planning an early 2007 release.

From Cannes, The Hollywood Reporter brings news of an upcoming ensemble comedy that sounds pretty enticing: Kathy Bates ("Misery"), Malcolm McDowell ("A Clockwork Orange"), and Jennifer Jason Leigh ("The Machinist") will be starring in Mary McGuckian‘s "Funny Farm."

Described as an edgy, black comedy "set in a celebrity drug and alcohol rehab clinic," the film will also star Ian Hart ("Finding Neverland"), Rupert Graves ("Extreme Ops"), and Lucy Davis ("Shaun of the Dead"). "Funny Farm" is meant to be a follow-up to McGuckian‘s "Rag Tale," which is currently winning some fans at Cannes.

There may not be any aliens in “Hitch,” but that doesn’t stop Will Smith from scoring a record-breaking $45.3M this Valentines weekend. If estimates hold, this would make “Hitch” the biggest Valentines weekend opener of all time, besting “Daredevil”’s $40.3M in 2003 and “50 First Dates”’s $39.9M in 2004. It’s also the 3rd highest February opener of all time between “Hannibal”’s $58M and “Daredevil”’s $40.3M.

It’s good to finally have a Fresh movie atop the box office for the new year. “Hitch” scored a solid 72% on the Tomatometer. Despite its predictability, Will Smith and Kevin James win praise for their solid, warmhearted performances. “Hitch” also stars Eva Mendes (2 Fast 2 Furious).

This weekend’s other wide release debut, “Pooh’s Heffalump Movie,” grossed an estimated $6M this weekend. That equals “Piglet’s Big Movie,” but is behind “The Tigger Movie”’s $9.4M. “Pooh’s Heffalump Movie” placed 5th. It scored well with critics, receiving a 76% on the Tomatometer. Critics thought it’s a charming and delightful walk through the Hundred Acres Woods for young viewers.

Last week’s chart topper, “Boogeyman,” fell to 2nd place with an estimated $10.8M. Its total after two weeks is $33.3M. It experienced a respectable 43% drop-off from the previous weekend. For a horror film, that’s actually not bad.

Are We There Yet” continues to hold steady with an estimated $8.5M, good enough for 3rd. Its total after four weeks is $61M.

Million Dollar Baby” and other Oscar contenders – “Sideways,” “The Aviator,” “Finding Neverland,” and “Hotel Rwanda” – also continue to hold up well too. “Million Dollar Baby” grossed an estimated $7.6M and placed 4th. It’s total after nine weeks of release is $45M.

Last weekend’s 2nd place finisher “The Wedding Date” dropped to 6th this weekend because of direct competition from “Hitch.” Of the films in the top 10, it experienced the steepest drop-off with 50%. It grossed an estimated $5.6M this weekend for a total of $19.5M after two weeks of release.

Rounding out the rest of the top 10 are “Hide and Seek” with $5.5M ($43.6M total), “Sideways” with $4.8M ($53M total), “The Aviator” with $4.6M ($82.2M total), and “Meet the Fockers” with $3.4M ($270M total).

It’s that time of year again, the moment when the Academy gives its choices for cinematic honors. The 77th Academy Awards were announced, and naturally there will be speculation and endless discussion about the nominees and those left off the ballot.

The nominees for Best Picture are "The Aviator," "Finding Neverland," "Million Dollar Baby," "Ray," and "Sideways." For Best Actress, the list is Annette Bening for "Being Julia," Catalina Sandino Moreno for "Maria Full of Grace," Imelda Staunton for "Vera Drake," Hilary Swank for "Million Dollar Baby," and Kate Winslet for "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind." Up for Best Actor are Don Cheadle for "Hotel Rwanda," Johnny Depp for "Finding Neverland," Clint Eastwood for "Million Dollar Baby," Leonardo DiCaprio for "The Aviator," and Jamie Foxx for "Ray." The show is scheduled for Feb. 27.

See the complete list.

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