Pedro Almodovar is a firm favourite in Cannes, so it’s no surprise to see his new film Broken Embraces receiving largely positive reviews from the assembled critics. The director’s first foray into film noir territory since Bad Education half a decade ago, the movie stars long-time collaborator Penelope Cruz as a beautiful actress who owes her career to her elderly millionaire lover, and Screen Daily’s Barry Byrne calls it “a sleek post-Oscar vehicle” for the star.

Byrne also writes that it will satisfy admirers of the director’s work. “Fans of Almodovar will get plenty of what they expect here – rich saturated colours, hyper plotting, stylistic pyrotechnics and off-centre comedy.”

Peter Bradshaw, of The Guardian, echoes this sentiment, declaring it to be “a richly enjoyable piece of work, slick and sleek, with a sensuous feel for the cinematic surfaces of things and, as ever, self-reflexively infatuated with the business of cinema itself.” However, he also adds “It doesn’t quite match the heartfelt power of his 2006 Cannes contender, Volver.”

It’s a criticism shared by David Gritten in the Daily Telegraph, who agrees that Almodovar, “remains a distinctive stylist and a dazzling film-maker with technique to burn,” but adds that, “while his new film parades his many virtues, it treads water rather than breaks new ground.”

Cannes 2009
Penelope Cruz in Almodovar’s Broken Embraces

Emanuel Levy summarises this opinion. “Stylistically compelling but thematically familiar, Almodovar’s 17th film is a summation work in which he reworks ideas, characters and genres that had intrigued him for three decades.”

Wendy Ide of The Times was even more critical, stating that Broken Embraces “feels like a mixed bag of smart ideas and nods to other pictures, rather than a coherent, distinct work of art.”

After 8 reviews counted, the film sits at 86% on the Tomatometer, with the general consensus swaying towards cautious optimism if not outright praise.

Jim Carrey caused quite the stir when he arrived on the Croisette to publicise A Christmas Carol on Monday, but today all the talk was of his performance in the forthcoming tragic-comedy I Love You Phillip Morris, co-starring Ewan McGregor.

Based on a remarkable true story, the film tells the tale of Stephen Russell, whose love for the titular Phillip Morris — a man he meets in jail — causes him to commit a series of increasingly outlandish crimes.

Cannes 2009
Ewan McGregor and Jim Carrey in I Love You Phillip Morris

Writing for Variety, John Anderson called it Carrey’s “most complicated comedic role since The Cable Guy and calls his character “so criminal and gay it will leave audiences both laughing and stunned.”

Damon Wise for The Times agrees. It’s a “funny, sometimes tender and ultimately unsettling black comedy,” he says. “These directors know what they’re doing. Just when you think you have this sweet but seemingly lightweight movie figured out, it ends with a sucker punch that forces you to re-evaluate everything.”

The film is 4 for 4 fresh on the Tomatometer, but with only a limited number of reviews coming out of Cannes and, earlier, Sundance. This looks like a film which could sneak up on audiences when it does roll out for release — we’ve witnessed buzz developing on it over two years at the Cannes festival now.

Join us again soon when, finally, Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds plays for the Cannes crowd and we find out whether the expedited shoot, leaked script and lots of hype has resulted in a whopping 2 hours and 40 minutes of cinematic pleasure or pain.

Cannes 2009

The Cannes Film Festival will screen nearly 100 films as part of its Official Selection and associated sidebars when it kicks off next week in the Southern France town. The festival runs from 13-24th May and there are plenty of exciting new movies to keep an eye out for as they premiere on Cannes’ infamous Croisette. To save you the hassle of having to research the whole programme, RT has helpfully chosen ten films we’re most excited to see. Join us as we take a journey through the Cannes Film Festival 2009, kicking off with our daily coverage on Wednesday.

Cannes 2009

Up – Early reaction to Pixar’s 10th film has us wondering if everyone’s favourite animation studio might have pulled another masterpiece out of its bag. Carl Fredricksen is an old man who ties thousands of balloons to his home so he can take a trip into the wilds of South America. It’s not long before he discovers Russell, an 8-year-old wilderness explorer, has tagged along for the ride. Cannes has a history celebrating animation – as recently as last year Kung Fu Panda took a spot in the official selection – but Up will become the first 3D feature to play as part of the festival.

Cannes 2009

Broken EmbracesPedro Almodovar‘s first feature since 2006’s Volver sees him reteam with muse Penelope Cruz. Here, Almodóvar delves into noir style to tell a tale of a man (Lluis Homar) with dual identities who tries to compartmentalize his life after he loses his love (Cruz) and his sight in a car crash.

Cannes 2009

Taking WoodstockAng Lee is always a director whose work is worth a look and whose career has a rare diversity that ensures he scarcely repeats himself. Taking Woodstock stars Emile Hirsch, Liev Schreiber and Imelda Staunton and covers the beginnings of the infamous 1969 Woodstock Festival.

Cannes 2009

Looking for Eric – Director Ken Loach won the Palme d’Or in 2006 for The Wind That Shakes the Barley and he returns to Cannes to premiere his new film about Eric, a Manchester resident whose life may be falling apart around him even as his love for football endures. Featuring a cameo from Manchester United soccer legend, Eric Cantona, early indications put this amongst the shortlist of favourites for the coveted Palme d’Or this year.

Cannes 2009

ThirstPark Chan-wook‘s previous films include Oldboy and Lady Vengeance, and Thirst promises to be just as excitingly original as the rest of his resume, with a new twist on vampirism. The film tells the tale of a priest who goes to Africa to volunteer as a test subject for a new vaccine and, when the experiment goes wrong, he’s killed and brought back to life as a vampire.

Cannes 2009

Inglourious BasterdsQuentin Tarantino‘s latest will unquestionably be the biggest event of the festival, and Tarantino’s history at Cannes will no doubt ensure a pretty lively party will welcome the premiere. Whether Tarantino’s wonderfully historically-inaccurate twist on life in Occupied France during WW2 will go down with the critics remains to be seen, but the film’s tale of a group of ultraviolent soldiers on the hunt for Nazi scalps will no doubt entertain audiences when it releases in August.

Cannes 2009

Antichrist – You can accuse Lars von Trier (Dogville) of plenty, but he’s certainly not guilty of subtlety. Traditionally controversial and suitably experimental, only two actors, Charlotte Gainsbourg and Willem Dafoe, star in this supernatural thriller. They play a couple who attempt to grieve for their dead child by living in seclusion in the middle of a forest where they encounter pure evil.

Cannes 2009

Tetro – Tucked away in festival sidebar Director’s Fortnight – director Francis Ford Coppola turned down an Out of Competition slot in the main selection – Tetro stars Vincent Gallo in a tale deeply personal to Coppola. After a cool reaction to his last directorial effort, Youth Without Youth, all eyes are on this film to see if Coppola still has the talent that brought us films like The Godfather and Apocalypse Now.

Cannes 2009

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus – As troubled as Terry Gilliam productions come, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus lost its main star halfway through filming when Heath Ledger died, but managed to come together with the help of Johnny Depp, Colin Farrell and Jude Law who all took on elements of Ledger’s role. Unquestionably one of the most anticipated screenings of the festival.

Cannes 2009

Drag Me to Hell – Colour us excited for Sam Raimi’s return to horror. Alison Lohman stars as a loan offer whose desire for promotion prompts her to decline a risky mortgage extension to a strange woman who puts a curse on her. How far will she go to break the curse? Typically scary and hilarious at turns, Drag Me To Hell gets a special late night screening at Cannes.

The Cannes Film Festival 2009 starts on Wednesday 13th May. Stay tuned to RT for more as the festival starts.

Known as a big predictor of what’ll go down Oscar night, the Screen Actors Guild Awards ceremony took place last Sunday to a rapturous Hollywood crowd without a hitch (or surprises or upsets). Check out the full winners list below, along with analysis on how the SAG results affect the Oscar nominees’ chances.

The SAG Awards frequently mirror Oscar nominations and wins. And this year, they’re more similar than in recent memory. Of the 25 Acting and Best Picture nominations, the SAG and Oscar disagree only twice: the SAG reserved a Supporting Actor nom spot for Leonardo DiCaprio, while the Academy has eyes for Mark Wahlberg (both for "The Departed"). And in the Best Picture category, the SAG had "Bobby" whereas the Oscars have "Letters from Iwo Jima."

"There appears to be a developing unanimity about the year’s best actors," writes Hollywood Reporter’s Gregg Kilday. Indeed, who doubted that Forest Whitaker (Male Actor winner for "The Last King of Scotland"), Jennifer Hudson (the Supporting Female Actor winner for "Dreamgirls"), or Helen Mirren (Outstanding Female Actor for "The Queen") wouldn’t be going home empty-handed? They’ve dominated all the other awards shows prior to the SAG Awards.


"The Queen": Helen Mirren phones it in.

However, it’s hard to say that "Dreamgirls‘" Eddie Murphy, who took home the Outstanding Supporting Male Actor award, is guaranteed the same Oscar reward. According to OscarWatch, every actor nominated for the Supporting Actor Oscar have won roughly the same number of awards as he has.

The same can be said for the Best Picture Oscar. "Little Miss Sunshine" won Best Ensemble Acting (the SAG’s Best Picture equivalent), but the other Best Picture Oscar nominees have just about the same number of accolades. And "Little Miss Sunshine’s" directors snub from the Academy can be another problem. Risky Biz Blog points out that only twice has a Best Picture winner not also have its director(s) nominated (1932’s "Grand Hotel" and 1989’s "Driving Miss Daisy").


Eddie Murphy is SAGacious in "Dreamgirls."

Kilday also notes that "no one film has dominated the best picture race this awards season." Oscar nominess "The Departed," "Babel," "Little Miss Sunshine," and "The Queen" have all been accumulating accolades at about the same rate. "Letters From Iwo Jima", however, lags far behind.


The cast surveys the scene in "Little Miss Sunshine."

And in the case of "Little Miss Sunshine," it can also be said that comedies almost never win the Best Picture. Then again, stranger things have happened. Remember when a neurotic little dude single-handedly took down the Death Star?

Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture

"Babel"
"Bobby"
"The Departed"
"The Queen"

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role

Leonardo DiCaprio for "Blood Diamond"
Ryan Gosling for "Half-Nelson"
Peter O’Toole for "Venus"
Will Smith for "Pursuit of Happyness"

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role

Penelope Cruz for "Volver"
Judi Dench for "Notes on a Scandal"
Meryl Streep for "The Devil Wears Prada"
Kate Winslet for "Little Children"

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role

Alan Arkin for "Little Miss Sunshine"
Leonardo DiCaprio for "The Departed"
Jackie Earle Haley for "Little Children"
Djimon Hounsou for "Blood Diamond"

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role

Adriana Barraza for "Babel"
Cate Blanchett for "Notes on a Scandal"
Abigail Breslin for "Little Miss Sunshine"
Rinko Kikuchi for "Babel"

Proving that there’s always money in spoof comedies, Fox’s "Epic Movie" shot straight to number one over the weekend in its debut frame beating out three other new releases plus a handful of expanding Academy Award contenders. In fact, the immature laugher outgrossed all five Oscar nominees for best picture combined.

The crime drama "Smokin’ Aces" and the Jennifer Garner dramedy "Catch and Release" both enjoyed good results in their opening weekends, however the new horror flick "Blood and Chocolate" failed to even make the top ten. Most holdovers remained strong as the overall marketplace bounced back from last weekend’s dismal results.

Matching the numbers it posted a year ago with "Date Movie," Fox struck again with "Epic Movie" which topped the charts with an estimated $19.2M from 2,801 theaters. The PG-13 film lampooned several recent box office action hits and averaged a solid $6,855 per site. "Date Movie" skewered numerous romantic comedies and bowed to a similar $19.1M last February over the three-day portion of the Presidents’ Day holiday weekend. Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer, whose writing credits include "Date Movie," "Spy Hard," and the entire "Scary Movie" series, wrote and directed "Epic." Teenagers made up a large portion of the audience and both genders were well-represented. Critics who did bother to review it trashed the film.


"Epic Movie": 0 percent Tomatometer, $19 million opening

Opening in second place with impressive results and similar per-theater success was Universal’s mob thriller "Smokin’ Aces" with an estimated $14.3M from 2,218 locations. Averaging a commendable $6,430 per site, the frame’s only new R-rated pic connected with young men as its primary audience. According to studio research, 59% of the audience was male and 57% was 25 or older. "Smokin’" stars Jeremy Piven, Andy Garcia, and Alicia Keys and cost less than $20M to produce which should make it a profitable venture when all worldwide rights are exploited. The film also opened at number one in Russia this weekend with $1.7M and has grossed an additional $5.3M from the United Kingdom after its third weekend.


Alicia Keys, in her big-screen debut

The unstoppable blockbuster comedy "Night at the Museum" enjoyed yet another small decline sliding only 21% in its sixth weekend to an estimated $9.5M. The Ben StillerRobin Williams smash has pumped its cume up to $216.7M and will soon join the top 50 domestic blockbusters of all-time.

Jennifer Garner generated respectable results for her latest film "Catch and Release" which was not given a very wide release, but still sold an estimated $8M in ticket stubs. Averaging a solid $4,932 from 1,622 playdates, the PG-13 film about a woman rebuilding her life after her husband’s death played heavily female. According to Sony’s research, an overwhelming 75% of the crowd consisted of women and 58% was 25 or older. "Catch" cost $25M to produce and opened smaller than her previous headlining efforts "13 Going on 30" ($21.1M in 2004) and "Elektra" ($12.8M in 2005). Reviews were mostly negative.


"Catch and Release": At 22 percent, it’s better than "Elektra"

Sony’s "Stomp the Yard," 2007’s top-grossing new release, slipped only 37% and took fifth with an estimated $7.8M. Total stands at an impressive $50.7M.

A quartet of Oscar-nominated films followed. Paramount’s musical "Dreamgirls," which led all films with eight Academy Award nominations, expanded from 2,214 to 2,785 sites and grossed an estimated $6.6M. That represented a slim 17% drop in sales from last weekend but a steeper 34% fall in the per-theater average which was $2,376. Cume to date is $86.7M. Despite not earning a best picture nomination, "Dreamgirls" is still holding up well and posting relatively low declines.


"And You, And You, And You…You’re Gonna Snub Me"

Also showing durability was Will Smith‘s "The Pursuit of Happyness" which earned the box office star an Academy nod for best actor. The Sony blockbuster dipped only 21% to an estimated $5M pushing its sum to $152.9M. "Pursuit" did not have any expansion, but instead lost 378 theaters and still witnessed a decline similar to that of "Dreamgirls" which scored many more Oscar nominations and added hundreds of playdates to its run.

The fantasy tale "Pan’s Labyrinth" widened from 609 to 823 sites and grossed an estimated $4.5M equaling its gross from last weekend. Nominated in six different categories, the Mexican film saw its per-theater average dip 26% from last weekend to a still-solid $5,474. Total is $16.3M for the Picturehouse release.

"The Queen" saw a healthy bump in sales and ranked ninth for the weekend with an estimated $4M, up 18%, for a $41.2M sum to date. Miramax added 244 additional venues and saw its average inch up 2% to $2,186.

Rounding out the top ten was a film that has approximately zero chance of earning any Academy Award nominations a year from now. The horror film "The Hitcher" tumbled 54% in its second weekend to an estimated $3.6M giving Focus only $13.4M to date. A $16-18M final seems likely.

Opening poorly outside of the top ten was yet another horror film, the werewolf thriller "Blood and Chocolate," which bowed to only $2.1M according to estimates. The PG-13 film attacked 1,200 theaters and averaged a weak $1,753 per venue for MGM.

With last Tuesday’s Academy Award nominations putting several films into the media spotlight, distributors took the opportunity to expand their contenders and saw increased weekend grosses, even though averages were mostly not very impressive. Best picture candidate "The Departed," which was near the end of its theatrical run after opening in early October, went back into national release and grossed an estimated $3M. Averaging $2,096 per site in 1,453 locations, the Martin Scorsese crime saga upped its cume to $124.9M. Its best picture rival "Babel" widened to 1,090 playdates and grossed an estimated $2.6M for a $2,368 average. Sales were up 25% from last weekend while the average inched up 2% with the total reaching $27.2M.

Clint Eastwood‘s "Letters From Iwo Jima," which has been holding back much of its release in anticipation of Oscar nods, added 55 theaters to its run and surged 26% to an estimated $1.7M. The Warner Bros. release averaged a decent but not spectacular $4,120 from 415 locations. The average increased a healthy 9% from last weekend and the subtitled film has collected $4.9M to date as "Letters" remained the lowest-grossing best picture nominee by far. But much potential could still be ahead of it.

Among films with high profile acting nominations, Fox Searchlight’s "Notes on a Scandal" more than tripled its run to 640 theaters and grossed an estimated $2.5M as the weekend take doubled. The Judi DenchCate Blanchett pic averaged $3,978 per playdate and has taken in $9M thus far. The distributor’s Forest Whitaker drama "The Last King of Scotland" remained mostly steady with its theater count and saw its gross inch up 3% to an estimated $1.7M for a $7.7M total. Sony Classics more than quadrupled the run of Penelope Cruz‘s "Volver" and took in an estimated $1.2M from 689 sites. The average was diluted down to just $1,671 as the total climbed to $8.9M.

The industry often looks at a film’s box office boost on the weekend after Academy Award nominations are announced to determine how much gold an Oscar nod is worth. But what is often overlooked is the additional marketing and distribution expense that is invested by a distributor to create new marketing materials, buy more advertising, and ship extra prints out across the country. Expanding these films in a crowded marketplace is not cheap, but studios do believe that there are long-term benefits to be gained by the added attention like extra momentum in overseas and video markets, plus possibly some added votes from Academy members. In addition, it is difficult to separate the sales that are due directly to the Oscar attention from those that would have occured anyway even if no nominations came through.

Three films dropped out of the top ten over the weekend. Paramount’s high school drama "Freedom Writers" dipped 33% to an estimated $3.5M in its fourth session. The Hilary Swank pic has grossed a respectable $31.3M to date and should finish with about $36-38M. The MGM family release "Arthur and the Invisibles" dropped 46% to an estimated $1.7M for a $11.5M cume. A disappointing $14M final seems likely.

Universal’s futuristic drama "Children of Men" scored three Oscar nominations, but it meant little to its ticket sales. The R-rated drama fell 46% to an estimated $2M lifting the sum to $30.7M. The Alfonso Cuaron-directed film should conclude with around $35M.

The top ten films grossed an estimated $82.4M which was down 12% from last year when "Big Momma’s House 2" opened at number one with $27.7M; and down 16% from 2005 when "Hide and Seek" debuted on top with $22M.

Author: Gitesh Pandya, www.BoxOfficeGuru.com

Sound the alarms! Tonight’s telecast (8pm EST) of the 64th Annual Golden Globes Awards signaled the real start of Oscar mania, so check out our list of winners…and weigh in with your own two cents on who won, who should’ve won, and who definitely should not have worn what. RESULTS IN NOW!!

Royal thesps Helen Mirren and Forest Whitaker took home Best Actor nods (for "The Queen" and "The Last King of Scotland," respectively) as expected, and "Dreamgirls" re-cemented its still-potent Oscar power with three wins (Jennifer Hudson for Best Supporting Actress, Eddie Murphy for Best Supporting Actor, and "Dreamgirls" for Best Picture – Comedy/Musical).

"The Departed" director Martin Scorsese capitalized on his recent Awards Season favor by nabbing Best Director, while fellow nominee Clint Eastwood collected a Globe for Best Foreign Film (the Japanese-language "Letters From Iwo Jima").

"The Queen" also won for Best Screenplay, written by Peter Morgan; limited release period flick "The Painted Veil" threw its name into the public eye by winning the award for Best Score.

Sacha Baron Cohen‘s Best Comedy Actor win for "Borat" was one of the night’s highlights, with an acceptance speech that gave new meaning to the term "Golden Globes."

The show’s capper — presented by the Governator himself, Arnold Schwarzenegger (he used to be in the movies, right?) — awarded the Best Drama trophy to surprise pick "Babel," instantly renewing that film’s chances come Oscar time.

Find out who else won the hearts of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association Monday night [scroll down for full list of winners and nominees]…

And check out Rotten Tomatoes’ Awards Tour for winners and nominees of this season’s other film awards and critics’ group picks (plus our handy-dandy Buzz chart combining Tomatometer, Awards Won, and Box Office numbers into an Oscar guide for you prognosticators)!

And the nominees for the 64th Annual Golden Globes Awards are (Winners in bold):

Best Original Song

44% Bobby
80% Dreamgirls
76% Happy Feet
23% Home of the Brave
66% Pursuit of Happyness

Best Supporting Actress, Drama



Adriana Barraza for Babel
Cate Blanchett for Notes on a Scandal
Emily Blunt for Devil Wears Prada
Jennifer Hudson for Dreamgirls
Rinko Kikuchi for Babel

Best Animated Film



76% Cars
76% Happy Feet
74% Monster House



Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy

Annette Bening for Running with Scissors
Toni Collette for Little Miss Sunshine
Beyonce Knowles for Dreamgirls
Meryl Streep for Devil Wears Prada
Renée Zellweger for Miss Potter

Best Supporting Actor, Drama

Ben Affleck for Hollywoodland
Eddie Murphy for Dreamgirls
Jack Nicholson for Departed
Brad Pitt for Babel
Mark Wahlberg for Departed



Best Screenplay

Todd Field, and Tom Perrotta for Little Children
Guillermo Arriaga Jordan for Babel
Patrick Marber for Notes on a Scandal
William Monahan for Departed
Peter Morgan for The Queen

Best Foreign Language Film



Best Original Score

Alexandre Desplat for The Painted Veil
Clint Mansell for The Fountain
Gustavo Santaolalla for Babel
Carlo Siliotto for Nomad
Hans Zimmer for The Da Vinci Code



Best Director

Clint Eastwood for Flags of Our Fathers
Clint Eastwood for Letters From Iwo Jima
Stephen Frears for Queen
Alejandro González Iñárritu for Babel
Martin Scorsese for Departed

Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy

Sacha Baron Cohen for Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan
Johnny Depp for Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest
Aaron Eckhart for Thank You For Smoking
Chjwetel Ejiofor for Kinky Boots
Will Ferrell for Stranger Than Fiction

Best Motion Picture, Musical/Comedy

91% Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan
76% Devil Wears Prada
80% Dreamgirls
92% Little Miss Sunshine
86% Thank You For Smoking

Best Actress in a Drama

Penélope Cruz for Volver
Judi Dench for Notes on a Scandal
Maggie Gyllenhaal for Sherrybaby
Helen Mirren for The Queen
Kate Winslet for Little Children

Best Actor in a Drama

Leonardo DiCaprio for Blood Diamond
Leonardo DiCaprio for Departed
Peter O’Toole for Venus
Will Smith for Pursuit of Happyness
Forest Whitaker for The Last King of Scotland

Best Motion Picture, Drama

70% Babel
44% Bobby
93% Departed
82% Little Children
98% Queen

Best Television Series – Drama

"24"
"Big Love"
"Grey’s Anatomy"
"Heroes"
"Lost"

Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series – Drama

Patricia Arquette for "Medium"
Edie Falco for "The Sopranos"
Evangeline Lilly for "Lost"
Ellen Pompeo for "Grey’s Anatomy"
Kyra Sedgwick for "The Closer"

Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Series – Drama

Patrick Dempsey for "Grey’s Anatomy"
Michael C. Hall for "Dexter"
Hugh Laurie for "House"
Bill Paxton for "Big Love"
Kiefer Sutherland for "24"

Best Television Series – Musical or Comedy

"Desperate Housewives"
"Entourage"
"The Office"
"Ugly Betty"
"Weeds"

Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series – Musical or Comedy

Marcia Cross for "Desperate Housewives"
America Ferrera for "Ugly Betty"
Felicity Huffman for "Desperate Housewives"
Julia Louis-Dreyfus for "The New Adventures Of Old Christine"
Mary-Louise Parker for "Weeds"

Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Series – Musical or Comedy

Alec Baldwin for "30 Rock"
Zach Braff for "Scrubs"
Steve Carell for "The Office"
Jason Lee for "My Name Is Earl"
Tony Shalhoub for "Monk"

Best Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for Television

"Bleak House" (PBS)
"Broken Trail" (AMC)
"Elizabeth I" (HBO)
"Mrs. Harris" (HBO)
"Prime Suspect: The Final Act" (PBS)

Best Performance By An Actress in a Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for Television

Gillian Anderson for "Bleak House"
Annette Bening for "Mrs. Harris"
Helen Mirren for "Elizabeth I"
Helen Mirren for "Prime Suspect: The Final Act"
Sophie Okonedo for "Tsunami, The Aftermath"

Best Performance By An Actor in a Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for Television

André Braugher for "Thief"
Robert Duvall for "Broken Trail"
Michael Ealy for "Sleeper Cell: American Terror"
Chiwetel Ejiofor for "Tsunami, The Aftermath"
Ben Kingsley for "Mrs. Harris"
Bill Nighy for "Gideon’s Daughter"
Matthew Perry for "The Ron Clark Story"

Best Performance By An Actress in a Supporting Role in a Series, Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for Television

Emily Blunt for "Gideon’s Daughter"
Toni Collette for "Tsunami, The Aftermath"
Katherine Heigl for "Grey’s Anatomy"
Sarah Paulson for "Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip"
Elizabeth Perkins for "Weeds"

Best Performance By An Actor in a Supporting Role in a Series, Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for Television

Thomas Haden Church for "Broken Trail"
Jeremy Irons for "Elizabeth I"
Justin Kirk for "Weeds"
Masi Oka for "Heroes"
Jeremy Piven for "Entourage"

How well do you know the top movie stories of 2006? If you’re feeling particularly movie-smart (or lucky), then Guardian Unlimited has a pretty slick movie quiz for you … and it’s a little harder than I expected.

But I still scored a 26, which (considering some of the odd questions) I’m pretty happy with. Click here to take the test for yourself.

And then come back and tell us (honestly!) how you did. I bet we all got stumped on #24.

Much has been made lately of singer-songwriter Bob Dylan‘s demands to screen the Weinstein Co.’s upcoming Oscar hopeful, but it’s only the latest in a growing trend of troubling rumors surrounding the Edie Sedgwick biopic.

"Factory Girl" has been buzzed about as Sienna Miller‘s big break, the role that could send the British actress from "Layer Cake" eye-candy to breakout star. Distributor Weinstein Co. even pushed the flick towards a last-minute December 29 release to qualify for awards season; months ago, Hollywood Elsewhere‘s Jeffrey Wells rough cut rave hailed it as a contender (and suggested there’s Oscar potential in both Miller’s star turn and co-star Guy Pearce‘s portrayal of Andy Warhol).


Miller as Sedgwick in "Factory Girl"

The film, directed by documentarian George Hickenlooper ("Hearts of Darkness," "Mayor of the Sunset Strip"), chronicles the up-down trajectory of Warhol celebutante Sedgwick, the pixie-headed model-actress who was briefly a member of the Factory in the 1960s, dated Bob Dylan, and died of a drug overdose in 1971. Miller herself is a dead-on doppelganger for Sedgwick and stars alongside Pearce, Hayden Christensen, Ileana Douglas, Mary-Kate Olsen, Jimmy Fallon, Mena Suvari, and various members of Weezer.

It’s Christensen’s character, "Billy Quinn," that has drawn the ire of Dylan and his lawyers; though the name is different, the character bears enough resemblance to the folk legend and implies that their break-up inadvertently led to Sedgwick’s demise. From the LA Times: "[The character] has Dylan’s mannerisms and sports a checked scarf like the one Dylan sports on the cover of his classic "Blonde on Blonde" album — on which, legend has it, Sedgwick inspired two songs, "Just Like a Woman" and "Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat."


Sedgwick (Miller) with Andy Warhol (Pearce)

Consequently, Dylan is demanding the film’s release and all early screenings be cancelled until he can view it and give his approval — or else producers Bob Yari and Holly Wiersma will be sued for defamation. (Coincidentally, Yari is the guy who was embroiled in a lawsuit around this time last year over snubbed producing credits for "Crash" and is currently in a public sparring match with Warner Bros. over what he considers a flawed Oscar campaign for his upcoming film, "The Painted Veil.")

Add that to recent rumors of Weinstein-mandated re-shoots and "Girl" champions might have cause to worry about the flick (and it’s stars’) chances come February. And then there’s the message board shouting match over at Cinematical about the Hickenlooper film, a failed competing Edie Sedgwick project, and a quite entertaining, if hard to follow, ensuing war of words from supporters of both camps (scroll down to the comments, it’s worth it!).

Elsewhere in Indie News

Sharon Stone To Play Jimmy Fallon’s MILF in Indie Pic


Stone in last year’s "Broken Flowers"

Jimmy Fallon and Sharon Stone are teaming up for the indie drama "Eliot Rockett." The film, which will begin shooting in February, tells the story of a workaholic/commitment-phobe man returning to his hometown due to a family illness; a reunion with his mother (Stone) rekindles his feelings of dysfunction. "Eliot Rockett" marks the directorial debut of co-screenwriter Patrick Sisam.

Lionsgate to Show Crowe’s "Tenderness"


Crowe earning his Golden Globe in "A Beautiful Mind"

The Russell Crowe-starrer "Tenderness" has been picked up by Lionsgate. The indie drama, which also features the talents of Laura Dern, Jon Foster, and Sophie Traub, tells the story of a cop on the trail of a serial killer, who’s become a bit too friendly with a local girl. The film is currently in post-production, and will likely hit theaters in late 2007.

Judge Unleashes "Alpha Dog"


"Alpha Dog": Coming to theaters before going to trial

It’s finally a go for teen crime flick "Alpha Dog," the Nick Cassavetes-helmed biopic based on the life of a young drug lord known as Jesse James Hollywood that premiered at Sundance nearly a year ago. Thanks to a federal judge’s ruling, Universal can release the film as planned this January; Hollywood’s defense attorney still maintains that releasing the flick will infringe upon his client’s right to a fair trial (to take place next year) and will continue to seek legal restraints.

The pic, starring Emile Hirsch, Justin Timberlake, Sharon Stone, Bruce Willis, and a lot more young Hollywood thesps, details the kidnapping and murder of a young man allegedly orchestrated by Hollywood, who consequently became the youngest person on the FBI’s most wanted list. The wealthy, fast-living criminal fled to Brazil, where he was apprehended in 2005.

Tomatometers for Last Week’s Limited Releases


Sarah Polley in Isabel Coixet’s "The Secret Life of Words"

Also playing this week in limited release: "The Secret Life of Words," starring Tim Robbins and Sarah Polley in a tale of high drama on an oil rig, is at 76 percent with 25 reviews; "Automatons," a zero-budget dystopian sci-fi flick, is at 67 percent with 6 reviews; "Breaking and Entering," a story of the tangled webs weaved after a burglary starring Jude Law and Juliette Binoche, is at 50 percent with 36 reviews; "The Good German," Steven Soderbergh‘s "Casablanca"-esque drama set in post-WWII Berlin starring George Clooney and Cate Blanchett, is at 33 percent with 70 reviews; and "Home of the Brave," about the trials of vets returning home from Iraq starring Samuel L. Jackson, Jessica Biel, and 50 Cent, is at 21 percent with 33 reviews.

Top Performing Limiteds



Penelope and Pedro, still going strong…

In the indie box office battle last week, Pedro Almodovar‘s "Volver" again claims the top spot, taking in a per screen average of $6,965 of 45 screens in its seventh week of release for a total of just under $2.9 million. The runner-up was the debut drama "The Secret Life of Words" starring Tim Robbins and Sarah Polley; it took in $5,309 in one theater. The suburban drama "Little Children" starring Kate Winslet came in third, claiming $3,695 on 21 screens in its 11th week of release (for a total of just over $2 million). The theatrical adaptation of "The History Boys" finished fourth, taking in $2,889 on 76 screens in its fourth week of release for a total of $795,000. Finally, the Bollywood drama/adventure, "Kabul Express," made $2,852 on 50 screens in its first week of release, for a total of $142,000.

"Babel"’s back in the game as this year’s Golden Globes nominations were announced, including many expected Oscar pics — and a few smaller surprises.

Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu‘s multi-lingual drama had been praised by critics (and stands Certified Fresh at 70 percent on the Tomatometer) but had not been thought of an obvious contender for awards season, let alone the nominations leader with seven Golden Globes nods. Among the noms, "Babel" is in contention for Best Picture – Drama, Best Director (Innaritu), Best Actor (Brad Pitt) and two Best Supporting Actresses (Rinko Kikuchi and Adriana Barraza).


Cate Blanchett and Brad Pitt in "Babel"

Also representing in force this year is Martin Scorsese‘s gangster pic, "The Departed," which nabbed the second-most nominations with six, including Best Picture – Drama, Best Director, Best Actor (Leonardo DiCaprio) and two competing Best Supporting Actors (Mark Wahlberg and Jack Nicholson).

DiCaprio is one of the year’s double-nominees, as he faces off with himself for Best Actor for his performances as an undercover cop in "The Departed" and a mercenary in "Blood Diamond."


DiCaprio in "The Departed"

Another filmmaker competing with himself for Golden Globes honors is Clint Eastwood, who is nominated twice for Best Director — first, for helming his World War II drama "Flags of Our Fathers," and again for its Japanese-language companion piece, "Letters From Iwo Jima." "Letters" is also an entrant in the Best Foreign Language category, qualifying because it was filmed in Japanese, much like another American-made film in the running — Mel Gibson‘s Mayan-language "Apocalypto."

But for all of these expected big-budget nominees, there were a few surprise picks from the film festival set. "Sherrybaby," for which Maggie Gyllenhaal is nominated for Best Actress, might be the smallest pic in the running; the film debuted at Sundance and played theatrically in only thirteen theaters during its release.


Gyllenhaal in "Sherrybaby"

Tobacco industry send-up "Thank You For Smoking," a $6.5 million project which built momentum from last year’s Toronto and Sundance fests into $38 million gross worldwide, is in the running for Best Picture – Comedy and Best Actor (Aaron Eckhart). The feature-film debut of director Jason Reitman scored well with critics and stands at an impressive 87 percent on the Tomatometer.

Sacha Baron Cohen‘s "Borat," the comedic sensation of 2006, was rewarded as well with two nominations (Best Picture – Comedy and Best Actor).

In a year of unusual multiple nominees, some performers racked up Globes noms with their television work as well. Helen Mirren, long-though to be the Best Actress front-runner for Brit biopic "The Queen," is up for two additional awards in the Best Actress in a Mini-series or TV Movie category where she’ll compete against herself (for performances in "Elizabeth I" and "Prime Suspect: The Final Act").


Mirren in "The Queen"

Mirren will also face off against another dual nominee, Annette Bening, in this category (Bening’s up for the TV pic "Mrs. Harris" and her film "Running With Scissors"). Thesps Chiwetel Ejiofor, Toni Collette, and Emily Blunt are also competing for both film and television Globes.

Further surprises came at the inclusion of devastatingly rotten films like the super-budget bomb of the summer, "The Da Vinci Code" (24 percent on the Tomatometer), which can now boast a Golden Globe nomination thanks to Hans Zimmer’s Original Score.


"The Da Vinci Code": Golden Globe winner?

Emilio Estevez‘s ensemble piece "Bobby" is also rotten at 43 percent, yet will inexplicably vie for the Best Picture award against "Babel" (70 percent), "Little Children" (83 percent), "The Departed" (92 percent) and "The Queen" (98 percent).

Darren Aronofsky‘s sci-fi romance "The Fountain" split critics at 50 percent on the Tomatometer, but its score courtesy of "Pi" and "Requiem for a Dream" composer Clint Mansell captured the attentions of HFPA voters in the same category.

And that other unknown film in the running for Best Original Score? "Nomad," a Kazakh language, Kazakhstan-set historical epic starring Jason Scott Lee and Jay Hernandez that has only yet been released in Switzerland and — yep — Kazakhstan.

The 64th Golden Globes Awards will take place January 15, 2007. Read on for the full list of film nominees.

Best Motion Picture – Drama

"Babel"
"Bobby"
"The Departed"
"Little Children"
"The Queen"

Best Performance By An Actress in A Motion Picture – Drama

Penelope Cruz, "Volver"
Judi Dench, "Notes on a Scandal"
Maggie Gyllenhaal, "Sherrybaby"
Helen Mirren, "The Queen"
Kate Winslet, "Little Children"

Best Performance By An Actor in A Motion Picture – Drama

Leonardo DiCaprio, "Blood Diamond"
Leonardo DiCaprio, "The Departed"
Peter O’Toole, "Venus"
Will Smith, "The Pursuit of Happyness"
Forest Whitaker, "The Last King of Scotland"

Best Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical

"Borat: Cultural Learnings of America For Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan"
"The Devil Wears Prada"
"Dreamgirls"
"Little Miss Sunshine"
"Thank You For Smoking"

Best Performance By An Actress in A Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical

Annette Bening, "Running With Scissors"
Toni Collette, "Little Miss Sunshine"
Beyonce Knowles, "Dreamgirls"
Meryl Streep, "The Devil Wears Prada"
Renee Zellweger, "Miss Potter"

Best Performance By An Actor in A Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical

Sacha Baron Cohen, "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America For Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan"
Johnny Depp, "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest"
Aaron Eckhart, "Thank You For Smoking"
Chiwetel Ejiofor, "Kinky Boots"
Will Ferrell, "Stranger Than Fiction"

Best Animated Feature Film

"Cars"
"Happy Feet"
"Monster House"

Best Foreign Language Film

"Apocalypto" (USA)
"Letters From Iwo Jima" (USA/Japan)
"The Lives of Others" (Germany)
"Pan’s Labyrinth" (Mexico)
"Volver" (Spain)

Best Performance By An Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture

Adriana Barraza
, "Babel"
Cate Blanchett, "Notes on a Scandal"
Emily Blunt, "The Devil Wears Prada"
Jennifer Hudson, "Dreamgirls"
Rinko Kikuchi, "Babel"

Best Performance By An Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture

Ben Affleck, "Hollywoodland"
Eddie Murphy, "Dreamgirls"
Jack Nicholson, "The Departed"
Brad Pitt, "Babel"
Mark Wahlberg, "The Departed"

Best Director – Motion Picture

Clint Eastwood, "Flags of Our Fathers"
Clint Eastwood, "Letters From Iwo Jima"
Stephen Frears, "The Queen"
Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu, "Babel"
Martin Scorsese, "The Departed"

Best Screenplay – Motion Picture

Guillermo Arriaga, "Babel"
Todd Field & Tom Perrotta, "Little Children"
Patrick Marber, "Notes on a Scandal"
William Monahan, "The Departed"
Peter Morgan, "The Queen"

Best Original Score – Motion Picture

Alexandre Desplat, "The Painted Veil"
Clint Mansell, "The Fountain"
Gustavo Santaolalla, "Babel"
Carlo Siliotto, "Nomad"
Hans Zimmer, "The Da Vinci Code"

Best Original Song – Motion Picture

"A Father’s Way" – "The Pursuit of Happyness"
Music by: Seal and Christopher Bruce
Lyrics by: Seal

"Listen" – "Dreamgirls"
Music & Lyrics by: Henry Krieger, Anne Preven, Scott Cutler, Beyonce Knowles

"Never Gonna Break My Faith" – "Bobby"
Music & Lyrics by: Bryan Adams, Eliot Kennedy, Andrea Remanda

"The Song of the Heart" – "Happy Feet"
Music & Lyrics by: Prince Rogers Nelson

"Try Not To Remember" – "Home of the Brave"
Music & Lyrics by: Sheryl Crow

It’s that time of year again: Right before the fancy awards are doled out, all the different critics’ groups chime in with their favorite flicks of the year. Here we have the picks from the New York Film Critics Online (NYFCO) for your perusal.

NY FILM CRITICS ONLINE AWARDS FOR 2006

New York Film Critics Online is composed of major reviewers in the New York area who work exclusively for online publications or for print/broadcast media with a strong online presence. The twenty-six members (NYFCO.ORG) met at O’Neal’s Restaurant, 49 W 64 Street in Manhattan on December
10th, 2006, and voted for these awards:

Picture — "The Queen"

Director — Stephen Frears – "The Queen"

Screenplay — Peter Morgan – "The Queen"

Cinematography — Dick Pope – "The Illusionist"

Actor — Forest Whitaker – "The Last King of Scotland"

Actress — Helen Mirren – "The Queen"

Supporting Actor — Michael Sheen – "The Queen"

Supporting Actress — Jennifer Hudson – "Dreamgirls" & Catherine O’Hara – "For Your Consideration" (tie)

Ensemble Cast — "Little Miss Sunshine"

Debut as Director — Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris – "Little Miss Sunshine"

Breakthrough Performer — Jennifer Hudson – "Dreamgirls"

Film Score — Philip Glass – "The Illusionist"

Documentary Feature — "An Inconvenient Truth"

Animated Feature — "Happy Feet"

Foreign Language Picture — "Pan’s Labyrinth"

Humanitarian Award — Deepa Mehta ("Water") for taking risks to create films about the difficulties of social change in India especially as it affects women.

Ten Best Pictures (Alphabetical)
"Babel"
"The Fountain"
"Inland Empire"
"Little Children"
"Little Miss Sunshine"
"Pan’s Labyrinth"
"The Queen"
"Thank You For Smoking"
"Volver"
"Water"

In making "The Queen," Stephen Frears has directed one of the most critically acclaimed films of the year, and made $49 million in global box office returns to boot. RT chatted with the Brit about his new royal drama — and it’s no surprise who he thinks deserves the Best Actress Oscar.

Surprisingly few movie-goers know him by name, but they do know his films: "My Beautiful Laundrette," "Dangerous Liaisons," "The Grifters," "High Fidelity," and "Dirty Pretty Things," among others, not to mention my personal, lesser-known favorite, "The Snapper" (Mr. Frears agrees that it’s "wonderful"). With such an impressive filmography, Frears can boast a career as one of the most talented — if rarely venerated — directors of our time.


Frears’ "Mrs. Henderson Presents" (66%), "Dangerous Liasons" (95%), and "My Beautiful Laundrette" (100%)

Perhaps it’s only his eclectic taste that keeps this body of work from being more recognizable as a whole. With such an array of stories and characters, you could say his products lack a brand — really, that’s part of their charm.

As his latest film stuns critics ("The Queen" currently resides at 98 percent on the Tomatometer, making it one of our best-rated films of all time) and attracts Oscar buzz (for its direction and an impressive performance by Helen Mirren in the title role), it looks as though Frears might finally become a household name. Rotten Tomatoes caught up with Mr. Frears at the Four Seasons hotel in San Francisco where he jovially discussed the British Monarchy, disastrous politicians, and the film industry across the Atlantic, among other things.

——–

Rotten Tomatoes: What were the biggest obstacles you faced while making "The Queen?"

Stephen Frears: You just sort of had to take a deep breath and do it, because no one had really done it before and it was such a cheeky idea. I mean, it’s like a soap opera really. You sort of can’t quite believe you’re standing in front, directing an actress playing the queen. It’s just not what happens in normal life.

RT: Did you have any concerns about a political reaction?

SF: Listen, we clearly got away with it. If we hadn’t made the film we’d made we would have looked pretty stupid. I thought people would say, you know, this film shouldn’t have been made, this woman should be left alone. But nobody’s actually said that.


Helen Mirren in "The Queen"

RT: Have you heard from The House of Windsor about the film?

SF: They don’t ring me up about it, they don’t leave me notes.

RT: [Laughs] What about Tony Blair?

SF: I was told he’d seen it.

RT: You’ve been Oscar-nominated for 1991’s "The Grifters" and directed an Oscar-nominated performance last year (Judi Dench in "Mrs. Henderson Presents") —

SF: I’ve had five actresses nominated.

RT: You have?

SF: King of the Actresses, me.

RT: Did you have your eye on the Oscar going into "The Queen?"

SF: If it was mine to give I’d give it to Helen…but it ain’t.


Kelly Reilly and Dame Judi in last year’s "Mrs. Henderson Presents"

RT: What one movie in your filmography do you think didn’t get the critical recognition it deserved?

SF: Hundreds of them! Hundreds of them! Dozens of them! I love "Mrs. Henderson." Dozens of them. "Hi-Lo Country" I love. "Hero" I love. Dozens of them. It’s been one long lifetime of injustice.

RT: Well, maybe you’re finally getting your redemption.

SF: [Laughs] Said the luckiest man in the world.


More Frears: "The Hi-Lo Country" (53%), "Hero" (63%), "The Snapper" (95%)

Click here to read the full interview!

ELSEWHERE IN INDIE NEWS THIS WEEK:

Almodovar and Cruz To Re-Team On "El Piel Que Habito"


Pedro and Penelope: Like Batman and Robin, like Cloak and Dagger, like Captain and Tennille…

Fresh off the success of their latest collaboration, "Volver," Pedro Almodovar says he’s planning on working with Penelope Cruz on his next flick as well. Almodovar told reporters in his native Spain that his next film, "El Piel Que Habito" ("The Skin I Live In"), will be shot in Warsaw, and will be a radical departure from his previous films. "It’s a very tough story about revenge. It has nothing to do with ‘Volver’ or my life," he said.

Aptly-named "Weirdsville" To Open Slamdance


Scott’s got his eyes on Slamdance.

The screwball dramedy "Weirdsville," starring Scott Speedman, Taryn Manning, and Wes Bentley, will be the opening night selection for this year’s Slamdance Film Festival. The fest, now in its 13th year, will run from Jan. 18 to 27 in Park City, Utah, concurrently with Sundance. The narrative and documentary films at Slamdance are made by first-time directors on budgets of $1 million or less. The festival will showcase 100 films, a number pared down from more than 3,600 submissions.

Korine Finishes "Mister Lonely"


Wener Herzog enjoys a quiet stroll through the woods.

Say what you will about Harmony Korine: he’s never been conventional. So when the enfant terrible auteur says that his latest, "Mister Lonely," is "pretty weird," that probably means it’s really weird. The film stars Samantha Morton as Marilyn Monroe, Diego Luna as Michael Jackson, Anita Pallenberg as the Queen of England, and the not-at-all-eccentric Werner Herzog. No date has been set for the film’s release; Korine’s last picture was 1999’s still-controversial "Julien Donkey-Boy."

Tomatometers For Last Week’s Limited Releases

Opening last week in limited release: "10 Items or Less," a laid-back romance starring Morgan Freeman and Paz Vega, is at 62 percent with 47 reviews; "3 Needles," a globe-spanning drama about the toll of the AIDS virus, is at 34 percent with 32 reviews; "The Architect," a tale of two families in conflict over a public housing structure, is at 18 percent with 17 reviews; and "Two Weeks," a dramedy about a family’s response to terminal illness, is at zero percent with six reviews.


"The Architect": Viola Davis may not be an architecture critic, but she knows what she doesn’t like.

Top Performing Limiteds

In last week’s indie box office battle, "Volver" grossed an average of $12,675 on 30 screens (it’s made $1.9 million in its five week run), besting the stage-to-screen adaptation "The History Boys," which averaged $10,359 on eight screens (which has mad $300,000 in its two weeks in theaters). The Bollywood drama "Dhoom 2" held tough, raking in an average of $8,104 on 63 screens (for a total of $2.1 million in two weeks), while the Jean-Luc Godard classic "Two Or Three Things I Know About Her…" made $8,050 on one screen, for a total of $47,000 in three weeks. Rounding out the top five was the relationship drama "Flannel Pajamas, which hauled in a so-so $3,716 on two screens, for a total of $42,000 in three weeks of release.


"Flannel Pajamas": Before the good times went bad.

It’s time again to celebrate the best that indie-land has to offer. The Spirit Award nominees are out, with "Little Miss Sunshine" and "Half Nelson" leading all contenders with five nods each, including best feature.

The family dysfunction on-the-road comedy "Sunshine" was also nominated for Best Director (Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris), Supporting Male (Alan Arkin and Paul Dano) and Best First Screenplay (Michael Arndt). Meanwhile, "Half Nelson," a drama about a troubled inner-city teacher, received nods for Best Director (Ryan Fleck), Male Lead (Ryan Gosling), Female Lead (Shareeka Epps), and Best First Screenplay (Anna Boden and Fleck).


"Wait… we might both win Spirit Awards?"

The other nominees for Best Feature are "American Gun," "The Dead Girl," and "Pan’s Labyrinth." In the Best Director category, the nominees also include Robert Altman for "A Prairie Home Companion," Karen Moncrieff for "The Dead Girl," and Steven Soderbergh for "Bubble."

In addition to Gosling, the Male Lead nominees are Aaron Eckhart ("Thank You For Smoking"), Edward Norton ("The Painted Veil"), Ahmad Razvi ("Man Push Cart"), and Forest Whitaker ("American Gun"). In addition to Epps, the others up for the Female Lead award are Catherine O’Hara ("For Your Consideration"), Elizabeth Reaser ("Sweet Land"), Michelle Williams ("Land of Plenty"), and Robin Wright Penn ("Sorry, Haters").


"Pan’s Labyrinth": Do fauns qualify for Spirit Awards?

The Spirit Awards, formerly the Independent Spirit Awards, recognize films made on budgets of less than $20 million. The winners will be announced on Feb. 24, a day before the Academy Awards.

For a complete list of the nominees, click here. Also, check out RT’s interview with "Little Miss Sunshine" directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris here.

ELSEWHERE IN INDIE NEWS THIS WEEK:

"Tears" Finally Makes It To Theaters

The brightly colored, highly stylized Thai western "Tears of the Black Tiger" will open in January, six years after its premiere at Cannes. The film has been acquired by Magnolia from Miramax; "Tears" played on the festival circuit before landing in the company’s vault.

Swiss Oscar Selection Gets Distributor

The North American rights for "Vitus," Switzerland’s candidate for the Foreign Film Oscar, have been acquired by Sony Pictures Classics. The film, starring Bruno Ganz and Teo Gheorghiu, tells the tale of a child prodigy and his complex relationship with his parents.

Top Reviewed Limiteds

Opening last week in limited release: "Backstage," a dark examination of celebrity, is at 100 percent on the Tomatometer with 10 reviews; "The History Boys," a tale of hypercompetitive English schoolboys adapted from Alan Bennett, is at 62 percent with 50 reviews; and "Opal Dream," a coming-of-age tale about a little girl with imaginary friends in the Australian outback, is at 57 percent with 14 reviews.

Top Performing Limiteds

In last week’s indie box office battle, Pedro Almodovar‘s "Volver" grossed an average of $17,071 on 30 screens, beating out the Bollywood drama "Dhoom 2," which averaged $15,540 on 63 screens. "The History Boys" opened on seven screens with a $14,400 average, while the Jean-Luc Godard classic "Two Or Three Things I Know About Her…" and the Slamdance-approved documentary "Abduction: The Megumi Yokota Story" both opened on one screen apiece to earn $10,764 and $5,034, respectively. Last week’s top indie "Bobby" dropped to 15th place after expanding from two to 1,667 screens, dropping its per-screen average from $34,519 to $2,914.


"The History Boys": No threat to the Hell’s Angels.

Thanks to Nick Hershey for his contribution to this story.

Faced with "Volver" performing well (again) and "Babel"’s expansion into wide release (big time), "The Queen" lost a bit of box office momentum last weekend with the indie crowd. Read on for more of the latest indie/art-house news.

Cinemagoers uninterested in big-budget Santa, animated rats, or the "Borat" phenomenon had a few artsy top-performers to choose from over the weekend.

Brit prestige pic "The Queen," in its seventh successful week of release, had been reigning supreme with indie audiences and steadily adding playdates to the tune of 484 last week; but with continued competition from Pedro Almodovar‘s "Volver," and the distraction of the international ensemble pic "Babel" blowing up into wide release, Stephen Frears‘ highly lauded film dropped 6.7 percent from the previous week, raking in $2.7M with an average of $5,372 per screen. The Helen Mirren vehicle, currently at 98 percent on the Tomatometer, is still garnering talk of Oscar nominations.

Meanwhile, the Spanish import that challenged "The Queen" last week continued to post phenomenal numbers in super-limited engagement: still playing in only 5 theaters nationwide, "Volver" averaged $33,800 per screen for a weekend total of $169K in its second week of release. Even with the 14.4 percent drop from its first weekend, that’s incredible. Speculation of a Best Actress nod for starlet Penelope Cruz also remains whisperings, though that too has thinned out a bit since the film’s astounding opening take.

Perhaps these minor drops in the box office can be partially attributed to "Babel," Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu‘s multi-continent drama starring A-listers Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett. After kicking around in limited release the previous two weeks (and doing a decent $1.4M up til then), the Paramount Vantage flick went wide last weekend. The expansion into 1251 theaters reaped $5.6M in returns (a 505% increase) for a cumulative $7.4M; seems those restrained, review-quoting ads did the trick and nabbed viewers that might have otherwise flocked to "The Queen," "Volver," or other critically acclaimed, awards-baiting anti-blockbusters. "Babel" is currently the number four pick in the Gurus O’Gold Oscar polls for Best Picture over at Movie City News.

ELSEWHERE IN INDIE NEWS THIS WEEK:

Arquette’s "Tripper" To Be Released Next Year

David Arquette in the Sundance entry, "The Darwin Awards"

David Arquette‘s directorial debut movie, "The Tripper," has been acquired for distribution by After Dark Films. The comedic horror flick, co-written by Arquette and produced by Arquette and wife Courteney Cox, follows a Ronald Reagan-obsessed conservative lunatic killer who victimizes hippies at a rock concert; the cast includes Arquette, Cox, Thomas Jane, Balthazar Getty, Jaime King, Lukas Haas, Paz de la Huerta, Jason Mewes, and Paul Reubens.

With Freestyle Releasing, After Dark (itself formed to distribute the haunting pic, "An American Haunting") will screen "The Tripper" in limited release in early 2007.

Fantastical, Grotesque "Taxidermia" Acquired

The taxidermist of "Taxidermia"

If you like your cinema freaky and foreign, you’re in luck. Tartan Films has acquired the Hungarian film, "Taxidermia," a grotesque fantasy about three generations of twisted men and their obsessions. After making the rounds of international film festivals, the tale of a love hungry grandfather, his obese speed-eating son, and his taxidermist grandson should hit specialty theaters in April.

Magnolia Picks Up "Maxed Out"

The companion book by director James D. Scurlock

Up to your neck in piles and piles of credit card debt? So were the people in the acclaimed documentary "Maxed Out," which will likely be jointly released by Magnolia Pictures and Netflix’s distribution wing, Red Envelope. The film, which debuted to praise at this year’s SXSW, tells the stories of people lured in and bankrupted by credit card debt and the companies involved. "Maxed Out" has a Tomatometer of 100 percent with five reviews.

Check out Tim Ryan‘s RT review here.

Weinsteins to Serve Up Wong Kar-Wai’s "My Blueberry Nights"

Wong Kar-Wai‘s most recent, critically acclaimed film, "2046"

Fans of director Wong Kar-Wai ("In the Mood for Love," "2046") were happy to learn that the auteur would be making his first English-language film, "My Blueberry Nights;" now they can mark their calendars for June 2007, courtesy of the Weinstein Co. Harvey Weinstein and Wong crossed paths when distributing 1994’s "Chungking Express," and the studio’s sure to help "My Blueberry Nights" maximize the star wattage of its cast, with performances by Jude Law, Natalie Portman, David Strathairn, Rachel Weisz, Tim Roth, and first-time actress Norah Jones. Jones stars as a woman on a road-trip in search of love, who meets a bevy of characters along the way.

The Weather Report and Guerilla Awards Campaigning; All in a Day’s Work for David Lynch

David Lynch: A Maniacal Thrill!

Director David Lynch has always seemed like a do-it-yourself kind of guy (have you watched his daily weather reports??) but last week he took on the task of launching a Best Actress Oscar campaign for the star of his upcoming film, "Inland Empire." How would the man behind such twisted, eccentric works as "Eraserhead," "Twin Peaks," and "Mulholland Drive" carry out such an endeavor? By setting up shop on a streetcorner in Hollywood with a giant "For Your Consideration" sign, a picture of said star Laura Dern, and a live dairy cow. Lynch’s self-distributed pic, an identity-blurring Hollywood mystery, will get a limited release December 15. Take that, big-studio marketing departments!

And in case you missed it, Lynch’s faithful and sensible report on today’s weather: "Here in LA, some blue but a lotta clouds…pale sunshine, a good steady breeze; 63 degrees Fahrenheit, 17 Celsius."

Helen Mirren‘s astoundingly successful biopic "The Queen" is getting some serious competition from Pedro Almodovar‘s latest, as "Volver" has emerged a frontrunner for the box-office returns (and Awards Season affections) of the artsy crowd.

"The Queen," directed by Stephen Frears, was picked up in October 2005 by Miramax, who then cited the pick-up as the desire to build "an eclectic, wide-ranging slate of specialty projects." With a good-sized (at least for a studio indie) budget estimated at $15 M, it seems Miramax’s acquisition of the quiet Brit royalty drama was a stroke of genius; since debuting in a scant three-theater limited release at the end of September, the film has built unrelenting momentum into a domestic gross of $10.1 M.

Of course, box-office recognition for "The Queen" has mirrored the response of critics, making it both a successful money-maker and a deserving prestige pic. That wave of laurels can be traced back to September, when it debuted to great acclaim at the Venice Film Festival and went on to win three of that festival’s awards (for Best Screenplay, Best Actress, and the FIPRESCI Prize; Frears lost the Golden Lion to Zhang Ke Jia‘s "Still Life").

"The Queen" is currently Certified Fresh and sitting pretty at 98 percent on the Tomatometer, only three out of 120 critics having disliked it (including Stella Papamichael of the BBC, who wrote of it "The tabloid appeal is obvious, but Morgan’s script is tomorrow’s chip paper."). Most critics, however, agree with the Toronto Star‘s Peter Howell that the picture is "led by Mirren in a title role that demands Oscar glory."

But on the whole the critics are raving; it’s no surprise, then, that Helen Mirren has been pegged for months as a shoe-in for Best Actress. She knows it, too; her steely, powdery visage on the film’s poster screams confidence — "It’s mine, all you other actresses get out of my way!" — a statuette finally in her hands, after two previous unrealized nominations (for "The Madness of King George" in 1995, and "Gosford Park" in 2002). Plus, Mirren’s on a royal roll, having just won an Emmy for playing another Elizabeth, Elizabeth I, in the acclaimed 2005 HBO miniseries.

But last weekend a contender emerged to threaten Helen Mirren’s near-lock on the Best Actress award. And her name is Penelope.

Penelope Cruz, carrying an equally strong ensemble piece, is simply luminous in "Volver," a quasi-magical tragicomedy by Spanish director Pedro Almodovar released by Sony Pictures Classics last week. Like "The Queen," "Volver" has reaped praise from critics the world over. And although it only just opened in limited release in the U.S., it’s also poised to make big bucks — and make it’s leading lady a strong candidate for Oscar.

A foreign film after all, "Volver" premiered in Almodovar’s native Spain last March and proceeded to rake in the dough on its tour across Europe, Latin America, and other markets. It also hit up the festival circuit — Almodovar is a certified auteur, and proved so by nabbing a Best Screenplay award at this year’s Cannes, (although he lost the Palme d’or to Ken Loach‘s IRA drama "The Wind That Shakes the Barley"). His film also won the festival’s Best Actress prize — a shared honor awarded to the six female leads of "Volver."

"Volver" is no slouch when it comes to the Tomatometer, either; it’s currently at 93 percent, with 60 reviews. And what of the numbers?

Since debuting this spring overseas, the Almodovar film has grossed $61.5 M worldwide; last weekend it posted "Queen"-like numbers, averaging $40,400 per screen in only five theaters (when "The Queen" debuted in three theaters this fall, it took in a similar $40,671 per site). On November 22 "Volver" will hit 20 more theaters, with more and more playdates as its platform release continues — and, you can be sure, as it keeps filling seats.

All of this is has set Oscar-watchers abuzz, as Cruz — certainly known to American audiences, albeit for eye-candy roles and the spectacle of a Spanish beauty circulating in Hollywood — seems a compelling Best Actress alternative to Mirren. As the beleaguered yet beautiful young mother Raimunda, Cruz’s performance is revelatory; IGN Movies critic Todd Gilchrist muses "she is strong, weak, tender, tough, sexy, and maternal, often all at once." Slant Magazine writer Ed Gonzalez writes "‘Mildred Pierce’ won Joan Crawford an Oscar, and Almodóvar’s quaint riff on the Michael Curtiz classic may do the same for Penélope Cruz."

The LA Times’ Gold Derby columnist Tom O’Neill calls Mirren "the Best Actress frontrunner" but also that "Penelope Cruz has The Babe Factor in a race crowded with older gals." And while these two are certainly reigning over awards contention right now, a handful of other names have been thrown into the ring, including four-time nominee Kate Winslet for "Little Children," multiple-time nominee and twice-winner Meryl Streep for "The Devil Wears Prada," and three-time nominee Annette Bening (for the critical dud "Running With Scissors."

But there’s plenty of time left in the year for more nominees, and a trio of forthcoming flicks have more potential Best Actress-worthy thesps: Dame Judi Dench, for "Notes on a Scandal" (December 25), her co-star Cate Blanchett for Steven Soderbergh‘s "The Good German" (December 15), and — surprise, surprise — Chinese actress Gong Li for "Curse of the Golden Flower," the forthcoming period epic from Zhang Yimou (December 22).

Li’s entrance into the speculative arena is the most recent, and the most interesting; with turns in her first two American movies within the last year ("Memoirs of a Geisha," "Miami Vice") Li has certainly bumped up her exposure stateside. Plus, anyone remotely familiar with Chinese cinema knows she has the skills to be in contention (see "Raise the Red Lantern," "Ju Dou," or any other films she made with director Yimou). But "Curse of the Golden Flower," to be released by Sony Pictures Classics, will have the barriers of language and culture to overcome, and while the same can be said of Almodovar, Cruz, and "Volver," it will certainly be a bigger hurdle for Yimou, Li, and "Flower."

America fell in love with Borat this weekend as the underdog movie-film about a TV journalist from Kazakhstan shocked the film industry by opening at number one, despite playing in a fraction of the theaters as Hollywood’s other new offerings.

Shattering expectations, the Fox hit surged ahead of two debuting family films that had hoped to capture the box office title — Disney’s Christmas story The Santa Clause 3 and Paramount’s animated comedy Flushed Away.

In the year’s biggest box office surprise, the much-talked-about film Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan conquered North America grossing an estimated $26.4M in its first weekend beating out all competitors. Playing in only 837 theaters, the R-rated road trip pic averaged a jaw-dropping $31,511 per theater with sell outs from coast to coast. Based on the character created by British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen, Borat was expected to open with strength in the top five, but was never seen as being powerful enough to reach the number one spot.

Fox debuted the raunchy film in moderate national play hoping word-of-mouth would build and help to bolster the second weekend when it would go fully national. Instead, the red hot buzz and heavy doses of media publicity seemed to fuel demand on opening weekend. According to studio research conducted on Friday, the audience for Borat was 55% male and 53% under the age of 25. Fox expects the audience to broaden as women and older adults begin hearing from their friends about the crude laugher. Critics showered the $18M film with nearly universal praise calling it one of the funniest films of all time. This Friday, the studio will triple the number of theaters expanding to as many as 2,500 locations. A domestic gross well north of $100M is assured.

Borat began the weekend with a potent $9.2M gross on Friday. Unlike many R-rated cult hits aimed at young males, the Kazakh tale grew on Saturday increasing by 10% to $10.1M. Fox is hoping that many of those who were sold out will return on Sunday to get tickets and is estimating a modest 30% drop to $7.1M for the final day of the frame. Brilliant out-of-the-box marketing on Fox’s part helped to turn a cult character into a can’t-miss blockbuster event thanks to outrageous publicity stunts carefully executed over the past few months which sparked intense curiousity from those unfamiliar with Cohen’s creation. People had to just go and see it to believe it. The road ahead looks glorious thanks to positive word-of-mouth, a sophomore weekend expansion, and the additional wave of free publicity that its surprise top spot debut will generate this week.

The opening weekend performance was stunning, but not unique. It matched the results of two other low budget films that attracted widespread media attention from recent years — Michael Moore‘s political documentary Fahrenheit 9/11 and the suspense hoax The Blair Witch Project. In June 2004, Fahrenheit also shocked the film biz by debuting at number one with $23.9M from just 868 sites for a stellar $27,558 average. Blair Witch went nationwide after two weeks of very limited play in July 1999 and grossed $29.2M from just 1,101 sites for a colossal $26,528 average landing it in second place. Both films would average about $30,000 per theater at today’s ticket prices. Each film expanded the following weekend and went on to reach a final gross that was five times its opening tally.

Overseas, Borat opened day-and-date in Cohen’s native U.K. plus in other European markets with fantastic results. Cultural Learnings grossed an estimated $17M from 17 countries and captured the number one spot in Germany and the U.K. With such great success, Borat will surely not be execute.

Settling for second place was The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause which grossed an estimated $20M from 3,458 theaters for an encouraging $5,784 average per venue. The Disney sequel debuted well below the $29M launch of the last installment of the franchise from this same frame in 2002. In Escape, Martin Short joins the cast playing the sinister Jack Frost who is out to ruin Christmas. Disney ruled the box office over the first weekend of November for four of the last five years with its family films. Tim Allen‘s latest G-rated turn as Kris Kringle was expected to be at the top of the charts this time too, but the phenomenon that is Borat was just too much. Competition from Flushed Away also split the family audence in two contributing to Santa’s lower-than-expected weekend bow. Reviews were mostly negative.

Opening close behind in third place was the computer-animated toon Flushed Away with an estimated $19.1M from an ultrawide 3,707 theaters. Averaging a good $5,152 per site, the PG-rated pic follows the adventures of a domesticated pet mouse flushed into the underground world of a sewer rat. Hugh Jackman, Ian McKellen, and Kate Winslet provide the voices. The Paramount release was produced by DreamWorks and Aardman Animations who previously made Chicken Run and last fall’s Oscar-winning Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. Flushed exceeded the respective openings of $17.5M and $16M for those two films and earned strong praise from critics. Despite competition from Santa, the sewer pic opened impressively and slightly above expectations.

The long-term race between the two kidpics will be an interesting one to watch given the similar openings. Flushed should benefit from better word-of-mouth, however Santa’s Christmas theme could help it stay relevant as the holidays approach. Most yuletide pics debuting in early November have had very good legs with some rebounding over the Thanksgiving frame.

With three new films getting all the attention, last week’s champ Saw III got shoved down to fourth place with an estimated $15.5M in its second weekend. The Lionsgate horror sequel tumbled an understandable 54% and raised its ten-day cume to a bloody $60.1M. The latest chapter in the highly successful torture series suffered a larger drop than its predessor Saw II which fell 47% in its sophomore session on its way to an identical ten-day gross before ending its run with $87M. Budgeted at $12M, Saw III looks to depreciate at a faster pace and could be headed for a finish of about $80-85M.

Two former number one hits holding up with great strength followed in the five and six slots with a slender weekend decline of 19% each. Martin Scorsese scored only the second $100M blockbuster of his career over the weekend with The Departed which in its fifth round took in an estimated $8M. The Warner Bros. hit lifted its total to $102.3M and joined the director’s last film The Aviator ($102.6M) as his only films to reach nine digits in North America. The Leonardo DiCaprioMatt Damon crime saga also became the 13th film of 2006 to cross the century mark matching the number of blockbusters at this same point last year. Buena Vista’s The Prestige grossed an estimated $7.8M in its third weekend pushing its cume to $39.4M.

Clint Eastwood‘s war story Flags of Our Fathers expanded by another 185 theaters in its third mission and grossed an estimated $4.5M from 2,375 locations for a weak $1,895 average. The Paramount release saw its weekend take drop by 29% and its average decline by 35% putting the cume at a disappointing $26.6M. The Robin Williams comedy Man of the Year followed in eighth place with an estimated $3.8M, off only 19%, giving the Universal release $34M to date.

Sony’s toon Open Season got hurt by the new family films and dropped 47% to an estimated $3.1M in its sixth hunt pushing the sum to $81.4M. Miramax’s awards contender The Queen finally popped into the top ten at number ten with an estimated $3M. The Helen Mirren film expanded from 152 to 387 theaters and averaged a solid $7,778 per location. The Queen has seen its theater count and gross climb each week and has now lifted its cume to $10.1M with much more still to go.

Opening with sensational results in platform release was Pedro Almodovar’s newest story Volver which bowed to an estimated $202,000 from only five sites for a scorching $40,400 average. Sony Classics released the Spanish-language drama in only three New York and two Los Angeles locations and will expand to other cities in the weeks to come. Penelope Cruz, who is already establishing herself as a serious candidate against frontrunner Helen Mirren in the Oscar race for Best Actress, plays a young woman connecting with the spirit of her deceased mother.

Paramount Vantage generated terrific numbers with the expansion of its cross-continent drama Babel which grossed an estimated $918,000 from 35 theaters for a potent $26,242 average. The Brad PittCate Blanchett film widened from 7 theaters in New York and Los Angeles last weekend to thirteen additional markets this weekend. Babel opens nationally on Friday in over 1,200 total theaters going head-to-head with four other new wide releases plus the further expansion of Borat. Cume sits at $1.5M.

The Dixie Chicks doc Shut Up and Sing widened from four to nine theaters in its second weekend and grossed an estimated $78,000. The Weinstein Co. release averaged a solid $8,613 and put its total at $146,000.

Four films, including a trio of Sony titles, dropped out of the top ten this weekend. Fox’s family drama Flicka grossed an estimated $2.7M, down 43%, for a $17.6M total. The $14M girl-and-her-horse pic should conclude with a not-so-dazzling $22-24M. Sony’s period pic Marie Antoinette slipped only 19% to an estimated $2.3M but its cume reached a mere $13M after 17 days. Look for a weak $20M final.

The studio’s dysfunctional family flick Running with Scissors fell 35% and took in an estimated $1.7M after its second weekend of national play. With a puny $5.3M in the bank, the Annette Bening comedy should sputter to a dismal $9M. Sony’s fright sequel The Grudge 2 has scared up a decent $38M to date. The $20M franchise film looks headed for a domestic finish of about $40M or so. Though profitable, the sequel will end up grossing only about one-third of the $110.2M of Sarah Michelle Gellar‘s first Grudge pic from two years ago.

The top ten films grossed an estimated $111.2M which was down 4% from last year when Chicken Little debuted at number one with $40M; and down 16% from 2004 when The Incredibles opened in the top spot with $70.5M.

Author: Gitesh Pandya, www.BoxOfficeGuru.com

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