ICYMI - Off the Carpet: 'Unbroken,' 'Selma,' 'Sniper' in the headlines as Oscar voting begins http://t.co/N8q1XryTZG pic.twitter.com/Kntmwn3gf5
— Kristopher Tapley (@kristapley) December 30, 2014
By Kristopher Tapley @kristapley | Monday, Dec 29, 2014 12:00 PM
And we're truly off. Ballots are in hands. Academy voters, who hopefully spent as much time soaking up the year's offerings through screeners and screenings over the holiday break as they did hitting the slopes, will be putting pencil to paper, finger to keyboard beginning Monday with an 11-day voting window closing on Jan. 8. Let's see what's happening in the lead-up to that stretch…
At the box office, "Unbroken" is all the rage. The film, already riding the coattails of a best-selling book, took advantage of a holiday release frame that had very little in the way of adult drama competition. It was ultimately critic-proof, as audiences are digging it and Academy members may well, too. On the limited release side of things, meanwhile, was "American Sniper," which sailed to a record $212,000 average from four theaters over the four-day weekend. Each film landed in the "A" Cinemascore range with audiences, A- for "Unbroken," A+ for "Sniper."
Also in limited release is Ava DuVernay's "Selma," handily the most critically acclaimed film to hit theaters over the holiday. But along with it came a scathing op-ed from former Johnson Administration domestic affairs aide Joseph A. Califano Jr. in the pages of The Washington Post, slamming the film for its depiction of Lyndon Johnson toward dramatic ends. Even though the piece awkwardly and sort of hilariously closes with a declaration that "the movie should be ruled out this Christmas and during the ensuing awards season," I'm not quick to think dirty tricks yet. Films have organic lives after all.
Meanwhile, something worth noting: "The Imitation Game" (also taking fire for story and characterization) was still purring its engine at the box office leading into the holiday. It expanded from 34 screens and about a $3.6 million cume to over 700 screens on Christmas Day, taking in about $8 million on the weekend for a roughly $14 million domestic haul so far. For comparison's sake, "The King's Speech" — which opened in limited release on Thanksgiving weekend in 2010, much as "Imitation" did this year — went from 43 screens and $2.1 million on Dec. 17 to 700 screens and $8.3 million over the Christmas weekend that year.
I mention that only because I got some pushback over the weekend on Twitter, first for noting that the film is playing the classic Harvey long game, which uses awards buzz to catapult box office, and second for suggesting that it's a significant threat to win the Best Picture Oscar. It's not really in my interest one way or the other to falsely promote a competitive race, so put a pin in that problematic point. The fact is anyone paying attention to reactions knows that the film is playing really, really well with voters and is quite strong in this race.
Rival campaigns are of course already taking their shots at "Boyhood" ("He had 12 WHOLE YEARS to make the movie!") and "Selma" (waiting for this op-ed to get long legs where films like "Mississippi Burning" never really suffered all that much). But I maintain, as I put forth in this space weeks ago, that those three films are leading the Best Picture race at the moment, with "Birdman" and its likely SAG ensemble/Golden Globe - Comedy/Musical wins the spunky dark horse.