Thursday, January 8, 2015

A movie doesn’t need to be a box office hit to win an Academy Award — “The Hurt Locker” famously topped out at $17 million domestically, yet still beat “Avatar,” the highest-grossing film of all time. But strong ticket sales can make a movie difficult to ignore.

Both “American Sniper” and “Unbroken” were highly anticipated titles that took a hit when they were shut out at the SAG and Golden Globe Awards in December. Both opened on Christmas Day, though “Unbroken” went wide in more than 3,000 theaters, while “Sniper” opened in just four. And both have exceeded expectations with strong showings.

Given the subject matter and talent, it didn’t ever feel like the Academy would be heavily influenced by “Unbroken’s” mixed reviews. But with $45 million in four days, the crowdpleaser looks to be back on track for a best picture nom.

Perhaps even more impressive was the debut of “Sniper,” featuring a heralded performance from Bradley Cooper as U.S. Navy SEAL Chris Kyle. In its opening weekend, the film averaged more than $200,000 per theater, the best-ever opening for a Christmas release on 10 screens or fewer. Perhaps even more encouraging is the A+ Cinemascore the film landed, showing “Sniper” is in it for the long haul.

Cooper has struggled to break into the overcrowded actor race, particularly as almost all of his competitors’ films have already opened and had time to make an impression. With ballots now out, and the film fresh in theaters and the minds of voters, he’s in a great position to make a run. In addition, with director Clint Eastwood beloved by the Academy, box office success might be just the push needed to get the film firmly in the race.

Angelina Jolie's war drama Unbroken will open in China on Jan. 30, and the movie, about Olympian Louis Zamperini and his experiences as a POW in WWII, looks sure to be a hit in China, which has tense relations with its Asian neighbor over what it sees as Japan's failure to atone for wartime atrocities.
The response on the Sina Weibo microblogging website to the news the movie would be screened was overwhelmingly positive.
"Welcome to the screening of Unbroken in China. This film is boycotted by Japanese right-wing activists. It is rare to show the Japanese inhumane treatments of prisoners of the war. All Chinese should support this film," wrote one commentator, Mujiang 56.
Ouran Caomu Xiang wrote: "Japan should admit its inhumane behavior during the war", Kongzi Zhishu said: "All films which are boycotted by our enemy should be supported by the Chinese. Let the little Japanese go to hell."
Sino-Japanese ties have long suffered from what Beijing sees as Japan's failure to atone for brutal occupation of parts of China in the 1930s and 1940s. Up to 20 million Chinese died in WWII.
Chinese are also angered by regular visits by Japanese leaders to the Yasukuni Shrine, which honours 2.5 million Japanese war dead, including war criminals.
And relations have worsened in the past few years over a long-running dispute over a string of East China Sea islets that both countries claim, known as the Diaoyu in Chinese and the Senkaku in Japanese.
The positive buzz on Chinese social networks contrasts sharply with the reaction in Japan, where there have been calls for a boycott.
The movie has yet to receive a release date in Japan, but Japanese conservatives have called for a boycott of the film, which is based on a book by author Laura Hillenbrand, called Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption.
The movie portrays in grim detail the gruesome experiences of American POWs in prison camps at the hands of Japanese captors.

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