Saturday, July 03, 2010

Halfway Mark 2010: Foreign Films

More halfway mark articles comin at'cha. Just about anywhere you look online you'll see reports about this or that blockbuster and the top ten of the year and how superheroes, franchise/brands and animated films are still all the rage blah blah. You'll hear about the same movies over and over again. Why not look a little deeper? How about the foreign language films? Here's how they've done so far Stateside (box office figures as of July 1st).

Foreign (Box Office) Top Ten

  1. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Sweden) $8.8
    Scandinavia doesn't often claim the biggest hit, so good on them. Skål! In our modern marketplace, where more and more people wait for DVDs for anything other than films with 8 figure ad campaigns, 8 million is now a huge gross for a foreign film. The "hits" rarely make the kind of bank that they used to. Amélie's $33 back in 2001 seems like another era altogether. Even Pan's Labyrinth's $37 as recently as 2006 is a miracle. Especially when you stop to consider that Let The Right One In only managed $2 million in 2008 just two years later despite crazy passionate word of mouth.

    Incidentally I tried to read The Girl... recently and just couldn't get into it but even just reading a small portion of the bestseller made this Nora Ephron spoof laugh out loud funny to me.
  2. The Secret in Their Eyes (Argentina) $5.4 Oscar winner
  3. My Name is Khan (India) $4.0
  4. A Prophet (France) $2.0 Oscar nominee
  5. Kites (India) $1.6
    Interesting that this internationally-minded effort with American setting, Mexican and Indian stars, and even an American "remix" didn't do any better than more traditional Bollywood entries did.

  6. Raajneeti (India) $1.4
  7. Mic-Macs (France) $.7
    The latest from the visually gifted Jean Pierre-Jeunet (Amélie). Fun movie but also a bit exhausting. I suspect audiences will take to it in greater numbers on DVD where you can watch it in (set)pieces.
  8. Vincere (Italy) $.6
    A decent gross I suppose but IFC waited way too long after this film's first explosion of buzz to open it. Especially since Italy didn't even submit it for Oscar consideration. There was no use waiting since it couldn't use Oscar as platform anyway. And some films with passionate fans do better if people know that they're not eligible for the foreign film Oscar. People like to be outraged. Why not September or October back in 2009 hot off its Cannes buzz with an attempt to generate faux 'look what Oscar's missing' outrage?
  9. Ajami (Israel) $.6 Oscar nominee
  10. Raavan (India) $.5
    Starring the married superstars Abhishek Bachchan and Aishwarya Rai
South Korea's Mother just missed this top ten. Arthouse audiences and critics talked it up but Oscar passed. It waited and opened up shortly after the Oscar ceremony.

You'll notice that the top grossers are from Bollywood -- have they usurped France's spot as most reliable in the US market? -- or are Oscar holdovers. A few of these used the Oscars as a platform rather than risking regular release. Secret only showed itself in theaters once it could use the Oscar win as advertisement but that's a risky strategy since you can't guarantee a win. The two rather robust contenders it beat on Oscar night, France's A Prophet and Germany's The White Ribbon, had twin buzz trajectories: hot ticket Cannes debut, Cannes trophies, well regarded auteur at the helm, rave reviews. Ribbon opened with only those things to guide it last December. A Prophet, like Secret, banked on Oscar love for ticket sales, only opening after the expected but not guaranteed nomination. Box office result: Slightly smaller box office for Prophet than Ribbon.

What does it mean? Interpret as you will. I prefer to interpret things as "open when the film is ready" and stop making audiences wait! This is the age of gimme it now and film distribution is lagging compared to tv and music, which both seem to be (slowly) adapting to the instant gratification / 'on my terms' culture.

But then numbers are highly interpretable. It might simply indicate that Oscar means nothing unless you win.

The Milk of Sorrow, Peru's first Oscar nominee, is the only 2009 Foreign Film nominee that never opened in the US. Such a shame. Sorrow's director Claudia Llosa was just invited to join AMPAS's directors branch.

My favorite foreign release of 2010?
Italy's I AM LOVE improved remarkably on second viewing and I was fond enough of it the first time. It's just ravishing and my only real concern about it the first time through was what seemed like a sexphobic denouement. On second viewing, I believe I misread the film initially, taking the narrative happenings too literally when the images were the key. Most of the film is shot, designed, scored and acted with a more symbolic, sensual, operatic mindset in mind. I suddenly have a lot of things to say about it but it feels like the kind of movie you only discuss once people have seen it. So I'll wait a bit more.

[box office note: It's currently grossed just under over half a million in limited release but it should end up as one of the top foreign grossers of the year when the year wraps.]

Oscar buzz for 2010?
Those Oscar nominees we've just discussed are ineligible for further honors -- they already had their Oscar year -- so we look to Cannes buzz to guide us in predicting the Best Foreign Language Film Submissions for 2010. As for I Am Love... I think it's probably not so Oscarable (despite exquisite craftsmanship) but if it catches on in theaters, you never know. Oscar likes an arthouse hit.


Janice said...

It's hard to believe that the woman who can write that witty, on-target parody of "Girl" is the same woman who botched the humorless Bewitched remake so badly.

Perhaps she needs to stick to the printed word henceforth?

Rae Kasey said...

TRY to finish the book!

It really is pretty slow at the start but once I hit page 75 or so I COULD NOT put it down! Now I'm dying to know who gets the plum role of Lisbeth Salander in the US version.

No Bad Movies said...

The Hedgehog ( France ) won Best Foreign Film at the Seattle International Film Festival. Other notables that placed were... Cell 211 ( Spain ) Hiptsers ( Russia ) Loose Cannons ( Italy ) and Tsar ( Russia ) which I personally liked about the days of Ivan the Terrible.

Glenn said...

The grosses for Dragon Tattoo have been extraordinary in Australia, too. Top 10 for several weeks and has grossed more than many Hollywood product. I Am Love debuted in the top 10 last week here as well, but that's not to say the foreign language market is particularly strong here, either, those two movie just had a lot of pre-release marketing (and comparative wider releases than they got in America).

I'm glad to see The Secret in Their Eyes do well, actually. I wasn't a fan (it's done well at the box office here, too) but since we barely would have heard of it if it weren't for the Oscar... and since that Oscar win was so criticised it feels like a victory of some kind for the Academy.

Nel said...

@ Nat Bollywood movies also do great B/O in UK due to the fact that families from the subcontinent tend to go en masse to the cinema and as the emigre population grows in the US, so will the B/O.

But Vincere at 0.6 million is pretty good going I think for an IFC release.

One more question, given the Spirit Win of An Education last year, would you class UK indie releases as foreign movies?

Guy Lodge said...

The Milk of Sorrow is opening in the US, actually -- my press release tells me August 27 in NYC, and the week after in LA.

Not exactly worth the wait -- such a dreary exercise in laboured symbolism.

Andrew R. said...

I've heard very mixed reviews for Milk of Sorrow, which is opening soon.

KD said...

Spelling Correction: My name is Khan. Like Shahrukha "Khan" explains in the movie. It is not Kahn, it is Khan - from the epiglottis.


KD -- mere typo. corrected.

Rae -- but it seems kind of uh poorly written (he ducks and hides given the mass love)

Janice -- right? She also gives great speeches so maybe she just needs short form in general?

Nel -- I would not. I go by the language definition of Oscar's foreign language film. So for me that means anything not in English.

Guy & Andrew -- finally, eh? I just wish they'd hurry up. It's rather like getting things after their sell by date. Not that film's expire but with critics and articles and whatnot moving on to current offerings i just find it out. how do distributors hope to generate passion for something when there's newer hot tickets in the markteplace? I remember when a swedish effort (i think it was called Under the Sun) opened 2 years after its Oscar run and it's like WHY? just put it on DVD.

(don't mind me. i'm just impatient)

notanotherblog said...

Now, has Nora done a parody of Twilight? I don't care if everybody else has done it, I wanna see her version now.

john said...

Nathaniel, please don't wait too long to voice your views on the excellent I am Love; i'm eager to hear yours and Nick Davis' thoughts on it. For some reason i just can't shake the belief that if any famous actresses over 35 have seen it they must be (or should be) quite envious.

Carl said...

I adored both "The Secret in Their Eyes" and "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo" and I cannot wait for "The Girl Who Played With Fire", which opens here next Friday. I haven't had a chance to open the book, though...I just started a new job and haven't had any time to get into a tough read. I haven't had time to read "Scar Night", either, so I will have to give this round of "Cast This" a miss. Pity...I really get a kick out of that particular audience participation exercise.

Orpheus said...

I Am Love in Italy was a big flop
and generally unpopular with film critics.
The director Guadagnino, in Italy, is very unpopular because few years ago directed one of the ugliest italian movie ever (Melissa P.), so I think it's very hard the movie could be submitted by Italy for the Oscar.

John said...

Talking about foreign films, Spain has three likely options for next year's Oscars, one is the historical biography of the spanish poet Lope de Vega, named "Lope" and starring Pilar López de Ayala and Alberto Ammann. The only problem I see is that the director is from Brazil, probably the Academy won't eat that bone at the end. The second option is the horror film Julia's eyes, directed by spanish talent Guillem Morales and starring Belén Rueda and Lluís Homar. And the third option and likely spanish entry if god doesn't do anything is Amador, starring Magaly Solier (from The milk of sorrow) and directed by mediocre and overdramatic spanish director Fernando León de Aranoa.
I hope there is some sense and they choose Julia's eyes.