Steven Soderbergh's crime-drama "The Limey" and Alexander Payne's high school satire "Election" led the pack of (relatively) low-budget, high-expectation projects as nominations were announced Wednesday for the 15th Annual Independent Spirit Awards, honoring, yes, indie film.
"The Limey" and "Election" received a field-best five nominations each. Hollywood blockbusters such as "Toy Story 2" and "The Green Mile" received zippo. (They're not indies.)
With the studio heavyweights excluded, a variety of films that failed to garner tremendous box office during the 1999 film season found redemption as the Spirit nominations were handed down. David Lynch's "The Straight Story", a simple yet powerful film about an aging man's trek across country on his lawn mower, earned four nominations. Kimberly Peirce's controversial "Boys Don't Cry" also received four nods -- including ones for best lead actress (Hilary Swank) and best supporting female (Chloe Sevigny).
The five films slated to do battle in the main best-picture event are: Payne's "Election," Soderbergh's "The Limey," Lynch's "The Straight Story," Allison Anders and Kurt Voss' "Sugar Town", and Robert Altman's "Cookie's Fortune".
Awards will be handed out in Santa Monica on March 25 -- the day before the Oscars. The Spirits are sponsored by the Independent Feature Project/West.
The following is the complete list of nominations for the 15th annual IFP/West Independent Spirit Awards:
BEST FEATURE "Election" "The Straight Story" "The Limey" "Cookie's Fortune" "Sugar Town"
BEST FEMALE LEAD Diane Lane, "Walk on the Moon" Janet McTeer, "Tumbleweeds" Hilary Swank, "Boys Don't Cry" Susan Traylor, "Valerie Flake" Reese Witherspoon, "Election"
BEST MALE LEAD John Cusack, "Being John Malkovich" Richard Farnsworth, "The Straight Story" Terence Stamp, "The Limey" David Strathairn, "Limbo" Noble Willingham, "The Corndog Man"
BEST SUPPORTING FEMALE Barbara Barrie, "Judy Berlin" Vanessa Martinez, "Limbo" Sarah Polley, "Go" Chloe Sevigny, "Boys Don't Cry" Jean Smart, "Guinevere"
BEST SUPPORTING MALE Charles S. Dutton, "Cookie's Fortune" Luis Guzman, "The Limey" Terrence Howard, "The Best Man" Clark Gregg, "The Adventures of Sebastian Cole" Steve Zahn, "Happy, Texas"
BEST DIRECTOR Alexander Payne, "Election" Harmony Korine, "julien donkey-boy" Steven Soderbergh, "The Limey" David Lynch, "The Straight Story" Doug Liman, "Go"
BEST SCREENPLAY Kevin Smith, "Dogma" Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor, "Election" Audrey Wells, "Guinevere" Lem Dobbs, "The Limey" James Merendino, "SLC Punk!"
BEST FIRST FEATURE ($500,000-plus budget) "Being John Malkovich" "Three Seasons" "Boys Don't Cry" "Twin Falls Idaho" "Xiu Xiu the Sent Down Girl"
BEST FIRST FEATURE (less than $500,000 budget) "The Blair Witch Project" "La Ciudad" "Compensation" "Judy Berlin" "Treasure Island"
BEST DEBUT PERFORMANCE Kimberly J. Brown, "Tumbleweeds" Jessica Campbell, "Election" Jade Gordon, "Sugar Town" Toby Smith, "Drylongso" Chris Stafford, "Edge of Seventeen"
BEST FIRST SCREENPLAY Tod Williams, "The Adventures of Sebastian Cole" Charlie Kaufman, "Being John Malkovich" Kimberly Peirce and Andy Bienen, "Boys Don't Cry" Anne Rapp, "Cookie's Fortune" John Roach and Mary Sweeney, "The Straight Story"
BEST CINEMATOGRAPHER M. David Mullen, "Twin Falls Idaho" Lisa Rinzler, "Three Seasons" Anthony Dod Mantle, "julien donkey-boy" Jeffrey Seckendorf, "Judy Berlin" Harlan Bosmajian, "La Ciudad"
BEST FOREIGN FILM "All About My Mother" (Spain) "Run Lola Run" (Germany) "My Son the Fanatic" (England) "Topsy-Turvy" (England) "Rosetta" (Belgium-France)
DLJ DIRECT TRUER THAN FICTION AWARD (for documentaries) Owsley Brown, "Night Waltz: The Music of Paul Bowles" Nanette Burstein and Brett Morgan, "On the Ropes" Michael Camerini and Shari Robertson, "Well Founded Fear" Rory Kennedy, "American Hollow"
MOVADO SOMEONE TO WATCH AWARD (for new directors) Dan Clark, "The Item" Julian Goldberger, "Trans" Lisanne Skyler, "Getting to Know You" Cauleen Smith, "Drylongso"
MOTOROLA PRODUCERS AWARD Pam Koffler, "I'm Losing You" and "Office Killer" Eva Kolodner, "Boys Don't Cry" and "Hide and Seek" Paul Mezey, "La Ciudad" Christine Walker, "Backroads" and "Homo Heights"
It was a dino-might box office weekend driven by explosive openings for Jurassic Park III and America's Sweethearts.
Between them, Universal and Amblin's JP III and Revolution Studios and Columbia's Sweethearts grossed an extra sweet $81 million-plus. Distribution sources said Sunday morning that it set a record as the biggest combined total ever for two openings. They added, however, that combined total for Pearl Harbor's opening weekend and Shrek's second weekend for the three day weekend portion of this year's four day Memorial Day holiday period was an even larger $101.6 million.
Driven by the twin blockbuster openings, ticket sales reversed their recent downward pattern versus last year. Key films grossed nearly $140 million, up over 5 percent from this time a year ago.
The PG-13 rated action adventure fantasy sequel JP III kicked off to a sizzling ESTIMATED $50.27 million at 3,434 theaters ($14,640 per theater). Its cume after five days is approximately $80.9 million.
JP III is Universal's third high profile box office success story this summer. The studio began the summer season in early May with The Mummy Returns, which has grossed nearly $201 million after 12 weeks in theaters. The studio's mid-summer sleeper hit The Fast and the Furious has now grossed $125 million after five weeks in theaters.
Directed by Joe Johnston, JP III stars Sam Neill, William H Macy, Tea Leoni, Alessandro Nivola, Trevor Morgan, Michael Jeter, John Diehl and Bruce A. Young.
JP III's average per theater was the highest for any film playing in wide release this weekend.
"It's extraordinary," Universal distribution president Nikki Rocco said Sunday morning. "Coming off of the Wednesday opening (of $19 million), everybody was surprised. Now that the weekend results are almost in, I think everybody continues to be surprised.
"It would have been a normal expectation for the picture to be flat between Friday and Saturday, but once again there's no way of reading this business. We did a lot of business and were up 24 percent on Saturday night. It's playing very broad, is what it means. All of my people that went to check theaters yesterday -- which we do when we have films like this in the marketplace to make sure we're in the right screens -- at one o'clock in the afternoon the big screens were (already) three-quarters filled in the megaplexes and with families."
Rocco also pointed to anecdotal evidence that JP III is already generating repeat business. "We had a theater manager that got some complaints from parents," she explained. "But you'll never guess what the complaints were -- the kids behind them kept on saying what the next scene was going to be because they'd seen it already!"
With nearly $81 million already in hand, where does it go? While it's clearly going to be huge, it's too early now to say how huge. "No one knows," Rocco observed.
It also was an outstanding weekend for Revolution Studios and Columbia Pictures' PG-13 rated romantic comedy America's Sweethearts, which opened in second place to a very engaging ESTIMATED $31.0 million at 3,011 theaters ($10,296 per theater).
Directed by Joe Roth, it stars Julia Roberts, Billy Crystal, Catherine Zeta-Jones and John Cusack.
"We're delighted. Those are all boxcar numbers in the world of romantic comedies," Sony Pictures Entertainment worldwide marketing & distribution president Jeff Blake said Sunday morning. "You look at films like Runaway Bride on July 30, 1999 with $35.0 million and a $152 million total (in domestic theaters). That was the biggest romantic comedy opening ever. In the world of romantic comedies, you've got Runaway Bride as the biggest and then What Women Want on Dec. 15, 2000 with $33.6 million and (a domestic theatrical) cume of $183 million.
"And we don't have to take a back seat after that to anybody. You've got Notting Hill, which opened May 28, 1999 to $27.6 million on a four day Memorial Day (holiday) weekend and (wound up doing) $116 million. You've got You've Got Mail, which opened Dec. 18, 1998 to $18.4 million and did $115 million. Certainly, as you go further back there's a great indication of romantic comedies that opened in the mid-to-high teens (in millions) and all went and did over $100 million -- like Jerry Maguire ($153.6 million) and Sleepless in Seattle ($126.7 million) and things like that."
Focusing on the huge combined business for JP III and Sweethearts, Blake observed, "It's certainly great for Jurassic Park and their franchise and it's great for us and what we're trying to do. And it's great for the market. This looks like a $140 million weekend and we're even up from last year. It had been going in the other direction (in terms of weekends being down from 2000), so I think this certainly revitalized the summer with two openings of this magnitude and, hopefully, it will be a great second half (of the summer)."
Blake pointed out that, "The hard part is to get a romantic comedy out there in a big way right from Day One. They certainly have -- better than any other genre -- a great track record of holding. That always has been the game plan. To get it open to as good a number as we could versus (what is) certainly different competition, but huge competition as turned out to be the case, and to be that summer movie that's going to hold for a while. I think the genre allows that and all indications are that that's what will happen to us here."
Asked who was on hand opening weekend to see Sweethearts, Blake replied, "We got our initial exit polls and it looks like about 55%-45% women to men. So slightly more women, but really a traditional date movie for the most part. It looks like about the same 55%-45% adults to younger people, using 25 as the cut-off. Certainly we've got something here for the first time this summer -- or one of the only pictures this summer -- that appeals to adults. But it also got the younger contingent, as well. Every indication is that it's playing great."
Looking ahead, Blake pointed out, "If you look at the competition coming up it's all big, but pretty male -- Planet of the Apes and Rush Hour 2, in particular. So I think we're in a very good spot. It's unusual for two pictures to open north of $30 million on the same weekend. I know it happened with The World Is Not Enough and Sleepy Hollow, but it's hard to think of many other examples where pictures got out there in as big a way as this."
While Bride still ranks as Roberts' biggest opening ever, Sweethearts' $31 million launch goes into the record books as her second biggest opening. It overtakes Erin Brockovich, which arrived to $28.1 million on Mar. 17, 2000 and went on to gross $125.5 million in domestic theaters.
In the face of the weekend's two blockbuster arrivals, MGM's PG-13 rated comedy hit Legally Blonde fell two pegs to third place in its second week with a still sexy ESTIMATED $11.05 million (-46%) at 2,695 theaters (+75 theaters; $4,100 per theater). Its cume is approximately $43.4 million, heading for $70-75 million in domestic theaters.
Directed by Robert Luketic, the Marc Platt production stars Reese Witherspoon, Luke Wilson, Selma Blair, Matthew Davis, Victor Garber and Jennifer Coolidge with a special appearance by Raquel Welch.
"It held up great during the week and even held up well on Wednesday against the massive opening of Jurassic Park III," MGM worldwide theatrical marketing and distribution president Bob Levin said Sunday morning.
"As we look now at what happened this weekend, I think given the (blockbuster) opening of Jurassic Park III and the right on demographic target opening of America's Sweethearts, this kind of drop is totally acceptable and gives us a good feeling that we won't see anything this significant (in terms of a drop) in the future and that we'll be holding up pretty well."
Paramount's R rated crime drama The Score slid two rungs to fourth place in its second week with an okay ESTIMATED $10.75 million (-43%) at 2,160 theaters (+31 theaters; $4,977 per theater). Its cume is approximately $37.2 million.
Directed by Frank Oz, it stars Robert De Niro, Edward Norton, Angela Bassett and Marlon Brando.
Cats & Dogs, the PG rated family appeal comedy from Warner Bros., Village Roadshow Pictures and NPV Entertainment dropped two notches to fifth place in its third week, still showing its teeth with an ESTIMATED $6.77 million (-44%) at 3,040 theaters (theater count unchanged; $2,227 per theater). Its cume is approximately $72.4 million, heading for $100 million in domestic theaters.
"The picture performs like the weather report. It rained in the Miami area and the Jacksonville area and we were up 58 percent (on Saturday) from Friday. In Boston the weather was still fantastic and we were up (only) 19 percent," Warner Bros. Distribution president Dan Fellman said Sunday morning. "That's what happens with this movie. It's going to be around a very long time. Families like it. Kids like it. We're doing repeat business. It'll play a long time. There's nothing coming in that's going to hurt us."
Universal's PG-13 action drama The Fast and the Furious fell two laps to sixth place in its fifth week, still showing good legs with an ESTIMATED $5.26 million (-35%) at 2,744 theaters (-155 theaters; $1,915 per theater). Fast, which cost a modest $38 million, has a cume of approximately $125.0 million.
Directed by Rob Cohen and produced by Neal H. Moritz, it stars Paul Walker, Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez and Jordana Brewster.
20th Century Fox and Davis Entertainment's PG rated comedy sequel Dr. Dolittle 2, which was seventh last week, tied for seventh place in its fifth week with a quiet ESTIMATED $4.4 million (-42%) at 2,444 theaters (-385 theaters; $1,780 per theater). Its cume is approximately $93.2 million, heading for $100 million in domestic theaters.
Directed by Steve Carr and produced by John Davis, it stars Eddie Murphy.
Dimension Films' R rated horror film spoof sequel Scary Movie 2, which was fifth last week, tied for seventh place in its third week with a mellow ESTIMATED $4.4 million (-54%) at 2,802 theaters (-418 theaters; $1,570 per theater). Its cume is approximately $61.7 million, heading for $70 million in domestic theaters.
Directed by Keenen Ivory Wayans, it stars Shawn Wayans, Marlon Wayans, Anna Faris, Regina Hall, Christopher Masterson and Kathleen Robertson.
Columbia's release of Square Pictures' PG-13 rated computer animated sci-fi fantasy adventure Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within plunged five slots to ninth place in its second week with a dull ESTIMATED $3.5 million (-69%) at 2,649 theaters (theater count unchanged; $1,321 per theater). Its cume is approximately $26.7 million.
Square financed the film's production costs, which reportedly were about $115 million. For Sony Fantasy represents a distribution deal with Columbia in only for marketing and distribution costs.
Rounding out the Top Ten was 20th Century Fox's R rated action drama Kiss of the Dragon, down two rungs in its third week with a cold ESTIMATED $2.86 million (-52%) at 1,658 theaters (-442 theaters; $1,726 per theater). Its cume is approximately $29.6 million.
Directed by Chris Nahon, it stars Jet Li and Bridget Fonda.
This weekend also saw the arrival of Fine Line Features' R rated rock musical drama Hedwig and the Angry Inch to a very encouraging ESTIMATED $0.15 million at 9 theaters ($17,001 per theater).
Directed by John Cameron Mitchell, who also wrote and adapted his hit Off-Broadway play to the screen, Hedwig stars Mitchell in its title role.
MGM's release of United Artists' R rated youth appeal comedy Ghost World materialized to a spirited ESTIMATED $0.1 million at 5 theaters ($20,174 per theater) in New York (two theaters), Los Angeles (two theaters) and Seattle (one theater).
Directed by Terry Swigoff, it stars Thora Birch, Scarlett Johansson, Brad Renfro, Illeana Douglas and Steve Buscemi.
"We have the highest screen average this week, which is great," MGM's Bob Levin said Sunday morning. "And looking back, it's a higher screen average over (hit specialized film) openings like Run Lola Run, Mighty Aphrodite, Hilary and Jackie or You Can Count On Me. We hold for a week and then expand into seven additional markets on Aug. 3. Based on this performance, I think we'll also be expanding within these first three markets.
There were no national sneak previews this weekend.
On the expansion front, this weekend saw Fox Searchlight's R rated critically acclaimed British crime thriller Sexy Beast continue to widen in its sixth week, still showing good legs with an ESTIMATED $0.39 million (-22%) at 189 theaters (+10 theaters; $2,075 per theater). Its cume is approximately $4.5 million.
Directed by Jonathan Glazer, it stars Ray Winstone and Ben Kingsley.
"I think we're going to end up with probably around $5.5-$6.0 million," Fox Searchlight distribution president Steven Gilula said Sunday morning. "We'll be real pleased with that. Right now, we're the third strongest limited release for the year after Memento and Amores Perros. I think we'll get past Amores Perros and be number two. And then it's a question of all these new (specialized) films and which ones will expand out and be able to penetrate the market. There's a lot of independent product opening now."
Miramax's R rated French comedy The Closet went wider in its fourth week with a still promising ESTIMATED $0.34 million (+8%) at 65 theaters (+22 theaters; $5,153 per theater). Its cume is approximately $1.3 million.
Directed by Francis Veber, it stars Daniel Auteuil, Gerard Depardieu, Thierry Lhermitte and Michele Laroque.
Artisan's R rated comedy Made expanded in its second week with an encouraging ESTIMATED $0.27 million at 19 theaters (+16 theaters; $13,947 per theater). Its cume is approximately $0.5 million.
Written and directed by Jon Favreau, it stars Jon Favreau, Vince Vaughn, Sean Combs, Famke Janssen, Faizon Love and Peter Falk.
Fine Line Features' R rated comedy The Anniversary Party went wider in its seventh week with a quiet ESTIMATED $0.17 million (-36%) at 120 theaters (+2 theaters; $1,405 per theater). Its cume is approximately $3.3 million.
Written/directed by and starring Alan Cumming and Jennifer Jason Leigh, its ensemble cast includes Jane Adams, Phoebe Cates, Kevin Kline, , Gwyneth Paltrow, Parker Posey and John C Reilly.
Lions Gate Films' PG-13 rated drama Songcatcher continued to widen in its sixth week with a weak ESTIMATED $0.16 million (-15%) at 91 theaters (+19 theaters; $1,800 per theater). Its cume is approximately $1.2 million.
Directed by Maggie Greenwald, it stars Janet McTeer and Aidan Quinn.
Lions Gate Films' unrated erotic drama Lost and Delirious widened in its third week with a slow ESTIMATED $0.037 million at 18 theaters (+10 theaters; $2,050 per theater). Its cume is approximately $0.14 million.
Directed by Lea Pool, it stars Piper Perabo.
Miramax's R rated comedy Everybody's Famous added a theater in its third week with a dull ESTIMATED $0.01 million at 11 theaters (+1 theater; $918 per theater). Its cume is approximately $0.075 million.
Written and directed by Dominique Deruddere, it stars Josse De Pauw.
Key films -- those grossing more than $500,000 -- took in approximately $139.68 million, up about 5.37% from the comparable weekend last year when key films grossed $132.55 million.
This weekend's key film gross was up about 19.6% from last weekend this year when key films took in $116.78 million.
Last year, DreamWorks' opening week of What Lies Beneath was first with $29.70 million at 2,813 theaters ($10,559 per theater); and Fox's second week of X-Men was second with $23.47 million at 3,112 theaters ($7,541 per theater). The top two films one year ago grossed $53.2 million. This year, the top two films grossed an ESTIMATED $81.3 million.
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