Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers took in $61 million over the weekend and went over the magic $100 million mark in five days.
The Peter Jackson sequel to Fellowship of the Ring probably broke records, but it definitely shattered expectations. A movie that's mostly a middle with no beginning or end, Two Towers turned out to be a movie masterpiece. Critics and fans agreed, and now the second chapter of J.R.R. Tolkein's trilogy is a cinch for a Best Picture nomination.
As predicted yesterday, the epic Martin Scorsese movie Gangs of New York took in $9.1 million in limited release. An Oscar favorite, Gangs expands from 1,500 to 2,100 theatres on Wednesday.
Interestingly, all the online box office prognosticators got their numbers wrong this weekend. One Web site which boasts "inside knowledge" of such things, predicted Rings would take in $78 million. It wound up much lower. The same Web site under-guessed the sort of awful but charming appeal of Hugh Grant and Sandra Bullock in Two Weeks Notice (real: $14 million, guess: $11 million). They also over-predicted Star Trek: Nemesis and Harry Potter, thinking there was more audience for these big studio releases.
Here's my new advice to movie fans looking for Web sites devoted to the Oscars: the one I've been following is called Oscarwatch.com. It seems the most level-headed and the least inflammatory. Otherwise, if actual news organizations aren't commenting on show business, steer clear or wind up being armed with false information.
Gangs of New York opened Friday night on par with other big screen epics of the past and recent past.
The most recent movie you could most easily compare it to for historical violence was Mel Gibson's Braveheart, which grossed $75 million in the U.S. when it was released in 1995.
Gangs, which took in almost $3 million last night at 1,500 theatres, will make $9 million for the weekend. If it can sustain that number until Jan. 19, when it could win several Golden Globe awards, the Martin Scorsese epic will be out of the woods.
Of course, it doesn't compare to Gladiator, which opened in May 2000 on 2,938 screens and earned $35 million on its opening weekend. Gladiator, however, benefited from more instant historical recognition than Gangs, which may be a more complicated idea to sell to audiences.
Nevertheless, Gangs should be on a par with other award-type historical films such as Warren Beatty's Reds and Bernardo Bertolucci's The Last Emperor, both of which received many accolades but took several years to mature into "classic" films. A.O. Scott, writing in the New York Times, suggested just about that yesterday when he wrote: "Gangs of New York is nearly a great movie. I suspect that, over time, it will make up the distance."
By the way, you may wonder how Gangs did by comparison with other Scorsese movies. Just because you're the best director in the world doesn't mean you're going to drag in Spiderman-like audiences. Casino, the last big Scorsese movie, only grossed a total of $42 million back in 1995. The more minor Bringing out the Dead, released in 1999, only took in $17 million.
Meantime, if you're in New York or Los Angeles this weekend and you can't get into Gangs or Lord of the Rings, the big blockbuster this weekend, do try and catch Antwone Fisher, Far from Heaven, Rodger Dodger, or About Schmidt -- all exceptional and soon to be heralded with their own awards, I'm sure.
"This is going to be a hard Christmas for our family," George Clooney told me yesterday right before we all went off to the premiere of his directorial debut, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind. He was thinking about his late aunt, the legendary (and truly so, no kidding) Rosemary Clooney who left this planet last June much too early.
"Christmas was a big time for her," George remembered. "Every year she'd send us a Christmas song on tape that she'd sing for the whole family. Then two years ago we got the tape and put it in and she said on it, I've been doing this for like 30 years and 'I've run out of Christmas songs.' So she sang 'Easter Parade!' Isn't that great?" He took a moment. "But it's still sad."
George did not forget Rosie when he was making Confessions. For one thing, he made sure her voice would be heard in the film. "We have her in the movie," he said. She sings at the end of the movie.
"I heard the song and it's Irving Berlin's song. His estate never lets that song out, but we called up and said it's a tribute to Rosie, so they let us use it."
You'll have to wait and see Confessions to hear which song George chose by his aunt.
Clooney was a little disappointed yesterday that Confessions got shut out of the Golden Globes, especially so for star Sam Rockwell. "He really worked his ass off," said Clooney. And truly, Rockwell does a star turn in Confessions that should earn him an Oscar nomination even if the Hollywood Foreign Press ignored him.
Clooney hit the Confessions after-party at the W Hotel with a drink in each hand, ready to celebrate having actually made it to opening night.
He accepted congrats from his pals, Joel and Ethan Coen, as well as director James Toback, co-star Drew Barrymore, Campbell Scott, Patricia Clarkson, Maria Bello, Liev Schreiber, Liv Tyler, (celebrating the debut of Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers the previous night), and his producing partner Steven Soderbergh, who managed to avoid the limelight as much as possible.
But all eyes were certainly on Chuck Barris, who wrote the book and lived the life, or at least the parts he didn't make up out of whole cloth. Barris, creator of The Gong Show, The Dating Game and The Newlywed Game, claimed in his book that he was simultaneously a CIA hit man.
Clooney lays it all out in the movie brilliantly and Rockwell portrays Barris in such a way that it almost seems possible.
When I asked Barris about his CIA life, he replied, "I don't talk about it, and if you're interviewing me, I'm going to walk away." Indeed, he is better off not talking about it, because he can't offer any proof of his involvement, leaving it a mystery works so much better.
But whether or not Barris was with the CIA is irrelevant. In the end, who cares? Rockwell makes up this wild character out of whole cloth anyway, and Clooney was able to convey the story in a totally unique way. Audiences are going to be fascinated by Confessions.
And here's a little aside. One guest last night was the great Sheila MacRae, musical star and daughter of the late star Gordon MacRae. (Sheila was also featured for many years in The Honeymooners when Jackie Gleason did the sketches on his variety show.)
Sheila was actually a judge once on The Gong Show. Barris couldn't believe it when they were reunited. "He was always a little crazy," MacRae said.
The dancingest fool in the movie biz is star Sam Rockwell. He has a reputation for taking over dance floors with his deft moves and at the same time removing bits of clothing. Last night was no exception. Once the Confessions star was fully ensconced on the dance floor at the W, he got into a bit of dirty dancing with actress and Brazilian bombshell Sonia Braga. If there are pictures of this I'll bet they've been destroyed by now.
Sam's dad, Pete, a commercial artist for the San Francisco Chronicle, told me nothing about Sam's rise to success surprises him. "We've been doing this for 15 years, taking our vacations when Sam has a movie premiere. And this is the best thing he's ever done. He was born to play this part."
Meantime, the word at the Confessions party was that the long, odd romance between Jack Nicholson and The Practice's reed-thin star Lara Flynn Boyle is over. Boyle is now apparently dating handsome Hollywood agent Patrick Whitesell, who represents among others Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. This would explain Boyle's absence from Nicholson's recent appearances supporting About Schmidt in L.A. and here in New York last September. I rather doubt Jack has done much moping about this situation.
I liked most of the Golden Globe nominations yesterday, but I think some glaring omissions must be rectified come Oscar time. Missing from the Globes were Chris Walken, Best Supporting Actor in Catch Me If You Can; Sam Rockwell, Best Actor for Confessions; Bebe Neuwirth, supporting for Tadpole; and Lois Smith in Minority Report.
Also left out of the Golden Globes was any reference to Denzel Washington's smash directorial debut, Antwone Fisher. In advance screenings, Antwone has been quite popular; a ten-hanky black Good Will Hunting. Fox Searchlight has done a good job so far in advance preparation for the film's release but they need to hire an Oscar specialist if they want this film to hit the big time.
As for all of us, Antwone Fisher is a movie you must not miss when it opens next week. It is the feel good drama of the year.