Weekend Openings (September 16-18)

Looks like Hollywood is taking us back in time this weekend, folks.  The most likely box office champ is actually a film that was released seventeen years ago, and this week’s critical darling (and, in my opinion, Oscar player) harkens back to a time of existential heroes immortalized by the likes of Steve McQueen and Alain Delon a generation ago.

First up in wide release is arguably the most anticipated film of the month, at least on this site: Nicolas Winding Refn’s arthouse thriller Drive, which won the Best Director Award at the Cannes Film Festival.  Ryan Gosling stars as a nameless Hollywood stuntman who moonlights as a getaway driver.  Critics – including our own Joey Magidson – have been hailing this movie as an exhilarating and visually striking work of art, though a few have been taken aback by its brutal violence.  At first I believed that no matter how good it was, Drive just wouldn’t be in the Academy’s wheelhouse…but now I’m starting to think that the film could make it.  Clearly the more historically discerning Cannes jury loved it enough to award it one of the festival’s top prizes, and with the Academy almost preemptively apologizing for awarding Best Picture to a stodgy royalty drama this year, Drive might be a good chance for them to get in with the “young and hip” crowd.  At the very least, some technical nominations (especially Best Editing) are increasing possibilities.  Though it may prove too idiosyncratic for mainstream audiences, Ryan Gosling is becoming a major movie star this year and could be the key to this film’s financial success.  I’m more inclined to peg this as a sleeper hit with good box office “legs,” so I’ll predict its opening take at $12-17 million.The fact that Sarah Jessica Parker is the second-highest paid actress in Hollywood is baffling to me.  She has headlined some of the worst films of recent years, her last being Sex and the City 2, and she has the onscreen charisma of a wall.  Despite this, The Weinstein Company is counting on her to make a hit out of I Don’t Know How She Does It, about a financial executive who has to balance her career with two kids and an out-of-work husband.  Critics describe it as a pandering, plot-less fairy tale rom-com that doesn’t know what to do with its premise, and Parker’s performance has been slammed as a retread of Carrie Bradshaw.  The only hope this movie has of not floundering at the box office are couples looking for adult-oriented entertainment while avoiding the extremes of Drive and Straw Dogs.  Still, I can’t imagine this making more than $10 million during its opening frame.

The most likely box office champ this weekend will most likely be The Lion King 3D, about the classic story of an exiled young lion who returns to reclaim his kingdom from his evil uncle Scar.  Obviously the film was acclaimed in its day for its beautiful animation and rich story, but now many reviews are surprisingly celebratory of its inspired use of 3D.  This movie has a wide potential audience, including nostalgic adults who are more than willing to revisit a childhood classic, giving it a healthy $15-20 million opening.

Finally, Rod Lurie remakes Sam Peckinpah’s controversial Straw Dogs, about increasing tensions between a meek screenwriter and the locals of a small town that erupts into violence.  Reviews have been mixed; some have praised the performances and departure from the formula of the original, others have dismissed it as cheap sensationalism.  James Marsden is not exactly a matinée idol and the marketing of this as the next Taken doesn’t seem to be working.  I’m predicting something less than $10 million on its opening.

In limited release, Gus Van Sant’s latest film Restless stars Mia Wasikowska as a Dying Beauty who falls in love with a Brooding Young Man With A Dark Secret.  The reviews for this one are way south of what Van Sant usually enjoys, calling it saccharine claptrap.  Ah well, every great director has a misstep…

Obviously, there are lots of interesting new releases this week.  Whichever one you decide to see, let us know what you thought of them on our forums!