With no new wide releases in theaters this weekend, James Cameron’s sci-fi phenomenon Avatar had no problem racking up an estimated $68.3 million at the box office on the way to its third #1 weekend in a row and the all-time highest grossing third weekend ever, besting 2002’s Spider-Man by more than $23 million. Worldwide, Avatar has raked in over $1 billion in a little over two weeks making it only a matter of time before it takes over The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King’s #2 all-time spot where it sits with 1.12 billion in 2003 dollars. Will it reach the $1.84 billion of Cameron’s own Titanic? It’s hard to imagine, but I’m officially out of the Cameron doubting business.

As far as the 2009 domestic box office tally goes, Avatar’s $352 million puts it ahead of where current box office leader Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen sat after 3 weekends ($339 million) and the former should have no trouble besting the latter’s $402 million, probably before the end of next weekend.

I stayed away from theaters this weekend to tinker with the layout and look of LiC, but I streamed Tilda Swinton’s Julia through Netflix based on a tip from Chuck. I didn’t really know what to expect though the film was supposedly jeered when it played the Berlin International Film Festival in 2008. There is no ambiguity however to the praise deservedly heaped upon Tilda Swinton and her performance as Julia Harris, a downwardly spiraling alcoholic who sees a way out of the hole she’s in when her unbalanced neighbor offers a large sum of money for help kidnapping her son from her grandfather-in-law. Swinton is raw, twitchy, and vanity-free. Her character is basically a horrible person yet you almost can’t help rooting for her as the situation inevitably turns sour.

Though it’s mostly a one-woman show, but Saul Rubinek (Unforgiven) does a great job as the guy trying to get Julia into a 12-step program.

I was expecting a dirge-like character drama about an alcoholic, but the character’s unreliability mostly provides a solid foundation for an entertainingly noirish crime thriller. It’s also blackly funny. Though more attention is being heaped upon Meryl Streep and her turn as a different Julia, Tilda Swinton deserves to be in the conversation.

That’s all I’ve got. Your turn.

27 Responses to “Watercooler: Is ‘Titanic’ record really unobtainium for ‘Avatar’?”

  1. I saw three films in theatres this week:

    It’s Complicated *** 1/2 (Wednesday night) Edgewater multiplex
    The Lovely Bones **** (Friday night) Village East Cinemas
    The Messenger *** 1/2 (Saturday night) Cinema Village

    IT’S COMPLICATED showcased yet another accomplished performance by Meryl Streep in a film that wasn’t anything new (yes Chuck Bowen, Nancy Myers is hardly Orson Welles!) but was still reasonably entertaining. Not the most probing of films, but oddly engaging with a few uproarious moments. No problem with Steve Martin or Alec Baldwin either. Just don’t expect all that much in psychological depth.

    The castigation of Peter Jackson over his direction of THE LOVELY BONES has been an unfortunate backlash against his prior work, but truth be said THE LOVELY BONES isn’t such a bad film at all. Yeah, it’s use of computer-generated effects may be excessive, but underneath everything there’s a deep sense of humanity that at times makes the film a deeply-moving experience. Not every idea works, but there’s enough imagination in the astral passages and some wrenching observation of family grief that makes it a valid adaptations. And Ms. Ronan is wonderful in the lead. I think Jackson is in the doghouse these days, but this film doesn’t deserve the drubbing it took by the majority of critics.

    THE MESSENGER is a well-acted military drama that centers around soldiers who are assigned the unenviable task of telling families of soldiers killed in action that their loved ones are gone, but it’s late attempts at romance are awkward an dunconvincing. Ben Foster, Woody Harrelson and Samantha Morton (as well as the distinguished actors of the victims’ families) give convincing performances, and the first two-thirds of the film is compelling, but then it loses steam when it stops following the vital linear thread. Still, a reasonable accomplishment.

    I also saw three works from Allan’s backlog, including a nine-hour LITTLE DORRIT BBC production directed by Andrew Davies, the multi-hour THE THICK OF IT, upon which the theatrical film IN THE LOOP was based, as the superlative Film Museum DVD of Pabst’s silent masterpiece THE JOYLESS STREET.

  2. Wow Craig!!!

    The site’s overhaul has yielded some spectacular results here with the graphics!


  3. I’m checking in because I just saw that Avatar bested the $1 billion mark after 17 days in theaters and I was a little surprised to read that. Holidays sure help, don’t they? Here’s a toast to original fare doing gangbuster business and a second toast to anything that gets people to stop talking about Transformers 2’s ticket sales.

    Someday I will get over that, but today ain’t it.

    Didn’t really see anything new this weekend, but we had a fun time celebrating my girlfriend’s birthday on New Years Eve and relaxed New Years day.

    I revisited A.I. and You Can Count On Me, both films that would make my best of the decade list were I to make one. A.I. has its flaws to be sure, but it’s a brilliant piece of filmmaking and I’d like to thank Chuck for inspiring me to give it another whirl. You Can Count On Me is a wonderful character piece and an absorbing family drama that hits sort of close to home. I love the two lead performances in this. Linney and Ruffalo are extremely talented actors and really haven’t had parts as good since.

    Today I saw Brighton Rock, a 1947 Brit noir based on a novel by Graham Greene and starring Richard Attenborough. He is a hapless, ruthless low level mob boss who overreaches and then spends the rest of the story trying to regain his footing. The film was alright but the ending was impeccably noir. Good stuff.

  4. I’ve been meaning to revisit A.I. too, joel, for the same reasons. I was surprisingly lukewarm on You Can Count on Me when I first saw it. I should probably revisit it too.

    I watched this weekend:

    Shaun of the Dead
    Red Cliff
    The Limits of Control
    Sherlock Holmes
    In the Mood for Love

    Shaun of the Dead was good, but the hype about it from everyone I know meant that it was a little bit of a letdown for me. I can see where it might get better on repeat viewings. I thought the team’s Hot Fuzz was much more laugh out loud funny. For my zom-com dollar, I still prefer Zombieland. Guess I’d give it four stars. Maybe 3 1/2.

    Red Cliff was awesome. I loved it. Loved it. 4 1/2 eyepoppingly beautiful action-packed stars. Woo wooo.

    Slackers was another quasi-letdown. I’ve enjoyed so much of Linklater’s work, I was sure I’d love this, and didn’t. I think it’s because a) it was so influential that I’ve now been there, done that a dozen times since; b) he’s grown as an artist since then, so this felt like a student film compared to some of his other works; and c) I was in the mood for something big Hollywood budgety and got outvoted, so ended up watching the opposite. Of interest was the fact that there were several of the cast members that my husband knew from his time in Austin in that era. It’s probably 3 1/2 stars, though at the time I was resenting watching it and it felt more like 2 stars.

    I wrote a little about The Limits of Control on the review thread over the weekend. It’s not a very accessible film and I certainly get the criticisms, but I thought it was tremendous the more I thought about it. Four stars, maybe more as I think about it more.

    Sherlock was a fun enough popcorn flick. Really it bears only a superficial resemblance to the original works. Richie’s going for an Indiana Jones-esque franchise here, and once I made peace with that, I was ok. It would be nice if the plot were less Dr. Evil’s Doomsday Machine and more old-school mystery, but whatever. It had some pretty clever touches here and there and the production design was great. Three, three 1/2 stars. I’ll give it the extra 1/2 stars just for the realistic Victorian London that made me want to go home and read more Arthur Conan Doyle.

    Invictus was fine. I’ve already forgotten it. I didn’t get the emotional highs I think I was supposed to. The best thing for me was the tour of Nelson Mandela’s prison, since I’d never had a visual on that. The rugby parts were downright boring and whenever the lyrics were in English, the music cues were terrible. They didn’t bother me when I didn’t know what they were saying. Three 1/2 stars.

    In the Mood for Love = sublime. This was my first Wong Kar Wai. Lovely through and through. I want that music to follow me around whenever I walk. It’d be nice if I could look like Maggie Cheung, too. Haven’t decided between 4 1/2 and 5 stars, but it’s on up there.

  5. I don’t know really know what to say about Shaun to make it work for you, JB, but I’m sure the advanced word got in your way a bit. I think it’s better overall than Fuzz, but I enjoyed both. I still haven’t see Zombieland so I have nothing to compare there. Slackers is definitely lower tier Linklater and feels very much like a student film. That said, it’s impressive for what it is and it has some inventive scenes in it.

  6. Maybe it’s just the expectations game, but Zombieland was one I wasn’t expecting to like very much at all and enjoyed all the way through. It’s even threatening to make my top 10. I think for sheer fun this year in a theater, only Fantastic Mr. Fox beats it for me.

  7. “It’s even threatening to make my top 10.”

    I think your top ten for the year should be entirely personal and about what appealed to you rather than what “deserves” recognition, so that sounds good to me.

  8. Jennybee automatically gets the Watercooler prize for losing her Wong Kar Wai virginity and having it be the experience she always dreamed about.

    Interestingly, with the exception of Holmes which I still haven’t seen (I’ve been enjoying the quieter pleasures of the original stories lately) we line up pretty well on all the movies you saw.

    Shaun…yeah, that was kind of a meh for me to. I came to it after the hype and after Hot Fuzz. It was clever and amusing, but not exactly the holy grail of comic zombie movies. For that crown, I’d turn to Return of the Living Dead.

    Red Cliff. If I made a list of 2009 overlooked gems (and I still might), Red Cliff would be on it. Just a lot of fun. I may have even liked the US cut better than the original 5 hour Chinese version. Maybe.

    “Invictus was fine. I’ve already forgotten it.” hahah…yeah. That about sums it up.

    Joel, I REALLY need to see You Can Count on Me Again. It’s kind of been plaguing me before I do a best of decade list…if I do one. I saw it once back in the day and I remember hearing all the critical praise and not feeling like it was commensurate with the film itself. It’s long been a candidate for rewatching.

    AI. Funny to see consensus opinion slowly turning around on one of Spielberg’s better movies. It got pretty well abused on initial release.

    Sam, thanks for the encouragement on the design. It’s still very much a work in progress so don’t get too used to what you’re looking at.

    as I said over at WitD, we mostly agree on Lovely Bones, at least to the extent that it’s unfairly maligned. I was a bit more dissatisfied with it, but really liked what it was going for and I think it might improve on subsequent viewings.

  9. jenny what if zombieland was in 3-d and at imax ??? ;)

    also try wkw’s ‘fallen angels’ next maybe this film hit me harder because of my ‘outsider’ status…

    and this is real movie story this weekend.



    also since it’s been mentioned a bit guess all of us here know. 75% of avatar’s money stateside has been 3-d. does it even matter if it breaks titanic record ???

  10. “does it even matter if it breaks titanic record ???”

    No, but in the big scheme of how Hollywood operates it’s a very big deal. I realized last night that when I saw Titanic in a theater, my adult ticket was probably about $6. I saw Avatar in 3D for $14. Inflation blows.

  11. SHAUN OF THE DEAD rulez. And it has far more heart and soul than HOT FUZZ.

    SLACKER is one of the bestest mostest important films of the 90’s. Still adore it.

    So there!

  12. I’m not getting the lack of love for Shaun either, I think its wonderful, though I like HOT FUZZ even better.

  13. I spent a good chunk of yesterday reading some of the reviews for A.I. from 2001 and it’s amazing how much bile it generated. Some of the misreadings of it were almost hilarious, if you could get past all the hatred. Most critics seemed completely turned off that it wasn’t the lost Stanley Kubrick movie they’d hoped to discover after his death, but putting that expectation on Spielberg is ridiculous.

  14. It’s not like I hated Shaun. I gave it 3 1/2 to 4 stars. Just didn’t laugh out loud very often. And it seemed rather emotionally dark in places, which worked against the funny for me. Coulda just been my mood.

    Why do I suspect Glim had something to do with that spike in the Best Actress poll at AD? :-)

  15. “And it seemed rather emotionally dark in places, which worked against the funny for me. ”

    That’s why it’s a more resonant film and better script than HOT FUZZ, which is funny, but only has parody on its mind. SHAUN OF THE DEAD is the only zombie film to move me to tears.

  16. Christian, love means never having to say you’re sorry for eating someone’s brain.

  17. jennybee –

    Why do I suspect Glim had something to do with that spike in the Best Actress poll at AD? :-)

    ha…: )

    thanks jen !!!! :)

    hey maybe they can mention the a.d. poll on the dvd cover. ;)

  18. “SHAUN OF THE DEAD is the only zombie film to move me to tears.”

    That’s an excellent point.

  19. Christian, we’re on the same page with SHAUN, but I think you’re selling HOT FUZZ short, which was also resonant. Frost is richer and better in FUZZ and that moment when he apes Keanu from POINT BREAK is (no joke) very moving.

    And Wright’s direction of FUZZ packs some major mojo.

  20. jennybee, not only did I enjoy Zombieland, your rationale for rating it so highly has made it easier to admit I enjoyed Up in the Air.

    This weekend I saw:

    Avatar (loved it regardless of script and, therefore, character limitations)
    It’s Complicated (enjoyable and poignant in a bon-bon sort of way)
    A Single Man (really good, I loved Firth in it)
    Nine (less flashy but better than expected; I actually liked what Day Lewis did with his role; I think the ending is a bit of a downer, with the culminating moment that ties it all together occurring after the credits start rolling).

    Also, I caught Cassavetes’s Husbands for the first time (on TV). I liked.

  21. Yes, I did like Frost a touch more in HOT FUZZ. But I actually thought the final action climax was lacking. The horse stuff felt out of place and the movie mashes up 80’s action films with THE WICKER MAN which didn’t feel as strongly conceived as SOTD nor did it stick to its genre. Tho I love Tim Dalton’s comeuppance. Eek.

  22. Hot Fuzz played more like a very well-conceived parody/mash-up of various films and genres and the disparate elements fit for me because it was sort of cartoonish. I prefer Shawn because I enjoyed the darker drama and characters a bit more. In Hot Fuzz, I never sensed that Wright or Pegg were going to venture beyond the constraints of an American action film, so I was never concerned with the characters’ fates (even though Wright is sampling some dark stuff, he treats it lightly).

  23. Pierre, what was the culminating moment in Nine? I dashed out the instant the credits began to roll in the hope of salvaging my day.

  24. I guess I don’t get the need for the dark drama in Shaun. It’s probably in my expectations. I went into it expecting a straight-up laugh-out-loud parody, needing that since I was in a melancholy mood, and that’s not really what I got. Parts of it fit the bill, but to me the tone felt uncomfortably uneven. I don’t need pathos in my zombie comedies. I get enough of that from every other friggin’ thing in my life that makes me cry. The only tears I wanted were from laughing too hard.

  25. Jenny, I am no fan of SHAUN either, and I loved ZOMBIELAND. So in this matter, I must say I’m completely with you.

    I just didn’t laugh much at SHAUN, while even the overplayed Twinkie gag in the latter film had me in stitches.

  26. Joel, I’ve been wondering about the 3D ticket price for Avatar’s take, too. The Dark Knight had the double viewing situation (YOU HAVE TO SEE IT IN IMAX!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!…yawn), too, but IMAX tickets aren’t as high as 3D IMAX tickets. So the billion dollars doesn’t sound as crazy to me as Titanic’s, which, for the record, I’m glad was not in 3D. I think I’m going to be saying that a lot about older movies over the next few years…

    Over the Christmas week I saw Sherlock Holmes (EXACT same thoughts as JennyBee) and The Princess and the Frog, which was formulaic, old-school Disney with no bells and whistles or anything special. Just like they used to make, and I liked it. Hopefully it will find some room in kids’ memories in between all of the PIXAR/3D craziness they are bombarded with these days.

    I prefer Hot Fuzz to Shaun, too. I guess I thought they made more comedy with less material. Or something.

  27. Glad we’re in agreement, Sam & Dan.

    Oh, man. How long before they do a 3D re-release of Titanic? You know they won’t be able to resist.

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