i>ENCHANTED WINS; BOX OFFICE LOSES

During a weekend when box-office business traditionally sinks, the top earner was the three-week-old Enchanted with just $17 million, according to studio estimates. It has grossed about $70.6 million thus far. The only new movie, Awake, starring Hayden Christensen and Jessica Alba, proved to be no sleeper. The Weinstein Co. movie distributed by MGM opened with just $6 million. This Christmas, which cost only $13 million to make,repeated in the second spot with $8.4 million to bring its two-week gross to $37 million, while Beowulf remained in third place with $7.9 million. It has now grossed $69 million (but it reportedly cost $160 million to make). The only good box-office news came from the indie sector, as the Coen Bros.' No Country for Old Men, the best-reviewed movie of the season, expanded into 995 theaters, where it took in $4.5 million. Fox Searchlight's The Savages opened in four theaters, taking in $185,000, while Miramax's The Diving Bell and the Butterfly debuted in three theaters with $75,000. Overall, the box office was down a whopping 8.2 percent from the comparable weekend a year ago, according to Media by Numbers.

The top ten films for the weekend, according to studio estimates compiled by Media by Numbers:

1. Enchanted, $17 million; 2. This Christmas, $8.4 million; 3. Beowulf, $7.9 million; 4. Awake, $6 million; 5. Hitman, $5.8 million; 6. Fred Claus, $5.6 million; 7. August Rush, $5.2 million; 8. No Country for Old Men, $4.5 million; 9. Bee Movie, $4.47 million; 10. American Gangster, $4.3 million.

MOVIE REVIEWS: AWAKE

Although ordinary moviegoers stayed away from theaters in droves over the weekend, the nation's film critics returned to them to catch Awake, which was not previously screened for them. The movie concerns a man who undergoes an operation, but remains awake -- although paralyzed -- throughout. The critics apparently identified with the poor man. Jack Mathews in the New York Daily News warned that audiences "must silently endure agonizing pain and banal operating room dialogue while telling themselves that it will soon be over. Not soon enough in the case of Awake, possibly the worst movie of 2007." Most other reviews were of a similar nature. But Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times, no stranger, unhappily, to the operating room, pronounced it "a surprisingly effective thriller. I went to a regular theater to see it Friday afternoon, knowing nothing about it except that the buzz was lethal, and sat there completely absorbed." Indeed, Ebert referred several times in his review to the poor advance reviews of the film that appeared on RottenTomatoes.com and elsewhere. He nevertheless concluded defensively: "But I felt what I felt, and there you have it."

WGA AIDS AIDS PERFORMERS

The Writers Guild of America agreed to withdraw its pickets from the Paramount studio lot on Saturday so that Elizabeth Taylor and James Earl Jones would not have to cross their lines to give an AIDS benefit performance. Taylor had asked the guild for a one night dispensation" so that she and her invitees could participate in the affair. Taylor and Jones gave a reading of A.R. Gurney's play, Love Letters. It was attended by more than 500 people, who each paid $2,500 for the one-night performance.

WHEN DOES AD-LIBBING CONSTITUTE WRITING?

Although it is commonplace for actors to ad-lib lines during the production of motion pictures, a thorny question has arisen over whether actors who are also members of the Writers Guild of America may be allowed to do so, the Los Angeles Times observed Saturday. The newspaper noted that while motion picture production has gone ahead on schedule, "habitual" on-set script polishing has been eliminated and some filmmakers, including WGA members, have been left "unsure about what is permissible." The Times commented that comedies, in which many funny lines are made up on the set, have been particularly affected by the strike. "Although actors are still free to improvise," the newspaper observed, "they can't be directly coached into what to say, creating bizarre situations in which writers and directors are using every technique short of hypnosis to get actors to change dialogue."

Brian B.