OSCAR WINNERS: THE RUNDOWN

Joel and Ethan Coen's No Country for Old Men made a stronger-than-expected showing at Sunday night's Academy Awards presentation. Although it was favored to win the best picture Oscar, it was not expected to take three major awards -- for best director (the Coens), best adapted screenplay (also the Coens), and best supporting actor (Javier Bardem). In another surprise, the best actress went to French actress Marion Cotillard for her portrayal of legendary singer Edith Piaf in La Vie en Rose. (Cotillard is only the second woman in Oscar history to win the best-actress Oscar in a foreign-language film; the other was Sophia Loren for 1961's Two Women.) Equally surprising was the supporting-actress award to Tilda Swinton for her role in Michael Clayton. Daniel Day-Lewis, on the other hand, had been a clear-cut favorite to win the best actor award -- and he did so -- for There Will Be Blood. But that film had also been favored to win several other top awards, and didn't, save in the cinematography category. Other winners had been widely predicted. Diablo Cody took the best original screenplay award for Juno. Pixar's Brad Bird picked up the animation Oscar for Ratatouille. The Austrian-produced The Counterfeiters, directed by Stefan Ruzowitzky, won for best foreign-language film, the Iraq-war related Taxi to the Dark Side won the feature documentary Oscar, while the gay-rights-themed Freeheld won the Oscar for documentary shorts.

MORE AWARDS WINNERS

In other awards ceremonies over the weekend, Juno topped the Independent Spirit Awards, while Lindsay Lohan's I Know Who Killed Me nearly swept ever award in the Golden Raspberry ceremonies, which dishonor the worst films of the year. And in Paris, Abdellatif Kechiche's The Secret of the Grain was the top winner at France's César awards, winning for best film, director, original screenplay and breakthrough actress (Hafsia Herzi). Marion Cotillard received the best actress award for her performance in La Vie en Rose and Mathieu Amalric, the best actor award for his role in The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.

VANTAGE POINT TAKES ADVANTAGE

Say what you will about Vantage Point -- and critics last week unloaded on it -- the film delivered at the box office, producing an estimated $24 million in ticket sales. That's a lot more than could be said about the other new releases, several of which drew far milder responses from critics. Be Kind, Rewind opened with a so-so $4.1 million at 808 theaters. But Witless Protection was nearly devoid of witnesses, earning just $2.2 million, and Charlie Bartlett attracted just $1.8 million in sales. And the U2 concert flick U2 3D was no match for Hannah Montana, earning less than $1 million. Holdovers generally performed OK, with last week's top film Jumper falling 54 percent to about $12.7 million and placing second to edge out The Spiderwick Chronicles with $12.6 million. Step Up 2 the Streets finished fourth with $9.8 million. Among the Oscar nominees, best-picture winner No Country for Old Men performed the best as it added theaters and rose 21 percent to about $2.3 million. Juno continued its long run on the box-office charts, taking in another $4.1 million to bring its total to $130.4 million. There Will Be Blood returned to the top ten (in tenth place) with $2.6 million.

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

1. Vantage Point, $24 million; 2. Jumper, $12.7 million; 3. Spiderwick Chronicles, $12.6 million; 4. Step Up 2 the Streets, $9.8 million; 5. Fool's Gold, $6.3 million; 6. Definitely, Maybe, $5.2 million; 7. Juno, $4.1 million; 7. Be Kind Rewind, $4.1 million; 9. Welcome Home, Roscoe Jenkins, $4 million; 10. There Will Be Blood, $2.6 million.

IT'S ALL IN THE MARKETING, Y'KNOW

On Friday, Wall Street Journal critic Joe Morgenstern complained that if Vantage Point became a hit, it wouldn't be on account of its content or performances but because of "yet another massive marketing campaign on behalf of damned near nothing, and there's no reason to think the effort won't bear fruit. It's rancid fruit, though, if you care about the state of the medium." Over the weekend, Sony distribution chief Rory Bruer appeared to acknowledge that the film owed its success to the studio's marketing department. "It was an out-of-the-box campaign that went so well with the movie," Bruer told the Los Angeles Times. The newspaper itself praised the film's posters and other ads that "used mosaic-style images in the tradition of classic thrillers."

HONG KONG DIRECTOR LAU CRITICIZES SPIELBERG'S OLYMPICS STANCE

Hong Kong director Andrew Lau Wai-keung, whose hit film Internal Affairs was recreated as the U.S. blockbuster The Departed by Martin Scorsese, has criticized Steven Spielberg's decision to pull out of the Chinese Olympic Games as artistic adviser. At a news conference, Lau, who is making a short with British director Daryl Goodrich about China's preparations for the Olympics, said that he was "shocked and surprised" by Spielberg's withdrawal. "It's clear that the Olympics is all about sport and nothing to do with politics," he said. Goodrich said, "I was invited to make a film about sports, about children and to celebrate the Olympic Games. That's what I do, and that's why I came to Beijing." Spielberg withdrew as artistic adviser to the Games on Feb. 12, criticizing China's policies regarding the Darfur conflict in the Sudan. Over the weekend IOC president Jacques Rogge warned against using the Games for political demonstrations. Rogge said that while he "respected" Spielberg's decision, "The games are bigger than any one person."

Cinemark Movie Club
Brian B.