BOX-OFFICE REGISTERS RING IN THE YEAR

The box office celebrated the New Year with a bang, with four films producing outstanding business and exceeding the predictions not only of analysts but of the studios themselves. Barking up the right tree was Marley and Me, which not only grossed $24 million over the weekend but passed the $100-million mark in only 11 days. It has now taken in $106.5 million. Bedtime Stories remained in second place with $20.3 million. The nearly three-hour-long The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, which few had thought would become a hit, surprised again by taking in $18.4 million in its second week. Equally surprising was the $14-million take for the Tom Cruise World War II thriller Valkyrie, a movie that many analysts had predicted would flop. There were no new films given wide releases. Of the five films that opened wide last week, only one, The Spirit, has performed poorly. It dropped to 13th place over the weekend with just $3.3 million. Several Oscar-aspiring films also performed spectacularly well in limited release. Defiance, another World War II drama, grossed about $121,000 in its debut at two theaters -- or an average of $60,500 per theater. In its second week, Revolutionary Road took in $979,000 in 38 theaters, or an average of $25,763 per theater. The Wrestler grossed $431,884 in 18 markets, or $23,994 per theater. Last Chance Harvey took in $107,000 from six theaters, for an average of $17,833 per theater. In slightly wider release, Slumdog Millionaire pulled in $4.8 million in 84 theaters -- or $7,843 per theater -- in its eighth week. And Gran Torino grossed $2.8 million in 84 theaters, or $33,571 per theater. Overall, the box-office was up 7.5 percent over the same weekend a year ago.

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

1. Marley & Me, $24.1 million; 2. Bedtime Stories, $20.3 million; 3. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, $18.4 million; 4. Valkyrie, $14 million; 5. Yes Man, $13.9 million; 6. Seven Pounds, $10 million; 7. The Tale of Despereaux, $7 million; 8. Doubt, $5 million; 9. The Day the Earth Stood Still, $4.9 million; 10. Slumdog Millionaire, $4.8 million.

FOR STUDIOS, IT WAS A VERY GOOD YEAR

Hollywood closed out the year virtually tied with its results for last year. Total box-office revenue came to $9.63 billion versus $9.68 billion in 2007, according to Media By Numbers. The slight increase was the entire result of higher ticket pricing, inasmuch as the number of movie patrons dropped 4.3 percent from 2007. In an interview with the Associated Press, Media By Numbers chief Paul Dergarabedian said that the 2009 figures were impressive given the current economic downturn. "The movie industry is totally holding its own in the face of the recession, increased competition from other entertainment options and emerging technologies," Dergarabedian said.

ANIMATED DOCUMENTARY WINS CRITICS' TOP AWARD

In probably the most surprising decision of the awards season, the animated documentary Waltz With Bashir from Sony Classicshas received the top award from the National Society of Film Critics. Coincidentally, Bashir, which describes filmmaker Ari Folman's repressed memories of his days in the Israeli army during the 1982 Lebanon War, was honored on the same day that Israeli forces pushed into Gaza. Unlike other awards from critics groups, a selection by the NSFC is not regarded as an Oscar bellwether; the 63-member group and the Academy Awards voters rarely agree, and most Hollywood observers would probably concur that Bashir has little chance even of being nominated for a best-film Oscar. Miramax's Happy-Go-Lucky took the most NSFC awards -- four -- with Mike Leigh taking two of them for best director and best screenplay and Sally Hawkins winning for best actress and Eddie Marsan, for best actor.

SUPER-SIZED 3-D COMMERCIAL FOR SUPER BOWL

DreamWorks Animation is planning to distribute 150 million 3-D glasses so that Super Bowl viewers will be able to watch a three-minute clip of Monsters vs. Aliens during the Super Bowl telecast on February 1. In an interview with the Associated Press, DreamWorks Animation chief executive Jeffrey Katzenberg called the stunt "perhaps the biggest media-advertising event in history" and said that it would cost "tens of millions of dollars." The glasses will be available without charge at 28,000 locations at grocery, drug and electronics stores and big-box retailers. The following night they may be used to view a 3-D episode of NBC's Chuck.