I'm not surprised at all that "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead" snagged an amazing $36,750 per screen in two locations this weekend. I checked out one of them on Friday night at 5 p.m. in Manhattan. The Lincoln Plaza Cinema was jam-packed. In that trendy neighborhood, right across Broadway from Lincoln Center, you'd expect that kind of stampede to a Sidney Lumet movie starring Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ethan Hawke and Albert Finney (OK, OK, and Marisa Tomei, too) that garnered great early reviews and was in such strictly limited release.
But what does that tell us about how it'll do at the Oscars, huh?
Sure, it's cheered by film critics, but so was "Children of Men" last year and look how that did in the derby!
The kudos cliffhanger looming over Lumet's pic, as I see it: does "Devil" = "The Departed" (violent thriller forgiven for being bloody because of its A List cast and overdue, legendary director) or "Mulholland Drive" (beloved because its director is beloved — David Lynch got nommed for best director at the Oscars, but his movie didn't make the lineup for best picture)?
Graphic thrillers like "Devil" don't usually do well in the derby. Sure, "The Departed" won last year, but that was a fluke and it had a sly sense of absurdity. Through all the bang-bang-bang and broken bones and preposterous plot twists, viewers got the sense that Scorsese was winking at them from behind his camera and academy members winked right back.
"Devil" doesn't do that. It's serious, it's taut and it's gritty, not stylized like "Departed" and it's screenplay isn't distinguished enough to get nominated like "Departed" did, I'm guessing. That's a major drawback. As much as some of my fellow Oscar gurus love "Devil," a few of them don't think it looks like a derby horse to them. But that's what so many pundits said early last year about "Departed." Why do we suddenly believe them this year?
That's why I went to the Lincoln Plaza Cinema last Friday and sat in the front row, so I could be the last one out of the theater and eavesdrop on what the audience said as they exited.
Obviously, they were impressed, but shaken by the pic. I asked a few people if they thought it could win Oscars and they all said the same thing: sure, Lumet, Hoffman and Hawke. But what about best picture? They hesitated, not knowing what to say.
Assuming this film does well at the b.o. in coming weeks, it's clearly going to be a serious kudos contender. And it's going to do well in theaters because it's an art-house flick that's also an event film and a date movie — all of those things.
And because Lumet is an overdue legend, he'll automatically be nominated by the Directors Guild of America. And he'll probably be hailed by one of the top film critics' groups. But how he'll fare at the Golden Globes and Oscars is a mystery. He has the same problem that used to bedevil Scorsese -- they're New Yorkers, not Hollywood insiders. And this "Devil" isn't produced by one of the big Hollywood studios. It's bankrolled by THINKfilms, the East Coast indie house that did "Half Nelson" last year.
If Lumet gets a DGA bid, he'll probably be nominated at the Oscars next. But the DGA lineup of pix is always one or two films askew from the Oscar list of best-pic nominees. Will "Devil" be cast out?
Hmmmm . . . I still don't think I've got a good handle on that answer this weekend. If you think you know, click on the "Comment" link below.