After a dire 2008, the art house market in the US is buoyant, benefiting from a general uplift in ticket sales at the nation's cinemas.
Audiences in the US are responding to an eclectic array of specialty films including Sunshine Cleaning (pictured), The Class, Gomorrah, Sin Nombre, Goodbye Solo and Tokyo Sonata.
Business at Landmark Theatres, the country's largest art cinema chain, has been tracking ahead of the previous year for five consecutive months. Nationwide, box-office takings in the first quarter of 2009 hit a record $US2.4 billion, up 9% on 2008, despite a lull in March after Watchmen underperformed.
Sunshine Cleaning, a dark comedy directed by New Zealander Christine Jeffs (Rain, Sylvia), fetched a tidy $1.8 million on 479 screens in the US last weekend, boosting its earnings to $4.7 million in 24 days. Released by boutique distributor Overture, it stars Amy Adams as a struggling single mother who discovers there\'s a lot of money to be made in cleaning up after crime scenes, and enlists her troubled younger sister Norah (Emily Blunt) to help her. The film is performing more strongly than Overture's 2008 hit The Visitor and similarly to Fox Searchlight's The Namesake, according to indieWIRE.
Gomorrah, Matteo Garrone's corrosive study of the Neapolitan Mafia, the largest of Italy's crime gangs, has pocketed a sturdy $1.2 million in 16 weeks on limited release.
Healthy per-screen averages are being clocked up by Sin Nombre, Cary Joji Fukunaga's debut feature about Central American immigrants seeking a better life in the US; Goodbye Solo, Iranian-American director Ramin Bahrani's tale of a Senegalese cab driver who befriends a suicidal, middle-aged white man; Tokyo Sonata, Japanese horror master Kiyoshi Kurosawa's drama about a Japanese family torn apart when the man of the house loses his job but is too embarrassed to tell his wife and son; and Matt Tyrnauer's Valentino: The Last Emperor, a documentary on the famous Italian designer.
Last weekend there were encouraging single-screen debuts by Enlighten Up!, a docu exploring the world of yoga; and the Oscar short-listed Tulpan from Kazakhstan director Sergey Dvortsevoy, following an ex-military man who goes searching for a wife and realises his only local option is a shy young woman, Tulpan, who spurns his advances.
Miramax was hoping for a strong start last weekend for Adventureland, a comedy set in an amusement park, starring Jesse Eisenberg and Twilight's Kristin Stewart, from Superbad director Greg Mottola. The film got critical raves, scoring 89% on Rotten Tomatoes' survey of reviewers, but audiences weren't as enthused and it made a tepid $5.7 million on 1,862 screens.
It will be interesting to see whether Aussies spark more to Adventureland when it opens here on June 4. And to find out if there's a resurgence in the specialty market when Tulpan opens on April 23, Gomorrah debuts on May 14 and Sunshine Cleaning arrives on June 11. There are no release dates as of yet in Oz for Sin Nombre, Valentino, Tokyo Sonata or Goodbye Solo.