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Cinema Chat: 'Avatar' dominates the box office, 'Babylon,' 'It's a Wonderful Life,' and more

The Michigan Theater lobby at Christmastime.
The Michigan Theater
The Michigan Theater lobby at Christmastime.


James Cameron’s “Avatar: The Way of Water” (Disney) fell short of perhaps unrealistic domestic opening expectations, by perhaps $50 million. For now, let’s defer judgment and focus on the director’s own history and the calendar rather than comparisons to past Marvel and “Star Wars” films.

Disney estimates the domestic weekend will come to $134 million, worldwide $435 million. This is phenomenal by any standards other than the franchises mentioned above. However, with an estimated cost of at least $400 million “The Way of Water” is a film that does not conform to standards. The total for all films this weekend is an estimated $152 million. Last year, with “Spider-Man: No Way Home” opening to $260 million, that figure was $283 million. In 2019, when tickets cost 20 percent less, it was $248 million.

At 61 percent of 2019, our unadjusted four-week rolling average falls to 51 percent. That’s a horrible rate as we move into the all-important Christmas weeks. Cameron’s film reinforces the idea that savior films aren’t enough. The gross for 2022 domestic now looks like $7.5 billion, perhaps 15 percent lower than the year’s lowball $8.5 billion projection and far off the $11.2 billion of 2019 (which, at today’s ticket prices, would be over $13 billion).

Only three wide studio releases remain — “Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance with Somebody” (Sony), “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish” (Universal), and “Babylon” (Paramount), with holdovers providing less additional gross ahead than any previous Christmas. Everything else in the top 10 grossed a pathetic $18 million. Two films — #2 “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” (Disney, which has four of the top five films, including Searchlight’s “The Menu”) and “Violent Night” (Universal) — accounted for half of that. Only five films grossed over $1 million. A reissue of “The Polar Express” (Warner Bros. Discovery) made it to #10 with an estimated $260,000.

It is unprecedented: On a key weekend right before the holidays, not a single platform title opened from any top specialized distributor. “Living” (Sony Pictures Classics), “Women Talking” (United Artists), and “Corsage” (IFC) open Friday, with Sony providing “A Man Called Otto” and SPC “Turn Every Page” on December 30.



A tale of outsized ambition and outrageous excess, this film traces the rise and fall of multiple characters during an era of unbridled decadence and depravity in early Hollywood. This is a 2022 American epic period comedy-drama film written and directed by Damien Chazelle. The film features an ensemble cast that includes Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Diego Calva, Jean Smart,Tobey Maguire, Jovan Adepo, and Li Jun Li. Its plot chronicles the rise and fall of multiple characters during Hollywood's transition from silent to sound films in the late 1920s. The film received positive reviews, with praise aimed at the cinematography, score, and cast performances. It received five nominations at the 80th Golden Globe Awards, including Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy and nine nominations at the 28th Critics' Choice Awards, including Best Picture.


For the first time in more than a decade, DreamWorks Animation presents a new adventure in the Shrek universe as daring outlaw Puss in Boots discovers that his passion for peril and disregard for safety have taken their toll. Puss has burned through eight of his nine lives, though he lost count along the way. Getting those lives back will send Puss in Boots on his grandest quest yet. Academy Award® nomineeAntonio Banderas returns as the voice of the notorious PiB as he embarks on an epic journey into the Black Forest to find the mythical Wishing Star and restore his lost lives. But with only one life left, Puss will have to humble himself and ask for help from his former partner and nemesis: Kitty Soft Paws (Oscar® nominee Salma Hayek). In their quest, Puss and Kitty will be aided--against their better judgment--by a ratty, chatty, relentlessly cheerful mutt, Perro (Harvey Guillén, "What We Do in the Shadows"). Together, our trio of heroes will have to stay one step ahead of Goldilocks (Oscar® nominee Florence Pugh) and the Three Bears Crime Family, "Big" Jack Horner (Emmy winner John Mulaney) and terrifying bounty hunter, The Big Bad Wolf (Wagner Moura).

"Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance with Somebody" — OPENS FRIDAY, DECEMBER 23 AT THE MULTIPLEX

Discovered by record executive Clive Davis, Whitney Houston rises to fame in the 1980s to become one of the greatest singers of her generation. A biographical musical film based on the life of American singer-actress Whitney Houston. Directed by Kasi Lemmons, from a screenplay by Anthony McCarten, the film stars Naomi Ackie as Houston. with Stanley Tucci, Ashton Sanders, Tamara Tunie, Nafessa Williams, and Clarke Peters featured in supporting roles. This authorized biopic on Houston's life was announced in early 2020, with Ackie cast in the lead role.


Holiday Classics at the Michigan Theater

Honoring Italian Cinema - Film & Food Festival (Thursdays at the State)


"Decision to Leave" 

From writer/director Park Chan-wook, one of the most prominent South Korean filmmakers working today "‘Oldboy", "The Handmaiden")

From a mountain peak in South Korea, a man plummets to his death, leaving the question: Did he jump, or was he pushed? When detective Hae-joon arrives on the scene, he begins to suspect the dead man's wife, but as he digs deeper into the investigation, he finds himself trapped in a web of deception and desire.

The film was selected to compete for the Palme d'Or at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival, where Park won Best Director, and was also selected as the South Korean entry for the Best International Feature Film at the 95th Academy Awards. It was also named one of the top 5 international films of 2022 by the National Board of Review.

"The Whale"

From directorDarren Aronofsky, known for his psychological dramas "Pi", "Requiem for a Dream", and "Black Swan".

Starring Brendan Fraser as a reclusive English teacher suffering from severe obesity who attempts to reconnect with his estranged teenage daughter for one last chance at redemption.

Fraser has received a Best Actor nomination at the 80th Golden Globe Awards and is inspiring the discussion of a “Frasierssance” that may be upon us.

"Empire of Light"

Written and directed by Sam Mendes ("1917", "American Beauty", "Skyfall")

A poignant tale of human connection that takes place in an English coastal cinema during the 1980s, and a love letter to the magic of cinema.

Sam Mendes recruited an all-star cast and crew, with Olivia Colman, Micheal Ward, Colin Firth, and Toby Jones in starring roles, a score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross (Oscar winners for Disney Pixar’s "Soul") and the film was shot by Roger Deakins, two-time Academy Award winner and perhaps the most widely praised cinematography working in the industry today.

"Spoiler Alert" 

From director Michael Showalter ("The Big Sick", "Hello, My Name is Doris") starring Jim Parsons, Ben Aldridge, andSally Field.

A heartful drama with a fine touch of wit, based on the memoir "Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies" by Michael Ausiello. The film follows the final 11-month period of Manhattan photographer Kit Cowan's life, from his diagnosis with terminal cancer to his death, through the eyes of Michael, his partner of 14 years, and later spouse.

"The Fabelmans" 

A 2022 American coming-of-age drama film directed by Steven Spielberg and written and produced by Tony Kushner and Spielberg. It is a semi-autobiographical story loosely based on Spielberg's adolescence and first years as a director, told through an original story of the fictional Sammy Fabelman, a young aspiring filmmaker who explores how the power of movies can help him see the truth about his dysfunctional family and those around him. The film features an ensemble cast that includes Gabriel LaBelle, Michelle Williams, Paul Dano, Seth Rogen, and Judd Hirsch. It is dedicated to the memories of Spielberg's real-life parents Arnold Spielberg and Leah Adler. The film had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 10, 2022, where it won the People's Choice Award.

Young Sammy Fabelman falls in love with movies after his parents take him to see "The Greatest Show on Earth." Armed with a camera, Sammy starts to make his own films at home, much to the delight of his supportive mother.

"The Menu"

A 2022 American comedy horror film directed by Mark Mylod, written by Seth Reiss and Will Tracy, and produced by Adam McKay, Betsy Koch, and Will Ferrellthrough their production banners Hyperobject Industries and Gary Sanchez Productions respectively. The film stars Ralph Fiennes, Anya Taylor-Joy, Nicholas Hoult, Hong Chau, Janet McTeer, Judith Light, and John Leguizamo. It had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival.

Young couple Margot and Tyler (Anya Taylor-Joy and Nicholas Hoult) travel to a remote island to eat at Hawthorne, an exclusive restaurant run by celebrity chef Julian Slowik (Ralph Fiennes), who has prepared a lavish molecular gastronomy menu where food is treated as conceptual art, although his approach to cuisine has some shocking surprises for the wealthy guests.

"The Banshees of Inisherin" 

This is a 2022 black comedy film written and directed by Martin McDonagh. The film follows lifelong friends (Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson) who find themselves at an impasse when one abruptly ends their relationship; Kerry Condon and Barry Keoghan also star. It reunites Farrell and Gleeson, who previously worked together on McDonagh's directorial "In Bruges" (2008). It had its world premiere at the 79th Venice International Film Festival, where Farrell won the Volpi Cup for Best Actor and McDonagh won the Golden Osella for Best Screenplay.

Set on a remote island off the west coast of Ireland, this film follows lifelong friends Pádraic and Colm, who find themselves at an impasse when Colm unexpectedly puts an end to their friendship. A stunned Pádraic, aided by his sister Siobhán and troubled young islander Dominic, endeavors to repair the relationship, refusing to take no for an answer. But Pádraic's repeated efforts only strengthen his former friend’s resolve and when Colm delivers a desperate ultimatum, events swiftly escalate, with shocking consequences.

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