Off the Carpet: Waiting on the guilds as 'War Horse' hits the box office running

Posted by · 1:33 pm · December 26th, 2011

The sleigh bells have been silenced, the decorations are ready to be stored another year and the online Christmas spirit is giving way once again to the power of snark.

As we enter the lull between holidays, I glance at the box office and see good news for Disney. Steven Spielberg’s “War Horse,” after weeks of heartland screenings, an aggressive TV campaign (I keep talking to friends all over the country who feel like they’re inundated with commercials) and plenty of awards buzz, the film is estimated to bring in $15 million in two days. Had it not opened on a Sunday (Christmas Day), it would obviously have had a stellar weekend.

“True Grit” opened on December 22 last year (a Wednesday) and still made $24 million on the weekend (dropping a scant 1% the next week, which ignited it as a box office story). It’s left to be seen what kind of legs Spielberg’s film will have, but with little demographic competition standing in its way, I’m thinking next weekend will be solid and the legs could be significant.

Significant enough to put it in the thick of the Best Picture race? Time will tell. Right now most are conceding things to “The Artist,” with “The Descendants” as the bridesmaid. “Hugo” is still in a position to make good (it has the critics and the industry, so box office doesn’t need to be outstanding) and “War Horse” is the only other film with the mojo to make a case for itself. (Some might argue in favor of “The Help,” but I’m skeptical.) Becoming a financial success story would give it a huge leg up, especially in the wake of “The Artist”‘s expected box office anemia. The narrative almost begins to write itself at that point.

But we’ll just have to wait and see what “War Horse” has in its tank first, and more importantly, whether the awards team behind it can use that to its benefit.

Last week we ran through the precursors so far to see what has been propped up to date, but the critics’ say is running its course. With the Screen Actors Guild having already declared, we’re moving into the guild phase. Ballots go out tomorrow, and between then and the balloting deadline (Jan. 13), three major announcements will drop:

The Producers Guild of America (PGA) declares a slate of 10 feature nominees (with separate categories for animated features and the previously announced documentaries) on January 3.

Two days later, the Writers Guild of America (WGA) announces nominees for adapted and original screenplays on January 5 (with a number of ineligibilities that won’t show up but should nevertheless be noted).

Then on January 9, all eyes will be on the Directors Guild of America’s (DGA) announcement, which historically has the most sway on the Best Picture race (largely due to how massive the organization is).

How will they change the discourse? Will they? We’ll find out next year.

There hasn’t been a lot of movement throughout the Contenders section, but Guy and I have made this or that edit where necessary. The sidebar predictions reflect those changes.

(Note: Be sure to check back later today as Guy offers up his top 10 films of the year.)

For year-round entertainment news and awards season commentary follow @kristapley on Twitter.

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