Bourbon, Tennessee Whiskey Producers Toast More Strong Sales

Producers of Kentucky bourbon and Tennessee whiskey are toasting another year of strong sales and revenue growth. Leading the way is growing demand for high-priced, super-premium brands.

The Distilled Spirits Council said Tuesday that combined U.S. revenues for bourbon, Tennessee whiskey and rye whiskey shot up 7.8% to $2.9 billion in 2015. Domestic volume rose 5.2%.

The council’s annual report says bourbon and Tennessee whiskey revenues and volumes outpaced the overall distilled spirits sector.

Meanwhile, it says bourbon and Tennessee whiskey exports topped $1 billion for the third straight year, despite challenges caused by a strong dollar. A strong dollar makes U.S. goods less competitive. (AP)

‘Revenant’ Leads Oscar Nominations With 12

The brutal 1820s frontier revenge thriller “The Revenant” landed a leading 12 nominations for the 88th annual Academy Awards, while the acting categories were again filled entirely by white performers a year after the Oscars came under withering criticism over its lack of diversity.

The strong showing Thursday for “The Revenant,” including a best actor nod for Leonardo DiCaprio and best supporting actor for Tom Hardy, follows its win at the Golden Globes. It sets up director Alejandro Inarritu for a possible back-to-back win following his sweep of best picture, director and screenplay for “Birdman” last year.

“We gave it our all on this film and this appreciation from the Academy means a lot to me and my colleagues who made it possible,” said Inarritu in a statement. “Champagne and mezcal will run tonight!”

George Miller’s post-apocalyptic sequel “Mad Max: Fury Road” followed with 10 nominations, including best picture and best director for Miller. Ridley Scott’s sci-fi epic “The Martian” landed seven nominations, including best picture and best actor for Matt Damon, but, surprisingly, no best director nod for Scott.

Eight out of a possible ten films were nominated for best picture. The other five were: Tom McCarthy’s investigative journalistic procedural “Spotlight,” Steven Spielberg’s Cold War thriller “Bridge of Spies,” Adam McKay’s Michael Lewis adaptation “The Big Short,” the mother-son captive drama “Room” and the ’50s Irish immigrant tale “Brooklyn.”

Left on the outside were Todd Haynes’ lesbian romance “Carol” (which fared better in acting nominations for Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara) and the N.W.A biopic “Straight Outta Compton” (which still landed a nod for original screenplay). The miss for “Carol” meant one usual Oscar heavyweight – Harvey Weinstein – won’t have a horse in the best picture race for the first time since 2008.

The acting nominees, which notably omitted Idris Elba for “Beasts of No Nation” and Benicio Del Toro for “Sicario” – both of whom were predicted by many handicappers – gave the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences an awkward repeat of the “OscarsSoWhite” backlash that followed last year’s acting nominees.

Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs has since redoubled efforts to diversify the academy’s membership, and slated Chris Rock – who a year ago famously labeled Hollywood a “white industry” – to host this year’s Feb. 28 ceremony.

“I really was disappointed,” said Isaacs after nominations were announced. “What is important is that this entire conversation of diversity is here and that we are talking about it. And I think we will not just talk because people will say, ‘Well don’t just talk. You gotta do.’ Talking gets to the doing, and we are going to do.”

Alongside DiCaprio and Damon, the best actor nominees are: Michael Fassbender (“Steve Jobs”), Eddie Redmayne (“The Danish Girl”) and Bryan Cranston (“Trumbo”). Two big names were left out: Johnny Depp for “Black Mass” and Will Smith for “Concussion.”

In a statement, DiCaprio, who’s expected to land his first Oscar in his fifth nomination, called making “The Revenant” ”one of the most rewarding and collaborative experiences of my life.”

The best actress field is led by favorite Brie Larson for “Room,” along with Jennifer Lawrence (for “Joy,” making her, at 25, the youngest four-time nominee), Cate Blanchett (her seventh nod, for “Carol”), Saoirse Ronan (“Brooklyn”) and Charlotte Rampling (“45 Years”).

After seemingly slipping in an unpredictable awards season, “Spotlight” rebounded Thursday, landing six nominations including best director for McCarthy, best screenplay for McCarthy and Josh Singer, best supporting actress for Rachel McAdams and best supporting actor for Mark Ruffalo.

Sylvester Stallone, reprising his role as Rocky Balboa in “Creed,” looms large in the supporting actor category. His stiffest competition is seen as Mark Rylance, best known for his stage work, for “Bridge of Spies.” Also nominated were Tom Hardy (“The Revenant”) and Christian Bale (“The Big Short”).

“I am incredibly humbled by this honor,” Stallone, first nominated for the role in 1976 for “Rocky,” wrote in an email. “I was not expecting it … especially at this time in my life. I am certainly grateful to the artists and collaborators who helped make it possible.”

Stallone was the only nominee for Ryan Coogler’s “Creed,” which drew raves for its director and star, Michael B. Jordan.

“Irony of ironies, the only actor who received a nomination for ‘Creed’ is white,” said Gil Robertson, president of the African American Film Critics Association, which named “Straight Outta Compton” best picture. “The academy really needs to look at itself. Under Cheryl Boone Isaac’s direction, they have been making terrific strides toward diversity. Hopefully that will start to pay off over time.”

Nominees for best director shunned not just one filmmaking legend in Scott, but also Spielberg. Instead, Lenny Abrahamson for “Room” was the unexpected addition along with Adam McKay, known best for his broader Will Ferrell comedies, for “The Big Short.”

McKay by phone said he made a pre-dawn party of watching the nominations, inviting over co-writer Charles Randolph and film editor Hank Corwin and his wife for some early breakfast.

“It was thrilling. We were screaming like idiots in the pitch black with the smell of waffles in the room,” McKay said.

Along with Mara and McAdams, the best supporting actress nominees were Alicia Vikander (“The Danish Girl”), Jennifer Jason Leigh (“The Hateful Eight”) and Kate Winslet (“Steve Jobs”), her seventh nod.

As expected, Pixar’s “Inside Out” landed a best animated feature nod, as did the Charlie Kaufman-penned stop-motion animation “Anomalisa,” ”Shaun the Sheep Movie,” ”Boy and the World” and “When Marnie Was There.”

The nomination for Pixar (which also landed a best screenplay nod for “Inside Out”) restores its nearly unblemished record of Oscar nominations, broken only by 2011’s “Cars 2” and 2013’s “Monsters University.”

The foreign language category drew films from Hungary (“Son Of Saul”), France (“Mustang”), Jordan (“Theeb”), Denmark (“A War”) and Colombia (“Embrace the Serpent”). Jordan and Columbia celebrated their first nominations.

Though some fans had hoped for a better showing, the box-office behemoth “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” failed to land a best picture nomination. It instead scored five technical nods for editing, score, visual effects, sound mixing and sound editing.

Since the best picture field was expanded from five nominees to up to 10, in 2009, partly to make room for bigger, more populist films like Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight” alongside acclaimed independent releases.

But the chances for “The Force Awakens” were hurt because the category already has one sci-fi blockbuster (“The Martian”), as well as a number of major studio releases. 20th Century Fox had an especially good day, led by “The Revenant” and “The Martian.” Two indie upstarts, Open Road (“Spotlight”) and A24 (“Room”), notched their first best picture nominations.

Netflix, which has previously scored nominations for documentaries, fell short in its first bid for fiction film nods. Its first original feature, Cary Fukunaga’s West African child war film “Beasts of No Nation,” was shut out.

Netflix did, however, again break into the documentary category with “What Happened, Miss Simone?” and “Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom.” The other nominees were “Amy,” ”Cartel Land” and “The Look of Silence.” Surprisingly left out was Alex Gibney’s incendiary “Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief.”

Nominations were announced shortly after the passing of Alan Rickman, famed for “Die Hard” and “Harry Potter” but never Oscar-nominated, at 69. (AP)

Golden Globes Seen by 18.5 Million Viewers

The Nielsen company says an estimated 18.5 million viewers watched the Golden Globes Awards ceremony on NBC on Sunday night.

That’s down from last year’s audience of 19.3 million viewers, though NBC notes the Globes telecast faced tough competition with the final 15 minutes of Fox’s NFL playoff game.

The Globes broadcast, hosted by Ricky Gervais, was also down from the 2014 telecast, co-hosted by Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, when 20.9 million viewers tuned in. That was the most-watched Golden Globes in a decade.

Gervais returned to hosting duties this year after having presided from 2010 to 2012. (AP)

Blockbusters Propel 2015 Domestic Box Office to Record $11 Billion

It’s been a record-breaking, $11 billion year at the movies.

Box-office tracker Rentrak said Tuesday that the industry has already reached the benchmark and is expected to end the year with an unprecedented $11.1 billion in ticket sales in the U.S. and Canada.

The previous record of $10.9 billion was set in 2013.

This year heralded numerous record-breaking releases, including “Fifty Shades of Grey,” which set a record for February opening-weekend attendance, and “Furious 7” did the same in April. Opening in June, “Jurassic World” scored the biggest debut weekend ever, until it was bested this month by “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”

“Hollywood built the perfect box office beast in 2015, with one hit movie after the next,” said Rentrak analyst Paul Dergarabedian in a statement. (AP)

‘Force Awakens’ Becomes Fastest Movie to $1 billion

“Star Wars: The Force Awakens” has reached $1 billion at the box office, achieving the milestone with record-setting hyper speed.

The Walt Disney Co. said “The Force Awakens” crossed the billion-dollar mark Sunday, accomplishing the feat in just 12 days. The previous movie to reach $1 billion the fastest was Universal’s “Jurassic World,” which did it in 13 days in June. “Jurassic World” also had the benefit of record grosses in China. “The Force Awakens” doesn’t open in the world’s second-largest movie market until Jan. 9.

J.J. Abrams’ installment of “Star Wars” also posted the biggest Christmas Day box office in history with $49.3 million and the best second-weekend earnings with $153.5 million.

“The Force Awakens” has been setting records since its debut Dec. 17. It brought in a galactic $238 million in North America over its opening weekend, besting previous record-setter “Jurassic World,” and set international opening-weekend records in Australia, New Zealand and throughout Europe. It scored the biggest worldwide debut with $529 million. It also topped $100 million in IMAX screenings in 10 days, another global record.

“You almost have to rewrite all the record books for this movie,” box office analyst Paul Dergarabedian of Rentrak said. “It’s absolutely mind-blowing that ‘Star Wars’ could get to a billion dollars in 12 days and it hasn’t even opened in China, the second biggest movie market in the world.”

The power of “Star Wars” meant the rest of the week’s releases were competing for second place. That prize went to the Paramount comedy “Daddy’s Home,” which opened with $38.8 million, according to studio estimates Sunday. David O. Russell’s new drama starring Jennifer Lawrence, “Joy,” debuted in third place with $17.5 million.

A flurry of new films also opened in the top 10 this weekend. “Concussion,” the Will Smith-NFL drama, took in $11 million, good for sixth place, followed by the financial-crisis saga “The Big Short,” which collected $10.5 million. The remake of “Point Break” opened with $10.2 million. And Quentin Tarantino’s latest film, “The Hateful Eight,” debuted in 10th place with $4.5 million.

A juggernaut like “Star Wars” empowers the entire industry, Dergarabedian said.

“It’s great for the audiences, great for studios and theater owners in particular who can point to this and say the movie theater industry is as viable and relevant as it’s ever been,” he said.

Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to Rentrak. Where available, the latest international numbers for Friday through Sunday are also included. Final domestic figures will be released Monday.

1. “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” $153.5 million ($133.3 international).

2. “Daddy’s Home,” $38.8 million ($4.4 million).

3. “Joy,” $17.5 million ($2 million international).

4. “Sisters,” $13.9 million ($300,000 international).

5. “Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip,” $12.7 million ($8.1 million international).

6. “Concussion,” $11 million.

7. “The Big Short,” $10.5 million ($1.4 million international).

8. “Point Break,” $10.2 million ($2 million).

9. “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay-Part 2,” $5.3 million ($6.4 million).

10. “The Hateful Eight,” $4.5 million.

___

Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at international theaters (excluding the U.S. and Canada), according to Rentrak:

1. “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” $133.3 million.

2. “Devil and Angel,” $55 million.

3. “Mojin: The Lost Legend,” $44 million.

4. “Mr. Six,” $27 million.

5. “The Peanuts Movie,” $25 million.

6. “The Himalayas,” $14.5 million.

7. “Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip,” $8.1 million.

8. “The Good Dinosaur,” $8 million.

9. “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay-Part 2,” $6.4 million.

10. “Spectre,” $5.6 million. (AP)

N.W.A. Joins Quartet of 1970s Hit-Makers in Rock Hall

The groundbreaking Los Angeles rap act N.W.A. will join a quartet of 1970s era FM radio rockers – Chicago, Cheap Trick, Deep Purple and Steve Miller – as 2016 inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

N.W.A., led by Dr. Dre and Ice Cube, was elected after three unsuccessful nominations in a year when a movie about the group’s career, “Straight Outta Compton,” was a box-office hit. Their hard-core tales of life on the street on songs like “F— the Police” made them a provocative chart presence in the late 1980s and influenced an empire of other acts.

Both Miller and Cheap Trick made it during their first year on the ballot.

The induction ceremony for the Cleveland-based hall will be held April 8 in Brooklyn’s Barclays Center. HBO will televise highlights later in the spring.

Guitarist Miller came out of the San Francisco rock scene and became a dependable maker of pop hits like “Take the Money and Run,” ”Fly Like an Eagle,” ”Jet Airliner” and “Jungle Love.”

Midwestern favorites Cheap Trick succeeded with a highly amped version of Beatles-influenced melodies on hits “Surrender” and “Dream Police.” Their “Live at Budokan” album is one of rock’s best-known live sets. Guitarist Rick Nielsen and rumpled drummer Bun E. Carlos gave them an indelible live presence.

Cheap Trick moved swiftly to capitalize on the honor, announcing Thursday they had signed a new deal with Taylor Swift’s label, Big Machine Records. The band will release its 17th studio album a week before its induction.

“Thanks to all the fans who have supported us for all these years and to the Hall of Fame members who cast their votes,” said bass player Tom Petersson. “We are excited and honored.”

The guitar riff for Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water” remains one of the most recognizable in rock history. Guitarist Ritchie Blackmore was a stalwart in a hard rock act that competed with Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath for the loyalty of metalheads.

Before shortening its name from the Chicago Transit Authority, Chicago was known for its jazz-rock fusion. The band had a string of pop hits including “Saturday in the Park,” ”25 or 6 to 4,” ”If You Leave Me Now” and “Does Anyone Really Know What Time it Is?”

More than 800 voters of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation selected the inductees.

The influential disco-era band Chic is becoming the Susan Lucci of music, failing to win induction in its 10th year as a nominee. Janet Jackson, The Cars, Los Lobos and Yes were among the other nominees rejected. (AP)

Schumer, Morgan, Make Barbara Walters’ Most Fascinating List

Amy Schumer, Tracy Morgan and ballerina Misty Copeland are on Barbara Walters’ list of the most fascinating people of the year.

Others who made the cut for Walters’ ABC special include Bradley Cooper, fighter Ronda Rousey, Democratic presidential contender Bernie Sanders and Donna Karan. Others are to be announced.

The person deemed the most fascinating of all will be announced on “Barbara Walters Presents: The 10 Most Fascinating People of 2015.”

The 90-minute special airs Thursday at 9:30 p.m. Eastern.

This marks the 23rd year that TV journalist and host Walters has ranked and interviewed celebrities and newsmakers. (AP)

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