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‘Devil Inside’ on top at the box office

“The Devil Inside’’ debuted with a $34.5 million opening weekend, according to studio estimates yesterday. The surprise hit from Paramount Pictures debuted well above industry expectations as horror fans crowded theaters to see the low-budget exorcism tale. Hollywood’s business soared over the first full weekend of 2012 after a sluggish holiday season that ended a ho-hum year at the box office. Overall domestic revenues totaled $144 million, up 29 percent from the same weekend last year. “The Devil Inside’’ bumped another Paramount hit, Tom Cruise’s “Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol,’’ out of the top spot after two weekends at No. 1. “Ghost Protocol’’ slipped to No. 2 with $20.5 million, raising its domestic total to $170.2 million. Final domestic figures will be released today.

Studio deal is near

Lions Gate is close to buying Summit Entertainment, the maker of the teen hit “Twilight’’ series, for about $400 million in cash and stock. That’s according to two people yesterday who were briefed on the matter. They were not authorized to speak publicly and requested anonymity. Talks on a deal are in the late stages and could be finalized this week. Summit also has about $300 million in debt linked to its movies. That debt is expected to be paid off quickly, especially after the last movie in the series, “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2,’’ hits theaters in November. The Hollywood blog Deadline reported the news earlier. The deal would create a studio among the largest in Hollywood and bring together under one roof “Twilight’’ and another expected popular teen series “The Hunger Games,’’ which Lions Gate is set to release in March.

‘Melancholia’ wins

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The National Society of Film Critics selected Lars von Trier’s drama “Melancholia’’ as the best picture of 2011 during its annual meeting Saturday. The society also named the movie’s star, Kirsten Dunst , as 2011’s best actress. The film ponders the end of the world. The group, comprising 58 prominent movie critics from around the country, met Saturday at Sardi’s Restaurant in New York City to make its picks. Society members chose Brad Pitt as best actor for his performances in “Moneyball’’ and “The Tree of Life.’’ Albert Brooks, in “Drive,’’ and Jessica Chastain, in “The Tree of Life’’ and two other movies, received nods for supporting roles. Terrence Malick was picked as best director, also for “The Tree of Life,’’ and Werner Herzog’s “Cave of Forgotten Dreams’’ was selected as best nonfiction film. The society, founded in 1966, also works to promote film preservation and historically important movies. This year, it recognized Brooklyn’s BAMcinematek for its retrospective of films by Vincente Minnelli, known for musicals and dramas; and the Criterion Collection for its DVD package of “The Complete Jean Vigo.’’ The group’s picks can help galvanize interest in films ahead of the Academy Awards in February, but are not known to heavily influence who gets picked for the Oscars.

NYC Opera lockout

A bitter contract dispute has led to a lockout of orchestra and chorus members at the New York City Opera. The opera and the unions have been in mediation talks since mid-December. Those negotiations broke down Saturday night. Performers were supposed to rehearse today. The musicians have rejected the company’s offer, saying it doesn’t guarantee work or pay. Under a management contract, the musicians’ average annual income would drop from about $40,000 to as little as $5,000 for two productions. City Opera general manager George Steel says the company could not enter rehearsals with musicians threatening to strike for performances scheduled in February. Alan Gordon, head of the union representing the orchestra, calls it “a very sad day for what once was a spectacular cultural icon.’’

Revved up

"It makes me sad that I'll never find anything as funny as the Click 'n Clack guys findthemselves." — A tweet yesterday from ‘‘Community’’ star Gillian Jacobs.

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