I’m looking down the barrel of a gun marked, “The Weekend from Hell”—in movie reviewing terms, that is. Somewhere between now and Monday morning, five full movie reviews and five special screening reviews have to appear as if by magic. That adds up to ten—assuming “New Math” is not involved—and, yes, it’s been done before, but it’s daunting. To add to the daunt factor, I’ve only seen one of the full movies (I’ll be taking a break from this and heading out to take in a couple more in a little while). To make it just that much more entertaining, three of the special screenings are of movies I’ve never seen before. This means that seven movies have to be watched, digested and written about—and then there’s this “Screening Room” thingie. What does this mean to the reader? Simply that the “Screening Room” is going to be of the short and hopefully sweet variety.
With that in mind, I’m going to take a quick look at what lies ahead—that I’m aware of—in terms of what we loosely call “art” titles, which at this time of year means those does of critical catnip the distributors—both large and small—think have a chance of snaring the kind of acclaim that leads to “Best of” lists and votes in critics’ societies various and sundry. And let’s not forget the Oscars. All of this is interestingly predicated on the idea that critics and Academy voters have short memories and won’t remember anything from six months or so back. To help with this, we may now look forward to an onrush of screeners of notable—and sometimes not so notable (the choices can be peculiar, like the year they sent out Legally Blonde)—titles from earlier in the year. But the tendency is to save their notions of the best bets for fall and winter.
This year is unusual for me in that I could come up with a ten best list right now that would not be rounded off with titles that I’m iffy about (and, no, The Social Network would not be on it). So what do they have lined up? Well, let’s take a look, since it’s about to start in earnest with Tony Goldwyn’s Conviction and Clint Eastwood’s Hereafter.
Conviction is already playing in some areas, but it doesn’t hit Asheville till Oct. 29. I admit to being dubious about this one. Tony Goldwyn is better known as an actor than a director. This is only his fourth theratrical directorial attempt, which if you’ve seen his last two—Someone Like You (2001) and The Last Kiss (2006)—is easy to understand. His first movie, A Walk on the Moon (1999), is highly regarded in some quarters. I don’t know. I fell asleep trying to watch it on TV. But the film has Hilary Swank in one of those two-fisted performances that the Academy likes. Also, it’s “based on the extraordinary true story,” it has a name supporting cast and lots of working class Massachusetts accents (hey, it’s paid off Eastwood and Scorsese). The trailer—well, it’s just crawling with its own importance.
Hereafter is also playing elsewhere—we get it on Oct. 22. The supernatural tale—about three folks and their experiences with death and what lies on the other side—is the sort of thing that looks like unlikely award material. Yeah, it’s got Matt Damon in the lead, but really this is getting its push based on the Clint Eastwood name—and Warner Bros.’ bottomless faith in his value in terms of prestige. (They felt that way about Stanley Kubrick once upon a time, you may recall.) That faith may or may not be justified—his more recent films haven’t borne it out—but this is an interesting departure (at least on the surface) for Eastwood and that makes it kind of interesting in itself.
The highly-rated Nowhere Boy—about John Lennon’s mid-teen years in Liverpool—opened in two theaters last week where it snagged an average of $22,200. That’s not bad. But here’s the catch, I haven’t seen any sign of it on anybody’s booking sheet. Why? My guess is that it was something to do with it being released by the Weinsteins, whose approach to distribution is peculiar to say the least. As a hardcore Lennon admirer, this interests me. As a hardcore Kristin Scott Thomas (playing John’s Aunt Mimi), this interests me. In short, I want to see this, but I’m not sure when that’s going to happen.
We’re on firmer footing with Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours, which opens on Nov. 5 and is slated for Asheville on Nov. 24. Much as I love Danny Boyle—he’s way up there among filmmakers working today with me—I’m not all that excited about this fact-based movie about mountain climber Aron Ralston (James Franco) who was trapped by a boulder and had to go to extreme and extraordinary lengths to survive. The latest trailer looks better than the first one, but I’m still not over the moon. However, I wasn’t exactly thrilled with the idea of Slumdog Millionaire (2008) when I first encountered it. After that, I stopped trying to gauge a Danny Boyle picture till I actually see it.
Stephen Frears’ Tamara Drewe opens some places this week. It’s down for here on Nov. 19. I caught the trailer today on Never Let Me Go and this comedy starring GemmaArterton (Pirate Radio) looks attractive and funny and pleasantly British. And let’s face it, Stephen Frears is one of the best Brit filmmakers out there with a string of titles like Dirty Pretty Things (2002), Mrs. Henderson Presents (2005), The Queen (2006) and Cheri (2009). As far as I’m concerned, I’m keen on seeing because of the simple fact that I’ve never seen a Stephen Frears picture that I thought was a waste of time. I haven’t liked them all, but I’m glad I’ve seen them.
There are those that will say that it’s not art, but Warner Bros. has sent out “For Your Consideration” awards screeners of every entry in the Harry Potter series since at least the second film—and let’s be honest, a lot of us have been more favorably impressed with the movies than not. The last one, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009), made it pretty far up the “Best of” ladders. The good news is that David Yates, who directed that one, is back for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1, which shows up on Nov. 19. The cast is on the unbelievable side—like a Who’s Who of British Actors’ Equity. OK, so it’s a bit much that the last novel has been broken into two parts, but perhaps that’s justified. Time will tell—and, thank Clapton, the plans to tart it up in 3D have been dropped.
Nigel Cole had a modest soft art (i.e., not quite art and not quite mainstream) with Calendar Girls back in 2003 before coming up empty with the dismal A Lot Like Love in 2005 when he went Hollywood. He looks to be back on surer—and again soft art—footing with Made in Dagenham, a fact-based comedy-drama about the 1968 sexual discrimination strike at the Ford Dagenham car factory. He’s got Sally Hawkins (Happy-Go-Lucky) and Bob Hoskins to help. It’s been picked up by Sony Pictures Classics—probably the best of the art and indie distributors still standing—so I’m expecting it for an awards season playdate, but it hasn’t been announced locally. It looks like it might have a similar appeal to Kinky Boots.
The Weinstein factor comes back into play with Tom Hooper’s (The Damned United) The King’s Speech. I have to admit that the prospect of a movie about Britain’s George VI (played by Colin Firth) and his efforts to overcome his stammer with the aid of a speech therapist (Geoffrey Rush) sounds less than exciting. Actually, it sounds pretty darn dull. Apparently, it isn’t—at least that’s the word from the Telluride Film Festival. Plus, there’s the cast, which doesn’t stop with Firth (who I think was robbed at the Oscars last year) and Rush—Helena Bonham Carter, Guy Pearce, Michael Gambon, Timothy Spall. Now, it opens in limited release on Nov. 26. After that, only Harvey Weinstein and God knows—that’s supposing Harvey’s let God in on it.
On Dec. 3 the new Darren Aronofsky film Black Swan comes out. It’s from Fox Searchlight, which would normally mean a limited release, but there’s nothing to indicate that at this point—and they may be thinking the presence of Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis makes this more commercial than Aronofsky’s usual. We’ll see if that changes. Actually, what is Aronofsky’s “usual?” While none of his films can be called your average moviegoing fare, there’s not a great deal of similarity between them. I tend to find him more admirable than enjoyable and the only of his films I’ve really wanted to see more than once is The Fountain (2006). That said, Black Swan intrigues me—not in the least because its trailer suggests much and tells very little.
While I Love You Phillip Morris went over well at Sundance and stars Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor, no one has managed to get the film released. Why? Presumably because the gay content—Carrey and McGregor play lovers—makes folks uneasy. Well, some outfit called Liddell Entertainment—who produced a couple crappy horror pictures, The Haunting of Molly Hartley (2008) and The Collector (2009)—appear to be having a go at it now—at least in New York and Los Angeles on Dec. 3. Will it make it any farther than that, is it forever cursed to the realm of “it’ll never play in Peoria?” I wouldn’t be marking my calendar just yet.
Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck (bit of a mouthful, ain’t it?) had a big art house hit with The Lives of Others (2006), which in fact snagged the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. Now, he’s gone Hollywood with The Tourist, a thriller that opens Dec. 10 and stars Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp. Both of them—with a decided edge for Depp—are no strangers to art film, but they’re also mainstream movie stars. So is this an attempt to bridge that gap? Seemingly so. It’s a remake of a French film, Anthony Zimmer (2005), which never played locally and which I’ve never seen. Beyond that—the trailer looks alright, but not overwhelming. And maybe it’s just me, but Depp looks strangely puffy in that trailer.
The big question for Dec. 10 is whether or not Julie Taymor’s The Tempest—coming from Touchstone—is opening wide. There’s no indication that it isn’t, but you may recall that Sony did a bit of platform releasing with her Across the Universe (2007). Plus, this is Shakespeare—radical Shakespeare (have you seen Taymor’s Titus ?), but Shakespeare all the same and that makes it rarefied in many minds. The cast will help—Helen Mirren (as the gender-switched Prospero, now called Prospera), Alfred Molina, Russell Brand, Chris Cooper, Alan Cumming, Djimon Hounsou, Felicity Jones, David Strathairn, Ben Whishaw, Tom Conti. The trailer is the most magnificent looking of the year, making it the film I’m most anticipating this awards season.
David O. Russell is back that same week with The Fighter, which is slated for a limited release—depsite starnng Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Amy Adams and Melissa Leo. It’s Russell’s first film—discounting the still unreleased (and apparently bankrupt) Nailed—since I Heart Huckabees (2004). The trailer is intriguing at the very least. I’m not generally thrilled with Christian Bale, I admit, but Wahlberg tends to be good even in bad movies and this looks like a departure for Amy Adams—who needs one after Leap Year. Plus, I’m just glad to see David O. Russell back.
Andrew Jarecki’s long-delayed All Good Things gets a limited release—mostly, I’m guessing, for Oscar consideration—from Magnolia. It’s a fact-based mystery-thrillier starring Ryan Gosling, Kirsten Dunst and Frank Langella.This has conflicting release dates of Dec. 10 and 17, but my guess is it won’t matter, because it won’t hit here till after the fact, though Magnolia will probably—if history is any barometer—include it in their yearly batch of critics’ screeners. Then again, there’s a chance that it mayn’t play here at all, even though we’ve been getting most of the Magnolia titles lately.
The big Christmas movie this year is the Coen Brothers’ True Grit starring Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Josh Brolin and new comer Hailee Steinfeld. Yes, it’s a remake of the 1969 John Wayne movie, which was popular and garnered John Wayne an Oscar, but wasn’t really that terrific of a film. Of course, this also comes under the heading of not-a-remake-but-an-adaptation-of-the-novel. That may be, but the 1969 film is so well known that comparisons will be inevitable. All the same, it’s the Coens and they can generally pull off that which defeats others—though, it’s undeniable that their remake of The Ladykillers (2004) wasn’t exactly warmly received.
Christmas also brings—apparently in limited release—Sofia Coppola’s Somewhere, which snagged the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival. That may or may not mean much to U.S. viewers, who weren’t exactly wild about Coppola’s Marie Antoinette back in 2006, even though the art house crowd went lollipops over Lost in Translation in 2003 (I still don’t get why, but they did). This looks like a tricky sell at best—either despite or because of its Hollywood insider cred. Are the dissolute filmmaker (Stephen Dorf) and the estranged daughter (Elle Fanning) he’s saddled with really stand-ins for the director and her father? The bigger question is whether anyone really cares. Whether we get to find out for ourselves before 2011 is up in the air.
Also in limited release for Christmas is Sylvain Chomet’s The Illusionist. Like Chomet’s most famous film The Triplets of Belleville (2003), this ist an animated film, and like that film, there are strong ties to Jacques Tati. In this case, Chomet has taken Tati’s never produced screenplay and adapted it to his own film. The results are apparently melancholy and perhaps too slow for mass audiences. A taste for Tati may be required. Sony Pictures Classics is bringing it out, but I doubt it’ll make Asheville till 2011.
In the unlikely to hit town category are three art titles that open on Dec. 31 (talk about just getting in for Oscar nominations)—Derek Cianfrance’s Blue Valentine with Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams, Mike Leigh’s Another Year with Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen, and Alenjandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s Biutful with Javier Bardem. In fact, the last two are listed as limited. I don’t expect to see these before 2011. The first is from the Weinsteins—no more need be said. They might commit to Academy screeners, but there’s no guarantee. Another Year is from Sony Pictures Classics, and they might do a critics’ screening—depending on how hard they’re pushing this. Biutiful is from the mysterious Liddell Entertainment. I won’t even predict what they’ll do.
There are a few titles like Jack Goes Boating, Woody Allen’s You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger (opens Oct. 22), etc. that haven’t made it to Asheville yet and there are always surprises that seem to pop up out of nowhere this time of year. All in all, however, the titles listed above appear to represent what we can mostly expect—in some cases hope for—this awards season. OK, so this wasn’t so short after all.