Did I forget to do this for November? Yes! Do I care? No! Will I ever remember to do these on time? Maybe!
On to the movies of December, a month crowded by hopeful holiday hits and last-minute Oscar bait.
Cheerful Weather for the Wedding
Done up in the style of a 1930’s comedy of manners, Weather is not getting the best reviews. That’s an incredibly hard style of film to mimic—we’re entirely too cynical as an audience these days—though by all accounts the period details are outstanding. Felicity Jones (Like Crazy) stars as Dolly, a bride holed up upstairs on her wedding day, battling a case of cold feet. Downstairs are her groom, Owen (James Norton, An Education), her ex, Joseph (Luke Treadaway, Attack the Block), and her mother, Countess Cora herself (Downton Abbey’s Elizabeth McGovern), who is determined to see the wedding is not derailed. Though I’m a big fan of Mackenzie Crook (The Office, Pirates of the Caribbean), this doesn’t hold much interest for me.
Recommend instead: Death at a Funeral (the proper English version).
Eric Bana and Olivia Wilde star as a pair of siblings who flee with the loot after a heist gone bad. Their paths cross with a boxer (Charlie Hunnam) and his family on Thanksgiving. Reviews are dismal, which sucks for the movie but Olivia Wilde’s streak of shitty movies remains unbroken. It doesn’t matter if her role is big or small or if the movie is mainstream or indie, somehow everything Wilde is in withers and dies on the vine. It’s uncanny.
The Fitzgerald Family Christmas
I’m not a huge fan of Edward Burns’ movies, mostly because they’re all pretty boring and the same. He’s like a less twee, working class Sofia Coppola. But I am definitely in the minority on that as most people really admire Burns’ character-driven dramas. The Fitzgerald Family Christmas is one such film, about a family reconciling with the father who abandoned them twenty years before. Reviews are mostly positive and the film does benefit from the presence of Connie Britton (Friday Night Lights).
Hyde Park on Hudson
Hyde Park on Hudson is to Bill Murray as The Iron Lady is to Meryl Streep.
Though the movie itself is getting mixed reviews, Murray’s performance as Franklin Delano Roosevelt is drawing a lot of praise and is generating some Oscar buzz for him. The story centers on the summer of 1939, when King George VI and Queen Elizabeth made the first British royal visit to the US as war threatened Europe. Politically, it was meant to strengthen the bond between allies, personally, it was when FDR began romancing his eventual mistress, his cousin Margaret (Laura Linney).
Lay the Favorite
This is an unredeemable, terrible movie. On every level. In every way. I made it thirty minutes before I simply had to leave the theater because otherwise my eyeballs were going to explode in my skull to spare me any further self-harm. Because that’s what watching this movie is: self-harm.
AVOID AT ALL COSTS.
Playing for Keeps
You know when you’re watching a movie, and the characters in the movie are watching a movie, too? And that movie is usually a terrible-on-purpose spoof of a cheesy romance or over the top thriller? And the “stars” in the movie-within-a-movie are often celebrities appearing as a joke? (Think Lindsay Lohan and James Franco in The Holiday.) Well Playing for Keeps is that fake movie-within-a-movie, except it’s an actual movie.
Any Day Now
If you have time to hunt down only one non-mass market film this month, please find Any Day Now. I got a chance to see this at the Chicago Film Festival and it’s a deeply moving, beautifully acted film. It’s also exactly the kind of movie that falls through the cracks this time of year, when all the attention is on the last of the blockbusters and Oscar bait. Any Day Now could totally be Oscar bait, if it had a bigger distributor behind it, but as much as I admire the taste and dedication of Music Box Films, Oscar pull they have not.
Starring Alan Cumming and Garrett Dillahunt (Looper, Raising Hope), Any Day Now is based on the true story of a gay couple in the 1970’s that must fight the legal system to retain custody of the mentally disabled boy they took when they found him abandoned. It’s moving and rather disturbing—the boy is literally unwanted by everyone but this couple is willing to care for and love him yet the bias they face is more concerned with “transmitting gayness” than sheltering this child—and is the kind of thing that makes you question your own beliefs and priorities. It’s really worth the trouble to find.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
This should be self-explanatory. In case it’s not, here is my review.
Save the Date
Lizzy Caplan’s second wedding-themed movie of the year (Bachelorette being the first) has been available on demand for over a month at this point, and it barely justifies the at-home cost, let alone a trip to the theater. Despite Caplan, who is always fun to watch, Alison Brie (Community) and the criminally under-employed Martin Starr (Adventureland, Party Down), Save the Date is a rote indie romance that is neither as funny as Bachelorette or as charming as (500) Days of Summer. It’s not the worst movie ever (see above: Lay the Favorite), but you have better options this month.
Austrian filmmaker Michael Haneke won the Palme d’Or at Cannes this year with Amour, the story of an octogenarian couple, Georges and Anne, dealing with the realization that their grand love affair is coming to an end not through loss of love but life as Anne (Emmanuelle Riva, Three Colors: Blue) falls ill. I finally got to see this on a screener and between this and Holy Motors, France has put out the two best films of 2012. Haneke is usually much more controversial—he’s the man behind the sick and disturbing and Funny Games—but here he displays a depth of tenderness and affection that creates a surprisingly warm environment, given that we’re dealing with the indignity of aging and death. Riva and Jean-Louis Trintignant (Three Colors: Red), who plays Georges, are legends of French cinema and they deliver a pair of performances that go right for the throat and don’t let go. It’s emotionally draining and exhausting to watch but they are so impressive and graceful, even in their character’s least gracious moments. Well worth it, but you should probably take some tissues with you.
The Guilt Trip
Seth Rogen and Barbara Streisand star in this comedy about a mother and son on a road trip across the country. Not only does it not seem particularly funny (Rogen is really off his game lately), but this looks like something that should be coming out in March or April, not during the holidays. They’re also running an oddly pretentious ad campaign, like they think this could be part of the award season conversation? It’s confusing. And it doesn’t make the movie look any better.
Monsters, Inc. 3D
A 3D reissue of Monsters, Inc., and a blatant money grab.
Zero Dark Thirty
Director Kathryn Bigelow and writer Mark Boal follow up the Oscar-winning success of The Hurt Locker with Zero Dark Thirty, about the hunt for Osama bin Laden. They actually had the movie in development before bin Laden was killed, but obviously got a lot more traction after that happened. Because The Hurt Locker is damn near perfect, the expectations for Bigelow’s follow up are extraordinarily high. Based on early reaction from critics, including big wins at the National Board of Review for best director, best actress (Jessica Chastain) and best picture, Zero Dark Thirty is living up to the hype.
Cirque du Soleil Worlds Away 3D
It’s pretty self-explanatory but there is a loose stab at a plot in the form of a “two lovers find each other” story. I kind of feel like the specialness of Cirque du Soleil rests in seeing the show live and knowing there’s no way to cheat the visuals, that everyone is actually doing all those crazy acrobatics. But by making a movie they cancel that out, so…#kanyeshrug.
Do you want to ruin everyone’s Christmas? Go see The Impossible, the traumatic, emotionally devastating movie about the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami. Following one expatriated British family’s journey in the wake of the wave (and based on a true story about a Spanish family), The Impossible is from Spanish director Juan Antonio Bayona, best known for The Orphanage. His horror roots show here, too, as he keeps the pace quick and tight and builds fear and terror out of little more than the image of someone clutching a book. Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor are impressive as the parents, but it’s sixteen-year-old Tom Holland who steals the show as the too-old-for-this-Mom-geez son who unravels when his mother is injured but pulls it together to save her.
You will grit your teeth and bawl your eyes out—McGregor has a scene that will destroy your soul—and by the end you’ll be completely emotionally drained. If you go see this—and I do recommend it—take tissues. Seriously. Take all the tissues.
Last holiday season, Mission: Impossible – Punctuation is fun! was a surprise hit. That it was a hit wasn’t the surprising part—the M:I movies have done well enough over the years—but how big a hit it turned out to be caught a lot of people unawares. This year Paramount is hoping to repeat that success with Jack Reacher, pairing Tom Cruise with Lee Childs’ popular novels starring the eponymous anti-hero. Fans of the book aren’t happy because Cruise falls far short (ha!) of Reacher’s physical description—he’s supposed to be 6’5”—but I have to say, I think this one will pan out. Every time I’ve seen the trailer, audiences have been really into it. And the TV spots are strong, getting the right mix of mindless action and humor. I wouldn’t be surprised if this turns out to be a big crowd-pleasing hit.
Plot: Jack Reacher is some kind of former soldier/cop/spy/assassin who is now some sort of bounty hunter/investigator/assassin who is investigating some type of frame job/inside job/assassin job. If you haven’t read the books, which I haven’t, the plot is not immediately clear except Jack Reacher (supposedly) kicks a lot of ass and people are afraid of him. Whatever, that shit is going to sell a lot of popcorn.
Not Fade Away
David Chase, creator of The Sopranos, writes and directs this 1960’s coming of age story about a group of friends who form a band, and somehow this is his first feature film. It’s getting generally positive reviews, but the trailer plays a little heavy-handed on the nostalgia front. The soundtrack is pretty awesome, though.
On the Road
Walter Salles reteams with much of his corps from The Motorcycle Diaries, including screenwriter Jose Rivera and cinematographer Eric Gautier, for the long-awaited, Francis Ford Coppola-produced adaptation of Jack Kerouac’s seminal beat novel. It boasts a star-studded cast featuring Sam Riley (Control), Garrett Hedlund, Kristen Stewart, Amy Adams, Kirsten Dunst and Viggo Mortensen, and is getting decent buzz, though it likely comes too late in an already crowded field for serious awards consideration. I hate to count out Walter Salles, though, and have this penciled in as a dark horse in several categories, including original score, adapted screenplay and cinematography.
This Is Forty
This is Forty checks in with Knocked Up’s Pete and Debbie five years down the line. I like Paul Rudd a lot, and though his career resurgence is owed to Apatow comedies, he can carry a more serious presence, too, which makes him a good fit for Apatow’s self-indulgent dramedies a la Funny People, and Forty. If this movie is supposed to be funny I am clearly not old enough to be in on the joke because I find the trailer difficult to sit through. Everyone is insufferable, except for Chris O’Dowd, who I am convinced could make a serial killer charming.
THAT should be Apatow’s next comedy: Chris O’Dowd stars as a man just trying to find love and the perfect bone saw for dismemberments. I would totally watch that. And maybe it wouldn’t pretend to be Serious Life Philosophy disguised as a comedy.
I’m not a big Quentin Tarantino fan, but I LOVED Inglorious Basterds, and am very excited for Tarantino’s follow up, Django Unchained. Christoph Waltz gets on the right side of QT’s skewed morality tale this time, starring as King Schultz, an Old West bounty hunter tracking down a violent band of outlaws. He hooks up with a slave, Django (Jamie Foxx) in order to complete his bounty since Django is one of the only people who has seen the members of the gang without their masks on. Django, meanwhile, just wants to rescue his wife (Kerry Washington, Scandal) from the clutches of the evil plantation owner, Calvin (Leonardo DiCaprio). It’s revisionist history on the order of Basterds and it looks F*CKING AWESOME.
If you don’t know what this is by now, either you don’t watch television or go to the movies ever, as the commercials and trailers have been running incessantly for months, or you’ve never walked past a theater marquee at some point in the last twenty years.
It’s a big, showy spectacle with spot-on casting and some pretty impressive vocals. It’s one thing to know Hugh Jackman can sing, but to sit there and listen to him sing for two and half hours-plus, it’s a little bit of a revelation. He can seriously SING. So can Eddie Redmayne! Who knew? The weak link, singing-wise, is Russell Crowe as Javert, but everything else about his performance is top-notch, so it’s forgiveable. Stage actress Samantha Barks is heartbreaking as Eponine—for my money, this is the show-stopping role in the musical, so I don’t know why Anne Hathaway, who wants to ride this train all the way to Oscar, chose to fight to be Fantine instead. Although Hathaway is phenomenal as Fantine—her rendition of I Dreamed a Dream is bound to become the standard. Not as impressive is Amanda Seyfreid, who sings well enough but who leaves the weakest mark out of the main cast. She’s just so oatmeal.
You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll want to run out and buy the soundtrack.
If this is a movie that looks like any kind of good to you, then you’re dead to me.
West of Memphis
Produced by Peter Jackson and directed by Amy Berg (Deliver Us from Evil), this documentary is about the West Memphis Three, three men who were convicted of the murders of three boys in Arkansas in the 1990’s. The convictions were overturned based on new DNA evidence in 2010, and the three men were released from prison after over 18 years. It’s a dramatic, haunting story and Berg’s doc is getting a lot of praise and ought to be a serious awards contender.
Here’s another piece of good-looking award bait that probably left it too late. Co-written by and co-starring Matt Damon and John Krasinski (The Office), and directed by Gus Van Sant, Promised Land is about a natural gas representative (Damon) who is trying to convince a small town to get on board with his company rolling into town to drill for natural gas (called fracking) and coming into conflict with a farmer turned anti-fracking activist (Krasinski). Damon and Krasinski have called this their take on Capra, and those tones definitely show in the trailer. Rosemarie DeWitt and Frances McDormand also star.
Not to be confused with A Late Quartet, which is also a movie about music and musicians, Qaurtet is about a home for retired opera singers (which is a great premise) and their annual concert in honor of Verdi’s birthday, but this year’s concert is interrupted by the ex-wife of one of the residents, the diva Jean (Maggie Smith). This is Dustin Hoffman’s directorial debut and he’s getting really good reviews. Michael Gambon, Billy Connolly, Pauline Collins and Timothy Courtenay also star.