As we approach the end of every cinematic year, there are several movies (namely Oscar hopefuls) that are kept from most audiences. While they complete their Academy Awards qualifying runs in Los Angeles and New York, viewers even in major cities such as Chicago find themselves anxiously waiting to catch some of the most anticipated and possibly more interesting movies of the year. With so many methods of delivery and almost definite audiences across the country, it’s disappointing that many of these films are held back while screens are populated by the likes of Annie and Night at the Museum 3. Here’s a look at the three major movies expanding in the first month of 2015.
1. Inherent Vice
One of my most anticipated movies of all of 2014, surprisingly Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice (71% on Rotten Tomato with a 7.2/10 average rating) is still relegated to LA and NY despite its relatively early release date of December 12. Based on the novel by Thomas Pynchon, Inherent Vice is the “psychedelic” detective story of private investigator Doc Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix) investigating the whereabouts of his former girlfriend’s current boyfriend and the conspiracy behind his disappearance.
Arguably the best filmmaker working today, Anderson is one of the few directors who always creates a unique experience, and every new film seems to indicate a new layer of growth for the man behind Boogie Nights and There Will Be Blood. Whether making one of the few decent “interconnected lives” movies as with Magnolia or bringing humanity to the traditional Adam Sandler film as with Punch-Drunk Love, Paul Thomas Anderson has become like The Coen Brothers in how it becomes fascinating to see what direction he goes in next and what genre he decides to play around in. Making Inherent Vice all the more interesting is that it re-teams him with The Master‘s Joaquin Phoenix (who in one man’s humble opinion deserved the Oscar for Best Actor more than Daniel Day-Lewis for Lincoln) in a film that seems as far away from their previous work (a slapstick comedy compared to an intense character study) as you can get. Throw in the superb ensemble cast plus the bevy of reviews acknowledging its unconventional storytelling, and it’s a definite standout when faced with multiplexes full of The Hobbit and biopics.
Possessing an outstanding 100% (and a 9/10 average rating) on Rotten Tomatoes, Selma is a cinematic look at Martin Luther King Jr.’s campaign to get voting rights during the height of the civil rights movement that culminated with the iconic 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery. David Oyelowo as Martin Luther King Jr., director Ava DuVernay, and the film itself have racked up Golden Globe and Independent Spirit Award nominations, and it’s expected to be a major contender during Academy Awards voting, despite accusations levied against its historical accuracy regarding President Lyndon Johnson.
Although it had a strong $48,000 per theater debut when it was released this Christmas, one has to question the studio’s wisdom in keeping it limited considering the national climate over the past couple of months. Ongoing questions/discussions/cable news screaming matches involving race, protests, and the presence/power of authority figures have been particularly pressing on the populace and makes this socially relevant film even more topical than it otherwise would have been. Not capitalizing on this, especially during the Season of Togetherness, seems like a misstep, especially considering the number of screens left vacant by The Interview.
3. American Sniper
Even though it’s been a while since his last great film, one cannot deny the everlasting appeal and tireless work ethic of Clint Eastwood. He’s also one of the few remaining major directors who seems to come out with two major movies a year on a fairly regular basis. 2006 had Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima (probably his high point of the past decade), 2008 had Changeling and Gran Torino, and following a three year absence from theaters, he returned with another twofer in 2014. Earlier this year, Jersey Boys made the strange decision to have the story of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons (the 1960’s pop quartet that is a favorite on the mixes of every horrible family-friendly event DJ) rated R.
But the end of the year marks a return to form for the Man with No Name by having him return to war, this time with his first foray into the War in Iraq through American Sniper. It stars Bradley Cooper in the true story of Chris Kyle, the Navy SEAL who was America’s deadliest sniper before being tragically killed in early 2013. Arguably the most “mass friendly” of the three options, American Sniper has already showed its commercial appeal by having the largest Christmas box office opening ever for a film opening in less than 10 theaters, averaging an outstanding $212,500 per theater over its first four days of release. The film has also obtained decent critical acclaim with a 74% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and a 6.8/10 average rating.
It’s disappointing that Inherent Vice, Selma, and American Sniper are in severely limited release, particularly now. Each movie appears to offer something different to audience members who wouldn’t be entirely being satisfied by all of the options out now, plentiful as they are. In a mostly lackluster year of movies, it’s almost frustrating being so close to fare that might be a welcome alternative. Then again, it’s nice to know that come January, we’ll have better options than The Wedding Ringer.