Welcome to the Weekend Release Roundup, where we highlight what we think are the most interesting movies to hit theaters this weekend.
Going to the movies isn’t cheap, so we’re here to help you sort through your choices.
Here’s a fun, albeit useless factoid: since 2000, movies that are released in November have produced four Best Picture winners, tied with December for the most of any month. That tells us two things: one of the movies you’ll be watching this month could end up bringing home Oscar gold, and there’s truly a statistic for everything. But let’s focus on the former… this week the awards race gets a little more crowded, with two serious hopefuls in drastically different genres. We also have a major Marvel adaptation to look forward to – although not in the way that you’re likely expecting – and two more quirky, low-profile releases to spice up the week. So let’s get to it…
#5 – Why Don’t You Play in Hell? (Limited)
Why Don’t You Play in Hell? is absurdity and violence in a way that only the Japanese can capture. Presenting the story of a guerrilla film crew that films a legendary battle between rival yakuza clans, the movie seems to be a strange hybrid of Rémy Belvaux’s Man Bites Dog, François Truffaut’s Day for Night, and Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill films. With the self-awareness of presenting violence through the perspective of amateur filmmakers, and over-the-top gore and action characteristic of many Japanese films before it, the film was a success at the Toronto International Film Festival, where it won the People’s Choice Award in the Midnight Madness section. It’s directed by Sion Sono, known for equally absurdist pictures like Love Exposure and Strange Fish. But even if you have no context of his previous efforts, if you enjoy taking the occasional risk in your movie-going, the trailer for the film just might sell you.
#4 – The Better Angels (Limited)
Not much is known about A.J. Edwards, the director of The Better Angels. Then again, not much is known about Edwards’ mentor, director Terrence Malick (though that’s for entirely different reasons; Malick is a notorious recluse). For Edwards, The Better Angels is the filmmaker’s first feature, with his prior credits involving working as an editor for Malick’s To The Wonder (as well as camera and crew work in The Tree of Life and The New World). What is known however, is that Malick seems to have taken the filmmaker under his wing, giving The Better Angels his producing stamp of approval, as well as clearly influencing Edwards with Malick’s very signature cinematography and visual eye. The Better Angels tells the story of a young Abraham Lincoln and his upbringing and hardships as he deals with the death of his birth mother and adapts to a life with his stepmother. The trailer highlights some very Malick-esque tropes – the fascination and beauty of capturing natural life as well as sweeping shots pointing upwards at the sun and the towering trees – but also has some qualities that stand on its own terms. First there’s the talent involved – Jason Clarke, Brit Marling, and Diane Kruger – which alone makes it worth people’s interest, but the movie also provides us with a unique and unconventional account of Lincoln’s early life, which should prove to be beautiful if not compelling.
#3 – Big Hero 6
So about that Marvel adaptation…sure, it isn’t quite Iron Man, Captain America, or any of the other Avengers, but it’s very much Marvel. Big Hero 6 is adapted from the Marvel comics about a superhero team, all with distinct powers and abilities. It is, in every sense, a comic book film – it just happens to also be computer animation. It may not have the Marvel stamp (Disney is producing alone, through its Walt Disney Animation branch), and it isn’t live-action, but it’s just another indication of Disney’s continuing partnership with Marvel and its plans to continue to produce Marvel-inspired material in new and imaginative ways. Big Hero 6 is the first Disney animated film to feature Marvel characters, and if it proves to be successful, expect more of the same from the studio giant.
#2 – The Theory of Everything (New York, L.A.)
In what is shaping up to be a very crowded lead actor race this season, some people have The Theory of Everything‘s Eddie Redmayne as the leader of the pack. Redmayne portrays world-famous physicist Stephen Hawking in a film that has been described as part biopic, part love story. It follows a young Hawking as a Cambridge student dealing with the early stages of his motor neuron disease, and his budding and reaffirming relationship with a literature student played by Felicity Jones. The film also has enough traction and positive buzz to garner some other awards, including directing (James Marsh, who helmed the documentary Man On Wire), actress, screenplay, and picture. It’s precisely the kind of film that voters flock to, but it also seems to simply be a fascinating account of a revered and influential man’s life.
#1 – Interstellar
In almost any other week, The Theory of Everything would be the clear number one film, but Interstellar is definitive proof that this is not any other week. It can easily be argued that Christopher Nolan’s ambitious sci-fi epic is the most anticipated movie of 2014, and with good reason. The film’s conceptual and visual reach is as daring as anything we’ve seen since Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity. It’s also the follow up film for the suddenly red-hot, can’t-miss Matthew McConaughey since he won the Best Actor Oscar for Dallas Buyers Club. Plus the rest of the cast – Jessica Chastain, Anne Hathaway, Michael Caine, Matt Damon, Casey Affleck – isn’t too shabby. And for fans of bold, thoughtful science fiction, it’s certainly attractive that Nolan hasn’t been shy about his far-reaching ambition for the film. The director has stated that he was influenced by, and was striving towards a Kubrick-esque type of film, citing 2001: A Space Odyssey as the film’s primary inspiration. And while early reviews haven’t been overwhelmingly positive (at least not how you’d expect from a Nolan project), even the most critical of reviews state the that film fails only in how its ambition sometimes leads it astray. And that’s really the only forgivable way any film should fail, right?
The rest of this weekend’s releases:
National Gallery (New York)
21 Years: Richard Linklater (Limited)
A Merry Friggin’ Christmas (Limited)
Elsa & Fred (Limited)
Fugly! (New York)
The Lookalike (Limited)
Mr. Pip (Limited)
On Any Sunday, The Next Chapter (Limited)
Open Windows (Limited)
The Tower (New York)
The Way He Looks (Limited)
West (New York)