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.
First, some sports history, if we may. In the late 1920s, the New York Yankees had a batting order that consisted of Earle Combs, Mark Koening, Babe Ruth, Loug Gehrig, Bob Meusel, and Tony Lazzeri. It would come to be affectionately known as Murderer’s Row, in reference to how deep their batting line-up was. While the films of this week aren’t exactly on that level of history proportionally with the 1927 Yankees, this week is, by far, the deepest week of the year. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it’s also the biggest holiday weekend of the year, which makes narrowing our films to just five movies rather difficult. So whether you consider it holiday generosity, or just a lame cop-out in not being able to limit our list of films to just five choice (probably more of the latter), we bring to you nine films this week that are worth your attention. Happy Holidays!
#9 – Unbroken
First, the bad: From the moment the first trailer was released, Angelina Jolie’s Unbroken seemed to be one of those films that the term “Oscar bait” was tailor-made to (negatively) describe. Everything from the trailer, the story, the content, and the emotionally uplifting score seemed to scream “I want all the awards!” Movies like that, historically, do not turn out well (see: Seven Pounds, The Lovely Bones, Nine, Amelia, J. Edgar, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close). Whether they try to pander too much to voters, come off as too disingenuous, or are just merely bad films, it seems Jolie’s Unbroken and films like it have a lot of expectations to overcome if they are to be met with acclaim. Because of the talent involved and the polish of the film, movies like this will never be films that sneak up on audiences and critics. Now, the good: With her directorial debut, In the Land of Blood and Honey, and now with Unbroken, it seems clear the Jolie wants to tell stories that matter to her. She’s obviously drawn to films with emotional resonance, and Unbroken has that in spades. The film tells the amazing story of Olympian and war hero Louie Zamperini, who survived for a month and a half on a raft after a plane crash during WWII, only to be captured by the Japanese navy and sent to a POW camp. The film also has a truly talented up-and-coming lead in Jack O’Connell. O’Connell has already enthralled audiences earlier in the year with his electric performance in Starred Up, and along with Unbroken, is delivering another fascinating turn in ‘71. Whether or not Unbroken delivers on its promise is unknown, but O’Connell is surely a future star.
#8 – Into the Woods
The other overtly Oscar bait film on our list is Rob Marshall’s Into the Woods, and it may have some of the same flaws as the aforementioned Unbroken in attempting to indulge voters too much. However, it certainly appears to be a much more charming film. With a loaded cast full of A-list stars dressing up in their best costumes and with great make-up, Into the Woods is classical Hollywood filmmaking going back to the golden age of the industry. With lush production quality, the film should be a visual and musical delight for fans who still clamor for more musical-driven films in Hollywood, and there’s no better director than Rob Marshall to oblige, with the filmmaker famously being the last one to earn a Best Picture win for a musical with Chicago. And while he was also involved for one of those dreaded bait films mentioned earlier (Nine), we’re expecting Into the Woods to resonate with audiences more, with it’s charming revisionist take on classical fables and children’s stories that we all know and enjoy.
#7 – The Interview
After a long, arduous, will-they-or-won’t-they journey that had people from tinseltown to Capitol Hill to Pyongyang talking about Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s The Interview, the movie finally gets its long debated Christmas release date, although not the way Rogen and company had certainly initially anticipated. Sony ultimately decided, no doubt with a little encouragement from Washington and the rest of the country, to release the controversial film on Christmas in limited fashion, but also provide it as a VOD and streaming service through multiple carriers. Now the question becomes, is the movie any good? And while the answer to that question may be easier than the journey to see it (most people say it isn’t), the film has certainly drawn the interest of people who may initially have had no interest in seeing it, if for no other reason than it’s now a cultural curiosity. Many people will now get to see Rogen, Goldberg and Franco’s satirical take on a country many people know so little about.
#6 – The Gambler
With a script by William Monahan (The Departed), direction by Rupert Wyatt (Rise of the Planet of the Apes), and based off the 1974 classic starring James Caan, The Gambler has the potential to be the perfect holiday day alternative to all the typical prestige pictures and family/fantasy friendly spectacles that are littering the theaters this week. And in similar fashion to last year’s Wolf of Wall Street, it features an A-list actor in the role of a beleaguered anti-hero (because not everybody wants to have that warm fuzzy feeling during the holidays). This time it’s Mark Wahlberg as an English professor and high-stakes gambler, with Brie Larson as his student.
#5 – American Sniper
Perhaps the more fascinating war-themed picture of this week is Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper. Lacking the polish and esteem that Jolie’s Unbroken carries, the trailer for American Sniper looks more like a film helmed by Kathryn Bigelow than Eastwood. The trailer carries a sense of heightened realism and grit that made many critics fawn over Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty. Similar to Unbroken, however, is that Sniper is drawn from the life of a deceased war hero in Chris Kyle, considered to be the most lethal sniper in American history. Bradley Cooper stars as Kyle, and his work has been getting praise from critics who claim that the film is carried at times on his performance alone. Another holiday alternative for many, American Sniper offers the least amount of escapism this week, and is rooted squarely in realism.
#4 – Big Eyes
Just how rare is a movie like Big Eyes from a director like Tim Burton? The last and only other movie as realistic as Big Eyes for the eccentric director is 1994’s Ed Wood. That film was similarly based on the true story of an artist (director Wood), making it clear that the only way to ground Burton in realism is to make him do a biopic. But just as he did with Ed Wood, Burton still gravitates towards the odd and peculiar in his stories, with Big Eyes following Margaret Keane, a woman with a fascination and talent for drawing waifs with big eyes, only to have her husband Walter take the credit and success that comes from the paintings. With talent like Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz, and the direction of Burton, it’s hard to classify this film as “conventional” by any standards, but for Burton it is certainly one of the most restrained films of the director’s career, and as he proved with Ed Wood, the filmmaker can still draw inspiration from that type of material.
#3 – Selma
With recent events and a returning racial tension making Selma as topical as it would have been just a few years ago, Ava DuVernay’s movieis a worthy addition to the holiday-weekend and a harrowing glimpse into our country’s history. With across-the-board talent, and a note-worthy performance from lead David Oyelowo, the film looks in a lot of ways to be just as much an awards-bait film as Unbroken and Into the Woods, except for one notable distinction: it is said to have delivered on all of its awards promise. Critics are unanimous in hailing the film as one of the best, must-see films of the year, and it is believed that Selma will throw some level of unpredictability into the awards race just when things were seemingly starting to get settled and determined. The film follows a three-month period in 1965 when Dr. Martin Luther King ultimately decided to lead the famous march from Selma to Montgomery, which resulted in President Lyndon B. Johnson signing The Voting Rights Act of 1965.
#2 – Leviathan (Limited)
While certainly not as high-profile as Sony’s The Interview, Leviathan, a foreign film from director Andrey Zvyagintsev, is certainly not without its share of controversy. The film was initially banned in its homeland of Russia for its liberal use of profanities (which go against the country’s obscenity laws), and while it finally did get a release at home (with the obscenities bleeped out), it still was mired in debate because of its commentary of the country’s current political landscape and near blatant criticism of the Putin regime, proving that The Interview is not the only film this week that has managed to anger a political leader. Controversy aside, the film is said to be fantastic, and is Russia’s entry into the Best Foreign Language Film category at the Oscars for good reason. And profanity or not, the script managed to win the best screenplay prize at this year’s Cannes film festival, proving that a few cuss words never hurt anybody.
#1 – Two Days, One Night (Limited)
It may be surprising to many that in a week as studded as this one, the top two films are foreign art house affairs, but quality, as they say, is not prejudiced. And when you have the talent of the Dardenne brothers behind the lens, responsible for many fantastic foreign films of the past few years (The Kid with a Bike, L’Enfant, The Son), and the onscreen presence of Marion Cotillard, arguably the best working actress today along with last year’s Oscar winner Cate Blanchett, you have a film that deserves to be number one on any list during any week. And while it certainly isn’t as anticipated as some of the other films, it has nevertheless been met with critical acclaim for predictably, its sure-handed direction and its compelling and rich performance by Cotillard. Two Days, One Night tells the story of a woman recently released from the hospital to learn that she has lost her job. After speaking with management, she learns that the only way she can retain her position is to convince her co-workers that they must sacrifice their values yearly bonuses, giving her a weekend to confront each co-worker individually to convince them to side with her. With a premise that presents us with a fascinating social dilemma from a great directing pair and one of the best actresses on the planet, Two Days, One Night is as worthy as any film to top our list.
The rest of this weekend’s releases include:
Ode to My Father (Limited)
Love on the Cloud (Limited)