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.
If last week made you forget for a moment that we’re in January, this week is here to remind you we’re in the heart of no man’s land. Of the major releases of the week, – the Kevin Costner-starring Black or White, the young adult-geared Project Almanac, and the Jason Statham tragedy Wild Card - not one of them looks promising. This is tough news for cinephiles in more rural areas. With only a few big theater chains nearby, your options are probably limited to the releases of weeks past, or the aforementioned mediocre major releases of this week. But if you happen to live in or nearby a major city, this week may not be all that bad. In fact, this week could be quite fantastic. Because when all else fails, the tried and true formula of the foreign and art house market is always there to make your cinema-going experience more rewarding. And since tough times call for creative solutions, this week we’re featuring no new major studio releases (really, there’s not much to feature). That’s right, this week is a hodgepodge of indie/foreign/short films made to whet the appetite of the starving cineastes of the world (and yes, we said short films).
#5 – Amira & Sam (Limited)
Amira & Sam is a romantic comedy with a cultural and political message. Starring Martin Starr (TV’s beloved Freaks & Geeks and Party Down), and newcomer Dina Shihabi, the story follows an army veteran tasked with helping the niece of his unit’s former Iraqi translator once she gets into trouble with immigration. From there, the two form a friendship and love that comes with understanding each other’s social and cultural differences. Written and directed by first-timer Sean Mullin, the film has seen limited early reviews praise its authenticity and the charm of the two leads. The trailer touches on their chemistry, and the film appears to consciously show an awareness of the rom-com genre that it’s boxed within, with references to other romantic comedies, from 27 Dresses to Sweet Home Alabama.
#4 – Oscar-Nominated Animated Shorts (Limited)
That’s right, we have some shorts out this week. Namely, the Oscar nominated shorts (if the self-explanatory title didn’t already give that away). These are the films nominated in the animated category, and if you’ve ever thought of dismissing short films, just know that some very big and well-known filmmakers have gotten their start making short films. In fact, it would hardly be surprising if some of these filmmakers went on to have successful careers in the industry. So don’t be cynical, because you may be looking at the filmmakers of the future. In the animated category, we have Me and My Moulton (Torill Kove), Feast (Patrick Osborne and Kristina Reed), The Bigger Picture (Daisy Jacobs and Christopher Hees), A Single Life (Marieke Blaauw, Joris Oprins, Job Roggeveen), and The Dam Keeper (Robert Kondo and Dice Tsutsumi). Of those shorts, audiences may be most familiar with Patrick Osborne and Kristina Reed’s Feast. The film played before Disney’s Big Hero 6, so it certainly is the short with the highest profile. Feast tells a story from the perspective of a dog who capitalizes on his owner’s generosity to live a gluttonous and bountiful lifestyle, but when his owner begins a relationship with a health-conscious woman, the dog’s days of tasty treats and delectable eats may be behind him. The film is a visual treat, and the story is sweet and sincere. If you’ve seen it, you already know how entertaining the animated short category can be. But that’s just one film of the bunch, and the others are sure to be worthy submissions in their own right. Plus, you also get treated with a number of extra non-contention short films that give you more bang for your buck. Here’s a trailer for one of the contending films, The Dam Keeper, for those who want an idea of just how visually arresting these shorts can be.
#3 – Oscar-Nominated Live-Action Shorts (Limited)
Furthering the point made in the previous paragraph, and just so there’s some context, Damien Chazelle -the director of this year’s Best Picture nominee Whiplash - got the funds and backing to make that film from the short film (also titled Whiplash) he made that impressed audiences at Sundance two years ago. Another beloved director, Martin McDonagh (In Bruges, Seven Psychopaths), won an Oscar for his short film Six Shooter (starring none other than Brendan Gleeson), and that film can still be found on YouTube for those curious to give it a gander. Chazelle and McDonagh are just two examples of some of the potential of the short film genre, and what success in shorts can mean for a career further down the line. With that in mind, we look at the live-action category, which will also be getting a limited release in theaters. Of those, we have Parvaneh (Talkhon Hamzavi and Stefan Eichenberger), Boogaloo and Graham (Michael Lennox and Ronan Blaney), Aya (Oded Binnun and Mihal Brezis), The Phone Call (Mat Kirkby and James Lucas), and Butter Lamp (Hu Wei and Julien Féret). Of the aforementioned films, audiences may find particular interest in The Phone Call, which stars British treasures Sally Hawkins and Jim Broadbent. The trailer doesn’t give away anything except a slow build and pacing for a nice sense of atmosphere, and it ends (surely enough) with a phone call. But it gives us just enough to hint at the simple but surely affecting premise, and with two fantastic actors involved, it’s sure to be great.
#2 – Girlhood (Limited)
For those of you who aren’t enthralled with the idea of going to the theaters to watch short films, have no fear – we’ve now worked our way back to feature length films. However, don’t get relaxed just yet, as these films may prove to be just as challenging and foreign to the viewer. Number two on our list is Girlhood. A French film from Celine Sciamma, Girlhood follows a young girl who drops out of school and falls in with a group of friends that enjoy committing petty crimes. It should be noted that the film has no relation to Linklater’s Boyhood, and in fact, in French the film actually translates to “Group of Girls” (so perhaps the studio is guilty of some opportunism in translating the title to Girlhood). Still, the film could be just as enjoyable of an experience, as it has gotten early praise from critics and a respectable reception when it premiered at Cannes last year. It also has one of the most subtle but effective trailers of the young year, giving us some nice atmosphere and music to accompany arresting shots and hints at the story. Nothing too overdone, just enough to keep us interested.
#1 – Timbuktu (Limited)
We top the list with one of the contending films in the Oscar race for Best Foreign Film, Timbuktu. Last week’s number one, Mommy, featured what could be classified as an Oscar snub in the foreign language category, so this week audiences get to see one of the films that supplanted it. Timbuktu tells the story of Kidane, who lives peacefully with his wife and children in the sand dunes close to the city of Timbuktu. There, he’s been able to successfully distance himself from the religious fundamentalism and oppression imposed by Jihadists that takes place in the town nearby. But that changes one day when the family is suddenly forced to confront the society that they’ve avoided for so long. The film is directed by Abderrahmane Sissako, who some may know from 2006’s Bamako, and just the fact that the film made it to the Foreign film category in this year’s Oscars is something of an endorsement, as this year’s list of films is said to be incredibly deep. The trailer for Timbuktu offers no dialogue, but it does serve up some beautiful imagery for those susceptible to those sort of things.
The rest of this weekend’s releases include: