Going into wide release in movies theaters this weekend isÖ nothing. Seriously, nothing. Given the glut of big movies that came out in time for the Thanksgiving weekend, Hollywood took a mulligan this week, holding off the rest of their big movies for further into December and giving time for audiences to catch up with the other great stuff out there. But if you spent your Thanksgiving holiday seeing The Muppets, Arthur Christmas, Hugo and all the rest, you're either seeing Shame in limited release this weekend or totally stuck without options.
Or are you? There are a ton of smaller movies out in theaters right now that you might not have caught yet, and this is a great week to catch up. Below we've got eight ideas for your movie viewing this week, from small indies that just hit theaters to sleeper releases from earlier this fall that still need your love. Get out there and show these smaller films some respect!
Lars Von Trier movies aren't for everybody, but they are inevitably thought-provoking, beautiful, and the kind of thing you absolutely have to see with somebody else so you can talk about it after. So don't wait to see his new film, Melancholia, years down the road on Netflix when everyone else has already moved on; see it now, on video on-demand or in theaters, so you can walk out of the theater and either pester your fellow moviegoers or read other reviews that try to figure out exactly what Kirsten Dunst's unhappy bride character was thinking, or how the movie contains Kiefer Sutherland's best performance in years. Really, if you can, you ought to see it on the big screen-- Melancholia opens with a kind of cinematic overture, heightened and gloriously shot scenes that reflect, sort of, what happens at the end of the movie, but all scored to bombastic Wagner and so mysterious that you can't imagine how the movie can eventually make sense of it. That alone is reason enough to see it, but Melancholia goes on to show one of the funniest and most disastrous onscreen weddings of all time, Kirsten Dunst's best performance in years (maybe ever), a vision of the apocalypse that even Roland Emmerich couldn't imagine, and did I mention how good Kiefer Sutherland is in it? Melancholia is weird, and you may not even like it, but it is more than worth your time.
A Dangerous Method
You normally think of David Cronenberg as the director who pulls out terrifying body horror films like The Fly, or at least sics a naked Viggo Mortensen on some Russian baddies in Eastern Promises. But just because A Dangerous Method appears on the surface to be a movie you could take your grandmother to see doesn't mean it lacks its share of twists and shocks. Telling the story of the friendship between Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud, and how a deeply disturbed woman named Sabine came between them, A Dangerous Method explores psychoanalysis as it was invented in the stately drawing rooms and boat rides of early 20th century Vienna. On the surface it's all polish and fancy costumes, but in the twisty dialogue (and the occasional scene of S&M) there's a darkness-- Freud might call it an id-- lurking beneath. See it because Viggo Mortensen, Michael Fassbender and Keira Knightley are in it giving their all to tough performances, but pay attention to the way Cronenberg is putting the whole thing together, slightly more restrained than usual but still getting under his audience's skin all the same.
Martha Marcy May Marlene
It's pretty amazing that Martha Marcy May Marlene is the feature film debut from writer-director Sean Durkin. The control and precision with which he crafts the film hint at a much more seasoned filmmaker. I'm not sure I would label the film a full on exercise in horror but it is one of the most haunting films in recent memory. MMMM is not without its faults but the film has such undeniable power that it's very easy to overlook some of the more glaring problems. Durkin's film, for the most part, is very tight and impeccably (innovatively) structured as it explores the psychology that can lead someone to surrender themselves to others so fully and completely while also trying to examine the possibility of return.
Oh, and it doesn't hurt that the 'cult' leader is played by John Hawkes, who gives another Academy Award (nomination) worthy performance as the disturbingly charismatic Patrick. However,†the real revelation is Elizabeth Olsen. She commands the screen with her mesmerizing presence as the shattered Martha as she plays all sides of the character pitch perfectly. I would be shocked if she didn't walk away with an Oscar nomination. The performances might be the highlight of the film but it also deserves high praise for the beautiful and earthy cinematography, its fantastic editing and the music - both its low-key score and one great original song. So, what are you waiting for, join the cult while you still can!
The Artist isnít the best movie to be released this year Ė as we noted in our review Ė but itís hard to argue that itís not a well-made film. While creativity in Hollywood is slowly dying (you need all your fingers and toes as well as a couple friends to keep count of the number of sequels and remakes released this year), writer/director Michel Hazanavicius dared to work on a project that no major studio would touch with a ten foot pole: a silent, black-and-white movie. Endlessly charming and featuring a terrific turn from French star Jean Dujardin, The Artist doesnít have the most original story, but itís really the presentation that sells it. The critical darling was only given a limited release this past Friday, so itís hard to tell just how well it will perform at the box office. Still, itís as pleasant a movie experience as youíll find and definitely worth your time, consideration and money.
There are some truly powerful, incredible lead male performances in this list of movies, but few of them actually compare to Michael Shannonís brilliant turn in Take Shelter, the new film from writer/director Jeff Nichols. The movie was released all the way back on September 30th, and is currently only playing on 49 screens nationwide, but believe me when I say that itís worth the extra gas money. In addition to the stunning work by Shannon, the film boasts one of the tightest scripts youíve seen this year and visually the movie is astonishing. Though the movie was made for only $5 million, the apocalyptic visions envisioned by Shannon are breathtaking and frightening. Take Shelter is one of the strongest character pieces to be released this year, and also manages to be one of the scariest horror films and one of the most deeply felt dramas. Ignoring Nicholsí movie would be a sincere mistake.
A while back Josh penned an eloquent plea to get people to give 50/50 a chance, and shared a very personal story about his own run-in with cancer years ago. Since 2004 I've twice had my own dealings with cancer, and I wanted to add one thing he didn't touch on: once you've had cancer, Hollywood's portrayals of it become really annoying. It's the crutch writers call on whenever they need to have somebody die dramatically. But the thing you almost never see, and the thing it's important to see, is an honest look at what it's really like to face it, and to fight it.
Barring a cure, cancer is something that will touch most of our lives in some way, at some point. 50/50 shows us, with brutal, uncompromising honesty, all the fear and denial and frustration of confronting "the C word"...and then shows us that you shouldn't give up hope. Joseph Gordon-Levitt nails every moment pitch-perfect, from the stunned paralysis of hearing
the diagnosis, to the gallows humor, to the soul-weary breakdown when you reach the end of your rope. 50/50 faces one of the scariest words in our language head-on, and invites you to come on a journey that is funny and heartbreaking and scary and ridiculous and human. It's one of the best movies of the year, and almost nobody has seen it. Let's remedy that, shall we?
The Skin I Live In
In a fair and balanced film society, Pedro Almodovarís name above a movieís title would guarantee a level of box-office success currently afforded to the likes of James Cameron or (shudder to think) Michael Bay. Alas, Almodovar remains a niche, and when the auteur challenges his audience with a film thatís nearly impossible to properly market, said film can fly under the radar.
What is The Skin I Live In, Almodovarís collaboration with a steely Antonio Banderas? Is it a ghost story? An arthouse answer to the torture porn thatís gunking up the horror genre? A sordid, blood-soaked, soap opera story of vengeance and pain? Or is Skin an unpredictable romance that somehow transcends all of the aforementioned descriptions Ö at least until Almodovar skillfully pulls the rug out from underneath us, sending us stumbling from the theater on a giddy high of perverse sexual shock?
The answer, of course, is all of the above. And yet, I canít explain why. Like Sony Pictures Classicsí marketing department, I have been painted into a corner by Almodovar himself, who consistently surprises with a non-linear narrative that isnít crystal clear until the final two words of the screenplay have been spoken. And man, are they heartbreaking. God bless this brilliant filmmaker for refusing to fit his sophisticated efforts into easily defined categories. Now go see Skin so he can make several more.
Winning the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance should be enough to drum up business for a film, and yet, Drake Doremusí tender character drama Ė which also earned a Special Jury Prize for lead actress Felicity Jones Ė continues to chase an elusive audience ($2.4M gross to date) as it rolls out in select markets (150 theaters at last count).
Letís change that. Doremus has delivered an honest, compassionate and at times difficult relationship story that lives up to a standard set by contemporary classics Say Anything or Some Kind of Wonderful. Jones and her co-star, Anton Yelchin, arenít bankable leads (yet), but the real star of Like Crazy is Doremusí script, which reportedly draws on this divorceeís past experiences with a tough-to-manage long-distance relationship.
Word-of-mouth might have circulated ahead of potential audiences warning that Like Crazy isnít a gooey, warm love story with a cut-and-dried happy ending. Rather, itís an honest depiction of two young lovers short on life experience who donít realize that theyíve fallen out of love, yet fight to hold on to a relationship thatís no longer there. But Crazy isnít interested in breaking new ground. Itís content to speak to a target audience, saying to them, ďWe all went through it at some point as well, and you arenít crazy for feeling the way you feel.Ē You are crazy, however, if you let this one pass you by.