We’re entering a new month in the summer, folks, so that means…surprisingly only one action blockbuster opening this weekend.
The only new wide release is the superhero prequel X-Men: First Class, a factor which should work in its favor at the box office. An origin story to the entertaining but very flawed X-Men trilogy that kicked off America’s superhero film obsession, Charles Xavier and Erik Lehnsherr strike up a friendship as young men, founding a school and later a team meant to protect mutants. Despite its now-legendarily bad photoshopped posters and the fact that 99% of prequels are, well, awful, the critical acclaim for this film has been considerable. The vast majority of reviews are calling First Class the most intelligent and engaging installment of the entire series (high praise, considering the bar set by X2), with two widely commended performances from leads James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender. Some are even claiming it stands above nearly all other Marvel adaptations so far. Such enthusiastic early reviews and lack of competition (something tells me that The Hangover: Part II will drop quite a bit this weekend) should allow First Class to crush the competition with an $85-90 million take and possibly set the stage for a prequel trilogy.
Those looking for a wealth of options on the limited circuit will have a good time this weekend…well, depending on your definition of “a good time,” as Beautiful Boy is certainly not “feel good” in any sense. In Shawn Ku’s tragic drama, Maria Bello and Michael Sheen portray a couple grieving over the death of their son after he committed a shooting at his college before turning the gun on himself. Critics have been mostly positive on this film, with Bello and Sheen receiving the lion’s share of praise. I would chalk this up as a possible contender for acting Oscars were it not for one film: We Need to Talk About Kevin. Lynne Ramsay’s long-awaited return is arguably the higher-profile and more anticipated drama also about a school massacre, and though the comparisons may be unfair or inaccurate, they will be made, and Beautiful Boy will most likely be the one that suffers as a result (see also: Dangerous Liaisons and Valmont).
Beginners might fare a little better on the Oscar nomination front. The romantic drama stars Ewan McGregor as man who learns that his terminally ill father is gay. Some are complaining that director Mike Mills’ approach occasionally falls into the quirky indie preciousness trap, but is overall a poignant love story with excellent performances from McGregor and Christopher Plummer as his father. There’s some chatter of a Best Supporting Actor nod for the veteran actor Plummer, and there’s a part of me that wonders if that claim has more merit that I originally thought. Either way, it’s one to look out for.
Jean-Luc Godard’s possible swan song Film Socialisme also hits theaters in limited release. Godard has – Honorary Award notwithstanding – never been an Academy darling, and with this film he doesn’t even appear to be a critical darling; several reviews are calling his meditation of the decline of Europe incomprehensible and overdetermined. Ah well, he had a great run…
Finally, there’s Submarine, an oddball coming-of-age comedy about a teenager (Craig Roberts) who strives to save his parents’ marriage via wacky shenanigans and lose his virginity before he turns sixteen. Critics have expressed pleasant surprise at this one, claiming that director Richard Ayoade’s precocious style cribs a little too much from the Wes Anderson School of Filmmaking, but has enough heart to make it worthwhile. It’s unlikely to carry over into the Oscars, but a smattering of critics citations are not out of the question.
As you can see, there are a lot of new releases this weekend, as well as the continuing expansion of The Tree of Life. Let us know what you saw, and as always, look for reviews of these films right here on The Awards Circuit!