For the first time ever, I’ll be starting off my preview of the week’s new films with the limited releases. Not because there’s anything lacking about the wide releases. Far from it, this Thanksgiving weekend is yielding several amazing-looking films both mainstream and indie. No, I’m only switching things around to keep up the theme of David Cronenberg Week. So y’all can guess by now that I’ll first be analyzing…
A Dangerous Method, based on Christopher Hampton’s play The Talking Cure, centers on the professional relationship between Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud as well as the complicating presence of the beautiful, intelligent but deeply troubled Sabina Spielrein. The film has been enjoying mostly positive reviews, with its performances, dialogue and production values being singled out for particular praise. Nevertheless, it’s clear that there is a hint of disappointment in its critical evaluations, as many (including yours truly) had initially pegged it as “the” film; the one that would finally catapult the legendary David Cronenberg to an Academy Award nomination for Best Director after a long, distinguished career ignored by the staid organization. While it’s still possible, competition from the likes of The Descendants, The Artist and War Horse required A Dangerous Method to garner more effusive “best of the year!” acclaim to stand a fighting chance considering its subject matter. Even if he personally doesn’t make it, one should still look for it in other categories. Keira Knightley, despite giving a divisive performance with a questionable accent, is showy enough and has been gushed over by quite a few critics, so she is at least on the radar. Viggo Mortensen has been cited as one of the most purely entertaining parts of the film, and Michael Fassbender could get a consolation nomination if his more acclaimed work in Shame proves too transgressive for the Academy to embrace (think Dennis Hopper). It could also get possible nods for its screenplay, art direction and costumes.
Speaking of The Artist, the ecstatically praised silent film about the changed lives of two stars in the advent of talkies hits theaters this Friday. I am sure that I’m not the only one eagerly anticipating this one; it seems only yesterday that this was nothing more than a curious footnote among the Cannes Film Festival roster, and now it might be the frontrunner for Best Picture! One person who is definitely cheering that is our Editor Clayton Davis, who declared it the best film of the year so far. Jean Dujardin (Cannes Best Actor winner) and Bérénice Bejo are also major contenders for the acting races and are pretty much locks for at least nominations. I’m sure Hollywood wouldn’t mind two gorgeous breakout stars at the ceremony this February, though Dujardin’s handsomeness might be a hindrance in the end.
Another surefire Oscar contender is My Week with Marilyn, about an idyllic week spent between a young production assistant and the movie superstar Marilyn Monroe during filming of The Prince and the Showgirl. Most critics have been calling the film “meh” at best, describing it as a frivolous central story with a by-the-numbers look at the persona of Monroe. Nearly everyone, however, proclaims Michelle Williams’ portrayal of the eponymous bombshell a brilliant, affecting embodiment of Monroe’s allure and contradictions. At this point it’s impossible to leave Williams out of the Best Actress conversation, and with the falling prospects of both Glenn Close and Meryl Streep, she may very well take the trophy (which, if you pardon my smugness, would confirm a prediction I’ve had since the beginning of the season). Keep an eye out also for Kenneth Branagh in the Supporting Actor race as well as nominations for Art Direction, Costume Design and Makeup.
Oh, but we’re not done with the Oscar contenders just yet! Also in limited release today is Oren Moverman’s sophomore effort Rampart, about a dirty cop in the midst of the infamous Rampart corruption scandal. Just like his previous collaboration with Moverman, Woody Harrelson’s aggressive performance as Dave Brown is being celebrated as an outstanding, Oscar-worthy achievement. Our own John H. Foote was among the chorus declaring this his finest performance yet when he saw Rampart at TIFF. Since DiCaprio’s in a critically dismissed film, Clooney has already been honored, Fassbender has the hurdle of explicit sex scenes and Gary Oldman has the obstacle of being Gary Oldman on the road to Best Actor, could the third time be the charm for this acclaimed character actor? We at The Awards Circuit will keep an eye on him regardless.
Also in limited release is the gender-bending urban drama Tomboy, starring Zoé Héran as a tough young girl who is mistaken for a boy and decides to just run with it. Critics are calling Céline Sciamma’s sophomore effort a brilliant and naturalistic exploration of childhood uncertainty with an outstanding central performance. Héran obviously doesn’t have much of a chance to get Best Actress mentions in the states, but European and LGBT film awards could really boost her and the film’s profile.
So those are the Oscar-baiting indies, how about the big boys? Let’s start with Hugo, Martin Scorsese’s family adventure about an orphan caught up in an adventure with a broken automaton, an eccentric girl and a toy shop owner. Critics – including John – have hailed Scorsese’s latest as a gorgeous-looking and touching love letter to cinema, as well as one of the finest uses of 3D in a long time. The technical categories are almost a given at this point in the Oscar race – particularly Art Direction. Family films don’t have an easy time in the “main” categories, though with enough critical adoration à la Babe, Hugo could absolutely find itself a Best Picture nominee. Box office is another matter entirely. Mainstream audiences see “from Martin Scorsese” and think crime film, not ambitious visual adventure and cinematic history tribute. It will be tough to find an audience to propel it about $12-17 million over Thanksgiving.
Those who want Christmas to come a little early this year (or just want to distract the kids for a while) can check out Arthur Christmas, which explains just how Santa is able to deliver all those presents in only one night. In yet another score for original animated films over franchise sequels, critics call Arthur Christmas a delightful and funny holiday film that avoids the charm-by-committee cynicism that afflicts its peers. Such positive reception and Christmas around the corner should propel the film to somewhere around $19-24 million by Sunday. Although a win is highly unlikely with the more idiosyncratic Rango, more popular Rio and more ambitious The Adventures of Tintin, the acclaim has given it a solid boost for at least a nomination for Best Animated Feature.
Finally, The Muppets make a triumphant return to the big screen, and Joey claims it’s a joyous reminder of why we love them so much. After going their separate ways, Kermit, Gonzo, Fozzie, Animal and Miss Piggie must come together for a grand telethon to save their beloved Muppet Theater from being destroyed by an evil oilman. As far as box office goes, The Muppets stands the best chance of dethroning The Twilight Saga: Part 1 – The Phantom Menace due to its family appeal and nostalgia factor. Even if the vampire tween flick comes out on top, Kermit and friends should still manage $45-50 million over the holiday. Oscars? Eh…probably not, though if there was an Academy Award for Best Trailer of the Year this film would win it in a heartbeat.
So many big movies this weekend! Definitely take the time to see at least one of these films in between scarfing down turkey and give us your thoughts right here on The Awards Circuit!
Tags: arthur christmas, Berenice Bejo, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Art Direction, Best Costume Design, Best Makeup, best picture, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, biopics, David Cronenberg Week, Hugo, jean dujardin, Keira Knightley, Kenneth Branagh, Michael Fassbender, Michelle Williams, My Week With Marilyn, Oscar hopefuls, Rampart, the artist, The Muppets, viggo mortensen, Weekend Openings, Woody Harrelson
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