That’s right, everyone: Weekend Openings has returned! And just in time for the kickoff to the Oscar season, no less. The downside is that we’re still in the September garbage pile of worthless wide releases and 3D remakes, but the arthouse circuit is going to get much more interesting over the coming months. But first…
Remember seeing Pixar’s beloved classic Finding Nemo for the first time and thinking, “This is great, but I’d rather get a headache and spend five dollars more per ticket watching this” to yourself? Well, your prayers have been answered as you can finally revisit Marlin, Dory and friends the way they weren’t at all meant to be seen! You already know that this is one of the most critically acclaimed outings of the studio’s history (and The Awards Circuit does not resent that distinction), but will audiences pay to see it again, even with the improved [sic] 3D experience? I say if The Lion King could do it, so can Nemo, and after one of the worst movie weekends of all time I think audiences are ready to go back to the theaters again and boost it to $30-35 million in its opening frame.
Also in theaters is Resident Evil: Retribution, and I honestly didn’t even know they were making another one of these. Then again I shouldn’t be surprised; the fourth installment was actually the biggest hit of the franchise so far. But…are people still into these movies? I was under the impression that no one liked them on account of fanboys taking umbrage at the deviations from video game canon and general moviegoers agreeing that the films are pretty terrible. Ah, but what do I know? Fifth installments rarely light up franchises and this looks to drop from Afterlife slightly, but good online ticket sales suggest a still-impressive $18-23 million debut.
Finally in wide release, the most ironically-titled film of the year is hoping to snag the same audience that lapped up the right-wing scare piece 2016: Obama’s America. Most people have probably seen the deceptive, fairly innocuous-looking trailer that appears to be about a family coming together to fight some kind of political corruption in the wake of a soldier’s death, but Last Ounce of Courage (did I mention that title is just too precious?) is really about the “War on Christmas:”
What you just witnessed is the trailer being shown in churches and Tea Party rallies, and the film is clearly catered to the pathetic oppression fantasies of wealthy white cisgender Christians – the most privileged class of people in human history. My favorite part is seeing the Evil Black Politician talking about the “separation of church and state,” not even trying to hide its racist allusion to our big bad secular President. Of course the film hasn’t been screened for critics since they’re all godless liberals or something, but those who have seen it have called it offensive on virtually every level, but when have hateful levels of self-absorbed obliviousness ever stopped right-wing propaganda from preaching to a considerable audience of the converted? I’m predicting $3-8 million…possibly more.
While we’re on the subject of harmful religious zealotry, The Master is finally opening in select theaters. Easily one of the most anticipated films of the year, Paul Thomas Anderson’s follow-up to his Oscar-winning epic There Will Be Blood has been chalked up by many – including our own Michael Ward and Daniel Ashtiany – as the one to beat in the race for Best Picture, and Joaquin Phoenix’s intriguing performance has leapt to the forefront of the Best Actor hopefuls. About a sailor suffering from PTSD who joins a Scientology-esque cult run by the charismatic Lancaster Dodd in the aftermath of World War II, critics have been praising this as another dark, elliptical masterpiece from Anderson. Editor Clayton Davis was also impressed but was especially blown away by Phoenix, whose Freddie Quell he declared one of the very best character creations in many years. Near the beginning of the year I expressed doubt that a movie digging into Hollywood’s favorite religion would be embraced by their ultimate popularity contest, but now I’m not so sure it’s down for the count. Not only has Scientology been on the ropes in the news cycle (more than usual, I mean), but I severely underestimated the impact of Phoenix. Contenders with hugely popular performances tend to cross over with Academy members quite well no matter how difficult or bizarre the actual film is (let’s be honest; would There Will Be Blood have even been considered for a Best Picture nod by them were it not for Daniel Day-Lewis’ performance?). Depending on how much of an arthouse phenomenon The Master is, we could be looking at the next Best Lead Actor and Best Original Screenplay winners. I’m still doubtful about a win for Best Picture/Director, but nominations are very possible.
Also in limited release is the dramedy Liberal Arts, about a man in his mid-thirties who begins a romance with a young college student. Joey Magidson recently conducted a great interview with director/star Josh Radnor and leading lady Elizabeth Olsen. Critics have noted some contrivances keep it from being truly great, but has a lot of intelligence and warmth to its story.
Obviously one film is going to dominate the conversation – both positive and negative – this weekend, but by all means let us know your moviegoing plans right here. It’s good to be back.