Weekend Openings (December 23-25)

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Per usual, the year’s end is very crowded with ambitious Oscar contenders and highly-anticipated prestige projects.  The surprisingly (or perhaps it isn’t; Brad Bird is a movie maestro, no?) acclaimed Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol looks to edge past the competition by a hair, and based on Joey’s report is entirely deserved.  But what of the new releases?

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo has been in theaters since Tuesday, but now mainstream moviegoers will get the chance to really turn out in droves for it; a rare feat for a disturbing serial killer mystery.  Then again, David Fincher achieved commercial success with Se7en, and his newest is based on a best-selling novel, so why not another brutal and nasty box office success from him?  I’ll estimate an $18-23 million take over the next three days.  Joey and I were both pleasantly surprised by the unusual tension and lurid style of this remake/adaptation, though I still had serious issues with the story’s empty nihilism.  Such dark material will prove a difficult sell for the Academy, and likely has little chances of making Best Picture, Director or Adapted Screenplay.  Craft nods, on the other hand, are not out of the question, especially since many of them were feted last year from their Social Network nominations.

Cameron Crowe returns after a long absence with We Bought a Zoo, about a father who reinvents himself by renovating a struggling zoo.  Critics are rather mixed on this one, with some (including Joey) who found it touching and others calling the film insufferably saccharine.  While that sort of makes it a dead fish in the Oscar race, it bodes well for a possible return to form from the once down-and-out Crowe in the future.  Astute marketing and the presence of stars Matt Damon and Scarlett Johansson should make this a viable alternative for families not wanting to witness anal rape and misogynistic torture.  I feel that this will bank a modestly successful $9-14 million by Sunday.

But that’s not the only film looking to attract families this weekend.  The Adventures of Tintin, an ambitious performance-capture adaptation of the comic book series sees its titular protagonist on a search for an ancient treasure.  Reviews have praised this film as a spirited adventure in the vein of Raiders of the Lost Ark, though Joey had some reservations.  Despite carrying the Spielberg name, this has an uphill climb at the box office, as not many people are even aware of the comic series, let alone fans, and performance capture has not exactly had consistent success.  My hunch is $8-13 million in its debut frame.  Oscar-wise, its qualification as a Best Animated Film contender could make it a threat in that category depending on its box office take, though the critical plaudits for Rango make a victory far from a sure thing.

We also have some Sunday openings as well, most notably War Horse, that tailor-made-for-Oscars epic about a young man who yearns to reunite with is beloved horse when it’s taken by the cavalry to fight in WWI.  Critics are calling this film an unabashedly sentimental and handsomely mounted achievement that perhaps is a little too tailor-made for the Academy’s tastes.  The reviews from the staff and Editor seem to confirm this, though John was more effusive in his praise.  For a long time this film was considered one of the frontrunners for Best Picture until the precursor awards crowned The Artist as the film to beat.  Craft victories – especially Best Art Direction and Original Score – are still seriously in play, and Spielberg should be able to coast to an easy thirteenth nomination.

Also on Sunday is the only slightly intriguing The Darkest Hour, starring Emile Hirsch as one of a few survivors of an attack by energy-based aliens.  No reviews as of now, which doesn’t bode well for what looks like something dumped in the midst of a major weekend to die a quiet death.

In limited release is Glenn Close’s passion project Albert Nobbs, starring her as a woman who poses as a man in 19th Century Ireland.  Our own John Foote joins the critical consensus in calling it a dull experience.  While our colleague was not that impressed by its gender-bending star, the precursors seem to be keeping her in the Oscar race.  A win is not that likely anymore, but she should see herself gain a nod for her career-comeback.  More interestingly is the rising stock of Janet McTeer in the Best Supporting Actress conversation, being cited often as giving the best performance in the film.

Also is the theatrical debut of Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close from Academy love-nugget Stephen Daldry.  After losing his father in the 9/11 attacks, young Oskar receives a posthumous message from him in the form of a mysterious key, setting him on a journey through New York City.  Also hyped as a serious contender, the film has sharply divided critics.  Our own Editor loved it, but a lot of reviews condemn what they describe as cynically manipulative tear-jerking of the most blatant kind.  Based on such a sharply mixed response, it’s tough to gauge Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close’s awards prospects.  Normally I’d point to The Reader as another critically dismissed Stephen Daldry film that made several nominations (to the chagrin of Dark Knight fans everywhere), but this is different.  9/11 is a lot rawer to Academy members than the Holocaust, and this film doesn’t appear to have the adored central performance that helped Daldry’s previous effort.  Personally, I’m dropping this from my own predictions in the top categories.

Also is the possible Best Documentary Feature and Foreign Language Film contender Pina, a 3D chronicle of the Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch dance ensemble by Wim Wenders.  It has received widespread praise for what critics describe as astonishing visuals and intimate eye.  Whether or not it can win one of the two Oscars that it’s gunning for is a tough prospect; the fact that it’s German hurts its odds in the former category and that fact that it’s a documentary lowers its chances in the latter.  It’s quite the conundrum…

Finally in limited release is Angelina Jolie’s directorial debut In the Land of Blood and Honey, about a dark relationship forged against the backdrop of the Bosnian War.  Complaints about the film’s uneven execution imply that the movie star has some ways to go behind the camera.

And…that’s it for this weekend!  As always, don’t hesitate to tell us your own reactions to these major releases!