December! When every movie that’s going to win every Oscar comes out in a single 14-day span, and the cinephile’s life switches from, “Is there nothing to see this weekend?” to “wait, wait, slow down!” Because this kind of hectic cramming isn’t bad for the movies at all.
To my shame, I am sort of really pumped for more than a few of the Oscarbaitiest of this Oscarbait.
One of the year’s grandest dumping grounds witnesses but a single wide release, Playing for Keeps, starring Gerard Butler as a soccer coach trying to re-connect with his ex-wife. From the title on down, not a single word of what I just typed sounds like anything other than sheer, rancid pain.
Limited releases of note: Bill Murray’s Oscar hunt seems to have fizzled with Hyde Park on Hudson, in which he plays FDR; apparently the film is every bit the blanched-out bit of nothing at all that it looks like.
Only one wide release this weekend, too, but it’s as far from Playing for Keeps as it gets: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, an end-of-year megaevent like we haven’t had since Avatar, and I am not sorry to say that huge blockbuster releases in December are my favorite kind of huge blockbuster releases, and that’s true even if it’s a prequel to a franchise I didn’t particularly love to start with, in which almost every marketing decision thus far has raised only red flags.
That 14-day span? It starts now.
Wide releases: Barbra Streisand’s return to leading-lady status is with the desperately unappealing The Guilt Trip, promising broad-as-a-barn sitcom-level humor; and Disney tries once again to squeeze some cash out of a 3-D re-release, this time with Monsters, Inc., a film that I feel probably won’t benefit as much as Finding Nemo.
The real action is happening in limited release, primarily for those in Los Angeles and New York: Michael Haneke’s vastly-lauded Amour finally hits the States at just exactly the right time to feel more like homework than a privilege – but a privilege it still is; and Kathryn Bigelow’s CIA procedural, Zero Dark Thirty, which I shall not be coy about: I have seen it, and you should be really excited for this one.
Absolutely nobody I’ve discussed it with is as excited for This Is 40 as I am, which probably makes me the idiot. But I have a soft spot for Judd Apatow’s overly-sentimental, indulgently character dramadies – they are hopelessly sincere if nothing else, and I long for more of that in contemporary comedy – and an even softer one for Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann. Nobody is really excited for Jack Reacher, a “Tom Cruise as vigilante cop” movie, either, because why would you be? To which the answer is, Because Werner Herzog is playing the villain.
More Oscarbait: I am pretty sure that On the Road, the first cinematic attempt to adapt that unadaptable novel, and Not Fade Away, which is coasting solely on the name of writer-director David “The Sopranos” Chase, are coast-only releases; but The Impossible, in which English-speaking whites survive the Boxing Day tsunami, is getting at least something of a platform release, though certainly not “wide”.
Hey everybody, what says “spirit of Christmas” the most to you? The musical about French people dying in poverty, the broad comedy about a Jewish couple tormenting their daughter and spoiling their grandchildren, or the violent action movie about an escaped slave getting bloody revenge on plantation owners? I kid, of course: being a male cinephile, I have some ineradicable baseline of enthusiasm for Django Unchained, though I am deeply concerned for Quentin Tarantino’s ability to treat such a loaded topic as slavery with any delicacy, given his traditional rendering of race relations; and as a fan of movie musicals and this source material especially, I’m foaming at the mouth for Les Misérables, easily my most-anticipated for the month. I wasn’t kidding about Parental Guidance, though; that looks barbaric.
One last movie gets pitched out for Oscar qualification and to hell if anybody sees it: anti-fracking character drama Promised Land. I know I’m supposed to think it looks schmaltzy, but director Gus Van Sant and writer Matt Damon are certainly people who have some benefit of the doubt, wouldn’t you say? And thus endeth the movie year.