Our biggest pet peeve of the awards season is the platform release. Sure, we understand the theory behind the strategy: studios build buzz by releasing their prestige films into as few theaters as possible, whetting the appetites of every filmgoer with a pulse. Problem is, this year all the films seem destined to be hits, if only given a chance. You’re telling us that Doubt, starring major box office draws like Meryl Streep and Amy Adams, wouldn’t have grossed $15-20 million dollars if it opened wide last weekend? No wonder the box office was down–all the stuff people actually want to see isn’t playing anywhere! That changes somewhat this week. Christmastime is here, and, in addition to sugarplums, visions of major movies are dancing in our head. Here’s a handy guide to the holiday releases.
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
What’s the story: If it feels like you’ve been waiting forever to see David Fincher’s latest, that’s probably because you have; the trailer was attached to Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull all the way back in May. Based on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short story of the same name, Brad Pitt stars as the titular hero, a man who was born "under unusual circumstances" (hint: he ages backwards). The reviews have been surprisingly mixed, some praising the film for its incredible technical prowess but others chiding it for being distant and cold. We don’t know what to expect, if only because we never thought we’d see things like "David Fincher" and "Forrest Gump" written in the same review. The man directed Se7en after all!
Who should see it: Jennifer Aniston.
What’s the story: Unless director Sam Mendes changed the entire plot to Richard Yates’ classic and replaced it with the script for American Beauty, this is surely going to be one of our favorite movies of the year. The novel is brilliant: darkly comic and unapologetically bleak. Thankfully, it sounds like the film is as well. Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet reunite for the first time since Titanic, and it is fitting that they chose to play Frank and April Wheeler; in Revolutionary Road, it’s not a boat that sinks, it’s the American dream. Expect Ms. Winslet to win her first Oscar come February, but, like everyone else, we’ll tell you to keep an eye on Michael Shannon in the role of schizophrenic truth teller John Givings. It’s a home run part for a home run actor.
Who should see it: Your newly betrothed friends.
What’s the story: We were hanging out with some friends over the weekend and when the trailer for Tom Cruise’s latest came on the television, they both said how they thought it looked "awesome". It might be time for us to reevaluate those friendships. After what seems like five years of release changes and negative press, Valkyrie finally hits theaters on Christmas Day, and we can’t say we’re excited. Most of the reviews have been of the "damning with faint praise" variety–the consensus seems to be that it isn’t as bad as it looks. We’re were all set to psych ourselves up to see it until we saw the headline for the AP review: "Cruise distractingly bad in Valkyrie". Must be that eye-patch.
Who should see it: The ghost of L. Ron Hubbard.
Marley & Me
What’s the story: If you’ve been waiting for that big squishy box office hit this holiday season, look no further than Marley & Me. Based on the best seller by John Grogan, Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston star as a happy husband and wife–think of them as the anti-Wheelers–who adopt "the world’s worst dog". As our esteemed colleague points out, Mr. Wilson and Ms. Aniston are perfect for each other, and under the guidance of expert genre director David Frankel (The Devil Wears Prada), we’re going to assume this will be the "you’ll laugh, you’ll cry" movie of the year. Take your parents over Christmas vacation. They’ll love it. And you might too.
Who should see it: The ghost of your family dog.
What’s the story: Here’s the thing about Adam Sandler: everyone makes fun of him; his movies get universally panned; and yet, with few exceptions (Little Nicky springs to mind), they make total bank at the box office. If Mr. Happy Gilmore could help procure over $100 million dollars for something as awful as You Don’t Mess with the Zohan, think about what he can do with a candy-colored Disney movie that features a bug-eyed guinea pig in the trailer? That clatter you hear isn’t Santa’s sled… it’s a Brinks truck backing up to Mr. Sandler’s front door.
Who should see it: Rob Schneider.
Also opening: Frank Miller’s terrible looking adaptation of Will Eisner’s graphic novel The Spirit. Do yourself a favor and don’t bother.