To quote The Joker: "And here… we… go." Including the one-week qualifying run of Steven Soderbergh’s four-hour epic Che at the Ziegfeld Theater, four films with Oscar hopes hit theaters this weekend. Stars like Clint Eastwood, Meryl Streep, Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Kate Winslet will all fight for the highfalutin ticket buyers’ heart. Or, if you’re more inclined, you can see Keanu Reeves play an alien. Either way, there is something for everyone at the multiplex! Here’s a handy guide to this weekend’s big releases.
What’s the story: Clint Eastwood stars, for the first time since Million Dollar Baby in 2004, as Walt Kowalski, a racist widower who overcomes his prejudices to help the Hmong family next door fight gang violence. Like everyone else, we’ve had our eyes on Gran Torino for some time. And while Mr. Eastwood was shutout at the Golden Globes, it seems like a natural lock that the grizzled veteran will score his third Oscar nomination for Best Actor. In fact, if there is one person who can beat Sean Penn for the award, expect it to be Mr. Eastwood. It might be the last chance the Academy has to honor his thespian skills. Plus, he sings! As for the film, the reviews have been fairly complimentary. Our Andrew Sarris calls Gran Torino an "emotional thunderbolt". We’re sold.
Who should see it: John McCain.
What’s the story: The last movie that John Patrick Shanley directed was Joe vs. the Volcano in 1990. Now, eighteen-years later, he returns with Doubt. Based on his play, Mr. Shanley finds himself in charge of a stellar cast for his tale about a strict nun and a priest who might or might not have done something inappropriate with a young student. (Hence the title.) Meryl Streep, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams and Viola Davis all scored Golden Globe nominations for their roles, but expect Ms. Adams to be the lone exclusion come Oscar time. We adore the trailer and will pretty much see Ms. Streep in anything … except Mamma Mia.
Who should see it: Cardinal Egan.
What’s the story: Based on the Oprah-approved book by Bernhard Schlink, The Reader finally made its long and tortured journey to theaters this week. The behind-the-scenes drama is well documented, with Harvey Weinstein and Scott Rudin clashing in a battle over when the film should be released. (Mr. Weinstein ended up being victorious.) With it’s highly pedigreed cast and crew, The Reader seems like perfect Oscar catnip; but despite four Golden Globe nominations, the reviews have been fairly underwhelming. With the exception of Kate Winslet, don’t expect a lot of recognition come Jan. 22.
Who should see it: Scott Rudin.
The Day the Earth Stood Still
What’s the story: We can’t say we know a single person who’s excited for this remake of the ’50s classic. Even the filmmakers appear bored; the best they can do for a money shot in the trailer is to show Giants Stadium getting wiped away by what looks like the smoke monster from Lost. Snooze! Keanu Reeves, his face overdosed on botox, stars alongside the infinitely more interesting Jennifer Connelly. Mad Men‘s Jon Hamm makes an appearance too, but we assume he gets killed off within the first hour.
Who should see it: Betty Draper.