A pair of Oscar-winning directors debut new films this weekend, but all anyone really wants to talk about is the King of the World. Thanks to some embargo-breaking reviews, the first (and second and third) word on James Cameron’s Avatar has finally reached the masses. And, apparently, it’s better than it looks! (Be honest, the ad campaign for this thing has been terrible.) In fact, some critics have even gone so far as to say that Avatar is Oscar-bound. Like the rest of you, we’ll reserve our judgment until we can see those giant blue aliens in all their 3-D glory, starting next week. In the meantime, this trio of Academy Awards bait will have to hold our interest. As we do every Friday, here’s a handy guide to the new releases.
What’s the story: If Clint Eastwood is releasing a film, it’s officially Oscar season! Invictus, the prolific septuagenarian’s seventh film since 2003, stars Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela and Matt Damon as the rugby player the South African president tasked to help bring his country together in 1995 by winning the World Cup. (Spoiler alert: Use Google to find out if South Africa wins.) Reviews for Invictus have been strong and everyone seems unanimous in their praise of Mr. Freeman, who is poised for his first Best Actor nomination since The Shawshank Redemption in 1995. Plus, despite an accent that sounds lifted out of the now-defunct Flight of the Conchords, Mr. Damon has some Oscar heat, too (though in the supporting category)! Fun fact: Invictus derives its box-office–unfriendly name from a William Ernest Henley poem that Freeman-as-Mandela recites while in prison.
Who should see it: South Africa’s 2007 World Cup–winning rugby team.
The Lovely Bones
What’s the story: If Peter Jackson is releasing a film, it’s … well, you get the idea. The long-awaited adaptation of Alice Sebold’s best-selling novel about a young girl (Saoirse Ronan) who helps solve her brutal murder from the hereafter finally hits theaters with a din of bad buzz surrounding its ethereal landscapes. While our Rex Reed called the film “enthralling,” other critics haven’t been so kind; The Lovely Bones has Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes comparable to Armored. Also, apropos of nothing: Are we the only ones who can’t look at Ms. Ronan with any sympathy because of the unctuous pill she played in Atonement? Just wondering.
Who should see it: People who own a copy of What Dreams May Come.
A Single Man
What’s the story: Not to be confused with A Serious Man, the latest hilariously overrated cinematic hunk of junk from the Coen brothers, here comes A Single Man. Tom Ford directs (yep, that Tom Ford) this adaptation of Christopher Isherwood’s 1964 novel about a college professor (Colin Firth) who must overcome the death of his longtime partner (Matthew Goode). Since A Single Man takes place in 1962 (hey, Mad Men!), Mr. Ford is afforded the opportunity to embrace his inner Matthew Weiner, from the costume design all the way down to a vocal cameo appearance from none other than Don Draper himself, Jon Hamm. Julianne Moore co-stars, and we can only hope she leaves whatever accent she was trying to do on last night’s episode of 30 Rock at home.
Who should see it: Salvatore Romano.
Also opening this weekend: Disney’s latest sure-to-be box office smash, The Princess and The Frog, expands nationwide.