There might not be a chill in the air just yet—thanks, global warming!—but as long as the calendar reads December, we’re in Oscar season. The first weekend of the month brings three contenders to multiplexes, but just one (hint: its name rhymes with Schmup in the Schmair) stands a good chance of bringing home the gold next year. As we do every Friday, here’s a handy guide to the new releases.
Up in the Air
What’s the story: Whether you think he’s another example of Hollywood nepotism, a slick and heartless huckster, a budding talent on the level of Billy Wilder or, a combination of all three, one thing is certain: Jason Reitman is a force to be reckoned with. Just two years after Juno became a cultural phenomenon and scored him a Best Director nomination, Mr. Reitman returns with Up in the Air, which has already been tapped as an Oscar front-runner. The National Board of Review named it the best film of the year, something both Slumdog Millionaire and No Country for Old Men—the last two Best Picture winners—can lay claim to winning as well. Based on the novel by Walter Kirn, Up in the Air stars George Clooney as Ryan Bingham, a corporate grim reaper who spends his life traveling around the country firing those less fortunate, until a newbie (New Moon‘s Anna Kendrick) threatens to make his job obsolete. Timeliness alert! The notices on Mr. Clooney have been effusive (what else is new?), but don’t sleep on Ms. Kendrick or Vera Farmiga (as the woman he falls for along the way), both of whom could find themselves as Supporting Actress nominees. This is probably one you shouldn’t miss.
Who should see it: Ivan Reitman.
What’s the story: Speaking of timeliness, say hello to Brothers! Jim Sheridan’s remake of Susanne Bier’s 2004 Danish film focuses on the war in Afghanistan and its impact on our troops. When Captain Sam Cahill (Tobey Maguire) is presumed dead, his ne’er-do-well ex-con brother, Tommy (Maguire doppelgänger Jake Gyllenhaal), becomes the man of the house, watching over Sam’s wife (Natalie Portman) and two children. But when Sam turns up alive, you better believe differences occur. The ad campaign for Brothers paints it like a straight-up thriller, but don’t believe everything you see on television. According to the middling reviews, Brothers is a lot more introverted than Lionsgate would have you believe.
Who should see it: Barack Obama.
What’s the story: The “dysfunctional family holiday film” subgenre gets another member with the release of Everybody’s Fine, a remake of Guiseppe Tornatore’s Stanno tutti Bene. Robert De Niro stars as a recent widower who visits his estranged children (Sam Rockwell, Drew Barrymore, Kate Beckinsale), hoping to reconnect. The reviews have been tepid at best and eviscerating at worst, so we’d advise you to tread lightly. Kudos, though, to whoever thought to cast Mr. Rockwell as Mr. De Niro’s son. Seriously, that’s genius.
Who should see it: Al Pacino.
Also opening this weekend: Helen Mirren and Christopher Plummer add to their Oscar bona fides in The Last Station; Cheryl Hines directs Serious Moonlight, written by the late Adrienne Shelly; Matt Dillon and a host of B-listers plot an armored car heist in Armored; and something called Translymania comes out, too.