Check Out ‘Crazy Heart,’ ‘Young Victoria’ And ‘A Town Called Panic’ In This Week’s unLimited

With “Avatar” receiving great reviews and topping critics’ awards, the 3-D sci-fi blockbuster will be a huge hit with all kinds of moviegoers this weekend, not just the mainstream audiences that typically go for lots of action and special effects. But if you’re looking for an alternative, at least until the crowds die down, there are a few smaller movies opening this week that might be of interest. Actually, two of these spotlighted limited release offerings open tomorrow, so you might have time to see them before you have a chance to see James Cameron’s latest. And if you’re not in one of the cities playing these films this weekend, hopefully they’ll garner enough Oscar buzz to warrant a wider release soon enough.

“Crazy Heart”

What it is: Jeff Bridges stars in the drama “Crazy Heart,” about a broken-down, alcoholic country singer named Bad Blake, who turns his life around after meeting a beautiful young journalist (Maggie Gyllenhaal). While attempting his comeback, Bad mentors a new country singer (Colin Farrell) and seeks salvation. Based on the novel by Thomas Cobb, this is the debut film from writer-director Scott Cooper.

Why you should be interested: If you liked “The Wrestler” but prefer country music to professional wrestling, this is the film for you. Mostly though, the reason to see “Crazy Heart” is for the acclaimed performance by Jeff Bridges (nominated this morning for a Golden Globe). People are saying this is the role that will finally earn him an Oscar after four unrewarded nominations. The original music from producer T Bone Burnett (“O Brother Where Art Thou?” soundtrack) seems to be an Oscar contender, as well.

How you can see it: Fox Searchlight opens “Crazy Heart” on four screens tomorrow, likely only in LA and NYC, but the film will surely expand if awards and nominations keep coming Bridges’ way.

“A Town Called Panic”

What it is: Based on the Belgian animated series of the same name, “A Town Called Panic” is a surreal, anarchic stop-motion feature about a cowboy, an Indian and a horse (named, respectively Cowboy, Indian and Horse) who live together in a small town called Panic where farm animals take music lessons and alien creatures sneak out of the pond at night to steal building materials — among other strange and madcap happenings.

Why you should be interested: “A Town Called Panic” is reminiscent of Wallace and Gromit, “Robot Chicken” and Terrance and Phillip from “South Park,” so if you’re a fan of those animated series’ and characters you’re likely to find this film hilarious. Winner of the Audience Award at the 2009 Fantastic Fest, the film is brilliantly imaginative and definitely one of my favorite films of the year.

How you can see it: Zeitgeist Films releases “A Town Called Panic” in NYC tomorrow, but the film is booked for other theaters around the U.S. through February (check here for release dates and locations). Hopefully it will receive one of the five nominations for the Animated Feature Oscar — it can have the occasional foreign slot previously filled by titles like “The Triplets of Belleville” and “Persepolis” — so there will be more interest for expanded distribution.

“The Young Victoria”

What is is: Costume drama starring Emily Blunt as Queen Victoria during the early years of her reign in England and her marriage to Prince Albert (Rupert Friend). Jim Broadbent costars as King William, whom Victoria succeeds, while Paul Bettany plays the Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne, with whom she has a pre-marital romance.

Why you should be interested: There has been some Oscar talk regarding Blunt’s performance (also nominated this morning for a Golden Globe), while Oscar-winner Julian Fellowes (“Gosford Park”), who knows how to pen a great British drama, wrote the script. Obviously this will appeal to much of the same audience that went to see the “Elizabeth” films starring Cate Blanchett and watches HBO’s “Tudors” series, but given the more modern time period and fashions (Victoria ironically spawned the white wedding dress tradition, for example), “The Young Victoria” could crossover to young viewers with little knowledge or enthusiasm for the history of English monarchs.

How you can see it: New distributor Apparition Films will release “The Young Victoria” to 21 screens this Friday, likely in the major U.S. cities, but as buzz continues about Blunt’s performance and other Oscar contention, it’s likely the film will go wide in the coming months.