We know how it is: You'd like to go to the movies this weekend, but you're gonna be busy escaping the end of the world. You can have a multiplex-like experience at home with a collection of the right DVDs. And when someone asks you on Monday, "Hey, did you see 2012 this weekend?" you can reply, "No, I watched all the movies that Roland Emmerich borrowed ideas from instead."
INSTEAD OF: 2012, in which Roland Emmerich destroys Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Yellowstone Park, Washington, D.C., Hawaii, the Pacific Ocean, the Himalayas, China, and the careers of John Cusack and Chiwetel Ejiofor...
WATCH: The classic 1951 science fiction movie When Worlds Collide, about humanity's attempts to save itself when a rogue planet is discovered on a collision course with Earth: can they build an escape spaceship in time? If you need more modern disaster scenarios, be sure to see Emmerich's own 1996 flick Independence Day, about aliens who love blowing up Earth cities; Emmerich steals quite a bit from his work here for 2012. See more of what he stole in 1972's The Poseidon Adventure (that's where he got the cruise ship rolling upside down from). It's not really science fiction -- but then again, neither is 2012 -- but John Cusack is awfully sweet, in a role far more believably parental, in 2007's Martian Child, in which he plays a single man who adopts a kid who insists he's an alien (he isn't -- he's just troubled).
INSTEAD OF: Pirate Radio, the British comedy about DJs broadcasting their subversive rock 'n' roll from the waters off England in the 1960s, when the BBC was interested in playing only classical and jazz...
WATCH: Pump Up the Volume (1990), in which Christian Slater plays a troublemaking teen who starts broadcasting from his mom's basement, causing all kinds of consternation among the humorless grown-ups. Robin Williams stirs up different kinds of messes in 1987's Good Morning, Vietnam, as an army DJ who refuses to adhere to the party line. Once the British government eased up on its broadcasting standards, the British music scene really exploded: see how that manifested itself in Manchester in the 2002 dramedy 24 Hour Party People. Love Actually (2003), from Radio director Richard Curtis, also features Radio star Bill Nighy in another rockin' role -- in Radio, he plays the manager of the pirate station as well as the ship's captain; in Actually, he's an aging rocker whose music may well have been broadcast from one of the pirate stations that flourished in the '60s.
Only two films open wide this weekend -- no one wants to go near the destructive power of 2012 -- but these films will be expanding wider over the coming weeks:
WATCH: The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, Anderson's 2004 film, about a Jacques Cousteau-type explorer; it's live action, but I've always thought of it as a Looney Tunes cartoon for grown-ups -- it's that riotous. Similar in tone to Fox is 2000's Chicken Run; both films have a British sensibility and feature animals striking back against aggressive humans who want to harm them. For more Dahl, check out 1996's James and the Giant Peach, from director Henry Selick, about, in part, a band of nice insects who live in the big fruit. George Clooney, who voices Mr. Fox, hasn't done much voice work, but you can hear him sending up his starmaking turn on ER as Dr. Gouache in 1999's South Park: Bigger Longer & Uncut.
INSTEAD OF: Precious, the harrowing tale of an abused teenager in Harlem in the 1980s: she can't read, she's pregnant with a second child via rape by her father, and her mother hates her...
WATCH: The Color Purple, Steven Spielberg's 1985 film, in which Whoopi Goldberg portrays a woman in the 1930s South who finds herself living a similar life to Precious. The situation isn't quite so dire in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1945), but it remains a haunting portrait of growing up poor in a Brooklyn tenement around the turn of the 20th century. Perhaps the most famous movie about an abusive mother is 1981's Mommie Dearest, in which Faye Dunaway plays actress Joan Crawford, who piles venom and cruelty upon her daughter. For another taste of what director Lee Daniels is all about, see 2005's Shadowboxer, in which Helen Mirren and Cuba Gooding Jr. star as lovers and assassins for hire.