It's that time of year (Oscar season!) when serious movies are released, consumed, and held up for consideration among the best that modern cinema has to offer -- and yet just the other weekend $50 million worth of ticket buyers proved they'd rather watch grown men drench themselves in feces.
So what's a discerning moviegoer to do when the next few weeks seem dominated by crude shenanigans, supernatural scares, and creepy torture games? Fear not, my fellow cineastes; there are plenty of smaller gems to be found if you look hard enough. (Caveat: You must also be lucky enough to live in select cities on the limited/expanding release circuit. Good luck and happy hunting.)
Hilary Swank is back, this time gunning for best actress as Betty Anne Waters, a real-life working class Massachusetts woman who put herself through law school to free her brother (Sam Rockwell) from a life sentence for murder. Tony Goldwyn directs in a painfully straightforward style, leaving the performances -- especially Swank's plain, persistent turn as the single mother/aspiring lawyer desperate to save her bro -- as the centerpieces of Conviction.
Go European for your next date night with this delightful romantic comedy confection set in the south of France. Romain Duris (The Beat That My Heart Skipped) is Alex, a career con man who specializes in breaking up couples by seducing unhappy women. His latest assignment, however, poses a challenge : Juliette (Vanessa Paradis), a wealthy and seemingly happily engaged beauty who Alex begins to fall for himself. Slyly self-aware and relentlessly charming, Heartbreaker is already slated to be remade in English; see it en français first!
There are about three things you can know going in about Catfish. One, you don't want to know too much about Catfish. Two, it'll make you think twice about the Internet. And three, it's real. (Probably.) This documentary about three New Yorkers who film their lives as they make one incredible discovery after another seems stranger than fiction and will have you and your friends talking for the rest of the year.
A teenage dreamer named John Lennon formed a band in the late 1950s called the Quarrymen (it eventually evolved into a four-man outfit called the Beatles, you might have heard of them). But what inspired Lennon to be the artist he became? Director Sam Taylor-Wood explores the tumultuous emotional life of the young John (Aaron Johnson), whose relationships with two women -- his mother (Anne-Marie Duff) and the aunt who raised him (Kristin Scott Thomas) -- indelibly influenced the passion and path he'd follow to stardom.
Three childhood friends (Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield, and Keira Knightley) discover the unusual, shocking truth about their very existence in this sublime adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro's bestselling novel of the same name. Romantics at heart, take heed; this restrained philosophical period drama, tinged with a touch of dystopian sci-fi, is one of the more beautiful and stirring films of the year, a moving meditation on life and love from acclaimed music video filmmaker Mark Romanek.
Documentaries rarely come as polished and as pointedly infuriating as Oscar-winning filmmaker Davis Guggenheim's (An Inconvenient Truth) take on the state of education. This wide-ranging doc examines America's schools from multiple angles in an effort to pinpoint the cracks in the system, talking with educators and experts alike. But Waiting for "Superman" is at its most poignant when it follows a disparate group of youngsters, all hopeful for a chance at a good education, who remind us what's really at stake in the ongoing battle for education.
Family bonds are on full display in this British crime thriller, about a father and son duo (played by real-life father and son duo Robert and Robin Hill) who clash while trying to finger the snitch that sent them both to jail. Director and co-writer Ben Wheatley serves up a variation on the otherwise familiar genre, packing Down Terrace with flashes of violence and dark comedy. Compare and contrast it with the family dynamics in the Aussie offering Animal Kingdom for a crime-themed double bill.
The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest (opens Oct. 27 in limited release)
Stieg Larsson's Millennium Trilogy comes to a close with this third and final installment, which picks up immediately following the events of The Girl Who Played with Fire. With Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) hospitalized and awaiting impending trial, it's up to Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) to help and protect her and uncover the extended conspiracy at hand.
Monsters (opens Oct. 29 in limited release)
An American journalist (Scoot McNairy) and a British woman (Whitney Able) make their way across Central America as an alien outbreak takes over the continent in this South by Southwest film festival entry. Director and visual effects artist Gareth Edwards shot this sci-fi thriller on a micro-budget, which makes everything on screen all the more impressive -- especially considering the on-the-fly, guerilla-style filmmaking techniques Edwards and his actors and crew used to make their movie.
Welcome to the Rileys (opens Oct. 29 in limited release)
An emotionally estranged businessman (James Gandolfini) strikes up a friendship with an underage stripper (Kristen Stewart) and begins to repair his broken marriage in this indie drama from Jake Scott. Vulnerable performances from Gandolfini, Stewart, and Melissa Leo anchor this slow-paced piece set evocatively in post-Katrina New Orleans; Stewart fans in particular might find her sexually provocative portrayal of a teenage runaway at odds with her PG-13 friendly Twilight Saga image -- all the more reason to support this kind of courageous career choice, say we.