Welcome back to Alt Weekly, a column in which we shine a spotlight on the independent films brave enough to open opposite Hollywood's behemoth blockbusters before rolling out in wider release.
This week puts the hunt for Osama bin Laden and the aftermath of 2004's devastating tsunami up against the likes of "Jack Reacher," "The Guilt Trip" and "This is 40."
Filmmaker Cred: This is the latest endurance test from acclaimed director Michael Haneke ("Caché," "The White Ribbon").
Star Power: Jean-Louis Trintignant, Emmanuelle Riva, Isabelle Huppert, a pigeon.
Festival/Awards Buzz: This harrowing drama concerning the limits of an elderly couple's devotion to one another premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in May, where it won the coveted Palme D'Or prize. Here is our review from the New York Film Festival.
Release Details: NY/LA this Friday, and these markets to follow.
See This If... You're willing and able to cope with a very deliberate look at the horrifying heartbreak that comes with old age.
Filmmaker Cred: Director J.A. Bayona made his debut with the 2007 ghost story, "The Orphanage."
Star Power: Naomi Watts, Ewan McGregor, Tom Holland.
Festival/Awards Buzz: This intense look at the impact of 2004's South Asian tsunami and one family's struggle to reunite in the aftermath premiered to strong praise at the Toronto International Film Festival last September, though some criticize the more tear-jerking second half. Our review can be found here.
Release Details: 14 screens across the country this week, with further expansion to follow in January.
See This If... You won't let the queasy subject matter get in the way of some tremendous performances and visual effects work.
'NOT FADE AWAY'
Filmmaker Cred: This is the first film from "The Sopranos" showrunner David Chase.
Star Power: James Gandolfini.
Festival/Awards Buzz: A semiautobiographical look at New Jersey teens attempting to start their own rock band in the '60s, we reviewed it following its New York Film Festival bow in October.
Release Details: Two screens in NYC this weekend, along with one in LA.
See This If... You're interested in a "struggles of a band" story that's a little less rose-tinted than "Almost Famous" or "That Thing You Do!".
'ON THE ROAD'
Filmmaker Cred: Director Walter Salles ("The Motorcycle Diaries") finally brings Jack Kerouac's classic Beat novel to the big screen.
Star Power: Sam Riley, Garrett Hedlund, Kristen Stewart, Viggo Mortensen, Amy Adams, Kirsten Dunst.
Festival/Awards Buzz: This long-awaited, star-studded adaptation debuted to mixed reviews at Cannes, but has since been recut and reportedly improved in time for the fall's film festivals. Our reviewer approved.
Release Details: NY/LA this weekend, although expansion plans are ill-defined at the moment.
See This If... You're eager to see Kerouac's prose translated to the silver screen.
'ZERO DARK THIRTY'
Filmmaker Cred: Kathryn Bigelow took home the Best Director Oscar for her last war drama, 2009's "The Hurt Locker."
Star Power: Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke, Joel Edgerton, Chris Pratt, James Gandolfini, Mark Strong, Mark Duplass, Kyle Chandler.
Festival/Awards Buzz: This docudrama about the manhunt that led to the death of Osama bin Laden skipped the festival circuit, yet has earned considerable year-end acclaim all the same, including our own.
Release Details: NY/LA this Wednesday, with plans to expand nationwide on January 11th.
See This If... You're likely to be engaged by a film that places more of an emphasis on intelligence gathering and moral ambiguity than hardcore action (although the climactic raid certainly satisfies in that regard).