Now we’re into interesting times. This is when the Oscar hopefuls that opened in a handful of theaters late last year to make the deadline for awards consideration start rolling out. They’ve built up critical and awards buzz that can be slapped on a poster or a TV commercial — ads for some of these have been omnipresent despite not actually playing anywhere a lot of people could actually see them until today — and the hope is that all this positive word of mouth will get people out to see them. Plus, they’ll likely still be in theaters when their probably Oscar nominations are announced, which should lead to another nice bump. All part of the game.
As in any game, there’s the player who has to keep asking what the rules are and whose turn it is. And that looks to be The Legend of Hercules, aka 2014’s Hercules Movie That Doesn’t Have the Rock In It. This thing cost $70 million, but I don’t think they spent any of that on advertising; I honestly don’t think I’ve seen a single trailer for this, and barely any TV spots. And really, looking at the cast and crew, there’s not much for them to be hanging their hats on. Renny Harlin’s main claims to fame — Die Hard 2 and being married to Geena Davis — were both old news by the time the 90s ended, so you’re certainly not selling this film on his name. Kellen Lutz wasn’t what was bringing people to the Twilight movies either. So if you’re absolutely dying for a Hercules fix in the theaters, I’d get to this one sooner rather than later.
Besides, on the action front, Lone Survivor has the much higher profile this weekend. It’s got the patriotism angle going for it, it’s based on a pretty well-known non-fiction book of the same name, and it’s got a star people actually know and might want to see in Mark Wahlberg. Director Peter Berg’s last film was Battleship though, so I’d pump the brakes just a little on any enthusiasm for this, although dealing with real-life military escapades as opposed to blowing up a board game to two hours has to be an improvement. The trailers have been playing up the “Rah-rah USA!” aspects of this pretty hard (an issue taken with the book as well), and it’s not likely anybody’s gone broke going to that well lately. So this will probably win the weekend, but I can’t muster up all that much excitement for it.
Next up is August: Osage County, which fulfills Hollywood’s requirement of producing at least one film a year capable of netting Meryl Streep an Oscar nomination. Not to impugn the quality of the film — it’s based on a Pulitzer and Tony Award winning play, and in addition to Streep, there’s an absolute murderer’s row of talent in the cast. I know some people who have seen both the play and the film who say the film lacks some of the immediacy of the play, which is to be expected when making the transition from stage to screen. And it’s probably a smart move going wide with this after the holidays; enough people were living the experience of bickering, battling relatives in their home without being expected to go watch a movie about it. In a less crowded week, this might have been my go-to choice — I have to appreciate any film that dares to advertise itself with that poster — but it’s got some heavy competition.
I want to be on the Spike Jonze train. I really do. But I thought Being John Malkovich turned unnecessarily mean down the stretch, thought Adaptation brilliantly set up a point that it then spent the last forty-five minutes or so reminding us of over and over again, and thought Where the Wild Things are needlessly over-complicated a sweet simple story. I appreciate his vision and his style, but I just don’t love him the way some do. So while I think the premise behind Her is fantastic — a man falling in love with his phone’s operating system — a part of me still hesitates. Plus, and this is totally petty and subjective, I don’t find Joaquin Phoenix all that appealing in what I’ve seen of this so far. Granted, context and execution are everything, but he comes across as kind of creepy in the trailers I’ve seen. Like exactly the kind of guy who would fall for a phone. And not in a quirky, whimsical way. Still, I’m intrigued.
But it’s hard for me not to put Joel and Ethan Coen’s latest in the top spot. They consistently choose interesting projects, rarely repeating themselves (at least in content if not in theme), and they always deliver something entertaining and frequently brilliant. They can do something as deep and sobering as A Serious Man, then turn around and give us a rousing Western like True Grit. They can make The Odyssey into a Southern Gothic pseudo-musical and do modern noir with the best of them. So count me in for Inside Llewyn Davis. Like O Brother, Where Art Thou?, this looks to be a sneaky musical as well, only with the New York folk music scene of the 1960s as opposed to the more traditional Southern folk of the 1930s. This doesn’t strike me as a particularly weighty film, but it also doesn’t seem to need to be. Just a relaxed, gentle character portrait. Really looking forward to this.
Three films I actually want to see in one weekend. Has to be some kind of record. Just have to remember not to invite Hercules next time.