Holiday Movie Preview 2011: Drama

Here’s where the Holidays get interesting. Although in my Comedy Preview I mentioned some of the comedy/drama films that will vie for awards, at no other time of year do audiences get all amped up about dramas. The trouble comes with which films will be the Oscar must-sees and which will sound like Oscar must-sees but aren’t. Let’s see if we can’t sort through them.

My Week with Marilyn (Now Playing)

Directed by Simon Curtis
Written by Adrian Hodges, Colin Clark (books)
Starring: Michelle Williams, Eddie Redmayne, Kenneth Branagh, Judi Dench

Summary: Based on the autobiographical tale of Colin Clark (Redmayne), a young assistant to Sir Laurence Olivier (Branagh) who had a brief affair with the ephemeral starlet Marilyn Monroe (Williams) when the two made a film together in 1957.

The Word: We’d previously yet to see any biopics on the enigmatic beauty that was Marilyn Monroe, but Oscar nominee Williams appears to have captured some of that essence. This film in particular comes from British pedigree as the team of Curtis and Hodges has been mostly known across the pond, as well as emerging star Eddie Redmayne.

My Thoughts: Williams’ performance looks like a thing of beauty in more ways than one. She’s a consistently overlooked talent in the eyes of the public, but playing an icon (and as well as she appears to have done it) should keep her in the spotlight. The story takes a unique approach, as I tend to find biopics most fascinating when they don’t cover an entire life/career span and instead focus on a unique and revealing moment in the subject’s life.

A Dangerous Method (Now Playing)

Directed by David Cronenberg
Written by Christopher Hampton (play, screenplay), John Kerr (book),
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Keira Knightley, Viggo Mortensen, Vincent Cassell

Summary: Psychologist Carl Jung (Fassbender) manages to successfully treat a hysterical patient (Knightley) using Sigmund Freud’s new theory of psychoanalysis (where she reveals her sexual desire for him). He travels with her to Vienna where a rift forms between Jung and Freud’s differing theories and feelings about the woman.

The Word: Cronenberg has a reputation as somewhat edgy and macabre director, so expect something strange in this one, but otherwise it looks like a perfectly normal piece of historical fiction. No one’s career has fast-tracked in 2011 like Michael Fassbender so he’s a perfect actor to have leading a film. Knightley and Mortensen are also proven talents, and psychoanalysis provides an intriguing subject matter.

My Thoughts: Early word suggests we have a pretender more than a contender, but that doesn’t mean the film won’t provide an entertaining battle of philosophies. You simply might not want to rush out to see this one thinking you have to cross all the potential nominees off your list. More than a nomination or two in a smaller category seems doubtful, though much good has been said about Mortensen’s Freud impression.

Shame (Dec. 2 – Limited)

Directed by Steve McQueen
Written by Abi Morgan, Steve McQueen
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan, James Badge Dale

Summary: A man in New York City battles with a serious and powerful sex addiction that dominates his private life. When his sister comes to stay with him indefinitely, this has perilous effects on his condition.

The Word: When was the last time you saw a film rated NC-17? Not on the big screen, that’s for sure. Michael Fassbender (again!) takes the lead, though it should come as no surprise as he starred in McQueen’s first film, “Hunger” (nope, not the old action star Steve McQueen). The film has gotten a huge publicity push of late in hopes of awards attention and if the editing of the trailers is any indication, this could be a great little challenging film. McQueen appears to have held nothing back in capturing a man with and disturbing serious addiction.

My Thoughts: It’s hard not to be intrigued by a film with some of the best entering-their-prime actors and written and directed by a promising talent. Add to that a movie about sex addiction (one that’s serious, this isn’t “Choke”) and you have to be at least curious. I know I am, but I’m also a bit nervous about it to be truthful. If it turns out that enough people recommend it despite the taboo subject matter, it might be worth seeing in the months leading up to the Academy Awards.

We Need to Talk About Kevin (Dec. 9 – Limited)

Directed by Lynn Ramsay
Written by Lynn Ramsay, Rory Kinnear, Lionel Shriver (novel)
Starring: Tilda Swinton, John C. Reilly, Ezra Miller

Summary: A mother whose teenage son commits a school shooting before killing himself must deal with both grief and parental accountability while reflecting on the events leading up to the massacre.

The Word: Gus Van Sant’s 2003 film “Elephant” was the last film to tackle this difficult subject matter, but the difference in this film seems to be the emphasis on the parents rather than the psychology of the killer. “Kevin” won Best Film at the London Film Festival and was nominated for the Palm d’Or at Cannes. It has recently been nominated for six British Independent Film Awards.

My Thoughts: I am particularly intrigued by this story, or at least this perspective. Swinton has a lot of awards buzz for her performance and I am a big fan of Reilly’s work in independent films (“Cedar Rapids,” “Cyrus”), albeit they have mostly been comedies. It might not garner more than a couple nominations, but “Kevin” might be one of the more interesting films of Awards Season. A January wide release will keep most in the dark about it for at least a month or so.

Carnage (Dec. 16 – Limited)

Directed by Roman Polanski
Written by Yasmina Reza, Roman Polanski
Starring: Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet, John C. Reilly, Christoph Waltz

Summary: Two couples sit down to have a civil conversation about a fight that happened between their children, but things start to get chaotic and downright juvenile.

The Word: Reza co-adapts her original French play, which had a Tony-winning run on Broadway in 2009 under the title “God of Carnage.” All four stars received Tony nominations and one of them won, so despite relatively subdued buzz, there’s the possibility for Academy attention. Polanski remains a revered filmmaker despite the controversy in his personal life and the four actors here comprise quite the interesting ensemble.

My Thoughts: Every year it seems we have a film usually based on some highly praised source material, specifically a play. Last year we had “Rabbit Hole,” a film that got attention for actress Nicole Kidman and a bit for Aaron Eckhart, but otherwise was not a big contender. “Carnage” could be that film this year as far as the awards part goes, but with more comedic undertones, it should be more accessible to the general viewer.

War Horse (Dec. 25)

Directed by Steven Spielberg
Written by Lee Hall and Richard Curtis, Michael Morpurgo (novel)
Starring: Jeremy Irvine, Emily Watson, Tom Hiddleston, David Thewlis

Summary: A young man’s close companion in the form of a horse named Joey is sold to the British cavalry in World War I to “serve” in the trenches. Devastated and fearing the worst, he journeys to save him.

The Word: In terms of Academy attention “War Horse” might be the more potent of Spielberg’s one-two punch this year (“Tintin” being the other). The film, based on the same source material as this year’s Tony Award-winning play, has gotten excellent reviews. So despite being more than two hours long and having no big names, it should still do well with that revered name on the poster.

My Thoughts: It’s nice to have ’90s Spielberg back, the man who brought us “Schindler’s List” and “Saving Private Ryan.” Nothing he’s done in the past 10 years has quite the same vibe, and while I love his sci-fi and adventure catalog, the through-line has always been the heart and that’s what this one looks to be serving up.

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (Dec. 25 – Limited)

Directed by Stephen Daldry
Written by Eric Roth, Jonathan Safran Foer (novel)
Starring: Thomas Horn, Sandra Bullock, Tom Hanks, Max von Sydow

Summary: A single father decides he and his kids need a change, so they move away and end up buying a home with a zoo attached to it, but the zoo needs upkeep or they risk losing the animals.

The Word: Sandra Bullock stars in her first role since winning the Oscar for “The Blind Side” along with Tom Hanks and boy-genius Jeopardy winner Thomas Horn. If you think that screams Oscar bait, then you should either be assured (or repulsed by this information): Oscar-winning writer Eric Roth adapted the story and Stephen Daldry, whose three feature films have landed him three Best Director nominations (“Billy Elliot,” “The Hours,” “The Reader”), directs.

My Thoughts: Very few award contenders can actually afford to not circulate through the festivals or gain any good reviews prior to wide release, but this is one of them. It’s tough to ignore that combination of talent behind a best-selling and emotional novel, so expect to have some tears jerked this Christmas.

The Iron Lady (Dec. 30 – Limited)

Directed by Phyllida Lloyd
Written by Abi Morgan
Starring: Meryl Streep, Jim Broadbent, Richard E. Grant

Summary: A biopic about former British Prime Minister Maggie Thatcher, who had to contend with issues related to being a female prime minister as well as make some divisive decisions that marred her reputation.

The Word: Meryl Streep. One gets the sense that her place in this film has given it this big of a spotlight. The Academy and most people in general love immersive impersonations, not to mention Streep in general, so there’s long been talk of whether this would-be 17th Oscar nomination could earn her her first win since “Sophie’s Choice.” She’ll have to do it with the help of her “Mamma Mia!” director Lloyd. Screenwriter Morgan also co-wrote this season’s “Shame.”

My Thoughts: No question that Streep is the alpha and omega when it comes to this film. With that being the case,  you have to hope it isn’t one of those “Streep stands out amongst a (negative word) script” like recent disappointment “J. Edgar.” As weird as this sounds, British films tend not to have those kinds of issues, so I would feel somewhat confident that there might be a little more worth seeing here than just Streep.


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