It was a fantastic fall after a weak summer and a lamer-than-usual spring. Now we get into full-on Oscar bait season, so I’m including a Gold Meter Value (no copyright infringement intended) for each movie along with the categories a given film has a shot at. We’ll skip right over all the movies opening next week because I’m gonna be honest here and say none of them look any good.
Black Swan (limited)
Starring Natalie Portman, Vincent Cassel, Mila Kunis
There simply isn’t a movie I’m more excited about this season. Bound to be Darren Aronofsky’s most bizarre outing to date (and that’s saying something), Portman plays a ballerina dealing with a sexy rival (Kunis) and a haunting supernatural force. I could be more pumped, plain and simple.
GOLD METER VALUE: 8 (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress x2, Best Original Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Original Score)
All Good Things (limited)
Starring Ryan Gosling, Kirsten Dunst, Jeffrey Dean Morgan
Loosely based on a true story, this eerie drama focuses on the mysterious disappearance of a lower-class woman (Dunst) and her powerful husband (Gosling), who may be responsible. What sounds like an episode of Dateline will certainly be elevated by top-notch acting. This also marks the feature debut of Andrew Jarecki, who directed the Oscar-nominated documentary Capturing the Friedmans.
GMV: 2 (Actor, Supporting Actress)
I Love You, Phillip Morris (limited)
Starring Jim Carrey, Ewan McGregor, Leslie Mann
Bad Santa put a pleasantly grotesque spin on holiday comedies in 2003. Now the twisted writers set out to revolt and entertain audiences with their take on the romantic comedy/caper film. Carrey plays Steven Jay Russell, who turns to a life of crime to support his decadent gay lifestyle. While in prison, he meets the title character (McGregor). When Phil gets paroled early, Steve busts out of the lock-up–and continues to do so for years–so they can stay together.
GMV: 2 (Actor, Adapted Screenplay)
Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (limited)
Starring Jorma Tommila, Onni Tommila, Peeter Jacobi
Murderous Santa Clauses have already been the subject of horror films for most of the modern era (Silent Night Deadly Night, Santa’s Slay) but I’m excited to see this Finnish comedy’s take on it, as a group of researchers discover a frozen Santa, thaw him out and then have to hunt him down once he goes on a killing spree.
GMV: 0 (no love for a killer Santa? For shame.)
The Company Men
Starring Ben Affleck, Kevin Costner, Tommy Lee Jones
I pretty much wept openly at the trailer, so I’m expecting a full-on man-movie cry-fest as we follow a group of men who have to re-adjust after losing their jobs.
GMV: 2 (Supporting Actor x2)
The Fighter (limited)
Starring Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Amy Adams
“You’re gonna eat lightning and crap thunder!” Oh, sorry. Different boxing comeback story. Wahlberg plays “Irish” Mickey Ward who sets off on a miraculous series of victories while trying to repair the tumultuous relationship with his drug addict brother (Bale, who’s getting a flurry of Oscar buzz).
GMV: 7 (Picture, Director, Actor, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress x2, Original Screenplay)
Starring Jeff Bridges, Garrett Hedlund, Olivia Wilde
I was never a big fan of the original, which was groundbreaking for the time but nowadays looks downright hokey thanks to a laser-thin story. But I’m certainly intrigued by this sequel, in which Bridges’ son (Hedlund) gets sucked into the same virtual world that’s held him prisoner for 20 years (although if we’re moving in real time, it’s closer to 30). The effects look simply stunning, and that will certainly make up for a film that will likely suffer the same shortcomings its predecessor did.
GMV: 4 (Visual Effects, Cinematography, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing)
How Do You Know?
Starring Reese Witherspoon, Paul Rudd, Owen Wilson
I cannot stress my intense admiration for James L. Brooks. For decades, he’s been able to find the right mix of comedy and drama, most recently with the wildly unappreciated Spanglish. Here, Witherspoon and Rudd are a troubled couple and Rudd plays an old friend who comes back into their lives while in the midst of a federal investigation.
GMV: 4 (Picture, Actress, Supporting Actor, Original Screenplay)
Starring Nicole Kidman, Aaron Eckhart, Dianne Wiest
It’s the feel-bad movie of the year! Kidman and Eckhart (who should have an Oscar nomination by now, right?) play a couple trying to deal with the loss of their son. Wiest is a supportive neighbor and the only one who’s a sure-fire contender come Oscar time. This is also a real departure for director John Cameron Mitchell, previously known as the provocateur behind the post-op tranny musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch and the borderline pornographic anthology Shortbus.
GMV: 4 (Actress, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress, Adapted Screenplay)
Starring Kevin Spacey, Barry Pepper, Jon Lovitz
The dramatization of the same events covered by the documentary Casino Jack and the United States of Money. Spacey plays ultra-slick lobbyist Jack Abramov, who was among the most powerful in his profession before a corruption scandal took him and several congressional staffers down. This is George Hickenlooper’s final film, as he tragically died of a heart attack on Oct. 30.
GMV: 1 (Actor)
Starring Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Hailee Steinfeld
While the phrase “gritty reboot” gets thrown around a lot, this new version of the John Wayne Oscar-winner is exactly that. Working off Charles Portis’ original novel more than that ’69 vehicle, the Coen Brothers have what will likely be the biggest, baddest movie of the winter. They can do no wrong, but can they do right by a beloved Western and still make it their own? All signs point to hell yeah.
GMV: 9 (Picture, Director, Actor, Supporting Actor x2, Supporting Actress, Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography, Editing)
Starring Elle Fanning, Stephen Dorff, Michelle Monaghan
Has it really been seven years since Sofia Coppola captured our hearts with Lost in Translation? But now the lady is back to sweep us up in another adrift-in-a-foreign-country dramedy as Stephen Dorff plays a bad-boy actor who now has to help raise his teenage daughter (Fanning). If it sounds like it’s been done before, rest assured that Coppola will find away to make it work, all set to a hipster-friendly soundtrack.
GMV: 3 (Actor, Supporting Actress, Original Screenplay)
The Illusionist (limited)
Starring the voices of Jean-Claude Donda, Edith Rankin, Didier Gustin
After the lovely Triplets of Belleville, Sylvain Chomet returns to win us all over again with this animated treat about a lonely magician who finds love with a younger woman, who believes wholeheartedly in his magic.
GMV: 3 (Animated Feature, Adapted Screenplay, Original Score)
Starring Javier Bardem, Maricel Álvarez, Hanaa Bouchaib
Now that Alejandro González Iñárritu is free from his better half/worst enemy Guillermo Arriaga, it will be interesting to see just whose fault Babel was (all signs point to Arriaga, but we’ll see). Bardem is supposedly a slam dunk for a Lead Actor nomination, playing a single father who stays afloat by working in the Barcelona underworld.
GMV: 1 (Actor)
Blue Valentine (limited)
Starring Ryan Gosling, Michelle Williams, Ben Shankman
So maybe Rabbit Hole will have some competition for that Feel-Bad Movie of the Year title after all. Gosling and Williams–two of the best younger actors working today–play a tragic couple who try their hardest to keep their marriage together. Much has been made of the film’s controversial quasi-rape scene, which earned the film the dreaded NC-17 from the boobs at the MPAA. A graphic sex scene in the context of a film about a doomed relationship apparently isn’t OK but dismemberment (Saw 3D) and penises aplenty (Jackass 3-D) are apparently acceptable enough for an R. You go, righteous raters.
GMV: 2 (Actor, Actress)