It looks like awards season is upon us, since two of the heaviest hitters are opening this week. There's also a third art title for our viewing, a sort of mainstream/art hybrid and a big-budget blockbuster that's already conquered most of the rest of the world. Actually, life looks pretty good this week — cinematically speaking.
The really big opening is Steve McQueen's 12 Years a Slave (The Carolina and the Fine Arts Theatre). In terms of art titles, there's very little doubt that this fine — but not exactly comfortable — film will almost certainly take the weekend box office. And it deserves to. Of the three art titles opening — I've seen them all — it is hands-down the best. If you read my review in this week's paper (should be up online at 2 p.m. today, Nov. 5), you'll see that it just missed greatness for me, but only just barely — and it might cross that line when I see it again. It is a remarkable work in nearly every respect — and, perhaps best of all, it stands a good chance at making Chiwetel Ejiofor a major star. He might even become a household name — even if most people can't pronounce his name.
Also up is J.C. Chandor's All Is Lost (also at The Carolina and the Fine Arts) — the film in which Robert Redford holds the screen entirely alone for 106 minutes. Yes, it's a kind of stunt picture, but it's a good one. I do not entirely buy the idea of Redford not saying anything for the bulk of the film (in the same situation, I'd be swearing up a storm), though I realize that the approach makes his one outburst more jarring. That said — and while I admit I can't imagine seeing it twice — it is a commendable work, and there's no denying that Redford gives a terrific performance. I'd recommend it in general, but I would call it an essential if you're a Redford fan. Full review in the paper.
The third art title (opening at The Carolina) is Kevin Macdonald's How I Live Now. This is good, but it's something of an oddity in that it's an R-rated film adapted from a British young adult novel, meaning that a large part of its potential audience is theoretically shut out. (Even supposing they buy tickets to something they can get into, but go to this, that doesn't enrich the film's box office.) Actually, it's a bit of an oddity all the way around — not just because of its story of a slightly futuristic nuclear attack on Great Britain, the subsequent invasion and the attempts of four kids (ranging from late teens to preteen) to survive. The way it's presented — telling us no more than the kids know — is unusual (it's also the film's strength). Worth a look if you can make the time — and since I don't see it lasting, I'd make the time right away. Again, there's a full review in the paper.
That brings us to the movies I haven't seen — at least one of which I have high hopes for.
The one I'm hopeful about is Richard Curtis' About Time. (I don't know how widely playing this is, but I know it's at The Carolina. I expect it to be at others.) This is only Curtis' third film as a writer-director (his writing credits are extensive), and it's supposedly his last directing project. (That assertion is carefully couched with a "how I feel at this time" statement.) I have loved both of his other films — Love Actually (2003) and Pirate Radio (2009) — the latter is much better in its original, complete cut as The Boat That Rocked. I expect to at least like this time-travel romantic comedy. The one person I know who's seen it says that it's wonderful, but also that it's hard to explain why it's good without saying too much. I know it has a lackluster, generic-sounding title, and a poster that only Rachel McAdams' dentist could love. Plus neither she, nor Domhnall Gleeson (Brendan Gleeson's son, who made something of a mark in last year's Anna Karenina) are big draws, though Bill Nighy is always a selling point with discerning viewers. I'll be there Friday at 11 a.m. myself.
Then we have Thor: The Dark World, which is almost certainly slated to make a fortune (thereby crushing the underperforming Ender's Game). It's already pulled down over $100 million in the rest of the world. I liked the original film just fine for what it was. It's probably the best of the post-X2 Marvel movies. It had class, scope, spectacle, a sense of humor — and a terrific cast. Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Anthony Hopkins, etc. are all back. Plus, Christopher Eccleston has been added to the mix. The one potential downside is that director Kenneth Branagh is not back. He's been replaced by TV helmer Alan Taylor. That may not be a bad thing, since part of the trick of being a TV director lies making sure your episodes aren't markedly out of joint with the others. Plus, his most notable theatrical film, The Emperor's New Clothes (2001), was an unalloyed delight.
This week we lose Wadjda (that was never expected to be more than a one week run), Inequality for All and Enough Said from the Fine Arts. Enough Said is hanging on at The Carolina, but The Carolina is dropping Muscle Shoals and Ip Man: The Final Fight (no big surprise there).
This Thursday the Thursday Horror Picture Show is running (no fooling, this time) Michele Soavi's The Sect (1991) at 8 p.m. on Thu., Nov. 7 in the Cinema Lounge at The Carolina. World Cinema is showing Guillermo del Toro's The Devil's Backbone (2001) on Fri., Nov. 8 at 8 p.m. in the Railroad Library in the Phil Mechanic Building. The Hendersonville Film Society has Charles Jarrott's Mary, Queen of Scots (1971) at 2 p.m. on Sun., Nov. 10 in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointe Landing in Hendersonville. The Asheville Film Society is screening Peter Sellers in Hal Ashby's Being There (1979) on Tue., Nov. 12 at 8 p.m. in Theater Six at The Carolina. More on all titles in this week's paper with complete reviews in the online edition.
The best things out this week are smaller titles — Renoir, Girl Most Likely, Parkland, with Lovelace bringing up the rear. Also out this week is Brian De Palma's Passion, which didn't play here. I suppose we should also note White House Down and (Clapton save us) Grown Ups 2.
Notable TV Screenings
This is not a particularly exciting week, but Lewis Milestone's The Front Page (1931) is showing at 6:30 a.m. on Fri., Nov. 8, and Leo McCarey's The Awful Truth (1937) is on at 8 p.m., as part of an otherwise lame set of screwball comedies.
The truly essential Gold Diggers of 1933 — the bulk of the film made by Mervyn LeRoy and the spectacular musical numbers by Busby Berkeley — is TCM's choice for their "Essentials" show at 8 p.m. on Sat., Nov. 9.