Awards season is in full swing, as several major critic groups have already announced their winners and/or nominations for this year (like the Critics' Choice Awards, the LA and NY Film Critics and the Detroit Film Critics Society). Two new movies being released this week have earned all sorts of buzz and recognition, especially in the Best Actor category. In fact, it's pretty safe to say that this year's Best Actor Oscar will either go to the lead in "Darkest Hour" or the lead in "The Disaster Artist."
It's a good thing these film are getting attention now, because when "Star Wars: The Last Jedi" opens next week, the movie-going public will most likely place all of their focus in a galaxy far, far, away.
Before we get too far ahead of ourselves, here are our reviews of the films hitting theaters this weekend, Friday, Dec. 8, 2017:
"The Disaster Artist"
To know true success, one must first know failure, and nobody knows this more than Tommy Wiseau. He is the infamous writer/director/producer and star of the 2003 film "The Room," considered by all accounts to be the worst film of all time (PLEASE do yourself a favor and see this movie, and watch it with friends). It's delicious, hilarious awfulness made it a cult success once it started screening at midnights across the country years after release. Now, channeling a bit of Tommy Wiseau himself, James Franco produces, directs and stars in "The Disaster Artist", a movie about the making of the worst movie ever made.
We are all unique, but there is no one quite like Tommy Wiseau. Some have described his film, "The Room," as the movie that an alien might make who has observed human behavior from afar but has never experienced it. To this day, nobody knows Wiseau's age, origin, or where he came up with the 6 million dollars it cost to make "The Room." He famously shot the movie in both digital and film, an unnecessary and costly rookie decision that also required him to hire two separate crews. The acting and dialogue is terrible and there are extended, Cinemax-tastic love scenes that go on and on. Wiseau created a green-screen set of an LA rooftop, instead of just shooting on an actual rooftop. And let's not even bring up the hysterical plot developments, like how one character is revealed to have a drug problem and is in debt to some sort of bad dude, or how another character casually reveals she has breast cancer. These story points are never revisited (or as Wiseau would later describe them, "These are twists").
All of this is easy to make fun of - to laugh "at" and not "with" - and therein lies the power of James Franco's performance as Wiseau. He totally melts away into the persona, but "The Disaster Artist" is not out to poke fun at its subjects, rather, Franco gives them heart and turns the story of "The Room" into a relatable story about chasing one's dreams. He performs opposite his real-life brother, Dave Franco, who portrays actor Greg Sestero, the other lead in "The Room" and the author of the book in which "The Disaster Artist" is based. Seth Rogen plays script supervisor Sandy Schklair, who basically stepped in as director when a clueless Wiseau was unable or incapable of doing so.
The result is one heck of a blast. "The Disaster Artist" is such an uproarious, delightful time at the movies, enhanced greatly if you have knowledge of "The Room." But even if you don't, you'll have great fun, and will leave with plans to rent or buy "The Room" as soon as possible to get inside access to the joke. James Franco is an undeniable force as Tommy Wiseau, a man who has now found long-lasting fame by being the absolute worst at something. Only in America.
Genre: Biography, Comedy, Drama. Run Time: 1 hour 44 minutes.
Starring: James Franco, Dave Franco, Seth Rogen, Ari Graynor, Alison Brie, Jacki Weaver, Paul Scheer, Megan Mullaly, Jason Mantzoukas.
Directed by James Franco ("The Institute," "Fool's Gold," "The Ape").
The other performance gaining lots of love and Oscar-buzz this season is on display in "Darkest Hour". Gary Oldman disappears behind make-up and costume to become Winston Churchill, and the film could be considered a companion piece to the film "Dunkirk," which was released earlier this year. Off of the front-lines of the battlefield, it tells the story of Churchill's decision to oppose Hitler or to hope for a diplomatic solution.
While Oldman is absolutely fantastic (all of the praise he is getting is rightly deserved), this isn't even the best Winston Churchill performance of the year (that would go to Bryan Cox who was magnetic and electric in the film "Churchill"). "Darkest Hour" is itself a stuffy, political film where the drama is wrenched from people yelling at each other from the floor of parliament.
Now there is nothing exactly wrong with "Darkest Hour" (director Joe Wright does ensure that it's well-crafted), the movie itself is a bit stuffy and long. Maybe it's just Churchill-fatigue, but the more interesting side of this story already played out in Nolan's "Dunkirk."
History buffs or Churchill-heads (is that a thing?) may love it, and if you're trying to competently fill out your Oscar ballot, you will need to check this movie out on account of Gary Oldman...he's truly one of the finest actors of his generation and at least until now, has gone unrecognized by the Academy. But the film itself feels more like "Darkest Several Hours."
Genre: Drama, War. Run Time: 2 hour 5 minutes.
Starring: Gary Oldman, Lily James, Ben Mendelsohn, Kristin Scott Thomas, Stephen Dillane, Hannah Steele.
Directed by Joe Wright ("Pan," "Anna Karenina," "The Soloist," "Pride and Prejudice")
All of these movies open Friday, December 8, 2017.
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