We’re coming up fast on one of the biggest movie-going weekends of the year, so here’s our quickie Thanksgiving screen guide: What’s in theaters right now — and why you should spring for a ticket.
The Best Man Holiday
In addition to featuring one of The Roots’ more slept-on singles, The Best Man was a surprise critical and commercial success for Malcolm D. Lee back in 1999. He’s recruited the whole cast for this followup, which catches up with longtime friends Lance (Morris Chestnut), Harper (Taye Diggs), Murch (Harold Perrineau) and Quentin (Terrence Howard) over a long Christmas weekend. Philly native Monica Calhoun is back as Lance’s wife Mia, whose relationship with Harper begins a conflict that spills over into the sequel.
See it if: You always wondered how Ricky from Boyz n the Hood would fare on the pro gridiron. At the outset of Holiday, Chestnut, who played Crenshaw High’s finest ball carrier in that 1991 classic, is a veteran tailback with the Giants on the verge of breaking the NFL’s all-time rushing record.
Best Performance: Howard’s Quentin, a perpetually stoned lothario who always manages to say the exact wrong thing at the exact wrong time, often while dressed as Santa.
The Book Thief
An adaptation of Markus Zusak‘s bestseller, The Book Thief concerns young Liesel (Sophie Nélisse), a foster child given up to parents of modest means (Emily Watson and Geoffrey Rush) in Nazi Germany. She combats the fear and insecurity of war with reading, a love for lit shared with Max (Ben Schnetzer), the Jew the family’s concealing in their basement.
See it if: You love historical dramas and have a high tolerance for Hollywood cheeseballin’ — “Death” as a narrator probably worked a little better in Zusak’s book than it does on screen here, where he’s jauntily voiced by British actor Roger Allam.
Best Performance: Just 13, Canadian-born Nélisse is a star. Watch out for more from her.
Plenty of awards buzz around this true story of Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey), a hard-living Texas cowboy who responds to an HIV-positive diagnosis by setting up a business for fellow sufferers to purchase alternative treatments he sources and smuggles from around the world.
See it if: You lived through the HIV hysteria of the ’80s and ’90s and need a reminder of just how far modern medicine has come; and/or you want to watch McConaughey act circles around pretty much every other leading man this season.
Best Performance: McConaughey’s getting plenty of well-deserved love for his portrayal, but we’ve got to go with Jared Leto as “Rayon,” Woodroof’s quick-witted business partner and unlikely best friend.
Luckily, none of Orson Scott Card‘s much-publicized views on sexual orientation sneak their way into this big-budget adaptation of his novel, which takes place in a future where earth is threatened by a violent insectoid alien scourge known as the Formics. It’s basically a really long and dramatic Terminix commercial.
See it if: You like sci-fi and aren’t put off by children seriously trying to kill each other.
Best Performance: As young Ender, Asa Butterfield has a real spooky demeanor to him, half “buy me an ice cream cone” and half “I will totally stab you in your sleep.”
Sandra Bullock and George Clooney as astronauts stranded in an unforgiving spacescape. Gah, I can’t breathe! A serious triumph of special effects, Alfonso Cuarón‘s thrilling and original man-versus-nature masterwork is the best-reviewed film of the year. The oft-corny dialogue is uncharacteristic of the director (Y Tu Mamá También, Children of Men), but his mood, consistency and execution more than make up for it.
See if it: You don’t have severe asthma. It’s seriously claustrophobic and hyperventilation-inducing (in a good way).
Best Performance: Would love to be contrarian and not pick Sandy B, but it’s impossible not to give it to her. Also, it’s comforting knowing that Clooney, who keeps getting better-looking and better at acting as he ages (screw you, dude!), can still be upstaged.
You’ve probably already seen this. The mega-sequel to 2012’s mega-hit franchise kickstarter, Catching Fire follows the dystopian exploits of Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), competitors in state-sanctioned bloodsport organized to entertain the aristocrats and quell the revolutionary tendencies of the proletariat.
See it if: Please refer to Ender’s Game reasoning.
Best Performance: Jena Malone, as permanently pissed-off competitor Johanna Mason, is the crazy-eyed loose-cannon foil to Lawrence’s altruistic heroine.
Kill Your Darlings
Name a child actor who’s done a hipper job shaking off a career-stunting role than Daniel Radcliffe. From a funny, pervy turn as himself on Ricky Gervais‘ Extras to Broadway runs in Equus and How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, D-Radz is supremely close to leaving Hogwarts behind forever. (Unrelated but fun — he plays fantasy football!) In Kill Your Darlings, he turns in an exciting performance as a college-age Allen Ginsberg, meeting his Beat Generation brethren (Jack Huston as Jack Kerouac; Ben Foster as William Burroughs) for the first time. Though flawed from a holistic perspective, the movie has its stylistic and historical merits.
See it if: You’re a Ginsberg nerd and are at least somewhat prepared to accept Harry Potter as a sexual being.
Best Performance: Radcliffe’s great, but Dane DeHaan, as Ginsberg’s troubled friend Lucien Carr, smashes it. The Emmaus native has a real young DiCaprio vibe to him. Check out the underrated Chronicle if you haven’t seen it.
Based on a non-fiction book by British journalist Martin Sixsmith, Philomena is the story of a wide-eyed old Irish lady (Judi Dench) searching for the son she gave birth to in her early teens. She recruits sourpuss Sixsmith (Steve Coogan) to help in the investigation, and of course they learn so much about each other — and themselves. Alright Academy, just give Dame Judi the damn statuette already and move onto the dead people montage!
See it if: You want to be won over. It’s tempting to dismiss Stephen Frears‘ film as unabashed Oscar bait, but that’d be a disservice to the chemistry the two leads cultivate. It’s more sincere than you might think. Stop being so grumpy.
Best Performance: You’ll love The Coogs’ chilly, stick-in-the-mud demeanor if you’re a fan of his turdish turns in work like I’m Alan Partridge and The Trip.
Lucky for us, the only superhero vehicle out at the moment is relatively solid compared to all the bummers we’ve been fed in the past few years. A huge improvement over the first Thor, this one’s got the God of Thunder (Chris Hemsworth) galaxy-hopping, inspiring bad jokes and smashing people and objects with his hammer. That’s all we ever really wanted, so thank you for giving it to us.
See it if: You desire something dumb but fun to aid in the turkey-and-stuffing digestion process.
Best Performance: That distinction’s got to go to Tom Hiddleston, who’s somehow whipped the world Internet into a frenzy with his portrayal of Loki, Thor’s devious brother.
12 Years a Slave
No matter who you are, Steve McQueen‘s take on Solomon Northup‘s famous memoir is very hard to watch, and that’s why you need to watch it. Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a free family man from the north who’s drugged, kidnapped and sold into deep-south chains, personalizes the horrors of his situation through words and actions, the physical and psychological tolls taking hold early and never fully letting go.
See it if: Everyone should see it.
Best Performance: Ejiofor is destined for Oscar love, but actress Lupita Nyong’o, in her first-ever feature role as Northup’s plantation confidante Patsey, is equally deserving.
Yes, this is technically another “white people with problems” movie from Alexander Payne (Election, Sideways, The Descendants), but its lo-fi bones ensure it’s among his most accessible. Prolific character actor Bruce Dern, in a rare starring role, plays Woody Grant, a half-senile alcoholic Montanan who’s under the impression that he’s won a million bucks in the sweepstakes. He sets out to the titular state to claim his prize, running into long-estranged family and friends along the way.
See it if: You’re a fan of Payne and are comfortable with his constant ribbing of the midwestern way of life (he’s from Nebraska).
Best Performance: Will Forte, as Woody’s downtrodden son David, will the surprise the hell out of you. Still can’t wait for MacGruber 2, though.
Coming Out Thanksgiving Day
Contemporary update of Langston Hughes‘ all-African-American Nativity story, starring musicians like Mary J. Blige, Jennifer Hudson and Nas.
Disney flick involving a resourceful princess (voiced by Kristen Bell) on a mission to save her exiled sister (Idina Menzel).
Jason Statham is a retired DEA ass-kicker who moves to a sleepy bayou town and runs into trouble in the form of James Franco (?), playing a meth dealer named Gator. Who knows.
Maybe you’ve heard of The Best Man Holiday director Malcolm D. Lee’s cousin, Spike? He’s remade the messed-up South Korean cult classic for an American audience.
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