10 Movies Worth Your Money and Time This Thanksgiving Weekend
Being stuck with the family over a long holiday weekend can be one of those cruel tortures that test the tenuous nature of your familial relations. Why not ease the burden with the sweet escapism of a good flick? If you’re interested — and we’re betting you are, poor devil — here are some good possibilities.
Foxcatcher: Based on the bizarre true story of billionaire scion John du Pont (played here by a terrifying Steve Carell), who came to become obsessed with Olympic wrestling in the late-’80s. He invited medal-winning brothers Mark and David Schultz (Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo, respectively) to live on his estate and train with a team of his own creation, only to then completely crack up under a violent fog of paranoia and envy, leading to a horrible tragedy. Bennett Miller’s film—highlighted by fine performances from all three leads—is suitably disturbing, even if it is never quite able to penetrate into the searing madness writhing in du Pont’s twisted soul.
Who Should Go: Wrestlers, car-accident onlookers, serious-minded family members who want to be more than a little skeezed out.
Birdman: Up until this film, Alejandro González Iñárritu had not received quite the same level of fame and veneration as fellow Mexican directors of his generation, Alfonso Cuarón and Guillermo del Toro (despite the brilliant devastation of his previous film, Biutiful), but that likely ends now. His new film is a complex allegory concerning the nature of art, fame, and soulful pursuit, but it’s also just a hell of a lot of fun. Michael Keaton plays a former big-star superhero actor who, many years past his prime, yearns to produce something of significance on the Broadway stage. Edward Norton plays the actor just talented and/or uncontrollable enough to ensure his success or failure.
Who Should Go: Theater buffs, cinematics, those appreciative of the complexities of both art and extended steady-cam tracking shots.
Whiplash: If you’re lucky, you’ve had a teacher or mentor who pushed you beyond your own expectations, but let us hope you never encountered someone as perpetually demanding as Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), the maniacally perfectionist jazz teacher who terrorizes his students, including poor first-year drummer Andrew (Miles Teller), who literally practices until he bleeds over his kit. Damien Chazelle’s film, which absolutely dominated Sundance this past year, is sort of like the flip side to the rah-rah positivism of Fame. With the sadistic Fletcher at the controls, if you want to earn it, it’s going to take a hell of a lot more than just sweat. (Read our interview with director Damien Chazelle here.)
Who Should Go: Musicians, students, jazz freaks and people in the mood for fearsome interpersonal interaction that’s not with members of their own family.
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1: The first installment of the last film in this quadrilogy finds our Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) becoming the slightly unwilling symbol of the growing rebellion throughout Panem. But in keeping with the series’ scathing take on mass media and the heavy PR outfits who dictate its terms, the film is less about a young woman coming into her own—though that’s also in there—than an indictment of our culture’s propensity to be brainwashed by any shiny bauble they choose to show us. Don’t worry, though, there’s still a lot of stuff about the tween love triangle between Katniss, her former partner, Peeta (Josh Hutcherson)—now captured by the Capitol—and her erstwhile flame Gale (Liam Hemsworth, with perhaps the last of the hair gel in the entire rebellion).
Who Should Go: Tweens, teens, young women in need of courage, media cynics in desperate need for some silly distraction.
The Theory of Everything: A bio-pic concerning the brilliant physicist Stephen Hawking, who was stricken to a wheelchair from ALS complications as a young man.James Marsh’s film sagely avoids many of the common melodramatic liberties that so often plague the genre. It stars the phenomenal Eddie Redmayne as Hawking, and the luminescent Felicity Jones as his long-suffering wife—and is a shoo-in for Oscar-nom glory. Expect nominations for its two young stars and likely for the film itself, which is a good deal more honest in its warts-and-all depiction of its subject than you might expect.
Who Should Go: Physicists, romantics, lovers of fine acting, those interested in the Oscar race for Best Actor.
CitizenFour: Another much-heralded doc that really wowed the critics at the NYFF a few weeks back. Laura Poitras’ film concerns Edward Snowden, the now-notorious NSA whistle-blower, who’s still being forced to reside in Russia, seeking asylum with the EU. Poitras was actually one of the first people in the media Snowden originally contacted about divulging the NSA’s illegal monitoring activities, eventually leading to their meeting in Hong Kong for several long interviews, all of which she caught on film. The result is evidently a fascinating reveal of major historic importance, and a treatise on the power of an individual against the most powerful government in the world.
Who Should Go: The politically minded, conspiracy theorists, documentarians, and anybody with an open mind willing to re-investigate their feelings about patriotism.
Force Majeure: A superb piece of chicanery from Swedish director Ruben Östlund. It follows a wealthy married couple (Johannes Bah Kuhnke and Lisa Loven Kongsli) and their two young children on a ski trip in the French Alps—at a positively fabulous looking hotel. The trouble comes after an avalanche scare, wherein the husband takes flight rather than stay to protect his family, and his subsequent denial of having done exactly that. Part black-comedy, part closely observed social drama, Östlund’s film offers many intriguing twists and turns. A film you will want to discuss long after you’ve left the theater.
Who Should Go: Skiiers, distraught families, people who really love mountains, those in favor of public shamings.
Big Hero 6: It is just possible Disney has struck gold yet again from their acquisition of Marvel Comics back in 2009. This semi-obscure superhero team appears to have been chosen for adaptation purposes almost precisely because very few people would think to complain about these particular comics being transmuted into smaller-kid fare. Whatever its origins, the animated result appears to have tickled critics across the nation, so there’s that. Voice talent is also pretty underplayed (no huge names, unless you consider Damon Wayans Jr. a player), so perhaps they’re going with the similarly winning formula that helped catapult Guardians of the Galaxy to massive box-office glory.
Who Should Go: Families, kids who love robots and superheroes, adults who do the same.
Beyond the Lights: Color me skeptical about this star-crossed-lovers story from writer/director Gina Prince-Bythewood, but the early critical acclaim—most of which suggests the power of the two leads (Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Nate Parker)—more than transcends the occasional lapses into stock storytelling. The film concerns a young music superstar (Mbatha-Raw), who falls madly for one of the cops in her security detail (Parker), and the manner in which the two secure their relationship and consummate their respective talents in the face of all the naysayers around them.
Who Should Go: Romantics, pop music enthusiasts, lovers of underdog stories, believers of soulmates.
Interstellar: Again, please consider this a vote based more on the spectacle of the film—which director Christopher Nolan shot in wondrous 70mm—than the film itself. Essentially, a large, well-rounded cast, including Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, and Michael Caine, receive a timely lesson in gravitational physics from Nolan that involves ripping through space-time in search of a new planet human beings may be able to populate before Earth turns completely fallow. Long-winded, stilted, and weirdly unsatisfying, the film’s brilliant effects and all-out audaciousness help save it from Nolan’s more fanciful notions about physics and quantum mechanics, but it somehow feels like a lot less than the sum of its parts.
Who Should Go: Nolan fanboys, McConaughey fanboys (and girls), sci-fi buffs, those seeking a special effects driven treatise in theoretical physics.