Weekend Movies: Another Possible Oscar Contender, Three Questionables and Two Awesome Indies

We’ve got a few more weeks of mostly dud films before we’re off to the busy awards season. Fortunately, nearly all of the next five weekends hold at least one film to help get us through. Although dealing with heavy and depressing themes, this week’s is an unforgettable keeper.

Lovable and diverse Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays a twentysomething cancer patient in ‘50/50‘. As a guy who plays life by the rules, he can’t understand why he of all people has only a 50% chance of surviving. Everyone – his girlfriend (Bryce Dallas Howard), his best friend (Seth Rogen), his mother (Anjelica Hustin) and even his grief counselor (Anna Kendrick) – reacts to the situation, except him.

Don’t let the subject matter drive you away from seeing ’50/50’. The touchy topic is handled in an honest and delicate manner. With a screenplay written by a guy who actually went through the same scenario, how could it not be? His script, five fantastic performances and the film in whole are sure to throw ’50/50′ into the Oscar race.

Opening in a small 1,100-theater release is the faith-centric ‘Courageous‘, a film about integrity and – you guessed it – courage. Four police offers are personally affected when tragedy strikes close to home. As husbands and fathers, they each struggle due to the tragedy. Their faith is put to the test and each has to learn to be courageous.

I haven’t seen a single of the faith-inspiring films from Sherwood Pictures (‘Flywheel’, ‘Facing the Giants’, ‘Fireproof‘), so I have no idea what to expect from this one. I’m not opposed to religious-themed films (after all, I do own ‘Henry Poole is Here’), so I don’t have a stance on this one. I cannot vouch for nor bash ‘Courageous’.

Our second widest opener of the week, ‘Dream House‘, places me in the same position. While it doesn’t appear to have the most original of stories, there are enough strong actors attached to keep me positive. Yet the fact that it wasn’t screened for press has me doubting it. But what fan of horror and suspense doesn’t look forward to a movie starring Daniel Craig, Naomi Watts and Rachel Weisz?

In ‘Dream House’, a family of four moves into a rural town where their home has a dark history. A previous owner murdered his wife and children there. Creepy things start happening when 007 investigates. Psychological drama ensues. Sounds promising enough, right?

Surprisingly, the widest opener of the weekend is one that I cannot believe was screened for press: ‘What’s Your Number?‘. Starring Anna Faris and a slew of comedically strong actors, I previously had somewhat high expectations for it. Boy, was I wrong.

Faris’ character reads a Marie Claire piece that explains that women with 20 or more previous sexual partners will never get married. Having 19 on her list, she makes a vow to never sleep with a new man again and starts a mission to find all of her exes. People can change for the better, so she’s hoping that one of them has and that they can re-establish a healthy, long-lasting relationship that will turn into marriage. This is not a bad premise. Too bad it takes thirty minutes to get rolling.

The story and comedy aren’t terrible, but the filmmaking turns this picture into an inconsistent train wreck. Whoever edited ‘What’s Your Number?’ had no sense of Faris’ comedic timing – or timing in general. The movie has a decent script and great comic actors, but feels like no thought was put into piecing it together. It rarely works. Faris, “Captain America” Chris Evans and the strong supporting cast are fantastic, but the movie itself isn’t.

Opening in limited release are two of my very favorite Sundance films. The first, ‘Tucker Dale vs. Evil‘, played at the 2010 festival. Despite fantastic reviews, no studio had the balls to distribute it domestically. For some odd reason, the U.S. (the country in which it was made) is the last market to get it.

In a somewhat farcical way, ‘Tucker & Dale’ tells a horror story from the viewpoint of the suspected hillbilly killers – only they’re not killers at all. The college kids who stumble across them while vacationing in the back woods mistake them for killers and try to defend themselves. In the process, many of the kids accidentally die, and the hilarious hillbillies are blamed for it. The way the hillbillies see it, a group with a suicidal death pact has chosen to kill themselves in the back woods. As dumb as it may sound, ‘Tucker & Dale’ is one of the funniest horror movies of all time. It’s about time the general public gets the chance to see it.

The smallest opener of the weekend is my favorite film from the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, ‘Take Shelter‘. Michael Shannon plays a quiet man who keeps having disturbing dreams of an apocalyptic storm. Each time he dreams it, the sense of reality gets stronger and he begins to believe that his dreams might be premonitions of bad things to come. If you strongly felt that something bad was going to happen, how could you not prepare for it? Hoping to save the lives of his wife (Jessica Chastain) and daughter, he blows the family’s savings to build a self-sustaining shelter in their backyard.

At the same time, he’s worried that he may have inherited his mother’s late-in-life schizophrenia, and that is where his delusion comes from. Acting on his gut instinct, every decision he makes damages his life and the lives of his friends and family, all just in case the catastrophic storm really hits.

With so many choices, what are you going to see this weekend?

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