Screened for one week as a four-plus hour biopic, Steven Soderbergh’s Spanish-language passion project in the making since Traffic, will be released to audiences as two separate films, Che Part 1: The Argentine and Che Part 2: Guerilla in January. If you can help it, don’t let the ambiguous reviews deter you.
It’s true that Soderbergh’s Che Guevara abides by what many would call a saintly myth of a politically righteous icon, but the film is jam-packed with a brilliant execution of the fascinating – and heavily researched – war strategy responsible for the overthrow of Batista’s Cuba and the installation of Castro. Benicio Del Toro did not win Best Actor at this year’s Cannes Film Festival for nothing, either; he is incredible as Guevara, and you can’t take your eyes off him ... even when they’re tested for over four hours!
Part 1 tells the story of Guevara’s relationship with Castro and how he climbs the ranks in the rebel army, as well as addressing Guevara’s visit to the United Nations where he was confronted by the New York elite, the international media and displaced Cubans angry at the revolution. Part 2 deals with Guevara’s time – and ultimate failure and death – in Bolivia, where, incognito, he attempts to stage the great Latin American Revolution by replicating what was done in Cuba.
The Day the Earth Stood Still (20th Century Fox)
A remake of the 1951 classic sci-fi film about an alien (Keanu Reeves) who visits Earth with a message: Live in peace, or be destroyed. Jennifer Connelly, John Cleese, Kathy Bates and the sexy Jon Hamm costar.
Writer/director John Patrick Shanley adapts his play about a Catholic school going through changes in the Bronx during the mid-’60s. Philip Seymour Hoffman plays Father Flynn, a priest who is trying to modernize the school’s customs, but who inspires suspicion of foul play in the principal (Meryl Streep) and a young nun (Amy Adams) when he develops a relationship with the school’s first black student.
Nothing Like the Holidays (Overture)
Washington Heights director Alfredo De Villa goes commercial with this holiday movie about a family reunion at the Rodriguez home in Chicago. John Leguizamo, Debra Messing, Luis Guzmán, Alfred Molina and Freddy Rodríguez star.
The Reader (Weinstein Company)
Director Stephen Daldry (The Hours, Billy Elliot) adapts the best-selling novel set in post-WWII Germany by Bernhard Schlink about a man (Ralph Fiennes) who discovers that the older woman (Kate Winslet) with whom he had had an affair when he was a teenager, may be guilty of Nazi war crimes.
Wendy and Lucy (Oscilloscope)
The writer/director team behind 2006’s Old Joy is back with a conversational, but often-silent lament set in the Pacific Northwest. Wendy Carol (an excellent and constantly improving Michelle Williams) is driving to Alaska with her dog, Lucy, after hearing they need workers at the Northwestern Fish Cannery.
She’s got big hopes for a new life and a fresh start, but when her car breaks down in Oregon, the thin fabric of her plan – and finances – comes apart, as she is confronted by the reality of her situation in a series of minor but fateful crises. It’s a quiet film about how pregnant with possibility, how fertilized for despair and how ultimately fragile life is for people trying to make it on their own without much to back them up.
What Doesn’t Kill You (Yari Film Group)
Brian (Mark Ruffalo) and Paulie (Ethan Hawke) are two broken kids running loose on the crime-laden streets of South Boston. As they get older, they get into more and more trouble until, finally, they find themselves in jail. When they get out, Paulie asks Brian to help him on one more con job before they go clean, and Brian has to decide between standing by his friend and salvaging his family.
The Wrestler (Fox Searchlight)
Having won the Golden Lion at this year’s Venice Film Festival, this latest by Darren Aronofsky (Pi, Requiem for a Dream, The Fountain) is one of the most surprising and thoughtful films I’ve seen in a long time. Mickey Rourke – who, by the way, has never been better – plays Randy “The Ram” Robinson, an ’80s-era pro wrestler whose fame, admiration and ability to manage his life are dwindling fast.
After a heart attack throws the future of his fledgling career into question, he starts facing the reality of his situation and finally confronts the karma of his past, particularly with the daughter (an always good Evan Rachel Wood) he abandoned years ago. A wonderful Marisa Tomei costars as the wrestler’s favorite stripper and voice of conscience.
Adam Resurrected (Ehud Bleiberg/Werner Wirsing Production)
Adapted from the Israeli novel by Yoram Kaniuk, this is the off-kilter story of a Jewish circus entertainer (a startling Jeff Goldblum) who is kept alive by the Nazis to entertain Jews as they march to their deaths. Willem Dafoe costars.
The Class (Sony Pictures Classics)
This is a must-see. Winner of the highly coveted Golden Palm at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, the French-language film (original title: Entre les murs, “Between the Walls”) is based on schoolteacher and writer François Bégaudeau’s autobiographical novel about a year with his racially mixed students in a tough Parisian neighborhood middle school.
Ethnicities, cultures and attitudes clash in the classroom; the students are at turns amusing, inspiring and frustratingly difficult; and Monsieur Bégaudeau’s methods are surprising, refreshing, controversial and at times, catastrophic. A wonderful vérité-style look at what it means to take a low-paying public school teacher job in one of the world’s most diverse student populations.
Having been nominated for the Golden Palm at Cannes, the film won the festival’s Grand Prize, along with wins at both the Chicago and Munich Film Festivals. Based on an exposé of Italy’s criminal underbelly by Roberto Saviano, (published in the United States by Farrar, Strauss & Giroux) for which the author has been forced into hiding due to Italian mob threats, the film consists of six short episodes with six main characters, all revolving around the four-sided crime between the ports of Naples, Scampìa, Castel Volturno and Terzigno.
Nothing But the Truth (Yari Film Group)
Taking a page from the Valerie Plame incident a couple years back, this political thriller stars Kate Beckinsale as a Washington, D.C. political journalist who writes a coup exposé that reveals the identity of a covert CIA agent (Vera Farmiga). When a special government prosecutor (Matt Dillon) demands she divulge her source, she refuses and finds herself behind bars, struggling to defend the principles she has based her career upon. Alan Alda, Angela Bassett, David Schwimmer and Noah Wyle costar.
Seven Pounds (Sony)
Director Gabriele Muccino (The Pursuit of Happyness) works with Will Smith again, the latter here playing an IRS agent with a fateful secret who sets out to redeem his past by forever changing the lives of seven strangers he carefully selects. Rosario Dawson, Barry Pepper, Woody Harrelson and Michael Ealy round out the cast.
The Tale of Despereaux (Universal)
Adapted by Gary Ross (Big, Dave, Pleasantville) from the novel by Kate DiCamillo (Because of Winn-Dixie), this animated feel-gooder stars Matthew Broderick as Despereaux, a tiny mouse with overly large ears who startles his community by not being fearful of the things they tell him to be fearful of. He confronts mousetraps, cats and humans, and learns to read, teaching all the other mice a thing or two. But fatefully, he must learn a lesson from them as well.
With the voices of Emma Watson, Dustin Hoffman, Sigourney Weaver, Stanley Tucci, William H. Macy, Kevin Kline, Frank Langella, Frances Conroy, Richard Jenkins, Christopher Lloyd and, of course, Tracey Ullman.
Yes Man (Warner Bros.)
In a fun, high concept story, Jim Carrey stars as a man who usually says no to everything, but commits to a self-help program based on one simple principle: Start saying yes, to everything. Transformation and madness ensue! Zooey Deschanel plays the love interest.
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (Paramount)
A real treat, this highly anticipated latest from director David Fincher (Se7en, Fight Club, Zodiac) and writer Eric Roth (Forrest Gump, Munich, The Good Shepherd), is adapted from the F. Scott Fitzgerald story about a man (Brad Pitt) who is born in his eighties and ages backwards, from 1918 New Orleans into present time. Cate Blanchett, Tilda Swinton, Julia Ormond, Jason Flemyng and Taraji P. Henson costar.
Marley & Me (20th Century Fox)
An ambitious young reporter (Owen Wilson) and his wife (Jennifer Aniston), also a reporter, move to Florida, buy a house and adopt Marley, a Labrador puppy that is difficult, untrainable and, apparently, teaches them important life lessons.
The Spirit (Lionsgate)
Writer/director Frank Miller (Sin City), does what he does best – it’s not for everybody – and adapts the comic book series by Will Eisner, in which the Spirit (supercutie Gabriel Macht from A Love Song for Bobby Long, whose other film choices I personally don’t understand), tracks the coldhearted killer, the Octopus (Samuel L. Jackson), while facing a bevy of beautiful women (Eva Mendes, Scarlett Johansson) all trying to seduce, love or kill him.
Waltz with Bashir (Sony Pictures Classics)
Nominated for the Golden Palm at Cannes, and for, among others, a British Independent Film Award, this animated feature documents the filmmaker’s journey toward recovering his memory of – and discovering the truth about – an Israeli Army mission he participated in during the first Lebanon War of the early-1980s that left him with severe posttraumatic stress disorder and memory loss.
Last Chance Harvey (Overture)
New Yorker Harvey Shine (Dustin Hoffman) isn’t doing so well: He loses his job and his daughter, whose wedding he has flown to in London, when she chooses to have her stepfather walk her down the aisle instead of him. As he drowns his sorrows in the airport bar, he strikes up a conversation with Kate (Emma Thompson), whose life is limited to work, the occasional humiliating blind date and endless phone calls from her smothering mother, and compassion blooms.
Revolutionary Road (Paramount Vantage)
Director Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Road to Perdition) adapts the late Richard Yates novel – and universal story – about a young couple (the reunion of Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet!) who get married, move to Connecticut and start a family to live out society’s suburban ideal of adult life, only to find that they are perfectly miserable and feel cheated by their lives. Set in the 1950s, the cultural questions are as relevant today as ever.
Valkyrie (United Artists)
Set in Nazi Germany, Tom Cruise stars in this true story of Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, who dared to organize a group of men to overthrow and eliminate Hitler. Directed by Bryan Singer (The Usual Suspects) and costarring Bill Nighy, Kenneth Branagh, Eddie Izzard, Tom Wilkinson and Terence Stamp, it’s 50 percent morality play, 50% percent action movie. Think Schindler’s List meets Mission: Impossible.
Adapted from the play by C.P. Taylor, here we have another story of how not all Germans during Hitler’s time were bad (hence the title). John Halder (Viggo Mortensen) is a German literature professor in the 1930s whose book, a novel advocating compassionate euthanasia, is unexpectedly enlisted by Nazi political figures in support of government propaganda. Excited by the rise in his career, Halder becomes increasingly conflicted as he considers his role in the spiraling out of his country.
Defiance (Paramount Vantage)
Based on a true story – and far more interesting than Valkyrie – this is the story of four Jewish Brothers (including Daniel Craig and Liev Schreiber) who escape Nazi-occupied Poland into a forest where they join up with Russian resistance fighters, build a village right there and save the lives of more than 1,200 other Jews.
Bride Wars (20th Century Fox)
Two best friends (Kate Hudson and Anne Hathaway) engage in bridal warfare when their weddings end up on the same day and neither one will budge about the location of the Plaza in New York. Candice Bergen and Kristen Johnston round out the cast.
Gran Torino (Warner Bros.)
In this latest from director Clint Eastwood, Eastwood (who else?) plays a grumpy, widowed Korean War veteran whose prize possession is a 1973 Gran Torino he keeps in mint condition. Chronically unhappy, he is happy to stay out of the world’s affairs and insists on being left alone himself ... until the troubles of his neighbors, an Asian family, visit his front yard, and he is drawn against his will into the brutal gang violence that is taking over the neighborhood.
Notorious (Fox Searchlight)
They’ve finally done it. They’ve made a drama biopic about Biggie. Angela Bassett plays Voletta Wallace, Biggie’s mom; Anthony Mackie plays Tupac; Derek Luke stars as Puffy and newcomer Jamal Woolard channels Big Poppa himself.
Serbis (Regent Releasing)
Nominated for the Golden Palm at Cannes, this Filipino-language film is a day-in-the-life portrait of a family-run movie theater in the Philippines. But the family business is actually a porn house, a seedy theater that plays graphic pics and allows prostitution among the aisles, and the family members are embroiled in a million little dirty and dark dramas of their own.
Though not a documentary, the film is shot on video, and its grainy and graphic scenes recall, both aesthetically and in content, such Dogma movement masterpieces as Festen.
Of Time and the City (Strand)
Nominated for a British Independent Film Award, this poetic film is both a love song and a eulogy to filmmaker Terence Davies’ hometown of Liverpool, whose essence has changed alongside its skyline over the years.
Killshot (Weinstein Company)
Adapted from the Elmore Leonard novel, and produced (at least initially) by Quentin Tarantino, this thriller stars Diane Lane and Thomas Jane as a husband and wife for whom the Witness Protection Program is no match for a mob killer (Mickey Rourke) who wants them dead. Rosario Dawson and Joseph Gordon-Levitt costar.
The Lodger (Sony)
Adapted from the book by Marie Belloc Lowndes, which also inspired Alfred Hitchcock’s 1927 silent film of the same name, this thriller puts a modern spin on the tale, trading in London for West Hollywood, where a serial killer hopes to recreate the work of history’s most famous murderer: Jack the Ripper. Starring Hope Davis, Simon Baker (The Devil Wears Prada), Alfred Molina and Donal Logue.
A perfect holiday treat, writer/director Henry Selick (The Nightmare Before Christmas) adapts Neil Gaiman’s (Stardust) book into a morbidly magical animated feature about a young girl who unlocks a mysterious door in her new home and enters into a parallel version of her troubled life, seemingly perfect, but really dangerous. With the voices of Dakota Fanning, Teri Hatcher, Jennifer Saunders and John Hodgman.
He’s Just Not That Into You (Warner Bros.)
The line that “Sex and the City” made famous, and that made dating book authors (some might say hacks) Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo rich, is now a Drew Barrymore-produced movie starring Scarlett Johansson, Jennifer Aniston, Ginnifer Goodwin (Walk the Line, “Big Love”), Ben Affleck, Justin Long, Kevin Connolly, Jennifer Connelly, and – wait for it – Kris Kristofferson.
Basically, all you really need to know is that a hardline advice guy falls for a woman who seeks him out because she can’t figure out the men in her life. Oh, and that it marks the (commercial) return of Wilson Cruz!
The International (Sony)
What sounds like another boring thriller may just be interesting here because of Tom Tykwer (Run, Lola, Run, Winter Sleepers). Tykwer directs Clive Owen and Naomi Watts as Interpol Agent Louis Salinger and Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Eleanor Whitman in their effort to bring one of the world’s most powerful banks to justice.
New York, I Love You (Palm Pictures)
In this next stop in the series started by Paris, Je T’aime before the producers head to China, a camp of 12 diverse directors, including Mira Nair (Mississippi Masala, Monsoon Wedding, The Namesake), Scarlett Johansson, Brett Ratner, Natalie Portman, Joshua Marston (Maria Full of Grace) and Allen Hughes (Menace II Society, Dead Presidents), and a cast that includes Kevin Bacon, Rachel Bilson, Orlando Bloom, James Caan, Julie Christie, Chris Cooper, Ethan Hawke, Shia LaBeouf, Natalie Portman, Christina Ricci, Olivia Thirlby and Robin Wright present a collection of short films shot in each of the city’s boroughs that explain how we love in, and just plain love, New York.
Two Lovers (Magnolia)
Nominated for the Golden Palm at Cannes, and what Joaquin Phoenix announced was his last movie, this romantic drama follows an aspiring photographer (Phoenix) who moves back in with his parents in Brooklyn after a breakup. His concerned mother (Isabella Rossellini) tries to fix him up with a family friend, but he becomes enamored with their troubled new neighbor (Gwyneth Paltrow) instead.
Youth in Revolt (Weinstein Company)
An adaptation of C.D. Payne’s novel by Gustin Nash, screenwriter of last year’s immensely flawed but still admirable Charlie Bartlett, here we have the journal of Nick Twisp (Michael Cera), and 18-year-old high school student who goes on a quest to lose his virginity after his parents separate. Justin Long, Steve Buscemi, Ray Liotta, Fred Willard, and Mary Kay Place costar.