Here it is. Probably the most exciting day of releases since I have become a serious film reviewer. I can't remember a day where so many of the Oscar favourites, no scrap that, so many genuinely good films (and films I am eager to see) are released on the same day. I am lucky enough to have seen two of them already, otherwise I would have been going nuts trying to squeeze them in as quickly as possible. Here's a crazy statistic. Today, the Director's Guild of America nominated five directors for their Best Director award. Three of the directors recognised have their films released on Thursday - Alexander Payne for The Descendants, Martin Scorsese for Hugo and David Fincher for The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. The other two films released are The Muppets (which is wonderful and almost impossible not to enjoy in some way or another) and The Secret World of Arrietty, the new Studio Ghibli film. Here is a quick run-down about each film, but honestly, if you haven't heard about these films already (with the exception of Arrietty) you must have been living under a rock.
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo - The first in Columbia Pictures' three-picture adaptation of Stieg Larsson's literary blockbuster The Millenium Trilogy. Many would claim that this American re-adaptation has been made too soon, and it runs the risk of failing to engage with viewers who still have the Swedish version in their memory. But if there is anyone capable of adapting this compelling crime thriller it is David Fincher (Se7en and Zodiac). The film will undoubtedly look and sound great (the score is amazing) and featuring a cast headlined by Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara (nominated for a Golden Globe) the pieces are all there for it to be a great film. But will loyalty to the source material, which plagued the first adaption, prove to be an issue again? The guilds don't think so - with the PGA, WGA and DGA honouring the film with nominations, all-but securing it Best Picture spot for next month's Academy Awards. It's 86% Rotten Tomatoes score is the lowest amongst the week's releases, but is still very solid. I had issues with the first film, convinced that a better film could be made. I hope this is the one.
Hugo - Throughout his extraordinary career, Academy Award-winning director Martin Scorsese has brought his unique vision and dazzling gifts to life in a series of unforgettable films. This holiday season the legendary storyteller invites viewers of all ages on a thrilling journey to a magical world with his first-ever 3D film, based on Brian Selznick's award-winning, imaginative New York Times Best Seller, "The Invention of Hugo Cabret". Hugo is the astonishing adventure of a wily and resourceful boy named Hugo whose quest to unlock a secret left to him by his father will transform him and all those around him, and reveal a safe and loving place he can call home. Hugo is right there alongside The Artist as one of the Oscar favourites, with Scorsese picking up a number of Best Director awards. Hugo has a Rotten Tomatoes score of 94% (8.4) and has appeared on many critics' Top 10 lists. It is playing in cinemas in 2D, but I believe it has been specifically made to be seen in 3D - so be sure to check it out that way if you can.
The Muppets - On vacation in Los Angeles, Walter, the world's biggest Muppet fan, and his friends Gary (Jason Segel) and Mary (Amy Adams) from Smalltown, USA, discover the nefarious plan of oilman Tex Richman (Chris Cooper) to raze the Muppet Theatre and drill for the oil recently discovered beneath the Muppets' former stomping grounds. To stage the Greatest Muppet Telethon Ever and raise the $10 million needed to save the theatre, Walter, Mary and Gary help Kermit reunite the Muppets, who have all gone their separate ways. It is truly a delight, with catchy song and dance numbers and a host of hilarious cameos, this is perfect family fun for life-long Muppets fans and unfamiliar modern audiences alike.
The Secret World of Arrietty - From Studio Ghibli (Spirited Away) and Walt Disney Pictures comes a new animated feature, Arrietty. Arrietty (Bridgit Mendler), a tiny, but tenacious 14-year-old, lives with her parents (Will Arnett and Amy Poehler) in the recesses of a suburban garden home, unbeknownst to the homeowner and her housekeeper (Carol Burnett). Like all little people, Arrietty remains hidden from view, except during occasional covert ventures beyond the floorboards to "borrow" scrap supplies like sugar cubes from her human hosts. But when 12-year-old Shawn (David Henrie), a human boy who comes to stay in the home, discovers his mysterious housemate one evening, a secret friendship blossoms. If discovered, their relationship could drive Arrietty's family from the home and straight into danger.
The Descendants - From Alexander Payne, the creator of the Oscar-winning Sideways, set in Hawaii, The Descendants is an often humorous, but mostly tragic journey for Matt King (George Clooney) an indifferent husband and father of two girls, who is forced to re-examine his past and embrace his future when his wife suffers a boating accident off of Waikiki. The event leads to a rapprochement with his young daughters while Matt wrestles with a decision to sell the family's land handed down from Hawaiian royalty and missionaries. Having now seen this film twice, I think it is wonderful. It is very likely to receive Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Director, Actor (Clooney - career best work), Supporting Actress (Shailene Woodley - exceptional) and Adapted Screenplay. Alexander Payne (whose direction is impressively contained) is especially good at drawing unique performances from his cast, and the film's charms rest on the writing, which manages to tease out a series of complex, off-kilter, emotionally rich and sharply humorous situations, and the fabulous acting. Each of the characters have the potential to surprise a viewer, and they do on many occasions. For a patient viewer who enjoys honest and genuine human interrelations, there is plenty of reward with The Descendants.
Weekly recommendation: See everything, if you can. Not all of these films are going to appeal to everyone, but they are all different. If you are after a crime thriller then go with The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, if you are after a touching comedy/drama choose The Descendants, if you are a lover of cinema and need to entertain the kids, there's Hugo, or if you're a Muppet fan, well, you know. I can't vouch for Hugo or Dragon Tattoo yet (but they are scheduled for Thursday/Friday) but I am confident that whatever film you choose to see this week, you will find it a memorable experience.