Opening This Week

December 26, 2007
A thought by James Berardinelli

It used to be that Christmas was one of the year's most prestigious days for opening a movie. This was the day when true Oscar aspirants bowed. No longer, however. Now, a few movies get dumped unceremoniously into theaters but, for the most part, it's just another day on the release schedule. Most of the big Oscar guns have already fired their wads: Juno, No Country for Old Men, Atonement, Into the Wild, and The Kite Runner are all out there. The only award bait entry joining them on Christmas is The Great Debaters. The other two wide releases this week are a bloody awful science fiction sequel and a family movie about the Loch Ness Monster.

My pick of the week is The Great Debaters, which is less pious and more dramatically powerful than the commercials might lead one to believe. Whoever was hired to market this film should be fired. If I made a decision whether or not to see a movie based on the 30-second snippets on TV, there's no chance I would venture into a multiplex for The Great Debaters. Shame on the advertisers, since they have reduced what is easily one of the year's 15 best movies into something that only Oprah Winfrey fans would want to see. At any rate, my advice is to ignore what you may have seen and suppress what you think you know about this movie and see it. Odds are, you'll thank me.

My avoid at all costs citation for the week (not something I issue every week) goes to Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem, the unwatchable sequel to the 2004 abomination, Alien vs. Predator. I guess that movie made money, so, as night follows day, we are thoughtfully provided with another one. This time around, the studio hired less competent actors, directors, and screenwriters in an effort to see whether a high-profile motion picture with no redeeming values might generate enough box office to make it worth the obviously small budget. At any rate, while Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem may top the box office for new releases, it won't finish #1. National Treasure will retain the box office champion crown for the second week in a row.

New release #3 is The Water Horse, a cute but sometimes clunky story of a boy who befriends the Loch Ness Monster. It's entirely suitable for families but probably won't get many into theaters. Parents will be too busy taking their offspring to Alvin and the Chipmunks for a movie like this to have much of a chance. Maybe it will be "discovered" once it makes its way to DVD - if, that is, the distributors spend enough money to make potential viewers aware of its existence. Sightings of TV spots have been as rare as glimpses of the actual monster.

There are also a few limited releases this week, all of which will spread out across the country in the next few weeks. The Bucket List is one of those movies that was made exclusively with the goal of snagging nominations. If you look carefully, you'll see "Oscar nominee" tattooed on the foreheads of both Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman. The film is a decent tear-jerker, but hardly groundbreaking stuff. It opens wide in two weeks (January 11). There Will Be Blood is Paul Thomas Anderson's long-awaited follow-up to Punch Drunk Love. This one stars Daniel Day-Lewis in a partial adaptation of Upton Sinclair's Oil!. Oscar buzz has been strong for this one; however, while it has some great moments and performances, the movie feels overlong and falls apart in its final quarter. It's good but not great. It opens wide next weekend (January 4). Finally, there's The Orphanage, but I'll discuss that next week as it begins its slow crawl across the nation's theaters.

Speaking of next week, it's going to be slow, with only one major new release - a horror movie not being screened for critics (One Missed Call). So if you're feeling overwhelmed by the sheer volume of titles out there, you have a couple of weeks to catch up.

I'll be back with ReelThoughts tomorrow and Friday featuring the Bottom 10 and Top 10, respectively.