At last audiences can sink their teeth into Kathryn Bigelow's "Zero Dark Thirty," which is inspiring debate as it enjoys a top spot on many Best of 2012 lists. If Jessica Chastain hunting down Osama bin Laden is not your thing, there's plenty to sample this pre-holiday weekend. Bigelow's excellent film, however, should be considered essential viewing as we head into the next phase of awards season. Ditto for Tom Hooper's "Les Miserables" and Quentin Tarantino's "Django Unchained," which both arrive on Christmas day next week.
Judd Apatow's "This is 40," if not the revelation it sets out to be, does give Leslie Mann ample time to show off her talent. The other comedy opening is Barbra Streisand and Seth Rogen's road-trip concoction, "The Guilt Trip." You may or may not find the idea of being trapped in a car with this duo appealing.
"The Impossible" is the harrowing and well-acted true story of a family that survived the Thailand tsunami, Michael Haneke's unflinching "Amour" is unmissable but a heavy slog, while Walter Salles "On the Road" is a respectable if not exhilarating adaptation of the classic novel. Germany's Oscar entry "Barbara" is a finely crafted slow-burn thriller, and "Sopranos" writer-producer David Chase goes personal with his directorial debut, "Not Fade Away," which boasts a nostalgic $2-million rock score.
To round out this mix there's Tom Cruise being a badass in "Jack Reacher." Reviews, details and trailers below:
"Zero Dark Thirty" Dir. Kathryn Bigelow, USA | Columbia Pictures | Cast: Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke, Jennifer Ehle, Kyle Chandler, James Gandolfini, Joel Edgerton, Chris Pratt, Edgar Ramirez | 95% Fresh | The Atlantic: "A powerful, morally complicated work on an urgent subject. It is a film that deserves-that almost demands-to be seen and argued over." | Some Ways Into Zero Dark Thirty | Review and Cast Q & A | TOH! interviews Chastain & Clarke.
"Les Miserables" Dir. Tom Hooper, UK | Universal | Cast: Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Eddie Redmayne, Samantha Barks, Amanda Seyfried, Sacha Baron Cohen, Helena Bonham Carter | 70% Fresh | AP: "It is enormous and sprawling and not the slightest bit subtle. But at the same time it's hard not to admire the ambition that drives such an approach." | Review and Cast Q & A. TOH! interviews Eddie Redmayne.
"Django Unchained" Dir. Quentin Tarantino, USA | The Weinstein Co. | Cast: Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kerry Washington, Samuel L. Jackson | 98% Fresh | Village Voice: "In his past two movies, Tarantino has ascended to a new level of filmmaking craftsmanship and narrative sophistication."
"This is 40" Dir. Judd Apatow, USA | Universal Pictures | Cast: Leslie Mann, Paul Rudd, Maude Apatow, Iris Apatow, Jason Segel | 59% Rotten | Miami Herald: "This is 40 is crude and dull, with a supporting cast that reminds you how utterly uninteresting the main characters are." | TOH! Interviews Apatow.
"The Impossible" Dir. Juan Antonio Bayona, SPAIN | Summit | Cast: Naomi Watts, Ewan McGregor, Tom Holland | 82% Fresh | Time: "I hesitate to use this term, since it is so often equated with hokey, but The Impossible is life-affirming." | TOH! Interviews Watts and McGregor.
"On the Road" Dir. Walter Salles, US/FR/UK/BR | IFC Films | Cast: Sam Riley, Garrett Hedlund, Kristen Stewart, Kirsten Dunst, Amy Adams, Tom Sturridge, Alice Braga, Elizabeth Moss | 47% Rotten | LA Times: "Salles has lovingly crafted a poetic, sensitive, achingly romantic version of the Kerouac book that captures the evanescence of its characters' existence and the purity of their rebellious hunger for the essence of life." | The Long Gestation of On The Road.
"Amour" Dir. Michael Haneke, AUSTRIA | Sony Pictures Classics | Cast: Jean-Louis Trintignant, Emmanuelle Riva, Isabelle Huppert | 92% Fresh | NY Daily News: "Growing old is a war, and movies rarely go there. Michael Haneke's amazing, dignified 'Amour' is the exception." TOH! interviews Haneke.
"Not Fade Away" Dir. David Chase, USA | Paramount Vantage | Cast: John Magaro, Jack Huston, Will Brill, James Gandolfini, Bella Heathcote | 79% Fresh | TOH Review & Roundup | Rolling Stone: "Chase offers a gritty, graceful salute to rock & roll in his ardent, acutely observed debut that makes him, at 67, a filmmaker to watch." | How Chase Got All That Music.
"Barbara" Dir. Christian Petzold, GERMANY | Adopt Films | Cast: Nina Hoss, Ronald Zehrfeld, Rainer Bock | 93% Fresh | Paste: "Barbara takes place in a world of such profound paranoia that it's never certain whether the title character is being overly cautious or reckless."
"West of Memphis" Dir. Amy Berg, USA/NZ | Sony Pictures Classics | 97% Fresh | TOH! Interviews Berg | NY Post: "This is a compelling and comprehensive guide to one of the most Kafkaesque crime stories in American history."
"The Guilt Trip" Dir. Anne Fletcher, USA | Paramount Pictures | Cast: Barbra Streisand, Seth Rogen | 36% Rotten | Slant: "Mothers and sons deserve an amiable comedy they can share, but this one is faulty long before the requisite freeway breakdown."
"Jack Reacher" Dir. Christopher McQuarrie, USA | Paramount Pictures | Cast: Tom Cruise, Rosamund Pike, Richard Jenkins, David Oyelowo, Werner Herzog | 67% Fresh | Newsday: "There's a fine line between macho wish fulfillment and delusional fantasy, and 'Jack Reacher' crosses it."