Academy ballots have been signed, sealed and delivered. What to see over the next few days to quell your anticipation for the Oscar nominations on Wednesday? Indies galore, two robust expansions and a big-budget bomb await your eyeballs in theaters this weekend.
Spike Jonze didn’t land a DGA nomination this week for his earnest and uncynical sci-fi romance “Her,“ but don’t count this one out of the races. Starring Joaquin Phoenix as a lonely greeting card scribe who falls for his operating system (Scarlett Johansson), the critics’ darling nabbed both WGA and PGA nominations. Though warmer and more accessible than his brainy “Being John Malkovich” or “Adaptation,” Jonze is as punk and provocative as ever, setting this believable cyber romance in a not-too-distant-future neo-Los Angeles — artfully designed by KK Barrett from pieces of LA and Shanghai — with indie musicians Arcade Fire and Owen Pallett supplying the score. Not since “Blade Runner” has the City of Angels — here, a City of Angles — looked so cinematic and alive. And it befits Jonze to write the sweet, sad and personal screenplay himself.
Adrift in a ruthless sea of baity contenders — but clicking with audiences throughout its smartly devised platform release — is Peter Berg’s harrowing, unmissable wartime thriller “Lone Survivor,“ now playing everywhere. Based on the failed 2005 Navy SEAL mission to capture or kill Taliban leader Ahmad Shahd, the film’s tough authenticity and hardened performances from ace cast members Mark Wahlberg, Emile Hirsch, Ben Foster and Eric Bana steer “Lone Survivor” clear of any US military grandstanding. Berg fought hard to keep his film real.
January is the cruelest month for new wide releases. Look no further than “The Legend of Hercules,” a CGI-laden spectacle of swordplaying hunks, chiseled pectorals and Ancient Greco-machismo. From director Renny Harlin, the man behind that 1999 treasure of trash “Deep Blue Sea,” comes this mythology retread starring a cast of pretty, “charisma-impaired” unknowns as demigods dueling over forbidden love to prove their limping manhoods. Based on the uniformly disparaging reviews, which don’t even promise a so-bad-it’s-good experience, it’s best to sit this iteration of “Hercules” out.
Critics love feel-good “The Rocket,“ Australia’s submission for the foreign language Oscar. And though Kim Mordaunt’s lush parable a la “Beasts of the Southern Wild” didn’t make the shortlist, the film has been steadily acclaimed since its 2013 Berlinale premiere and award-winning play at Tribeca. “The Rocket” stars newcomer Sitthiphon Disamoe as a quixotic and scrappy young boy who leads his family through war-torn Laos in search of a new home.
Another would-be foreign language Oscar contender, Georgia’s “In Bloom” centers on two adolescent girls bristling against the rigid class system and gender politics of capital city Tbilisi in 1992. When one of the best friends, Natia (Mariam Bukaria) is swept off into an arranged marriage, Eka (Lika Babluani) must reconcile deep-seated feelings for her estranged and imprisoned father. “In Bloom” picked up praise at Berlinale, Karlovy Vary and AFI Fest for its strong performances and keen criticism of a still-reigning patriarchy.
Meanwhile, SXSW hit “Loves Her Gun” also hits select cities and VOD platforms. It stars indie starlet Trieste Kelly Dunn as an unemployed drifter on the run to Austin from New York, where she was brutally attacked. Quickly, she finds herself drawn into Texas gun culture, going from victim to attacker in this mumblecore mood piece, which has mixed reviews from critics but good word-of-mouth out of the 2013 festival circuit.
Trailers, Tomatometer scores and film info after the jump:
Her Dir. Spike Jonze, USA | Warner Bros. | Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Scarlett Johansson, Amy Adams, Rooney Mara, Olivia Wilde | 92% Fresh | The New Yorker: “Sad, kooky, and daunting in equal measure, ‘Her’ is the right film at the right time.” | Our review and TIFF coverage
Lone Survivor Dir. Peter Berg, USA | Universal | Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Ben Foster, Emile Hirsch, Eric Bana | 73% Fresh | AV Club: “For all his directorial shortcomings, Berg has a knack for capturing men at work; his depiction of special-ops maneuvering… is as compelling as the chaotic violence he orchestrates later.” | Our review, roundup and Q & A video and interview with Peter Berg
The Rocket Dir. Kim Mordaunt, Australia | Kino Lorber | Cast: Sitthiphon Disamoe, Loungnam Kaosainam, Suthep Po-ngam | 100% Fresh | NYT: “What gives this movie its sting is that, despite Mr. Mordaunt’s insistent attempts at uplift, death hovers over this story at every single moment.” | Our review
In Bloom Dir. Nana Ekvtimishvili, Georgia | Big World Pictures | Cast: Ana Nijaradze, Data Zakareishvili, Lika Babluani, Maiko Ninua | 90% Fresh | Variety: “An absorbing, intelligently assembled coming-of-ager that revolves around two pubescent gal-pals growing up in 1992, just after independence was restored.” | Our Palm Springs write-up
Loves Her Gun Dir. Geoff Marslet, USA | Devolver Digital | Cast: Trieste Kelly Dunn, Francisco Barreiro | 67% Fresh | NYT: “Adopting an appealingly low-key approach to a high-stakes subject, this gently observant drama from Geoff Marslett takes its sweet time introducing the girl to the gun, but when it does, we’re all but guaranteed to care.” | Our SXSW interview with Trieste Kelly Dunn
The Legend of Hercules Dir. Renny Harlin, USA | Summit Entertainment | Cast: Gaia Weiss, Kellan Lutz, Roxanne McKee, Scott Adkins | 0% Fresh | RogerEbert.com: “It’s a mystery why Harlin and his writers decided to eschew all the juicy bits of Herculean lore for this dull idealized interpretation.”