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December 2014 Film Preview

December 2014 Film Preview

December
might be cold and snowy, but the month’s wide range of films is worth venturing
out to the theater to see. Starting strong on December 3, the comedy Zero Motivation follows a unit of
Israeli women soldiers on a remote desert base as they live out their dull days
in human resources. Director Talya Lavie’s debut feature Zero Motivation opened to international critical acclaim and won
the Tribeca Film Festival’s Best Narrative Feature award.

A
few days later, the hijinks continue with four separate comedies opening on
December 5. Murder of a Cat, directed
by Gillian Greene, sees a reclusive action figure-designer transform into a hardboiled
detective after the murder of his pet cat in this suburban twist on the
classic film noir. In Two-Bit Waltz, seventeen-year-old Maude loses everything she values within the span of a week:
high school, best friend, and boyfriend. However, she also gains a surprise
inheritance from her dead grandmother under one tenuous condition: that Maude
go to college.

Writer-director
Madeline Olnek’s newest, The Foxy
Merkins,
has lesbian prostitute Margaret and heterosexual grifter/pick-up
artist Jo cross paths and perspectives. Meanwhile, Life Partners Sasha (Leighton Meester) and Paige (Gillian Jacobs)
value their devoted friendship over dating, but their dynamic becomes uncertain
when Paige finds herself falling in love with Tim (Adam Brody).

On
the dramatic spectrum, personal tragedy and healing meet in Wild, based on Cheryl Strayed’s memoir of the same
name, as Cheryl (Reese Witherspoon)
embarks upon a thousand-mile hike, alone and inexperienced, along the Pacific
Coast Trail. Likewise, in Take Care, old
wounds meet new wounds as a woman paralyzed by a car crash seeks help from
her former boyfriend and, unavoidably, his new girlfriend. 

Difret, a narrative rooted in harrowing
reality, follows fourteen-year-old Hirut as she faces murder charges for
killing the Ethiopian man who abducted her into marriage. Liv Ullman’s
period piece Miss Julie poses
compelling questions about the power balance between men and women. Jessica
Chastain and Colin Farrell star in this battle for dominance.

The
first week of December also marks the release of four new documentaries: 40 Weeks focuses on a group of pregnant
women throughout their shared nine-month journey, answering on a week-by-week
basis all the questions new mothers have about their changing bodies. On
December 5, She’s Beautiful When She’s
Angry
chronicles the history of the modern women’s movement from 1966 to
1971, focusing on the women responsible for founding, developing, and leading the
liberation cause. 

Traveling from America to Costa Rica, we find a remote town
where the ideas of a few women forever changed the coffee industry in A Small Section of the World. On a wider
international scale, painter Lily Yeh
of The Barefoot Artist uses her
passion for community-based art projects as a way to bring hope to struggling
communities.

Later
in the month, Annie, an adaptation of
the wildly popular Broadway musical, ushers in the Christmas season on December
19. Starring Beasts of the Southern Wild star
Quvenzhane Wallis as the titular character and Oscar winner Jamie Foxx as Will
Stacks (AKA Daddy Warbucks), Annie‘s
hard-knock optimism is sure to win over audiences’ hearts.

Christmas
Day itself offers three extraordinary true stories helmed by legendary
filmmakers. Prolific director Tim Burton presents Big Eyes, the story of immensely successful 1950s painter Margaret
Keane (Amy Adams), whose husband Walter (Christoph Waltz) spent years assuming
credit for her work. Angelina Jolie’s Unbroken,
based on the true story of Olympian war hero Louis Zamperini (John
O’Connell), marks the Oscar-winning actress’s second time in the directorial
chair. Finally, Ava DuVernay brings Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Selma march
that changed history to the screen in Selma,
with David Oyelowo as Dr. King and Tom Wilkinson as President Lyndon
Johnson leading an all-star cast. 

Here
are the December films written, directed, and/or about women. All descriptions
are from press materials unless otherwise indicated.

December
1
 

40
Weeks (doc)

Women
get pregnant every day. Finally a documentary joins them on that journey. Are
you early in the process? Late? Did you miss something? Ack! What was that? Was
that normal? What is normal? What’s happening to my body? And my baby? Let’s
take a breath. 40 Weeks is a movie
that answers these questions and gives you a window into the lives of a group
of real women dealing with all the changes you are. Journey through the week-by-week milestones and information on pregnancy while discovering the community
you are now a part of.

December
3
 

Zero
Motivation – Written and Directed by Talya Lavie

Private Benjamin meets M*A*S*H,
speaks Hebrew, and keeps kosher. Set in a remote desert military base, a
platoon of young women soldiers, all Israeli conscripts, serve out their time
playing computer games, singing pop songs, and conspiring to get transferred to
Tel Aviv– while endlessly serving coffee to the men who run the show. Here’s
an Israeli film filled with funny, quick-witted, zany women who wield their
staple guns like automatic weaponry. If there is a war going on, it’s one
against boredom, bad uniforms, dopey rules, and doing everything in triplicate.
Debut filmmaker Talya Lavie is Israel’s answer to Lena Dunham: Zero Motivation has had rave reviews and
huge audiences and won the top prize for narrative world cinema at the Tribeca
Film Festival. 

December
5

Wild

With
the dissolution of her marriage and the death of her mother, Cheryl Strayed (Reese Witherspoon) has
lost all hope. After years of reckless, destructive behavior, she makes a rash
decision. With absolutely no experience, driven only by sheer determination,
Cheryl hikes more than a thousand miles of the Pacific Crest Trail, alone. Wild powerfully captures the terrors and
pleasures of one young woman forging ahead against all odds on a journey that
maddens, strengthens, and ultimately heals her. 

Take
Care – Written and Directed by Liz Tuccillo

When
a car crash leaves Frannie (Leslie Bibb) immobilized, she is brushed off by everyone she can
count on. With nowhere else to turn, Frannie reluctantly calls her ex, Devon (Thomas Sadoski),
for help. It isn’t before long that old wounds emerge — and are made worse when
Devon’s crazy new girlfriend (Betty Gilpin) also shows up.

Miss
Julie – Written and Directed by Liv Ullman

Miss Julie depicts a fierce
battle between a man and a woman, a struggle for power and dominance enacted
through a cruel and compulsive game of seduction and repulsion. A country
estate in Ireland in 1880s. Over the course of one midsummer night, in an
atmosphere of wild revelry and loosened social constraints, Miss Julie and
John (Jessica Chastain and Colin Farrell), her father’s valet, dance and drink, charm and manipulate each other.
She, all hauteur longing for abasement; he, polished but coarse — both united
in mutual loathing and attraction. By turns seductive and bullying, savage and
tender, their intimacy leads to desperate plans and vision of a life together. Unsure if the morning brings hope or hopelessness, Julie and John find their
escape in a final act as sublime and horrific as anything in Greek tragedy. 

She’s
Beautiful When She’s Angry (doc) – Directed by Mary Dore

She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry resurrects the
buried history of the outrageous, often brilliant women who founded the modern
women’s movement from 1966 to 1971. She’s
Beautiful
takes us from the founding of NOW, when ladies wore hats and
gloves, to the emergence of more radical factions of women’s liberation; from
intellectuals like Kate Millett to the street theatrics of WITCH (Women’s
International Conspiracy from Hell!).

A
Small Section of the World (doc) – Directed by Lesley Chilcott

A Small Section of the World is an
inspirational story about a group of women from a remote farming region of
Costa Rica whose ideas sparked a revolution in the coffee-growing world. After
the men of the village left in search of work, the women came together to
imagine a different future for themselves, their families, and their community.
The film follows the impact of this remarkable story of perseverance as it
touches lives around the globe.

Two-Bit
Waltz – Written and Directed by Clara Mamet

In
the wonderfully dysfunctional tradition of The
Royal Tenenbaums
, teenage years are always messy… but for Maude (Clara Mamet), things
couldn’t seem more tragic. Within one week just prior to her 18th birthday, she
is suspended from school, stranded by her best friend, dumped by the boy she
“loves,” and Granny just died, leaving her an enormous amount of money
under one condition: Maude must go to college, which she does not want to do. 

Murder
of a Cat – Directed by Gillian Greene

Clinton
Moisey (Fran Kranz) is an iconoclastic, artisanal action figure-designer who still lives in
his mom’s basement and is, by the standards of the world, a full-blown loser.
But Clinton doesn’t have time to care about what others think of him; he’s too
busy running a yard sale where he promotes his hardboiled detective toy line
with his pet cat and best friend, Mouser. When Clinton wakes up one
morning to find Mouser impaled by a crossbow arrow, he is devastated. Realizing
that the local sheriff is only interested in flirting with his mom, Clinton
sets off on his own to find out who killed Mouser and why. As Clinton delves
deeper into the case, he encounters a free-spirited weed dealer and part-time
hair stylist to the elderly, a squeaky-clean Korean store clerk with a dark
side, and a local celebrity on the verge of a nervous breakdown, ultimately
uncovering a town-wide conspiracy far greater than he ever imagined. The
comedic film is a modern-day film noir set in the mundane world of the suburbs.

The
Barefoot Artist (doc)

This
documentary chronicles the long and colorful life of Lily Yeh, a
Philadelphia-based artist who has committed herself to creating community-based
art projects in some of the world’s most troubled areas. The film explores two
sides of Lily’s life that are connected parts of the same journey: her
international ventures helping to heal the weakened spirits in communities
around the world, and a personal journey within to repair her own fractured
family.

The
Foxy Merkins – Directed by Madeleine Olnek; 
Written by Lisa Haas, Jackie Monahan, and Madeleine Olnek

The Foxy Merkins follows Margaret (Lisa Haas),
a down-on-her-luck, asthmatic lesbian hooker-in-training, who meets Jo (Jackie Monahan), a
beautiful grifter from a wealthy family who is an expert on picking up women,
even as she considers herself a card-carrying heterosexual. The duo hit the
streets, where they encounter bargain-hunting housewives and double-dealing
conservative women, all the while trying to reconcile their differing feelings
towards each other.

Life
Partners – Directed by Susanna Fogel; Written by Susanna Fogel and Joni
Lefkowitz

At
29, the most long-term relationship Sasha (Leighton Meester) and Paige (Gillian
Jacobs) have ever been in is with each other, using their co-dependent
friendship as an excuse not to venture out into the dating world alone. But
when Paige meets nerdy Tim (Adam Brody) and starts to get serious for the first
time, the nature of their friendship begins to shift. Fearing she’s being cast
aside, Sasha tries to keep their relationship the same, but does growing up
also mean growing apart?

December
12
 

Difret

This
drama follows the traumatic experience of 14-year-old Hirut (Tizita Hagere), a bright Ethiopian
girl who became all-too-familiar with the extreme practice of being abducted
into marriage. When Hirut kills her attacker while trying to escape and is charged
with murder, a tenacious lawyer travels from the city to represent her. 

Free
the Nipple – Written and Directed by Lina Esco

A
group of fearless women fight for their right to go topless in public, as they
smash societal taboos one bare breast at a time. Based on a true story, this
spirited satire follows New York City activists Liv and With (Lola Kirke and Lina Esco), who take their
crusade for gender equality from the streets of the urban jungle to the courts.
More than just a movie, Free the Nipple
has launched an empowering real-life movement, inspiring women across the globe
to take back their bodies.

December
19
 

Annie
– Co-Written by Aline Brosh McKenna and Emma Thompson

Quvenzhané
Wallis (Beasts of the Southern Wild)
stars as Annie, a young, happy foster kid who’s also tough enough to make her
way on the streets of New York in 2014. Originally left by her parents as a
baby with the promise that they’d be back for her someday, it’s been a hard-knock life ever since with her mean foster mom Miss Hannigan (Cameron Diaz).
But everything’s about to change when the hard-nosed tycoon and New York
mayoral candidate Will Stacks (Jamie Foxx) — advised by his brilliant VP, Grace
(Rose Byrne), and his shrewd and scheming campaign advisor, Guy (Bobby
Cannavale) — makes a thinly veiled campaign move and takes Annie in. Stacks
believes he’s her guardian angel, but Annie’s self-assured nature and bright,
sun-will-come-out-tomorrow outlook on life just might mean it’s the other way
around.

December
24

Two
Days, One Night

Sandra
(Marion Cotillard) has just been released from the hospital to find that she no
longer has a job. According to management, the only way Sandra can hope to
regain her position at the factory is to convince her co-workers to sacrifice
their much-needed yearly bonuses. Now, over the course of one weekend, Sandra
must confront each co-worker individually in order to win a majority of their
votes before time runs out. With Two
Days, One Night
, the Dardenne brothers have turned a relevant social
inquiry into a powerful statement on community solidarity, once again
delivering a film that is simple on the surface but alive with both compassion
and wisdom.

December
25
 

Big
Eyes

Directed
and produced by Tim Burton, Big Eyes
is based on the true story of Walter Keane (Christoph Waltz), who was one of
the most successful painters of the 1950s and early 1960s. The artist earned
staggering notoriety by revolutionizing the commercialization and accessibility
of popular art with his enigmatic paintings of waifs with big eyes. The truth
would eventually be discovered, though: Keane’s art was actually not created by
him at all, but by his wife, Margaret (Amy Adams). The Keanes, it seemed, had
been living a lie that had grown to gigantic proportions. Big Eyes centers on Margaret’s awakening as an artist, the
phenomenal success of her paintings, and her tumultuous relationship with her
husband, who was catapulted to international fame while taking credit for her
work.

Unbroken
– Directed by Angelina Jolie

Academy
Award-winner Angelina Jolie directs and produces Unbroken, an epic drama that follows the incredible life of
Olympian and war hero Louis “Louie” Zamperini (Jack O’Connell) who,
along with two other crewmen, survived in a raft for 47 days after a near-fatal
plane crash in WWII — only to be caught by the Japanese Navy and sent to a
prisoner-of-war camp. 

Selma – Directed by Ava DuVernay

Selma is the story of a
movement. The film chronicles the tumultuous three-month period in 1965, when
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., led a dangerous campaign to secure equal voting
rights in the face of violent opposition. The epic march from Selma to
Montgomery culminated in President Johnson (Tom Wilkinson) signing the Voting
Rights Act of 1965, one of the most significant victories for the civil-rights
movement. Director Ava DuVernay’s Selma
tells the real story of how the revered leader and visionary Dr. Martin Luther
King Jr. (David Oyelowo) and his brothers and sisters in the movement prompted
change that forever altered history.

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