Here is a list of the movies you must see this weekend. And why. 1. The Artist–When we saw The Artist in Cannes, I knew one thing: it would be nominated for Best Picture and maybe even win. This is all coming true. Michel Hazanavicius’s film is silent and in black and white. It might not be til halfway through that you notice either. “The Artist” is so fun, refreshing, new, exciting, unusual, unique–there aren’t enough plaudits for it. Everything about it is perfection, right down to the typeface of the opening credits to the amazing set on which George (Jean DuJardin) runs into Peppy (Berenice Bejo) at the studio. You just look at that staircase, and how the meeting is staged, and know you’re watching the most unique work of art on film this year. You just give in. And no one can say a formula was followed. “The Artist” is a work unto itself.
2. War Horse–I loved Steven Spielberg’s rendition of this book, quite separate from the theatrical experience in London and New York. The movie is sentimental, yes, and also magnificent. It’s sweeping, beautiful, full of as many film references as “The Artist.” The New York Times seems to like this film, but made no reference to the actors. So I’ll tell you that Emily Watson is just great, and Jeremy Irvine is a find. There are lots of smaller roles, but Tom Hiddleston is outstanding here as the British lieutenant who takes Joey the horse from his farm. He’s also terrific as F. Scott Fitzgerald in “Midnight in Paris.” Let’s keep an eye on him. The “War Horse” cinematography is Oscar bound. The music is sensational. The war scenes are destined to be classics. This is a big, important film by Steven Spielberg. Let’s accept it as such.
3. Midnight in Paris–Among Woody Allen’s best work ever, a real homerun. It’s also just out on DVD. More about this in the next item.
4. Moneyball–Bennett Miller’s film from Michael Lewis’s book, with Brad Pitt, is my sentimental favorite. Pitt is the best he’s ever been. There’s a lot of talk of George Clooney winning Best Actor this year, but listen: he’s got a gold statue for “Syriana” as Supporting Actor. He can wait. Brad Pitt cannot. This is his moment. This may be the best adapted screenplay,too. The kind of movie you will watch over and over again.
5. The Descendants–Alexander Payne knows better than anyone how to adapt a novel into a screenplay. He takes underperforming novels and makes them brilliant on screen. This film is sharp and wise, a trenchant exploration of families, loss, and redemption. Clooney is good as ever. Shailene Woodley is a find as his daughter. Judy Greer gets what she deserves: a moment to shine. Matthew Lillard makes a welcome return. Robert Forster, the ultimate journeyman actor, brings the whole adventure in Hawaii some sense, as does Beau Bridges. I still don’t know why Michael Ontkean sits through his scenes mute. But he seems well, and happy.
6. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo–David Fincher has made brutal, graphic movies. So it’s kinda funny that he pulled away back here, making a tame version of the Swedish book and film. The main reason to see this is Rooney Mara, as Lisbeth Salander. While everything else works like a well oiled machine, Mara is the monkey wrench. She’s my “fifth spot” actress after Meryl Streep, Glenn Close, Michelle Williams, and Viola Davis. Plus Daniel Craig is top notch, Christopher Plummer can do no wrong, and there’s a nice cameo by “ER” star Goran Visjnic. Joely Richardson, who should be in lots more films, is an important part of this stylish mix.
7. The Iron Lady–Phyllida Law has made a great movie. You could have fooled me: I thought “Mamma Mia” was rubbish. But she’s fashioned a sensitive, layered character study–a love story–between Margaret and Dennis Thatcher. Meryl Steep and Jim Broadbent (who shouldn’t be overlooked) are the top of their respective games. They make this acting thing look too easy. No one liked Thatcher, but you might have a different understanding of her after seeing this film. (Opens December 30 in NewYork and LA, elsewhere mid-January)
8. Mission Impossible 4: Ghost Protocol: People look at me like I have lost my mind when I say I loved the new “Mission Impossible.” The thing just rocks, what can I tell you? Get a lot of candy, a big soda, and kick back.
9. Albert Nobbs–I have no idea where you can see this film–at an art house, on video on demand. Wherever it may be, “Albert Nobbs” features two Oscar performances–by Glenn Close and Janet McTeer. It’s not for TV. It’s a movie. And it’s incredibly engrossing. (limited release until mid-January)
10. Hugo–People either get it or don’t. The amazing 3D, lively performances by Sir Ben Kingsley and Sacha Baron Cohen, the whole concept of resurrecting the George Melies film clips–go see it and make up your mind. Scorsese knows what he’s doing.