Alicia Vikander Chris Hemsworth

Some Movies to See This Weekend, December 11, 2015

Friday, December 11, 2015 Rob Samuelson

This weekend marks the release of three movies that couldn't be more different, despite their possible inclusion in the Oscar conversation. Based on the awards horse race chatter I have half paid attention to, only one stands a real chance at garnering awards for reasons you will see below. Let's see what's in store for us.

In the Heart of the Sea
Director: Ron Howard
Writers: Charles Leavitt, Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Benjamin Walker, Cillian Murphy, Brendan Gleeson, Ben Whishaw

I worked at a movie theater until a few months ago. A trailer for this dropped early in the year, and then the incredible poster got displayed with great prominence in the hallway, right next to our biggest auditorium. I was jazzed, mostly for the harrowing seafaring adventure it promised to feature, but also for the fact that I would have been able to watch it for free. Then the studio changed its release date from March to December. Now I have to pay for it, which I will gladly do, of course. But still, that ain't cool, Warner Bros.

The movie I will fork over my cash for features one of the top leading men of the decade in a movie based on the real life story that also inspired Moby Dick.In short, it's Chris Hemsworth (Thor) versus a giant, malevolent whale. If that doesn't get your pulse going, you best rethink your priorities, folks.

The Big Short
Director: Adam McKay
Writers: Adam McKay, Charles Randolph
Starring: Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Brad Pitt

The economic collapse of 2007-2008 was rough. No good. Didn't like it, no sir. It's the type of thing people are still struggling to recover from, and thus it is something of an open sore on the populace. The fun(?) thing about satire is that it pokes right at that festering wound. Hence, the newest, probably most serious directorial venture from Adam McKay (Anchorman) looks to lean on the black comedy of the era that directly led to the collapse. The Big Short is about the group of financial world veterans who got wise to the big banks and began betting on the housing market's inevitable collapse, to much dismissal. Until, of course, they were right.

There are a lot of heavy hitters in the cast, but the most interesting to this writer is the re-teaming of McKay and Steve Carell, who both launched into the comedy stratosphere after the first Anchorman. Carell, however, entered the "serious actor" phase of his career with last year's Foxcatcher, where he became a grotesque, horribly insecure murderer to great effect. McKay, in turn, is moving away from the commercial absurdism that has defined his career to date here, changing his lighting and color schemes to become something more akin to a mid-1970s Sidney Lumet (Network in particular) film. How they respond to these changes while trying to rekindle the working relationship they shared in other movies with wildly different tones will be fascinating to see.

The Danish Girl
Director: Tom Hooper
Writer: David Ebershoff
Starring: Alicia Vikander, Eddie Redmayne, Tusse Silberg, Adrian Schiller, Amber Heard

Now for the real Oscar contender, and one about more pressing issues. The Danish Girl is about a pair of married artists in the 1920s, with Oscar winner Eddie Redmayne as the husband who poses for his wife's paintings as a woman. Redmayne's Einar Wegener comes to understand through these moments that he was born the wrong gender and begins the process of transitioning to a woman, Lili Elbe, one of the first recipients of sex reassignment surgery. Ex Machina and The Man from U.N.C.L.E.'s Alicia Vikander stars as Wegener's wife and champion, Gerda.

The movie has a chance to be an important step in transgender storytelling, and Vikander has quickly become one of the best actresses around with a knockout year. However, director Tom Hooper is not a subtle or graceful director, even if he is one who wins awards, including for Best Picture winner The King's Speech, a nice if mediocre movie, and Les Miserables, a bad movie that at least had that Anne Hathaway song going for it. Some have been upset with the casting of Redmayne in the role rather than a transgender performer, which seems to me like a vital part of casting for a story about a largely misunderstood (including by me, a dopey male of the heteronormative persuasion) and discriminated against (hopefully not also by me) minority. There is a lot of possible (likely?) clumsiness in this to make it a dicey proposition. But hey, it still has Vikander, and she's nifty.  

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