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Five Films to See This Weekend: 'Hunger Games,' Dench Oscar Bid 'Philomena,' Drug War Doc 'Narco Cultura' & More

Thompson on Hollywood By TOH! | Thompson on Hollywood November 21, 2013 at 4:24PM

Something for everyone this weekend. While most audiences will surely flock to the new "Hunger Games" film, Oscar hopeful "Philomena" arrives in select cities after its sweep through the festival circuit, and the new Vince Vaughn vehicle "Delivery Man" gets a wide release. Doc lovers, head to "Narco Cultura" if not "Is the Man Who Is Tall Happy?"
'Catching Fire'
'Catching Fire'

Something for everyone this weekend. While most moviegoers will flock to the new "Hunger Games" film, which looks to break box office records around the world, Oscar hopeful "Philomena" arrives in select cities after its festival sweep, and new Vince Vaughn vehicle "Delivery Man" gets a wide release. Doc lovers, head to "Narco Cultura" if not "Is the Man Who Is Tall Happy?" Trailers after the jump.

"The Hunger Games: Catching Fire" is as terrific as everybody says it is. It took at least three great writers to massage Suzanne Collins' second novel in her bestselling "Hunger Games" trilogy into a taut, thrilling movie balanced between reluctant symbol Katniss Everdeen's pure mission to protect her family by surviving and her conflicted feelings for her two loving swains, Gale (Liam Hemsworth) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson). Jennifer Lawrence carries this movie on her shoulders with nary a wrong move--athletic but feminine, strong but vulnerable, loving but resolute.

Judi Dench and Steve Coogan in "Philomena"
Judi Dench and Steve Coogan in "Philomena"

It's no surprise that the Weinstein Co. is releasing "Philomena," which is one of those movies aimed squarely at the Academy middle. This relatable true story of a woman forced to join other unwed mothers at a Catholic convent in a state of servitude should be heart-wrenching and often is, thanks to a naturalistic unshowy performance by Judi Dench that deserves awards kudos. 

Waning comic actor Vince Vaughn returns to theaters this weekend in sperm donor comedy "Delivery Man," costarring network sitcommers Cobie Smulders ("How I Met Your Mother") and Chris Pratt ("Parks and Recreation"). DreamWorks is upbeat about the film's chances for a Golden Globe comedy nomination. 

"Narco Cultura"
"Narco Cultura"

In US-Mexican drug war doc "Narco Cultura," director Shaul Schwarz not only follows the near-hopeless battle against the meth-coke-and-pot cartels, but the musical culture that they’ve spawned, a genre built around the glorification of murder, decapitation and crime.

Meanwhile, brilliant French director Michel Gondry returns with the experimental animated Noam Chomsky doc "Is the Man Who Is Tall Happy?" But his idea of animating a documentary to reveal its inherent fakery is counterproductive. Even for staunch Chomskyites, the film is a distracting challenge to anyone's concentration.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire Dir. Francis Lawrence, USA | Lionsgate | 94% Fresh | Slant: "Francis Lawrence imbues the source material with visceral pleasure in well-wrought scenes vacillating between elaborate spectacle, breathtaking terror, and--occasionally--surprising beauty." | Our review and premiere coverage

Philomena Dir. Stephen Frears, UK | The Weinstein Company | 93% Fresh | AV Club: "A sober consideration of how ideals relate to institutions-whether they're religions or political parties-anchored by two well-rounded, funny lead performances." | Our review and roundup

Delivery Man Dir. Ken Scott, USA | DreamWorks | 32% Fresh | Variety: It would be no stretch at all to interpret "Delivery Man" as a pro-life movie... But Scott’s warm-hearted humanism extends further than family, as if to remind that we are all brothers and sisters, with more in common than could possibly separate us."

Narco Cultura Dir. Shaul Schwarz, USA, Mexico | Cinedigm | 100% Fresh | Time Out New York: "Ping-ponging between grisly South of the Border carnage and Angeleno musician Edgar Quintero's growing success as one of the subgenre's stars, you start to see how this parasitic relationship works." | Our review

Is the Man Who Is Tall Happy? Dir. Michel Gondry, USA | IFC Films | 100% Fresh | Indiewire: "Gondry's eccentric look at Chomsky's intellectual proclivities leads to a thoughtful examination of both director and star." | Our review and roundup

This article is related to: Reviews, Weekend Preview, Hunger Games: Catching Fire , The Hunger Games, Philomena, Vince Vaughn, Delivery Man, Michel Gondry, Jennifer Lawrence, Narco Cultura

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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.