A few treats to choose from this weekend as two Oscar hopefuls hit theaters. While Alexander Payne's "Nebraska" looks to be a best picture possibility, with Cannes-winner Bruce Dern all but locked-and-loaded for a best actor nom, Paolo Sorrentino's "The Great Beauty" is among the 76 foreign language Oscar candidates, and will close out AFI Fest tonight before a limited release kicks off tomorrow.
"Nebraska" is Payne's love letter to Middle America, and also a showcase for Dern who gives a stunning performance as an ailing, drunken father who, convinced he has won a sweepstakes, treks from Montana to Nebraska with his estranged son (Will Forte) to redeem the $1 million prize. Along the way they squabble with family members looking for a handout and bump into plenty of local color, with a delicious cast rounded out by award contender June Squibb, Stacy Keach and Bob Odenkirk of "Breaking Bad." Wrought in black-and-white, it's a hilarious and touching film, certainly one of Payne's best.
"Il Divo" (2008) and "This Must Be the Place" (2011) director Sorrentino's "Great Beauty" is a lavish vista of contemporary Roman decadence a la "La Dolce Vita" and other Italian canonical classics of time and the city. Sorrentino enjoyed great reviews at Cannes and throughout the festival circuit for this film, Italy's submission to the Oscars. Impeccably photographed, the film explores the existential crisis of an aging socialite (Toni Servillo) following his 65th birthday. It gets a limited release on Friday.
Meanwhile, in wide release is Malcolm D. Lee's Christmas comedy "The Best Man Holiday," sequel to 1999's "The Best Man" which broke out star Terrence Howard. "Holiday" enlists original cast members as well as some new faces in this reunion of old friends who reignite rivalries and romances.
Small festival gem "Sunlight Jr.," praised by Michael Moore on Twitter today, makes a small splash in limited theaters but hits VOD and streaming platforms this weekend. Starring Naomi Watts and Matt Dillon as a penny-scrounging Florida couple who unexpectedly become pregnant while working minimum wage, the film currently sits with lukewarm reviews, with critics wary of this sad story while praising the lead performances.
Lurid romantic thriller "Charlie Countryman" is riding on the charisma -- and recent internet virality -- of star Shia LaBeouf, always at the ready to appear nude and rouse a headline. But this everything-but-the-kitchen-sink genre film currently has critics in the cold, but promises strong sex and violence, and a prestigious international cast including Mads Mikkelsen, Evan Rachel Wood, Melissa Leo and John Hurt.
Nebraska Dir. Alexander Payne, USA | Paramount | Cast: Bruce Dern, Will Forte, June Squibb, Stacy Keach, Bob Odenkirk | 88% Fresh | The Dissolve: "Nebraska is one of Payne's best films, a near-perfect amalgam of the acrid humor, great local color, and stirring resonances that run through his work." | TOH Telluride coverage here.
The Great Beauty Dir. Paolo Sorrentino, Italy | Janus Films | Cast: Toni Servillo, Carlo Buccirosso, Sabrina Ferilli | 91% Fresh | The Telegraph: "A shimmering coup de cinema to make your heart burst, your mind swim and your soul roar."
The Best Man Holiday Dir. Malcolm D. Lee, USA | Universal | Cast: Monica Calhoun, Taye Diggs, Regina Hall, Terrence Howard | 73% Fresh | AP: "It's like a reunion. If you already know these characters, you're good. If you don't, you'll be standing against that wall, alone, with that wine in a paper cup."
Sunlight Jr. Dir. Laurie Collyer, USA | Samuel Goldwyn | Cast: Naomi Watts, Matt Dillon, Norman Reedus, Tess Harper | 65% Fresh | AV Club: "Only those viewers who assume that convenience-store clerks in their 40s enjoy lives of luxury and have limitless options will do much more than shrug in acknowledgement, feeling incredibly grateful not to be stuck in that rut."
Charlie Countryman Dir. Fredrik Bond, USA | Millennium Entertainment | Cast: Shia LaBeouf, Evan Rachel Wood, Mads Mikkelsen, Melissa Leo, Rupert Grint, John Hurt | 30% Fresh | LA Times: "Pulpy dross of surpassing dumbness, 'Charlie Countryman' takes the blender approach to mixing dark adventure, doofus comedy and pie-eyed romance, but forgets to put the lid on when pulsed."