We race into the 2012 homestretch following a record-breaking Thanksgiving weekend, where blockbuster franchises like “Twilight” and James Bond weren’t the only ones to do gangbuster business. Oscar-heavyweights “Lincoln” and “Life of Pi” both exceeded expectations in wide release, while independent fare “Silver Linings Playbook” and “Hitchcock” saw decent numbers in far fewer theaters.
In this crowded holiday season, we’re blessed with awards hopefuls like “The Hobbit,” “Django Unchained” and “Les Miserables” all debuting wide in December. It’s a month where the studio tent-poles and family-friendly fare may prove to be more interesting than what’s playing down at Camelview or Valley Art. Add in the fact that films like “Zero Dark Thirty,” “Amour,” “Promised Land” and “The Impossible” don’t open in Phoenix until January, and we have a pretty sleepy month ahead independent-wise.
Alas, there are some bright spots when it comes to foreign flicks, most notably Swiss drama “Sister” and the Marion Cotillard vehicle, “Rust and Bone.” Film Bar in Downtown Phoenix will also be showing “Chicken with Plums” and “Holy Motors” this month – two delightfully strange films that are without a doubt some of my favorites this year. In terms of news releases, though, here are my top five choices for indie movies opening in December.
5. Hyde Park on Hudson (12/14)
Reviews may be mixed to negative, but with a cast led by Bill Murray and Laura Linney, this period drama is at least worth our attention. The story follows President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (Murray) who hosts the King and Queen of England at his upstate New York home in June 1939 – the first time a British monarch had ever visited the U.S. before. The film chronicles FDR’s relationship with his distant cousin and archivist Margaret Suckley (Linney), along with the tensions that arise as World War II approaches. Featuring the stammering King George VI (Samuel West), studio execs were likely hoping to repeat the awards sweep of 2010’s “The King’s Speech” with this frothy slice of history. While that is highly unlikely, it should at least serve as a lighter alternative for those who are not too fond of awards season’s usual batch of sadness porn. Watch the trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UQaScjiWDyY
4. Any Day Now (12/28)
Winner of the Audience Award at the Tribeca Film Festival, “Any Day Now” is the true story of two men (Alan Cumming and Garret Dillahunt) who fight the biased legal system in 1970’s Los Angeles to gain custody of an abandoned Down syndrome teen. Directed by “Girl, Interrupted” and “The Thin Red Line” star Travis Fine, the film has largely been sailing under the radar, but has slowly become a buzz-worthy festival favorite. Cumming, in particular, has received multiple accolades for his touching depiction of a relentless drag queen who dreams of being a singer and struggles with his closeted boyfriend – a feat that has been called a career-best by Boyd van Hoeij of “Variety.” Watch the trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ghwGOuuNy0
3. Waiting for Lightning (12/7)
This rousing documentary follows pro skater Danny Way from the time he grows up in a broken home to the death-defying risk he takes jumping the Great Wall of China on a skateboard in 2005. You don’t have to be a sports aficionado or skateboarding enthusiast to be inspired by Way’s fearless spirit or floored by the jaw-dropping finesse with which he approaches every dare-devilish feat. The film was met with overwhelmingly positive reviews at the SXSW film festival in Austin, Texas, this past year, and spotlights the editing talents of Phoenix native Carol Martori. “Waiting for Lightning” features interviews from Way himself, along with family and friends who have been with him since he started skating at age 4. Fresh, powerful and heartwarming, try not to be stirred by the story of this truly visionary athlete. Watch the trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U6ydeYZuBu8
2. Sister (12/7)
One of the best-reviewed films of the year, “Sister” is a French-language drama from director Ursula Meier that has been described as “haunting,” “enigmatic” and “emotionally engaging” by top critics. Set against the backdrop of a luxurious Swiss ski resort, the story follows a 12-year-old boy who steals and sells ski equipment in order to support his jobless, hedonistic older sister. The film features heartbreaking performances from budding French actress Léa Seydoux (“Farewell, My Queen,” “Inglourious Basterds”) along with newcomer Kacey Mottet Klein. “Sister” is an agonizing coming-of-age fable, and has received countless top honors, including the coveted Silver Berlin Bear award at the Berlin International Film Festival, along with being named Switzerland’s entry for Best Foreign Film at the 2013 Academy Awards. Watch the trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aNpdwBlWmIY
1. Rust and Bone (12/21)
Starring Academy Award-winner Marion Cotillard (“La Vie En Rose”), “Rust and Bone” is the inspiring story of a killer whale trainer who suffers a tragic accident and is forced to have her legs amputated. She falls in love with a struggling single father and professional boxer (Matthias Schoenaerts), and together, the two cope with life’s many obstacles and discover the courage to go on. From the award-winning director of “A Prophet,” this powerful French drama gives audiences a new perspective on sex and disabilities, and has received generally favorable reviews thus far. The movie is anchored by a harrowing performance from Cotillard, who has proven once again to be one of Hollywood’s best working actresses and a major awards contender this winter. While its slow-moving narrative may not be for everyone, “Rust and Bone” will at least hold us over in the “foreign tearjerker” department until “Amour” arrives in January. Watch the trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jg7skcyYolU