Javier Bardem mans a sweatshop, Ryan Gosling breaks up with Michelle Williams, and Mike Leigh tries to cheer us up. Who gets your ticket money?
Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu
Cast: Javier Bardem
Apparently the movie industry believes we all have something better to do with our New Year's Eve than head out to the cinema, as the new offerings this weekend are scant and generally downbeat. Take Biutiful, the latest effort from the life of the party himself, 21 Grams and Babel director Alejandro González Iñárritu, which stars Javier Bardem as a terminally ill, poverty-stricken man who provides for his family by supplying a sweatshop with immigrant laborers. It sounds grim even by Iñárritu's standards, but may be worth seeing for Bardem's performance, which took Best Actor honors at this year's Cannes Film Festival. It's probably not a good date movie to ring in the new year with, however, and neither is…
Director: Derek Cianfrance
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Michelle Williams
Most of the pre-release hubbub about writer/director Derek Cianfrance's fractured romance has centered on the MPAA's decision to slap it with the dreaded NC-17 rating for its sexual content. Cooler heads have since prevailed, and the ratings board has now granted Blue Valentine an R rating — but if you're hoping to see some kind of Ryan Gosling/Michelle Williams sex romp, this is probably not the movie for you. The sex scene in question is reportedly a messy, drunken attempt at reviving a crumbling marriage, the sad, protracted dissolution of which is the real subject of this film. That's not to say Blue Valentine isn't worth seeing — on the contrary, it's one of the most acclaimed movies of the year — but again, you're not going to want to make this the centerpiece of any holiday revelry.
Director: Mike Leigh
Cast: Jim Broadbent, Lesley Manville, Imelda Staunton
Can Mike Leigh save us from the most depressing movie weekend in recorded history? Despite his fondness for upbeat titles like Life Is Sweet, High Hopes, and Happy-Go-Lucky, Leigh is not afraid to confront the bleaker side of life. But his films are almost always leavened with humor and minor daily triumphs; even the lacerating Naked never devolves into an unrelievedly grim slog. Another Year stars Jim Broadbent and Lesley Manville as a happy, long-married couple contending with their troubled friends and family over the course of a year. The plot, if you can even call it that, is beside the point; Leigh's films are all about terrific performances and recognizable human moments, and I expect to find both on ample display here. I'll see Blue Valentine eventually, but I plan to start 2011 with Another Year.
The One Movie You Should See This Week: Another Year