- This Week: Dec 15
- The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (Dec 17)
- Next Week: Dec 22
- Big Eyes (Dec 25)
- Into the Woods (Dec 25)
- Selma (Dec 25)
- Unbroken (Dec 25)
Next Week: Dec 22
Big EyesOpens Dec 25, 2014
Twenty years after his beloved biopic Ed Wood, director Tim Burton reteams with screenwriters Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski for another study of oddball art. Big Eyes takes its name from the famed 1960s paintings of dour children with serious dilation issues, which made kitsch darlings out of husband-and-wife team Walter and Margaret Keane (played by two-time Oscar winner Christoph Waltz and five-time nominee Amy Adams). ''They struck some chord in the suburban environment where I grew up in every dentist's office and store and house were these weird, sad, Big Brother things,'' says Burton. ''Some people loved them, and other people had a violently negative reaction. And I'm fascinated by the cosmic alignment that allows people to create something good and bad at the same time.''
The film, which Burton shot in 29 days for $10 million (1/20 the cost of his Alice in Wonderland), chronicles the couple's marriage and rancorous split amid revelations that Margaret was the true creator of what the world believed was Walter's work. ''She got lost in the lie,'' says Adams. ''Walter manipulated her for years by telling her that she'd go to jail, that it was fraud, that people would ask for their money back. But her strength eventually brought the truth out.'' Burton admits he was attracted to the Keanes' messed-up union, adding darkly, ''In life, is there anything other than a dysfunctional relationship?''
Into the WoodsOpens Dec 25, 2014
How do you turn a dark, innuendo-laden Broadway musical about cynical fairy-tale figures into a family-friendly Disney flick? Enlist director Rob Marshall (Chicago) and the show's creators, Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine, to adapt the 1987 work about the interwoven adventures of Cinderella, Rapunzel, and Little Red Riding Hood, among others, for the screen.
Despite rumors that the film might present a watered-down, Disneyfied version of the musical, Marshall promises, ''We've been incredibly faithful to the original.'' The movie will introduce flashbacks for certain characters, but the filmmakers won't be adding an Oscar-eligible original song. (Sondheim did pen a new number for Meryl Streep's iniquitous Witch that didn't make the film's final cut.) But when it comes to fan-favorite moments, Marshall says ''it's all there'' including the pervy come-ons of the big bad Wolf (Johnny Depp) and a steamy tryst between the Baker's Wife (Emily Blunt) and Cinderella's Prince (Chris Pine).
Both Blunt and Pine surprised Marshall with their singing chops, but the director expects audiences will really buzz about Streep's vocal performance. ''I don't think people will be remotely ready to hear her sing this material,'' he says. ''The power from her is off the charts.'' Enough power, hopefully, to make Mamma Mia! feel like a distant wish.
SelmaOpens Dec 25, 2014
A cross, constructed entirely of lightbulbs, shines behind David Oyelowo as he approaches the pulpit of Atlanta's 145-year-old Wheat Street Baptist Church. It's a steamy June night, and 500 extras including U.S. Rep. John Lewis, a key architect of the civil rights movement eagerly await the British-born actor's first attempt to preach as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. But just as director Ava DuVernay puts on her headphones and does a last sound check, a freak lightning storm threatens the safety of the crew and forces the production to shut down.
Delays are nothing new in the long saga of bringing MLK's life to the big screen. Despite the success of Hollywood movies focused on African-American figures Malcolm X, Ray Charles, and, most recently, Jackie Robinson and James Brown, it took the work of a relatively unknown female director, a British actor, and Oprah Winfrey to make an MLK biopic finally happen. Selma chronicles the Nobel Prize-winning civil rights leader during three intense months in 1965, from the ''Bloody Sunday'' assault on protesters to the historic march through Alabama that led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act. The film will have an Academy run in December before rolling out nationwide by MLK weekend in January, just in time for the 50th anniversary of the events it depicts.
''My vision was surrounding King with the band of brothers and sisters that got him to where he was,'' says DuVernay, who won the Best Director prize at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival for her second feature, Middle of Nowhere, starring Oyelowo. ''You see King's vulnerability, you see when he gets angry, you see the complexity. But part of the complexity is he didn't do it alone. This is a film that shows a black community that activated a nation to come together behind what was right.''
British screenwriter Paul Webb wrote the first draft of Selma back in 2007, centering on King's contentious relationship with President Lyndon B. Johnson. (DuVernay shifted the focus to a more intimate look at the hero, including his complicated relationship with his wife, Coretta, played by The Purge: Anarchy's Carmen Ejogo.) Directors as varied as Paul Haggis, Spike Lee, and Stephen Frears circled the project. Lee Daniels signed on to direct in 2010, casting Oyelowo in the lead after hiring the actor for The Paperboy.
For his part, Oyelowo says he was undaunted by the challenge of playing one of the most famous men in history. ''It's never felt like a movie,'' he says. ''It's always felt like an appointment. It felt like a calling.'' He also proved instrumental in putting Selma together when Daniels backed out to avoid tackling another civil rights story so soon after The Butler, in which Oyelowo played the firebrand son of Forest Whitaker's title character. The actor suggested his Middle of Nowhere director for the job, then recruited his Butler costar Oprah Winfrey to produce which helped secure a green light from Paramount. Winfrey also agreed to take a small role as Annie Lee Cooper, an activist who was beaten in her quest to vote. ''If [the right to vote] didn't happen, there wouldn't have been an Oprah Winfrey,'' says DuVernay. ''There was a poetry to seeing Oprah walk down that hallway of the registrar's office only to be rejected and told to sit her black butt down.''
Back at the Wheat Street Baptist Church, it's nearing midnight and the cameras are finally ready to roll. Oyelowo again takes the pulpit, dressed in a gray suit and a yellow tie. After gaining 30 pounds, shaving his hairline, and growing a mustache, the actor bears a spooky resemblance to King. His voice begins to crescendo until the crowd is on its feet, revved up by his demand for voting rights. ''We will not wait any longer! Give us the vote!'' he shouts. DuVernay calls ''Cut!'' She runs up clapping, headphones still on, a huge smile across her face. The cast, crew, and extras stand to applaud Oyelowo.
Later that night, Oyelowo, as King, recites a eulogy for slain activist Jimmie Lee Jackson (Keith Stanfield) a solemn event that Lewis witnessed firsthand. ''It started raining the day of the funeral just like tonight,'' Lewis says. ''And when David was getting up there, my mind kept going back to Dr. King standing in that little country church right outside of Selma.''
UnbrokenOpens Dec 25, 2014
Before U.S. Olympian-turned-WWII hero Louis Zamperini died on July 2 at age 97, director Angelina Jolie showed him the film she's made about him, adapted from Laura Hillenbrand's 2010 best-seller. ''I brought it on my laptop to the hospital,'' says Jolie. ''It was a deeply moving, very profound few hours of my life. Telling his story is a giant responsibility.'' It was certainly an extraordinary life: Zamperini competed in the 1936 Olympics in track, enlisted with the U.S. Air Force in WWII, survived a crash into the Pacific, spent 47 days marooned on a raft, and then endured over two years of torture in a Japanese POW camp.
Playing Zamperini was no easy task. Jack O'Connell, a veteran of British TV's teen drama Skins, had to lose nearly 30 pounds to appear emaciated in key scenes. ''You learn not to think of your own problems,'' he says. ''That's something you can attribute to Louie and Angie they both strive to be selfless every day.''
Luckily, not every day was so grueling: One night, O'Connell formed an impromptu band with producer Matthew Baer and costars Garrett Hedlund (who plays a fellow prisoner) and Miyavi (a real-life Japanese rocker who portrays a sadistic guard in the film). Their tunes included ''Angie'' by the Rolling Stones and, of course, the Kingsmen classic ''Louie Louie.''