my week at the movies: ‘Defiance,’ ‘The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,’ ‘The Reader,’ ‘Revolutionary Road,’ ‘Gran Torino’

No official “press” screenings for me this week — it’s all FYC screenings. That is, “for your consideration.” These are specialty screenings that the studios hold for members of critics’ organizations, AMPAS (the “Academy” that awards the Oscars), and other industry guilds who will be voting on their year-end acclaims in the early weeks of December. (Most of us critics, at least, will be done with seeing films — if not writing about them — by the middle of the month.) These are often much crazier than regular press screenings — they’re more packed, for one — and they’re being fit in wherever they can over the next few weeks, which means screenings on Fridays and weekends, even over the upcoming holiday weekend, which is not usually the way these things work.

In other words: no rest for us wicked this Thanksgiving weekend.

You know it’s Oscar time when there’s Nazis all over the place, and such is the case with Defiance (opens limited in the U.S. on December 31; opens in the U.K. on January 9, 2009), about Polish Belorussian freedom fighters in World War II who go up against those notorious baddies. (You can watch the Defiance trailer here.) With delicious stars Daniel Craig, Liev Schreiber, and Jamie Bell onboard, I’m sure to be at least somewhat diverted by this one.

Talk about being diverted by talent: Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, and Tilda Swinton are starring in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (opens wide in the U.S. on December 25; opens in the U.K. on January 23, 2009). Plus, it’s directed by David Fincher — you know, Fight Club, Zodiac… And it’s written by screenwriter Eric Roth, who has credits like Lucky You, The Good Shepherd, Munich, Ali, The Insider… Plus it’s based on a story by F. Scott Fitzgerald. And that poster is really cool. (The titular character lives backwards — he’s born an old man and dies young after a long life — and so the poster is backwards. Cool.) It’s gotta be awesome, right?

Director Stephen Daldry hasn’t released a film since 2002’s The Hours… and before that was 2000’s Billy Elliot. Now he has The Reader (opens limited in the U.S. on December 10, wide on January 9, 2009; opens in the U.K. on January 2, 2009), starring Kate Winslet and Ralph Fiennes in — yup — another Nazi story. Or is it? (Daldry’s next film — OMG! — will be The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay. There is a god…)

Winslet also stars in Revolutionary Road (opens limited in the U.S. on December 26; opens in the U.K. on January 30, 2009), directed by her husband, Sam Mendes, and notable for the first onscreen reunion of Winslet with Leonard DiCaprio since Titanic, a decade ago. This one’s about suburban angst in the 1950s. I’m guessing adultery is involved.

I have no idea what Gran Torino (opens limited in the U.S. on December 17, and wide on January 16, 2009; opens in the U.K. on February 20, 2009) is about. I only know that it’s Clint Eastwood’s second film as a director this year — the first was Changeling — which means he could, potentially, have two films up for Oscars come February 22, 2009…

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