After the record-breaking success of "Precious: Based on the Novel PUSH by Sapphire" over the weekend, I'm more hopeful for films starting out in limited release. This week's recommendations may not have the distinction of being championed by Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry, so if you find any of them worth seeing based on my recommendation, it may be more necessary for you to make the effort to get them to play near you.
What it is: A skewed romantic drama about a young Iraq War vet (Ben Foster) who is assigned to the Army's Casualty Notification service, where he's partnered with a captain played by Woody Harrelson. While delivering the bad news, he falls for one of the notified widows (Samantha Morton).
Reasons to see it: The film has won awards at the Berlin and Deauville film festivals and as of this writing has a perfect critical score at Rotten Tomatoes. Woody Harrelson (who implores viewers to "download my blog" in this week's "2012") is garnering some Oscar buzz for his performance, and Ben Foster, who deserved a Supporting Actor nomination two years ago for "3:10 to Yuma," is also said to be great in his first lead role. And then there's the always amazing Morton, who is especially terrific at portraying grieving women (see "Morvern Callar" and "Control").
How you can see it: "The Messenger" opens in NYC and DC this Friday and will be rolling out to other theaters around the country over the next month. You can see all the cinemas that are currently booked through December 11 on the film's website, so if your area isn't represented, now is the time to contact your local theater and ask for a local screening.
What it is: Double-sided film about a young couple (Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Lynn Collins) who flip a coin to decide what to do one Fourth of July. Both fates -- one involves relationship drama while the other is a more action-oriented suspense thriller -- are depicted simultaneously in an alternate-reality, multi-option-plot a la "Sliding Doors" and "Run Lola Run."
Reasons to see it: With great successes this past summer in the indie romance "(500) Days of Summer" and the action blockbuster "G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra," this is definitely Gordon-Levitt's year, and hopefully you're craving more of the young actor. He actually appears in two new films opening this weekend, but he's supposedly not in much of "Women in Trouble," so your better bet is this intriguing, high-concept thriller. Also co-starring in the film is rising starlet Olivia Thirlby ("Juno"; "The Wackness").
How you can see it: "Uncertainty" is being distributed by IFC Films, which means it may only play in NYC, where it opens this Friday. But starting tomorrow the film will also be available on IFC's On Demand channel IFC In Theaters for those of you with access to the service.
"William Kunstler: Disturbing the Universe"
What it is: Documentary about legendary "radical lawyer" and activist William Kunstler, directed by his daughters, Emily and Sarah Kunstler.
Reasons to see it: As a combination of non-fiction subgenres, it's both a riveting biographical doc about an important civil rights figure and an emotional first-person doc in which the sister filmmakers attempt to understand who their father really was by way of historical footage, interviews with prominent individuals who knew him and their own personal memories. Although you may have seen Kunstler depicted in a number of films about the Chicago Seven trial and other court cases in which he was involved (he also can be seen acting in "The Doors" and "Malcolm X"), this is a must-see for anyone interested in American history as much as it's necessary viewing for the more judicially minded.
How you can see it: "William Kunstler: Disturbing the Universe" opens in NYC and Boston this Friday and then expands to other cities through January. According to the doc's website, there are more dates/locations to be announced, so keep checking for updates if you don't see your area included and contact your local cinema about booking the film.