By Darren Franich
January 20, 2012 at 10:00 PM EST
  • Movie

This weekend, Kate Beckinsale returns to Underworld, the franchise that made her a household name in households that watch bad movies. Wearing a head-to-toe leather outfit which she presumably has to be sewn into between takes, Beckinsale will presumably shoots lots of guns in slow motion and will do a reasonable imitation of karate kicks before letting the stunt double handle the tough stuff. Allow me to propose an equally badass bit of counter-programming: A film which stars a woman who could legitimately punch your nose through your skull. The most important movie to see this weekend is:

1. Haywire

Steven Soderbergh supposedly got the idea for his new badass-chick-on-the-run thriller when he was channel-surfing and happened to see Gina Carano tearing up the ring in a Mixed Martial Arts fight. He and screenwriter Lem Dobbs then built Haywire around the simple notion of showing off Carano’s fight skills. The result is a film which — to judge by this exclusive clip, anyway — is entirely about Gina Carano kicking the collective butt of every attractive actor in Hollywood. Michael Fassbender, Channing Tatum, Ewan McGregor — no one is safe from Carano’s fists of fury!

2. The Artist

Earlier this week, news broke that a gaggle of British filmgoers asked for their money back after seeing The Artist because they didn’t realize it was a silent movie. News flash: The Artist is an ode to the silent era, which means the characters don’t talk. Extra news flash: Silent movies are awesome. (Watch The General if you don’t believe me.) This weekend, The Artist expands its theater count. Go see what all the fuss is about.

3. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy seemed to have Oscar written all over it. It stars a bunch of British actors, and… well, what else do you want, Oscar? Alas, Tinker has mostly disappeared from the nomination race. Which is probably a good thing. In a year when the Best Picture frontrunners are mostly play-it-safe trifles, Tinker is a lavishly overcomplicated spy thriller, with an incisive lead role by Gary Oldman that anchors a film filled with great performances. Put it on the shelf next to Drive and Melancholia of films that were perhaps simply too awesome to win any awards.

4. Coriolanus

The ’90s saw a bumper crop of stylized Shakespeare films: Ian McKellan’s Hitler-esque Richard III, Baz Luhrmann’s teenybopping Romeo + Juliet, Kenneth Branagh’s four-hour Tsarist Hamlet. Since then, the Bard has mostly disappeared from theaters. But if you’re lucky enough to be playing close to a theater playing Ralph Fiennes’ Coriolanus, check it out. No, we haven’t heard of the play either, but with a dynamite cast and a Hurt Locker aesthetic, Coriolanus is the gore-splattered film that will make your football-obsessive husband and your theatre-geek son equally happy.

5. The Iron Lady

Yes, it’s another movie that’s really not good except for an awesome star turn by a great actress. (See also: My Week With Marilyn, Albert Nobbs.) Yes, that great actress is worth the price of admission.

6. Young Adult

For a change of pace, why not go see an actually good movie with an awesome star turn by a great actress? Charlize Theron is depressive dynamite in an unrepentantly bleak movie about a horrible person who only seems more horrible the longer you spend time with her. Most films demand that you sympathize with the main character. Young Adult goes deeper: It asks that you empathize with Theron’s selfish protagonist, even as you understand that she’s essentially unredeemable.

7./8. The Adventures of Tintin/War Horse

Steven Spielberg!

9. The Descendants

Several years ago, my uncle and aunt retired to Hawaii. I used to assume that their lives were impossible leisurely, a restful journey from Mai Tai to beach to golf course, with occasional weekend getaways on beautiful islands with semi-unpronounceable names. Then I saw The Descendants, and realized that their lives are probably just as difficult as everyone else’s, except with perfect weather. Anyhow, following some major Golden Globes love, The Descendants looks prepared to win a boatload of awards at the Oscars, so you might as well see this if Coriolanus isn’t playing at a theater near you.

10. Red Tails

I’m a firm believer in the idea that even bad movies can be interesting, and few bad movies released this year will come with more baggage than Red Tails. The long-in-the-works passion project of George Lucas, Red Tails started filming three years ago, then went through a lengthy post-production which involved hiring a new writer — Boondocks creator Aaron McGruder — and extensive reshoots. Lucas essentially financed the entire project himself. In that sense, you could argue that Red Tails is a beautiful folly on par with Erich von Stroheim’s Greed or Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now. Except that those movies were about plumbing the depths of the human condition, and Red Tails strands a crew of great actors in a movie about planes that go boom.

Follow Darren on Twitter: @EWDarrenFranich

Read more:

Box office preview: ‘Underworld Awakening’ likely to win the weekend, but could ‘Red Tails’ fly higher? 

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