The obvious 800-pound, 2000-pound or even 20-ton gorilla in the room is King Kong. It's all about the great ape this weekend, and rightly so. Gothamist caught a screening of Peter Jackson's epic on opening day and it is a sight to behold -- perfect popcorn fodder with some of the most amazing effects and action sequences you've ever seen. (Specifically, the royal rumble between Kong and three T-Rex's is potentially one of the great fight scenes in movie history.) It's not a perfect movie, and it certainly could stand to lose about 20 minutes, but really that's nitpicking. And when a CGI gorilla can emote using just his eyes better than half of the above-the-title-stars in Hollywood, well ... that's saying something. (You decide what.) Naomi Watts and Jack Black are both perfect in their respective roles (with Watts even, dare we say, deserving some Oscar notice for reinventing the character of the sexy scream queen ... with depth!). Like you need us to tell you to see King Kong anyway. Just brave the crowds and get it over with already.

And yet, if crowds, large gorilla roars, stunning fake landscapes and a giant insect scene that will give you the creeps for weeks isn't your cup of tea, New York still won't disappoint this weekend. The other major wide releases include The Family Stone and The Producers, both opening tomorrow. We've heard some good buz about Family Stone, although 20th Century Fox sure hasn't been pushing it. Meanwhile, big fans that we were of The Producers on Broadway, the trailers have been leaving us a bit cold. The movie looks just like the play -- minus the proscenium. Hopefully, that's not the case.

2005_12_mg15_3burials.jpgTwo Gothamist Picks: Actually, again this week we're going not so much with picks as with two new films that we're very excited to see. First, the directorial debut of Tommy Lee Jones: The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada about which we've heard nothing but great things. The film opened yesterday at the City Cinemas on 60th and 3rd and the Landmark Sunshine on E. Houston. It's only playing through next Thursday in order to qualify for the Oscars. Jones already won the Best Actor award while his writer Guillermo Arriaga took home the prize for Best Screenplay at the 2005 Cannes Film Festival. The picture has also been nominated for four Independent Spirit Awards including Best Picture. We will be doing our best to get to it this weekend.

Also, opening at Film Forum is one of those documentaries that makes us think, "Why didn't we think of that?" Have you ever googled/friendstered/MySpaced your own name only to find people around the country who look nothing like you but introduce themselves the exact same way? Filmmaker Grace Lee's documentary The Grace Lee Project does more than simply follow around the director as she goes to meet several other women who share her name. It also examines the stereotypes that come attached with a name generally associated with a meek, quiet, smiling Asian-American woman -- a stereotype director Lee finds pretty easy to disprove. The Grace Lee project opened yesterday and plays through Tues. 12/27. Lee will also be on hand at the 8 PM screening tomorrow and the 6 PM screening on Saturday to introduce the film and answer questions.

This week's midnight movies, other new releases and screenings of note after the jump:

Midnight Movie Smackdown: Where we once again examine the weekly battle royale between the IFC Center and the Landmark Sunshine. We weren't too happy with last week's selections, but both theaters have redeemed themselves this week. OK, that's a bit unfair because there really is nothing wrong with The Last Waltz at all. Still, we feel like Stop Making Sense is a much more fun midnight film, and that's what you'll get if you head to the IFC Center this weekend. David Byrne's big jacket on a big screen ... isn't that worth it all by itself? Meanwhile, across town on Houston Street, the Sunshine was obviously inspired by this week's release of King Kong and figured they'd show the last truly great homage to 1930s adventure films, so grow that five o'clock shadow, grab your fedoras and leather jackets and head down to the East Village for Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Other notable new releases:

  • Michael Almereyda's Happy Here and Now started playing the festival circuit three years ago, picked-up a lot of fans, but never managed to get theatrical distribution. It's a weird, difficult film, but one worth sinking your teeth into. Plus, it was shot in and exudes the essence of a pre-Katrina New Orleans. It's playing now at the IFC Center, and Almereyda will be in person at tomorrow's 7:40 PM screening.
  • Electric Shadows, filmmaker Xiao Jiang's own paean to Chinese cinema opening tomorrow at the ImaginAsian.
  • Trapped by the Mormons: Really, isn't the title enough to get you running? If not, how about the fact that it's being shown as part of an eight-film series at the Two Boots Pioneer called "Mormonsploitation!" Come on, you know you wanna go.

Screenings you should check-out:

  • The continuing Essential Hitchcock series at Film Forum. This week's features include The Lady Vanishes and The 39 Steps Friday and Saturday, Rebecca on Sunday and Monday, a double-bill of Murder! and The Ring on Monday night, Shadow of a Doubt on Tuesday, and North by Northwest next Wednesday and Thursday.
  • BAMcinematek wraps-up its Tony Leung series this weekend with four don't-miss selections: Days of Being Wild, In the Mood for Love and this year's 2046 play Saturday with Happy Together screening on Sunday.
  • If you've already forgotten that the movie came before the video game, come out to play with The Warriors at Astoria's Museum of Moving Image tomorrow night at 7:30 PM. Also at MMI on Saturday and Sunday at 6:30 PM is F.W. Murnau's silent gem Sunrise.