WHAT'S NEW: Since 2005, Tyler Perry has been good for at least one No. 1 opening per year. He'll get 2009's first out of the way this weekend, reviving America's favorite grandma-with-a-dick in Madea Goes to Jail. Last we saw Perry's moody matriarch, she was being hauled off by cops at the end of Meet the Browns' slow-speed Atlanta freeway chase; this time around, she brings her saucy moral suasion to a women's prison as her family (mostly) rallies around her. We're all for ladies-in-chains genre revisionism, and we expect the moviegoing public is with us — probably to the tune of around $26.3 million.
Also opening: The Jay McCarroll documentary Eleven Minutes; the grim ex-con drama Chain Link; the porn farce Hookers Inc.; the acclaimed Belgian romantic comedy Moscow, Belgium; and the indie Hindi spiritual journey Delhi 6; and the microbudget critical darling Medicine For Melancholy.
THE BIG LOSER: Virtually no one dared challenge Perry and Lionsgate on historically toxic Oscar weekend, meaning that Sony's male-cheerleader comedy Fired Up is your lone wide-release counterprogramming option. We're sorry. That will still take a beating from the holdovers around it — Friday the 13th, He's Just Not That Into You and Taken in particular — netting $4.8 million en route to Flopz™.
THE UNDERDOG: Oscar nominees will all experience a last-minute surge between today and Sunday, but we'd prioritize Frozen River. Again. This was an Underdog of ours from waaayyy back in August, and we stand by it as Melissa Leo chases a Best Actress upset special. Sure, you can rent it, but out of respect for Sony Classics — which took a chance on this film out of Sundance and has navigated around awards-season shoals about as expertly as anyone in the running — buy in at the theater and hope for the best on Sunday night. You'll be happy you did, believe us.
FOR SHUT-INS: Among new DVD's, the other Leo settles into Netflix oblivion with Body of Lies; Angelina Jolie's own Best Actress turn arrives in Changeling; Bill Maher leads the Oscar-snubbed docu-comedy Religulous; Greg Kinnear and Dakota Fanning's best laid awards-season plans go awry in Flash of Genius and Hounddog; and the High School Musical 3: Senior Year gang roars shrieking into your living room.