12 Years a Slave
Solomon (the brilliant Chiwetel Ejiofor) is a free black man, living in the North, who is abducted into slavery in 1841. Twelve years later, he's released. During those 12 years, he is a slave, and something of a stand-in for the modern viewer: He's intelligent, he's educated, and most crucially, he's attuned to the horror and injustice that surrounds him. Our attempts to comprehend life under slavery parallel his own: We share his terror when he wakes up in chains after a night of heavy drinking with two friendly-seeming white men. We understand his urge to fight back against those who have separated him from his family. We chafe to find him at the mercy of men who are his physical and intellectual inferior. And, through his eyes, the utterly schizophrenic nature of slavery is revealed. ALISON HALLETT Various Theaters.
Keanu goes to mystical Japan. Not screened for critics. Various Theaters.
A.K.A. Doc Pomus
A documentary about blues singer and songwriter Jerome Felder, better known as Doc Pomus. Clinton Street Theater.
With its big-talking swagger, period-piece glamour, and huge dirty-dealing cast, American Hustle feels like a response to Scorsese's classic crime films, only built to a less epic, more human scale. These are the characters you see running around in the background of Goodfellas or Casino, trying to scrape together a living while the fat cats live out their huge Greek tragedies. David O. Russell packs the film with popular music, but while Scorsese leans on the iconic rock of the Rolling Stones, Russell prefers the glitzy letdown of "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road." PAUL CONSTANT Various Theaters.
The Legend Continues
A clusterfuck of joyous stupidity. I ruin very little of it by telling you that the best parts involve a minotaur, a baby shark, and the ghost of Stonewall Jackson. ERIK HENRIKSEN Various Theaters.
The Armstrong Lie
A fascinating, unique portrait of Lance Armstong that's at once sympathetic and damning. While director Alex Gibney reveals how irredeemably corrupt professional cycling has become, and points out Armstrong is hardly the sport's only cheater, he also never loses sight of Armstrong as a driven, cruel, and fallible man. The Armstrong Lie captures the charisma of Armstrong and the excitement of the Tour de France, even as it reveals the hollowness within. ERIK HENRIKSEN Various Theaters.
Frederick Wiseman's four-hour-long documentary about the University of California, Berkeley. Dude's apparently got a lot to say about hippies. Whitsell Auditorium.
Blue Is the Warmest Color
An excellent movie. It's three hours long, and it feels half that; it's a fantastically realistic and well-drawn love story between two women that ranks among the best I've ever seen. (Sorry, Better Than Chocolate.) Blue is about a high schooler, Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulos), who falls for blue-haired college student Emma (Léa Seydoux) the first time she sees her. Adèle is needy and aimless, hungry for sexual attention, and the two enter into a beautifully adolescent relationship, all hungry sexuality and deep, pseudo-intellectual conversations. As the years pass and the women age, beautiful, vague Adèle slowly begins to come into focus, but it's not until she screws things up with Emma that she—and we—understand how much the relationship really means to her. ALISON HALLETT Various Theaters.
"Oh, this your wife, huh? A lovely lady. Hey baby, you must've been somethin' before electricity!" Dig a Pony.
Dallas Buyers Club
In addition to being an electrician and a part-time rodeo bull rider, Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey) was also a career partier—a thorough user of drugs and a prolific fucker of women. When he contracted AIDS in 1986, the disease was still, in the public's eye, very much limited to the realm of gay men. Woodroof overcame not only his deeply ingrained homophobia but, for many years, the disease itself: He smuggled in non-approved medications from Mexico, Japan, and elsewhere, selling them to HIV-positive patients while the FDA remained in Big Pharma's thrall. The movie sputters at the end, as it attempts to draw tears from the audience while remaining true to the facts. It doesn't do either of those things very well, but for the first hour and a half, McConaughey's exceptional performance is riveting enough. NED LANNAMANN Various Theaters.
As a director, Nicole Holofcener's body of work makes a good case for the argument that creativity thrives on limits. All of her films are built from the same building blocks: From her 1996 debut Walking and Talking through Lovely and Amazing, Friends with Money, and Please Give, each of Holofcener's movies are about white women. They're about self-deception and unhappiness and relationships and how to be a good person. Catherine Keener is always in them. But from this toolbox of feelings and Catherine Keeners, Holofcener consistently constructs perceptive, emotionally acute films that are clear-eyed about human frailty. And while it doesn't let any of the characters off the hook for their bullshit—it wouldn't be a Holofcener joint if it did—Enough Said is her warmest movie to date, thanks to the insanely likeable Julia Louis-Dreyfus and a great turn from James Gandolfini. ALISON HALLETT Various Theaters.
It's been, like, 20 years—give or take a few—since I last gave a shit about one of Disney's bread-and-butter animated musicals. Maybe it's because I grew up? But that's too pat. More likely, it's because most of Disney's musicals since the early 1990s have been utterly forgettable, if not terrible. I mention it because this is what landed in my brain midway through Frozen, the studio's latest song-and-dance number—and the first one, in a long time, that I can remember making me grin, laugh, and tear up, all while stunning my eyes with some of the most magical computer animation I've ever seen. Frozen is a bright adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen's The Snow Queen, and while it's true this is one more "princess" story—Anna (Idina Menzel), attainted with seemingly uncontrollable frost magic, is forced by bubbly younger sister Elsa (Kristen Bell) to thaw the fear choking her heart—it also nicely defies the obvious tropes. Princes and woodsmen are important, we find out. But they're hardly the only embodiment of fairy-tale love. DENIS C. THERIAULT Various Theaters.
It's Rocky versus Raging Bull in the Sylvester Stallone/Robert De Niro match-up Grudge Match, a seasonally appropriate boxing comedy that will leverage the power of nostalgia to lure disparate family members to the theater. But it's only 60 percent as greedy as it sounds: Alongside the tired and predictable (endless jokes about the old guys' ignorance of social media, not one but two references to women shooting ping pong balls out of their vaginas), there are some actual laugh-out-loud moments. Stallone and De Niro's performances are natural as former pros settling a 30-year rivalry under ridiculous premises, and they get a lift from supporters Alan Arkin and Kevin Hart (and a disappointingly squandered Kim Basinger). And the mushy stuff (long-lost illegitimate children, old relationship drama) is handled with a relative lack of gratuity, respectfully allowing you to focus on the kinda dumb/kinda fun matter at hand. MARJORIE SKINNER Various Theaters.
Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction
A doc about actor Harry Dean Stanton, featuring interviews with David Lynch, Wim Wenders, Sam Shepard, and Kris Kristofferson. This film also features Stanton singing "heartbreaking and tender folk songs." Okay! Whitsell Auditorium.
The Desolation of Smaug
I give The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug two thumbs up and five stars—and a week's worth of thirst-quenching miruvor and delicious lembas bread! (Ha!) You should totally go, and you won't at all be reminded of what a richer, fuller, more dramatically rewarding time you could have had if you'd just stayed at home and watched Game of Thrones. J.R.R. TOLKIEN Various Theaters.
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
Disappointingly competent, 2012's The Hunger Games... well, at least it got the basics right. It was a fine adaptation—totally, forgettably, blandly fine. So it's a pretty excellent surprise that its sequel is an order of magnitude better: Catching Fire will please whatever it is that Hunger Games fans call themselves (Hangries? Katnips? Peetaphiles?), but also stands as something fun and intense and thrilling. ERIK HENRIKSEN Various Theaters.
Inside Llewyn Davis
Llewyn Davis is the latest in the string of feckless antiheroes that populate the Coen brothers' best movies, and Oscar Isaac turns in an exceptional performance that not only fulfills the role's technical challenges—that's Isaac singing every note and plucking every guitar string you hear—but allows you to find some affection for this prickly, troubled character. Indeed, Inside Llewyn Davis excels at every challenge the Coen brothers put up to it, succeeding not just as a richly appointed period piece or a movie musical, but also as the sort of riddle-like cinematic puzzle the Coens concoct so well. And there's a cat! NED LANNAMANN Various Theaters.
Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom
See review this issue. Various Theaters.
What Alexander Payne explores, to great effect, is the bizarrely resilient nature of family, and how it doesn't necessarily follow the rules of logic. Those who complain that Payne cruelly makes fun of the characters in his films won't find their opinions swayed by Nebraska, but it's worth mentioning that wizened, absent-minded Woody Grant (Bruce Dern) is never on the receiving end of Payne's skewer. There are some scenes in Nebraska that are as funny as anything I've seen. And other scenes are remarkably touching in their simplicity. Like any family's story, the Grants' is complicated and messy, and Payne tells it with economy, elegance, and an absolutely necessary sense of humor. NED LANNAMANN Various Theaters.
New Year's Day Grindhouse Secret Movie Marathon
Shhh, let’s not speak, darling. No, no, no. SERIOUSLY. Let us put on our most comfortable sweat suits, grab our pillows, and head to the Hollywood’s annual hangover-helping Grindhouse Secret Movie Marathon. We will trust their curatorial expertise in all things 1970s exploitation with this secret triple feature, while feeding the demons inside our heads with pizza and libations. COURTNEY FERGUSON Hollywood Theatre.
Philomena is a quirky movie about an adorable old Irish lady—played by none other than Dame Judi Dench—and its release is timed to coincide with prime holiday family-movie viewing season. You're right to be skeptical. All signs point to schlock. But Philomena is excellent, thanks to the brilliant odd-couple pairing of Judi Dench and Steve Coogan—and to a script that balances heart, humor, and a fierce sense of moral outrage. ALISON HALLETT Various Theaters.
Emilio! Whitsell Auditorium.
Saving Mr. Banks
A film centered around Mary Poppins—particularly author P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson), who's loathe to sell her Mary Poppins books to the animated cryogenic head of Walt Disney (Tom Hanks). It's 1961, she's broke, and Disney has been needling her for 20 years for the rights—but Travers knows, deep within her prickly soul, that he's going to put his spin all over her characters. Finally she relents, on the condition that she gets creative control. Mary Poppins does indeed get the chirpy treatment at the hands of Disney, but Travers is also in the writing room giving scrupulous input: She's a major sourpuss about the whole endeavor, unbending about characters she considers family. Hanks' Disney is genial, but not above kicking back with a highball and chewing the fat about his shitty dad. They're both flawed and human characters—a portrayal that, in Disney's case, is rather surprising. COURTNEY FERGUSON Various Theaters.
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
See review this issue. Various Theaters.
The Selfish Giant
A "contemporary fable about 13-year-old Arbor and his best friend Swifty." It's from Britain, where apparently they name children things like "Arbor" and "Swifty." Living Room Theaters.
Walking With Dinosaurs
Maybe eat a brownie first. DENIS C. THERIAULT Various Theaters.
The Wolf of Wall Street
See review this issue. Various Theaters.