In Theaters: Hollywood’s taking a breather before launching its Great Christmas Day Movie Blast, but there are still plenty of Oscar hopefuls to catch on the big screen.
At Home: Woody Allen, Jane Fonda and Helen Mirren are all vying to keep you company while you’re wrapping presents.
Grunting and lurching through the streets of Victorian England, Timothy Spall brings uncanny life to the role of J.M.W. Turner, the eccentric painter whose dreamy, misty landscapes pointed the way toward 20th Century Impressionism. Though the movie celebrates the artist’s genius, Spall’s self-obsessed, sexually exploitive, defiantly rude Turner is so easy to dislike we wonder what the two women who loved him (Dorothy Atkinson and Marion Bailey) were thinking. Directed by seven-time Oscar nominee Mike Leigh ( Vera Drake, Another Year). (FULL REVIEW)
Still out there:
Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Did Michael Keaton quit the Batman series 22 years ago just so he could one day make this dreamlike film about an actor who walked away from a smash superhero franchise? If so, the wait was worth every minute. ( FULL REVIEW)
Dumb and Dumber To
It’s been an eventful 20 years for Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels, whose 1994 comedy Dumb and Dumber redefined the depths of stupidity (or heights, per your view) that movie-comedy fans would pay to see. Back in the roles of Harry and Lloyd, the pair try to make lightning strike twice. Judging by those haircuts, they succeed.
Exodus: Gods and Kings
As Moses and Ramses, Christian Bale and Joel Edgerton do a lot of railing, if only to be heard above the crashing soundtrack. The real star here is director Ridley Scott, whose vision of the Exodus is, if not more inspired than Cecil B. DeMille’s, at least splashier. FULL REVIEW
The true story of two Olympic-wrestler brothers (Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo) who settled into a tragic relationship with a wealthy benefactor (Steve Carell, barely recognizable behind that understated performance and prosthetic nose) should have been a perfect match for director Bennett Miller ( Moneyball, Capote). But his two-and-a-half-hour telling drags like a grappler stalling to fend off a final takedown.
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1
Full (if shameful) disclosure: We haven’t seen a single Hunger Games movie. Yes, we know the youthful cast is peppered with vets like Donald Sutherland and Julianne Moore, but that just reminds us of Buster Keaton and Elsa Lanchester popping up in a 1960s beach movie. At least Annette and Frankie weren’t asked to kill each other.
The Imitation Game
Benedict Cumberbatch is brilliant as Alan Turing, the man whose peculiar genius helped the Allies crack the Nazi Enigma Code during War II. The appealing supporting cast includes Allen Leech ( Downton Abbey), Matthew Goode ( The Good Wife) and, as a barrier-smashing female mathematician, Kiera Knightley. (FULL REVIEW)
David Thomas Anderson directs this adaptation of Thomas Pynchon's novel starring Joaquin Phoenix as Doc Sportello, a droopy-eyed, drug-mellowed L.A. private eye probing the disappearance of an ex-girlfriend. Along for the ride is a cast of endearing weirdos played by Josh Brolin, Reese Witherspoon, Owen Wilson, Benicio Del Toro and, as the worst dentist since Little Shop of Horrors , Martin Short.
As he transports his intrepid crew of space explorers (including Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway) to a distant black hole, writer-director Christopher Nolan ( Inception) nods to sci-fi classics from 2001 to Ziggy Stardust. The results are spectacular, but we’ve grown to expect more originality from this screen visionary.
Robert Downey Jr. is a hotshot big-city lawyer; Robert Duvall is a beloved small-town judge accused of murder. Will Junior find it in his heart to defend his estranged pop? And will Dad swallow his pride long enough to accept his son’s help? (FULL REVIEW)
Jake Gyllenhaal stars as a wild-eyed go-getter who discovers that a local TV producer ( Rene Russo) will pay him big bucks for video footage of accidents and crime scenes—even if it means moving bodies for better shots and following crooks after he witnesses their foul deeds. (FULL REVIEW)
Daily Show host Jon Stewart doesn’t go for laughs in his directorial debut: He’s dead serious in telling the true story of a reporter (Gael Garcia Bernal) imprisoned by the government of Iran for alleged spying — and locked away in one of that country’s most notorious prisons.
Bill Murray deserves an Oscar nomination for his grumpy Long Island loner who agrees to look after the young son of his new neighbor (Melissa McCarthy). Would you subject your kid to Murravian supervision? (Think field trips to the racetrack and a local bar.) (FULL REVIEW)
The Theory of Everything
In this superbly acted and lovingly directed biography, Eddie Redmayne plays astrophysicist Stephen Hawking from his carefree college days, through his heartrending descent into Lou Gehrig’s Disease, to his ultimate triumph in the realm of science. Felicity Jones costars as his first wife, Jane, who married him despite his rapidly advancing illness and raised their three children. (FULL REVIEW)
Chris Rock stars in (and wrote and directed) this comedy about a day in the life of a newly sober comedian who wants to become a serious movie star. Keep an eye out for a heaping helping of Rock’s BFFs, among them Adam Sandler, Kevin Hart, Whoopi Goldberg, Jerry Seinfeld, Cedric the Entertainer and Tracy Morgan.
J.K. Simmons — that bald, beaming guy we’ve loved for years in so many movies and commercials — finds the breakout role of a lifetime as the Mentor from Hell to a young drummer at a high-stakes music conservatory. (FULL REVIEW)
Reese Witherspoon gets down and dirty as Cheryl Strayed, the troubled young woman whose solo 1,100-mile trek along the Pacific Crest Trail became the subject of her bestselling memoir. Director Jean-Marc Vallée ( Dallas Buyers Club) follows Strayed’s journey from a dead-end life of drug use and back-alley sex to rebirth amid the majesty of the high sierra. In what could have been a thankless role, Laura Dern etches a tragic portrait as Strayed’s abused mother. FULL REVIEW
New on DVD, Blu-Ray and Video on Demand:
Once you recover from one of the most startling opening lines in movie memory, relish Brendan Gleeson (In Bruges) in one of the towering performances of the year. He plays an Irish village priest who takes the confession of a local man who calmly declares, "I'm going to kill you, Father." Gleeson is mesmerizing, and writer-director John Michael McDonagh (The Guard) is relentless in his study of a good man in an increasingly dark world.
Magic in the Moonlight
Woody Allen’s win streak comes to a calamitous halt with this period-piece trifle, set in 1920s South of France. Colin Firth is a world-famous debunker of supernatural claims, Emma Stone the high-society conjurer he intends to take down a peg or two. The plot is promising. The photography, by Iranian genius Darius Khondji, is nothing short of splendid. But the undernourished creature Woody & Co. pull out of this particular hat will please nobunny.
This Is Where I Leave You
Jane Fonda is radiant as the newly widowed mother who summons her four grown children (Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Adam Driver and Corey Stoll) to sit shiva at her house following the death of their father. (FULL REVIEW)
Fox Searchlight 20th Anniversary Collection
Few film-distribution companies have done as much to advance the cause of Grownup Movies as Fox Searchlight, the independent film arm of 20th Century Fox. (In the 14 years we’ve handed out our “Best Movie for Grownups” award, Fox Searchlight has walked away with four of them.) Now celebrating 20 years, Fox Searchlight is releasing this mind-boggling box of 20 exceptional films. It includes MFG winners 12 Years a Slave, Slumdog Millionaire, Little Miss Sunshine, The Last King of Scotland, The Descendants, Crazy Heart and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.
The Hundred-Foot Journey
Helen Mirren is a snooty French chef; veteran Indian star Om Puri ( East Is East) is the immigrant who opens an authentic Mumbai-style eatery, replete with secret spices and blaring santoor music, across from her chic, white-tablecloth dining establishment in the South of France. The dishes look delicious and the stars are endearing, but the predictable script could have used more seasoning.
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