Genre: Cheerfully Amoral Sometimes Fact-Based Comedy Drama
Director: David O. Russell
Starring: Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams, Jennifer Lawrence, Jeremy RennerThe Story: Vaguely fact-based (Abscam) comedy drama about not-very-bright people trying to out-con each other. The Lowdown: Funny, cynical and even a little demented, David O. Russell's latest boasts incredible turns from its high-powered cast, a genuine sense of the late 1970s and a pop soundtrack to die for.
Genre: Fact-Based Comedy-Drama
Director: John Lee Hancock (The Blind Side)
Starring: Emma Thompson, Tom Hanks, Colin Farrell, Ruth Wilson, Paul Giamatti, Bradley Whitford, B.J. Novak, Jason SchwartzmanThe Story: Highly colored version of Disney getting the rights to make Mary Poppins. The Lowdown: Realistic? Hardly. Factual? Only in its barest outline. First class entertainment? Oh, my, yes. And Emma Thompson is superb.
Genre: Fantasy Adventure
Director: Peter Jackson
Starring: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, Ken Stott, Luke EvansThe Story: Hobbit Bilbo Baggins and his dwarf companions travel through Middle Earth to breach the lair of a deadly dragon. The Lowdown: Yet another overlong Tolkien adaptation, this one suffers from a sense of corner-cutting and a lack emotional center or any real dramatic arc.
Genre: Alleged Comedy
Director: Tyler Perry
Starring: Tyler Perry, Anna Maria Horsford, Tika Sumpter, Eric Lively, Larry the Cable Guy, Kathy NajimyThe Story: Madea goes to rural Alabama with her friend Eileen for Christmas. Supposedly funny things happen. The Lowdown: Thoroughly dispiriting and often just mean-spirited Madea film represents another step back for Tyler Perry. This will not keep it from making a healthy profit.
Genre: Drama Comedy
Director: Alexander Payne
Starring: Bruce Dern, Will Forte, June Squibb, Bob Odenkirk, Stacy Keach. Mary Louise Wilson, Rance HowardThe Story: A delusional old man insists on traveling to Lincoln, Neb., to claim his "winnings" in a contest he hasn't actually won. The Lowdown: A sometimes unpleasant look at small-town life that's nicely balanced by a warmly human — and sometimes very funny — take on family relations and how little we know of each other. Another awards-season keeper.
Director: Scott Cooper (Crazy Heart)
Starring: Christian Bale, Casey Affleck, Woody Harrelson, Zoe Saldana, Sam ShepardThe Story: After the murder of his brother, a steelworker sets out for revenge. The Lowdown: A generally humorless piece of awards-bait that — despite a pulpy foundation — is just too self-serious to be entertaining.
Genre: Animated Fantasy
Director: Chris Buck (Surf's Up), Jennifer Lee
Starring: (Voices) Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Jonathan Groff, Josh Gad, Santino Fontana, Alan TudykThe Story: A newly crowned queen — with the ability to freeze things — plunges her country into perpetual winter. The Lowdown: It's certainly dazzling to look at, but apart from the presence of two female leads and no real male hero, it's pretty standard Disney fare, decked out in a largely forgettable, but occasionally irritating, songs. Not a bad movie, but far from a great one.
Genre: Futuristic Action Thriller
Director: Francis Lawrence (Constantine)
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Donald Sutherland, Philip Seymour HoffmanThe Story: Sequel to The Hunger Games. The Lowdown: Mostly an improvement on the first film — until it gets to the action centerpiece of the game, whereupon it not only spins the same wheels, but relies too heavily on the assumption that you have seen the first movie.
Genre: Fact-Based Drama Comedy
Director: Stephen Frears (The Queen)
Starring: Judi Dench, Steve Coogan, Sophie Kennedy Clark, Mare Winningham, Barbara Jefford, Ruth McCabe, Peter HermannThe Story: Fact-based story of the search for a child given up for adoption 50 years after the fact. The Lowdown: Beautifully crafted, intelligently written and anchored by marvelously nuanced performances from Judi Dench and Steve Coogan, Philomena is a delightful, emotionally satisfying awards-season surprise.
Genre: WWII Drama
Director: Brian Percival
Starring: Geoffrey Rush, Emily Watson, Sophie Nélisse, Ben Schnetzer, Nico Liersch, Barbara AuerThe Story: Story of a young girl living with a foster family in Nazi Germany. The Lowdown: Old-fashioned, a little stolid and safe, but well made and generally effective drama with some terrific performances that make up for most of its shortcomings.
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