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Genre: Melodramatic Comedy
Director: Malcolm D. Lee (Roll Bounce)
Starring: Taye Diggs, Morris Chestnut, Nia Long, Terrence Howard, Harold PerrineauThe Story: A group of old friends reunite for a week together during the holidays. The Lowdown: A mostly pleasant film that’s just too long and too melodramatic to work.
Genre: Fact-Based Drama
Director: Jean-Marc Vallée (The Young Victoria)
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Jared Leto, Jennifer Garner, Denis O'Hare, Dallas Roberts, Steve Zahn, Griffin DunneThe Story: Fact-based story of a Texas homophobe who contracts AIDS and almost inadvertently becomes a major force in the gay community in battling the disease — if not in exactly orthodox methods. The Lowdown: Brilliant performances from Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto propel this finely-crafted film into the realm of the must-see. It's a strong work that refuses cheap sentimentality.
Genre: Comic Book Fantasy/Sci-Fi
Director: Alan Taylor
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Christopher Eccleston, Anthony HopkinsThe Story: Norse god of thunder and superhero Thor must stop some evil elves from destroying the universe. The Lowdown: An intensely straight-faced, flatly directed, run-of-the-mill fantasy yarn with no originality and little to add to the world of cinema besides providing an advertisement for another Avengers movie.
Genre: Romantic Comedy Fantasy
Director: Richard Curtis (Love Actually)
Starring: Domhnall Gleeson, Rachel McAdams, Bill Nighy, Lydia Wilson, Lindsay Duncan, Tom Hollander, Joshua McGuireThe Story: A romantic comedy fantasy more or less grounded in the idea that our main character can travel back in time. The Lowdown: Utterly charming, funny and touching, the film finds writer-director Richard Curtis at the peak of his game — and with just the cast to bring it to life. Unless you're a hopeless curmudgeon, this is a must-see. If you are a hopeless curmudgeon, this may help cure that.
Genre: Biographical Drama
Director: Steve McQueen (Shame)
Starring: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch, Brad Pitt, Paul Giamatti, Lupita Nyong'oThe Story: The story of Solomon Northup, a free black man kidnapped and sold into slavery. The Lowdown: Powerful, brilliantly — and beautifully — made. It boasts a gallery of fine performances and should finally propel Chiwetel Ejiofor to the stardom he's deserved for 10 years. It's a fine film, but maybe not quite a masterpiece.
Director: Jon Turteltaub (National Treasure)
Starring: Michael Douglas, Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman, Kevin Kline, Mary SteenburgenThe Story: A senior citizen and his three buddies reunite for a bachelor party in Las Vegas. The Lowdown: A pleasant enough comedy thanks to its cast, though it’s rarely amusing and far too one-note.
Director: J.C. Chandor (Margin Call)
Starring: Robert RedfordThe Story: A man fights for survival on a sinking boat in the middle of the ocean. The Lowdown: While it doesn't live up to the critical hype — at least not for me — this solo turn from Robert Redford is unusual fare and certainly worth a look. Bear in mind that it is one very taciturn man holding the screen for the entire length of the film.
Genre: Fact-based Thriller
Director: Paul Greengrass (Green Zone)
Starring: Tom Hanks, Barkhad Abdi, Barkhad Abdirahman, Michael Chernus, Catherine KeenerThe Story: The true story of a sea captain who’s taken captive by Somali pirates. The Lowdown: A shallow thriller that’s bogged down by attempts at grandeur and the distinct odor of Oscar bait.
Genre: Fact-Based Comedy-Drama
Director: Randall Miller (Marilyn Hotchkiss Ballroom Dancing & Charm School)
Starring: Chris Pine, Alan Rickman, Bill Pullman, Rachael Taylor, Freddy Rodríguez, Dennis FarinaThe Story: A Brit wine snob with a failing shop in Paris arranges a blind wine-tasting competition between French and California wines -- with an all-French panel of experts. The Lowdown: Based on fact and drowned in TV-movie level dramatic embellishments, this little indie offering has one thing going for it -- Alan Rickman -- and he may be enough.
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