Winter’s Tale (PG-13) Adapted from Mark Helprin’s novel, this romance stars Colin Farrell as an Irish burglar who determines to use his powers of reincarnation to save the woman he loves (Jessica Brown Findlay). Also with Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, William Hurt, Kevin Corrigan, Matt Bomer, Lucy Griffiths, Eva Marie Saint, and Will Smith. (Opens Friday)
About Last Night (R) This remake of the 1986 film (itself an adaptation of David Mamet’s play Sexual Perversity in Chicago) stars Michael Ealy, Joy Bryant, Kevin Hart, and Regina Hall as two couples sorting out sexual and romantic issues in the initial stages of their relationships. Also with Christopher McDonald, Adam Rodriguez, Joe Lo Truglio, Bryan Callen, and Paula Patton. (Opens Friday)
Date and Switch (R) This comedy stars Nicholas Braun as a high-school kid who becomes confused after his best friend (Hunter Cope) comes out to him. Also with Dakota Johnson, Zach Cregger, Sarah Hyland, Nick Offerman, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Megan Mullally, and Gary Cole. (Opens Friday at AMC Grapevine Mills)
Endless Love (PG-13) A remake of Franco Zeffirelli’s 1981 romance, this stars Alex Pettyfer as a boy with a shadowy past who falls for a sheltered rich girl (Gabriella Wilde). Also with Bruce Greenwood, Joely Richardson, Rhys Wakefield, Dayo Okeniyi, and Robert Patrick. (Opens Friday)
Gunday (NR) Ranveer Singh and Arjun Kapoor star in this caper film about two war refugees-turned-celebrated coal bandits in India in the 1970s. Also with Priyanka Chopra, Sushant Singh, and Irrfan Khan. (Opens Friday at Rave North East Mall)
American Hustle (R) David O. Russell’s chaotic, marvelously entertaining caper film lurches and veers out of control and features some of the best acting you’ll see all year. Christian Bale and Amy Adams portray 1970s con artists who are busted by a smarmy, fast-talking FBI agent (Bradley Cooper) and forced to help him catch other crooks. Cooper slips easily into his character’s growing megalomania, and Jennifer Lawrence is a comic whirlwind as Bale’s volatile, angry wife, but Adams comes off the best here, lighting up the movie with her sexuality. Russell captures the desperation of these people struggling to get ahead or get out of trouble, and underneath the luscious surfaces and ridiculously awesome costumes, he gives the movie an edge of fear and paranoia. Also with Jeremy Renner, Louis C.K., Jack Huston, Michael Peña, Shea Whigham, Alessandro Nivola, Elisabeth Röhm, Paul Herman, Saïd Taghmaoui, and an uncredited Robert De Niro.
The Attorney (NR) Kind of like a Korean Erin Brockovich. Song Kang-ho stars in this courtroom drama about a real life tax lawyer who stumbles onto evidence of corruption, police brutality, and torture by South Korea’s military dictatorship in the early 1980s. Yang Woo-seok’s movie has its fair share of bald-faced manipulations, like a good many Korean films, but the great Song carries this vehicle as a money-grubbing attorney who becomes a vocal crusader for justice. His authoritative performance is worth the price of admission here. Also with Kim Young-ae, Oh Dal-su, Kwak Do-won, Yim Si-wan, Lee Hang-na, Jo Min-ki, Sim Hee-seop, and Song Young-chang.
August: Osage County (R) A slapdash but effective showpiece for its actors, this adaptation of Tracy Letts’ much-acclaimed stage play stars Meryl Streep as a dying Oklahoma matriarch who gathers her family together after her husband (Sam Shepard) disappears, though she’s more interested in verbally abusing everyone who comes within reach. Hailing from a TV background, director John Wells fulfills the stereotype of a visually unimaginative TV director, doing reasonably well with individual scenes but failing to string them together. The best performances come from the supporting players as they orient themselves around a Streep in full dragon-lady mode. Julia Roberts smartly underplays as the eldest daughter, while Chris Cooper, Margo Martindale, and Julianne Nicholson all distinguish themselves. Also with Ewan McGregor, Juliette Lewis, Misty Upham, Abigail Breslin, Dermot Mulroney, and Benedict Cumberbatch.
Frozen (PG) The best Disney musical in quite some time. Kristen Bell provides the voice of Anna, the orphaned younger daughter of the rulers of a fictitious Nordic kingdom who goes into the wilderness to persuade her older sister (voiced by Idina Menzel) to save their land from a curse of eternal winter. The songwriting team of Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez bring freshness and wit to the songs, and Bell not only finds the comedy in the socially awkward heroine but also unleashes her glorious soprano on “The First Time in Forever.” The animators put the Ice Age movies to shame by doing endlessly inventive things with the ice and snow in the setting, and the script manages to create a heroine who’s interested in more than just finding a handsome prince. Additional voices by Jonathan Groff, Josh Gad, Santino Fontana, Livvy Stubenrauch, Alan Tudyk, and Ciarán Hinds.
Gravity (PG-13) The greatest 3D movie ever made. Alfonso Cuarón’s unremittingly intense space thriller stars Sandra Bullock as a novice astronaut who is caught outside the shuttle in a high-velocity storm of space debris and stranded in the blackness of space. The film is essentially a series of long takes, and Cuarón’s shooting of them in a simulated zero-gravity environment is an astounding technical feat. Yet the long takes also give us no chance to catch our breath; they turn this brief 90-minute film into a singularly harrowing experience, with our heroine narrowly escaping death from completely unforeseen yet logical dangers. Bullock rides over the script’s infelicities and gives this film a human center, helping to turn this movie into an exhilarating and emotionally draining ride. Also with George Clooney.
Her (R) Spike Jonze’s greatest film yet stars Joaquin Phoenix as a near-future divorced guy who falls in love with his smartphone’s operating system (voiced by Scarlett Johansson), who’s equipped with an artificial intelligence personality that evolves from her experiences. What could have been a glib satire on our dependence on technology instead becomes a surpassingly beautiful and serious-minded (though still quite funny) disquisition on the transformative powers of love and how people change during the course of a relationship. It’s anchored by tremendous performances by Phoenix, bringing sweetness and humor that we haven’t seen from him, and Johansson, who makes the OS’s insecurities palpable despite not appearing on the screen. The movie’s DIY feel gives this vision of the near future great texture, and its loneliness make it haunting. Also with Amy Adams, Rooney Mara, Olivia Wilde, Chris Pratt, Portia Doubleday, and Matt Letscher. Additional voices by Spike Jonze, Brian Cox, Bill Hader, and Kristen Wiig.
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (PG-13) A distinct improvement on the first Hobbit movie though not enough to actually make it good. Martin Freeman returns as the plucky Bilbo as the hobbit and his band of dwarves make their way toward the final showdown. Peter Jackson engineers a couple of fantastic action set pieces, Richard Armitage continues to make an inspiring dwarf leader, and Evangeline Lilly is a nice addition as an elven warrior. Yet the plot goes off in several different directions in the last hour, and Jackson mishandles this pretty disastrously. This will be worth renting on DVD, where you can fast-forward to the good parts. Also with Ian McKellen, Orlando Bloom, Benedict Cumberbatch, Luke Evans, Lee Pace, Ken Stott, Aidan Turner, Mikael Persbrandt, Stephen Fry, and Cate Blanchett.
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (PG-13) Everything that was ragged about the first movie has been smoothed over in this sequel containing the future adventures of Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) as she has to fight to survive a special edition of the Hunger Games. Director Francis Lawrence (no relation to the lead actress) takes over the series and devotes time to the action before the Games and does a better job of integrating the special effects into the story, while the writers include more layers for the supporting characters and more material from Suzanne Collins’ novel. The movie is missing a spark of greatness from the filmmakers, but Jennifer Lawrence picks up the slack, playing the shell-shocked heroine like her life depended on it. If the series can gather strength the way she’s doing, it’ll be formidable indeed. Also with Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Lenny Kravitz, Stanley Tucci, Toby Jones, Donald Sutherland, Sam Claflin, Jena Malone, Jeffrey Wright, Lynn Cohen, Willow Shields, Paula Malcomson, and Philip Seymour Hoffman.
I, Frankenstein (PG-13) In this hyperventilating supernatural thriller, the wholesome, handsome Aaron Eckhart is grotesquely miscast as the monster who survives into the present day. The creature is thrust into a secret war between gargoyles defending the human race and demons trying to take over the world, which is all rendered through laughably crappy special effects. The only thing to latch onto is Yvonne Strahovski’s fetching British accent as a scientist who tips the balance. The film was adapted from a graphic novel by Kevin Grevioux, who has a small role here and also wrote the novels that inspired Underworld. This movie could have badly used Kate Beckinsale and her one-piece leather outfit. Also with Miranda Otto, Jai Courtney, Aden Young, Socratis Otto, and Bill Nighy.
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (PG-13) Chris Pine may not be a Jack Ryan for the long term, but he’s perfectly good for right now in this film telling the origins of the Tom Clancy-created superspy. Kenneth Branagh is OK portraying the Russian baddie, but he’s much more impressive as the director here, filming the action sequences with a mostly sure hand. Pine’s transparency isn’t a desirable quality in a spy, but he fits the green Ryan who finds himself thrust into the role of operative, and Keira Knightley (with a spiffy American accent) partners him well as Jack’s fiancée, who finds out what he does for a living. It all makes for a nice bit of popcorn entertainment. Also with Kevin Costner, Gemma Chan, Lenn Kudrjawizki, Nonso Anozie, Alec Utgoff, Peter Andersson, Colm Feore, and David Paymer.
Labor Day (PG-13) How does such a sharp and funny director as Jason Reitman turn out a movie as limp and sodden as this one? Gattlin Griffith stars in this coming-of-age saga as a 13-year-old boy who watches his jilted, depressed, borderline agoraphobic mom (Kate Winslet) come back to life one September weekend when they’re taken hostage by an escaped convict (Josh Brolin) who becomes a surrogate dad. The movie is supposed to hinge on the romance that blossoms between the two adults, but the actors just look massively uncomfortable, and not just because their characters are unsettled. The thing is slow, and there’s a baking scene that never should have seen the light of day. The word “misfire” isn’t adequate for this film. Also with Clark Gregg, Brooke Smith, James Van Der Beek, and Tobey Maguire.
The Legend of Hercules (PG-13) This bombastic, crappy-looking 300 wannabe should have gone direct to DVD. The Twilight series’ Kellan Lutz stars as the mythical Greek strongman, who’s exiled from Athens by his warlike royal father (Scott Adkins) and a jealous brother (Liam Garrigan). The acting by all parties, especially Lutz, is downright wretched, and so are the special effects. Is it possible that director Renny Harlin was once taken seriously? If you want to stare at Lutz’ abs, a still photograph will last longer and display more emotion. Also with Gaia Weiss, Roxanne McKee, Liam McIntyre, Luke Newberry, Kenneth Cranham, Johnathon Schaech, and Rade Serbedzija.
The Lego Movie (PG) The funniest movie so far this year is this animated spectacular about a Lego construction worker (voiced by Chris Pratt) who becomes the only figure capable of stopping a tyrant (voiced by Will Ferrell) from supergluing the universe into place. The movie isn’t short of action sequences, but filmmakers Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (21 Jump Street) prefer to generate their frenetic pace with the sheer number of exquisitely timed gags that they throw at us. With its subversive wit taking shots at consumer culture, this movie is almost avant-garde. The climactic live-action sequence goes on too long, but the enviable voice cast more than makes up for it. Listen for Tegan & Sara’s earworm of a techno jam “Everything Is Awesome.” Additional voices by Elizabeth Banks, Morgan Freeman, Liam Neeson, Will Arnett, Alison Brie, Charlie Day, Nick Offerman, Jake Johnson, Will Forte, Dave Franco, Billy Dee Williams, Cobie Smulders, Shaquille O’Neal, Channing Tatum, and Jonah Hill.
Lone Survivor (R) This movie tries to celebrate the heroism of Navy SEALs but winds up as a glorified recruitment commercial instead. This film is based on the real-life story of Marcus Luttrell (played by Mark Wahlberg), who was on a reconaissance mission in Afghanistan in 2005 with a small team of other SEALs when it went bad. Writer-director Peter Berg (Friday Night Lights, but then again, Battleship) does well by the sweaty dread as the SEALs wait to engage the Taliban and by the bone-crunching impact when the soldiers hurl themselves down the mountainside to escape death. Yet Berg doesn’t apply much critical thinking to the material, and we get little sense of the soldiers as people. The patriotic sentiments in his movies have gotten so woolly that Berg has turned into a more respectable version of Michael Bay. Also with Ben Foster, Emile Hirsch, Taylor Kitsch, Ali Suliman, Rohan Chand, Yousuf Azmi, Alexander Ludwig, Jerry Ferrara, and Eric Bana.
The Monuments Men (PG-13) A well-intentioned exercise in overreach. George Clooney stars in his own war film as the leader of a real-life group of artists, historians, and curators who went into a combat zone to preserve masterpieces of Western art during World War II. At 118 minutes, the movie feels inexpertly hacked down from something longer — we’re not properly introduced to the characters before they’re split up and flung to corners of the western front. Clooney’s trying to make a larky war movie with undercurrents of seriousness and danger, but the comic moments aren’t funny despite the ample talent in the cast, and the reverent speeches about the importance of art come off as sanctimonious. It’s frustrating, because you can easily imagine the better film Clooney was trying to make. Also with Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin, Bob Balaban, Hugh Bonneville, Dimitri Leonidas, and Bill Murray.
The Nut Job (PG) For an animated movie released in January, I guess it isn’t too bad. Will Arnett provides the voice of a selfish New York-accented squirrel who plots to steal nuts from a nut store, planning to stuff himself while the other animals in his city park are in danger of starving to death. The way he gradually comes to an accommodation with the other animals should have been story enough, but the movie throws in a useless plotline about the people in the nut store who are planning to rob a bank. Not much memorable here, but the thing is short and fast-moving enough to keep the little kids entertained for a bit. Additional voices by Katherine Heigl, Brendan Fraser, Maya Rudolph, Stephen Lang, Jeff Dunham, James Rankin, Scott Yaphe, Sarah Gadon, and Liam Neeson.
Philomena (PG-13) Based on a real-life story, this dramedy stars Judi Dench with an unsteady Irish accent as a woman who teams up with a down-on-his-luck English journalist (Steve Coogan) to travel to America to find the son she was forced to give up for adoption decades ago. Coogan’s a well-known comedian in the U.K. who does well acting in a more serious piece. He also wrote the script, and while he and director Stephen Frears make an effort to balance the humor with the more serious parts, it doesn’t always come off. Still, the thing opens a window onto an ugly part of Irish history, and does it with skill and a minimum amount of weepiness. Also with Sophie Kennedy Clark, Mare Winningham, Barbara Jefford, Anna Maxwell Martin, and Michelle Fairley.
Ride Along (PG-13) Kevin Hart is the only sign of life in this listless comic thriller as an Atlanta police academy trainee who tries to impress his fiancée’s cop brother (Ice Cube) by spending a day on the job with him. The comic chemistry between the two leads is nonexistent, and the detective story that they get plunged into is uninteresting in the extreme. Hart always works hard to squeeze laughs out of his material no matter how bad it is, but here he’s fighting a losing battle. Also with Tika Sumpter, John Leguizamo, Bryan Callen, Bruce McGill, Dragos Bucur, Jay Pharoah, and Laurence Fishburne.
That Awkward Moment (R) That awful movie. Zac Efron, Michael B. Jordan, and Miles Teller star in this fatally sensitive and unfunny romantic comedy as three pals who find themselves at a crossroads with their relationships with women. The cast is stellar. I thought Efron would be outclassed by the other two actors, but he’s actually rather good. Their efforts, though, are all for naught. The filmmaker throws in a few sequences built around nudity and penises to convince us that this is a raunchy comedy. That doesn’t work either. Also with Imogen Poots, Mackenzie Davis, Jessica Lucas, Addison Timlin, and Josh Pais.
12 Years a Slave (R) Even more significant than Schindler’s List. Steve McQueen’s epic tells the story of Solomon Northup, a real-life free black New Yorker who was abducted in 1841 and forced to work as a slave on a Louisiana plantation. McQueen directs this with his typical austerity and rigor and pulls off an extraordinarily powerful long take in which Solomon (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is strung up from a tree branch and suspended on his tiptoes while the other slaves go about their work, afraid to offer help. Screenwriter John Ridley draws a vivid, panoramic view of all the twisted human specimens that the slave economy produces, and McQueen and his actors flesh them out beautifully, with a terrifying Michael Fassbender as a sadistic slavemaster and Ejiofor giving the performance of his career. This wrenching film is crucial to understanding America’s heritage. Also with Sarah Paulson, Lupita Nyong’o, Paul Dano, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Giamatti, Michael K. Williams, Scoot McNairy, Taran Killam, Adepero Oduye, Garret Dillahunt, Alfre Woodard, Brad Pitt, and Quvenzhané Wallis.
The Wolf of Wall Street (R) Not Martin Scorsese’s best film, but definitely his funniest. Leonardo DiCaprio stars as Jordan Belfort, the real-life fraudster whose firm made more than $1 billion in the 1990s manipulating penny stocks. The movie is structured too much like Goodfellas, with its high-living band of outlaws wielding phones instead of guns. Still, after playing a string of intense, tormented heroes, DiCaprio is revelatory in his first out-and-out comic performance, blending well with a cast full of experienced comedians (including Jonah Hill as his nebbishy right-hand man) and executing a great piece of slapstick involving Quaaludes and a car. Scorsese may be repeating himself, but his story hasn’t lost much in the re-telling. Also with Margot Robbie, Kyle Chandler, Rob Reiner, Jon Bernthal, Jon Favreau, Joanna Lumley, Cristin Milioti, Shea Whigham, Katarina Cas, P.J. Byrne, Kenneth Choi, Brian Sacca, Henry Zebrowski, Ethan Suplee, Jean Dujardin, Matthew McConaughey, and an uncredited Spike Jonze.
Gloria (R) Paulina García stars in Sebastián Lelio’s romance as a 58-year-old Chilean woman negotiating her romance with a younger man (Sergio Hernández). Also with Diego Fontecilla, Fabiola Zamora, Luz Jiménez, Alejandro Goic, and Liliana García.
Hank: 5 Years From the Brink (NR) This documentary by Joe Berlinger (the Paradise Lost films) chronicles former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson’s attempts to save the world’s economy after the 2008 crisis.