No matter what religion you are, 'tis the season for going to see a movie. Now that all of the big Oscar-hungry releases are out (some, like Zero Dark Thirty, just limited, though), there are good choices aplenty at the multiplex for the first time in a long while. To help make your decision easier, here are excerpts from our critics on fourteen of the big releases (follow the links to read their full reviews). Choose wisely!
David Edelstein wrote: "Can a film be a great work of art with so little affect in the face of human agony? That is the problem posed by everything [Michael] Haneke has done. But the wintry Amour seems to me to be the closest to pity he has come, if only because Nature beats him to the punch. It is a stunning film."
David Edelstein wrote: "Django Unchained doesn’t merely hit its marks; it blows them to bloody chunks. It’s manna for mayhem mavens ... Parts of the film are maniacally funny. Of course, no matter how hard you laugh at Tarantino’s audacity, you have a feeling he’s laughing louder. For all its pleasures, Django Unchained feels too easy, too dead-center in Tarantino’s comfort zone. He’s not challenging himself in any way that matters. He has become his own Yes Man."
Hyde Park on Hudson
Blige Ebiri wrote: "Obviously, a lot more than awards consideration goes into a film, but it’s hard to avoid the faint whiff of awards-bait with Hyde Park on Hudson. For starters, it’s got the long-denied-an-Oscar Bill Murray playing both the leader of the free world, and a disabled one at that. And if you squint really hard, you could even imagine it as a sequel of sorts to The King’s Speech ... But don’t expect any historical melodrama from Roger Michell’s film, or any big 'Oscar moments.' This is a cool, collected, concise film — to its detriment."
David Edelstein wrote: "But the context makes it difficult to laugh, even bad-naturedly. It’s not the filmmakers’ fault that the opening sequence is especially horrible after the Newtown massacre, but the whole movie is like an NRA wet dream, with Robert Duvall as a crusty gun-range owner who pitches in to shoot bad guys. Jack Reacher already feels as if it belongs to another era."
David Edelstein wrote: "The tasteless bombardment that is Les Misérables would, under most circumstances, send audiences screaming from the theater, but the film is going to be a monster hit and award winner, and not entirely unjustly. After 30 or so of its 157 minutes, you build up a tolerance for those it’s-alive-alive-alive! close-ups and begin to admire the gumption — along with the novelty of being worked over by such a big, shameless Broadway musical without having to pay Broadway prices."
David Edelstein wrote: "By Spielbergian standards, Lincoln is a nuanced, knotty, bridled piece of filmmaking, an exercise in restraint. But Spielberg is a great film artist, and that tone evokes the spirit of his subject — the deep sadness, the expansive sardonic wit, the hardscrabble lawyerly intelligence."
On the Road
Blige Ebiri wrote: "Fast, almost too fast, their film of Jack Kerouac’s seminal novel is a dizzying cinematic corollary to the writer’s rhythmic, free-flowing prose. On the Road has its problems, but at times it’s hard not to feel like you’re witnessing a glorious magic trick: a movie that does some basic level of justice to one of the most unfilmable of American literary masterworks."
Not Fade Away
David Edelstein wrote: "David Chase’s semiautobiographical reminiscence of life in suburban New Jersey in the mid-sixties, Not Fade Away, is a glancing, disjointed little movie that captures as well as any film I’ve seen the mind-expanding mojo of rock and roll at the dawn of the counterculture."
Save the Date
Blige Ebiri wrote: "Save the Date works best when it’s getting under your skin, and it does that when it’s capturing the queasy halfway point — part sadistic, part bittersweet — of still loving somebody while trying to move on to someone new. It’s a kind of subtlety that movies, especially American movies, rarely do well, but this quietly unassuming, secretly brilliant little charmer nails it."
Silver Linings Playbook
David Edelstein wrote: "To convey Pat’s monomania, [Bradley] Cooper speaks loudly and with little variation in pitch. It’s not an especially imaginative performance, but with his fixed blue eyes he’s scary-pure. It’s [Jennifer] Lawrence who knocked me sideways. I loved her in Winter’s Bone and The Hunger Games but she’s very young — I didn’t think she had this kind of deep-toned, layered weirdness in her.
David Edelstein wrote: "[Sam Mendes] seems hellbent on making the best Bond since Goldfinger — or the best, period, given that he exhumes Bond’s old Aston Martin only to shoot it to pieces, the bastard. I don’t think there’s a shot in Skyfall that isn’t intended to make you smile at its elegance, gasp at its audacity, or sit up and salute the proficiency of those high-paid Bond-picture stuntmen."
David Edelstein wrote: "How nice it would be to weigh in on Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit without having to lament its newfangled double-speed 3-D 48-frames-per-second projection rate, which must be seen to be disbelieved. The immediacy of the actors is startling, but the background is weirdly foreshortened, the fakeness of the sets and makeup an endless distraction ... The Hobbit probably plays better at the normal frame rate, but how much better? Hard to say. Signs of bloat are everywhere."
Blige Ebiri wrote: "The movie itself ... often traffics in the manipulative. Although it’s ostensibly based on true events, The Impossible is not so much an inspiring tale of survival as it is an action flick. The only difference is that the climactic set piece happens early on ... Even the clunky expository dialogue between the family members — standard issue mom-and-pop-droning-on-about-work and brothers-not-getting-along stuff — can be kinda sorta justified as the necessary byproducts of paint-by-numbers action movie setup. "
Zero Dark Thirty
David Edelstein wrote: "Kathryn Bigelow’s kill–bin Laden epic Zero Dark Thirty is the most neutral-seeming 'America, Fuck Yeah!' picture ever made. In its narrative arc, it is barely distinct from a boneheaded right-wing revenge picture, but the vibe is cool, brisk, grown-up, packed with impressively real-sounding intel jargon ... As a moral statement, Zero Dark Thirty is borderline fascistic. As a piece of cinema, it’s phenomenally gripping — an unholy masterwork."