Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart play a grieving couple whose young son was killed less than a year ago. They each have their own way of dealing with the horrific loss. He insists on group therapy. She takes a passive-aggressive approach, unsure of where to place her anger. The two disconnect in this devastating and elegant film, directed by John Cameron Mitchell.
‘HOW DO YOU KNOW’
Three-time Oscar winner, writer-director James Brooks is, thankfully, back helming a film that he wrote specifically for Reese Witherspoon. She plays the apex in a love triangle that includes Owen Wilson and Paul Rudd. It gets better. Once again, Brooks casts his pal, Jack Nicholson, who’s always “as good as it gets” in anything.
It’s not a remake but a kooky-cool Coen brothers adaptation of Charles Portis’ novel. Jeff Bridges (“The Dude”) re-teams with the brothers, portraying Rooster Cogburn (John Wayne’s role in the original). Bridges could quite likely make Oscar history by nabbing two in a row after having received it for Best Actor last year in “Crazy Heart.” This is rumored to be one of the most authentic Westerns ever made. It also stars Josh Brolin, Matt Damon and Hailee Steinfeld, in a breakout role already garnering Oscar attention.
Auteur director Mike Leigh once again treads familiar waters in a British character-driven piece about happiness — and the lack of it. A lonely alcoholic single woman (Lesley Manville) latches onto a blissfully content couple with whom she works. Over the course of a year ordinary people interact with one another, exploring the human condition. It’s a great cast, including Jim Broadbent, Imelda Staunton and Ruth Sheen.
Director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu creates another “Babel”-like, racially diverse story about a man who must come to terms with his own mortality. Set in Barcelona, Javier Bardem plays a dour man diagnosed with terminal cancer while raising two children. In an unavoidable downward spiral, he finds healing and hope. Inarritu’s haunting style of filmmaking always goes for the jugular (“21 Grams” “Amores Perros”).
Stephen Dorff portrays a burned-out actor in Sophia Coppola’s quiet heartbreaker. Holed up in LA’s Chateau Marmont hotel, Dorff’’s character’s life takes a new direction when his 11-year-old daughter (Elle Fanning) suddenly moves in with him. Two things I already love about this film: the seldom-seen and-brilliant Dorff; and Sophia Coppola’s gift for quirky insightfulness that was so perfectly applied in “Lost in Translation.”
Two of today’s best actors, Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling, star as a couple whose marriage is falling apart. The film chronicles the beginning and end of their relationship in an out-of-sequence format. Billed as “smart and explosively emotional,” the film’s trailers look raw and riveting. Directed by Derek Cianfrance who postponed shooting the film in 2008 out of respect for Michelle Williams after Heath Ledger’s death. She was his one and only choice for the lead.
Director Darren Aronofsky doesn’t make timid films (“The Wrestler”; “Requiem For a Dream”). Natalie Portman stars as a mentally-unstable ballerina in his latest exploration into the psyche of people who push themselves to extremes. He also delves into the emotional and physical violence lurking behind the “erotic mystique” of ballet. Vincent Cassel plays the devious and manipulative artistic director. It also stars Mila Kunis, Barbara Hershey and Winona Ryder.
‘THE WAY BACK’
In this harrowing epic set in 1940, seven prisoners escape from a Russian gulag, in Siberia. They set out on a grueling 4,500-mile trek with little food and few supplies. Although their efforts are almost certainly doomed, they’d rather die free than as Stalin’s captives. The characters are fictional, but the story is inspired by actual prisoners who escaped the labor camps. It is directed by the masterful Peter Weir and stars Colin Farrell and Jim Sturgess.
‘THE KING’S SPEECH’
Is Colin Firth ever going to snag that elusive Oscar? Perhaps his best shot will be for his performance as King George VI, the 20th-century monarch who was plagued by a crippling stutter. When his country needed him most, he sought the help of an Australian speech therapist (Geoffrey Rush) who made it possible for the king to rally his subjects and declare war on Hitler’s Germany. This film is being hailed as a crowning achievement powered by a dream cast, which also includes Helena Bonham Carter, Guy Pearce and Michael Gambon. Directed by Tom Hooper.