AMERICAN HUSTLE (R). From director David O. Russell comes this kinetcially retro, left-field funny crime caper inspired by the Abscam scandal about a con man (Christian Bale), his loony wife (Jennifer Lawrence) and his British partner in crime (Amy Adams) who are forced to collaborate with a loose-cannon FBI agent (Bradley Cooper). Their target: a New Jersey politician (Jeremy Renner). HHH (Persall, Tampa Bay Times -- 12/21). 2:09.
ANCHORMAN 2: THE LEGEND CONTINUES (R). The bumbling news anchor Ron Burgundy and his cohorts join the nation’s first 24-hour news channel in this 1980s-set sequel to the 2004 comedy "Anchorman." A somewhat baggy successor to a gem, "Anchorman 2" may not have the same imprint in American culture as its predecessor but it has moments of howling hilarity and the improvisatory spit that gave Ron Burgundy’s origin story its ramshackle charm. With Will Ferrell, Steve Carell, Paul Rudd, Christina Applegate. HHH (Covert, Minneapolis Star Tribune -- 12/18). 1:59.
AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY (R). A family reunion turns into a convergence of recriminations and spite in this film adaptation of Tracy Letts’ Pulitzer Prize-winning play. With Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Ewan McGregor, Benedict Cumberbatch, Juliette Lewis, Chris Cooper, Abigail Breslin, Dermot Mulroney, Juliette Nicholson, Sam Shepard.
FROZEN (PG). There’s wit and whimsy in this 53rd Disney animated feature -- a distant cousin of Hans Christian Anderson’s "The Snow Queen" -- about a young girl cursed with an X-Men-like ability to freeze things and her baby sister’s determined effort to lift the curse. With the voices of Idina Menzel, Kristen Bell, Josh Gad. HH (Moore, McClatchy-Tribune News Service -- 11/27). 1:42.
HER (R). A melancholy romance about a man who falls in love with a sentient, learning and loving operating system. Director Spike Jonze’s handling of his jump-off premise defies anything movies train viewers to expect from such ripe-for-folly conceits. It’s a small cinematic miracle that in a film in which so many things can go wrong, nothing does. A next-generation love story that moves in surprising ways. With Joaquin Phoenix, Scarlett Johansson, Rooney Mara, Amy Adams. HHH (Persall, Tampa Bay Times -- 1/11). 2:05.
INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS (R). Set against the background of the 1960s coffeehouse music scene, the Coen Brothers’ newest film focuses on the hard-luck odyssey of a hapless but talented folk singer. The Coens’ most nearly perfect film is a bleak, bittersweet comedy of frustration that warns us against the tunnel vision that sees people, or life, in fixed formulas of good and evil. With Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, John Goodman, Justin Timberlake, F. Murray Abraham, Ethan Phillips. HHHH (Covert, Monneapolis Star Tribune -- 1/13). 1:45.
JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT (PG-13). Based on characters created by Tom Clancy this origins story finds a young CIA analyst, Jack Ryan, uncovering an international terrorist plot to collapse the U.S. economy and heading into the field to prevent it from happening. With Chris Pine, Kevin Costner, Kenneth Branagh, Keira Knightley.
LONE SURVIVOR (R). Based on the true story of the ill-fated SEAL Team 10 and a mission in 2005 to kill a Taliban leader in Afghanistan that went messy. This grim chapter in Navy SEALs history earns a heroic no-punches-pulled accounting in this above-average action outing for Mark Wahlberg and company. HHH (Moore, McClatchy-Tribune News Service -- 1/13)
MUSCLE SHOALS (PG). If you want to bob your head along to a jukebox sampler of glorious American songs, then this is the documentary for you. But if you want to learn how the area near the small Alabama city of Muscle Shoals, which hugs the south bank of the Tennessee River, became a renowned music center then you will need to look and listen elsewhere. (Dargis, New York Times -- 1/16). 1:53.
NEBRASKA (R). Director Alexander Payne uses black-and-white film to tell the story of a cranky old drunk (Bruce Dern) who goes on a road trip with his reluctant son (Will Forte) from Billings, Montana to Lincoln, Neb. to claim a million-dollar magazine sweepstakes prize. Bleak, brilliant, bitterly funny. HHHH (Moore, McClatchy-Tribune News Service -- 1/11). 1:56.
PHILOMENA (PG-13). A disgraced journalist in search of a human interest story teams up with an old, ill-educated Irish woman who sets off to America in search of the out-of-wedlock child she was forced to give up 50 years earlier by the Irish Catholic Church. Judi Dench gives a performance of spunk and sparkle, bringing to life a twinkly, grandmotherly working-class woman who isn’t above enjoying a drink or a naughty word. Director Stephen Frears never lets the story lapse into sentiment and Steve Coogan -- who co-wrote the screenplay -- is pitch-perfect as the journalist who follows a 50-year-old trail to America. HHH (Moore, McClatchy-Tribune News Service -- 11/27). 1:38.
RIDE ALONG (R). Kevin Hart plays a pesky aspiring police officer seeking the approval of his girlfriend’s brother -- a no-nonsense veteran cop played by Ice Cube.
SAVING MR. BANKS (PG-13). Based on the real-life story of Walt Disney’s courtly struggles with the dismissive writer P.L. Travers as he and his dream factory turned her "Mary Poppins" into one of the most beloved children’s musicals ever. The film’s a trifle long but with Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson at the center as Disney and Travers, director John Lee Hancock finds that holiday film sweet spot, blending the poignant with the unpleasnat and the grim with the giddy. HHH (Moore, McClatchy-Tribune News Service -- 12/24). 2:00.
THE DEVIL’S DUE (R). After a mysterious lost night on their honeymoon, a newlywed couple find themselves dealing with an earlier-than-planned pregnancy that suggests sinister origins.
THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG (PG-13). Bilbo Baggins’ and the elves’ adventures and misadventures in Middle-earth continue in this second of three films based on J.R.R. Tolkein’s prelude to the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy. Funnier, livelier and action-packed. HHH (Moore, McClatchy-Tribune News Service -- 12/14). 2:41.
THE LEGEND OF HERCULES (PG-13). With its relatively modest running time and not-quite-household-name cast, this 3-D saga is no more ridiculous than, let’s say, the "Thor" movies, and a lot less pretentious. It delivers what it promises, which is muscular guys in skimpy clothes fighting and howling, as well as some large-scale digitally enhanced battle sequences. (Scott, New York Times -- 1/14). 1:38.
THE NUT JOB (PG). In this animated film, a mischievous squirrel sets out to rob the town’s biggest nut shop in order to feed himself and his pals for the winter. With the voices of Will Arnett, Brendan Fraser, Liam Neeson and Katherine Heigl.
THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY (PG). James Thurber’s whimsical short story "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" was about a bored, unassuming married man who escapes his humdrum life through wildly adventurous fantasies in which he becomes a war hero, a test pilot and the like. In Ben Stiller’s new film based on that 1939 story, the daydreaming Mitty becomes a shy 40something who isn’t so much avoiding reality as using fantasy as an excuse for not seizing the day, for not asking out the woman (Kristen Wiig) at the office, for never traveling and experiencing the world. He’s not so much avoiding his dull reality as failing to, as the Latins said, "carpe diem." It’s a charming, whimsical and ever-so-slight film, a bit of an overreach but pleasant enough, even when it falls short. HHH (Moore, McClatchy-Tribune News Service -- 12/26). 1:53.
THE WOLF OF WALL STREET (R). A biopic charting the rise and fall of the hard-living New York stockbroker Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio), who founded the infamous boiler-room brokerage Stratton Oakmont and cheated investors out of as much as $200 million in the early 1990s. DiCaprio’s most charismatic performance ever anchors director Martin Scorsese’s robust and raunchy lowlifes-of-high-finance comedy. This is their greatest teaming, a veritable "Citizen Kane" of the post-"greed is good" era. With Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie, Matthew McConaughey. HHH (Moore, McClatchy-Tribune News Service -- 12/31). 3:00.
12 YEARS A SLAVE (R). Unsparing drama based on the true story of a black American living in upstate New York with his wife and children who had never been a slave and was kidnapped, smuggled south and sold into slavery in 1841. Director Steve McQueen and his stellar cast dispense with Hollywood’s moonlight-and-magnolias myths about the South and take us on a difficult journey, a sometimes awful and only faintly inspiring odyssey that will make you want to avert your eyes. It is to their great credit that we never do. With Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Dano, Garret Dillahunt, Paul Giamatti, Lupita Nyong’o, Sarah Paulson, Brad Pitt, Adepero Oduye. HHHH (Moore, McClatchy-Tribune News Service -- 11/9). 2:14.
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