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What to Watch This Weekend

'The Ballad of Lefty Brown' is an homage to classic Westerns

 The Ballad of Lefty Brown, R

Sporting silly muttonchops and muttering self-deprecatingly, Bill Pullman, who turns 64 Sunday, is a lovable buffoon named Lefty Brown in this western that honors the classics. Nobody takes Lefty seriously, but when his boss (Peter Fonda), the first senator from Montana in 1889, gets shot by a rustler, he gets the revenge job done — despite wicked conspirators who pin the senator’s murder on him. The movie pokily moseys across its vast, resonant landscape, but like Lefty, it picks up the pace and gradually grows into a flawed kind of greatness. —Tim Appelo

Also New in Theaters

Daisy Ridley as Rey, in 'Star Wars: The Last Jedi'

Jonathon Olley/Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Daisy Ridley as Rey, in "Star Wars: The Last Jedi"

Star Wars: The Last Jedi, PG-13

Youngsters Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, Lupita Nyong’o and some highly emotional Porgs join grownups Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Laura Dern and Andy Serkis, the Olivier of motion-capture acting, in the eighth installment of George Lucas’ space epic, which is fetching the series’ best reviews in years. The Los Angeles Times calls it "the first flat-out terrific Star Wars movie since 1980’s The Empire Strikes Back.” 

Still in Theaters

Sally Hawkins and Doug Jones in 'The Shape of Water'

Fox Searchlight Pictures/Photofest

Sally Hawkins and Doug Jones, who plays an amphibian man, bond wordlessly in "The Shape of Water."

 The Shape of Water, R

What if Amélie, the adorably sensitive girl in the gorgeously colorful 2001 film of the same name, fell in love with the Creature from the Black Lagoon, who turned out to be sweet and even sort of handsome, once you smuggled him out of the 1962 Baltimore laboratory where evil government guy Michael Shannon cruelly studies him, and you took the piscatorial hunk home in a laundry basket, flooded your bedroom, and made discreet but passionate love? That’s the idea behind this romantic fable by Guellermo del Toro, 53. Sally Hawkins nails the tricky role of the mute janitor who saves the creature and is saved in return. As her janitor pal, AARP The Magazine cover girl Octavia Spencer anchors the fantasy with a performance not far from the earthy humor of The Help. Richard Jenkins, 70, charms as the self-doubting best friend who helps the lovers escape. The bad guys are a bit cliched, but you’ve never seen a film with the drifty, incredibly dreamy look of this masterpiece. —Tim Appelo

 I, Tonya, R

Nobody was asking for a film about a trashy tabloid tale from long ago, but everybody is applauding it now. That’s in part thanks to Margot Robbie’s performance as Tonya Harding; Robbie brilliantly captures the trailer park-raised ice skater’s bizarre, over-the-top personality as she schemes to cripple her 1994 Olympics rival Nancy Kerrigan. Even more transfixing is Allison Janney, 58, who manages to portray Tonya’s spectacularly awful mom, LaVona Golden (“Nice gets you nowhere,” she says), as the ultimate survivor whose iron will feeds on bile without reducing her to a cartoon. FULL REVIEW

Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf in 'Lady Bird'

Merie Wallace/A24

Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf play a mother and daughter in "Lady Bird."

 Lady Bird, R

Lady Bird is one rare bird — the best-reviewed film of all time on Rottentomatoes, rated a perfect 100 percent by 170 critics. Saoirse Ronan (of 2015's Brooklyn), 23, isn’t the only award-worthy star in this story about a 17-year-old in Sacramento, Calif. Laurie Metcalf, 62, darkly dazzles as Ronan’s bossy mom, working overtime as a nurse since her husband (Pulitzer Prize winner Tracy Letts, 52) lost his job. It’s not just about the girl’s coming of age, with bad haircuts and worse boyfriends, it’s about her tight, troubled relationship with her mom, and her wise Catholic school mentor, Sister Sarah Joan (Lois Smith, 87). First-time director Greta Gerwig has created a film that's heartfelt, sometimes heartbreaking and a sure Oscar contender. Full Q&A with Greta Gerwig

 The Man Who Invented Christmas, PG

Dan Stevens (Downton Abbey) is good fun as Charles Dickens stricken with writer’s block in this film about how he produced A Christmas Carol in six weeks flat. But Christopher Plummer, who turns 88 on Dec. 13, steals the show as Scrooge, serving in this story as a bitter figment of Dickens' imagination. Plummer uses his immense, winged eyebrows and baggy, malevolently narrowed eyes to great effect. It’s not the greatest movie ever to spring from A Christmas Carol (that would be It’s a Wonderful Life), but it’s still delightful. FULL REVIEW

 Coco, PG

Coco is set in Mexico on the Day of the Dead, when families invite their departed relatives to come back for a celebratory reunion. Ghosts can walk the flowery bridge from the Land of the Dead back to the living, but only if their families remember them by posting their photos in a shrine. And Coco, a loving grandmother struggling with Alzheimer's, is in danger of forgetting her late father — because of her illness, and also because he was a musician who abandoned Coco and her mom. No spoilers, but it turns out that music is the key to making the family’s dreams come true. Besides being the first great Pixar movie about Hispanics, Coco is the best film about Alzheimer’s since Marjorie Prime and Away From Her. —Tim Appelo

Call Me By Your Name

Sony Picturs Classics

After a bit of a rocky start, a romance develops between Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer in "Call Me by Your Name."

 Call Me By Your Name, R

Set against the stunning backdrop of the Italian countryside in 1983, this profound and emotional love story follows Elio (Timothée Chalamet), a 17-year-old who falls in love with Oliver (Armie Hammer), an older graduate student boarding with his family for the summer to assist his academic father (the phenomenal Michael Stulhbarg, 49). Elio and Oliver’s relationship has an authentic tenderness under the direction of Luca Guadagnino, who’s created the best coming-of-age story in recent years. —Garrett Schaffel

 Darkest Hour, PG-13

Gary Oldman is brilliant and a sure Oscar contender in this role as the despised oddball responsible for the Gallipoli disaster of World War I who later rises exhilaratingly to the occasion as the man who beat Hitler: “We shall never surrender!” His Winston Churchill is volatile, mumbling, bellowing, sozzled, amusing and amused, tormenting and tortured. Through his eyes you feel the tense peril, the courage against high odds, the weight of words that changed the world. FULL REVIEW

Jacob Tremblay and Julia Roberts as in 'Wonder'

Lionsgate

Jacob Tremblay plays a disfigured 10-year-old, and Julia Roberts is his protective mother in "Wonder," based on the young-adult best-seller by R.J. Palacio.

 Wonder, PG 
Feel like a good cry then surges of triumph? Join Auggie Pullman (Room’s Jacob Tremblay), 10, on his first day of school ever. Previously homeschooled by Mom (Julia Roberts) and Dad (Owen Wilson), Auggie gets bullied for his disfigured face so cruelly, he wants to wear a space helmet to school. As their attitudes evolve we get the POV of Auggie’s sister (Izabela Vidovic), neglected because she’s normal, and some of Auggie’s conflicted classmates. It’s a tearjerker (based on the mega-best-selling book by R.J. Palacio) that’s blazingly humane and shamelessly wish-fulfilling — and the rare kind of film that will appeal to both kids and adults. —Tim Appelo

Mary J. Blige in 'Mudbound'

Steve Dietl/Netflix

Mary J. Blige plays a sharecropper in "Mudbound," an emotional family drama set in 1940s Mississippi.

 Mudbound, R

This film — the tragic saga of one black and one white family in muddy 1940s Mississippi — is the kind of spectacular, character-rich emotional epic Hollywood used to make before superheroes took over. Hip-hop/soul star Mary J. Blige, 46, shines as sharecropper matriarch Florence Jackson, whose family farm was stolen at gunpoint during Reconstruction. The Jacksons now work for the McAllens, an impoverished white farming family with a homicidal racist, Pappy (Jonathan Banks, 70), at the helm. When each family’s young hero returns from WWII and the veterans bond with each other across the race divide, Pappy isn’t happy. FULL REVIEW

Kenneth Branagh and Daisy Ridley in 'Murder on the Orient Express'

Nicola Dove/Twentieth Century Fox

Kenneth Branagh and Daisy Ridley in "Murder on the Orient Express"

 Murder on the Orient Express, PG-13

Why would director Kenneth Branagh try to beat Sidney Lumet’s beloved 1974 version (or David Suchet’s 2010 TV version) of this classic tale? He’d be crazy not to, with the cast he’s assembled, including Judi Dench, Willem Dafoe, Penelope Cruz, Johnny Depp and Michelle Pfeiffer — who nails her tangy role as a multiple-married widow. It's an absorbing theater piece with tons of talent and scads of jangly camera angles that make you feel like you're dangling over a precipice even when you're inside the train. FULL REVIEW

Frances McDormand in 'Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri'

Fox Searchlight

Frances McDormand in "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri"

 Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, R

Frances McDormand, 60, should earn her second Oscar for her gripping performance as Mildred, a murdered girl’s avenging mom, in this dazzling drama/comedy. Mildred rents three billboards accusing police chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson, 56) of inaction in finding her daughter’s killer. Actually, Willoughby is a nice, effective chief who tried hard to crack the case, but Mildred’s not appeased. As we learn the reason for her violent grief and anger, she seems a little less crazy and, thanks to McDormand's infinitely skillful performance, steals our hearts. FULL REVIEW

Laurence Fishburne, Bryan Cranston and Steve Carell in 'Last Flag Flying'

Wilson Webb/Amazon Studios/Lionsgate

Thirty years after serving in Vietnam, three war buddies — played by Bryan Cranston, Steve Carrell and Laurence Fishburne — reunite for a personal mission in "Last Flag Flying.”

 Last Flag Flying, R

Bryan Cranston, 61, plays a crusty, tough guy named Sal, a dive bar owner who goes on a last mission with his old Vietnam War buddies — Mueller (Laurence Fishburne, 56) and sad Doc (Steve Carell, 55) — to pick up the body of Doc’s son, killed in the Iraq war. Richard Linkater’s sort-of sequel to 1973’s The Last Detail starring Jack Nicholson, this road-trip story is loose, and some viewers will wish there were more rah-rah military triumph and less sorrowful patriotism. But it's not about war. It’s about the aftermath in three guys’ hearts. — Tim Appelo

 LBJ, R

Though it took a few scenes before I bought Woody Harrelson as Lyndon B. Johnson in Rob Reiner's winning political biopic, I ultimately found Harrelson compelling as our 36th president. The film depicts LBJ's bitter loss to John Kennedy (Jeffrey Donovan) for the 1960 presidential nomination, his ascension to president in the wake of JFK's 1963 assassination, and his passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Harrelson and Reiner convincingly present him as a flawed, hardworking man navigating challenging circumstances, accomplishing much through cunning rather than charisma. FULL REVIEW

 The Killing of a Sacred Deer, R

If you want to see an A-list star playing a magically cursed mom in a disturbing, gruesome, amazing art film this fall, race to see Nicole Kidman, 50, as a mildly kinky ophthalmologist whose marriage to a hunky heart surgeon (Colin Farrell) is troubled when a menacing teen (Dunkirk’s Barry Keoghan) informs them that — thanks to the surgeon’s terrible secret — one of their two kids must die. And now they must choose. While the magic monster boy is a dark force of nature, even more scary is what’s in the parents’ hearts. —Tim Appelo

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