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What to Watch at the Movies

See Steve Carell's 'Beautiful Boy,' Oscar front-runner 'First Man,' '22 July' and more

 Beautiful Boy, R

Based on memoirs by David Sheff and his recovering addict son, writer Nic Sheff, Beautiful Boy is an acting duel between Steve Carell, 56, and Timothée Chalamet as the troubled son — and the audience wins. The film takes us from Nic’s dazzlingly promising youth to the ghastly day when David must coldly refuse Nic’s desperately sweaty request for money. You wince at the flashback of late-teenage Nic talking David into sharing a joint — hey, he’s a Rolling Stone writer — unaware that it’s a spark for tragic dynamite. Maura Tierney, 53, is winning as Nic’s stepmom (and Amy Ryan, 50, is an Oscar maybe as his mom), but Carell’s performance, tightly wound but powerfully emotive at moments of crisis, is the news here, a banked fire of helpless rage facing a child blazing out of control. The soundtrack (Nirvana, John Lennon, Bowie) is the year’s best, a greatest-hits collection of genius addicts’ tunes. —Tim Appelo (T.A.)

Also New in Theaters

Ryan Gosling as Neil Armstrong in 'First Man'

Daniel McFadden/Universal Pictures

Ryan Gosling (left) stars as stoic astronaut Neil Armstrong in "First Man."

 First Man, R

The outer-space real-life action adventure packs all the kinetic punch of The Right Stuff and Apollo 13, but the story of Neil Armstrong's ascent is far more haunting and melancholy, because it's centered on the heroic yet sorrowful soul of the man who made the first bootprint on the moon. Ryan Gosling is perfect as the spotlight-shunning astronaut and Corey Stoll as the chatty, showboating second man on the moon, Buzz Aldrin. Kyle Chandler, 53, has a small yet resonant role as astronaut office chief Deke Slayton, responsible for reassuring Mrs. Armstrong (Claire Foy), who fears her husband will die in flames like many of his astronaut pals. This movie puts you right inside Armstrong's head, and out of this world. —T.A. FULL REVIEW

 22 July, R

Paul Greengrass, who gave a remarkably real-life, this-is-happening feel to the best Jason Bourne flicks and the 9/11 film United 93, does the same for the 2011 Norwegian youth camp massacre by bizarrely calm racist Anders Behring Breivik, now in solitary confinement for life. Terrorism, especially 9/11’s, is so omnipresently familiar to U.S. viewers that it’s hard to see it anymore, so it’s eye-opening to see it happen in another country. Following the entire story from tragedy to courtroom aftermath, focusing on the killer and one heroic young victim’s family, it’s utterly absorbing, done in the director’s trademark non-steady-cam style.—T.A.

Still in Theaters

 A Star Is Born, R

Lady Gaga and star-director-writer Bradley Cooper will clean up at the Oscars for their electrifying update of the famous story of an unknown talent who becomes a singing star, while her alcoholic mentor (Cooper) flames out. The first hour is a sensational skyrocket ascent — who knew Gaga could act and Cooper could sing? Or what she looks like with her real hair and face? The final hour and 15 minutes are slightly less superb, but still better than the 1976 hit Barbra Streisand version. Sam Elliott, 74, as Cooper’s brother-manager-rival, and Andrew Dice Clay, 61, as Gaga’s papa deserve best supporting actor nominations. —T.A. FULL REVIEW

Jon Hamm, Jeff Bridges, and Cynthia Erivo in “Bad Times at the El Royal.”

Kimberley French/Twentieth Century Fox

Jon Hamm, Jeff Bridges and Cynthia Erivo are among the unusual suspects in “Bad Times at the El Royale.”

 Bad Times at the El Royale, R

A priest (Jeff Bridges, 68), a vacuum-cleaner salesman (Jon Hamm), a lounge singer (Cynthia Erivo) and a refugee (Dakota Johnson) from a cult run by a Manson-like guy with better abs (Chris Hemsworth) converge on the El Royale, a deserted $8-a-night motel on the California-Nevada border, in 1969. Everyone has a secret, including the motel, which contains a bag of stolen cash, a Motown-stocked jukebox, a crazed Vietnam vet desk clerk, and a scandalous film of a couple (possibly JFK and Marilyn Monroe, said to have dallied at the actual Cal-Neva Lodge) shot through the El Royale’s one-way mirror walls. The film lopes along, with occasional spectacular deaths and bad luck for all — except for viewers who like film noir, Quentin Tarantino, Motown and Bridges, who gets to utter fun philosophical lines like, “I’m old. S--t happens. Get the whiskey.” —T.A. READ MORE ON JEFF BRIDGES

 The Samuel Project, PG-13

In this kindly indie flick, remarkably age-proof Hal Linden (Barney Miller), 87, plays a laconic, Barney Miller-like San Diego dry cleaner and Holocaust survivor whose grandson (Disney kid Ryan Ochoa) makes an animated film about his grandpa’s secret past, launching the kid’s art career. It could use more of grandpa’s drama and less teen dramedy, but it’s heartwarming enough to earn Linden the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Oct. 11 Heartland Film Festival in Indianapolis, and it’s a good intergenerational blend of talents, directed by Steven Spielberg’s former assistant Marc Fusco.—T.A. HAL LINDEN INTERVIEW

Robert Redford, Sissy Spacek 'Old Man and Gun'

Eric Zachanowich/Twentieth Century Fox

Robert Redford and Sissy Spacek in "The Old Man & The Gun."

 The Old Man & The Gun, R

Onetime Sundance Kid Robert Redford, 82, returns to crime with style as Forrest Tucker, an actual bank robber who staged one last crime spree at 76 after his 18th jailbreak. Natty, polite and violence-averse, Tucker is irresistibly appealing to the people he robs — and even to the young detective (Casey Affleck) on his trail. As the love interest Tucker picks up on the road while on the run from cops, Sissy Spacek, 68, is less fact-based but equally charming. This may or may not be Redford’s last movie, and it’s better than his 2013 can-I-get-an-Oscar solo sailing disaster epic All Is Lost, partly thanks to its deep bench of grownup talent, including Danny Glover, 72, and Tom Waits, 68, as Tucker’s partners in crime. They call them “the Over-the-Hill Gang,” but these actors are all still in the game, and winning. —Thelma Adams (T.M.A) FULL REVIEW

Joaquin Phoenix, John C. Reilly

Magali Bragard/Annapurna Pictures

Joaquin Phoenix and John C. Reilly are the title characters in "The Sisters Brothers."

 The Sisters Brothers, R

Good, old-fashioned westerns are having a comeback lately, and this one gallops with the classics. In 1850s Oregon, two brothers — smart, nice Eli and drunk, crazy Charlie Sisters (John C. Reilly, 53, and Joaquin Phoenix) — are ordered by their sinister boss to find and kill a California-bound prospector (Riz Ahmed) with an amazing, dangerous invention that locates gold in riverbeds. You get the usual gunfights, honky-tonk angels, chases and betrayals, and flaming horses fleeing burning barns, but it feels fresh, like a Coen brothers western, only kindhearted. Reilly, Oscar-nominated for 2002’s Chicago, is having a breakout year in 2018, and he’s the big news here. He’s a grownup star on a roll. —T.A.

dames: maggie smith, joan plowright

Courtesy IFC Films

The "Dames:" Maggie Smith, Joan Plowright, Eileen Atkins and Judi Dench

 Tea With the Dames, Unrated 

Don’t you wish you could be at the table when living legends Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Eileen Atkins and Joan Plowright sip tea (and Champagne) and gossip intelligently about their illustrious, sometimes scandalous past, current challenges and surprisingly vital late-life careers? With plenty of clips of classic films you’ll want to watch right away? Thanks to this delightful documentary, you can. They’re friends, so comfy together they’ll say anything — when Dench was cast as Cleopatra in 1987, she asked the director, “Are you sure you want a menopausal dwarf to play this part?” He was, and age cannot wither her. —T.A. FULL REVIEW

 Colette, R

Wash Westmoreland's vibrant take on ahead-of-her-time French writer Colette (1873-1954), author of Gigi, is a heart-lifting feast for the eyes — and sexy, too. Colette (Keira Knightley) gets wooed from the countryside to Paris by older, wiser, jaded Willy (charmer Dominic West, 48), who harnesses his wife's nascent writing skills for cash and fame under his own name and becomes the toast of Paris. Colette boasts powerfully intimate, nourishingly authentic scenes between the heroine and her devoted mother (Killing Eve's Fiona Shaw, 60) and lover Missy (Denise Gough), and it’s a fantastic artist biopic and a fascinating study in artistic rights and gender exploitation. —T.M.A.

Richie Merritt, Matthey McConaughey in

Scott Garfield/Sony Pictures Entertainment

Newcomer Richie Merritt, left, turns in a breakout performance alongside Matthew McConaughey in true-crime period drama "White Boy Rick."

 White Boy Rick, R

Sun-ripened and crinkly, Matthew McConaughey, 48, digs into another scruffy, hard-won role in his Dallas Buyers Club mold. He plays the devilish Detroit gun-running daddy of the teenage outlaw of the title (breakout newcomer Richie Merritt), whose fragile family also includes an addict (a go-for-it Bel Powley), a cantankerous grandpa (Bruce Dern, 82), and a saintly grandma (Piper Laurie, 86). Based on the true story of the Michigan teenager sentenced to life in prison for crack possession with intent to sell in 1988, this crime drama has an excess of energy that sends it careening through Motown with a total lack of focus. Great central performances and vivid set pieces (the disco roller rink!) can't overcome a script that's as rangy as McConaughey, and a French director, Yann Demange, who opts for spectacle over storytelling. —T.M.A.

 The Bookshop, PG-13

Emily Mortimer is irresistible as a plucky widow who pours her heart and life savings into the first bookstore ever in a tiny, culturally reactionary British town in 1959. Bill Nighy, 68 (The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel), is her agoraphobic customer and incredibly hesitant suitor. Silky-voiced Patricia Clarkson, 58, is like her Sharp Objects character: the town’s dressiest grande dame, an iron fist in a velvet glove. She wants to seize the bookstore for her own pet project, an arts center. Julie Christie's narration packs a punch in the last scene. If you like British period drama, this may hit the spot, but it’s an extraordinarily slow, low-key story. It's good, though, and mostly faithful to the 1978 novel by Penelope Fitzgerald, who began writing at 58 and won the Booker Prize at 62. —T.A.

Ethan Hawke, Rose Byrne and Chris O'Dowd in

Alex Bailey/Courtesy of Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions

Ethan Hawke (left) plays an aging grunge rocker in 'Juliet, Naked.' The film also stars rose Byrne and Chris O'Dowd.

 Juliet, Naked, R

Nobody gets naked in this quirky rom-com, except emotionally. Ethan Hawke plays indie rock star Tucker Crowe, who abandoned his career long ago and lives as a recluse but is worshipped by a nerdy professor fan (Chris O'Dowd), who runs a website devoted to his genius. The prof's neglected wife (Rose Byrne) winds up inviting Tucker to their English seaside home, with funny, touching results that could only have been dreamed up by writer Nick Hornby (High Fidelity, About a Boy), who knows how deeply popular music touches the heart. Byrne has never had a better role, and it's Hawke's first comedy since Reality Bites (1994). —T.A. FULL REVIEW

 Crazy Rich Asians, PG-13

Crazy Rich Asians is an event movie, featuring Hollywood’s first almost-all-Asian cast since 1993’s The Joy Luck Club. Combining frisky wit with prime-time-soap melodramatics, it showcases an appealing young cast led by Constance Wu as Rachel, who meets her boyfriend’s Singapore family and discovers they’re insanely wealthy. Awkwafina is hilarious as her best friend. But the rom-com is also a dynamite showcase for cinema icon Michelle Yeoh, 56 (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; Tomorrow Never Dies), as a fierce matriarch suspicious of potential daughter-in-law Rachel. Her charisma and warmth make a real character out of what could have been a cardboard villainess. And as Awkwafina’s voluble, ridiculously dressed nouveau-riche dad, Ken Jeong, 49 (The Hangover), is as funny as he’s ever been. —Glenn Kenny

Glenn Close looking at Jonathan Pryce in


In 'The Wife,' Glenn Close and Jonathan Pryce play a long-married couple at a crossroads in their relationship.

 The Wife, R

Jonathan Pryce and Glenn Close, both 71, brilliantly depict the four-decade marriage of a womanizing novelist and his more talented, totally overlooked wife. Close gives a career-capping performance as a great writer sidelined by wifely duties, poised to explode as her husband prepares to accept the Nobel Prize in literature. No living actor has been nominated for an Oscar more often than Close without winning. The studio released The Wife this year instead of last, avoiding competition with Frances McDormand, who won for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. This could be Close's year. —T.A. FULL REVIEW

Adam Driver and John David Washington sitting next to each other.

David Lee/Focus Features

Adam Driver (left) and John David Washington play friends in "BlacKkKlansman" and work together to move in on the KKK.

 BlacKkKlansman, R

In a highly unlikely story that actually happened in the 1970s, a black cop (Denzel Washington's son John David Washington) teams with a Jewish colleague (Adam Driver) to infiltrate the KKK, fooling even Grand Wizard David Duke (Topher Grace) with their audacious impersonations of racists. The film is apt to be the biggest hit directed by Spike Lee, 61, since Inside Man in 2006. It's political to a fault and may annoy some viewers, but it's not just a message picture — it's funny, serious and totally entertaining. —Dana Kennedy FULL REVIEW

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