Tara Violet Niami / Focus Features
The Mustang, R
Redemption is hard-earned in The Mustang, a quiet story of personal struggle set against the sprawling backdrop of the Mountain West. Serving time for domestic violence in a Nevada prison, Roman Coleman (Matthias Schoenaerts) goes from solitary confinement to outdoor duty in a real-life wild horse training program, animal therapy designed to simultaneously rehab violent criminals and tame feral mustangs for border patrol duty. The movie, from rising French director Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre, goes hard to the whip on the parallel plights of the penned-in prisoners and horses, and juggles genres, a bit jarringly, from Western to family, prison, even sports drama. But stunning mountain vistas and first-rate performances from Bruce Dern, 82, as a grizzled horse trainer and Connie Britton, 52, as the prison psychologist, alongside Schoenaerts — whose soulful eyes are a window into Roman’s inner triumph — make The Mustang worth the ride. —Austin O’Connor (A.O.)
Also New in Theaters
In a straight-shooting chase drama, Kevin Costner, 64, and Woody Harrelson, 57, play the real-life Texas Rangers who, despite carrying a few extra pounds that make it hard to vault fences in pursuit of criminals, managed to track down Bonnie and Clyde. The aging buddies have star power and excellent chemistry, and Kathy Bates, 70, is good as Texas Gov. Miriam “Ma” Ferguson. —Thelma M. Adams (T.M.A.) FULL REVIEW | READ KEVIN COSTNER INTERVIEW
Rubber Tree Productions
The Hummingbird Project, R
In Oscar-nominated writer-director Kim Nguyen’s The Big Short-like story, The Social Network’s Jesse Eisenberg and Alexander Skarsgard play tech wizards trying to beat their ruthless ex-boss (Salma Hayek, 52) on a deal to build a thousand-mile fiber-optic cable to get financial data milliseconds ahead of the competition and make billions. The script is incompetent, but it’s still fun to see Eisenberg’s motormouth entrepreneur and bald, unsexy tech nerd Skarsgard tangle with a cartoonish Hayek, sporting a cool white-and-black hairdo a bit like Cruella de Vil. —Tim Appelo (T.A.)
Never Grow Old, R
John Cusack, 52, is the reason to see this grim, bloody film, an homage to such revisionist 1970s Westerns as McCabe and Mrs. Miller. Everything is filmed in lower light than The Godfather, but nothing is darker than the heart of Cusack's Dutch Albert, who rides into an Oregon town with his gang and gives the undertaker (Emile Hirsch, much resembling Jack Black) more business than he's had in years. As the undertaker struggles with collaborator's guilt and the need to protect his family from Dutch's depredations, fate grinds on. The plot is predictable, but the acting holds you, especially Cusack's scary, icy, purring growl of menace. —T.A.
Still in Theaters
A24 / FilmNation
Gloria Bell, R
Oscar winner Sebastián Lelio does an almost scene-for-scene remake of his 2013 Chilean hit about divorced wallflower grandma Gloria, who gets her groove back at the disco, this time starring the incomparable Julianne Moore, 57, with John Turturro, 62, as the new guy who gives her a whirl but may not turn out to be the man of her dreams. The two stars' chemistry isn't electric, but there's poignancy in Gloria's attempt to shed the invisibility cloak of middle age, and fine work by Michael Cera as her son; Brad Garrett, 58, as her ex; Holland Taylor, 76, as her mom; and Jeanne Tripplehorn, 55, as her best friend. —Thelma M. Adams (T.M.A.) FULL REVIEW
Rubber Tree Productions
I'm Not Here, NR
J.K. Simmons, 64 (Spider-Man’s Jonah Jameson and the standout star of 2018’s superb The Front Runner), sobs but never speaks in this film about fateful choices. As his alcoholic character Steve listens to his answering machine telling creditors “I’m not here” and ponders suicide, he flashes back to himself (Young Sheldon’s excellent Iain Armitage) as a 1960s kid pouring his loving, divorced alcoholic dad’s drinks, then to his own booze-doomed marriage. The dialogue is too pat and his plight formulaic, but the acting is aces, the Mad Men-period scenes evocative, and Michelle Schumacher’s direction lyrically melancholy. Despite major flaws, the film makes us care whether Steve can escape addictive patterns and live again. — T.A.
Jonathan Hession/Focus Features
This hilariously over-the-top thriller about a mad stalker (Isabelle Huppert, 65) and the stranger she recruits as her surrogate daughter (Chloe Grace Moretz) will win respected director Neil Jordan few new fans. Still, you can’t stop watching the fun Huppert has playing a faux Parisian, actually Hungarian mother who drove her daughter to suicide with cruel piano lessons and now leaves handbags on subway seats for naifs to find so they’ll visit her apartment and never, ever leave her. Huppert’s wry smile is entertainingly scary, as is her little dance after she’s drugged someone and her fantasies come true. It’s like a half-baked remake of Fatal Attraction and Single White Female, half-redeemed by Huppert’s sardonically nasty genius. —T.A.
Neon CNN Films
Apollo 11, G
Director Todd Douglas Miller won fame by turning previously unseen footage of the discovery of (and fight over) the biggest T. rex skeleton ever found into 2014’s Emmy-winning, Sundance Grand Prize-nominated film Dinosaur 13. Now, 50 years after the first moon landing, he has taken a trove of 65 mm footage of the Apollo 11 mission, languishing forgotten in the National Archives, plus 11,000 hours of audio, and crafted a documentary that will put you over the moon. No talking heads, just real people, from Neil Armstrong to Mission Control to President Richard Nixon to the 1 million spectators gathered for the launch. Currently in Imax, it's set for wide release on March 8. — A.O. FULL REVIEW
Courtesy The Orchard
Birds of Passage, NR
Based on real events but imbued with magical realism, this thriller by Colombia's first Oscar nominee is a most original narco drama, not just the same old Pablo-and-the-gangsters story. It's about what happened when mostly well-meaning people in an isolated, ultratraditional native Wayuu community got mixed up in the marijuana trade in the 1960s and 1970s. It takes you inside another world and a family tragedy that's familiar yet new. It would make an excellent double bill with The Godfather. — T.A. FULL REVIEW
Germany’s nominee for the best foreign film Oscar is the most ambitious movie yet by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, whose must-see The Lives of Others won that Oscar in 2007. This one is about an artist (based on Germany’s greatest living painter, Gerhard Richter) who survives the firebombing of Dresden and escapes East Germany after World War II for the wild art world of West Germany. It’s a romantic historical epic that justifies its three-hours-plus length. —T.A. FULL REVIEW
Husband and wife actors Penélope Cruz, 44, and Javier Bardem, 49, juice up this entertaining, well-crafted if slightly confusing Spanish-language saga from Iran’s Oscar nominee Asghar Farhadi (The Past, A Separation). Nominated for seven Goya Awards (the Spanish Oscar), this family-secrets drama unfolds during a rural wedding in Spanish wine country. While the guests — including steamy exes Cruz and Jardem — drink and dance, a kidnapping derails the reception. The crime exposes the fissures in the relationships among old and young, rich and poor, and husbands and wives. The movie's chief delights are the Cruz-Bardem pairing and Farhadi's generosity toward all the characters as he veers from joy to terror, playing with emotional extremes, delivering a portrait of a rural community in celebration and crisis. —Thelma M. Adams (T.M.A.)
Jess Miglio/Paramount Players
Taraji P. Henson stars in an amusing, touching, Jerry Maguire-like remake of Mel Gibson's 2000 comedy (What Women Want) about being granted sudden power to read the minds of the opposite sex. She's got verve, and so do Erykah Badu as the psychic who makes her a mindreader and grownup supporting players Richard 'Shaft' Roundtree, 76, and Tracy Morgan, 50. —Lisa Kennedy FULL REVIEW
Courtesy Warner Bros.
Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson took 100-year-old footage of World War I soldiers, restored it with technical wizardry, added interviews with veterans and a you-are-there soundtrack — plus a coda about his own family's casualties and his ingenious restoration methods — and wound up with the most surprisingly wonderful Great War documentary ever made. —T.A. FULL REVIEW
Jessica Kourkounis/Universal Pictures
The Sixth Sense director M. Night Shyamalan mashed together his characters from two prior films, the hit Split and the comic-book movie Unbreakable, with muddled effects, but despite the messy story, it's fun to see Samuel L. Jackson, 70, America's top-grossing movie star, steal scenes from an uncharacteristically un-quippy Bruce Willis, 63. Willis plays a security guard with supernatural powers — he's unbreakable — who hunts a killer with multiple personalities (James McAvoy). They both get thrown into a mental institution alongside crafty criminal Glass (Jackson), and then things get weird. The best part is watching McAvoy become many characters, the scariest of which is called the Beast. —T.M.A. FULL REVIEW
Cold War, R
This likely foreign Oscar nominee by the director of the Oscar winner Ida is about a musician (Tomasz Kot) who collects folk tunes in Poland in 1949, fearing they’ll be lost under Soviet rule. He meets a singer (Joanna Kulig) who’s sexier and more dangerous than Jeanne Moreau in Jules and Jim, and their whirlwind romance whisks them from decade to decade as they break up and passionately reconnect, with stops in Berlin, Yugoslavia and Paris. The film is on a par with that other black-and-white foreign Oscar contender Roma, only more exciting. —T.A.
David Lee/STX Films
The Upside, PG-13
Bryan Cranston, 62, stars as Phillip, a billionaire quadriplegic with a death wish who hires smart-mouthed unemployed ex-con Dell (Kevin Hart, 39) as his live-in caretaker. Remade by Neil Burger from the 2011 French feel-good hit Les Intouchables, this odd-couple dramedy struggles with an uneven screenplay replete with sex-organ jokes. Cranston compels even when only acting from the neck up, but Hart seems to be desperately underwater for most of the movie. —T.M.A. FULL REVIEW
Jonathan Wenk/Focus Features
On the Basis of Sex, PG-13
The holidays are a great time for good movies, and if you want one that makes you feel good, too, this workmanlike, old-fashioned biopic about the future Ruth “Kiki” Bader Ginsburg should hit the spot. Like a superhero origin story, it shows how RBG became a legal star. One of nine women in her Harvard Law class, she couldn’t get a job at a law firm, so she taught instead. Then her extraordinarily supportive tax lawyer husband (Armie Hammer) — who beat a 95 percent fatal cancer in a brief, real-life subplot — helped her make history with the 1972 case Moritz v. Commissioner of the IRS, about a man denied a deduction for his mother’s caregiving. Lawmakers couldn’t imagine a male could be a caregiver, and the Ginsburgs fought that idea to the Supreme Court. RBG’s win did for sexual equality what Brown v. Board of Education did for racial equality, and eventually led to her becoming a justice. Sam Waterston, 78, is tops as Harvard’s sexist dean and Kathy Bates, 70, as the ACLU’s sole female board member, but the film’s heart is the Ginsburgs’ highly romantic love story. The documentary RBG is better, but this one’s good enough. —T.A. READ DIRECTOR MIMI LEDER INTERVIEW
You can take grandchildren to the blockbuster Mary Poppins sequel and please them, but it’s really made for us grownups still humming those 1964 tunes. Nearly every song (by Hairspray’s composers) updates one in the original. Though most are merely catchy, not immortal earworms, there’s a rousing dance-hall number and the still-dancing Dick Van Dyke, 93, sings a supercalifragilistic one: “When they tell you [that] your chance to dance is done, that’s the time to stand, to strike up the band and tell them that you’ve just begun!” The plot — Michael Banks (Ben Whishaw) is almost bankrupt thanks to his late wife’s medical bills, so a wily banker (Colin Firth) means to evict his family — is only a mild distraction from the high-stepping musical fun afoot. Emily Blunt makes a magical airborne nanny, more wry and acerbic than Julie Andrews, and takes a larky plunge with her charges into a bathtub’s undersea world and the cartoon universe inside the family china. Meryl Streep (as cousin Topsy) romps with the kids in her upside-down house, and Angela Lansbury does the climactic “Let’s Go Fly a Kite” equivalent. As Mary’s fond lamplighter pal, Hamilton’s Lin-Manuel Miranda is no Dick Van Dyke, but he’s tuneful, and the reboot adds Broadway brio to the original’s blend of actors and animation. And Van Dyke’s British accent has improved since 1964. —T.A.
Matt Kennedy/Annapurna Pictures
The best thing about this biopic about Dick Cheney is Christian Bale’s startlingly perfect metamorphosis into the most powerful veep in history — with 40 extra pounds and eerily accurate mannerisms, you can’t believe it’s Bale. This is the sort of performance Oscars were created to recognize. But this bitterly political satirical film won’t even please many Cheney enemies. Though Bale gives a sense of Cheney’s turbulent inner depths, the movie as a whole is silly, jokey and chaotic, reducing complicated situations and historical events to scattershot skits. Steve Carell plays Cheney’s mentor-turned-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld as a giggling power freak with no real ideological convictions — a stretch no matter how you feel about him. Still, with performances like Bale’s and Amy Adams’ as a Lynne Cheney who may be more like Lady Macbeth than the real Mrs. Cheney, it’s worth seeing for connoisseurs of acting. —T.A.
Tatum Mangus/Annapurna Pictures
Harlem in the '70s has never looked so gorgeous as it does in this dreamy, poetic, heartbreaking adaptation of James Baldwin's 1974 novel about a false rape charge and the families it traumatizes. Director Barry Jenkins made 2017's best picture Oscar winner Moonlight and hasn't lost his artful touch. In a strong ensemble cast, Regina King, 47, stands out as the fiercely protective mother of the accused man's fiancée (KiKi Layne). The cinematography is swoonily beautiful, with a strong spine of storytelling. —T.A. FULL REVIEW
Olivia Colman, 44, takes over for Claire Foy as Queen Elizabeth II in TV’s hit The Crown in 2019, but as 18th-century Queen Anne in this faster, funnier, infinitely nastier best picture Oscar contender, she’s a far more interesting person. Decadent, depraved, grief-stricken, she binges on cake and the manipulative, two-faced wooing of her lady-in-waiting, Sarah (Rachel Weisz, 48). The real Lady Sarah, ancestor of Winston Churchill and Princess Diana, was described by the Telegraph as “the world’s most ambitious woman.” But into the palace of intrigue comes Sarah’s rival, her wide-eyed yet equally ambitious cousin Abigail (Emma Stone, 30), who’s broke thanks to her gambler dad. Sarah thinks she’s got two women under her thumb now, but she’s never seen All About Eve — Abigail can’t wait to replace her as royal favorite. Even the impulsive queen is a schemer. When she says, “I have sent for some lobsters — I thought we could race them and then eat them,” she might as well be talking about Sarah and Abigail. —T.A.
Even though it’s in black and white, in Spanish, and it has no stars you ever heard of, this touching story inspired by the childhood of director Alfonso Cuarón, 56, could win more Oscars than his outer-space smash Gravity. Yalitza Aparicio is irresistible as an indigenous Mixtec woman who becomes a domestic worker for a middle-class family in Mexico City and a second mother to the kids. It’s on Netflix starting Dec. 14, but its gorgeous photography and stunning sound design are better savored in a theater. —T.M.A. FULL REVIEW
Patti Perret/Universal Pictures
Green Book, PG-13
Lord of the Rings’ Viggo Mortensen, 60, gained 30 pounds to play Tony Lip, the Mafia nightclub bouncer who was a bodyguard, chauffeur and lifelong friend of piano genius Donald Shirley (Mahershala Ali, 44) on his perilous concert tour of the South in 1962 — when black visitors were wise to carry The Negro Motorist Green Book to locate places where they’d be safe-ish. It’s a true story and a heartwarming Oscar magnet. No surprise Ali is tops, but who knew Viggo could play Italian American mob comedy? Or that director Peter Farrelly (Dumb and Dumber) could direct a smart, only partly funny, socially conscious drama perfect for our times? —T.A. FULL REVIEW and Q&A WITH VIGGO MORTENSEN
Alex Bailey/Twentieth Century Fox
Bohemian Rhapsody, PG-13
This biopic glorifying and sanitizing Queen is a pleasant enough parade of champion hits and behind-the-music cliches. Rami Malek captures lead singer Freddie Mercury’s polymorphously perverse magnetism, and he didn’t need those prosthetic buck teeth (which people falsely call the secret of Mercury’s distinctive sound — voice scientist Christian Herbst’s 2016 study proved it’s actually his oddly irregular vibrato). Even the true parts of the film seem as fake as those teeth. Mary Austin, whom Mercury called his common-law wife, really did stay in his life (though not bed) after he confessed to being gay, and he willed her about $50 million (versus less than a million for Jim Hutton, whom he called his husband). Mary was likely the “mama mia” who has to let him go in his coded coming-out anthem “Bohemian Rhapsody.” But fine actors Lucy Boynton and Aaron McCusker can’t make Mary and Jim feel real in this infinitely artificial screenplay, and the Queen guys are all ciphers, too. —T.A. FIVE MORE MOVIES NAMED FOR POP SONGS