With "movie award season" in full swing, this is the perfect time of year to catch some great films at your local cineplex. Here are my choices for the best five movies playing in theaters right now!
(Note: "12 Years a Slave" - which won the Best Drama Golden Globe award on Jan. 12 - is no longer playing in a movie house near me. If it were, it would surely be included on this list.)
5 / 5 stars
A heartbroken loner (Joaquin Phoenix) develops a romance with his computer’s operating system (voiced by Scarlett Johansson) in a frank, sad and touching look at relationships in the not-too-distant future. Director Spike Jones visions a beautiful, but also antiseptic Los Angeles as a background, and the human connections within this megalopolis deliberately feel almost as plastic and artificial as the automation which drives their lives. An especially thoughtful piece of art.
"Inside Llewyn Davis"
5 / 5 stars
The Coen Brothers churn out another winner, and this time, they focus on another time, 1961. It is New York City, and the folk revolution finds its footing, but struggling performer Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac) feels like gum at the bottom of life’s shoe. Bad luck follows him everywhere, but we discover Llewyn - knowingly or unknowingly - makes his own bad luck. On the other hand, he can sing and play guitar extremely well, but will he catch a break? Throughout the picture, the music itself really is another character, and Carey Mulligan, John Goodman, Justin Timberlake, Max Casella, and Stark Sands give excellent performances as the Coens' supporting players in one of 2013's best films.
5 / 5 stars
Director Alexander Payne’s dark comedy - about a downtrodden 70-something drunk (Bruce Dern) who believes he won a million dollars - trudges through small town America and dredges up painful moments of family dysfunction and bad decisions at nearly every turn on its winding road into the past. Dern is fantastic as Woody, a miserable alcoholic. He barely recognizes the events right in front of his face, but is singularly focused on collecting his money in Lincoln, Nebraska. Comedian Will Forte takes a surprising dramatic turn as his emotionally beaten-down son, David, but June Squibb gives the most memorable performance as Woody’s argumentative wife, Kate. Every line Kate (Squibb) speaks is pure cinematic and comedic gold. Her frank assessment of the stupidity surrounding her physical being is spot on, but not necessarily needed to be repeated. David is well aware of the family’s history of mistakes, but learns much more during this trip down “Memory Lane” between Billings, MT, Hawthorne, NE and Lincoln, NE. A sometimes hilarious and sometimes tragic look at life, this movie captures so many honest and raw moments of the human condition.
4 / 5 stars
A botched mission entangles four navy seals (Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch, and Ben Foster) in a bloody gunfight along the craggy landscape of Afghanistan, and director Peter Berg’s picture brings an extremely up-close and uncomfortable view of war. All of the performances rightfully feel authentic (the movie is based upon a true story), and as an impending doom surrounds the four men, I felt the need to look away from the screen several times. A great war film.
"Saving Mr. Banks"
4 / 5 stars
Emma Thompson stars as “Mary Poppins” author P.L. Travers, and Tom Hanks plays Walt Disney in a tale which carries much more gravitas than one might expect. Disney tries to convince Travers to sell the rights to “Mary Poppins”, so he can make his movie, but she holds onto her story with the grip of a 250 pound NFL Linebacker, and the reasons why will really surprise you. It’s no surprise Thompson gives a great performance, and this one might receive an Oscar nomination. A moving and well-crafted story.