By Ryan Lattanzio | TOH! December 19, 2013 at 3:21PM
An eclectic array of intimate indies and a raucous mainstream comedy hit theaters this weekend, from Spike Jonze's cri-de-coeur "Her" to Asghar Farhadi's can't-miss "The Past" and, yes, the "Anchorman" sequel. Trailers below.
From the mind, heart and soul of Spike Jonze comes "Her," the futuristic new romantic comedy about a lonely greeting card scribe (Joaquin Phoenix) who falls for his operating system Samantha (Scarlett Johansson). But trouble looms on the horizon for this seemingly uncomplicated romance when Samantha begins to acquire subjectivity. Phoenix and Johansson are a match made in heaven, and a frazzle-haired Amy Adams steals the show as his kooky gal pal. "Her" popped up on many of our TOH! top ten lists.
Iranian writer-director Asghar Farhadi has created one of the best screenplays of the year with "The Past," a measured domestic drama where every frame counts. It centers on an estranged couple, French Marie (Cannes winner Berenice Bejo) and Iranian Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa), who meet to formalize their divorce in Paris. Slowly pieces of information about her trickle in to devastating effect. Farhadi's formal rigor and organic, mathematically precise storytelling elevate the film from melodrama to the plane of Greek tragedy.
In a small-scale release at New York's Lincoln Center is writer/director Clio Barnard's brilliant new British verite drama "The Selfish Giant," adapted from the Oscar Wilde fable but rejiggered into a salt-of-the-earth working class tragedy about two scrappy young boys that take up work in a junkyard--leading to consequences that threaten to tear their whole world apart. The film features stunningly grown-up performances from its young amateur actors, who Barnard met on the set of her hybrid doc "The Arbor" (2011). "The Selfish Giant" was a hit at the British Independent Film Awards.
The weekend's big wide release is Adam McKay's "Anchorman" sequel in which "The Legend Continues." The raucous comedy reunites stars Will Ferrell, Steve Carell, Christina Applegate and Paul Rudd while throwing some unusual cameos into the mix including Lady Gaga and Kirsten Dunst. Apparently the filmmakers wanted President Obama to make an appearance. The PG-13-rated film is currently sitting with decent reviews.
"Her" Dir. Spike Jonze, USA | Warner Bros. | Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Scarlett Johansson, Amy Adams, Rooney Mara, Olivia Wilde | 91% Fresh | The New Yorker: "Sad, kooky, and daunting in equal measure, 'Her' is the right film at the right time." | Our review and TIFF coverage
"The Past" Dir. Asghar Farhadi, France/Iran | Sony Pictures Classics | Cast: Berenice Bejo, Tahar Rahim, Ali Mosaffa | 94% Fresh | Village Voice: "Bolstered by performances that convey profound grief and remorse without look-at-me histrionics, 'The Past' is steeped in the believable micro details of its scenario while also expanding to universals." | Our Cannes coverage and Q&A w/ Farhadi
"The Selfish Giant" Dir. Clio Barnard, UK | IFC Films | Cast: Conner Chapman, Shaun Thomas, Sean Gilder, Lorraine Ashbourne, Ian Burfield | 97% Fresh | The Dissolve: "'The Selfish Giant' is a harsh movie, but it isn’t devoid of hope, because Barnard understands that everything has value—even if it can’t be realized until after an object’s been tossed out."
"Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues" Dir. Adam McKay, USA | Paramount | Cast: Will Ferrell, Steve Carell, Paul Rudd, Christina Applegate, James Marsden, Kristen Wiig | 75% Fresh | Salon: "This is the kind of movie where most people know what they want and are pretty sure what they will get, that being 'more of the same, please.'"