Oscar season rolls into theaters this weekend with three well-reviewed titles that could see some awards play: Ron Howard's "Rush," Denis Villeneuve's "Prisoners" and Nicole Holofcener's "Enough Said."
At the top of the critical heap -- and rightly so -- is Holofcener's lovely, bittersweet romantic comedy, starring a stellar Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Eva, a divorced single mom and masseuse who's surprised by her attraction to Albert (played with heartbreaking sincerity by the late James Gandolfini). Things get complicated when Eva's fabulous new client (Holofcener muse Catherine Keener) turns out to be Albert's ex.
Ron Howard returns to top form with "Rush," a mainstream action drama for adults that Universal is platforming in five locations for maximum buzz. This exhilarating portrait of two real-life Formula One racing rivals stars hunky Chris Hemsworth as British rake James Hunt and breakout Daniel Bruhl as wily Austrian Niki Lauda.
Denis Villeneuve's screwturner epic "Prisoners," starring Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal both at the top of their games, is sitting with good reviews from critics. The film is exceptionally well made; it's shot by 10-time Oscar nominee Roger Deakins in ominous, wintry greys, and Villeneuve -- whose "Incendies" was nominated for the Foreign-Language Oscar in 2010 -- clearly knows how to construct a taut thriller with horrific moral undertones. Where the film falters is its script, which drowns itself in red herrings and ultimately serves up an increasingly preposterous third act.
Martha Shane and Lana Wilson's documentary "After Tiller" is also well-liked by critics. The film, which extensively interviews the four remaining third trimester abortion doctors in the US, is revelatory in its ability to deal with a highly contentious subject and treat it with observational calm and even-handedness.
Finally, Weinstein delicacy "Haute Cuisine" centers on the real-life story of Daniele Delpeuch, who was appointed as the private chef for French prime minister Francois Mitterand. Critics aren't fully eating it up; it's sitting with a modest 67% Fresh on the Tomatometer.
Enough Said Dir. Nicole Holofcener, USA | Fox Searchlight | Cast: Julia Louis-Dreyfus, James Gandofini, Catherine Keener, Toni Colette, Ben Falcone | 93% Fresh | New York Times: "Line for line, scene for scene, it is one of the best-written American film comedies in recent memory and an implicit rebuke to the raunchy, sloppy spectacles of immaturity that have dominated the genre in recent years." | Our TOH! review
Rush Dir. Ron Howard, USA | Universal | Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Daniel Bruhl, Olivia Wilde | 91% Fresh | Village Voice: "It's both a perceptive dual character study and, that rarity of rarities, a large-scale action movie for grown-ups, one worth leaving the house for."
After Tiller Dirs. Martha Shane, Lana Wilson, USA | Oscilloscope Pictures | 82% Fresh | Hollywood Reporter: "Whether one is pro-life, pro-choice or without an opinion on the issue, After Tiller provides personal insight into a heart-wrenching, complex reality. The film does not pretend to be an answer to the abortion controversy but rather a presentation of the people who are demonized, correctly or incorrectly, for their actions." | Our TOH! review
Prisoners Dir. Denis Villeneuve, USA | Warner Bros. | Cast: Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Maria Bello, Paul Dano, Terrence Howard, Viola Davis | 81% Fresh | The New Yorker: "Prisoners, despite its gathering anxiety, has some of the pleasures of ordinary thrillers. But Villeneuve, who previously directed “Incendies,” does volatile scenes without exaggeration; parts of the movie are exceedingly violent, though the violence isn’t 'fun' -- it makes you wince."
Haute Cuisine Dir. Christian Vincent, France | Weinstein Company | Cast: Catherine Frot, Arthur Dupont, Jean d'Ormesson | 67% Fresh | Time Out New York: "The film’s Antarctic framing device (wait, what?) feels unearned and distracting, regardless of its veracity. But there’s plenty to behold, including a killer Gâteau Saint-Honoré."