This weekend's your chance to catch two Foreign Language Oscar hopefuls -- Palestine's "Omar," up for the Academy Award, and erstwhile Romanian contender "Child's Pose." Also, head to the English-language revamp of Hayao Miyazaki's farewell feature film "The Wind Rises," with its star-studded voice cast, but heed critics' advice and skip vulgar auteur Paul WS Anderson's "Pompeii," and stuffy Emile Zola adaptation "In Secret."
In the psychologically taut "Omar," a young Palestinian dissident (Adam Bakri) agrees to work as an informant after he's tricked into an admission of guilt in the wake of an Israeli soldier's murder. In her TOH! review, Beth Hanna wrote that the film is "like a modern-day 'Romeo & Juliet' tale, if Romeo were a double agent in the middle of the West Bank." "Omar" could enjoy a decent weekend at the arthouse box office considering its awards buzz. The film was also included in the Un Certain Regard sidebar at Cannes 2013.
Studio Ghibli's animated Oscar nominee "The Wind Rises," an historical true story of the brilliant designer behind the Zero fighter plane that wrecked havoc in World War II, is indeed the last film from Hayao Miyazaki, the Walt Disney of Japan, who won the animated Oscar for "Spirited Away." A must-see for animation buffs and Miyazaki fans, this film is far more adult than most of Miyazaki's family-friendly features. And repackaging under the Disney insignia following a Fall 2013 awards-qualifying run should bring in a sizable audience.
From Hitchcock's "Psycho" to Siegel and McGehee's "The Deep End," cinema loves its messed up mother-son relationships. But rarely are they handled with the mastery of Calin Peter Netzer's tale of smotherly love "Child's Pose," Romania's 2014 Oscar entry and also one of the country's strongest films in a surprising, prosperous New Wave of films by Cristian Mungiu and Cristi Puiu. Add Netzer to that list -- and leading lady Luminita Gheorghiu, who plays a woman covering up the tracks of her son's deadly mistakes, to the list of all-time great messed-up screen mommies. The film also won the Golden Bear at the Berlinale last year. (In the works: Time critic Richard Corliss's return to books, "Mom in the Movies."
Critics urge you to skip two films this week: first, "Pompeii," the latest disaster (flick) from that other Paul Anderson, Paul WS Anderson. Here's another 3D macho spectacle that will just make you wish "Gravity" would come back to the IMAX. Also on the low end of the critical spectrum this weekend is "In Secret," originally titled "Therese" upon its TIFF premiere. A la "Madame Bovary" or "Anna Karenina," it's a stately literary adaptation (here, from a novel by Emile Zola) about a sexually repressed -- and married -- heroine (Elizabeth Olsen) whose soul-liberating side-dish (Oscar Isaac) comes from the other side of the tracks. Jessica Lange costars.
The Wind Rises Dir. Hayao Miyazaki, Japan | Disney | Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, John Krasinski, Emily Blunt, Mandy Patinkin, Stanley Tucci, Werner Herzog | 86% Fresh | TIME: "It is vigorous, subtle, thematically daring, visually gorgeous." | Our interviews with Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli
Child's Pose Dir. Calin Peter Netzer, Romania | Zeitgeist Films | Cast: Luminita Gheorghiu, Florin Zamfirescu, Bogdan Dumitrache | 92% Fresh | AV Club: "Sporting a blonde dye job and a haughty, impervious manner, Gheorghiu makes Cornelia a consistently compelling figure, at once monstrous and pathetic." | Our review
Omar Dir. Hany Abu-Assad, Palestine | Adopt Films | Cast: Adam Bakri, Samer Bisharat | 84% Fresh | Entertainment Weekly: "A harrowing, humane Arabic-language import about life under occupation that's part Romeo-and-Juliet love story and part twisty chess-pawn thriller." | Our review
Pompeii Dir. Paul WS Anderson, USA | Sony Pictures | Cast: Kit Harington, Carrie-Anne Moss, Emily Browning, Jared Harris | 29% Fresh | The Dissolve: "Feels like an excuse to rain digital terror on screaming extras. There's much to see here, but little to feel, and even less to remember."
In Secret Dir. Charlie Stratton, USA | Roadside Attractions | Cast: Elizabeth Olsen, Tom Felton, Oscar Isaac, Jessica Lange | 43% Fresh | NPR: "Rather than revealing the brutish natures of Zola's characters, the movie's lovers seem simply to be following a yellowed script, more with duty than passion."