Rust and Bone
A film by writer-director Jacques Audiard (A Prophet) Rust and Bone tells a tale of a relationship between Alain, a tough bouncer with little sensitivity for others, played by Euro-hunk Matthias Schoenaerts, and Stephanie (Marion Cotillard), a trainer of killer whales who has suffered a terrible accident that has made her a paraplegic. The narrative at the heart of Rust and Bone could all too easily be a vehicle for sentiment and over-the-top histrionics, but the two leads manage to keep the story grounded, but critics are divided about whether they managed to rise above the basic cliches that fill hundreds of movies about the (spiritually or physically) disabled.
The Silver Linings Playbook
It’s as American as apple pie: baseball, mental illness, infidelity, and finding the girl who was always meant for you. The film, directed by David O. Russell (Three Kings and The Fighter), has won critical and audience favor for its ability to circumvent the predictable tropes of both the rom-com and the oddball movie, delivering plenty of life-affirming messages without ever losing its light touch or its gritty edge. Jennifer Lawrence delivers a gutsy performance, playing alongside Bradley Cooper, who proves there is more to him than what we saw in The Hangover and The A-Team. The stars are brilliantly supported by a cast of A-listers. Weaving through a maze of well-worn cinematic tropes, The Silver Lining Playbook never loses its way.
A film by director Paul Thomas Anderson (Punch Drunk Love and There Will Be Blood), and with leading players Philip Seymour Hoffman, Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, The Master sets up expectations that are almost impossible to reach, and then reaches them. The story of a naval veteran (Phoenix) who returns from war traumatized and uncertain about his future, then finds “The Cause,” led by a charismatic speaker (Hoffman), who may or may not be something more than an inspired charlatan. The Master address fundamental issues of American identity in such a way that some critics have claimed it as the cinematic equivalent of “The Great American Novel.” While the film traces the arc of a man falling under the spell of a charismatic authority figure, it also makes the audience succumb to its own spellbinding magic.
One of Denzel Washington’s meatiest roles in some time, the actor plays Whip Whitaker, a veteran pilot who saves a plane full of passengers from almost certain death through quick thinking and composure under pressure. He is hailed as a hero until the investigation reveals his dark secret: that he was flying under the influence of a mixture of drugs and alcohol that would floor most people, and that he had been doing this for a long time. Washington manages to keep audience sympathy and although there are many scenes inviting showy emotionalism, Washington holds back to brilliant effect, creating a character who is deeply flawed, admirable, weak, arrogant and all too human.