Most families go the movies at least once during the holiday season, and we fully support a big matinee outing to see "Frozen" or "Catching Fire" with the kids. But we also think you should take advantage of the fact that 2013 is one of the best movie years in recent history and put a few titles on your must-see list that aren't for the whole family.
The year's final installment of Get the Sitter features three critically acclaimed dramas that are all Academy Award contenders worth seeing on the big screen. Arrange a sitter, appeal to your child-free siblings, or give the grandparents their holiday wish to be alone with the kids and then go to your favorite cinema; you'll thank us come Oscar pool time.
"American Hustle" (Rated R)
Directed by: David O. Russell | Starring: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence | Runtime: 138 minutes
Why It's Worth It: Arguably (and critics' groups across the country agree), this is one of the year's finest acting ensembles –- right up there with "12 Years a Slave." A great deal has been written about Bale's weight gain (he's usually losing or toning for his roles) and '70s comb-over, and yes the costumes are a hoot (never again will you see so much of Adams' décolletage), but it's not the campy period style that makes this movie so memorable. It's the fact that Russell is an actor's director (he's directed seven Oscar-nominated performances), and when you have Bale, Adams, Cooper, Lawrence, and Jeremy Renner taking on a tale of how a con-artist couple (Bale and Adams) helped the feds (a permed Cooper) expose political corruption, you just have to sit back and watch the sparks fly; Adams shed her good girl image; Lawrence continue to prove her Oscar was no one-off; and Cooper and Bale go toe to toe.
Critical Praise: "Russell out-Scorseses Scorsese with hyperbolic technique: whip-pans, whooshes, slo-mo, and tacky but great '70s chart-toppers. He winds his actors up and lets them loose."–- David Edelstein, New York Magazine; "With one of the best ensemble casts of any film this year, it's audacious, enthralling and uproarious." –- Claudia Puig, USA Today
"Her" (Rated R)
Directed by: Spike Jonze | Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Scarlett Johansson, Rooney Mara, Amy Adams | Runtime: 120 minutes
Why It's Worth It: In the age of Siri, Google Glass, and phone watches, it's not absurd to imagine that in the Los Angeles of the future, people would be able to interact with an operating system that's also a form of artificial intelligence –- a voice in your head that becomes your friend, and in lonely professional letter writer Theodore Twombly's (Phoenix) case, a lover. The voice, of course, is Johansson's, a friendly, sultry, evocative voice that names herself Samantha and becomes the divorced loner's everything –- and it's thrilling, touching, humorous to watch as Theodore falls in love with "Her." You will too, and you'll marvel at how extraordinary Johansson's performance is and able to hit every emotional note with only her voice with no animated or digitally created avatar to stand in for her body, because there IS NO body. Phoenix is a marvel as the vulnerable Theodore, who still misses his fiery ex wife (Mara, both in flashback and one scary, crucial scene). Do yourselves a favor and watch this unconventional love story.
Critical Praise: "Acerbic, emotional, provocative, it's a risky high dive off the big board with a plot that sounds like a gimmick but ends up haunting, odd and a bit wonderful."–- Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times; "One of the most engaging and genuinely provocative movies you're likely to see this year, and definitely a challenging but not inapt date movie." -– Glen Kenny, RogerEbert.com
"Inside Llewyn Davis" (Rated R)
Directed by: The Coen Brothers | Starring: Oscar Issac, Carey Mulligan, Justin Timberlake, John Goodman | Runtime: 105 minutes
Why It's Worth It: It's a testament to this year's wealth of fabulous lead actor performances that this Coen Brothers film –- a snapshot of the moment in folk rock history before the emergency of Bob Dylan –- hasn't landed Isaac more accolades. The Golden Globe-nominated actor carries the film as the titular character, a folk singer-songwriter waiting for his shot at the big time while crashing on sofas up and down (mostly down) Manhattan. Mid-way the movie turns into a road trip tragicomedy featuring the hilarious odd couple of Goodman and Garrett Hedlund (channeling James Dean), and back in the Village, Llewyn's close friends include a singing husband-and-wife duo, the earnest Jim (Justin Timberlake) and the surprisingly bitter Jean (Carey Mulligan), whom Llewyn has bedded but can't figure out. Whether it's the pitch-perfect performances or the music (Isaac is quite the natural talent), or just your love of Coen films, there are endless reasons to see "Inside Llewyn Davis."
Critical Praise: "Llike almost all of their films, the Coens' new movie has a great and playful sense of incident, cramming in characters and anecdotes that obviously amuse the brothers without serving any specific narrative purpose - yet make the narrative all the richer. " –- Stephen Whitty; Newark Star-Ledger; "It never becomes more than one scene, followed by the next, and then another. Yet those scenes are easy to watch, and they have the Coens' signature humor. " -– Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle