I do think Lady Gaga will win the Best Actress Oscar, as this is a once-in-a-lifetime role and she truly shines in it. But can we just agree that the movie loses its way a bit in the second half? That Grammys scene was waaaay over the top. Anyway! We can table the A Star Is Born analysis for another time. Now that you’ve seen that smash hit (and memorized the soundtrack note-for-note), it’s time to zoom in on five other superb films now playing — or soon to be playing — in a theater or living room near you. Please take a pause from replaying “Shallow” to check ‘em out.
For his solo screenplay and directorial debut, Jonah Hill decided to craft a moving little coming-of-age drama that’s obviously close to his heart. Like its lead character, the film is scrappy if a bit underripe. Stevie (Sunny Suljic) is a sweet 13-year-old L.A. kid. Lost at home with his abusive older brother (Lucas Hedges) and single mom (Katherine Waterston), he finds his escape by hanging and skateboarding with a group of wise-cracking older teens. The new crowd introduces him to sex, drugs and mid-1990s rock n roll, but this is no scary descent into darkness. Indeed, Hill shows the joy and warmth that comes in finding true kindred spirits in a pre-social media era. And the cherubic Suljic — he played Nicole Kidman’s doomed son in The Killing of the Sacred Deer last year — is a lovely old soul. (In select theaters on Friday, October 19)
2. Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Melissa McCarthy a wicked wonder in this compelling true story set in 1990s New York City. Grimy and gritty 1990s New York City. She plays Lee Israel, a prickly 50-something celebrity biographer who has fallen on hard times. To pay the bills and avoid eviction, she starts a side hustle: Forge and sell witty typed letters written by notable authors such as Dorothy Parker and Noel Coward. So meticulous is her work that she designates different typewriters for different letters in her already-cluttered apartment. The devious Lee is flat-out breaking the law, but McCarthy plays her as such a delicious wise-ass heroine that audiences will be rooting for her to prevail over all the literary snobs. It’s a biting tale — but not necessarily a cautionary one. (In select theaters on Friday, October 19)
3. The Old Man & The Gun
If this is truly Robert Redford’s final performance, he’s going out with an exclamation point. The 82-year-old legend acts without abandon playing a real-life convicted felon named Forest Tucker. Not content with retirement, Forest — who’s escaped prison about 30 times — politely robs banks in 1981 with a dusty pistol and a twinkle in his eye. (A branch manager describes him to the police as “sort of a gentleman.”) He even takes a time out from a police chase to help a woman (Sissy Spacek) on the side of the road. Though a cop (Casey Affleck) is constantly on his tail, the titular old man refuses to give up his passion. The shaggy and surprisingly existential drama is essentially a love letter to the wily, still ruggedly handsome Redford. Happy trails. (Now in theaters)
4. Private Life
In New York City, married filmmakers (a never-better Paul Giamatti and Kathryn Hahn) are desperate to have a baby or die trying. All they keep hearing is that it just takes “one good egg” to make their dreams come true. But that is small comfort after yet another failed in-vitro attempt. New idea: Ask their precocious college-grad non-biological niece (Kaylie Carter) to be the egg donor. She enthusiastically accepts; though, of course, saying yes is the easy part. Director Tamara Jenkins’ lived-in and often-hilarious dramedy, which was the opening night film at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival and recently played at the prestigious New York Film Festival, is a richly rewarding experience. And just when you feel fully, emotionally invested in this couple, Jenkins tosses in a whopper of a closing shot. (Now streaming on Netflix and in select theaters)
5. Free Solo
Do you have vertigo? Get dizzy easily? No? Good. Then you’re in for an amazing, exhilarating documentary. Alex Honnold is a professional climber that likes to move on up “free solo” — i.e., he doesn’t use a harness or rope. Just think about that. His version of Everest is the granite face of the El Capitan in Yosemite National Park. For the main event, he attempts to scale all 3000 vertical feet of it, knowing that one misstep will seal his fate. There wouldn’t be a movie if he failed, but that doesn’t make his try any less of a, er, cliffhanger. Indeed, his burgeoning relationship with a devoted new girlfriend, Sanni McCandless, provides just as much suspense. Tom Cruise really needs to consult Honnold before filming the next Mission: Impossibleinstallment. (Now in theaters. Duh, see it on a big screen.)
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