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Must-See Movies: 'Her,' 'American Hustle,' 'Saving Mr. Banks,' More

Also 'The Wolf of Wall Street' and 'Inside Llewyn Davis.'

"Her" starring Joaquin Phoenix is in theaters now; photo courtesy of Warner Bros.
"Her" starring Joaquin Phoenix is in theaters now; photo courtesy of Warner Bros.
By Leslie Combemale aka Cinema Siren

This is a holiday weekend, and we can all use a few hours of escapism between parties or family gatherings, no? Of course! Cinema Siren has just the thing. Here are five movies that have been released in the last few weeks that might be the perfect way to recharge or reframe how things are going in this, the last weeks of 2013... by comparison, if you aren't hustling people for money, homeless or in love with your computer....it's a wonderful life!    

Her: Released on Christmas Day, this new gorgeous piece of heartbreak from director Spike Jonze stars Joaquin Phoenix and the voice of Scarlett Johansson in a story about a lonely man who slowly falls for his operating system, played by Johansson. The inventive and philosophical script and easy interaction between the stars is at the heart of what allows the audience to connect so powerfully with this film and the struggles of its quirky protagonist. 

Those who enjoy this movie will leave the theater extremely moved, others will no doubt find it odd. Certainly members of the San Diego Film Critics Society fell into the former category, awarding them Best Film, Best Original Screenplay, Best Score, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Editing, and Best Production Design.  The Rom Film Fest awarded Scarlett Johansson Best Actress, although she is never seen onscreen. Her chemistry with Phoenix is undeniable.  5 Stars


Inside Llewyn Davis: The Coen brothers are said to be further building their cabinet full of misfit and loser characters with this movie, which opened wide on Dec. 20, and stars Oscar Isaac as a struggling, barely likable folk singer in early '60s New York. The film has won many accolades including the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes, and Best Actor nominations for Isaac from many critics awards around the country. It has a slice-of-life quality to the rather sad story, which is enhanced by the exceptional live musical performances.  4 Stars. (See the video of Cinema Siren’s interview with Oscar Isaac here.)

American Hustle: An amazing cast helps David O. Russell continue his winning streak with this messy cinematic mash-up of a farce romance "dramedy" con flick about characters colliding as they try to out-manipulate each other and their marks and get into a world of trouble doing it. The acting in this film is absolutely top notch.  There will be an Oscar.  (Read the full review here.) 5 Stars 

See interviews here with Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence and director David O. Russell.

Saving Mr. Banks: Released wide on Dec. 20, Disney Studios is hoping for a hit with this film that portrays Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) as he attempts to charm P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson), the author of "Mary Poppins," into allowing him the rights to release her story as the film that became a classic. This is not the feel-good movie they are portraying it to be, and involves quite a bit of darkness.  Alcoholism, depression and obsessive compulsive disorder play a major part in the story, but so does forgiveness, kindness and acceptance. 

While Cinema Siren was not as enamored of the film as some critics, finding the story overly sentimentalized and a bit skewed, strong acting (Emma Thompson is seeming to rack up Best Actress nominations everywhere) and production design, make this movie a real contender in the upcoming awards season.  4 Stars


The Wolf of Wall Street: Cinematic Christmas presents don’t come any more flamboyant or with sharper teeth, than this latest Scorsese/DiCaprio collaboration. The famed director fearlessly turns a jaundiced and truthful eye on capitalism, and DiCaprio portrays a wholly unlikeable but compelling character drugging and lying his way to being a financial “king of the world.”  The Academy won’t likely recognize his superlative work as real-life swindler Jordan Belfort, making three hours at the cinema, at once hilarious, scathing and scandalous.

Wolf is absolutely not for everyone, as Scorsese himself will attest, having been accosted more than once in screenings by naysayers. Supporting actors Jonah Hill and (the too briefly seen) Matthew McConaughey help make Wolf of Wall Street a must see, but it is DiCaprio that sinks his fangs into this role with everything he’s got.  Potential viewers be warned, there is more drugging, sex, and depravity than anyone would imagine could fit in a movie that isn’t porn or a state trooper training video.  4 Stars  (but Leo gets 5 stars)

Leslie Combemale, "Cinema Siren," is a movie lover and aficionado with a background in writing, film, and art history. She owns ArtInsights Animation and Film Art Gallery, which specializes in the original art of film. She is often invited to present at conventions including the San Diego Comic-Con, where she has moderated "Legendary Animators of Classic 60s Cartoons" and "The Art of the Hollywood Movie Poster" and is a perennial panelist on the Harry Potter Fandom panel.  Visit her art gallery online at www.artinsights.com, and see more of her reviews and interviews on www.artinsightsmagazine.com.

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