He Sad, She Sad

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Wilson Webb/Netflix

MOVIE REVIEW
Marriage Story (2019)

For starters, the title is wrong. It’s a divorce story, specifically that of teen-sensation-actress-turned-arthouse-draw Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) and self-made-theater-director Charlie (Adam Driver). The plot resembles so closely the outline of writer-director Noah Baumbach’s real-life marriage to his first wife that the gender of their actual child – onscreen, his name is Henry (Azhy Robertson) – hasn’t even been changed. As an audience, we are meant to be enthralled by this inside portrait of an artistic family’s disintegration. As people, watching this airing of some downright cruel dirty laundry, we really ought to look away.

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When the Rainbow's Over

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David Hindley/Roadside Attractions

MOVIE REVIEW
Judy (2019)

No amount of yellow bricks can hide the fact that we are on a familiar road with “Judy.” The film has a similar look and feel to 2018’s “Stan & Ollie,” with both movies following Hollywood legends experiencing hard times during the twilight of their careers. Where Laurel and Hardy battled changing audience tastes and deteriorating health, the trials faced by the late Judy Garland were partially self-inflicted. Where love and affection were absent in her life, the actress would often fill the void with pills and booze.

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Neighborhood Watch

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Lacey Terrell/TriStar Pictures

MOVIE REVIEW
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (2019)

This is Marielle Heller’s third movie, and with it she confirms her status as one of the finest directors now working. Her first movie, “Diary of a Teenage Girl,” told the difficult story of a clever 15-year-old who voluntarily begins sleeping with her mother’s boyfriend. Her second, “Can You Ever Forgive Me?,” showed how a writer who had lost her way was able to find herself again by co-opting other people’s voices. And now, with this movie that is not quite about beloved television host Fred Rogers, she gives us the road map to become better people. It’s an extraordinary achievement.

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Free Agent

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Glen Wilson/Focus Features

MOVIE REVIEW
Harriet (2019)

It is always wonderful to see a movie made by the right person at the right time. Kasi Lemmons has been one of the very few black female film directors working in Hollywood for the last quarter century, and Harriet Tubman is an American heroine. For her to tell the story of Tubman’s life is a marriage of subject and filmmaker such that we rarely get to see. And oh, it’s worth it.

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Souped Nazi

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Kimberley French/Fox Searchlight Pictures

MOVIE REVIEW
Jojo Rabbit (2019)

It’s not that we didn’t think he had it in him. But it’s a sad reality that not everyone can make the jump from the minors to the majors. There are plenty of movie directors who can handle $5 million brilliantly but who choke under the pressure of $10 million, or $100 million. Or they can handle the pressure but not the studio. Or they can handle the studio but not the actors. Or they can do it, but only as a controlled implosion. It’s very, very rare for someone to not only do it all, but to make it look easy.

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Opening a Pandora's Black Box

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Tore Vollan/Magnolia Pictures

MOVIE REVIEW
Cold Case Hammarskjöld (2019)

What happens when a well-meaning jackass decides to interfere in a complicated situation when his lack of nuanced knowledge is no barrier to him prancing around for the cameras as he pretends to achieve more than he is capable of? He crashes and burns.

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A Hard Case to Crack

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BFI London Film Festival 2019

MOVIE REVIEW
Öndög (2019)

This Mongolian movie has some interesting points to make about survival on the steppes but does so over the body of its lead actresses. Perhaps it’s realistic, and sometimes it's hilarious. But mostly it’s unsettling – which is almost certainly the point.

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Baiting for Tonight

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STX Financing, LLC

MOVIE REVIEW
Hustlers (2019)

What an entrance. About 10 minutes into “Hustlers,” Jennifer Lopez does a pole-dance routine that will go down in cinematic history as one of the most unforgettable character introductions since Rita Hayworth in “Gilda.” And this time it’s to no less of a song than “Criminal” by Fiona Apple. Constance Wu has nothing to do but stare in shock, and man, do we agree with her. The next scene is of Ms. Lopez in that outfit and a fur coat on a rooftop, smoking and looking so unbelievably beautiful that you almost forget you’re watching a based-on-a-true-story movie about a gang of strippers who drug and rob a bunch of men. As bait to get us on a hook, “Hustlers” uses the power of Ms. Lopez’s body very, very effectively. But it doesn’t reel us in as far as we should.

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My Best Friend's Meddling

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Tamara Hardman/2019 Sundance Film Festival

MOVIE REVIEW
Animals (2019)

The process of how someone puts their career together is endlessly fascinating. How someone chooses their work and builds the life they want will never not be interesting in a film. And if the hero/ine of that story has a best friend? Jackpot. When lives entwine in crowded homes and clothes are shared along with every thought, things can get very interesting: whether in making art (“Frances Ha”), murdering an inconvenient parent (“Heavenly Creatures”) or getting overinvested in each other’s love lives (“Me Without You”). “Animals” does all of those things except for the murder. What it doesn’t do is give the friendship equal weight on both sides, which is its second-biggest weakness.

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Fake It Till You Make It

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Allen Fraser/BFI Flare 2019

MOVIE REVIEW
J. T. LeRoy (2019)

Finally, Kristen Stewart gets a part that makes her happy. Ms. Stewart is notorious for her discomfort with the fame that has been the result of her acting talent – look at the photos of her barely hiding her misery on any red carpet. This feeling is the entire point of her character, Savannah, in “J. T. Leroy,” an inspired-by-true-events story of a famous literary hoax that captivated America last decade. The hoax is revealed right at the start. What the movie explores is why the characters needed to do it.

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