(5 of 6)
The film was to have been directed by Darren Aronofsky, who also did The Wrestler. But that fight picture wallowed in cliché; David O. Russell, who took over, ensures that this one both embraces stereotypes and transcends them. For all the mouthing off and pummeled flesh, The Fighter revels in a family's crazy passion for the blood sport of staying alive and staying together. The quartet of leading actors deserves a group Oscar for fighting off easy sentiment and landing a knockout punch of zesty humanity.
Directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck With Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp
After Killers and Knight and Day, here's another thriller about an innocent paired with an action hero of the opposite sex. A remake of the 2005 French film Anthony Zimmer, it's got two seductive stars (Depp is the naïf) and the director of the Oscar-winning The Lives of Others. We're promised intrigue and effervescence.
Directed by Derek Cianfrance With Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams
Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams team up for a naturalistic portrait of a marriage, from its happy beginnings to its darkest moments of distrust and anger. The film's NC-17 rating suggests that their sex lives are explored in considerable depth along with their emotional turmoil. With these indie acting powerhouses, we're in.
Directed by Mike Leigh With Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen
As you might guess, four seasons pass in Mike Leigh's brilliantly insightful portrait of middle age, during which a happy couple named Tom (Jim Broadbent) and Gerri (Ruth Sheen) tend their vegetable garden, attend a funeral, throw some small parties and generally lead a peaceful middle-class life. These affectionate hippies can curl up contentedly each night and reflect on how sweet their lives are.
If that sounds suspiciously cheery for Leigh, who brought us Naked and Vera Drake, meet Tom and Gerri's friends and family. Overweight, alcoholic, wheezing Ken (Peter Wight) might drop dead at any moment, but not until he's eaten that steak. He'd qualify for the title of loneliest man in the world if it weren't for Tom's brother Ronnie (David Bradley), who smiled last perhaps in the 1980s, before the birth of his beastly son Carl (Martin Savage). But by far the saddest creature of all is Mary (Lesley Manville, a frequent player in Leigh's films), a faded, pretty secretary who works with Gerri.
She's a single girl of about 50 whose only vision of the future is one in which she'll be part of a couple like Tom and Gerri--a hope somewhere south of dwindling. Leigh teases us with the notion that Mary and Ken could pair off and comfort each other, but Mary has the arrogance of the oblivious. She still believes she can do better. She's inappropriate, self-centered and romantically rapacious--even eyeing Tom and Gerri's son at one point--and it's a wonder that she and Gerri are friends. Or are they? Gerri keeps up the relationship partly out of amusement (Mary can liven up a party) and partly out of pity; behaving kindly to Mary makes her feel virtuous. But we see the way that pity can cause her friend an even deeper sort of pain.