NOW IN THEATERS
A baker's half-dozen new releases are invading already crammed multiplexes this week, including La La Land, the current favorite for Academy Awards posterity after rapturous reviews and seven Golden Globe nominations. Industry pundits expect the biopic Jackie, the true story Lion and Denzel Washington's Fences to join Damien Chazelle's neo-musical on numerous red carpets between now and Oscar night. • The genre flicks Passengers, Why Him? and Assassin's Creed will likely stay home, watching on TV. • Several newcomers debuted Wednesday. La La Land and Why Him? open Friday, followed by Fences and Lion on Christmas Day. • Reviews are available at tampabay.com/movies. For now, a brief rundown:
Natalie Portman's uncanny portrayal of Jacqueline Kennedy carries Jackie (R), in which writer-director Pablo Larrain speculates on the former first lady's state of mind in the days surrounding JFK's assassination. Not everything rings true but Portman is a constant fascination, taking her performance beyond resemblance and impersonation into unsettling pathos.
Peter Sarsgaard co-stars as then-U.S. Attorney General Bobby Kennedy, with Greta Gerwig nearly unrecognizable as Jackie's loyal assistant. Larrain uses sounding boards — an interviewer (Billy Crudup) and a priest (John Hurt) — to convey a new widow determined to preserve her late husband's legacy. Portman's own legacy is enhanced with this performance. (B)
Without question, Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt are engaging personalities, which almost makes tolerable their undercooked sci-fi flick Passengers (PG-13).
Pratt plays Jim Preston, who tired of living on Earth and joined thousands of immigrants space cruising to a colony planet. The trip requires 120 years in suspended animation but Jim awakened after 30 and can't get back to sleep. He expects to die slow and alone until another colonist, Aurora Lane (Lawrence), wakes up. Life is swell for Jim, Aurora and their android bartender, Arthur (Michael Sheen), until underwhelming truths are revealed. (C)
SING AND ASSASSIN'S CREED
Two more cinematic distractions from the holidays weren't screened by a busy Times critic, each with core audiences that wouldn't care what reviewers think, anyway.
Just try keeping children and their way-paying parents from the animated jukebox musical Sing (PG), or video gamers and fantasy freaks from Assassin's Creed (PG-13). You'd have a better chance of making me want to see them.
Sing stars Matthew McConaughey's voice behind koala bear impressario Buster Moon, whose theater is going out of business unless he stages a hit. Buster creates a singing animal competition show, with contestants including Rosita the housewife pig (Reese Witherspoon), Ash the lovelorn porcupine (Scarlett Johansson) and a crooning rodent named Mike (Seth MacFarlane). Sounds pitchy to me, dawg.
Assassin's Creed stars Michael Fassbender as Callum Lynch, hero of one of the most popular video game series ever. If you think Fassbender is too talented to waste time on such a project, the fact that Oscar winners Marion Cotillard and Jeremy Irons joined him is really depressing.
Two of the year's most powerful performances are displayed in Fences (PG-13), adapted from the late August Wilson's stage play and occasionally feeling stuck in that medium.
Denzel Washington directs just fine and emotes magnificently as Troy Maxson, a Pittsburgh garbage collector tearing his family apart from within. Viola Davis is even better as Troy's beleaguered wife, Rose, appearing to be the frontrunner for the best supporting actress Academy Award.
Fences opens Christmas Day in select theaters. (B+)
Lion (PG-13) is an artful feel-good movie based on the true story of Saroo Brierley, who at age 5 became separated from his family in India, then adopted by an Australian couple. As a troubled adult, Saroo (Golden Globe nominee Dev Patel, left) sought to locate his biological mother using Google Earth technology.
Director Garth Davis earned one of his film's four Globe nominations, in addition to best drama and a supporting actress nod for Nicole Kidman as Saroo's supportive adoptive mother. The first hour of Lion with Sunny Pawar as young Saroo is more effective than the second but overall it's an inspiring tale told well. (B)
in theaters: our HOLIDAY Top 10
Current movies recommended by the Tampa Bay Times:
1 La La Land: Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, right, are the 21st century's Fred and Ginger.
2 Manchester by the Sea: Meet your likely best actor Oscar winner: Casey Affleck.
3 Moonlight: Barry Jenkins' Miami story, one of 2016's finest films.
4 Arrival: Unique science fiction movie, with Amy Adams in top form.
5 Fences: Denzel Washington and Viola Davis are deserving Golden Globes nominees.
6 Jackie: Natalie Portman excels as Jacqueline Kennedy, protecting her late husband's legacy.
7 Rogue One: A Star Wars Story: The first Skywalker saga spinoff, dark as Darth Vader's helmet.
8 Lion: An Indian boy is lost, adopted and reunited with his mother by using Google Earth.
9 Loving: True story — starring Golden Globe nominees Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton — of a 1967 court case over interracial marriage.
10 Why Him? No awards bait here, just plenty of laughs with Bryan Cranston and James Franco.
(Dates subject to change)
Jan. 6: Hidden Figures; A Monster Calls; Underworld: Blood Wars
Jan. 13: Patriots Day; Live by Night; Captain Underpants; The Bye Bye Man
Jan. 20: 20th Century Women
Jan. 27: Gold