In the Dark

This has to be a record: There are four Oscar-nominated movies playing in local theaters right now. Right here in town. “La La Land” has been here long enough for Oscar fans to see it. Recently, “Manchester by the Sea” arrived, and “Fences” is doing a second tour after earning some solid nominations. But the surprise among these is “Moonlight.”

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Oscar nominations were announced last week, and like most years, there were surprises, snubs and foregone winners in some categories. Or maybe not. The Screen Actors Guild Awards were held last weekend and there were some game-changing surprises. Because the SAG awards start with actors nominating and then voting for other actors, it can be a better predictor of what is to come at the Oscar ceremony a few weeks from now.

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Manchester by the Sea

‘Manchester by the Sea’

Starring: Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams

Directed by: Kenneth Lonergan

Rated: PG-13

 

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Jackie

‘Jackie’

Starring: Natalie Portman, Peter Sarsgaard

Directed by: Pablo Sarrain

Rated: PG-13

 

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If I want to indulge in some Christmas treats, I’d prefer the real thing over this treacle. It’s like having high fructose corn syrup via an IV. Unpleasant, and, definitely not good for you. This movie shamelessly tugs at your heart, something it has no business doing, even if Will Smith is trying for an Oscar nomination — again. So, fair warning: I’m about to go all Ebenezer Scrooge on this one.

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‘Office Christmas Party’

Starring: Jason Bateman, Jennifer Aniston, T.J. Miller

Directed by: Josh Gordon and Will Speck

Rated: R

 

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‘Nocturnal Animals’

Starring: Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal

Directed by: Tom Ford

Rated: R

 

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‘Allied’

Starring: Brad Pitt, Marion Cotillard

Directed by: Robert Zemeckis

Rated: R

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Recalling that J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” series became darker and darker as the sequels wore on, don’t be surprised if you find that same element in this latest, promising new world created by the famed author. Directed by David Yates (who directed the last four “Potter” movies), this is Rowling’s first screenplay, and its flaws can’t override that these “Beasts” and their collector, Newt Scamander (played by Eddie Redmayne) will have a lengthy run as at least three or four more films are in the works.

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Director Denis Villeneuve heads for the stars after the drug-fueled border wars of “Sicario” early this year. Even that movie, filled with violence and an unrelenting tension, was in its own way understated, a hallmark of this director’s style. So, too, is “Arrival,” a thoughtful, almost meditative movie that is as much about the limitations of the heart as it is about the outer limits.

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