KEY: Four stars: superior. Three stars: good. Two stars: average. One star: poor. D (drug use), L (language), N (nudity), S (sexual situations, references), V (violence). Ratings by Dann Gire, Daily Herald Film Critic, unless otherwise noted.
"Black Swan" -- Best Picture nominee! A perfectionist ballerina (Oscar nominee Natalie Portman) dances into madness as she auditions for the major roles in "Swan Lake." With Barbara Hershey as her mom. Directed by Darren Aronofsky. At the Century Centre and River East 21 in Chicago and the Evanston Century. (R) D, N, L, S, V. 108 minutes. . . . 1/2
"Blue Valentine" -- A bold and perceptive exploration of the magical intangibles that connect two people in love's first blush but fail to bond a couple for the long haul. Ryan Gosling and Oscar nominee Michelle Williams bravely go for broke in this thoughtful, adult domestic drama all about the death of love. Originally rated NC-17 for graphic sex scenes, but re-rated R upon appeal. (R) L, N, S. . . . .
"The Company Men" -- Three high-paid corporate suits (Ben Affleck, Tommy Lee Jones and Chris Cooper) deal with being laid off their lucrative jobs that define their identities. Directed, written and produced by John Wells as a harsh and engaging Bible lesson laced with hope and optimism. At the River East 21, ICON and Webster Place in Chicago and at the Evanston Century 12. (R) L, N. 109 minutes.. . .
"Country Strong" -- A country-song-plotted drama about an alcoholic country singer (Gwyneth Paltrow) on the comeback trail with a hubby (Tim McGraw) who views her as an investment and an opening act of two up-and-coming singers (Garrett Hedlund and the amazing Leighton Meester) with dreams of stardom. (PG-13) D, S. 114 minutes. . . .
"The Fighter" -- Best Picture nominee!Oscar nominee Christian Bale punches his way to stealing the show as an emaciated half-brother and trainer to Mark Walhberg's boxer in this fact-based, energetic domestic drama directed by David O. Russell. Look for stellar turns by Oscar nominees Melissa Leo and Amy Adams, too. (R) D, L, S, V. 114 minutes. . . . 1/2
"The King's Speech" -- Best Picture nominee!Great performances! Funny, witty script! Excellent sets and photography! The true story of how a feisty Australian speech therapist (Oscar nominee Geoffrey Rush) helped King George VI (Oscar nominee Colin Firth) overcome his stutter in time for him to unite the U.K. against the Nazis during a radio address. Ignore the R rating and go anyway. (R) L. 118 minutes. . . . .
"No Strings Attached" -- Ashton Kutcher and Natalie Portman play two young professionals who try to have a sexual relationship without emotional ties. They carry off the tired plot with believable chemistry and Ivan Reitman's sincere direction. (R) D, L, S. 110 minutes. . . .
"Nora's Will" -- Mariana Chenillo's subtle comedy about a Jewish man who discovers his ex-wife has committed suicide just before Passover. She has left food and instructions for the Passover meal. In Spanish with subtitles. At the Music Box, Chicago. (NR) 92 minutes. . ..
"127 Hours" --Best Picture nominee!Riveting, fact-based drama about a climber (James Franco in excellent form) trapped in the Utah desert and unable to free his crushed arm from underneath a fallen boulder. (R) L, S. 96 minutes. . . . 1/2
"Rabbit Hole" -- A serene, transcendent drama about a couple (Oscar nominee Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart) recovering from the death of their young son. With Dianne Wiest and Sandra Oh.(PG-13) D, L. 92 minutes. . . . .
"The Social Network" -- Best Picture nominee!David Fincher's superb dramatization of the founding of Facebook and the fascinating, complex characters who started it and then sued each other over it. With Oscar nominee Jesse Eisenberg, Justin Timberlake, Andrew Garfield and Rooney Mara. (PG-13) D, L, S. 120 minutes. . . . .
"True Grit" -- Best Picture nominee! …