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.
"Argo" -- Seven Oscar noms, including picture and supporting actor, but nothing for star-director Ben Affleck. Ultra-white knuckle time as Affleck directs a suspenseful drama based on the rescue of six U.S. embassy workers hiding in the Canadian ambassador's house during the Iranian hostage crisis of 1979. Surprisingly humorous, too. (R) L, V. 120 minutes. . . . 1/2
"Beasts of the Southern Wild" -- Benh Zeitlin's impressive first feature is big on imagination. A Louisiana girl and her drunkard father struggle in a post-Katrina world where they're cut off by levees while a herd of prehistoric beasties is coming their way. With Dwight Henry and Quvenzhane Wallis, only 5 when she auditioned. (PG-13) L, S. 91 minutes. . . . .
"Django Unchained" -- Five Oscar noms, including picture. Quentin Tarantino directs and writes a lurid Spaghettios Western/1970s exploitation mashup comedy about a former slave (Jamie Foxx) who hooks up with a German bounty hunter (best supporting actor nominee Christoph Waltz) to free his enslaved wife (Kerry Washington) from a ruthless plantation owner named Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio). (R) L, N, V. 166 minutes. . . . .
"Flight" -- Two Oscar noms, including best actor. It begins as a disaster movie, then morphs into a dependency drama as Robert Zemeckis directs a focused tale on addiction, starring a well-cast Denzel Washington as an airline pilot who saves a plane full of people while drunk and high. Potent stuff. (R) D, L, N, S, V. 138 minutes. . . . 1/2
"The Impossible" -- An intense, top-drawer disaster movie based on the true story of a family who in 2004 is separated by a tsunami in Thailand. Tom Holland (remember this kid!), Best Actress Oscar nominee Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor star in a visceral drama directed with panache by J.A. "The Orphanage" Bayona. In limited release. (PG-13) N, V. 107 minutes. . . . .
"The Last Stand" -- A small town sheriff and former LAPD officer (Arnold Schwarzenegger) prepares to take on an escaped drug kingpin and his army of henchmen attempting to slip across the border. Reviewed by Christy Lemire, Associated Press. (R) L, V. 107 minutes. . . .
"Les Miserables" -- Eight Oscar nominations, including picture, actor, supporting actress, but not director. The popular stage opera becomes a thunderous work of cinema from "The King's Speech" director Tom Hooper. With an obsessed lawman (Russell Crowe) on his tail, a 19th-century ex-con (Hugh Jackman) starts a new life fraught with conflict, rebellion, joy, forgiveness, love, sacrifice and pain. With Anne Hathaway and Eddie Redmayne. (PG-13) S, V. 158 minutes. . . . .
"Life of Pi" -- Eleven Oscar noms including picture, director, song and cinematography. Ang Lee's wondrous tale of a young Indian (Suraj Sharma) who survives a ship wreck aboard a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. An epic celebrating the power of storytelling in all forms. See it in 3-D and be amazed. (PG) 127 minutes. . . . .
"Lincoln" -- Twelve! Twelve Oscar noms including picture, actor, director, cinematography. Daniel Day-Lewis' performance as the 16th president dominates this well-written behind-the-scenes look at how Lincoln orchestrated the passage of the 13th amendment to ban slavery in the U.S. Tommy Lee Jones plays a memorable Thaddeus Stevens. Sally Field plays Mary Todd Lincoln. Static camerawork by Columbia College grad and Oscar nominee Janusz Kaminski. (PG-13) L, V. 149 minutes. . . . 1/2
"Mama" -- Two feral girls are recovered after five years in the wilderness and being protected by a wraithlike creature that used to be their mother. Scary movie produced by Guillermo del Toro and starring Jessica Chastain. …