“Some of this actually happened.” The opening disclaimer of David O. Russell’s multi-Oscar-nominated American Hustle makes no bones about the film playing fast and loose with the events of the FBI’s real-life Abscam sting operation, which used a con man posing as a fake sheikh to ensnare top politicians for corruption in the 1970s and 1980s. Favoring jaw-dropping entertainment over historical fact, it stars Christian Bale and Amy Adams as two con artists roped into helping bring down a network of corrupt New Jersey politicos by FBI agent Bradley Cooper. All three of them have been nominated for Oscars, as has last year’s Best Actress winner — for her role in Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook — Jennifer Lawrence, who this time gets a Best Supporting Actress nod as Bale’s volatile wife.
Also exercising a bit of poetic license is Saving Mr Banks, which stars Tom Hanks as Walt Disney and Emma Thompson as Mary Poppins creator P. L. Travers. A Disney-produced account of Uncle Walt’s attempts to charm the screen rights to the magical nanny character from the grip of the uppity Australian author, it features strong support from Paul Giamatti, Jason Schwartzman, Bradley Whitford and Colin Farrell.
Having taken the form of Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford and Ben Affleck over the years, the late Tom Clancy’s CIA hero Jack Ryan gets rebooted back into post-9/11 cinematic relevance in the form of Chris Pine in Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit. Kenneth Branagh, once again dipping his toe into blockbuster territory after 2011’s Thor, directs and stars as a bad-guy Russian oligarch in this original story that redraws Ryan’s origins. Now our hero is an Afghanistan vet and CIA financial analyst who thinks he’s stumbled across a Russian scheme to bring down the American economy. Kevin Costner and Keira Knightley co-star.
Roman Polanski delivers his first non-English feature in 40 years with Venus in Fur, a French-language adaptation of US writer David Ives’ play of the same name. The film stars Mathieu Amalric as a director struggling to find his lead for a new stage version of Venus in Furs, the 1870 novella by Austrian Leopold von Sacher-Masoch (of masochism fame). As he’s about to head home after a day of disappointing auditions, in waltzes Vanda (played by Polanski’s wife Emmanuelle Seigner) who first repels, then impresses and then bewitches him with her intense reading of the part.
The latest from prolific Catalan Ventura Pons, Ignasi M. is a documentary about the colorful, complicated life of a gay, HIV-positive man, following him as he deals with his disabled ex-wife, sons, suicidal father and bankrupt business.