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In Theaters: ‘Blue Valentine,’ ‘Another Year,’ ‘Biutiful,’ ‘The Way Back’

In Theaters: 'Blue Valentine,' 'Another Year,' 'Biutiful,' 'The Way Back'

New Year’s Eve weekend delivers a grand slam of arthouse darlings for you indie film lovers out there. Ring in 2011 with one of the many highly praised and anticipated films that we personally hope (and bet) will be Oscar faves as well. They’ve already graced many a year end list, and now is your chance to see these films on the big screen near you. Think of it as a post-holiday cleanse of the mind, ridding your brain of any memories of “Tron: Legacy” or “Little Fockers.” New year, time to get away from the bloated studio dreck– bring on the lean, mean, art cinema machines!

Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling break some hearts in the tortured relationship-crumbling drama “Blue Valentine” from Derek Cianfrance. Luckily, Harvey Weinstein‘s aggressive appeals to the MPAA to rid the film of its completely ludicrous NC-17 rating paid off, and the film will be on more screens thanks to its current R. Our review from Cannes calls the film “prickly, raw and devastatingly real,” and “worthy of every accolade it’s getting.” Gosling and Williams’ performances have been universally highly praised, our reviewer stating there is a “palpable authenticity here that is realized to a startlingly accurate degree,” thanks to the considerable prep and rehearsals the two actors went through, which Gosling and Williams described in exclusive interviews with the Playlist. We’re sure to be seeing more from this immensely talented trio. With Grizzly Bear tunes to boot! Rotten Tomatoes: 94% Metacritic: 80

Another critic’s fave, “Another Year,” from the always reliable Mike Leigh opens this weekend, starring Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen in this contoured life study of a family and their satellite friends who occasionally come crashing in. Our review describes the film as, “a tremendously lovely picture about friendship, love, life and all the dirty uncomfortable moments in between.” Leslie Manville has been getting snaps for her performance, though she was woefully robbed of a Globe nod, from the idiotic, yet influential Hollywood Foreign Press. Time for a luncheon! She did make her way onto our Breakthrough Performances round up, and hope to see more of her soon. RT: 89% MC: 77

Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu brings back bleak beauty with the facing-death story “Biutiful,” starring Javier Bardem in a Cannes-award winning performance, opening in limited release this week. We’ve called the film a “wonderfully executed, spiritually rich meditation on life and death.” Yeah it’s gonna be depressing but Inarritu’s truth and emotion in filmmaking are worth it. Even if you can’t ever watch “21 Grams” again, wasn’t it worth the anguish? Bardem’s been praised all over town for his performance, as has his co-star, Maricel Alvarez, appearing on our Breakthrough Performances list. ‘Biutiful’ has also popped up on our Most Underrated List and Best Onscreen Moments of 2010. RT: 63% MC: 53

Lighten the mood with a little Siberian gulag fun! This based-on-a-true-story tale finds Jim Sturgess, Ed Harris, Colin Firth and Saoirse Ronan as fugitives on the lam in the Russian wilderness in “The Way Back,” directed by Peter Weir. Our review praises Weir’s sparse, unflinching approach in presenting this historical event, stating the film “illustrates there are no rewards in life but the ones earned for ourselves, that the journey is more important than personal growth.” RT: 83% MC: n/a

The latest effort from the just-turned-102-years-old Portuguese director Manoel de Oliveira, “The Strange Case of Angelica” hits theaters today as well, telling the story of a young photographer who falls in love with his deceased subject. Our man in Montreal found the film to be beautifully shot, if strangely formal, based on a script de Oliveira wrote in 1952. While there are some small pleasures to be had, it ultimately ends up being an example of “austere if uninvolving filmmaking.” RT:88% MC: n/a

In one of the more curious cinematic entries opening this week, “The Red Chapel” is the story of two Danish-Korean comedians and the documentary filmmaker who takes them to North Korea to stage a vaudeville show. Should be interesting at the very least. RT: 40% MC: n/a

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