A Most Violent Year
Directed by J.C. Chandor
Opens December 31
J.C. Chandor’s cautionary New York story is set in 1981, a highwater mark in the number of felonies committed in the city and, for the people behind the stats, a terrifying low point, period. A couple of years later, a New York Times brief quotes the NYPD as believing they had finally “turned the corner” on the crime surge, but the prospect of a safer hometown seemed improbable to many residents (whose ranks hit their lowest postwar total as the decade began). You couldn’t know for sure what came next, but part of what distinguishes Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac), the protagonist of A Most Violent Year, is his tragic optimism and scruples as he attempts to expand his heating oil company while opting out of gangster tactics.
Directed by Liv Ullmann
Opens December 5 at the Landmark Sunshine
Let’s be clear for the uninitiated: Miss Julie’s acid dialogue and sardonic twists burn down to the bone of costume drama’s fattened arm, its darkness closer to original-series Upstairs Downstairs than to polished one-percenter porno Downton Abbey. Adapting Strindberg’s classic naturalist play, Liv Ulmann transposes the Swedish setting to rural Northern Ireland: amidst the bacchanalia of midsummer’s eve, the baron’s daughter Miss Julie (Jessica Chastain) aggressively flirts with her father’s handsome valet Jean (Colin Farrell); initially resistant, Jean escalates these exchanges, and their mutual transgression blurs the boundaries between master and servant. The “perverseness” of this act is underscored not only by their subsequent cruelty towards each other, but by Jean’s pious fiancée Christine (Samantha Morton), who is repeatedly told to go to bed (like a good little doggie) or locked away in a room while overhearing everything. (She eventually gets out and gives them both a stern but futile talking to.)