Julianne Moore has been giving daring and indelible performances ever since her breakout role in Robert Altman's 1993 drama, Short Cuts . That she might finally win an Academy Award for her turn as a Columbia professor suffering from early-onset Alzheimer's in Still Alice is proof positive that Oscar rarely awards artists for the right work.
Still, Moore's award-season buzz should be of no surprise considering how strategically Still Alice plays the tearjerker game. Safely directed by Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland, the film is a slow-burn tragedy about one woman's struggle to die on her own terms. As Alice Howland (Moore) slowly realizes her mind may be failing, each bit of forgetfulness or dizzy spell is meant to maximize the horrific banality of it all.
Supported by her caring husband (Alec Baldwin) and three grown children, Alice grapples with the different stages of her disease while trying to retain some sense of dignity. Her youngest daughter, portrayed by the increasingly impressive Kristen Stewart, is the family member most committed to helping her through the treatment process. Like always, Moore dives headfirst into the role, exhibiting the mixture of panic and resolve one might expect from a dynamic Ivy League powerhouse showing weakness for the first time in succumbing to an incurable disease.
Still Alice —which opens Friday, Feb. 6, at Hillcrest Cinemas—may seem subtle on the surface, but it hits all the dramatic notes found in the type of tepid middlebrow fare tailor-made for Oscars these days. Moore's brave and reflexive speech to a group of Alzheimer's researchers is moving, albeit in the most calculated way, as if it were crafted specifically for the short-sound-bite world of award-season promotion.
For a truly great Moore performance, look back to 1995's Safe , Todd Haynes' masterpiece about a perfectly regular housewife slowly being driven mad by her environment. It's truly horrifying.
All this Mayhem : Tas and Ben Pappas are brothers who rise up together in the world of professional skateboarding, only to get consumed by fame, drugs and ego. Screens through Feb. 4 at Digital Gym Cinema in North Park.
Black or White : Kevin Costner plays a grieving widower who's caught up in a custody battle for his granddaughter. It costars Octavia Spencer and Gillian Jacobs.
Black Sea : Jude Law plays the commander of a submarine tasked with retrieving a load of stolen gold from the bottom of the ocean.
Brahmin Bulls : A young man gets suspicious when his estranged father suddenly shows up in Los Angeles, asking to mend their relationship. Screens through Feb. 5 at Digital Gym Cinema in North Park.
The Loft : Infidelity turns to murder in this thriller involving five men who decide to secretly share a loft to carry out trysts unbeknownst to their significant others. Karl Urban and James Marsden costar.
Oscar Nominated Short Films 2015: Animation: The nominees for Best Animated Short include A Single Life (The Netherlands), Feast (U.S.), Me and My Moulton (Canada / Norway), The Bigger Picture (U.K.) and The Dam Keeper (U.S.). Screens at the Ken Cinema.
Oscar Nominated Short Films 2015: Live Action: The nominees for Best Live Action Short Film include Aya (Israel / France), Boogaloo and Graham (U.K.), The Phone Call (U.K.), Butter Lamp (France / China) and Parvaneh (Switzerland). Screens at the Ken Cinema.
Project Almanac : When some teens disregard every cautionary tale and travel back in time, their lives are turned upside down. Shocker.
R100 : Hitoshi Matsumoto's wild sex comedy follows a lonely father who gets caught up in a hilariously bizarre world of S&M. Screens through Feb. 5 at Digital Gym Cinema in North Park.
Song of the Sea : Merging folklore and fairy tale, Tomm Moore's gorgeous animated film tells the story of a brother and sister who get swept up into a fantasy world of selkies, sprites and giants. Screens at Reading Gaslamp Cinemas.
To the Arctic : The life cycles of polar bears and other arctic wildlife are the focus of this awe-inspiring IMAX documentary that takes you into the frigid north.
Two Days, One Night : After her coworkers vote to fire her in exchange for a pay increase, a woman (Marion Cotillard) visits them one by one and asks them to help salvage her job.
One time only
A.C.O.D. : A young man (Adam Scott) who resents his parents for getting divorced must come to grips with their sudden reunion. Screens at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 28, at the Mission Valley Library.
Rocky : A broken-down Philadelphia boxer (Sylvester Stallone) gets a second chance at victory when he's recruited to fight the heavyweight champion of the world. Screens at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 28, at Arclight La Jolla.
Old School : Once it hits your lips, it's so good. Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 28, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma.
San Diego Black Film Festival: A celebration of African-American and African Diaspora cinema from around the globe, including documentaries, narrative and short films. Runs Thursday, Jan. 29, through Sunday, Feb. 1, at the Reading Gaslamp Cinemas.
Despair , Le Petite Mort , Face in the Crowd : Three short films by artist and director Alex Prager are featured as part of "The Darkroom," an ongoing experimental-art series. Starts at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 29, at the Museum of Photographic Arts in Balboa Park.
Winter Film Showcase: A selection of short films curated by Film Consortium San Diego will feature talent from around the region. Screens at 6 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Jan. 30 and 31, at the Museum of Photographic Arts in Balboa Park.
The Judge : Robert Duvall was nominated for an Oscar for his role as an ornery judge who's accused of murder and must be defended by his estranged lawyer son (Robert Downey Jr.) Screens at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Jan. 30 and 31, at Cinema Under the Stars in Mission Hills.
Clueless : Whatever. Screens at 11:55 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 31, at the Ken Cinema.
Sleepless in Seattle : A sad widower calls in to a radio talk show and becomes a sensation among single women everywhere, including doe-eyed Meg Ryan. Screens at 6 p.m. Monday, Feb. 2, at Arclight La Jolla.
Garibaldi's Lovers : Silvio Soldini's comedy follows the unlikely pairing of a working-class grunt and a poor, struggling artist. Screens at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Feb. 2, at the San Diego Central Library in East Village.
Rudderless : A grieving father finds a box of recordings made by his recently deceased son, then forms a band to perform the music in hopes of finding peace. Screens at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 3, at the Point Loma / Hervey Branch Library.
Some Like it Hot : Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis dress up in drag to escape threatening mobsters, only to fall in love with one of their traveling companions (Marilyn Monroe). Screens at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 4, at Arclight La Jolla.
Balboa Park: The Magic City : Jack Ofield's documentary covers the historical significance of San Diego's crown jewel. Screens at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 4, at the Lemon Grove Library.
No Evidence of Disease : An unconventional rock band made up of six GYN surgeons travels around the United States, trying to bring awareness to cancers that affect women. Screens at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 4, at Edwards Rancho San Diego.
Groundhog Day : Everything's repeating. Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 4, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma.
A Most Violent Year : When his business is threatened by a string of armed robberies, the owner of a New York City gas company (Oscar Isaac) must adapt to the volatile surroundings to survive.
Human Capital : A tragic bike accident links two powerful Italian families vying for political dominance.
Mortdecai : Johnny Depp stars as a kooky art dealer who investigates the disappearance of a priceless painting that could lead to Nazi gold.
Strange Magic : The first big animated film of 2015 features goblins, elves and other creatures vying for a magic potion.
Once Upon a Time, Veronica : A recent graduate from medical school settles down in her new life in Brazil's most violent city. Ends Jan. 29 at Digital Gym Cinema in North Park.
The Boy Next Door : Jennifer Lopez's confused and vulnerable divorcée moves into a new town and begins a fling with a young man / psychopath.
American Sniper : Clint Eastwood's unflinching and critical biopic of Navy SEAL Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper), who became the deadliest sniper during four tours in Iraq.
Blackhat : When a cryptic hacker threatens to send the world into chaos, the U.S. government releases a young computer genius to catch him. It's directed by ace craftsman Michael Mann ( Heat , Miami Vice ).
Paddington : Traveling from Peru, a young bear arrives in London hoping to find a home. There he meets the Brown family, who offer him a temporary safe haven.
The Wedding Ringer : Who best to impress your new in-laws than a loud, vivacious Kevin Hart? Josh Gad's shy young groom-to-be agrees.
Inherent Vice : Paul Thomas Anderson adapts Thomas Pynchon's detective yarn about a real-estate tycoon who disappears, inciting a number of pot-fueled stories in early-1970s Southern California.
Selma : Martin Luther King (David Oyelowo) attempts to create voter reform in Selma, Alabama, a hotbed of racism and disenfranchisement.
Taken 3 : Liam Neeson reprises his role as the badass who keeps losing family members to kidnappings. Maybe third time's a charm?
Born to be Wild : Narrated by Morgan Freeman, this documentary examines the amazing bond between humans and animals, including elephants and orangutans. Screens at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park.
Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death : Dark spirits are awakened in the Eel Marsh House when children evacuated from World War II London arrive looking for shelter.
Big Eyes : Tim Burton's film tells the story of Margaret Keane (Amy Adams), a 1960s housewife who allows her conman of a husband to take credit for her exceptionally popular paintings.
Into the Woods : Beware the Wolf, Sondheim. Beware the Wolf.
The Imitation Game : Benedict Cumberbatch stars as real-life code breaker Alan Turing, who led a squad of British mathematicians in breaking the Enigma code during World War II.
Unbroken : Angelina Jolie's sophomore effort examines the life of Olympic athlete and World War II prisoner of war Louis Zamperini (Jack O'Connell) who overcame extreme odds to survive a Japanese internment camp.
Annie : Hollywood's latest reboot of the famous musical about an orphan adopted by a wealthy tycoon features Jamie Foxx, Cameron Diaz and Quvenzhané Wallis as the titular melodist.
Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb : Sadly, Robin Williams' last performance exists within this silly universe of an inexpressive Ben Stiller, an expressive monkey and artifacts brought to life.
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies : The final chapter in Peter Jackson's bloated three-part adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's famous novel ends in a massive battle between elves, dwarves, men and the nefarious orcs.
Exodus: Gods and Kings : The story of Moses, Rhamses and the Ten Commandments gets super-sized.
Wild : Based on the best-selling novel, this drama tells the story of Cheryl Strayed, who trekked more than 1,000 miles along the Pacific Crest Trail to reassess her troubled life.
Foxcatcher : Bennett Miller's dark sports film tells the tragic true story of the Schultz brothers (Mark Ruffalo and Channing Tatum), wrestlers who became forever entwined with the wealthy heir to the du Pont fortune (Steve Carell).
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay—Part 1 : Having just destroyed the Hunger Games infrastructure, Katnis returns home to lead the rebellion against the corrupt forces of the capital.
The Theory of Everything : Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) is diagnosed with motor-neuron disease just as he's graduating with a doctorate degree in physics from Cambridge and starting a new life with his wife (Felicity Jones).
Big Hero 6 : An inflatable robot develops a bond with a prodigy named Hiro, and the two become high-tech heroes.
Interstellar : Christopher Nolan's new science-fiction epic follows a group of explorers who make use of a newly discovered wormhole to find a new home for humanity.
Birdman : A burnt-out superhero actor (Michael Keaton) tries to mount a play on Broadway in order to prove his worth. It co-stars Naomi Watts, Emma Stone and Andrea Riseborough.
Whiplash : A sadistic music teacher tortures a young drummer at a posh New York City conservatory.
Gone Girl : David Fincher adapts Gillian Flynn's bestselling novel with Ben Affleck in the lead as the suspicious husband whose beautiful wife (Rosamund Pike) suddenly goes missing.
Hidden Universe : Blast off into the stratosphere with this documentary that uses real images captured from telescopes to examine the vast reaches of space. Screens at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park.
Journey to the South Pacific : Let the glorious scale of IMAX take you to the tropical islands of West Papua, where life under the sea is just as lush and vibrant as it is on shore. Screens at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show: The camp classic continues its ongoing run, Fridays at midnight at La Paloma Theatre in Encinitas.