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Movie capsules

From left: Jessica Chastain, Isabelle Nelisse, and Megan Charpentier in “Mama.”

George Kraychyk

From left: Jessica Chastain, Isabelle Nelisse, and Megan Charpentier in “Mama.”

New releases

½ 2012 Sundance Shorts If collections of film shorts are like party mixes, this program has a few too many questionable wasabi peas. The two longest shorts — “Fishing Without Nets,” about Somali pirates, and “The Return,” a heart wrencher from Kosovo — are the best; the rest are interesting without being particularly engaging. (95 min., unrated) (Ty Burr)

Amour A simple yet devastatingly profound story of an elderly French couple (Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva) during the long, squalid months of the wife’s decline. Writer-director Michael Haneke (“Caché”) observes his subject with an unadorned style that takes on aspects of the holy. The movie avoids melodrama; instead, it’s just extraordinarily intimate. In French, with subtitles. (127 min., PG-13) (Ty Burr)

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Broken City A cluttered, formulaic urban thriller, with Mark Wahlberg miscast as a conflicted tough-guy detective caught in an election week conspiracy. The best thing here — i.e., the most enjoyably bad — is Russell Crowe as a greasy, macho New York City mayor. He’s Michael Bloomberg’s evil twin. With Catherine Zeta-Jones and Jeffrey Wright. (109 min., R) (Ty Burr)

The Last Stand Arnold Schwarzenegger’s wrinkles actually serve him well in playing a veteran lawman working a border enclave. Things get dicey when slithery Peter Stormare hits town with bridge-building gear, and an escaped Mexican cartel boss comes rocketing south. Director Kim Jee-woon seems to take an approach that’s less “let’s see what sticks” than “who cares what sticks,” with results that can be funny but also oddly arrhythmic. (107 min., R) (Tom Russo)

Mama Director Andy Muschietti’s supernatural thriller wonders what if abandoned kids were watched over by an angry ghost. Jessica Chastain does nuanced work as the rock chick put in charge of young sisters found after missing in the mountains for five years. The frustration, though, is how much the movie leans on made-ya-jump scares and contrived plot devices when its quieter chills are so potent. (106 min., PG-13) (Tom Russo)

Previously released

½ Anna Karenina Joe Wright’s adaptation of the Tolstoy classic staggers under the weight of a dazzling, hermetically sealed visual style that fails to connect with our emotions; the entire movie seems to take place in a snow globe. The cast, led by Keira Knightley, is good, although Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s Vronsky may be too much the boy-toy. With Jude Law. (130 min., R) (Ty Burr)

Barbara An exiled East Berlin physician (Nina Hoss) has just arrived in a provincial hamlet on the Baltic Sea, where she quietly plots her escape to West Berlin while seeing patients and avoiding the advances of a brawny doctor (Ronald Zehrfeld), who’s been conscripted by the Stasi to pass along intelligence on her. The movie’s quiet power comes from its air of meticulously maintained suspicion. In German, with subtitles. (105 min., PG-13) (Wesley Morris)

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½ Django Unchained In Quentin Tarantino’s clear-eyed and completely out of its mind exploitation western, Jamie Foxx plays a freed slave in 1853 on the way to rescue his wife (Kerry Washington) from a Mississippi plantation. Tarantino has never been more himself than he is here: grisly kitsch rigged for shock in a way that refuses to cheapen the atrocity of its subject. With Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, and an audacious Samuel L. Jackson. (165 min., R) (Wesley Morris)

Gangster Squad Josh Brolin and Ryan Gosling head a secret crew of cops intent on bringing down crime boss Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn). This is almost like every popular movie about crooks and cops made in the last four decades, but it’s never enough like its own movie. Director Ruben Fleischer gives it some flash and bang, but it inadequately substitutes for what you could be watching instead. (113 min., R ) (Wesley Morris)

½ Hyde Park on Hudson A work of historical embroidery about Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s possible affair with his sixth cousin, Margaret Suckley, this paints the 32d president as both a creepy sexual predator and a heck of a guy. It’s as tone deaf as movies get. Bill Murray is actually quite good as FDR, but Laura Linney gives a defeated performance in an impossible role. (94 min., R) (Ty Burr)

½ Les Misérables What’s great about the first half of Tom Hooper’s gigantic film of the musical is the balance it strikes between the misérable and the miz. After 2½ hours, the movie becomes a bowl of trail mix — you’re picking out the nuts you don’t like and hoping the next bite doesn’t contain any craisins. With Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway, who are wonderful, and Russell Crowe, who’s not and it breaks your heart (and hurts your ears). (157 min., PG-13) (Wesley Morris)

½ Lincoln In the weeks following his reelection, Abraham Lincoln (a remarkable Daniel Day-Lewis) fights to get the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery passed. A terrifically entertaining film that, against all odds, makes politics exciting again. Steven Spielberg is in top form, Tony Kushner’s script is full of crackling talk (and lots of it), and there are scene-stealing turns from Tommy Lee Jones, Sally Field, and James Spader. (149 min., PG-13) (Ty Burr)

Parental Guidance You really can make a bad family movie less terrible. The people responsible for this bland exercise in sentimentality and rambunctiousness have done an honorable enough job, chiefly through casting. Bette Midler and Billy Crystal baby-sit for Marisa Tomei and Tom Everett Scott, and their limits to humiliation are kind of a relief. It’s: “It’ll do anything for this movie, but I won’t do that.” (96 min., PG) (Wesley Morris)

½ Promised Land Two movies in one: An earnest anti-fracking drama written by costars Matt Damon and John Krasinski, and a nuanced portrait of small-town America by director Gus Van Sant. The first tries not to be preachy but doesn’t quite succeed, the second is buoyed by the sympathetic performances. With Frances McDormand. (110 min., R) (Ty Burr)

½ The Sessions It sounds like a bad joke: A man in an iron lung hires a sex surrogate to help him lose his virginity. But the achievement of this simple, intensely moving drama (based on a true story) is the clarity with which it portrays a good soul in an inert body. John Hawkes and Helen Hunt give rich, unshowy performances as the leads. (95 min., R) (Ty Burr)

½ Silver Linings Playbook Bradley Cooper finally gets a role that gives his oily charm some vulnerability. He plays a mental patient living in Philadelphia with his parents, hung up on his estranged wife and spending time with an equally unstable woman (Jennifer Lawrence). The movie whizzes and stings. Its director is David O. Russell, who’s become Hollywood’s most instinctive maker of ensemble dramatic comedies. (122 min., R) (Wesley Morris)

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