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Friday movie roundup: Coens’ musical magic

First Published      Last Updated Dec 20 2013 11:21 am

Christmas is five days away, but Hollywood has given us some cool presents.

Best of the week is "Inside Llewyn Davis," the Coen brothers' detailed re-creation of the '60s folk music scene in New York's Greenwich Village — and the tale of a luckless musician (Oscar Isaac) whose prickly disposition and uncompromising devotion to his art combine to make him miserable. The Coens bring the scene alive, with a strong supporting cast (including Carey Mulligan, Justin Timberlake and John Goodman) and a rich soundtrack.

Speaking of soundtracks, the '70s/'80s vibe is strong in "American Hustle," director David O. Russell's energetic con-artist comedy. Christian Bale and Amy Adams play con artists who are nabbed by the Feds, and encouraged by a loose-cannon FBI agent (Bradley Cooper) to help out with a sting on corrupt politicians. Sharp humor and solid performances — especially by Jennifer Lawrence as Bale's unstable wife — make this one a hoot.

"Saving Mr. Banks" is a warmly nostalgic look at Disney history, detailing the making of "Mary Poppins" through the back-and-forth between British writer P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson), who wrote the original book, and the impresario Walt Disney (Tom Hanks), who eagerly wanted to adapt it. The movie gets smarmily sentimental as it dives into Travers' childhood, and her memories of her flawed father (Colin Farrell) — but the story is at its best when Thompson's Travers tangles with Disney's team (Bradley Whitford, Jason Schwartzman, B.J. Novak) in a charming display of the creative process at work.

The computer-animated "Walking With Dinosaurs" hits theaters today. The Tribune's Scott D. Pierce reviewed the movie, and (based on his review) really took a bullet for The Cricket this time.

Lastly, the art-house slate has "Camille Claudel 1915," a drama notable for Juliette Binoche's quietly moving performance as the French sculptor late in life, when she was confined to a psychiatric asylum.