Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 is the best film in the franchise since the fourth, The Goblet of Fire. That film was fashioned as a straight-ahead, old-fashioned thriller; this new one pushes things even further, into the realm of pure horror. Ears are dismembered; wizened old ladies are transformed into man-eating pythons; and our young heroes race across an increasingly barren landscape, as the existential panic mounts all around them. Directed by David Yates, who made the previous two Potter pictures, Deathly Hallows is one of two movies based on the final volume in J.K. Rowling's boy wizard series. ( Part 2 will be released in July.) Yet it succeeds as a self-contained work, mainly because Yates and writer Steve Kloves have done such an effective job creating and sustaining the grim mood. Even if you can't follow all the beats in the story, you still find yourself pulled along by the film's urgent, unnerving momentum.
White Material is a thoughtful, if sometimes frustrating tale of a French woman (Isabelle Huppert) caught in the middle of a civil war in an unnamed African country. Director Claire Denis offers a distinctive point of view in the dialogue about France and its relationship with its former colonies, though the Africans are given no voice in the film.
Country Strong tells the story of a self-destructive singing superstar, played by Gwyneth Paltrow. Ultimately it's too meandering and uneven to ever truly tug at your heart.