Ella Taylor

When it comes to undercutting her glam loveliness for the sake of a meaty role, Charlize Theron is the champ of champs. Meaty's the word: Having packed on the pounds and several tons of vicious attitude to play serial killer Aileen Wuornos in 2003's Monster and shed a (virtual) limb or two for 2015's Mad Max: Fury Road, Theron comes to us in Jason Reitman's Tully lugging a baby bump so massive, you can barely see her bringing up the fleshy rear.

Let the Sunshine In is the poorly translated title (more on that later) of the new film by French director Claire Denis. It opens with a scene that has launched many a tale of female romantic travail.

Early in the Swedish-made sports movie Borg vs. McEnroe, Bjorn Borg (Sverrir Gudnason) ducks into a Monaco bar to escape a pack of screaming girls after practicing for an especially tricky upcoming Wimbledon championship. The tennis star is without his wallet, so he helps out schlepping boxes in return for a free espresso and tries to convince the bartender that he's an electrician by trade. The barkeep doesn't buy it, and really, who would when confronted with those chiseled facial bones, maximally toned leg muscles, and blond curls improbably squashed under a baseball cap?

The Scottish director Lynne Ramsay has a rapturous way with a camera that has served her beautifully in a small but impressive resume of intense films that skew to the dark side of blighted psyches. In works like Gasman, her moody 1998 short about a little girl who discovers by chance that she has a sister, and Ratcatcher (also 1998), about life on Glasgow's grimy underside, Ramsay has been the best of the handful of women working in noir terrain.

Keep an open mind going into a film by Arnaud Desplechin, and if you can stand the abundance of enigma and apparent disorder you're likely to come out with an opened mind and a filled heart.

Nobody shuts up for a nanosecond in The Death of Stalin, a wickedly gabby black comedy about the noxious power vacuum that followed the Soviet dictator's sudden collapse from a stroke in 1953. We've come to expect untamed banter from director Armando Iannucci, creator of In the Loop and Veep, who, with his frequent collaborators David Schneider, Ian Martin and Peter Fellows, adapted The Death of Stalin from two French graphic novels by Fabian Nury and Thierry Robin.

Among his other abundant talents, Stanley Tucci gives great smirk.

British filmmaker Sally Potter, a bold adventurer with form and genre, has racked up a formidable resume of hits and some misses, among them the gorgeous historical gender-bender Orlando (1992); the sexy dance movie The Tango Lesson (1996); The Man Who Cried (2001), a tone-deaf Holocaust misfire; and the terrific Ginger and Rosa (2012), which explored the tricky friction between ideology and private behavior on the lefty margins of 1960's London, where Potter came of age.

As is often the case, this year's crop of Academy Award-nominated live action shorts — several of them made as newbie filmmakers' calling cards — make up in earnest humanity for what they lack in technical sophistication. One way or another, all of this year's nominees turn on themes of terror — that's if you count the lone comedy, which speaks to the fear, fantasy, or wishful thought that psychiatrists may be crazier than their patients. Here they are, ranked from best ... to best-intentioned.

My Nephew Emmett

In 2012 Ben Lewin made The Sessions, an irreverent and perceptive fact-based dramedy with John Hawkes as a horny, lovelorn polio survivor in an iron lung, and Helen Hunt as his sex surrogate. Lewin, too, had polio as a child, which may account for his nuanced ability to picture the disabled as, you know, people who happen to be carrying an extra load.

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