“American Hustle” (R, 138 minutes, Sony): A larky, anarchic life force runs through David O. Russell’s screwball homage to the strivers and connivers who wreak playful havoc with what could easily have been a straight-up, if antic, FBI procedural. Notionally based on the 1978 Abscam investigation, wherein an FBI sting used fake Arab sheiks to ferret out corruption within the ranks of Congress and local jurisdictions, “American Hustle” cheerfully jettisons any pretense of historical accuracy or journalistic shoe leather. Oscar nominees Christian Bale, Amy Adams and Bradley Cooper develop a credible, explosively volatile chemistry. Contains pervasive profanity, some sexual content and brief violence.
“Frozen” (PG, 108 minutes, Disney): Disney is back in the game with this Oscar winner for best animated feature and best song “Let It Go.” The movie might not have potential pop hits – the songs sound much more like musical theater show tunes – but the animated comedy-adventure has a sweet and very modern message, plus strong characters. More important, the movie blends the music-minded mentality of yore with the more recent ambition of truly appealing to all ages. Its surprising and poignant ending, which subverts so many fairy-tale stereotypes, feels as though it cancels out the movie’s small flaws and dragging moments. Contains some action and mild rude humor.
“Saving Mr. Banks” (PG-13, 125 minutes, Disney): A spoonful of sugar and all the cheap sentiment and facile whimsy it represents are precisely what author P.L. Travers abhors in this richly rendered, engrossing dramatization of Walt Disney’s efforts to adapt Travers’ novel “Mary Poppins” into one of his confectionery extravaganzas. Played by Emma Thompson in a deliciously brittle turn, Travers emerges in the film as a humorless, imperious, unfailingly prim martinet. Reluctant to hand over Mary Poppins, Travers wages a two-week war of attrition on the screenwriter and composers assigned to bring the magical governess to the screen, wearing the boys down with constant criticisms and suggestions, all to keep her most cherished creation from becoming yet another casualty of Disney-fication. Contains thematic elements including some unsettling images. Also, on Blu-ray: deleted scenes; a featurette on the history of Walt Disney Studios; “Let’s Go Fly a Kite,” in which the cast and crew break out in a heartfelt tribute to composer Richard Sherman on the last day of filming.
“Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom” (PG-13, 129 minutes, The Weinsterin Co./Anchor Bay): This film does a worthy job of honoring both its subject and its audience. It can feel, at times, both overlong and oversimplified, but the story propels itself along while awakening in viewers some profound emotions. That latter achievement is thanks largely to the film’s star, British actor Idris Elba, who has transformed himself in recent years from an inner-city Baltimore drug kingpin on “The Wire” to a London detective with a dark side on the television series “Luther” to the late, beloved freedom fighter. Elba looks not at all like Nelson Mandela, and yet his demeanor, not to mention his impressive accent, captures the icon. Contains some intense sequences of violence and disturbing images, sexual content and brief strong language.