The Town

Ben Affleck, Jeremy Renner, Rebecca Hall, Jon Hamm | R |

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DRAMA

Like Woody Allen and his New York state of mind, Ben Affleck is developing quite a facility for telling Boston's stories. This one is about Charlestown, a neighborhood responsible for more bank robbers than any other. Affleck directs, cowrites and stars as Doug, the flinty point man on a bank-busting crew, who takes things personally when hotheaded best friend Jim (Renner) grabs a hostage on a job. In fact, things get very personal when Doug starts romancing Claire (Hall), the unsuspecting former hostage, putting everyone at risk, particularly with a dogged Fed (Hamm) on the case. While Affleck is great as Doug, chiseled and deeply well versed in the law, he's an even better director. He draws award-worthy performances out of the actors, particularly Renner and Gossip Girl's Blake Lively as Jim's junkie sister. Though The Town is far from perfect, it's a gritty and engaging effort from a guy who looks to have a long career-on both sides of the camera.

Never Let Me Go

Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield, Keira Knightley | R |

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SCI FI

Never Let Me Go is a sci-fi movie with no visionary machines, no flashy aliens and, strangely, no surprises. It's so much crueler, you see, to know precisely what's coming at you. That's the fate of Kathy (Mulligan), Tommy (Garfield), and Ruth (Knightley), clones raised in a boarding school to become spare parts for luckier humans. When Ruth and Tommy start dating we know it's really Kathy he loves, and every second they spend apart before they complete their "donations" feels like theft of the worst sort. Beautifully acted, Never Let Me Go is, like most ruminations on death, a celebration of life-however devalued, however brief.

London-bred rising star Rebecca Hall, 28, takes on a gritty romance

BEN VS. WOODY

How's Ben Affleck stack up to her Vicky Cristina Barcelona director, Woody Allen? "Ben's a lot taller!" says Hall. "They're such different people. But they're both very trusting of actors."

BOYS' CLUB

The male-dominated Town cast "all ganged up on me," says Hall, the daughter of renowned theater director Peter Hall and opera singer Maria Ewing. "I was endlessly teased."

MUSICAL MOTIVES

"Every character I play, I make some sort of nerdy playlist for," she says. For her Town role, "I got quite a lot of Smashing Pumpkins."

The tale of mismatched wolves trying to get back to their pack, Alpha and Omega is a by-the-numbers cartoon with occasional 3D pleasures. For his final film, the late Dennis Hopper-who voices a pack leader-deserved a more inspired send-off.

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Let the awards races begin! These standouts at the Toronto International Film Festival got the movie world talking.

THE KING'S SPEECH

Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush are masterly as stuttering King George VI and his irreverent speech therapist in one of the best movies of the year. Acting nods are assured, but Best Picture is also in play.

BLACK SWAN

Director Darren Aronofsky puts the camera right in Natalie Portman's face, drawing out a fearless performance as a fragile ballerina.

CONVICTION

Hilary Swank and Sam Rockwell make anguish look easy in this real-life tale of a sister fighting for her imprisoned brother's freedom.

JACK GOES BOATING

Philip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Ryan could sneak onto Oscar ballots as a pair of sweetly damaged lovers.

WAITING FOR SUPERMAN

Davis Guggenheim's portrait of the public school crisis is a front-runner in what's already been a terrific year for documentaries.

127 HOURS

As Aron Ralston, the trapped hiker forced to cut off his own arm, James Franco is funny, wry and totally riveting.