Ella Taylor

There's more than one fractured monarchy in A United Kingdom, a period saga of love, race and colonial politics set in both post-World War II Britain and a tiny African tribal nation then-named Bechuanaland. Some of this really happened: In 1947 the African country's heir apparent, Seretse Khama (David Oyelowo) and white office worker Ruth Williams (Rosamund Pike) cross paths at a missionary dance in drab, foggy post-War London. In the film, their eyes lock across a crowded room; they bond over a mutual love of jazz; that's it, they're hooked for life.

Frank Langella has all manner of elastic gifts, but he's never been the sort of actor to disappear into the many roles he's played over a distinguished career. There's an underlying stern implacability to just about every deplorable villain (and occasional hero) Langella has tackled: intractable obstinates all, who bend others' wills to their own and give no quarter.

If you've been tracking Matthew McConaughey's well-earned victory march from serious babe to serious actor specializing in wilderpeople, it will not shock you to learn that in Gold, a brand new, pretty old-school poem to the American huckster, the actor bares his bottom for a scene that requires him to leap into the unprepared arms of Edgar Ramirez.

A young man about whom we know little other than his name — Leo — arrives in a pretty French village, where, with little finesse and less success, he propositions a muscled sulk of a teenage boy (Basile Meilluerat). Leo, who's played by Damien Bonnard with a kind of predatory befuddlement, has better luck with Marie (India Hair), a shepherdess who calmly takes the sexual initiative.

Rummage through the many movies that get dumped into distribution in the run-up to Oscars night and you'll often find, amid all the prestige, cinematic awards-bait, a smaller film that's perfectly fine — not great — yet that tells us something consequential about the culture that produced it. That's 100 Streets, a sour-sweet British drama about a bunch of walking-wounded Londoners crossing paths as they struggle through life-crises we all recognize — a marriage on the skids, a longed-for child, an uphill battle to rise above poverty and petty crime.

If Pablo Larrain is news to you, he won't be for long. The Chilean director, whose Tony Manero, No, and The Club won critical praise but only modest box office here, has two highly recommended new films in the awards spotlight this year. Like Jackie — a challenging and brilliant portrait of Jackie Kennedy in the aftermath of her husband's assassination — Larrain's Neruda engages in iconoclastic play with clichés that have clung to a national legend, in this case Chile's beloved poet-politician Pablo Neruda.

One way or another, every Pedro Almodovar film is all about his mothers, real or imagined. His latest, Julieta, marks a return to form for all who love to take a bath in his crimson maternal melodramas. Still, it's a quieter, more inward film, less inclined to broad winks at the audience than, say, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, Talk to Her, or even All About My Mother.

The friction between art and life is director Damien Chazelle's ongoing obsession. It's a fine thing to ponder, though I didn't much care for his 2014 melodrama Whiplash, which worked up an overblown froth from the daffy proposition that you can bully a fledgling musician into becoming a genius drummer.

Late in mid-life Nathalie (Isabelle Huppert), a Paris high school philosophy teacher, suffers a string of punishing losses that threaten not just her well-being and sense of fulfillment, but her entire identity as a wife, daughter, mother and professional woman. Her husband (Andre Marcon) announces he's moving in with the mistress he's kept a secret for many years. Nathalie is forced to move the fragile mother (Edith Scob) she has propped up since childhood into assisted living; it doesn't go well.

Late in The Edge of Seventeen, a deftly blackish teen comedy written and directed by newcomer Kelly Fremon Craig, high-schooler Nadine sits on the toilet with her head in her hands. She's taken a beating on the usual fronts of adolescent suffering, as well as another ordeal no youngster should have to bear. "Please God, help me," the girl mutters. Then, "Why do I even bother?" Because to cap it all off there's no toilet paper. If you've seen any other movies or TV shows that producer James L. Brooks has had a hand in, you will recognize the comedy of embarrassment hard at work.

At the fancy Christmas dinner she hosts in her posh Paris home, a stylish entrepreneur named Michele, played to impassive perfection by Isabelle Huppert, verbally abuses her heavily Botoxed elderly mother and her mother's very-much-younger consort. She inflicts injury on the very-much-younger girlfriend of her former husband. She pokes fun at her ineffectual son, his partner, and their baby. She takes a covert swipe at her pretty Christian neighbor while initiating a game of footsie with that neighbor's handsome husband, a broker.

The title Loving may seem a rough fit for a movie made by Jeff Nichols, whose previous work includes Take Shelter and Mud. But Richard and Mildred Loving were the names of the real-life couple who inspired his new film; in the late 1950s they were forbidden to love and marry by the state of Virginia.

The landscape is all too familiar: Junkies, dealers, prostitution, poverty, and, here and there, spasms of violence. But Moonlight, an incandescent second feature from Barry Jenkins (Medicine for Melancholy), is a "black" movie more by way of Charles Burnett than John Singleton (Boyz n the Hood) or the Hughes brothers (Menace II Society).

Amid the current clamor for strong women characters, the films of Kelly Reichardt can seem regressive if you're not paying close attention. From her terrific debut feature River of Grass through Meek's Cutoff and Wendy and Lucy, Reichardt has given us incomplete, quietly suffering women who feel their way into change. Her M.O. is to allow their unexpressed longings to hang quietly in the air so we can feel them too, and watch what happens when they try to act on them.

The actress Sarah Paulson, who's having a very good year, can do pretty much anything. She turned herself into a racist plantation matron in 12 Years a Slave; Cate Blanchett's lesbian bestie in Carol; and there's her brilliant Emmy-winning turn as prosecutor Marcia Clark in this year's The People v. O.J. Simpson. To say nothing of her show-stopping turns as a witch, conjoined twins and other weirdnesses on American Horror Story.

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