John Hawkes (Winter’s Bone) is already stirring up Oscar buzz for his portrayal of San Francisco poet and journalist Mark O’Brien, whose childhood polio left him paralyzed from the neck down and confined to an iron lung. After getting approval from his progressive priest (William H. Macy), O’Brien sets out to lose his virginity, employing the services of a sex surrogate (Helen Hunt, with Hawkes, above right), who opens him up to sexuality, intimacy and even love. The winner of two Sundance awards, this sideways romance from writer-director Ben Lewin is surprisingly humorous . . . and expectedly poignant.
Keira Knightley (A Dangerous Method) aces the iconic role of the doomed Russian aristocrat in love with a young cavalry officer (Aaron Taylor-Johnson, with Knightley, below left) in this visually stunning adaptation of the classic Tolstoy novel. As sumptuously elegant as a Merchant Ivory production but with the bold theatricality of Baz Luhrmann, this epic love story smashes the boundaries of film, expertly blending an excellent Tom Stoppard script with daring vision and stirring work from costars Jude Law and Kelly Macdonald. Joe Wright (Atonement, Pride and Prejudice) directs