Matthew Lickona 2:02 p.m., Sept. 23
Taken for what it is — and that includes a final third that comes with its own unique set of loopy, nonlinear terms — this followup from Precious writer-director Lee Daniels does just fine as a smutty sex-and-servitude potboiler that never bores. The 1969 murder of a small-town sheriff in Moat County, Florida sends investigative reporter Matthew McConaughey (who deserves a lifetime achievement award for this year's output alone) back to his roots and onto the trail of what could turn out to be the scoop of a lifetime. He joins forces with his younger brother (Zac Efron), a "paperboy" for the mob, and a never-sexier (particularly if you go for the slutty, '60s, teased hair, layered-on mascara, cigarette butt dangling from the corner of her mouth, Julie Christie type) Nicole Kidman to right the wrongful accusation of swamp psycho John Cusack. There are several obvious cheats in both the logic and narrative departments, and the film has a near-unhealthy fixation on Kidman's private parts. But if nothing else, it's a technical step forward for Daniels: the gimmicky flash cuts and mini montages that marred Precious remain, but happily, there are fewer of them, and he occasionally finds a way to have them advance the story. 2012.