Five Must-See Flicks
If you've seen the dreadful trailers for "Alvin and the Chipmunks" or "P.S. I Love You" (P.S., Hilary Swank: You're a two-time Oscar winner. What are you doing in this movie?), then you may have very low expectations for this holiday cinema season. But don't worry; there's more to see in the coming weeks than Jason Lee and Lisa Kudrow slumming in crummy comedies.
If you're overwhelmed by all the options in our holiday movie guide, allow me to simplify with this list of five sure-fire winners coming to a cineplex that sells overpriced popcorn near you.
-- "Juno": Ellen Page is pregnant with a child and witty sarcasm in this indie comedy, opening in D.C. on Friday. It's already being touted as this year's "Little Miss Sunshine" because of its appealing mix of sweet and sour. Fans of TV's dearly departed "Arrested Development" also will relish the fact that Michael Bluth (Jason Bateman) and George Michael Bluth (Michael Cera) both appear in this one, although they share no screen time. Unfortunately, Tobias Funke (David Cross) must have been too busy with "Alvin and the Chipmunks" to round out the "Development" posse.
--"Atonement": This absolutely gorgeous adaptation of Ian McEwan's first-rate novel opened last Friday, but expands to more theaters this weekend. Easily the most emotionally affecting of this year's potential Oscar contenders, it boasts a heartbreaking performance by James McAvoy (looking way hotter than he did as Mr. Tumnus in "Narnia") and a six-minute continuous shot that will leave your mouth hanging open.
--"Charlie Wilson's War": There are two primary reasons to see this political pic, and neither of them involves Tom Hanks or Julia Roberts. Reason One: A crackling screenplay by Aaron Sorkin, who gets back to that fast-moving, Washington, D.C.-speak that once made "The West Wing" such a pleasure. Reason Two: The brilliant Philip Seymour Hoffman, who plays the world's grumpiest CIA agent and delivers a speech to his boss that will make him a god to disgruntled employees everywhere.
--"Sweeney Todd": A Sondheim musical run through the meat grinder of Tim Burton's brain, "Sweeney" delivers more slashed throats than most mainstream horror films. Its color palette is so dark that it invents a few new shades of gray. And Johnny Depp -- who sings! And sounds a lot like Ian McCulloch from Echo and the Bunnymen! -- transforms into a man who may best be described as a homicidal version of Edward Scissorhands. In other words, it's Burton and Depp in what may be their strongest collaboration yet.
--"The Savages": This one may be a hard sell. Few people want to see a movie about the pain of taking care of elderly parents, especially during the holidays. But it just doesn't get better than watching two of the current cinema's most versatile actors -- Laura Linney and (yes, him again) Philip Seymour Hoffman -- spar as a brother and sister struggling with the decision to put Dad in a nursing home. It's a finely observed gem that dares to tackle a universal subject that most Hollywood films are too cowardly to even touch.
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