Holiday Movies

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The holiday movie season started for me with a sneak of “The Kite Runner,” continued with the flawed-but-fascinating “No Country for Old Men,” took me through the nail-biting “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead,” sidetripped into the domestic drama “The Savages,” and culminated with a Christmas Day double feature of ”Sweeney Todd” (my second visit), and “Charlie Wilson’s War.” Even on the kidflick front “Bee Movie” was a bit better than I had hoped and “Enchanted” was sufficiently charming.

And I have yet to see the likely Oscar-nominees “Atonement,” “There Will Be Blood,” “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” and “Juno.”

Either I’m getting more selective or something interesting is happening in movie theaters right now. Specifically: Very good movies are getting made.

A few observations:

1. Apart from a few moments of “Sweeney Todd,” none of these films feature real call-attention-to-itself filmmaking. Are we returning to good storytelling vs. showboat directing?

2. Philip Seymour Hoffman is in three of the aforementioned films and gives complex, interesting and very different performances in each. If he isn’t the actor of the year, please tell me who is.

3.  “Charlie Wilson’s War” is unlikely to be a major hit, but it’s a savvy move for Tom Hanks, who has been in an interesting transitional decade. His back-to-back-to-back-to-back etc. hits of the 1990s gave way to a period of uncertainty (see “The Ladykillers,” “Polar Express” and the hedging-his-bets “The DaVinci Code”). What’s happening to America’s (once) favorite actor?

4. Similarly, it will be interesting to see where Julia Roberts’ movie choices go. In “Charlie Wilson’s War,” she is essentially playing the Glenn Close role. As with Hanks, her post-2000 choices have seemed transitional. Does she still have hits in her?

5. Although its gore and unrelentingly negative world view will certainly keep it from chalking up lots of repeat viewings, I’m trying to think of a better stage-musical-to-screen-musical adaptation than “Sweeney Todd.” Certainly it’s in the top 10—which would, for me, include “Fiddler on the Roof,” “West Side Story,” “Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” “The Music Man,” “Oliver!,” “My Fair Lady,” “The Sound of Music,” “Chicago” and   … OK, so that’s nine. What should fill in the last slot?

Your thoughts?

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