It's that time of year. No, not Christmastime — holiday movie time. A glut of buzzy, Oscar-contending films are crowding theatres. What are they, and what's worth seeing? Here, a guide to the eight most talked about movies of the season:
The Adventures of Tintin
Steven Spielberg's adaptation of the beloved Belgian comic series about a boy adventurer is drawing comparisons to Indiana Jones. (Spielberg himself called it "Indiana Jones for kids.") "With its mixture of treasure-hunting, globe-hopping, brawling and puzzle-solving," it's definitely a throwback to to Raiders of the Lost Ark, says Corey Hall at Metro Times. But it's too bad that the 3D motion-capture animated film is missing the "warmth" of real-life actors, says Ty Burr at the Boston Globe.
The black-and-white French silent film is an unlikely Oscar frontrunner, but it's charming critics and sweeping up awards. The movie is "delightful, ingenious, funny, poignant and, in its own small way, profound," The Globe and Mail's Rick Groen says. The film tells the tale of a silent film actor who falls from grace when talking pictures sweep Hollywood. Even the canine sidekick in the film, a Jack Russell terrier named Uggie, is generating Oscar buzz. He gives "the best performance, human or animal, in any film I've seen this year," says New York Post film critic Lou Lumenick.
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
Stephen Daldry's (The Hours, The Reader) adaptation of Jonathan Safran Foer's novel tells the story of a young boy (played by Thomas Horn) who embarks on a strange quest around New York City as he grieves for his father (Tom Hanks), who died on 9/11. "It's Oscar-trolling 9/11 kitsch," says Nick Pinkerton in The Village Voice. Yeah, it's "unsettling, whimsy-glutted remember-9/11-at-the-holidays drama," says Lisa Schwarzbaum at Entertainment Weekly. Perhaps, says Mary Pols at TIME. But Horn's performance overcomes the gimmicky premise and makes the film "believably, genuinely sad."
In select theatres Christmas Day, everywhere January 20
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
David Fincher's (Fight Club, The Social Network) adaptation of the first book in Stieg Larrson's phenomenally popular "Millennium" trilogy is drawing mixed reviews, but nearly all agree that young Rooney Mara gives a gutsy,"hypnotic," star-making performance as tattooed hacker Lisbeth Salander. "Slender, sheathed in black leather, with short ebony hair standing up in a tuft, her fingers poking out of black woolen gloves as they skitter across a laptop keyboard, [she] cuts through scene after scene like a swift, dark blade," says David Denby in The New Yorker.
The Iron Lady
Meryl Streep's portrayal of Margaret Thatcher is drawing raves; the film itself, not so much. Streep is "unsurprisingly excellent," says Keith Uhlich at Time Out New York. I wish I could say the same for "this sentimental, whitewashed biopic of the controversial British prime minister" and its "laughable attempt to remold Thatcher's legacy into a feminist crusade, turning events like the Falkland Islands brouhaha and the mid-'80s miners strike into mere patriarchal speed bumps that our heroine must overcome."
In select theatres December 30
Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol
You may think you're tired of Tom Cruise's spy franchise, but the fourth installment is drawing raves from many critics. It's "the year's best action flick," says Andrew O'Hehir at Salon. In his live-action film debut, Pixar's Brad Bird (The Incredibles, Ratatouille) directs the film with stylish energy, delivering "not just one or two but four or five of the most coherent and exciting action sequences in recent history."
Another big Spielberg flick, just in time for the holidays. This one is an emotional World War I epic about a young man and a horse who are separated by the terrible war. The stage play "has found a wide and emotionally drained audience," says Michael Phillips in the Chicago Tribune. Between "the horrors of World War I plus the horrors of war as endured by a horse, capped by a ruthlessly effective happy ending," there "is an awful lot to cry about." It's best to just give in, says A.O. Scott in The New York Times. Spielberg quickly "lays siege to your cynicism, bombarding you with strong and simple appeals to feeling."
In theaters Christmas Day
We Bought a Zoo
"On paper, the plot is enough to make you puke," says J.R. Jones at the Chicago Reader. Matt Damon plays a grieving widower who buys an old zoological park in a small town to heal himself and his family, while Scarlett Johansson plays the zookeeper-love-interest who helps patch him back together. But Cameron Crowe's (Almost Famous, Jerry Maguire) "impressive" direction takes the "wretchedly cloying script" and turns it into a movie that's "quite enjoyable."
Opens Friday, December 23