Our Complete Official 2009 Christmas Weekend Movie Guide
by Marco Cerritos
December 25, 2009
Following the success of our Thanksgiving Movie Guide, Marco has put together another new movie guide for Christmas. So here it is, our very first Christmas Weekend Movie Guide. Marco has seen almost everything out there, and while you may not always agree with him, he provides the best review he can to make it just a little bit easier for you to choose a movie. We've included 10 films in this guide, and if there's one that's missing, it's probably in our Thanksgiving Guide, since some of those movies are still playing in theaters today. If you're struggling to figure out what to see this weekend, then look no further. Read on!
This is an alphabetized list containing 10 films that, as of today, are playing in most theaters nationwide.
Marco's Rating: B
Directed by: James Cameron (Terminator, Aliens, Titanic)
Starring: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver
Length: 162 minutes
Review: Avatar is a film experience over a decade in the making. The last time director James Cameron took the chair for a feature film (those underwater docs don't count) the result was 1997's Titanic and it was a cinematic and Oscar success. But then the self-proclaimed "king of the world" did something most kings don't do - take a break. Cameron went into a self-imposed exile from filmmaking, playing with technology and experimenting with 3D storytelling until an idea finally hit. The idea was Avatar and the result is bittersweet.
Cameron hasn't lost his touch for visual flair but his screenwriting abilities are as atrocious as ever. Almost every one of his films has been hindered by his bad one-liners and generic dialogue. In movies like Terminator 2 and True Lies, where the action is front-and-center, the silly dialogue doesn't stand out as much but in the case of Avatar it threatens to bring the entire movie down.
Online the film has been referred to as "Dances With Smurfs," suggesting that story may not be Cameron's strong suit but the visuals are. That is Avatar's saving grace and it's gorgeous to look at. The meticulous detail in some shots gives you a "how-did-they-do-that" feel while other effects shots are simplistically beautiful in their own right. Avatar won't have much replay value outside of the big screen so it may be your best bet to catch it in theatres while you can.
Marco's Rating: C
Directed by: Jim Sheridan (The Boxer, Get Rich or Die Tryin')
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Natalie Portman, Tobey Maguire
Length: 110 minutes
Review: From the dull and stoic opening credits montage, it's clear Brothers is in a lot of trouble. The story of two brothers torn apart by love and war has a huge problem in the most obvious area, the brothers themselves.
As played by Tobey Maguire and Jake Gyllenhaal, the brothers are cast way too young to hold any real weight toward the problems they're facing, namely alcohol abuse, the Iraq war and an awkward love triangle with the third piece of the puzzle, Natalie Portman. Together the trio stumble in-and-out of scenes as if they were performing a high-school version of Susanne Bier's original Danish film Brødre (which this is based on).
Brothers is a film with an A-B-C story structure in the worst possible way. Director Jim Sheridan who has done great work in the past stumbles badly as he lets the film drag on and on until you're left checking your watch every five seconds. Casual moviegoers who might be curious why Spider-Man and the Prince of Persia are fighting over Natalie Portman are better off renting the original version of this film instead.
Did You Hear About the Morgans?
Marco's Rating: C+
Directed by: Marc Lawrence (Two Weeks Notice, Music and Lyrics)
Starring: Hugh Grant, Sarah Jessica Parker, Sam Elliott
Length: 103 minutes
Review: Hugh Grant has been charming and likeable to me, if you disagree with this statement then you'll most likely disagree with this review. Either way, he's the only reason to see the awkwardly titled Did You Hear About the Morgans? His quick and dry one-liners are fast and furious in the otherwise predictable and silly comedy but the innocuous film tends to grow on you after a while.
Grant and director Marc Lawrence have paired up before on Two Weeks Notice and Music and Lyrics, giving them a chance to iron out the kinks in their working relationship. As for this third try together, there are obvious story issues but for the most part it works in a disposable-romantic-comedy kind of way. Sarah Jessica Parker struggles to be taken seriously as the female lead but ends up succumbing to the straight-forward story and having fun as a result.
Marco's Rating: C-
Directed by: Clint Eastwood (Mystic River, Million Dollar Baby, Gran Torino)
Starring: Morgan Freeman, Matt Damon
Length: 134 minutes
Review: Clint Eastwood has been having a great critical and audience reception to his last few films, but I can't say I'm in that group of supporters. His films are popular and win awards but that doesn't mean they're good. The last worthwhile run he's had were the back-to-back efforts of Mystic River and Million Dollar Baby and even those films haven't aged gracefully. It's with great sadness that I declare Invictus a continuing downturn in Eastwood's filmography.
For a movie that trumps the portrayal of Nelson Mandela by Morgan Freeman at its core, the film not only has very little of that performance but the performance itself is pretty weak. Relying on old acting tricks and a half-assed South African accent, Freeman sleepwalks through the role, bringing confusion and yawns to the story.
On the other side of the fence is Matt Damon as Francois Pienaar, who the film is really about. His South African accent is even worse but the man sure can play rugby, or at least that's what the film would have us believe since most of the rugby scenes are so hard to follow that you can't tell what's going on half the time.
In short, I love Clint Eastwood as much as the next film geek but being a cool guy doesn't give him a free filmmaking pass, which I feel he's gotten from critics and audiences lately. Here's hoping he bounces back with his next movie, which also stars Matt Damon but hopefully won't have bad accents.
Marco's Rating: B-
Directed by: Nancy Meyers (What Women Want, Something's Gotta Give)
Starring: Meryl Streep, Steve Martin, Alec Baldwin
Length: 118 minutes
Review: It's Complicated is actually pretty simple. A lonely and horny divorced mom (Meryl Streep) starts an affair with her ex-husband (Alec Baldwin) and also flirts up a storm with a shy architect (Steve Martin). Pratfalls and sex jokes ensue, making most people under 50 feel very uncomfortable. Were it not for Alec Baldwin's scene-stealing performance as the ex, the movie would be a washout, but as it stands it's just watchable.
Director Nancy Meyers has done worse (The Holiday), she's done better (Something's Gotta Give) and she's even done in-between (What Women Want). It's Complicated falls into the in-between category and it's a bit of a shame to see most of the cast wasted in such a fluffy story.
To have an interesting setup sabotaged by a third act that turns into stupid behavior and strange character moments screams of either studio interference or an indecision on Meyers' part (she also wrote the screenplay). The actors aren't at fault here, they have brought the goods. The only problem is the material they have doesn't give them much to work with.
Marco's Rating: C
Directed by: Rob Marshall (Chicago, Memoirs of a Geisha)
Starring: Daniel Day-Lewis, Penélope Cruz, Judi Dench
Length: 119 minutes
Review: And now for the biggest attention whore of the entire Christmas lineup courtesy of The Weinstein Company - masterminds at marketing half-assed films to Oscar glory. Nothing screams Oscar bait this season like Nine and I wouldn't have a problem with it if the movie were actually good. Instead, director Rob Marshall tries to string together the story of a struggling director trying to piece together his next movie with the help of the many women in his life. Art imitating life.
Based on Federico Fellini's 8½ and the Broadway play of the same name (for which Antonio Banderas won a Tony), Nine starts strong but quickly lose steam, rambling and stumbling through most of the musical numbers. Daniel Day-Lewis does his best to bring life to the conflicted and road-blocked Guido Contini, the aforementioned director who needs sexual and mental stimulation to put together his next movie. The girls who offer their services include Nicole Kidman, Marion Cotillard, Penelope Cruz, Kate Hudson and Judi Dench, proving Guido is open to women of all ages.
Critics and audiences have been pretty clever in spotting the smoke and mirrors of Nine so far, let's see if the trend continues so that the film doesn't take away a worthy spot at next year's Oscars.
The Princess and the Frog
Marco's Rating: B-
Directed by: Ron Clements & John Musker (The Little Mermaid, Aladdin)
Starring: Anika Noni Rose, Bruno Campos
Length: 97 minutes
Review: Disney's return to 2-D hand-drawn animation deserves a better welcome mat. Much has been made about this being the company's first film with an African-American princess at the center but not much has been said about the tired and worn-out storyline.
I am aware this same formula of girl meets boy, girl fights with boy and girl ends up loving boy in a G-rated way has been successful before, but there was always something else behind the story to back it up. Whether it was great music or a hook in the direction, there was something there to draw audiences in. Sadly with The Princess and the Frog there's not much there, leaving the film inaccessible to adults and boring to kids.
Hopefully this misstep doesn't scare away Disney from continuing with more 2-D animation. The joy and beauty of watching the hand-drawn images on screen is the best part of The Princess and the Frog. Now if only the story were better...
Marco's Rating: B
Directed by: Guy Ritchie (Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Snatch)
Starring: Robert Downey Jr, Jude Law, Rachel McAdams
Length: 128 minutes
Review: I'll get this out of the way fast - Sherlock Holmes has slight story and filmmaking problems but overall it's a fun ride. I doubt many people are paying to see the intricate and detailed-oriented story of super-sleuth Holmes. If you were one of those then you'll be sadly disappointed. Everyone else will enjoy this shameless studio picture and have a great time at the movies.
Robert Downey Jr. has made no mistake in talking up his future career as working on the Sherlock Holmes franchise, which reveals the obvious plans for this to be the first in a series. Between this and the Iron Man franchise, he may be set for a while. Jude Law meanwhile gets a chance to really shine in a studio picture as Dr. Watson, Sherlock's trusty assistant and close friend. Their witty banter and constant bickering is expected in the ticket price and they don't disappoint. The final piece of the trio is Rachel McAdams as Holmes' love interest and she's the most useless part of the film.
Between her and the fuzzy logic of an obscure cult as the main villain, there may be some hesitation toward seeing the film. Don't worry, those speed bumps are few and far between. Even better, if you enjoy Sherlock Holmes, there's a safe bet there'll be a sequel.
A Town Called Panic
Marco's Rating: A
Directed by: Stéphane Aubier & Vincent Patar (Pic Pic André shoow)
Starring: Stéphane Aubier, Bruce Ellison
Length: 75 minutes
Review: A few weeks ago I was blindsided by the most engagingly weird and out-of-left-field film I've seen in a long time. The movie is A Town Called Panic, a stop-motion comedy from Belgium and it's the most I've laughed out loud in a while. It's the result of what a Pixar movie would look like if it came out of Belgium.
The setup is shockingly simple and effective, two toys (Cowboy and Indian) are trying to put together a surprise birthday gift for their roommate Horse while he's away at his piano class. Chaos naturally ensues as the gift gets screwed up and the three toys set off on a wacky adventure through land, sea and air.
The characters of A Town Called Panic are based on an extremely popular television show and if that program is half as entertaining as the film I need to get my hands on those episodes now. This landed squarely on my top ten list without hesitation and will slowly open around the country in the next few weeks. Highly recommended!
Up in the Air
Marco's Rating: A
Directed by: Jason Reitman (Thank You for Smoking, Juno)
Starring: George Clooney, Vera Farmiga, Anna Kendrick
Length: 109 minutes
Review: We're saving the best for last in this Christmas round-up. Up in the Air is also on my top ten list this year and all the accolades the film has been receiving are well deserved. Like most of you I was a huge fan of Thank You For Smoking but hated Juno. Up in the Air is a return to form for Jason Reitman and it's his best and most mature film yet.
It's hard to imagine a filmmaker can grow so much after only directing three films, but Reitman has shown that promise here, subtly telling a tale of sorrow and redemption without pandering to his audience. All three leads (Clooney, Kendrick, and Farmiga) prove they're worthy of the hype various awards circles have been giving them and also make the experience fun for the audience. Up in the Air is not a message movie, nor is it a depressing one. It's a film that's timely with our economic crisis but is also so strong that it will age gracefully beyond these dark times.
This is the film people will look at years from now when they want to know how rough things were in 2009. It's a bookmark for history that is aided by the filmmakers taking their subject seriously and performing a flawless execution. Up in the Air is one of the best films of the year and should be sought out for awards consideration.
Have you seen any of these yet? And what are you planning to see this weekend, if anything?