Movies To Watch For Over The Holidays

The holiday movie season offers a short break from the assault of summer blockbusters, and it's the last chance for movie studios to push some of their award season contenders. Guest host Linda Wertheimer speaks with Washington Post movie critic Ann Hornaday about the films of this holiday season.

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

So how about dinner and a movie this Thanksgiving? The holiday movie season offers a short break from the assault of summer blockbusters, and it is the last chance for movie studios to push some of their award-season contenders.

Ann Hornaday is a film critic for the Washington Post. She's here in our studios with her holiday film picks. Ann, thank you for coming in.

ANN HORNADAY: It's a pleasure. Thank you for having me.

WERTHEIMER: Now, what movies stand out to you, if we want to try to collect the Oscar hopefuls?

HORNADAY: Well, this is definitely the season. If you're an Oscar voter, you have to get your ballot out because they start coming fast and furious right around now.

And one just opened this weekend, called "The Descendants," which I'm a huge fan of. It's by Alexander Payne, who did "Sideways." He also did the movies "About Schmidt" ...

WERTHEIMER: I think you're burying the lead. George Clooney is in this movie.

HORNADAY: Sorry. Oh, did I not mention? George Clooney is the lead.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

HORNADAY: And then a lot of unknowns, and people sort of with breakout performances. And it's Clooney as we don't really see him very often. He's not the glamour boy. He's playing a husband and a father who is struggling to keep his family together during his wife's illness. And it's a dysfunctional family comedy-drama. It's incredibly sad, incredibly moving, incredibly humane. So I strongly recommend that, especially for adult viewers, over the next holiday.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "THE DESCENDANTS")

GEORGE CLOONEY: (as Matt King) How you feeling? Hung over? I thought you were supposed to be getting your act together.

AMARA MILLER: (as Scottie King) I have gotten my act together. I was just drinking. I've been doing really well, actually. Nobody ever seems to notice that. Grades are better. I was in that stupid play that you guys didn't even bother to see. Do even remember the name of it?

WERTHEIMER: There must be some little films, too, that we might not have seen but ought to take a look?

HORNADAY: Oh, yes. And there's some - there's a wonderful one coming up that I saw first at the Cannes Film Festival this past summer, called "The Artist." It's a black-and-white, silent film; an ode to silent films of yore. And it's kind of Charlie Chaplinesque, "Singing in the Rain" type, silent musical - if you can wrap your mind around that - by a French filmmaker; mostly French actors, although John Goodman has a cameo. But it's absolutely delightful. And that will be coming out between now and Christmas, as will lots of other awards contenders, like Steven Spielberg's "War Horse," based on the novel and play; and then the "Iron Lady," which is the Margaret Thatcher biopic with Meryl Streep, so everybody's terribly eager to see her tuck into that.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

WERTHEIMER: So there are some adaptations of books and some more stage plays coming out, too. There's "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy," the John le Carre spy novel, for instance. What do you think is getting the good buzz?

HORNADAY: Well, that one has been very hotly anticipated because, of course, so many people remember that TV series, which is - by many people - considered one of the greatest of all time, with Alec Guinness, no less, in that lead role of George Smiley. And Gary Oldman, terrific actor, has leapt into that role. And it's being directed by Tomas Alfredson, who did "Let Me In," that vampire movie from Sweden a few years ago. Very assured, sort of a classicist of a director, and he's brought those same values to bear on this one. I mean, I think it's a very straight-ahead adaptation. He's condensed that very sprawling story quite effectively, and I think it's one of those sort of classy, sober-minded literary adaptations that this time of year always seems to bring forth.

WERTHEIMER: Anything else being talked about that's in this sort of big movie, big novel category?

HORNADAY: A lot of people are curious about this movie called "Carnage" - which was based on "The Gods of Carnage," a play - which is being directed by Roman Polanski. Of course, "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo," that's the big adaptation that everybody is on the edge of their seat for. Of course, that's with David Fincher directing Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara - who, after a long and famous sort of search for the right girl to play that indelible lead, she got picked. And so fans of that novel, and the previous Swedish adaptations, are all going to have their notebooks and pens out, to start giving it grades.

WERTHEIMER: That's going to be fascinating because the Swedish version - even though it fell into the trap of being in Swedish...

HORNADAY: Mm-hmm.

WERTHEIMER: ...was really quite compelling and scary as all get out.

HORNADAY: You know, with these adaptations, the trick is to please those absolutely rabid fans, but then also open it up for new discovery, you know, people who are discovering it for the first time.

WERTHEIMER: Now, just to make a 180 change of subject, films appropriate for children.

HORNADAY: Yes. And we have lots of those too. There's one I just saw the other night in New York, "The Adventures of Tintin," based on the Belgian comic book; directed by Steven Spielberg, who is a busy man this season, between that and "War Horse." This is in that sort of motion-capture animation technique. Martin Scorsese is making an outing in three – his first attempt at 3-D, with a family film called "Hugo," set in a Paris Metro station, adventures of a little boy. That got very warm buzz out of the New York Film Festival, where it had sort of a sneak preview. And then the Muppets are back, which is just a, you know, I think I've loved every single Muppet movie. I can't think of a Muppet movie I haven't really liked.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "THE MUPPETS")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (as character) May I suggest we save time and pick up the rest of the Muppets using a montage?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (as character) Oh, great idea, these robots.

(SOUNDBITE OF NOISE)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (as character) We greatly appreciate your financial support.

(SOUNDBITE OF YELLING)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #4: (as character) Eighty-seven point three miles to go; 87.2

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (as character) Robot, do you have to do that?

WERTHEIMER: So "The Muppet Movie" and "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" - something for everyone.

HORNADAY: I think that's the beauty of this time of year, when everybody - you know, the bad news is that the studios do tend to save their best for last, so then it's very difficult to kind of see everything that you want to see. But the good news is yes, we're spoiled for choice. There's some really wonderful things out there.

WERTHEIMER: Ann Hornaday is a film critic for the Washington Post. She joined us in our Washington studios. Thank you very much.

HORNADAY: It's a pleasure. Thank you.

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