ALISON STEWART, host:

Hey, you know, it's that time of the year when Oscar is the name on a lot of movie executive's mind. We're not talking Oscar the Grouch from the truly awesome to the merely worthy serious film releases are coming fast and furious. To help us sass through them all now is Bob Mondello, NPR's film critic.

Hi, Bob.

BOB MONDELLO: Hey, Allison. How are you?

STEWART: I'm doing great. So you told our producer you detect a trend in the recent releases, and it's not movie centered on the war on terror. What is it?

MONDELLO: No. It's all about guys who can't cope. I can't believe all this.

ROBERT SMITH, host:

I can identify.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MONDELLO: It's like "Heartbreak Kid," the guy, you know, who can't commit, commits and then fails during his marriage. "The Darjeeling Limited" is three brothers can't cope with life at all and go off to India to try and get their life together. It's…

STEWART: Oh, wa(ph), wa, wa. Listen…

MONDELLO: …you know, true. We are the weakest sex. I mean, there's no question.

STEWART: Let's hop in to the first example of it. It's called "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead." It has this really impressive cast of Academy-Award nominees make interesting film choices. You have…

SMITH: A lot of them from the stage.

STEWART: Yeah. Philip Seymour Hoffman and Marisa Tomei, of course, they won. You have nominees Albert Finney, Ethan Hawke, Rosemary Harris in a heist picture - a family heist picture where things go really wrong. What went wrong?

MONDELLO: Well, they decided to heist their own family's jewelry store, everything goes wrong. I - you can't imagine how badly this goes wrong, and it's pretty breathtaking to listen to.

STEWART: Let's hear a clip. It's Philip Seymour Hoffman's character trying to sign his brother, Ethan Hawke's character, up for this plan.

(Soundbite of movie, "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead")

Mr. PHILIP SEYMOUR HOFFMAN (Actor): (As Andy) You need money? (Unintelligible)

Mr. ETHAN HAWKE (Actor): (As Hank) What are you talking about?

Mr. HOFFMAN: (As Andy) There's a place we can knock off hell like the back of the hand. Easiest money you'll ever get.

Mr. HAWKE: (As Hank) What are you saying?

Mr. HOFFMAN: (As Andy) It's worth about 600 grand and it's insured so it's a victimless crime now in case you're (bleep) conscious bothers you. I laid off on 20 cents on a dollar. It's 60 grand each, give or take.

Mr. HAWKE: (As Hank) I can't believe this is you who's talking.

Mr. HOFFMAN: (As Andy) Believe it.

STEWART: What works about it? Is it the acting? Is it Sidney Lumet's directing?

MONDELLO: Well, both really. Sidney Lumet is amazing with actors. He's shepherded about 40 actors to Oscar nominations over - during his career, and it's like all these guys are amazing. I mean, Albert Finney has a scene where he's sitting in a hospital as someone is dying and he just comes a part without a single line of dialogue. It's really breathtaking.

But the whole thing is it's just gorgeously acted. You sit there and you think, my god, these people are amazing because they're not giving - you know, in "Hamlet" when something goes wrong, it's because the characters are flawed in some ways. These guys - it's just a roller coaster of a ride that the world is coming apart for them and it has nothing to do with who they are. They just - I mean, you know, by the end of the picture you really feel like you know them. It's a really smart movie. And Sidney Lumet, I mean, he made them like what I think is the best of the crime-falling-apart movies ever in "Dog Day Afternoon."

STEWART: Sure. Of course.

MONDELLO: So, I mean, you know, he's just an amazing director.

STEWART: Our next movie is open in a couple of cities. It opens nationwide. Full disclosure: Robert and I both love this movie.

SMITH: Love it.

STEWART: "Lars and the Real Girl," a story of a sweet social misfit who buys this rubber doll - this life-like rubber doll. He's delusional about her being real.

SMITH: Can we say sex doll? Love doll?

STEWART: Yeah, companion.

MONDELLO: Sex doll.

SMITH: Companion.

STEWART: Companion, yeah.

MONDELLO: A little, yeah.

STEWART: Let's listen as Ryan Gosling explains to his brother and sister in this movie - the characters - about his guest coming to visit. You get a sense of how delusional he is.

(Soundbite of movie, "Lars and the Real Girl")

Mr. PAUL SCHNEIDER (Actor): (As Gus) Where did you meet this person?

Mr. RYAN GOSLING (Actor): (As Lars Lindstrom) On the Internet.

Ms. EMILY MORTIMER (Actor): (As Karin) Yeah, well, everybody is doing that now. That's great.

Mr. GOSLING: (As Lars Lindstrom) She doesn't speak much English though.

Ms. MORTIMER: (As Karin) Uh-huh.

Mr. SCHNEIDER: (As Gus) It's okay. It's really the same with the guys at work. It's not that big a deal.

Mr. GOSLING: (As Lars Lindstrom) Okay. Well, yeah, you know, she's in a wheelchair so I just don't want her to feel weird about it.

Ms. MORTIMER: (As Karin) Oh, no, no.

Mr. SCHNEIDER: (As Gus) So what? We don't care.

STEWART: She's in the wheelchair because she can't walk because she's rubber.

SMITH: I thought this was going to be a broad comedy sort of a weekend at Berny's…

MONDELLO: I know.

SMITH: …meet Porky's and it was - I have to say, not just the sweetest film about a sex doll I've ever seen but one of the sweetest films I've ever seen. How did they make this movie work?

MONDELLO: Well, I - actually, I think it's all Ryan Gosling personally. But it's the kind of thing that even towards the end of the picture you're still afraid that they could do a misstep, that, you know, there's a scene by the lake where…

STEWART: Oh, yeah.

MONDELLO: …everything - I mean, you really worry that they're going to make a wrong step somewhere because the thing is so fragile. The whole town sort of rallies around this guy and accepts his girlfriend even though she's not doing a lot of talking. And I think it's a remarkable picture. You know, try and think back at to movies like, what, "Harold and Maude" where you thought, well, that's not very plausible but somehow you accept it and becomes very sweet about an 80-year-old woman and a 19-year-old guy getting together. This is the same kind of movie in a way that it's an improbable (unintelligible) that it's one that ultimately you really accept.

SMITH: If Bianca, the love doll, does not get a best supporting actress nomination, I'm boycotting the whole event.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MONDELLO: That's a great idea.

(Soundbite of laughter)

STEWART: Another odd love story is called "Wristcutters," a road film that takes place in the afterlife. And, Bob, the afterlife in this film is not full of pearly gates and never-ending angel food cake.

MONDELLO: No. They say at one point that, you know, if you're - it's about a guy who's committed suicide, and if you commit suicide, what is purgatory going to be like? Well, it's going to be more of what you're trying to get away from, right? It's just going to be the same only worse. And it's a really interesting little movie. He goes to purgatory, meets a whole bunch of other suicides. It's like a purgatory specifically designed for suicides. And it looks like Bakersfield, California. It's, you know, it's a kind of place that you don't particularly want to spend a whole lot of time in if it's hot and dusty. And it's - he falls in love while he's there.

STEWART: The lead actor - it took me a little while to recognize him because he's grown up. It's the kid who played the lead…

MONDELLO: Sure.

STEWART: …in "Almost Famous."

MONDELLO: Yeah, and he's wonderful. He's - like, I really find this movie kind of appealing. It's made by an Eastern European director. And my feeling about it was that it was the best Eastern-European-Southern-Californian movie I had seen in ages. It's got the sensibility of a - I don't know how to describe it exactly. It's got the sensibility of an Eastern European comedy that life is bleak, things are going to get worse, try and deal with it, kind of, and…

STEWART: And Tom Waits, isn't it?

SMITH: Oh, my man, Tom Waits. How's he do?

MONDELLO: Oh, he's wonderful. Well, he's on the soundtrack and then, all of a sudden, he appears in the thing just sort of lying face down in the middle of a road. And he's…

(Soundbite of laughter)

MONDELLO: It's like - he's amazing. He sort of takes over the second half of the picture looking for his dog.

STEWART: Bob Mondello, NPR's film critic, thank you so much for walking us through what we should spend our 10, 11, $12 on.

SMITH: It's going to keep us busy.

MONDELLO: Take care.

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