Holidays Bring Movie Madness for Critic The week between Christmas and New Year's is always a box office bonanza for Hollywood. But for movie critics, the biggest week comes a bit earlier, says NPR's Bob Mondello.
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Holidays Bring Movie Madness for Critic

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Holidays Bring Movie Madness for Critic

Holidays Bring Movie Madness for Critic

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The week between Christmas and New Year's is always a box-office bonanza for Hollywood. With families home for the holidays and movie marquees loaded with Oscar hopefuls, there's something for everyone at the multiplex. But Bob Mondello says that for movie critics, the biggest week comes a little earlier in December.

BOB MONDELLO: This year it started right after Thanksgiving - nine days, 17 movies with a room full of increasingly cranky reviewers. The film companies arranged critics' screenings in the morning, afternoon and the evening, which allows us to see "Sweeney Todd" slashing throats before lunch. Much as I love the film, I don't advice that.

(Soundbite of movie, "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street")

Mr. JOHNNY DEPP (Actor): (As Sweeney Todd) Yeah, come on, come on. Sweeney's waiting. I want you bleeders.

MONDELLO: My week started not with "Sweeney" but with the similarly grim, "There Will Be Blood" shortly after breakfast on Monday. Almost the first thing that happens in that movie is that Daniel Day-Lewis working alone in a rocky wilderness, falls down a mine shaft and crushes his foot - his left foot, let's note - which qualifies as a pretty good director's joke.

But having recently sprained my left ankle, all I could think while watching it was that I'd have died in that mine shaft. I could barely move my arms after using crutches almost entirely on carpeting. No way had I been able to drag myself out of a hole and to cross miles of rocky terrain. So great, I'm 10 minutes into the first of 17 movies and already I'm imagining myself dead.

Next stop was "Charlie Wilson's War" in which Philip Seymour Hoffman plays a CIA spook opposite Tom Hanks as a congressman.

(Soundbite of movie, "Charlie Wilson's War")

Mr. TOM HANKS (Actor): (As Charlie Wilson) Do you drink?

Mr. PHILIP SEYMOUR HOFFMAN (Actor): (As Gust Avrakotos) Oh god, yeah.

Mr. HANKS: (As Charlie Wilson) Well, should we try this scotch or is it going to release serine gas when I open it?

Mr. HOFFMAN: (As Gust Avrakotos) No, I don't think so, but open it over there.

MONDELLO: Hoffman is also in "The Savages" drinking a lot and I just see him drinking heavily in "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead." So don't quiz me too closely on which movie he does what in.

"Charlie Wilson's War" was the first of two Washington movies I saw that week. The other being a Woody Harrelson trifle called "The Walker," which I kept confusing with "Walk Hard." Washington movies are always fun to see with Washington critics because we all crack up when the stars drive up to federal buildings and find open parking spots.

Also in the week's agenda, "Nanking," a documentary about World War II horrors; "Atonement," a drama about World War II horrors; and "The Kite Runner," a drama about Cold War horrors that turned into Taliban horrors followed, of course, by a quick trip to "Alvin and the Chipmunks."

(Soundbite of movie, "Alvin and the Chipmunks")

Mr. JASON LEE (Actor): (As David Seville) Alvin.

Mr. ROSS BAGDASARIAN Jr. (Actor): (As Alvin) Okay.

ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS: (Singing) Christmas, Christmas time is near.

MONDELLO: There was in the middle of all this an odd burst of old codger flakes that made me feel a little less feeble on my crutches - "The Bucket List" with Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman as cancer victims, "Starting Out in the Evening" with Frank Langella as a stroke victim, and "Man in the Chair" with Christopher Plummer as an alcoholic who's making a movie about nursing home abuse. No one but a battle-hardened critic is likely to see those three in close proximity. You'd come out needing a walker, and not the Woody Harrelson kind.

Sprinkled in with all these delights in that very long week were "I am Legend," "The Great Debaters" and "Cassandra's Dream," a new Woody Allen movie that this studio decided to hold until February right after I'd seen it. Meaning, I could have skipped that screening and gotten a head start on watching folks frolicking in an animated Tehran in "Persepolis," or swimming with the Loch Ness monster in "The Water Horse." I hobbled to both of them eventually. But by the time I did, I practically needed a "Golden Compass" to find my way home.

I'm Bob Mondello.

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