Movies that raise the spirit
One of the best ways to spend the extra time the holidays bring is to watch movies, out on DVD or Blu-ray, whether new this year or not. Here's a grab bag of what's available for rent or sale, to download or give, oriented towards what's new this year, and what's inspirational for family viewing.
Everyone should see "Wall-E," which despite being classified as a children's movie, also happens to be one of the best films of 2008. Another good one for watching with the kids (not younger ones) or giving them is: "The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian." For the youngest crowd, there's Dr. Seuss's "Horton Hears a Who!" and "Flight of the Red Balloon."
For more general family viewing, "Iron Man" is already appearing on many media top-10 lists. "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" may not contend with the originals, but it's still fun to watch Harrison Ford in action. Steve Carell keeps "Get Smart" bouncing merrily along. The Coen Brothers' annual entry, "Burn After Reading," is lame silliness made entertaining by the self-parodying by its all-star cast of Brad Pitt, George Clooney, Tilda Swinton, Frances McDormand, and John Malkovich.
The serious-minded should check out "The Counterfeiters," a fascinating take on the Nazi era. The high quality filmmaking evident in "Four Months, Three Weeks and Two Days," offsets the grimness of its subject, abortion in 80s Romania. Lighter in mood is "The Visitor," made last year, about the impact of illegal immigrants on a lonely professor.
Two fascinating documentaries released on DVD this year are worth watching. "Man on Wire," tells of story of a French tightrope walker at New York's Twin Towers. "Flow, for Love of Water" will be particularly interesting to those who share the environmental concerns addressed in the film.
Two new chick flicks this year deserve better treatment than the critics gave them. "Sex and the City: The Movie" does a good job of showcasing what made the TV series so popular, while "Mamma Mia" raises schmaltz a notch or two, thanks to Meryl Streep.
Everybody needs a dose of movie inspiration this time of year. Here's an admittedly idiosyncratic list of the best, culled from the Internet. Animated "Princess Mononoke" offers a high-quality way to hone your family's environmental awareness. The story of cerebral palsy sufferer Christy Brown, played by the brilliant Daniel Day-Lewis, in "My Left Foot" will melt away any of your personal problems. From Scotland comes "Local Hero," a nice antidote for ruthless capitalism.
Your young children will love you if you set up a "Star Wars" marathon. You can also introduce them to "Chariots of Fire," the story of two runners in the 1924 Olympics. "Gandhi," the always-compelling chronicle of India's master of non-violence, and "The Shawshank Redemption," about two prisoners who prevail over the worst kind of privation, are two more for inspirational family watching.
Two sports-related classics are "Brian's Song," about a dying football player, and "Field of Dreams," which turns upside down the idea of defeat in sports. The Korean movie "Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter...and Spring" follows the deeply moving education of a young monk. Two entries from the world of nature are "Winged Migration," a heart-lifting depiction of bird flight, and "Microcosmos," which looks at the insect world close-up.
One can't go wrong with any movie featuring Fred Astaire, Katharine Hepburn, and Peter Sellers, and most movies with Steve Martin, Christopher Guest, and Adam Sandler. And if in doubt, one can always rent the 1971 classic "Harold and Maude."