We in the arts section are familiar with your dilemma, and suggest that you take some time during winter break to indulge yourself in more aesthetically pleasing escapist endeavors.
Much like the summer movie season, studio execs waste no time in producing mountains of releases for the winter holidays. In addition to releases on the silver screen, there are always video releases new and old to keep you busy on those wintery nights. We’ve sorted through some of these releases for you in hopes of preventing your break boredom from reaching new heights (a la “The Shining”).
A BEAUTIFUL MIND
Instead of creating a straight-out biopic of the tortured Nobel Prize-winning mathematician John Forbes Nash, Jr., director Ron Howard has set out to illustrate Forbes’ reality without truthfully adhering to events and relations in his life. The goal is to represent the reality that Forbes, whose genius (compounded by mental illnesses) was manifested in a completely unusual perceptual architecture, might have lived. With Russell Crowe in the lead role, this one is already being touted as an Oscar frontrunner.
Everyone in and out of the industry is talking about Will Smith’s physical and mental transformation into the talented, arrogant heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali. The discussion about his performance, in fact, is overshadowing the movie, which focuses on a pivotal 10-year stretch of Ali’s life that included marriages, draft resistance and the win, loss and reclaiming of the championship title. With acclaimed director Michael Mann at the helm, one can hope that the movie has the effectiveness it aspires to without the self-righteous schmaltz its genre so often achieves.
What is there left to be said about this absurdly high-wattage heist caper? George Clooney and Brad Pitt mastermind a plot to rob eleven Vegas casinos in a night, with the help of Matt Damon, the complications of Julia Roberts and the hindrance of a smarmy enemy in the form Andy Garcia. It is ostensibly an update of the eminently mediocre Rat Pack flick of the same name, but really a complete remake with the invaluable contributions of former indie wunderkind director Steven Soderbergh.
LORD OF THE RINGS: FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING
The first in J.R.R. Tolkien’s trilogy, “The Fellowship of the Ring” finds protagonist Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood) on a journey to the evil land of Mordor to destroy the titular ring without being corrupted by its power. The hope is that director Peter Jackson, who directed the bizarre and beautiful “Heavenly Creatures,” has found a way to imbue his vision into the story while remaining true to the source.
A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS
Forget “It’s a Wonderful Life.” This exquisite fruit of Peanuts creator Charles M. Schultz’s genius is, if such titles are necessary, the ultimate holiday classic. This examination of the perpetually down-and-out Charlie Brown’s efforts to direct a local play embodies what holiday movies should be about, and to those skeptics who proudly refute the merit of the series: if you don’t get it, you’re an unfortunate being.
HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS
Skip the intolerable Ron Howard version of Dr. Seuss’ tale in
favor of the 1966 animated version, which transcends its children’s classic status with enough edge to relieve the pervasively cloying sentimentality of the holiday season, while maintaining a sincere tenderness that still arouses the proverbial holiday cheer. The Grinch, whose extra small heart leads him to attempt to prevent Christmas from coming to Who-ville, is voiced by the inimitable Boris Karloff and the film is accompanied by an equally first-rate soundtrack.
NATIONAL LAMPOON’S CHRISTMAS VACATION
The Griswold family, led by hapless dad Chevy Chase, skips the vacation and instead spends Christmas at home with a horde of visiting relatives. Father Griswold is determined to give his family an “old-fashioned family Christmas” and this quest leads to the requisite slapstick foibles, mishaps and calamities, with the inevitable harmonious ending.