You can't fill your end-of-the-year season with nothing but good cheer, or you'll turn into a candy cane. (That's science.) So we chose to tackle a slightly darker topic this week: Is everything worse than ever?
For presidential-film buffs, this holiday season has some high-profile offerings. First, there was Steven Spielberg's biopic Lincoln. And out now, there's Hyde Park on Hudson, a peek behind the curtain and into the life of America's longest-serving president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
The Hobbit's path to the screen may have started out as tortuous as a trek through the deadly Helcaraxe, filled with detours (Guillermo del Toro was initially going to direct), marked by conflict (New Zealand labor disputes) and strewn with seemingly insurmountable obstacles (so many that the filmmakers threatened to move the shoot to Australia).
Using illegal immigration as a frame to explore the slow awakening of a tough-shelled young Texas woman, The Girl is a patient chamber piece about the emotional bruises left by poverty and neglect.
Even before we fully know her circumstances, Ashley (Abbie Cornish) introduces herself as a victim of race and class discrimination. A sullen single mother and minimum-wage drone in a south Texas supermarket, she opens the film with a request for a raise. When denied, she refuses to accept her supervisor's criticism of her attitude.
We're long past the point where, at least among half-sentient beings, we need to make a case for the intelligence and sensitivity of Marilyn Monroe. Even when cast as a dumb blonde, she was never just your stock ditzy dame: She always showed a breezy self-effacement that was too sly to be purely accidental.
And to look at her, of course, is to love her, particularly now that her sad story has become part of the cultural landscape: How can you not want to protect such beauty and vulnerability from the cruelty of the world?
The O'Haras don't talk much about what's wrong, but the members of this biracial Queens family — the central characters of Yelling to the Sky -- are bedeviled by alcoholism (dad), mental illness (mom) and adolescent defiance (the two daughters). Indeed actress-turned-director Victoria Mahoney barely explains her characters' circumstances, which makes the movie obliquely intriguing. But whenever the story comes into focus, it's revealed as fairly conventional.
You might know Lizzy Caplan, eternal sidekick, as Jason Segel's girlfriend on television's Freaks and Geeks. Or as the struggling comedienne from Party Down, or the vampire vegan on True Blood, or from the movie The Bachelorette earlier this year?