Christmas Weekend Movie Guide

Reviews of Tintin, War Horse, We Bought a Zoo and other potential Oscar contenders

Thus begins one of the most important movie weekends of the year. On Tuesday, Oscar ballots will be mailed out—nominations announced four weeks later (on January 24). So this will be the final weekend for wide release films to make an impression. While Hugo, The Descendants, and The Help have been talked about for weeks, this will be studios’ last chance to make an impact. So here are my reviews of the big name releases this week.


War Horse (Opens December 25)
Stephen Spielberg’s latest live-action film is an epic story of a young man, a horse, and the frontlines of World War I. With longtime collaborators John Williams (score) and Janusz Kamiński (cinematography) and a story with sweeping battles and quiet family moments, this should have been a homerun. Unfortunately, it is too earnest and too mechanical: the score a bit heavy-handed, the cinematography, too Gone-with-the-Windy, the sets and performances a bit too polished. Instead of caring for the boy and the horse, the earnestness of the film provokes indifference. Much praise is being heaped on this film (it’s already on several Top Ten lists), but perhaps that has more do with the filmmaker than the film itself. My Grade: C+

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Watching the opening credits—a video that would fit nicely within composer Trent Reznor’s Nine Inch Nails music video canon—you know David Fincher has left Facebook and Benjamin Button far behind. His adaptation—which, besides Hanna and Drive, has to be the coolest movie of the year—is dark, twisted, beautiful, cold, slick, morbidly humorous, faithful to the book, and violent. (Though much of the violence, thankfully, is left up to the imagination.) It also boasts tremendous performances from Rooney Mara, Daniel Craig, and Stellan Skarsgård. The movie’s 160-minute running time is a bit long, but this techno-y Silence of the Lambs is a must see. My Grade: A-

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Mission Impossible this ain’t. This adaptation of John le Carré’s Cold War classic is a cerebral thriller boasting a tremendous and restrained performance from Gary Oldman. My Grade: B+

The Artist
Yes, it’s in black and white, and yes—for the most part—it’s a silent film, but The Artist is no pastiche; it bubbles with energy and originality. Starring the dashing, charismatic Jean Dujardin as a silent star in the brink of “talkies,” we watch as he is pushed aside for the talking, younger talent, namely the beautiful Peppy (played by Bérénice Bejo). In the hands of French director Michael Hazanavicius, this dazzling gem (with Lodovic Bource’s exquisite score) will take home many award nominations (and wins). My Grade: A

Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn
Who would have thought that a cartoon would be the better Spielberg film of the year? Based on the international bestselling comic series The Adventures of Tintin, this performance capture animated film has the sensibility of Indiana Jones and the campy fun of Pirates of the Caribbean. Though the film’s resolution is a bit of a let down (it feels more like a sequel setup than a satisfying conclusion), it’s a beautifully made, high action movie great for the whole family. My Grade: B

We Bought a Zoo
Matt Damon plays a father who, along with his two kids, tries to cope after the death of his wife. Finding too many memories in his old home, as well as his son’s expulsion from high school, he buys a new home—which also happens to be a zoo. This “based on a true story” movie, directed by Cameron Crowe, was obviously made to appeal to as many people as possible: the kids have animals, the parents have adults struggling against the odds, the romantics have a budding relationship, and the manly men have Jason Bourne playing the lead. But the movie often feels monotonous: it never veers far from its predictable path—you will know the ending within the first 15 minutes of the film. Unfortunately, even Matt Damon’s solid performance can’t overcome an unsurprising storyline and an uninspired script (the movie’s title is used way too often in the dialogue).