Wednesday Movie Roundup: Sweet Holiday Bounty Edition!

click to enlarge George Clooney and Shailene Woodley in 'The Descendants'
George Clooney and Shailene Woodley in 'The Descendants'

After months mediocre movie options, recent weeks have give us a plethora of worthwhile offerings in a variety of genres — from art-house-leaning fare like Margin Call, Martha Marcy May Marlene, The Skin I Live In, Like Crazy, Take Shelter, The Interruptors, Senna, The Way and The Guard to higher-profile multiplexers like Moneyball, Drive, 50/50 and The Ides of March.

The winning streak continues this week. In fact, it's shaping up to be the best slate of opening films in recent memory. —-According to tt stern-enzi's rave below, Martin Scorsese's whimsical adventure Hugo is that rare 3-D movie that actually uses the format to thrilling, story-enhancing effect.

Then there's the anticipated return of writer-director Alexander Payne via The Descendants, a slanted, deadpan comedy about a family man in crisis that features George Clooney's best performance to date (a Best Actor Oscar nod is a cinch, and I wouldn't be surprised to see him win). Speaking of Oscar, word is that Michelle Williams' performance as Marilyn Monroe in My Week with Marilyn is yet another engrossing turn in a career that is rapidly becoming the most interesting on the current cinematic landscape.

And don't forget the return of The Muppets, which Scott Renshaw says is more than just a nostalgia trip. TT even liked Arthur Christmas, which gives us three As, an A- and a B. We pretentious, often curmudgeonly critics must be going soft!

Opening films:

ARTHUR CHRISTMAS — This animated 3-D story about a son of Santa Claus who doesn't agree with the direction his older brother is taking the family business features an impressive roster of U.K. voice talent, including James McAvoy, Bill Nighy, Hugh Laurie, Jim Broadbent and Imelda Staunton. Sarah Smith and Barry Cook co-directed. (Read full review here.) (Opens wide today.) — tts (Rated PG.) Grade: B

THE DESCENDANTSThe Descendants benefits from time, coming seven years after Sideways, a period during which writer-director Alexander Payne also grappled with his own set of challenging circumstances (divorce, health issues, etc.) and came out the other side a different man, one more aware of his intrinsic humanity, which is what makes George Clooney's protagonist a great (near perfect) addition to the Payne oeuvre. (Read full review here.) (Opens wide today.) — tts (Rated R.) Grade: A

HUGO — Martin Scorsese, the master of gritty urban realism, heads to 1930s Paris for this whimsical tale of an orphan living in the walls of a train station who seeks to solve a mystery involving his late father. The story also features early cinema pioneer Georges Melies, and it was shot in 3-D, two more elements that make this a curious, highly anticipated venture for Scorsese. (Read full review here.) (Opens wide today.) — tts (Rated PG.) Grade: A

THE MUPPETS — For 97 minutes, The Muppets sends out wave after wave of puns, broad visual gags, self-referential asides and genuine warmth — and nearly every last bit of it works. (Read full review here.) (Opens wide today.) — Scott Renshaw (Rated PG.) Grade: A

MY WEEK WITH MARILYN — Although the movie has its weak spots, Michelle Williams delivers a deftly multidimensional character study built on truthfulness and soul. My Week With Marilyn isn’t just a gem; it’s a diamond. (Read full review here.) (Opens Friday at Mariemont Theatre.) — Cole Smithey (Rated R.) Grade: A-

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