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Top Ten Films for This Holiday Season

It’s that time of year when two things happen: First, as one Facebook friend quipped, “We sit and look at a dead tree and eat snacks out of our socks.” Second, this is the time of year for a total onslaught of many of the year’s most anticipated films, hitting the big screen all at once.

With so many holiday-time films to choose from, and in the spirit of year-end, top-ten lists everywhere, we offer a list of the top ten holiday films to be sure to see before the clock strikes 2010. Most are in theaters now; a couple are available on Blu-ray and DVD.

10. 2012 – If this film is playing near you, and if you have not yet seen it, see it! Disaster-film mogul Roland Emmerich brings us a story about what the Mayans warned us would happen–the end in 2012! Three reasons to see it: The acting is good and effects are great; The plot provides a make-you-do-a-double-take twist on a story we know well; We’re an apocalyptic lot, and 2012 gives us plenty of end-times gristle to chew on. See Spectrum’s 2012 vlog here.

9. Fantastic Mr. Fox – One of three animated films on this list. George Clooney and Meryl Streep lead an outstanding cast of voice actors in this beautiful stop-motion picture about a fox who tries to give up stealing farmers’ eggs, and the adventures he shares with other woodland animals when the farmers fight back. Like the best animated films, it works well for both the young and the young at heart.

8. Invictus – Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon star in the true story of Nelson Mandela’s attempt to unify post-apartheid South Africa through rugby. Deep racial divides threaten national unity, and the burden of uniting the country falls on President Mandela (Freeman) and the captain (Damon) of the Springboks, South Africa’s rugby team. Freeman’s visual likeness to Mandela and moving performance exonerate his difficulty nailing the accent.

7. A Christmas Carol – The second animated film on this list. Jim Carrey is perfect as Ebenezer Scrooge in Charles Dickens’ classic yuletide story, brought to life in IMAX 3D. The film blends fun and fright…mostly fun. Disney brought us Mickey’s Christmas Carol in 1983, which was one of the first Christmas films I can remember seeing. Disney’s 2009 reprise sparklingly demonstrates how animation has advanced in 25 years.

6. Joyeux Noel – First released in 2005, this film relives a remarkable World War I event. On Christmas Eve in 1914, a momentary cease-fire between German, French and Scottish soldiers resulted in a celebration unlike any other on earth. Soccer on the battlefield, Stille Nacht sung in German and French accompanied by bagpipe, and a midnight mass in place of gunfire. Without an enemy, there can be no war, the film reveals. One of the best Christmas films of all time.

5. Up in the Air – George Clooney plays a big man with a small life–a human resource go-to guy who travels extensively, providing corporate downsizing services and working toward one million frequent flier miles. When a young new recruit threatens to put him out of business, he takes her on a trip that leads both to reconsider. Ultimately, this story provides an intelligent narratival commentary on isolation and interpersonal connectivity. One of the best stories of 2009!

4. The Princess and the Frog – Just when you began to worry Disney had permanently swapped shiny new computer-animated flicks for the old school, hand-drawn cartoons we cut our teeth on, out comes This! The Princess and the Frog takes a well-worn fairytale premise and tweaks it just a little with delightful results. The film transports us to the New Orleans where Princess Tiana (who wears a tiara) accidentally becomes a frog and endures all sorts of troubles to become human again. This is Disney’s first African-American heroine. Ever.

3. Precious: Based on the Novel “Push” by Sapphire – Precious is a sixteen year old African American girl from Harlem. Her life is a wreck. She is pregnant with her father’s child. Again. Her abusive mother forces Precious to perform ridiculous duties. Precious made it to the 9th grade without knowing how to read or write. On the brink of expulsion, Precious receives a second chance–her only chance to escape her living nightmare. A relentless, ultimately hopeful film about growth and the possibility of overcoming.

2. The Hurt Locker – Hurt Locker opens with a quote: “The rush of battle is a potent and often lethal addiction, for war is a drug.” The film follows Staff Sgt. William James (Jeremy Renner), who diffuses bombs for the U.S. military in Iraq. And he likes it. Renner delivers one of the best performances of the year in this complex story of war, power, and a type of addiction that few people will ever experience (or want to experience)–addiction to mortal danger. Hurt Locker provides visceral and cerebral in equal measure–not pro-war, not anti-war, just about war.

1. Avatar – And just like that, film has changed again forever. Avatar is the story of Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), a paraplegic marine recruited for an experimental procedure that creates for him a new avatar body–half human, half Na’vi on distant Pandora. Sully controls his avatar self with his unconscious human body that acts like a remote control. Humans are interested in diplomacy with the Na’vi–blue human-like creatures on Pandora–because the Na’vi settlement sits atop a rich deposit of unobtanium, which humans pay top dollar to export for energy. Sully comes to “see” (code for understand deeply) the Na’vi, and falls in love with the chief’s daughter, but the American military will stop at nothing to mine Pandora’s minerals. Even regard for the life of a side-switching Sully. Avatar is IMAX 3D at its very finest. Coupling huge technological innovations with exquisite artistry, it is a visual feast that outshines every film that came before it.

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