At no point throughout the year are we more American than we are on Thanksgiving. What I’m talking about has little to do with Pilgrims or togetherness or gratitude. Rather Turkey Day, at its most practical level, for most people involves spending four days overeating, shopping, watching football, and escaping all that by going to the movies. With that in mind, our contribution to this celebration of leisure and consumption is a guide to the weekend’s cinematic buffet. We felt it incumbent upon us to help you avoid the moviegoing equivalent of Aunt Ethel’s aspic and steer you toward something more rich and satisfying, which might have otherwise gone unnoticed. What follows is our list of the top ten best literary films in theaters this weekend. Bon appetit.
1. “The King’s Speech”: Alternately moving and dryly witty, this British dramedy explores the relationship between King George VI (Colin Firth) and the speech therapist (Geoffrey Rush) who helps him overcome his severe stutter by challenging the King to confront his fears and to embrace his own unique powers of self-expression. Already considered a front-runner in the Best Picture race, director Tom Hooper navigates masterfully through a minefield of maudlin triumph-over-adversity tropes with acerbic, unsentimental storytelling.
2. “127 Hours”: Danny Boyle (“Slumdog Millionaire”) brings his kinetic, pulse-racing aesthetic to this adaptation of Aron Ralston’s harrowing memoir, Between a Rock and a Hard Place. This white-knuckle-ride of a survival story places you right inside the body and mind of an expert rock climber (James Franco) as he faces off against his own arrogance, mortality, and will to live after suffering a debilitating accident in which his arm is crushed under a boulder in a remote crevasse where his chances of rescue are nil.
3. “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest”: Vindication is slow in coming but all the sweeter for it in this concluding installment in Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy. Swedish filmmaker Daniel Alfredson, who also directed “The Girl Who Played with Fire,” doesn’t have the artistic flair of “Dragon Tattoo” helmer Niels Arden Oplev, but he makes up for it in his undying loyalty to the books and Lisbeth Salander avatar Noomi Rapace‘s ever expanding repertoire of dead-eyed glares and menacing glances. The first shot of Lisbeth Salander, in full mohawked regalia as she makes her final march into to the courtroom, is its own form of sweet badass redemption.
4. “Fair Game”: Based on Valerie Plame’s eponymous memoir about the 2005-06 political scandal in which White House operatives revealed her secret identity as a CIA operative to avenge her husband, diplomat Joseph Wilson, this political thriller stars Naomi Watts and Sean Penn as the high-powered Washington couple whose marriage and professional lives come under fire from the highest corridors of power. The film burns with quiet intensity thanks to its stellar cast and director Doug Liman, who you may remember from his last film about a marriage involving at least one spy, Mr. and Mrs. Smith.
5. “Inside Job”: This elegantly edited and produced documentary about causes and instrumental architects of the financial collapse of 2008 is among the the most riveting and horrifying films of the year.
6. “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1″: Obviously, you don’t need a metal detector to find this theatrical treasure. But we thought it was worth throwing into the mix, given that the penultimate Harry Potter adventure has arguably raised the bar to create a simultaneously more exciting and intimate look at a trio of teen wizards we’ve come to know as well as many of those around our Thanksgiving tables.
7. “White Material”: Watching the fierce French actress, Isabelle Huppert, as a rough-hewn farmer in colonial Africa who refuses to abandon her land when the country erupts into war is as exhilarating as it is agonizing. It’s also worth any distance you must travel to find an art house playing this subtitled masterpiece by French director Claire Denis (“Beau Travail”).
8. “Cool It”: Danish economist Bjorn Lomborg has been fearlessly throwing hand-grenades into the debate on global warming, which has landed him high on the shit lists of many prominent environmentalists and scholars. So it’s no small feat that this documentary about Lomborg, by director Ondi Timoner, (“We Live in Public”) has changed so many opinions about the man and his ideas about finding more effective ways of combating global warming.
9. “Public Speaking”: Fran Lebowitz is the living, breathing embodiment of a very specific brand of New York intellectualism: straight-talking, funny, neurotic, despairing at the changes modernity has wrought. We know this person from countless Woody Allen movies. Only now we have a movie about the archetype herself – best known for her collection of essays and her decades-long case of writer’s block — directed with loving simplicity by Martin Scorsese.
10. “Tamara Drewe:” Director Stephen Frears (“The Queen”) brings a sense of bemused curiosity to this adaptation of Posy Simmonds‘ graphic novel about a spirited ugly duckling (Gemma Arterton) who flees her rural hometown, blossoms into an idiosyncratic beauty (with the help of a skilled surgeon), and returns to revel in her new-found power over the brigade of goofball guys who once ignored her. There is a romantic-comedy buried in this homage to Thomas Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd, only it has none of the false moralizing or plot contrivances we’re used to in this hackneyed genre.
Photo by The Weinstein Company