Arthur Christmas – I have to admit, I’m always skeptical of Christmas movies. So many of them come off as insincere as they try so hard to fill the viewer with holiday cheer that they lay the sentiment on too thick and rarely are there any new ideas to be found. That being said, I had no expectations where this film was concerned when it was released last year, so imagine my surprise when I found myself completely swept away by its wit, charm and imagination. The title character, voiced by James McAvoy, is the youngest son of the soon-to-be-retired Santa Clause, who sets out on Christmas Eve to deliver a present to a young girl in England who’s been overlooked. He’s accompanied by the put-out-to-pasture Grand-Santa (Bill Nighy) and what should be a simple delivery turns into a complicated and magical adventure. Produced by Aardman Animation, the folks behind the Wallace and Gromit features, this is a sumptuous film to take in and is as imaginative visually as it is narratively. Poignant and funny, don’t be surprised if this one enters your annual rotation of holiday movies.
Jeff Who Lives at Home – If you’ve ever wondered about the caprices of fate or what the meaning of your life might be, this quietly moving, thought-provoking film is for you. Jeff (Jason Segel) is a slacker living in his mother’s basement who’s obsessed with the film Signs, to the point that he’s convinced that his own life will turn on a quirky circumstance, given he’ll be able to see it through the pot-induced haze he’s constantly in. Needless to say, he gets his sign, in the form of a phone call to his house that turns out to be a wrong number, sending him on an adventure that ultimately involves his brother (Ed Helms) and a life-threatening accident. This is the sort of movie that will prompt you to have a smile on your face throughout its brief running time, culminating in a quietly moving climax that reminds us that life’s most important decisions and events are often predicated by a hard to explain event. This is a sleeper you’ll be glad you took a chance on.
Red Lights – Critics as a whole weren’t kind to this thriller and I can understand why. It’s far from a perfect movie as it does run a bit long and contains a questionable performance by one of its leads. However, I found the story intriguing as it follows two experts on paranormal activity (Sigourney Weaver and Cillian Murphy) that spend most of their time exposing charlatans, who finally meet their match in the person of Simon Silver (De Niro), a psychic with a cult following who’s been in hiding for decades but has now reappeared with no shortage of fanfare. While the film is overlong, it does contain more than a few effective twists including an ending that I didn’t see coming and proved to be a pleasant surprise.
Salmon Fishing in the Yemen - If you’re looking for a good romance, this charming film will fit the bill. Based on a true story, the film looks at the efforts of a Middle Eastern sheik whose passion is fly-fishing, an activity he wants to bring to his desert country by having a fresh water lake and river constructed in his homeland. Stuffy British fishing expert Dr. Jones (Ewan McGregor) is hired by the sheik’s assistant Harriet (Emily Blunt) and though on the surface they couldn’t be less alike, sparks soon begin to fly between them. Unassuming, yet sincerely played, this is the sort of romance that even those who don’t like a good love story will be won over by it.
Your Sister’s Sister - This quirky indie was made in just 12 days and features one of the oddest love triangles you’re likely to encounter. Jack (Mark Duplass) is in love with Iris (Emily Blunt) but is afraid to tell her as she was his brother’s fiancé before his tragic death a year earlier. Off to clear his head in her family’s cabin, he meets Iris’ sister Hannah (Rosemarie DeWitt), who’s already there trying to cope with a relationship gone wrong. One drink too many between them and they end up in bed, only to wake in the morning to discover Iris is on her way to join them. Mostly improvised, the three principals are able to create a feeling of genuine intimacy that gives us the sense that we’re eavesdropping on their most private moments as this trio grapples with a series of unexpected, life-altering events.