Byline: David Ansen
'Tis The Season For Spy Thrillers, Hidden Gems, And A Jodie Foster Meltdown. Sift Through The Theater With A Critic's Eye.
In theaters Dec. 16
Two respectable, WELL-HEELED New York couples, whose sons have engaged in a nasty and disfiguring playground fight, meet in the tasteful Brooklyn apartment of the victim's parents to have a "civilized" discussion of the incident. Surely these decent people can work out their problems with no bad feelings. By the end of Carnage, Roman Polanski's mordantly funny and doggedly faithful adaptation of Yasmina Reza's Tony-winning God of Carnage, all pretense of civility lies in tatters. Scotch has been downed, insults hurled, vomit spewed, and humanity's baser instincts exposed. To anyone versed in Albee and Strindberg, Reza's stratagems may elicit deja vu. Still, there's good, nasty fun to be had watching an enraged Jodie Foster and a boorish John C. Reilly (the victim's parents), a cynical Christoph Waltz and a tightly coiled Kate Winslet (the tonier parents of the victimizing boy) gleefully chewing the scenery, and each other. Polanski, a master of enclosed spaces and inner demons, is right at home. This won't go down as one of his classics, but he choreographs the bourgeois battle royale with old-pro finesse.
In theaters Dec. 30
"A detective story without a detective" is how writer-director Asghar Farhadi describes A Separation, but that just scratches the surface of this wonderfully rich Iranian movie. A middle-class couple separates when the husband, Nader, refuses to leave Iran with his wife and daughter, needing to stay to tend to his Alzheimer's-stricken father. When he hires a devout lower-class maid to help him care for his dad, bigger troubles begin. It's astonishing how much life Farhadi crams into two fleet, revealing hours: class, religion, law, gender, marriage, a murder charge, the lies one relies on to survive. This domestic thriller is one of the most vibrant, ethically complex, and superbly acted films of the year.
WE BOUGHT A ZOO
In theaters Dec. 23
After the death of his wife, danger-loving journalist Benjamin Mee (Matt Damon) impulsively buys a run-down zoo in the California countryside, hoping this new home will delight his children--and take his thoughts off the woman he loved. A heavily fictionalized adaptation of Mee's nonfiction book, Cameron Crowe's movie follows the rules of the Dead Mommy/Single Dad subgenre to a T. At its weakest, Zoo force-feeds the uplift. At its best, it taps into some real, messy feeling, thanks to the rock-solid Damon and Colin Ford's sensitive portrait of a teenager. Scarlett Johansson provides a hint of future romance. There's just enough wit and humanity to stir fond memories of the savvy charmer who made Jerry Maguire and Almost Famous.
In theaters now
the NC-17 Shame depicts in grim, graphic detail the downward spiral of Manhattan sex ad-dict Brandon (Michael Fassbender). …