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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

12 Must-See Holiday Movies…

1. Borat

The Basics: Faux Kazakhstani TV talking-head Borat (Sacha Baron Cohen) comes to the States and “unintentionally” mocks everyone. His utter cluelessness of American customs makes it impossible not to giggle at even his most offensive, politically incorrect shenanigans.

What’s the Deal? Borat is supposed to be reporting on “the greatest country in the world,” but the crazily mustached reporter is much more interested in getting in touch with his inner Kid Rock by meeting and trying to marry Pam Anderson.

Why It’s a Must: The character is arguably the best personality from Cohen’s Da Ali G Show, and though there’s no “Throw the Jew Down the Well,” there is “The Running of the Jews.” And if nothing else, from his lime-green thong-clad appearance at Cannes to his attempt to crash the White House and invite Dubya to a screening, Cohen is committed.

2. Casino Royale

The Basics: He’s heeere. The first blond Bond, Daniel Craig, sets out to prove all the nay-sayers wrong. He’s joined by Mads Mikkelsen, newbie Bond girl Eva Green and Jeffrey Wright as Bond’s CIA pal Felix Leiter.

What’s the Deal? It’s the 21st James Bond movie, and it’s based on the first Bond novel from author Ian Fleming. We see Bond’s beginnings as 007, when he’s sent to spy on a suspected terrorist and ends up in a high-stakes poker game with baddie Le Chiffre (Mikkelsen), a terrorist money launderer.

Why It’s a Must: Some 007 enthusiasts were so ticked off by the casting of a blond Bond, and Craig in particular, that they launched an anti-Craig website. But those detractors may have to eat their virtual words, because all the trailers and other pre-release footage – not to mention how well he fills out that tuxedo – suggests that Craig is going to make one super ridiculously good spy.

3. Apocalypto

The Basics: It’s directed, produced and written by the man that brought you The Passion, it’s entirely in subtitles, and it stars a bunch of people you’ve never heard of.

What’s the Deal? Gibson’s latest opus, his take on the collapse of the Mayan civilization (with all the dialogue spoken in Yucatec Mayan), is also a not-even-thinly-veiled metaphor for his feelings about the war in Iraq. Hint: He’s against.

Why It’s a Must: A. Only the few who’ve caught a preview screening truly understand the movie’s plot; B. The subtitles; and C. A lot of people wouldn’t mind seeing the post-scandal Gibson fall flat on his face. Yet, despite all that, those who have seen it have given it rave reviews.

4. Dreamgirls

The Basics: Beyoncé Knowles and American Idol reject Jennifer Hudson are the titular R&B trio, Jamie Foxx is their weasel of a manager, and Eddie Murphy is the crooner who successfully (and musically) pimps the Dreamgirls.

What’s the Deal? Like the 1981 Broadway musical, it’s about three singers who become crossover pop stars (The Supremes???) until their used car salesman of a manager (and their own insecurities) lead them to question their newfound fame and fortune.

Why It’s a Must: Foxx. Murphy in a non-kiddie flick. Hudson, whose breathtaking performance will seduce you silly. And we dare you to listen to “Listen,” the one song from the movie on Beyoncé’s new B’day, and not rush out and get an advance ticket.

5. Stranger Than Fiction

The Basics: Will Ferrell’s hearing voices in his head, Emma Thompson is the voice, Dustin Hoffman is his shrink, and Maggie Gyllenhaal is his government-hating baker girlfriend.

What’s the Deal? Ferrell’s a boring IRS auditor who begins to hear a female voice narrating his life. But he’s not crazy; he’s just a fictional character in author Kay Eiffel’s (Thompson) novel, and the only way he can avoid one of Eiffel’s “tragic endings” is to start living his life the way he’s always wanted. Not the way it’s been written for him. Why It’s a Must: Imagine Charlie Kaufman writing the script for Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby. OK, maybe the movie isn’t that weird, but it’s certainly Kaufman-esque-clever with its reality vs. fiction storyline. Could be Ferrell’s The Truman Show crossover flick.

6. The Good German

The Basics: In one of the final collaborations of their now-defunct Section 8 production company, George Clooney stars and Steven Soderbergh directs.

What’s the Deal? Clooney is an American journalist who heads to Berlin at the end of WWII to find his married lover (Cate Blanchett), which draws him into a murder mystery involving a dead GI. Tobey Maguire plays a soldier who’s hired to drive Clooney all around Berlin, and because of his secret connections, Maguire may possess Blanchett’s only way out of danger. Or not.

Why It’s a Must: Clooney’s in it. Soderbergh directed it. And Clooney’s in it.

7. The Good Shepherd

The Basics: Robert De Niro directs Matt Damon, Angelina Jolie, Alec Baldwin, William Hurt, Jason Patric, Billy Crudup, himself and Joe Pesci, who ended a seven-year retirement to work with his Goodfellas pal De Niro.

What’s the Deal? Part fact, part fiction, Shepherd unfolds the early history of the CIA through Damon’s Edward Wilson, an idealist so dedicated to his work and distrustful of those around him that it may eventually cost him his family wifey Angelina in particular.

Why It’s a Must: Damon’s in it. De Niro’s in it (and directed!), And Damon’s in it.

8. The Blood Diamond

The Basics: Leonardo DiCaprio and Djimon Hounsou are two men whose lives depend on a missing rare bauble.

What’s the Deal? DiCaprio’s a South African mercenary who can win his freedom with the titular pink diamond, and Hounsou’s a fisherman who can save his family with the titular pink diamond. The catch: They’re going to have to trek through rebel territory to get it. Ooh, chills!

Why It’s a Must: Still coasting from the success of The Departed, DiCaprio may just win our thrill-seeking hearts all over again with this action star bit and hinky accent.

9. The Fountain

The Basics: Requiem for a Dream’s Darren Aronofsky directs his wife Rachel Weisz, who stars with Hugh Jackman as a couple whose love transcends thousands of years (and varying Jackman hairdos).

What’s the Deal? Jackman is, across three stories that span many centuries, a 16th-century Spanish explorer named Tomas (hair: long, with beard), a present-day scientist named Tommy (hair: short, no beard), and a 26th-century space traveler (hair: none). In all three, he’s in love with and/or pining for Queen Isabel/Izzi (Weisz).

Why It’s a Must: In the hands of a lesser director, it probably wouldn’t be. But after surviving the departure of the original cast (Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett), a long delay in production, then managing to get an equally fine replacement cast, add some unique special effects via Peter Parks’ macro photography, and a haunting score from composer Clint Mansell (Pi and Requiem for a Dream) all for a relatively thrifty $35 million budget, Aronofsky’s pet project might just become a niche classic.

10. Volver

The Basics: Spanish director Pedro Almodovar has sparked Oscar buzz with this Cannes darling starring Penelope Cruz.

What’s the Deal? Cruz is Raimunda, who shares an unfortunate history of family sexual abuse with her daughter. When Raimunda’s dead mother reappears (is she a ghost or not?) it reopens old wounds but also gives the women a chance to heal them. It’s a funny movie, too. Really.

Why It’s a Must: You barely recognize Cruz , the Vanilla Sky / Sahara Cruz, that is. She’s actually good in this. Her reunion with her All About My Mother director in one of Almodovar’s most uncharacteristically conventional tales will be one of the best, most widely received movies for the both of them.

11. Children of Men

The Basics: Clive Owen and Julianne Moore try to save the human race from extinction by keeping the last pregnant woman from harm.

What’s the Deal? In 2027, London denizens hadn’t produced babies for years, and the world’s youngest citizen has just been murdered. An oppressive government rules, suicide pills are marketed to a depressed citizenry, and it all comes down to an alcoholic political activist-turned-government enforcer (Owen) and his rebellious ex-wife (Moore) to save the only female who’s become impregnated in 18 years and ensure the future of mankind. Got that?

Why It’s a Must: It’s set in the not-too-distant future, and combined with the film’s urgent tone, it seems uncomfortably familiar with the current state of world politics. And Owen gets a chance to shine not as a pretty face but as a numb, beat-up Londoner who’s shaken from his indifference by the chance to make a difference.

12. The History Boys

The Basics: Adapted from writer Alan Bennett’s Tony-winning play, this British Dead Poet’s Society stars the original London and New York cast.

What’s the Deal? Set in the U.K. during the 1980s, a class of male students spends a year trying to prepare for the high-stakes entrance exams for Oxford and Cambridge, under the tutelage of an idealistic teacher (Richard Griffiths, a k a Harry Potter’s Uncle Vernon). But it’s not as dull as all that: You can’t tell from the trailer, but Uncle Vernon has a thing for motorcyles and for his young charges.Why It’s a Must: The original play director (Nicholas Hytner) and the original cast? You can’t beat that. It’s a faithful adaptation of the play, which won six 2006 Tony Awards, including Best Play, Best Director and Best Actor for Griffiths.