Hugo. This year I bit the bullet and covered all three of the big Thanksgiving kiddie movies (Hugo, The Muppets, and Arthur Christmas) and managed to endure all three public screenings without shrieking at anyone's four-year-old to shut the fuck up. The Muppets is OK, but the one you really want to see is Hugo, Martin Scorsese's 3-D adaptation of the Caldecott Medal-winning book by Brian Selznick. Of all the genres Scorsese has ventured into over the years, children's fantasy is the most unlikely, but the result is one of his most personal and heartfelt movies.
J. Edgar. Nothing makes grandma happier than being able to tell you what it was like in the old days, which makes Clint Eastwood's biopic of FBI director J. Edgar Hoover a prime candidate for intergenerational viewing. My long review of the movie dwelled mostly on its treatment of Hoover's sexuality, but that's only one dimension of J. Edgar; it also explores how Hoover's experience of the anarchist bombings of 1919 shaped his draconian view of America.
Melancholia. And you thought your family was screwed up. This movie is the biggest bummer of the three, but it's also the one you most ought to experience on the big screen while you have a chance. The first of its two parts deals with a fancy wedding that exposes the neuroses and pathologies of a troubled family like no movie since Rachel Getting Married. The second part shows the earth being destroyed as a rogue planet crashes into it. Happy holidays!
If you're looking for something a little farther off the beaten path, check out our new capsule reviews of El Bulli: Cooking in Progress, a documentary about the famous Spanish restaurant; The Heir Apparent: Largo Winch, a French action movie in the James Bond vein; My Week With Marilyn, a biopic about Marilyn Monroe; Rid of Me, an indie comedy about a So-Cal woman trying to survive in a small Oregon town; and Tape, an experimental video by Chinese artist Li Ning.
Best bets for repertory: Jacques Tourneur's Curse of the Demon (1958) a week from Thursday at Doc Films; Scorsese's The Last Waltz (1978), next Wednesday at Music Box with an introduction by Greg Kot and Jim DeRogatis of Sound Opinions; Robert Wise's The Sound of Music, captioned for audience sing-along Friday through Sunday at Music Box; Billy Wilder's Sunset Boulevard (1950), next Wednesday at Northbrook Public Library; Carol Reed's The Third Man (1949), Saturday and Sunday at Music Box; Thomas McCarthy's The Visitor (2008), Friday and Tuesday at Gene Siskel Film Center; and Wise's West Side Story (1961), Friday at Orchestra Hall with live accompaniment by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.