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rare female film critic | by maryann johanson

my week at the movies: ‘The Golden Compass,’ ‘The Orphanage,’ ‘There Will Be Blood,’ ‘Grace Is Gone,’ ‘Juno,’ ‘What Would Jesus Buy?,’ ‘Awake’

Back from the long holiday weekend, and I feel strangely agitated. I goofed off work enough not to get anything done, but not enough to make me feel relaxed and rejuvenated. How does that happen?

There’s a major assault of movies coming in the second half of December: eight movies will open wide between Friday, December 21, and Tuesday, December 25. And then there are a ton of small movies all getting in under the December 31 deadline for consideration for this year’s Academy Awards and other awards-giving organizations; I still haven’t seen many of those. My plan was to go a little bit easy on myself this week, in anticipation of the next two weeks after this being insane — not to mention all the non-movie work begging for my attention *sigh* — but it’s turning out to be a seven-movie week anyway. I suspect this will look relaxed come next week.

The Golden Compass [opens December 7] I can’t miss, of course. Based on Philip Pullman’s fantasy trilogy His Dark Materials, it’s got everyone from the Catholic League and Fox News to the National Secular Society all riled up: Is the movie anti-God, a joint production of Hollywood and Satan to seduce unsuspecting kiddies into a life of evil atheism? Or is it just one more example of how the American Taliban now controls all aspects of our culture, and won’t brook any expression of freethought? (It’s a floor wax and a dessert topping!) I’ll be happy if it’s simply an enjoyable fantasy film.

I was misled into believing that The Orphanage [opens limited December 28, expands January 4, goes wide January 11] was Guillermo Del Toro’s new movie, and I was looking forward to it because Hellboy and Pan’s Labyrinth were so damn cool. His name is all over the poster, after all — but I missed that qualifying caveat of “presents” underneath it. Turns out this is from a new Spanish filmmaker that Del Toro has taken under his wing, Juan Antonio Bayona. That’ll probably be good enough for me anyway, so it’s all good. This ghost story set in an orphanage is Spain’s Official Submission to the Best Foreign Language Film category of the 80th Annual Academy Awards, and we critics are being adjured by the publicists not to reveal the ending of the film. It’s one of those kinds of movies.

Paul Thomas Anderson — he of Magnolia and Punch-Drunk Love — has a new film coming. Commence the rejoicing. There Will Be Blood [opens limited December 26] is loosely based upon Upton Sinclair’s muckracking 1927 novel Oil!, which apparently did for Southern California what his book The Jungle, about the horrors of the Chicago meatpacking industry, did for the Windy City (that is, nothing good for the corporations, but plenty good for ordinary consumers). The buzz on this one is extraordinary: it’s being compared to Citizen Kane, and Daniel Day-Lewis, who stars as a self-made oil tycoon, is said to be the inevitable frontrunner for an Oscar. We’ll see…

In Grace Is Gone [opens limited December 7], John Cusack is a father who must break the news to his young daughters that their mother, a soldier serving in Iraq, has been killed in action. But he can’t do it. Drama ensues, I suppose.

Juno [opens limited December 5] is Jason Reitman’s followup to his brilliant Thank You for Smoking. Ellen Page, who was so terrific in Hard Candy, is a teenager who finds herself pregnant by her pal, played by Michael “Superbad” Cera — they were just goofing around with this sex thing, apparently — and decides to have the baby and give it up for adoption. Watch for the forced-pregnancy nutters to turn this character’s choice into a validation of their insanity. Oh, wait, they’re already doing it.

What Would Jesus Buy? [now playing in limited release; expanding in arthouses throughout December] is a “docu-comedy” about the annual Christmas shopocalypse, and what you can do to avoid falling victim to it. I think it has something to do with cutting up your credit cards and living in the moment (and not in the mall). Sounds good to me.

Awake [opens November 30] won’t screen for critics at all — the ostensible excuse is that MGM is trying to protect its secrets, but we all know what it really means. It’s the sole new wide release this week, so I’ll probably check it out over the weekend. Plus, it looks pretty cheese-a-riffic, what with Hayden Christensen and Jessica Alba being all suspenseful and stuff.

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