Being Julia Directed by Istvan Szabo
Films about great theatrical divas (so temperamental! So divine!) all strike familiar notes. This Somerset Maugham adaptation is no exception. But Annette Bening, playing the queen of the '30s London stage, makes it worth another go-round. As Julia Lambert, a married star whose midlife crisis hurls her into the arms of a callow young American (unsexy, miscast Shaun Evans), she delivers a cunning, beautifully modulated, seriocomic portrait of a woman who can't not act. Familiar, but like a good English tea service, satisfying.
Enduring Love Directed by Roger Michell
A man falls to his death in a hot-air-balloon accident, an event that will shatter the lives of the two witnesses. Joe (Daniel Craig), the man of science, is haunted with guilt; Jed (Rhys Ifans), a creepy religious zealot, stalks Joe, convinced that something deep has passed between them. The gifted Michell, working from a smart adaptation of Ian McEwan's novel, works up an unnerving sense of dread as both men become unhinged. Samantha Morton is caught in the middle as Joe's girlfriend. A meditation on love, faith and science in the guise of a thriller, the movie's a tad schematic, but thoroughly gripping.
Surviving Christmas Directed by Mike Mitchell
Ben Affleck is a rich, handsome media exec (again?) so freaked out at the prospect of spending Christmas alone that he returns to his childhood home and pays the strangers living there $250,000 to be his family. The folks who served up this formulaic swill seem to think comedy grants you a free pass from credibility. Our lonely hero's artificial Yuletide enthusiasm is more than odd: it's not recognizably human. James Gandolfini, Catherine O'Hara and Christina Applegate are the family he invades, upsets and, wouldn't ya know, inspires.