It’s Movie Time! Nine for November (and December)

MARGOT AT THE WEDDING

We love it when filmmakers put the fun back into dysfunction—where would the movies be without family neurosis to probe?—and with the holidays fast approaching there’s no better time to see a film that will reassure you that your family isn’t the craziest one around. And boy oh boy, does Noah Baumbach’s latest, Margot at the Wedding, manage to do that! Nicole Kidman (forehead distractingly wrinkle-free) plays the title character, a conflicted and complicated drinking and pill-popping mother that takes oversharing to a new cringing extreme. Jennifer Jason Leigh (a.k.a. Mrs. Baumbach) plays Ms. Kidman’s more spiritualized (yet just as complicated) sister on the occasion of her wedding (to a restrained Jack Black), and the two women manage to convey a lifetime of shared family trauma and competitive rivalry skillfully and subtly. The movie is much darker than Mr. Baumbach’s last film, the heartbreakingly wonderful The Squid and the Whale, but Margot has many of his signature elements: naturalistic dialogue, a washed-out watercolor palette and achingly awkward moments that will have viewers shifting uncomfortably in their seats. We promise you’ll walk away feeling better about your own familial issues (not to mention weirdly grateful you’re not a boy going through adolescence). (Nov. 16, Paramount Vantage, limited)

SWEENEY TODD

We don’t know what to make of the big-screen adaptation of Stephen Sondheim’s musical Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. On the one hand, it has reteamed Johnny Depp (happily not in his pirate suit) with his favored director, Tim Burton. On the other, musicals have been more miss than hit since Chicago (see: Hairspray, Dreamgirls, Rent), and this one, a bloody romp about a man falsely imprisoned who returns to seek vengeance through murder, might be a truly hard sell. That said, if anyone was going to make this source material great, it’s Mr. Burton. Rounding out the cast is Sacha Baron Cohen (who must be psyched not to be Borat), the awesome Alan Rickman, and Mr. Burton’s female muse and real-life love, Helena Bonham Carter. There’s been much Internet speculation as to whether Mr. Depp actually belts out his songs, or pulls a Rex Harrison à la My Fair Lady. We don’t care! Some fairly reputable sources have named this the film to beat this year. (DreamWorks SKG/Paramount, Dec. 21)

I AM LEGEND

Holy smokes, this movie looks crazy! We’re guessing this is going to be the one that all the boys will flock to see at the IMAX on 67th street, ’cause you know when it’s Will Smith and saving the world is on the line … the box office will follow. I Am Legend follows the sole human survivor after a catastrophic infection wipes out the planet. Expect shots of Mr. Smith chilling out in an eerily empty New York City, racing cars up Fifth Avenue, hitting golf balls off of deserted buildings (at least he seems to have a very good-looking German Shepherd as a companion). But! He’s not alone, and from the trailer we’re guessing … vampires? Zombies? Hard to say, but it looks incredibly scary, and we’re expecting hysteria over the bird flu to crop again by the time the credits role. (Warner Bros., Dec. 14)

ATONEMENT

It’s been far too long since there’s been a grand, dazzling, sock-you-in-the-guts-and-tear-your-heart-out epic love story at Oscar season. So cheers for this year, which brings the ludicrously lovely Atonement. Adapted faithfully from the Ian McEwan novel of the same name, it’s directed by Joe Wright, who did the very excellent retread of Pride & Prejudice in 2005. His leading lady from that picture, Keira Knightley, returns here, and never has a period picture done more for an actress than the late 1930’s setting has done for Ms. Knightley, who literally gleams on celluloid. Atonement begins on a hot and languid afternoon in the English countryside where misunderstandings and false accusations spiral into a lifetime of regret (trust us when we say that never before has the use of a dirty word set off such a riptide of consequences). Co-starring with Ms. Knightley is James McAvoy (The Last King of Scotland), playing the wrongfully accused man; we’re betting on him as the next hot Scot to become leading man material. Mr. Wright seems to have a knack for capturing the golden hues of pastoral settings, but it’s his treatment of World War II, specifically his depiction of the evacuation of Dunkirk, that will make jaws drop (one seemingly endless panoramic beach segment is practically worth the ticket price alone). Inevitably folks will compare Atonement to The English Patient, which may or may not be fair to either film. All we know is that the past couple of years the Academy has awarded fairly unromantic films—Crash (don’t even get us started) and The Departed—the top honor. The time might be ripe for this one to come in and clean up. Oh, and bring your tissues! (Focus Features, limited, Dec. 7)