Holiday movies offer a few lumps of coal

(CBS News) 'Tis the Season for holiday moviegoing. But when it comes to this year's Yuletide offerings, our critic David Edelstein is not a particularly jolly man:


The person who said if you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all was clearly not a movie critic, or he or she would have lived the life of a mute.

Believe me, I take no joy this holiday season in bringing you tidings of great annoyance.

I so wanted to love the musical "Les Miserables." Trouble started in the first, oh, 30 seconds. Director Tom Hooper has his stars perform the songs live instead of lip-synched to pre-recorded tracks. And HE WON'T LET YOU FORGET IT!

The camera rushes in on actor's faces, tilts 30 to 40 degrees, gets in real close - it must have been hard for them to keep their composure as they went flat or sharp or, in the case of Russell Crowe, into an uncanny fog of atonality.

But I admired Crowe's - all of their - gumption. The movie will be a monster hit, and many will weep at the plight of Hugh Jackman's Jean Valjean as he labors to shake Crowe's unshakable lawman Javert while forced to sing an octave too high.

Anne Hathaway sings "I Dreamed a Dream" in the film version of "Les Miserables."
Universal Pictures

Meanwhile, an emaciated Anne Hathaway performs the unforgettable - alas - "I Dreamed a Dream" in one take in close-up, looking like a plucked chicken, and earns every award that will surely be hurled at her skinny head.

Revolution is also in the air in Quentin Tarantino's Western "Django Unchained," in which freed slave Jamie Foxx and bounty hunter Christoph Waltz take out sundry scum-sucking slaveholders. Carnage is rarely so morally uncomplicated - which is enough reason to stay away.

"Jack Reacher" features more righteous killing and an opening sniper massacre that's the wrong scene at the wrong time - though, really, what would be the right time? Novelist Lee Childs' violent six-foot-five vigilante hero is embodied by dinky Tom Cruise on tippy toes with his chest pumped up, smirking at the knowledge that he's catnip to the ladies. In more than one way it's a reach.

Judd Apatow's mildly amusing autobiographical self-pity-fest "This is 40" features his real-life wife and kids and enough shocks of recognition to power a movie a quarter of its two-hour-fourteen-minute running time.

The over-stylized "Anna Karenina" is deadly.

"The Hobbit" is punishment for loving the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy.

But you know what's a surprise? The Barbra Streisand-Seth Rogen mother-son road comedy "The Guilt Trip." It's limp, sure, and wan, but the leads have a fragile and tenuous intimacy that captures all those attraction-repulsion aspects of kids and aging parents. And it's nice to spend time with you, Babs.

Things to remember: "Lincoln" and "Life of Pi," they're in theaters and essential. The psycho-comedy "Silver Linings Playbook" is a triumph of emotional dis-equilibrium. "Skyfall" and "Argo" are still kicking around.

There, I've said something nice! The rest is silence.

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