Holiday Movie Preview 2010

TIME critics Richard Corliss and Mary Pols sample the best and most anticipated films of the 2010 holiday season

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She needs help finding somebody's number on her husband's cell phone. He walks over to help, and they stand inches apart. A year ago, in their tender, decent marriage, she'd have concluded the lesson with a lovingly automatic kiss. Now she can offer only a wan smile and a thank-you. It's not a rebuke, just the maximum amount of grace a grieving woman can summon.

Eight months after the death of their young son in a car accident, Becca (Nicole Kidman) and Howie (Aaron Eckhart) are still in a kind of walking shock, adjusting to their misery, feeling that the best part of them died in the accident. Becca seems more deeply mired in remorse than Howie, but being close reminds them only of their estrangement from each other. They could both use a change. Can Howie find warmth in another woman and Becca, somehow, in another son? Perhaps she can take comfort in the notion of parallel universes: that this world "is just the sad version of us" and that "somewhere out there I'm having a good time."

The story of a couple who have lost their only child: there have been so many of those, so many books and movies and Lifetime dramas, most of which pluck the heartstrings like a cheap fiddle, that simply to hear the plot of Rabbit Hole could induce a case of mourning sickness. But the tone achieved by writer David Lindsay-Abaire (adapting his Pulitzer Prize--winning play) and director John Cameron Mitchell (who did the splendidly rambunctious indie films Hedwig and the Angry Inch and Shortbus) is fine and generous, an unbroken series of poignant, privileged moments.

Kidman, in a career-best performance, and Eckhart lend pitch-perfect calibration to the couple's shared or separate agony, which is conducted often in whispers and silences. It's as if previous treatments of the subject were a series of failed experiments, and Rabbit Hole is the Eureka! moment. This is how movies can bring a great, grave theme to indelible dramatic life.

True Grit

Directed by Ethan and Joel Coen With Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Josh Brolin and Hailee Steinfeld

Opens 12.22

These are not words typically applied to Coen brothers films, but their adaptation of Charles Portis' classic American western, despite being well populated with corpses--some rotten and fetid, others freshly created in our presence--is surpassingly sweet, tender even.

The movie marks the reunion of Jeff Bridges with his Big Lebowski directors, who give him a part he can really chew on in the allegedly pitiless U.S. Marshal Reuben "Rooster" Cogburn, a one-eyed fat man with a fondness for whiskey and deadpan humor. ("That didn't pan out," he says after a particularly messy shoot-out.) But this is not his movie in the same way the lively, schlocky 1969 version was John Wayne's (it got the Duke his Oscar). The spotlight focuses, as did Portis, on narrator Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld), a 14-year-old girl determined to find her father's killer, Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin), and bring him to justice.

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