Welcome back to Defamer Attractions, your radically truncated guide to what's new, noteworthy and/or foolhardy enough to open on the last weekend of the year at the movies.
WHAT'S NEW: After the starry, lucrative grand finale that was the Christmas weekend, only four films bothered to shuffle out of the holiday hangover on to screens in the last minutes of 2008. Neither of the biggest among them — Defiance and Good — seem to have designated The Reader and Valkyrie worthy-enough Nazis-by-way-of-Hollywood parables for the season, so we now face a quartet of films recounting the era — each in their own, fitfullly successful ways, but perhaps not enough to justify their coexistence when all anyone really wants to do is sleep in until '09 begins in earnest next Monday.
Still, they're out there: Defiance (finally reaching screens after a delay by Paramount Vantage) banishes screen siblings Daniel Craig, Liev Schreiber and Jamie Bell to the Belarussian woods, where their makeshift Jewish refugee encampment in 1941 established a heroic, true-story counterpoint to the horrors of the Holocaust. Directed by Edward Zwick, who previously dramatized Glory, The Last Samurai and Blood Diamond to within an inch of their lives, Defiance is Oscar fodder of the highest grade and the lowest momentum, opening on two screens too late in the year to aquire any traction other than a per-theater average that should crack $40,000.
Good, meanwhile, is a casualty of similar timing and near-mute word-of-mouth, adapting C.P. Taylor's play about a German intellectual (Viggo Mortensen, recalibrating his Aragorn accent to an academic lilt) who finds his novel about euthanasia perverted to endorse Nazi atrocities. The problem: He's the pervert, the proverbial "good German" who comes to realize that his helplessness is the least of the consequences of his complicity in Hitler's regime. Mortensen has the right idea here, following an enlightened parallel of Kate Winslet's equally bewildered, illiterate war criminal in The Reader, but Vicente Amorim's direction is so woefully on-the-nose and stage-managed (let Good count as Exhibit A in the Steadicam's own trial for crimes against humanity) that the actors are almost incidental to the moral crisis beating you over the head. It's too bad; there's something here that filmmakers Stephen Frears or Neil Jordan — with Mortensen's aid — probably could have knocked out of the park. But not this year.
Also opening: The Bollywood Memento rip-off — complete with amnesia, tattoos, Polaroids and everything — Ghajini; and the slice-of-arty-20-something-life Let Them Chirp a While.
THE BIG LOSER: N/A, unless you count us.
THE UNDERDOG: There's not so much to recommend here, either, so let's just suggest once again: If you haven't seen Synecdoche, New York, it's time. And even if you have, a second viewing of 2008's best film can't hurt.
FOR SHUT-INS: Now we're talking. New DVD's this week include the Shia-running-for-his-life thriller Eagle Eye; the underrated Keira Knightley drama The Duchess; Ricky Gervais's abortive big-screen breakthrough Ghost Town; Nick Broomfield's terrific narrative feature debut Battle For Haditha; and Alan Ball's notorious piece of shit Towelhead. Happy New Year — it can only get better from here.