Feast or famine. As in life, so at the movies - especially at Christmas, when Hollywood gift-wraps so many new films you can hardly decide what to see. This year's fare, like that of holidays past, is a smorgasbord, offering variety from cops and robbers to spy thrillers to comedy and romance.
Yet, it is also a season when the blizzard hides the snowflakes - a good film is hard to find. Movie-lovers with limited time and holiday-emptied pockets are bound to be picky over how to spend their spare change. Here's a sampler to help decide. THE GOODBYE GIRL
In the best tradition of romantic comedy, Neil Simon has written a witty, crisp and endearing screenplay about an aspiring actor - Richard Dreyfuss, at his dazzling, hyperkinetic best - who chips away at Marsha Mason's fear of loving. Newly arrived in the Big Apple for an off-Broadway play, Dreyfuss takes up lodging with the twice-jilted Mason and her perky 11-year-old daughter, played by the winsome Quinn Cummings. Paul Benedict is the moaning director who wants Dreyfuss to play a gay King Richard, a part that draws critics' ire but eventually lands him the big movie in the sky. Carrollton 3 and 4, K-B Janus 1, Pike, Roth's Tysons Corner and Springfield Cinema 2. THAT OBSCURE OBJECT OF DESIRE
Luis Bunuel has made 33 movies in a career that spans 50 years. It seems silly to review this, his latest, as a movie at all: it is part of the history of film. A man in his fifties pursues a woman who keeps rejecting him - she is either a frightened virgin or a heartless and promiscuous golddigger. Explosions keep happening, the result of obscure leftwing or anarchist or religious groups. The girl is played by two different actresses (one very Spanish dancer, one very elegant and icy Frenchwoman) - they switch in and out of the role for mysterious reasons. Or no apparent reason. Or no reason at all. The man carries a burlap sack from time to time (though otherwise dressed expensively and well). The man tells the story on a train to a number people, one of them a psychiatrist who is also a midget (or vice-versa). Does the hero get her in the end? The answer isn't clear, the photography is beautiful and the acting is faultless. K-B Baronet West and K-B Cerberus. THE WORLD'S GREATEST LOVER
A tidbit from the comic backyard of Gene Wilder, who writes, directs and stars himself, Dom DeLuise and Carol Kane. A pleasant comedy about a Milwaukee dreamer (Wilder) who trips west with his pixyish wife (Kane) to enter the World's Greatest Lover Contest, a ploy of Adolf Zitz (DeLuise), tantrum-throwing magnate of Rainbow Studios. Zitz, who beats his barber into yes-man submission, needs a lady-killer to rival Paramount's Rudolph Valentino. Before the contest, Wilder's wife leaves him to find the real Valentino, and he enlists the help of his rival to win her back in a delicate mingling of comedy and drama. DeLuise, a veteran buffoon from three Mel Brooks sorties into the comic fringe, is the real funnyman. At the Academy, Jenifer, Loehmann's Plaza, Springfield Mall, Tyson's Cinema and White Flint. THE CHOIRBOYS
The grotesquely vulgar tale of big-city cops known as "choirboys" for their ribald revelry, this screenplay based on a Joseph Wambaugh novel attempts comedy and winds up locker-room gauche. There are two suicides (one a masochist cop whose kinky side is discovered, the other a black woman whom a racist cop urges to jump from a building), one homicide (a young homosexual killed by a drunken cop) and assorted clowning. At the Bradlick, Fairfax Circle, K-B Bethesda, Riverdale Plaza and Wheaton Plaza. 1900
If you have four hours to spare and Bertolucci is your bag, you might consider the Italian director's controversial, somewhat autobiographical epic about his home province. (The title is the year the story begins.)
The story of two boys, grandsons of a landowner and a peasant, weaves back and forth as they grow up. Burt Lancaster and Sterling Hayden are the old men, Gerard Depardieu and Robert De Niro the boys. Stefania Sandrelli and Dominique Sanda play their women, and Donald Sutherland and Laura Betti not-so-nice Fascists. Opens Sunday at the K-B Fine Arts. WHICH WAY IS UP?
Richard Pryor as a randy old man, an oily and amorous preacher and a farmworker who manages to betray or be betrayed by everyone he knows in a very funny remake of Lina Wertmuller's "The Seduction of Mimi." Instead of impoverished Sicily we have impoverished farmworkers; instead of the Communist Party, the Farmworkers Union; instead of the Mafia, American agribusiness. Surprisingly (or, maybe, not surprisingly), everything seems perfectly natural and perfectly American. Pryor is hilarious as usual, the supporting cast excellent. An unrelentingly satirical, political and entirely good-natured movie. At the Allen, Hybla Valley, K-B Crystal, Landover Mall, Lincoln 1 and Town. THE PRIVATE FILES OF J. EDGAR HOOVER
A sorry cops-and-robbers docu-drama that tries to portray the late FBI director as a complex individual torn between a fastidious devotion to the bureau, fears of leftist evil and, in his final days, a Nixon administration that tried to subvert the department to its own ends. It uses two actors to portray Hoover, the second being Broderick Crawford, who exudes the same crusty amiability he generated on "Highway Patrol." With real live Watergate headlines behind us, an Oval Office scene between Hoover and Nixon comes across as slapstick a la "Saturday Night Live." Recommended only for the most die-hard Crawford freaks. At the Beacon Mall, Beltway Plaza, Oxon Hill, Vienna and Wheaton Plaza. THE GAUNTLET
Starring and directed by Clint Eastwood, this at least makes no bones about what it is: an excuse to slug it out, blow up cars, blast helicopters out of the air, elude thugs, talk raunchy and serve up Eastwood as a reincarnation of Dirty Harry Callahan. This time around, in a film that is one violent contrivance after another, Eastwood returns as Ben Shockley, a phoenix cop dispatched to Vegas to remand a hooker (Sondra Locke) to Arizona to serve as a state witness.
Only someone doesn't want the pair to make it back alive, and betting odds put their chances at 100-1. So, of course, they must run a gauntlet of gunfire. So many rounds are fired on camera, your ears should ring for days. Hampton Mall, K-B Flower, Keith's, Manaport, Marlow 2, Springfield Mall, State, Turnpike and White Flint. TELEFON
Put this toward the bottom of your must-see list. A poor-man's "Three Days of the Condor" without Robert Redford, it stars Charles Bronson as a KGB major sent to the States to thwart a frustrated Stalinist Russian agent (Donald Pleasance) bent on wrecking detente. Pleasance is busy activating a small army of human time-bombs hypnotized years ago to destroy key military targets in the event of nuclear war. All they need is to hear a phrase from a Robert Frost poem and they're off. Lee Remick co-stars as a double agent (imagine Barbara Howar as a spy). Academy, Arlington, Beacon Mall, Fair City Mall, K-B Baroent West, K-B Cerberus, K-B Silver, Landover Mall, Laurel Cinema, Loew's Palace, Roth's Parkway and Roth's Tysons Corner. SHORT EYES
The searing drama about prison survival, based on Miguel Pinero's award-winning play, strikes a raw nerve, rivets and repels at the same time. Shot entirely in the Manhattan House of Detention ("The Tombs"), the film is remarkable for its authenticity. And the caged prisoners especially growl for revenge when a preppy, middle-class child-molester (Bruce Davison) - "short eyes" - is thrown into their jungle. He can't remember if he assaulted the little girl or not, but, in a powerful confession, he bares his soul to inmate Juan (Jose Perez), who must choose between the outcast and allegiance to the rules of the joint.
The film, directed by Robert M. Young, is perhaps the most powerful of the year. Avalon 2, Hampton Mall 2 and Lincoln 2. PETE'S DRAGON
The kids deserve better from Disney. This mediocre, plodding film is as two-dimensional as Elliott, the green-and-pink firebreather that drops into Passamaquoddy, Maine. Elliott, of course, proves as good as a faithful dog when it comes to friendship and good deed, but he overshadows the people: Helen Reddy, Mickey Rooney, Shelley Winters, Jim Dale and Red Buttons. Academy, Andrews Manor, Beacon Mall, Jefferson, Landover Mall, Mercado, Roth's Montgomery, Springfield Mall, Tyson's 2 and White Flint.