The Washington Post

Themes of the holiday movie season

Kirsten Dunst plays a woman embarking on married life as a planetary disaster is looming in “Melancholia,” one of several new moveis with serious themes. (Magnolia Pictures)

The Darkest Hour” is the name of a movie that opens on Christmas Day this year, but it might as well be the catchphrase for the entire holiday season at the multiplex. Consider some titles soon to grace screens at theaters near you: “Into the Abyss.” “Melancholia.” “In the Land of Blood and Honey.”

If you don’t care for “Outrage,” how about “Shame”?

The end of the year has always been reserved for Hollywood’s serious stuff, but 2011 seems more dour than usual, with even such surefire Oscar fodder as “The Iron Lady,” “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” and “War Horse” conveying gravitas, sure, but also a leaden sense of seriousness.

The good news for families looking for school vacation diversions: There will be plenty of G- or PG-rated comedies to choose from, including “Happy Feet Two” and “The Muppets”; indeed, fans of the Jim Henson puppets will get two chances to see their furry friends in action, with the documentary “Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey,” about Elmo creator Kevin Clash.

For grown-ups looking for some holiday cheer, the pickings are decidedly slimmer, the odd “Jack and Jill” or “The Sitter” notwithstanding. Audiences may find solace in Jason Reitman’s “Young Adult” and “The Descendants,” both dramas infused with comic elements, and only a churl will be immune to the charms of “The Artist,” French filmmaker Michel Hazanavicius’s delirious black-and-white valentine to silent film. How fitting that this season’s bright spots are tinged with literal and figurative shades of gray.

>> Browse the Holiday Movie Guide.

Ann Hornaday is The Post's movie critic.


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