Christmas weekend movie roundup: Horses, and wilder animals
Published: December 23, 2011 09:50AM
Updated: December 23, 2011 08:06AM
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Courtesy photo Jeremy Irvine is shown in "War Horse."

Christmas Day is often the last day of the year when movies are released -- and, in this case, it’s a day for a very good movie.

Before that, though, are three new movies opening today -- and two of them are pretty good.

“We Bought a Zoo” is writer-director Cameron Crowe’s return to form (after misfiring with “Vanilla Sky” and “Elizabethtown”). He directs a sweet, whimsical story (based on true events) of Benjamin Mee (Matt Damon), a widower who decides to move his family to the country -- and the house they find turns out to be attached to a rundown zoo, so he gamely takes over operating it. The supporting cast includes Thomas Haden Church as Mee’s doubting brother, Scarlett Johansson as a dedicated zookeeper and Elle Fanning as her country-girl cousin.

The other two movies opening today are French. One is “Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life,” an eye-opening and occasionally surrealistic biopic of French singer Serge Gainsbourg, who was as legendary for his music as he was for his bedroom conquests -- including Brigitte Bardot and Jane Birkin. Actor Eric Elmosnino plays Gainsbourg with a rakish charm and a brooding dark side.

Also opening today is “The Women on the 6th Floor,” a comedy that starts promising but never delivers. It stars Fabrice Luchini as a Parisian businessman, circa 1962, who starts noticing the conditions for the Spanish maids who live upstairs in his apartment building.

OK, now for the main Christmas Day opening: Steven Spielberg’s “War Horse.” (The review will be posted online later today.) It’s a stately, old-fashioned epic built around the simple story of a teen, Albie (Jeremy Irvine), and his horse. What’s not so simple is the setting: England, just before the start of World War I. The story follows the horse, Joey, as he is taken into that war. Joey experiences many episodes -- some harrowing, others uplifting -- and so does Albie. Spielberg’s craftsmanship is on full display, and some of the scenes are astonishingly beautiful.

Lastly, there’s another movie opening on Christmas Day: “The Darkest Hour,” a thriller in which some American college kids in Moscow are the only thing standing between humanity and an alien invasion. The movie was not screened for critics.