The greatest gift you can give your family and yourself this Christmas is a simple one: two-plus hours of silence. Nothing screams “holiday” more than piling into the car, cruising down to the local multiplex and seeing one of Hollywood’s scientifically formulated family-distracters on Christmas Day. This may not be accurate or remotely factual, but it seems that every holiday season at least three movies—all varying in approach, theme, rating and tone—are tailor-made to quiet even the rowdiest collection of far-flung and holiday-omnipresent aunts, uncles, grandparents and cousins. And, if you know the composition of your family, it’s surprisingly easy to pick the right seasonal flick for you.
DIRECTED BY TOM HOOPER
STARRING HUGH JACKMAN, ANNE HATHAWAY, RUSSELL CROWE
GOOD FOR: Large groups of musical-loving middle-agers; people who wouldn’t shut up about The King’s Speech; Hugh Jackman fanatics; those who mourn the death of the Broadway spectacle
RUNTIME (How long you don’t have to talk to your family): 152 minutes
Les Mis will almost certainly be the biggest box-office and critical smash of the holiday season. Its pedigree is the kind that gets Oscar nominations before the film is even released. Directed by Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech), this adaptation of the insanely popular 1980s musical (which is itself an adaptation of the insanely popular 1862 French novel) tells the story of Jean Valjean, a French man who strives for redemption after spending 20 years in prison for stealing a loaf of bread (set, of course, against the backdrop of the French Revolution). In short: see it before everyone else talks your ear off about how “real” Anne Hathaway is in this role.
DIRECTED BY ANDY FICKMAN
STARRING BILLY CRYSTAL, BETTE MIDLER
RUNTIME (How long you don’t have to talk to your family): 96 minutes
GOOD FOR: The easily offended; fans of hacky stand-up comedy from the ’80s and ’90s; people who think Les Mis looks too “edgy”; people who couldn’t get into Les Miserables because it was sold out
For the life of me, I can’t tell you what this movie is actually about. It appears to consist of grandparents attempting to parent their grandchildren, which causes wacky tension between the grandparents and the parents. This is the sort of film that comes out almost every Christmas and targets a highly respected and lucrative demographic: people who couldn’t get in to see the movie they wanted to see. If you honestly want to see this movie, then good on you. However, if your first choice sells out, here are some better (and because they came out before the big releases, a lot less crowded) suggestions: This Is 40, Monsters, Inc. 3D, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, or Jack Reacher (I mean, for the love of Santa, even if Jack Reacher is terrible, Werner Herzog is the bad guy, which just can’t be beat).
DIRECTED BY QUENTIN TARANTINO
STARRING JAMIE FOXX, CHRISTOPH WALTZ, LEONARDO DiCAPRIO
RUNTIME (How long you don’t have to talk to your family) 141 minutes
GOOD FOR: Cinephiles; fans of Spaghetti Westerns; the family that curses at each other constantly in public; those who aren’t celebrating Christmas and want a way to avoid those who are.
This one could go either way, really. The trailers make Django Unchained out as a balls-to-the-wall crazy exploitation flick that combines blaxploitation and Spaghetti Westerns (historically, two of Tarantino’s favorite genres). However, there are rumblings about the film going a bit far on the racism, and the production gained and lost so many actors that it’s difficult to tell if this movie has a story that can sustain itself over two and a half hours. That being said, it’s pretty safe to bet on Quentin Tarantino, and Django is sure to draw a lot of critical praise. If you want to avoid the giant crowds on Christmas, this piece of bloody counterprogramming is probably your best bet.