‘Alice’ takes on ‘Kids,’ ‘Tourist’

Screen vets take aim at musical, classic kid lit

A Lewis Carroll classic gets retooled, the musical gets refueled, two moms make a right, seniors terminate villains with extreme giddiness and Jolie-Depp are on a droll.

“Alice in Wonderland”
Hats off to Burton’s twist on a classic pic
Instead of adapting Lewis Carroll’s surreal classic directly, Tim Burton’s unique twist on the beloved literary lass catches up with Alice a number of years later, following its now-teenage heroine back down the rabbit hole. What she finds there are familiar old characters reimagined according to the director’s eccentric aesthetic. Critics were mixed on the result, which forgoes the absurdist poetry of the original in favor of an elaborate “Lord of the Rings”-style quest, but in sheer design terms, the film was a wonder.

Cher, Aguilera topline category’s only musical entry
The only musical in the mix, “Burlesque” brought Cher out of semi-retirement (with the aptly named ballad “You Haven’t Seen the Last of Me”) and heralded Christina Aguilera’s feature debut, all in service of a heavily art directed yet overly familiar “no business like showbusiness” extravaganza. Though the project felt targeted at those young enough not to remember the Marilyn Monroe or Nicole Kidman versions of “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend,” the older HFPA set was clearly impressed as well.

“The Kids Are All Right”
Mothers unite to brave the donor pass
A powerful political statement packaged as a warm crowd-pleaser, this snapshot of the new 21st-century family examines a household with two lesbian moms (both Annette Bening and Julianne Moore nabbed lead actress noms) defuses the conservative argument that gay couples can’t be trusted to raise well-adjusted kids. Rather than painting the parents as saintly, can-do-no-wrong types, director Lisa Cholodenko acknowledges the characters’ realistic flaws, making for a portrait with which anyone can identify.

Major vets prove mayhem doesn’t stop at 50
An AARP-friendly actioner that showed surprising B.O. longevity, Robert Schwentke’s messy but endearing caper-comedy favored a lighter, funnier touch than the Warren Ellis-Cully Hamner graphic novel on which it was based. A reflection on the indignities of old age couched as a CIA thriller, “Red” benefited from spry performances by Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich and Helen Mirren, never funnier than when firing a machine gun.

“The Tourist”
Stars align for Venetian adventure
The classification of “The Tourist” as a comedy is arguably funnier than anything in the film itself, Johnny Depp’s hair notwithstanding. Still, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s luxuriant escapist thriller did offer the spectacle of two HFPA-beloved stars — Depp and Angelina Jolie — circling each other and Venice, in droll fashion, as though savoring some exquisitely intimate joke to which audiences were only occasionally made privy.

A year ago. . .

Now it looks like its megahit status was a given, but nobody was predicting that “The Hangover” was going to be one of the biggest blockbusters of 2009. Especially Warner Bros., which was pleasantly surprised when the film, behind critical raves, grossed $480 million worldwide and became the highest-grossing comedy of all time. Not bad for a laffer about a Las Vegas bachelor party involving tigers, babies, hookers, and Mike Tyson. Director Todd Phillips, who hadn’t helmed a bigscreen pic since 2006’s low-performing “School for Scoundrels” and lists “The Jerk,” “The Blues Brothers” and “Stripes” as his early comedy influences, fortuitously asked for a percentage of the “Hangover” gross in exchange for a lower up-front salary. He said early versions of the script were rated PG-13 but insisted that a film that wanted to detail a realistic Las Vegas bachelor in no way could not receive an R. In taking the HFPA’s top prize in the comedy-musical category, “The Hangover” beat out “Julie & Julia,” “500 Days of Summer,” “Nine” and “It’s Complicated.” Expectations are high now, of course, for the sequel, set to open May 26. The original cast — Bradley Cooper, Zack Galifianakis and Ed Helms — returns, with the addition of Liam Neeson and Juliette Lewis. This time, the gang travels to Bangkok for a off-the-cuff birthday party. Hilary, natch, ensues.
— Stuart Levine

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And the nominees are:
Drama | Comedy/Musical | Drama – Actor | Drama – Actress | Comedy – Actor | Comedy – Actress
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