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Need movies to watch during the holidays? Take 5 and relax

The final week of the year: frantic shopping, endless parties, countless carols. And somewhere along the way, through this joyful roar, a lot of movies, DVDs, and videos are watched.

 

The period between Christmas and New Year's is one of the year's biggest for home cinema, and if you want suggestions, we have them. Each playing off a movie milestone or film that opened this year, Globe writers range far and wide with their picks. All are available in video stores or on-line. Happy holidays.

5 unknown Kates

Katharine Hepburn, the last of the great Golden Age stars, died this past July. To honor her memory, you could rent ``The Philadelphia Story'' or ``Adam's Rib'' or "The Lion in Winter'' - wonderful, obvious choices all. Or you could dig deeper into her 50-plus-film career and dust off these little-known gems:

"Spitfire'' (1934) Hepburn tries with misguided enthusiasm to wrap her Hartford vowels around the role of a faith-healing hillbilly named Trigger Hicks. Actually, this is the worst movie the actress ever made, but it's so insanely wrong that it rewards viewing, especially after a few drinks.

``Sylvia Scarlett'' (1935) More early weirdness, with Hepburn as a raffish runaway in drag and Cary Grant as the con man with whom she hooks up. It was a flop when it came out, but its shaggy-dog charms were rediscovered by audiences in the 1960s.

"Quality Street'' (1937) The closest Hepburn came to playing a Jane Austen heroine, this is a sweet little period romance in which she disguises herself as her own niece to woo an old beau. Featherweight, but the star gives it an odd, desperate spin.

"Without Love'' (1945) Perhaps the least seen of the nine movies she made with Spencer Tracy, but it captures their wise banter better than most. Kate's a D.C. widow, Spence is a wartime scientist; their romance is shot through with a knowledge of the darkness outside the window.

``A Delicate Balance'' (1976) Too-stagy version of the Edward Albee play, but Hepburn is frighteningly imperious as the Connecticut housewife she never was in life. This offers the last real acting spadework of her career. The rest was one long, glorious coast.

TY BURR

5 movies that say, 'I really love your ... brain'

Uma Thurman is currently playing a biologist in "Paycheck.'' We see her looking fabulous, but never catch her biologizing. She's in good company:

"Madame Curie'' (1943) In the title role, classy English sudser queen Greer Garson slips into a Polish accent and plays with hazmats. Tears are shed. Radium is discovered. The reason for casting her is not.

"Chain Reaction'' (1996) Lab tech Keanu Reeves isn't really a scientist here, but just having him near all those beakers and Bunsen burners should make you nervous.

"The Saint'' (1997) Elisabeth Shue astounds as an Oxford nuclear physicist who holds the secret to cold fusion. She thinks she's wearing that lab coat, but the lab coat is wearing her.

"The World Is Not Enough'' (1999) Denise Richards as 007 conquest and atomic physicist Dr. Christmas Jones. When faced with world-ending catastrophe, she asks, "What do I need to diffuse a nuclear bomb?'' Sweetie, a degree from an accredited university would be a start.

"The Rundown'' (2003) Seann William Scott plays a renegade archeologist who fights costar the Rock all over the Amazon jungles.

WESLEY MORRIS

5 dysfunctional duos

Can't live with 'em, can't live without 'em. Pairing Matt Damon and Greg Kinnear as conjoined twins, "Stuck on You'' takes codependency to its comic extreme. Other wallows follow:

"Grey Gardens'' (1975) Mother-daughter issues don't get any more disturbing than in this stunning Maysles brothers documentary, which finds faded socialite Edith Bouvier Beale, her daughter Edie, and a gaggle of cats inhabiting a decrepit Long Island mansion.

"Sid and Nancy'' (1986) Gary Oldman and Chloe Webb are unforgettably scurvy as Sex Pistol Sid Vicious and his girlfriend, Nancy Spungen. It ends in tragedy, but along the way director Alex Cox gives us such memorable lines as Nancy's shriek to her departing beau: ``What about the farewell drugs?''

"Zero Kelvin'' (1995) The forbidding Arctic landscape gets the best of a naive writer and the embittered fur trapper forced to share a tiny hut as winter sets in. The always reliable Stellan SkarsgÅard has never been more intense as the fearsome trapper, who despises - yet depends upon - the younger man in his charge.

"Happy Together'' (1997) A tango in a cramped bathroom is the emotional crux of this mournful love story from Hong Kong master Wong Kar-Wai. Leslie Cheung and Tony Leung Chiu Wai are a troubled gay couple whose wish to "start over'' takes them to the twilight world of Buenos Aires, but not to peace.

"Project Greenlight'' (2001) No, not Matt and Ben, the creators of this irresistible HBO reality-TV series about the making of an independent movie, but producers Chris Moore and Jeff Balis. Their Goofus and Gallant bully-and-prey dynamic is more compelling than anything that ended up on screen in "Stolen Summer,'' the flimsy coming-of-age vehicle they (barely) got off the ground.

SCOTT HELLER

5 ways to catch a wave

Right about now, we'll take any promise of sunlight at the end of this long winter tunnel, even if it's in the form of ``From Justin to Kelly.'' Beach movies, whether they're goofy musical romps or hard-core surf documentaries such as Dana Brown's recent "Step Into Liquid,'' are a wet suit-free way of saying, "We're waxin' down our surfboards.''

"Surf Crazy'' (1959) Before Bruce Brown (father of Dana) directed ``The Endless Summer,'' he made this endearing chronicle of dedicated wave riders. Like his "Slippery When Wet,'' it's makeshift but inspired, and perpetually stoked.

"Where the Boys Are'' (1960) The first man to draw a question mark in the sand was not an Iraq-embroiled George Bush, but an on-the-make George Hamilton. Here it's spring break in Fort Lauderdale, and dreamy girls are in hot pursuit of dreamier boys.

"Morning of the Earth'' (1971) Albert Falzon's directorial debut is one of the purest surf movies ever made, rightly lauded for capturing the soul as well as the physicality of the sport.

"Surf Nazis Must Die'' (1987) Crude, nonsensical, and with acting that's - to be charitable - a notch above porn, this over-the-top cult flick walks on water with the midnight crowd. It's ``Mad Max'' meets ``Beach Blanket Bingo,'' with in-your-face surfing footage by the legendary Dan Merkel (``Big Wednesday'').

"Psycho Beach Party'' (2000) Gidget meets Sybil, with Lauren Ambrose (``Six Feet Under'') doing her Sally Field impression of the littlest surfer with a personality disorder. Though Charles Busch's campy comedy loses something in the jump from stage to screen, it's still a farce with fangs.

JANICE PAGE

5 animated films not for kids

Though "Looney Tunes: Back in Action'' was geared toward kids when it was released last summer, it's worth noting that many of the great cartoons that inspired it boasted a decidedly adult sensibility. Just because a film looks like a cartoon, it doesn't mean it's suitable for children. So put the kids to bed, and enjoy these animated films for grown folks.

"Akira'' (1988) Katsuhiro ÂOtomo's anime masterwork is a stylish, dark, violent tale about a young gang member with overwhelming telekinetic powers in postapocalyptic Neo-Toyko.

"South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut'' (1999) Winona Ryder doing unnatural things with ping-pong balls, Satan and Saddam Hussein as lovers in Hell, war with Canada, and more profanity than a Quentin Tarantino film fest. A rude, crude, brilliant satire - and it's a musical!

"Grave of the Fireflies'' (1988) It tells the devastating story of a teenage boy left to care for his sister after their Japanese village is bombed and their mother killed during the waning days of World War II. Its a quiet protest against the madness of war.

"Waking Life'' (2001) Richard Linklater's visually and intellectually stimulating film is very talky, but it isn't afraid to address big ideas about existence.

``Ghost in the Shell'' (1995) Set in futuristic 2029, when people live and work among cyborgs, this moody film features sex and violence. But what's most provocative are its serious musings about what it truly means to be human.

RENEE GRAHAM

5 examples of global capitalism gone wild

This year globalism ran amok in films such as "Demonlover,'' ``Dirty Pretty Things,'' and "Lilya 4-Ever.'' Here are five more examples of cinematic sociopolitical world-weariness:

"The Last Picture Show'' (1971) Small-town American life before the rise of fast food, Wal-Mart, and the multiplex. An achingly sad, thoroughly engrossing reminder of how it once was and why it may never be again.

"Blade Runner'' (1982) In this futuristic film noir set in Los Angeles circa 2019, artificially created humans, or ``replicants,'' are targeted for extermination. What seemed far-fetched in 1982 now seems inevitable.

"El Norte'' (1984) Guatemalan peasants journey to Los Angeles in search of a better life, discovering heartbreak and hardship at every turn in this eloquent, impassioned paean to the immigrant's struggle in America.

"Traffik'' (1989) This riveting 325-minute British made-for-television miniseries, later remade as 2000's more insular ``Traffic,'' casts an unsparing gaze on the ruthless global agenda of the drug cartels. Addictive!

"Jurassic Park'' (1993) DNA-obsessed dorks clone dinosaurs for the benefit of rich eco-tourists in this garish Steven Spielberg cautionary tale-cum-thrill ride about the perils of genetic manipulation. Stem cell petting zoos - be very afraid!

ANDY BAILEY

5 movies for your inner journalist

If you missed "Veronica Guerin,'' the eponymous movie about an Irish reporter murdered by the drug dealers she exposed, here are five other films based on real journalists caught up in the stories they covered:

"All the President's Men'' (1976) Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman play a better-looking Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein but get just right the tenacity it took to break open the Watergate scandal and bring down a president.

"The China Syndrome'' (1979) No, Jane Fonda and Michael Douglas aren't playing real TV reporters who witness an accident at a nuclear power plant. Maybe that's because the nuclear meltdown known as Three Mile Island didn't happen until after the movie was released.

"Reds'' (1981) Journalist John Reed, the only American buried next to the Kremlin wall, gets epic treatment in this movie about the Russian revolution that won Warren Beatty Oscar honors for best director.

"The Killing Fields'' (1984) Sam Waterston stars as reporter Sydney Schanberg and John Malkovich as photographer Al Rockoff in this film set during the Cambodian civil war. But the real star is Schanberg's assistant, Dith Pran (played by Haing S. Ngor), who sends his family to safety but stays behind to help cover his country's story at great risk and peril to himself.

"Salvador'' (1986) James Woods plays his usual offbeat self as photojournalist Richard Boyle. Director Oliver Stone condenses events to dramatize US involvement and the ugliness that swallowed Central America during the 1980s.

LYNDA GOROV

5 Gallic flicks that don't talk the talk

What is it with the French and (near) silent movies? This year we've had two, "Winged Migration'' and ``The Triplets of Belleville,'' both of which eschewed dialog yet achieved a kind of transcendent communication. Here are five more that are the last word on no words:

"Rififi'' (1955) Sure, there's lots of noirish wisecracking in Jules Dassin's quintessential policier, but the centerpiece is a wordless 20-minute bank heist. All the more tense because of its utter silence.

"Mon Oncle'' (1958) This Jacques Tati film is filled with sounds, but none could be described as speech. The eponymous uncle has a run-in with the modern world, both come out of the experience dented. A masterpiece.

"Silent Movie'' (1976) So it's not French. But Mel Brooks's throwback delight is words-free except for the cameo by none other than legendary (whether this adjective has quotation marks on it or not is up to you) mime Marcel Marceau. That's enough to give any movie honorary French status.

"The Last Combat'' (1983) Director Luc Besson's first feature is set in a postapocalyptic world where whatever happened robbed everyone of the power of speech. For the survivors, life is nasty, brutish, and silent.

"Microcosmos'' (1996) Filmmaker Claude Nuridsany uses slow-motion, extreme close-ups, and time-lapse photography to tell a story of love and death among the insects. They communicate, but it's usually with tooth and claw.

LEIGHTON KLEIN

5 movies with animals that do

A perfect pet who talks, slapstick physical humor, and a flying saucer - "Good Boy!'' is a tough combination to beat if you're a little kid (or the parent of one). Here are five more that offer at least some of those elements:

"That Darn Cat!'' (1965) OK, the cat doesn't talk. But it does help Hayley Mills and Dean Jones solve a mystery, with plenty of kid-friendly pratfalls along the way.

"The Cat From Outer Space'' (1978) This more obscure Disney offering has a sentient alien animal crash-landing on Earth. Hmmm, sounds a little too much like "Good Boy!,'' wouldn't you say?

"Babe'' (1995) Skip the dark sequel, but the original story of a man and his pig remains one of the sweetest animal talkies of all time. Catch Hugo Weaving, pre-``Matrix'' and ``Lord of the Rings,'' as sheepdog Rex.

``Dinosaur'' (2000) Less cuddly than a dog, sure, but the dinosaur hero keeps kids enthralled. And the lemurs are almost cute, aren't they? Listen for Della Reese.

``Shrek'' (2001) Yes, the kid's a green monster, the ``pet'' is a donkey, and there's more crude humor than there needs to be. Still, Eddie Murphy is too fast-talking to resist.

LOUISE KENNEDY

5 DVD sets where bigger is better

"Alien: The Director's Cut'' had its theatrical run this summer, and while you'll be able to get a basic, two-disc package next month, this is the DVD age - when bulk matters as much as content. In that spirit, we salute sets that remind us that size still does count:

"Alien Quadrilogy'' The New York Times proclaimed this ``DVD's longest single piece of packaging,'' as it stretches nearly 51/2 feet. The nine-DVD set includes two versions of each of the four ``Alien'' movies, plus plenty of bonus booty.

"Griffith Masterworks'' For those reluctant to celebrate D. W. Griffith, a man whose racial views ran somewhere right of Bull Connor, take heart. Griffith died 55 years ago, so he's not getting a nickel from this seven-DVD set featuring his pioneering work, including ``The Birth of a Nation.''

"The Incredible Hulk'' Forget that wimp Hulk Eric Bana. These 17 episodes from the '70s TV series star Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno. Now, if only Universal had included audio commentaries and a few more episodes.

"The Fellowship of the Ring'' The four-DVD set doesn't have the heft of the ``Alien Quadrilogy.'' Still, we give the packagers props for including a fold-out map meant for every card-carrying Dungeons & Dragons geek.

"The King of Queens'' This is actually just three DVDs long, but what this set lacks in size it makes up for in pure chutzpah. Are there really people out there looking to follow the exploits of Doug, ``the ultimate guy's guy'' and his wife, Carrie, who "really rules the roost''?

GEOFF EDGERS

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