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Opening This Week: A Will Smith weeper, this year’s Cannes winner and Mickey Rourke

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12152008_theclass.jpgBy Neil Pedley

There’s a noticeably European flavor this week, combined with some good old-fashioned work-a-day miserablism just in time for the holidays. Laurent Cantet’s Palme d’Or-winning doc shows a French school in minor crisis, Mickey Rourke battles his demons and Jim Carrey flails about — all in good festive fun!

“The Class”
Considering that the ongoing debate over the education system approaches a national pastime in France, it’s not difficult to see why Laurent Cantet’s pseudo-documentary chronicling a year in a Paris classroom took home the Palme d’Or on its home turf in Cannes. Based on a semi-autobiographical account from former lit teacher François Bégaudeau, playing a similar role here for the cameras, Cantet delivers a studied microcosm of French society via a multiethnic school with an administration run by committee. During the course of a turbulent school year, every aspect of the human social dynamic is played out with points made, points scored, ideologies formed and doctrines rejected, all within the stifling confines of that most formative of environments. In French with subtitles.
Opens in New York and Los Angeles for a weeklong Oscar qualifying run; opens in limited release on January 30th.

“Moscow, Belgium”
Lacking the star attractions of “In Bruges,” this quirky, kitchen sink romcom from television director Christophe van Rompaey nonetheless offers another sunny stroll around a country best known for its waffles and as the place people pass through on their way to Holland. Barbara Sarafian (“8 ½ Women”) stars as Matty, a mother of three who finds herself at the center of an unconventional love triangle after her husband Werner (Johan Heldenbergh) leaves her for a nympho schoolgirl. As Werner’s affair/midlife crisis persists, Matty decides she deserves one of her own and hooks up with the young and rugged Johnny (Jurgen Delnaet), but when Werner returns with his tail between his legs, Matty is forced to make a decision. In Dutch with subtitles.
Opens in New York.

“Nothing But the Truth”
Hot on the heels of “Frost/Nixon” comes another story eager to paint the free press as the last bastion of moral courage and integral fortitude in a tainted world. Yet where Ron Howard might have embellished a few truths, former film critic-turned-writer/director Rod Lurie just out and out cheats, if the title of this thriller, loosely based on the Valerie Plame saga, is to be believed. Kate Beckinsale steps into the Judith Miller role (renamed here as Rachel Armstrong) as a journalist who goes to prison for refusing to reveal her source on a story that exposed high-level shenanigans, though whereas Miller was protecting her source to help the sitting administration, Beckinsale’s Rachel is intent on “bringing down the White House.” Still, it’s hard to blame Lurie — “Nothing Like the Truth” just doesn’t have the same ring to it. Vera Farmiga, Matt Dillon and Alan Alda co-star.
Opens in New York and Los Angeles; expands on January 9th.

“Scott Walker: 30 Century Man”
Director Stephen Kijak turns his attention from the obsessed film buffs of “Cinemania” to the reclusive and enigmatic musician whose work has been endlessly obsessed over by music fans. Detailing Walker’s transformation from 1960s boy band pin-up to avant-garde experimentalist, Kijak assembles a who’s who of British hipster icons (Blur, Pulp, David Bowie) to regale us with their tales of Walker’s impact and influence, not to mention a rare and extremely candid interview with the man himself. Though Kijak seems almost uninterested in Walker’s darker side — his alcoholism and much publicized battles with the fame monster — he does shed light on the musician’s creative process as he records his most recent album, “The Drift.”
Opens in New York; opens in Los Angeles on February 27th.

“Seven Pounds”
Picking up where “The Pursuit of Happyness” left off, Will Smith reunites with director Gabriele Muccino for what might be the most depressing film of 2008, which is quite an achievement even after the adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road” was pushed into next year. As Ben Thomas, a tortured former aeronautical engineer consumed by guilt over a dark secret from his past, Smith dutifully seeks out seven unfortunate souls to bequeath them each a gift that will radically transform their lives, while secretly plotting to end his own. Rosario Dawson co-stars as a young artist on the transplant list who falls for Tim not knowing what his true intentions are. ‘Tis the season to be jolly?
Opens wide.

“The Tale of Despereaux”
In a December crammed to the gills with Holocaust allegories and suicide dramas (see above), we look to the usually family-friendly genre of animation for a little respite, though given the title we could be forgiven for bracing ourselves for some digital depression. Still, that doesn’t appear to be what “Seabiscuit” scribe Gary Ross and “Flushed Away” director Sam Fell are up to with this adventure film, despite having a lead that looks like the result of some genetic experiment involving Dumbo and Fievel. Our plucky titular hero (voiced by Matthew Broderick) defies Mouseworld and joins forces with fellow outcast Roscuro (Dustin Hoffman) to save his beloved Princess Pea (Emma Watson) from a plot by an army of vengeful sewer rats who plan to take over the kingdom.
Opens wide.

“The Wrestler”
Never one to shy away from big risks, Darren Aronofsky — the man who brought us a bald Hugh Jackman floating through space in a bubble — chose to wager his next project against his ability to resurrect the career of an actor that no major financier wanted to touch. Going to the mat for his director and garnering some well-deserved Oscar buzz in the process, Mickey Rourke stars as Randy “The Ram” Robinson, a one-time superstar now battling aches, breaks and faltering will on the indie grappling circuit. Trying to patch things up with his estranged daughter, Stephanie (Evan Rachel Wood), while clumsily courting aging stripper Cassidy (Marisa Tomei), Ram prepares for one last shot at glory in a high-profile rematch against his former nemesis “The Ayatollah.”
Opens in limited release.

“Yes Man”
Searching for a little of his old box office mojo, Jim Carrey teams with “The Break-Up” director Peyton Reed to trot out the familiar rubber-limbed hysteria that made him a star with this retread of “Liar Liar” with a slight twist. Loosely inspired by an autobiographical yarn from British humorist Danny Wallace that was itself born out of a drunken bet in a pub, Carrey plays a conservative square with strong risk aversion who is suddenly inspired to say yes to any and all suggestions, no matter how potentially catastrophic they might be. If this were in any way true of some of Carrey’s career choices, it could go a long way towards explaining “The Number 23.”
Opens wide.

[Photo: “The Class,” Sony Pictures Classics, 2008]

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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