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OFF-HOLLYWOOD: The Five Best Indie Movies To See This Month

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It takes the better part of a year to survive the continuous stream of mediocre movies (and worse) so we can finally get to "the good stuff." Now that we have a bounty of first-rate movies to choose from, we have to insulate ourselves from the awards-season hype that touts good films as great and fine performances as brilliant. Seasoned moviegoers—and critics—have their work cut out for them.

Still, there's no complaining when movies as good as Martin Scorsese's Hugo and such joyful films as The Muppets and Arthur Christmas turn up on movie screens everywhere.

A number of other exceptional films are playing for one week only in December in order to qualify for Oscars and critics' awards. These will actually be released nationwide in January and February, and we'll keep you informed. Among the titles to look forward to: Albert Nobbs, starring Glenn Close and Janet McTeer, and the remarkable Iranian drama A Separation. Stay tuned...

And with your indulgence, allow me to make a shameless plug: if you're looking for a stocking-stuffer this holiday season--and happen to have an industrial-strength stocking--please think of Leonard Maltin's 2012 Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin's Classic Movie Guide.

THE ARTIST - in theaters

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Although it's already racking up awards, with more to come, this French import shouldn't be approached with outsized expectations. What makes it unique is that it tells the story of a silent-movie star (Jean Dujardin) in the form of a black & white silent movie. Writer-director Michel Hazanavicius has pulled off a coup, but it isn't a stunt: The Artist is a charming (and crowd-pleasing) film that replicates the look and feel of an authentic silent picture. HERE is my full review.

A DANGEROUS METHOD - in theaters

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Playwright and screenwriter Christopher Hampton has devised a compelling character study of Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, and a Russian patient, plagued by anxieties, who eventually becomes their colleague during the formative years of psychoanalysis. The performances—by Viggo Mortensen, Michael Fassbender, and Keira Knightly—are superb, and director David Cronenberg orchestrates this dialogue-driven movie with understated finesse. Read my review HERE.

MY WEEK WITH MARILYN -in theaters

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If you're a show-biz buff, you'll love taking this time trip to the 1950s and observing Marilyn Monroe (a persuasive Michelle Williams) and the troubled production of The Prince and the Showgirl, under the direction of a flustered Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh, having a high old time). Eddie Redmayne plays Colin Clark, the wide-eyed young man whose diary provided the source material for this absorbing film. Click HERE to read more.

SARAH'S KEY - on dvd

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Kristin Scott Thomas stars in one of the year's most underrated films, based on Tatiana De Rosnay's best-selling novel. A modern-day journalist discovers that she has a personal connection to a girl whose life was forever altered by the Nazi invasion of Paris in 1942. Director and co-screenwriter Gilles Paquet-Brenner avoids sentimentalizing this emotional and effective story. Click HERE to read my review.

LIFE, ABOVE ALL - on dvd

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A South African girl is forced to shoulder adult responsibilities in this absorbing story (based on Allan Stratton's novel) about the reverberations of the AIDS epidemic in a culture steeped in ignorance and beset by superstition. Young Khomotso Manyaka gives a remarkably assured performance in the leading role. You can read my review of it HERE.

Leonard Maltin is the editor of the long-running annual paperback reference Leonard Maltin's Movie Guide (and its companion volume, Leonard Maltin's Classic Movie Guide) and the host of Maltin on Movies on ReelzChannel. He holds court at www.leonardmaltin.com.