Who's In It: Viggo Mortensen, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Charlize Theron, Robert Duvall, Guy Pearce, Molly Parker
The Basics: Post-End of the World--cause unknown, but all the trees are dead and the only food left is rotting in ransacked homes--a man and his son wander the destroyed landscape of the United States scavenging for something to eat, trying not to freeze and, most importantly, desperately trying to keep away from the gangs of roving cannibal rapists who were most likely million-dollar-bonus-receiving bank executives before the world melted down into a blizzard of smoke and ash. So yeah, happy holidays everybody, here's a big helping of despair.
What's The Deal: Okay, it's only about 99.9% despair-filled. There's a sliver of hope and humanity that runs through the blasted-out shell of this dark and brutally sad film, as the man tries to impart a sense of right, wrong, dignity ("We don't eat people, right Papa?") and common decency to his son, a kid who's never known anything except the world that came after the collapse. But just a sliver, obviously, or the end of the world wouldn't feel like much of big a deal, would it? You'd just be watching 2012 and cheering the deaths of billions. This is the opposite of that. It's the kind of movie that makes you stop whining about your little First World parking problems, romance anxieties and Facebooking woes.
What You Get In Exchange For Enduring All That Grim: A movie that offers a warm, heartbreaking vision of the possible bonds between fathers and sons, a pervasive mood of tension almost as frightening as in No Country for Old Men and, in some moments, true horror you won't even find in most "thrillers."
Finally A Movie Worthy Of Charlize Theron's Enthusiasm For Being Depressed And Makeupless On Screen: She's really getting good at making you forget that she's a total glamazon in real life. It's like after Aeon Flux she just decided that the whole planet knew she was hot and that she had nothing left to prove on that front. Then she stripped off everything and started taking any bummer script that crossed her desk. I like her for that on principle. And I'm glad that here, unlike in the other super-serious movie she appeared in this year, the not-good-at-all disgruntled desert drama The Burning Plain, that the pain her character endures is about something other than self-pitying melodrama.
What It Has To Teach You About Living After The Apocalypse: First of all there's no cool Thunderdome stuff anywhere, so you can forget that right now. Also, sleep in your shoes or otherwise they're going to be stolen. It appears that if you're a woman or child you're pretty much doomed, and if you're a guy you'd better be big and strong, have ammo and know how to aim. A can opener will help a lot too.