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Movies for Grownups Awards 2009

The best movies that weren't just for kids

Richard Nixon's mea culpa…a 1960s Catholic school in turmoil…a musical steeped in '70s kitsch…a stunt that shocked the world in 1974. At first glance it seems as if this year's Best Movies for Grownups® are looking mostly backward. But look again—each movie, performance, and script selected by our editors has a uniquely current perspective, imbued with the kind of insight only a grownup could love. Even better: They all go great with popcorn!

Best Movie for Grownups® from 2008
Frost/Nixon
, directed by Ron Howard

What the heck is it about Richard Nixon? Every time we think we've got a bead on the guy, we discover a surprising quirk, an unexpected quality—good or bad—that we never suspected. So it is with Frost/Nixon, director Ron Howard's astonishing take on RN's historic 1977 TV interviews with British chat-show host David Frost. Sure, it's only a movie, and yes, it's based not on a history book but on a Broadway play, but somehow, between Howard's restrained guidance and his stars' uncanny channeling of the individuals they play, we feel we are witnesses to something more than someone's version of history.

Certainly lots of credit goes to the stars: Frank Langella, jowly and ingenious as Nixon (see Best Actor 50 and Over award, below), and Michael Sheen as deer-in-the-headlights Frost, who realizes, almost too late, just what he's up against. Playwright Peter Morgan has reworked his stage play intelligently, expanding his proscenium-bound universe to evoke the crazed world outside the insular realms of TV and politics. And behind the camera, director Howard ratchets up the drama to peak intensity, time and again allowing his antihero to linger on the screen, giving Nixon the close-ups he felt he deserved—but which contributed to his undoing, as Frost's unforgiving TV cameras seemed to pry into his soul.

For grownups who lived through Watergate—especially those who found themselves secretly scarred by it even as they professed dismissive disgust—Frost/Nixon provides a decades-in-coming catharsis that the original telecasts could not. Howard and company explore not only the backroom dealing and offscreen insanity behind a landmark TV interview; they burrow deep to excavate the hardware that made Dick not just tricky, but tragic.

We Also Loved: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button…Doubt…Married Life…The Wrestler.

Best Actress 50 and Over
Meryl Streep, in Doubt

We simply couldn't resist Streep's magnificently understated performance as Sister Aloysius Beauvier in Doubt. Her face framed by a nun's bonnet, her voice rendered into a low Bronx growl, Streep is clearly utilizing every trick in the Big Book of Acting here—all the better to breathe life into a character who is so sure of her eerie instincts that she persists in accusing a popular priest of child abuse, despite little evidence. Streep paints a striking portrait of a woman not about to let doubt get in the way of her convictions, be they regarding religion, criminality, or even appropriate Christmas music. (The heretical "Frosty the Snowman," she seethes, "should be banned from the airwaves.")

We Also Loved: Frances McDormand in Burn After Reading…Catherine Deneuve in A Christmas Tale…Alfre Woodard in Tyler Perry's The Family That Preys…Annette Bening in The Women.

Best Actor 50 and Over
Frank Langella, in Frost/Nixon

Clearly, director Ron Howard knew exactly what he had in his leading man. And so he had the surpassingly good sense to simply stand back and let the camera run for Frank Langella's towering performance as Richard Nixon. Maddeningly pompous, pitifully insecure, Langella's Nixon smolders with the legendary mix of contradictions that defined the real RN. The veteran actor reveals more of Nixon than a library of biographies ever could. Watch as he walks to the interview set, realizing he has no choice but to fess up to his role in the Watergate cover-up, characteristically slouching but gradually, imperceptibly, drawing his shoulders back, pulling himself up to full height, like a king to his execution. It's a performance that will rank with George C. Scott's Patton and Ben Kingsley's Gandhi.

We Also Loved: Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler…Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino… Chris Cooper in Married Life…Richard Jenkins in The Visitor.

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