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Movies for Grownups Awards 2008

You'll love this year's list of thought-provoking films

We might as well get this over with upfront: this year's winner and nominees for Best Movie for Grownups constitute no laugh riot. In fact their themes seem to live, let's just say, on the downhill side of Life Mountain: the ravages of age (The Savages), the rape of a nation (The Kite Runner), the consequences of a false accusation (Atonement), the bitter fruit of corporate greed (Michael Clayton), the dying wishes of the gravely ill (The Bucket List).

But here's the good news: each and every one of these films, besides courageously facing up to some of life's inevitable god-awfulness, challenges moviegoers with compelling grownup characters, unexpected humor, and inspiring life lessons. And they're all enormously entertaining.

You might say this was the year grownup movies grew up.

What's more, Oscar winner Morgan Freeman, whose film The Bucket List is our winner for this year's Best Buddy Picture, believes there's every reason to expect that one of these days Hollywood will shift its focus from youth-oriented films to more high-profile grownup movies. At the very least, he says, it's a matter of demographics. “When the older audience outweighs the younger audience, when there are more of us than there are of them, it'll happen,” Freeman predicts. “The studios go where the dollar is.”

Best Movie for Grownups from 2007
The Savages
, directed by Tamara Jenkins

It's been years since Jon and Wendy Savage have seen their father, and their reunion isn't coming under the best of circumstances: Dad is showing signs of dementia, and he's just been thrown out of the Sun City, Arizona, house he shared with his recently deceased girlfriend. Both siblings are in their 40s. Wendy (Laura Linney) is a so-far failed playwright; Jon (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is a college professor whose latest impenetrable book is one case of writer's block away from completion. They pretty much chalk up their failures to Dad (Philip Bosco), an abusive, angry parent.

Usually, movies try to tell us that our family quirks make us unique and somehow wonderful—see Little Miss Sunshine or The Royal Tenenbaums. But in a distinctly grownup (and oddly funny) approach, writer-director Tamara Jenkins refuses to sanctify her characters; nor does she demonize them. One of the lessons they learn is, you can't really undo all the nasty stuff you've done to each other. Another lesson is, get over it.

RUNNERS-UP: The Kite Runner: A childhood friendship transcends war, time, and even death…Atonement: A love story, told on an epic scale…Michael Clayton: A lawyer (George Clooney) learns you have to be a bit crazy to do the right thing…The Bucket List: Dying friends learn to live for the moment.

Best Actor 50 and Over
Chris Cooper, Breach

Not since Buster Keaton has the cinema seen a great stone face like Chris Cooper's—a seemingly frozen visage that somehow transmits a character's most secret thoughts to the audience, be it through a slight turn of the head expressing puzzlement or a twitch of the lips registering, almost subliminally, as a smile.

In Breach Cooper brings his powers to full play as the inscrutable real-life spy Robert Hanssen. Behind his stoic facade, Cooper surrenders only fleeting glimpses of the spiritual, psychosexual, and envy-driven demons that are beating their clawed wings against the inside of his skull. He makes it easy for us to believe that the single most damaging mole in FBI history could labor undetected for 16 years—yet makes us wonder how he could keep from self-destructing for so very long.

RUNNERS-UP: Denzel Washington, American Gangster: Sure, his character is a murderous drug kingpin, but you'd want him as your pal…Richard Gere, The Hoax: As Clifford Irving, his unabashed joy in pulling off the 1970s' biggest con is infectious…Tommy Lee Jones, In the Valley of Elah: He's heartbreaking and heroic as a father tracking down the story of his son's death…Tom Hanks, Charlie Wilson's War: He magically morphs from lovable rascal to tower of virtue.

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